DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you's and hugs to Lyn and Xasphie for the beta!
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The photograph is only a cheap Polaroid; the image blurred, but Lindsay sees the woman's fear anyway. No, that's not right, she can feel it, *breathe* it.
The woman is alive, not visibly harmed. Yet. The lines crisscrossing over her mouth were made by a kohl pencil. He has done this to mock Lindsay, her inability to catch him. And now he has raised the stakes in this fatal game to an unbearable height.
Not that they weren't before.
Lindsay remembers how she told Agent Ashe to back off, leave her alone, because she had already failed. There was a time when she had been bitter for all she had lost to the sadistic killer - a big chunk out of her professional self-confidence, not to mention her marriage.
Now, this - it's too much. Just for an instant, a split second, the fear reaches out for her, wrapping cold hands around her throat, starting to squeeze...
But Lindsay swallows back the tears that have threatened to break through since she opened the manila folder with the picture inside. She holds the inner demon at bay, because she knows, failure is not an option this time.
Jacobi, Jill and Claire have been standing around her desk, the worry etched into their faces for her as well as for the woman in the picture, Lindsay suspects.
The killer thinks that he's in charge, then, and again, but he doesn't know yet that he's overstepped an invisible line. At that moment, Lindsay vows that she's going to hunt him down, and this time she won't stop, if it's the last thing she ever does.
She looks into her friends' faces, seeing the same resolve that has taken hold of her. And then she's saying it aloud. "We'll get him this time."
With her gloved hand, she caresses the picture of a terrified Cindy that the Kiss-Me-Not Killer has sent her.
"And we'll get her back alive."
There's so much certainty in her words that no one dares to object - not even that inner demon that won't release her before these two tasks are done.
Cindy can't not follow Lindsay home after what she's just heard. For her own benefit, or Lindsay's, it's hard to say, but in any case she's more shaken by this than she wanted to admit earlier. They have made a promise to Lindsay. Cindy's in on the pact. They'll do what they can, her, Jill, and Claire, but what can they really do?
The man they're after is a ruthless psychopath who loves to draw out torturing his victims. Pretty much unpredictable, even more so until they figure out what's behind the fairy tale hints he's dropping at the crime scenes. How can they stop him?
Those thoughts weighing on her mind, she parks Maggie directly behind Agent Ashe's car, and waits. Ashe and Lindsay confer briefly then Lindsay exits and walks to her front door in quick, angry strides, not once looking back.
It's the agent who gives Cindy a long, thoughtful look instead.
She just shrugs and hurries to make it across the street before Lindsay draws the door shut behind her. Pausing in mid-motion, Lindsay turns around and gives a sigh of the long-suffering.
"Why did you follow me?"
She probably wants to come across as annoyed, but sounds just tired. It's all Cindy needs for an opening. "In order to... make sure you got home safely. And, come on, you really shouldn't be alone tonight."
"Says who?" The corner of Lindsay's mouth twitches in a quick, wry grin. The barriers are in place again.
"Well, how about saying I do?"
"I know you mean well, but no, thanks. This," she lightly touches the gun on her hip, "and Martha are all the protection I need for tonight. Go home, Cindy."
"What if --" Cindy's wracking her brain, because no way will she give up on this - while Lindsay stands with her back against the door, arms crossed over her chest, her expression now one of mild amusement. "What if I'm totally freaked by this new development? Maybe *I* need to feel safe tonight." Which isn't far from the truth. She feels safer around Lindsay.
The ghost of a smile that was there before is gone in an instant. "It wasn't you in the picture."
"It was my article."
The stand-off lasts for almost a minute, and then Lindsay caves. "Come on in," she says, and Cindy breathes a sigh of relief. Before joining Lindsay inside, she turns and sees that Agent Ashe's car is still there. Seems like she is not the only one concerned with Lindsay's safety tonight.
I can't tell her no to save my life.
Maybe I don't want to. Maybe she's right and a little company will help after 'Looking for Lindsay's Breaking Point Day' today. I lost it with Jacobi, and back at Claire's it had been close again, and I'm well aware that it's not over yet.
I'm still mad at Agent Ashe for involving me in this mess all over again, and Tom telling Jacobi, and... I could go on, but if I'm honest, it's not really them, it's *him* that all this anger eating at me from the inside is directed at, and me, too, because I couldn't keep him from killing the women.
That's what it comes down to, once again. *Him* and *I*.
You wouldn't want to get caught in the middle.
I sure as hell can understand that Jill and Claire backed down earlier, which makes me even more grateful knowing I've got their full support now. Cindy... I don't think she knows yet what she's in for, but she's not backing down either.
"So, now what? You brought an overnight bag?"
When she looks at me *that* way, I kind of know her answer, before she says, "Um, actually, yes."
I meant that to be ironic... I wait, giving her the stern look that never fails to make her a little nervous.
She hastens to explain. "I always keep one in the car, for emergencies. I like to be prepared, you know?"
Makes me wonder how many of those 'emergencies' have happened before. Something crosses my mind like a shadow... Jealousy. Now here's proof of the sorry state of my sanity today. "All right, go and get it, then," I say curtly, foolishly worrying that she could have noticed. "I don't want to stay up all night."
She flashes me one of those brilliant smiles of hers. "Be right back!"
"Yeah. You can share the couch with Martha," I say to her back.
Though, you could also... No way. I am not going there.
I wake from the nightmare, shaking, a hand over my mouth to stifle the scream. I don't even know what it is about, there are no images, just this overwhelming feeling of... not fear, but regret. Failure. I really don't need a shrink to tell me where it's coming from.
It's only 3 a.m., and I'm pretty sure I won't be going back to sleep anytime soon.
Fairy tales... metaphors... punishment. What have these women done that makes the perpetrator think it's his right and duty to punish them? Or maybe it's not even about them, maybe they simply represent one woman he wants to suffer over and over again?
There must be something we have overlooked.
I get up, pick up my robe and then decide against it; I can't sleep anyway, so I can just as well get dressed - it's almost breakfast time anyway. On the way to the kitchen, I silently open the door to the living room, and have to smile at the sight in front of me.
Martha, stretched out beside the couch, is giving me a somewhat insulted look. Cindy sleeps on peacefully, a little smile on her face, one arm hanging over the side of the couch, so that her fingers touch Martha's fur.
"Get used to it," I whisper. "What she's got, she's holding on to."
Martha does not look impressed.
Back in the kitchen, I start brewing a fresh pot of coffee and power up my laptop. Key words. //Golden key + mouse... silver rope... lilacs...// Damn it. It doesn't pan out, at least not with your regular google search. There's a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm called 'The Golden Key', and it's about a boy who finds a key and a box that has a lock to fit said key. End of story, the reader does not get to know what's inside.
What does he want to tell us?
Punishment and morals, that's what Ashe said. He's taken to the fairy tale connection pretty easily. Considering he and I have hardly agreed on anything since he showed up on my doorstep nine days ago, that's somewhat surprising. Not that it really matters if it brings us closer to the way the monster thinks.
A small strip of light falls into the room as the door is tentatively opened, then Cindy walks in, wearing that oversized nightshirt from her emergency bag.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" I ask, and she gives me a 'Well, d'uh!' look. I turn my attention back to the screen, and she leans close, looking over my shoulder.
"I know, it makes me crazy too. I feel like there's something I should remember, have read somewhere..." Then Cindy slaps her forehead. "Oh my God..."
I feel the excitement rise within me, but I don't let it show; too often I have hoped to find the key to the bastard's mind only to find myself at square one again. "Could you be a little more specific?"
"The key, blood on the key, that's King Bluebeard!"
I look at her questioningly, not getting it. That guy killed his wives, right, but...
"The third wife finds a key with blood on it," Cindy explains. "And the door it opens leads to the room where Bluebeard hid the second wife's body. She was *hanged*."
"Right." Cindy pulls up a chair and begins typing away, seemingly oblivious to the way her hands brush mine as she swiftly dismisses me from the keyboard. "The version available on the internet differs slightly from the older translations, so we should take a look at Claire's books again. Moral of that story was, you pay for your curiosity."
She is silent for a moment as I wonder what he thinks he's going to punish *me* for. Then again, to him, I'm just an obstacle in the way which needs to be removed. There's nothing special about me; I don't really matter here.
"Okay, the question is, are all murders related to this one, or do we have to look at other fairy tales? If it's all about this one, did Elaine Lewis find out about the previous murders? Damn!" I say emphatically. "This means we'll have to go over every single piece of evidence again."
Meaning me and Agent Ashe. I really hate that thought.
Still, this nightmare of a case is finally moving, and Cindy's vast memory has been ever helpful again. "Thanks. You've helped a lot." I kiss her on the cheek and smile at her blush.
Just maybe, this time, I can free myself from my prison of the past five years.
Martha's soft whine startles me awake, and I realize I've fallen asleep at the kitchen table. It's dawn outside already, and I feel hungover, needing a moment to piece together last night's conversation with Cindy who I had told to go back to sleep at some point. I stayed here for a while longer... too long.
I really need to call Agent Ashe now, but as I look out of the window, my gaze is drawn to the mailbox - there's something inside, the lid doesn't close.
I leave the front door open, suspicion rising as I think the mail can't really have come this early... I open the lid and recoil at the sight; and then there is only one thought:
I run back into the house, yank the living room door open. It's empty, the comforter lying on the couch, neatly folded.
No. Not again.
It's some eternal seconds in which the image keeps flashing before my eyes, and I pick up the phone, my heart beating so fast it's almost painful. On the first ring, I see the shadow and spin around, coming face to face with a startled Cindy.
"Lindsay? What's up with you?"
"Come on. I'll show you." While we walk outside, I almost expect this thing to have been a hallucination, and I take some deep breaths, feeling light-headed. I badly need some caffeine.
Cindy follows me outside without hesitation, as she always does, but she goes pale when she sees what's inside the mailbox. "Wow," she says. "This guy is sick."
I'm not arguing with her, shivering in the morning chill as I take another look at the bloody mess.
It's a dead goose. Mr. Storyteller has left another clue.
Cindy keeps realizing that there's a lot about Lindsay Boxer she doesn't know, even though they call themselves friends. It still seems like a good idea that she's spent the night here, and some silly part of her insists that Lindsay maybe was grateful for this, glad not to be all alone...
Sure. Say that about the woman who kept the burden of knowing about Kiss-Me-Not's threat to herself for nine days, believing that it was her business to deal with, and that she wasn't supposed to make their friends worry.
Cindy shudders at the thought that they might have never found out about it - before it would have been too late. That thought brings a surge of anger that nearly drowns out the fear that comes with it. So much she has already found out, it's hard for Lindsay to ask for help. To *need* it in the first place. But such things shouldn't matter so much when your life is threatened, should they?
She'd like to tell Lindsay that, shake some sense into her, hold her and never let go, but at the moment, that's not an option. Agent Ashe has arrived.
There's a flurry of activity around my house, the CSU turning over every stone, and I still haven't got my coffee. Not that I really feel like breakfast, after that present he's left me.
Another piece of the puzzle.
"The blood has mostly dried, but there are a few wet spots. I'm guessing a few hours." Claire is looking up as I approach, her gloved hands a damp, crimson red, in her gaze, worry - and curiosity.
"Then why didn't we see him? Or Agent Ashe, for that matter?" Cindy asks, frowning. She's pulled on one of my shirts after we called in the cavalry. I don't know if Jill recognizes it, but I'm pretty sure Claire does. Damn it, I feel exposed enough already.
Tom's looking concerned, too, but bless him, he hasn't got a clue. Actually, for the first time, I think of this as a good thing.
And then there's Agent John Ashe. "Unlike you, Ms. Thomas, I didn't stay all night." Oh, don't you just hate this guy? "Inspector Boxer, do you have a moment?" he asks, and I just know, it can't be anything good. I leave Cindy with Jill and Claire, shrug at their questioning looks and motion for him to follow me into the house.
As soon as we're alone, he says casually, the way he keeps bringing up the most confidential things, "So... you and this reporter girl?"
I should be prepared for jibes like this by now. I'm not. "No," I snap. "And if there was, it's none of your fucking business."
He gives me one of those long, invasive-feeling looks. "Like it or not, Boxer, everything about you is my business now."
I just snort at that. "If we could we stop discussing my private life for a moment? I was going to call you before I went for the mail this morning. Cindy - Ms. Thomas and I found something about the fairy tales. It seems like Kiss-Me-Not used the Bluebeard myth, with Paquin, maybe Lewis, too."
"So he thinks of them as his wives, as his property?"
"Somehow you're scaring me, saying 'wife' and 'property' in the same sentence like that," I say dryly.
"I didn't get the impression you were easily scared."
I decide to ignore him. Somehow it's dawning on me that it's the best strategy to use with him. "Whatever. We need to examine the evidence once more, see if we can find any connection between the women, find anyone who could have known all three of them."
Agent Ashe doesn't give up so easily. "I'd rather take another look at your attic."
I shake my head. "All you'll find there is a lot of speculation. What we need is facts."
It seems like a good omen that just this moment, Jacobi walks inside with my neighbor from across the street in tow. Mrs. Hatwich is in her eighties, but as fit as I can ever wish to be at her age.
"My dear," she gushes, "I was worried something could have happened to you!"
That's nice of her, but -- I look at Jacobi questioningly, and he's got that satisfied smirk on his face that tells me there is more. "Mrs. Hatwich might have seen something important," he says.
She nods emphatically. "You know how I wake at all times at night? I saw that van stopping by your house in the morning. It was a van from Eddie's, the deli that also does deliveries. I was a little surprised that they would deliver that early, but then again, I didn't know -- dear, they didn't leave a body, did they?" she asks with wide eyes.
"No, they didn't." It's bad enough as it is, but her worry mixed with curiosity is rather cute, and I have to stifle a smile. "Can you remember anything else?"
Triumphantly, she produces a small notebook. "I showed it to this gentleman" - indicating Jacobi, whose smirk deepens - "already... I don't know why I did it, but I wrote down the numbers on the licence plate."
There's something nagging at the back of my mind... It takes me a moment to make the connection, then the feeling of lightheadedness returns again. That's it! The store to which the van belongs - it's the one where Elaine Lewis worked as a cashier.
We're one step closer.
Which means *he* was as close as my front lawn last night.
The van is still standing in the parking lot of Eddie's deli. It's been given a cursory cleaning job - not enough. There's still blood in the back, and I'll bet you it belongs to the slaughtered animal left at my house. The driver who had signed out last with it hadn't shown up for work today - not much later, we are out front of a trailer that's Kevin Marten's last known address, the one he gave his employer.
We have barely identified ourselves when the trailer's door bursts open, catching the side of my face even as I jump aside. Shots are fired. The pain stuns me for a second, then I see that Ashe is down.
I quickly check on him, but the Kevlar caught the bullet, and he yells at me to follow Martin.
"Thanks for the tip," I say dryly, jumping up to give chase to the man who could very well be Kiss-Me-Not, adrenaline fueling my speed.
I don't think of the nightmare, failure screaming in my face as I stared down at Elaine Lewis' body, I am not aware of the blood trailing down my face; the only thing that matters is to cut down the distance, to get him. *Now*.
I tackle him moments later, both of us going down, and by the time I have cuffed him and read him his rights, Ashe has caught up with us.
"I haven't done anything!" cries Kevin Marten. Guy's got nerve after shooting at police officers *and* running away.
"Don't worry," I tell him. "We'll have a good long talk to clear that up."
Jill leans against the wall on the other side of the two-way mirror, watching Lindsay who is pacing in the interrogation room like a caged tiger. It's making Jill nervous somehow, but it seems to work very well on the suspect. It makes him nervous, too.
Maybe it's because Lindsay looks mighty dangerous, the bruise on the side of her face only adding to the effect.
"Your employer told us that you've been working for him for about three years on and off, is that right?"
He shrugs. "Just about. I tried different things, but some didn't work out, and it's steady money."
"So you knew Elaine Lewis?"
"I did. Of course I did, she'd been in that joint ever since it opened. Hey, you're not suggesting I have anything to do--"
"I'm not suggesting anything," Lindsay cuts him off. She perches on the edge of the table, leaning closer. "I'm just thinking... you both worked for Eddie's for quite some time. You got to know each other... Quite a coincidence, though, you weren't there around the time Elaine was killed."
"A lucky coincidence," Marten mutters. "I don't care too much for cops, frankly."
"Could that be because of that earlier conviction for stalking your ex-wife?"
Jill smiles a little at that. Too good that Denise is still guilt-tripping; it took her next to nothing to come up with the file.
"I served my time, okay?"
There's a bit more aggression behind the words now, and of course, Lindsay has picked up on it, too. "So I've heard. What about Elaine? How was your relationship with her?"
"We had no relationship!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't make myself clear then. You worked together for... probably a couple of years. You never spoke with each other?"
"We hardly saw each other. We said hi, that's all. Look, Inspector, I still don't get what you want from me."
"So let's talk about your job at Eddie's. What was the last delivery you made?"
He groans. "If you must know. I took the van home last night. I know it's not allowed, but that doesn't make me a murderer."
"You were seen last night."
"I was home all night!"
"And you've got some way to prove that?"
There's something about Lindsay when she's moving in for the kill. Only today, Jill thinks, something seems off. It all fits... maybe too well. Lindsay, and Ashe who's been watching the interrogation from the far end of the room, share a look, as Marten is silent, his face flushed.
They leave the room, and Lindsay's hand goes to her face immediately. "Damn," she says, "but this guy is giving me a headache."
Jill can sympathize. In order to prove that Marten is Kiss-Me-Not, if he is, they're going to need a whole lot more evidence than shooting at cops and this apparent lack of an alibi for last night.
She smiles at Lindsay. "Come on. I brought you ice."
"Is Marten the Kiss-Me-Not killer?"
"We don't know yet," I tell Cindy, "And put that notebook away. Anything about the arrest goes out, you're one step away from having me arrest you again, okay? It's all--"
"Off the record, I know," she assures me, taking a closer look at my face and wincing. "That's got to hurt."
"No kidding." She reaches up to touch my cheek very lightly, which, surprisingly, doesn't hurt, but I quickly back out of the touch when I see Ashe watching us. He is talking to Tom which somehow makes me suspicious.
"Oh, by the way," Cindy says, "I'm coming over tonight. I suspect you won't be eating all day," - which is true, but when did she get to check that for me? - "so I'll be making you dinner." When I don't protest, she continues, "What does your gut say?"
She's rolling her eyes at me.
I sigh. "I think he's lying about the van. He's probably also lying about Elaine Lewis. Did he kill her and the others? I wish I knew. I just..."
I just expected somebody more evil, more psychopathic at-first-sight for the man I've been chasing all these years? Silly.
Marten is 31 years old, he's been living alone since his marriage broke up. His boss says he doesn't seem to have many friends. Crap, all this could almost apply to me. Seriously, he is all the things profilers come up with when they first narrow it down, and he's got this stalking conviction in his past.
I'm unsure. Maybe Tom, Jill and Claire were right, that I lost my objectivity in the course of becoming - obsessed. I've got one creepily decorated attic to prove it, and looking back, I can't even say how many hours I've spent up there, trying to solve the riddle.
We need Marten's wife. She can probably tell us if he's got anything on King Bluebeard.
Hours upon hours later, I sit at my desk, trying to get myself to see straight again. Kevin Marten hasn't given an inch, swears he never met Melissa Paquin or Sarah Rice, claims to have never touched Elaine Lewis.
When I look up, it's Tom standing in front of me. He's handing me a steaming paper cup of coffee that smells delicious. "Thanks," I sigh.
"How's it going?" he asks. He already knows, of course, and so the question annoys me.
Tom takes a seat beside me, the silence between us awkward as always, but what's worse, I think he's got something for me I won't like. I lean back in my chair, facing him.
"I'm listening," I say.
"Go ahead. It's already been a long day."
"All right. Agent Ashe thinks you didn't cover him properly today."
"What?" I jump up so hastily I almost knock over my coffee. "What the hell--"
"Calm down," he says, knowing I hate it, "I know. I can't imagine that, really, but he said some other things which weren't that far from the truth. That you are overworked, prone to making mistakes in this state--"
I open my mouth to say something, but I'm so pissed off now I can't find any words. It takes me a few deep breaths before I do. "I didn't know he was here to assess my mental state!"
Tom smiles placatingly, probably to get me to sit down again, but this infuriates me even more. "This overworked inspector should probably go home now, so Ashe can close the case and take all the credit, right?"
"Lindsay. I don't like him either, but we've got to deal with him now. That's the smaller price to pay if we can catch Kiss-Me-Not, right?"
I wonder what this is about him not liking Ashe; I got the impression they got along pretty well, but I don't ask. I just don't want to hear any more today.
"That's right. I was serious about going home, though - I've got somebody waiting at home for me who's going to cook me dinner."
Leave it to him to figure it out who that person is - or maybe not.
Cindy still cringes when she thinks back to first meeting Inspector Boxer, at her own clumsiness, the way she-who-makes-a-living-of-finding-the-right-words, had become tongue-tied and silly like a teenager.
She's come a long way since that time.
Tonight it's all easy, as Lindsay doesn't put up much of a fight against somebody caring for her.
Cindy suspects that it's only because she's so close to the end of her rope, but whatever it is, Cindy will not let that chance go to waste. She gets Lindsay some more ice for her face, before serving dinner, and coffee after that. She wishes they didn't have this investigation hanging over their heads... Things would maybe be easier, but of course, it can't be changed now. She's got to work with it - or better, around it.
In any case, it's a good sign Lindsay gave her the key this afternoon, so Cindy had time not only to make notes on the case and do some work of her own, but also to do some shopping and cooking and come up with a casserole that would have made Grandma Thomas proud.
Cindy is glad about it, because it not only shows Lindsay's trust, but also distracted her from her own uncertainty, as she isn't hundred percent certain of where she wants this to go.
Tonight, anyway. She's very sure regarding the bigger picture. She doesn't want to rush things, but at the same time, Cindy feels an urgency she doesn't quite understand. It's this case, it's thinking of these women who had plans and goals in life until they crossed the killer's path. Maybe the danger is finally averted.
Lindsay, usually much more observant than Cindy wants her to be at times, seems oblivious to her internal struggle.
"This was great," she declares. "So it's decided. You can move in."
Cindy's heart misses a beat. "Hey, don't joke about things like that. I mean, there's some sense in it, I live alone, you live alone, we could save..."
And she's talking too much, again, but Lindsay just smiles at her indulgently, another testimony to how tired she really is. "If you take over the cooking, we could talk about it."
She leans back into her chair with a sigh. "I guess I should turn in early tonight. We've got to work on Marten some more. Slamming the door in my face won't hold him forever, if we don't come up with any evidence. And as for shooting at Ashe, hell, I wanted to do it myself."
There is a moment of silence, in which Cindy ponders what to say, what to do that could lead them in the direction she is hoping for, but she waits too long.
"Thank you," Lindsay says, getting up from the table, and then she's up and gone into the bathroom.
The web is growing tighter. As I'm standing in the bathroom, splashing water on my face - it still hurts - the pressure is back again. From the inside, it's always been there, ever since we found Sarah Rice's body. I've always known that the story won't be over until he and I have come face to face, sooner or later.
The pressure from the outside - from the moment Agent Ashe shared the news with Tom, and subsequently, Jacobi knew, and it came to the point where I couldn't not tell the girls - felt suffocating.
I know, a saner person would probably be glad of their support, but their fear shows me clearly what I never really could admit - he could get to me, in a situation where no training in the world would save me. I'm kidding myself believing it happened to these women because they didn't carry a gun.
There's a target on my back, and by proxy, on my friends'. I've never been this aware of it.
And I hate it.
Again, neither of them finds sleep at night. There is no real rest as long as they are unsure whether or not the man in custody is Kiss-Me-Not, and the fact that the storm outside has picked up, doesn't help.
Martha squeezes herself in next to Cindy, then at her feet, then with a giant yawn and a gaze that gives Cindy a guilty conscience, she jumps down to take the same place on the floor next to the couch.
Cindy reaches down to pet her. "I'm sorry, girl," she whispers. "I could think of another solution, too."
Which is crazy and she knows it. She's aware that, for the most part, she keeps clinging to the notion that hey, it's just the timing that isn't right at the moment, and the chance will come. She doesn't allow herself the thought that Lindsay simply might not be interested, because... and that might be even crazier, because for a while now, Cindy has entertained the fantasy that she could - what, make her? "That's stupid," she tells Martha who doesn't seem to disagree.
It's just that... Cindy has watched Lindsay closely, from day one. And she's pretty sure it can't all be her wishful thinking; of course, Lindsay was married, but if it doesn't work out, it doesn't count, right? There could be something. If that something is for Cindy... she has yet to learn.
Sooner or later, when she finds the courage.
The opportunity presents itself sooner than she has hoped or feared -- a loud crash makes her bolt upright, and Martha retreats under the coffee table with a bark that sounds more fearful than dangerous.
Lindsay is there a moment later, fully dressed, gun drawn. "I'll go check outside," she says. "You girls stay here."
Cindy just nods, trying futilely to calm her skittish heart. She feels very much like joining Martha under the table - "Some police dog you are!", but instead she gets up from the couch, gathering her own clothes.
//It doesn't have to be... Maybe some youths playing a prank, or the wind, right? It doesn't have to be Kiss-Me-Not.//
She can hear Lindsay swear, and then all promises are forgotten as Cindy hastens outside to find... Oh, well. Lindsay battling with a loose shutter. She abandons it when she sees Cindy standing on the porch, shaking her head in exasperation.
"Now, what did I tell you?"
"I thought you might... need me."
It's only now that Cindy becomes aware of the fact that she is freezing, barefoot and still wearing the silly nightshirt. Yeah, right, the perfect conditions for getting Lindsay to warm to the idea of a relationship... She feels very foolish all of a sudden. "Sorry," she murmurs.
Lindsay comes back, laying her arm around Cindy's shoulders as she passes her. The sudden warmth is startling.
"Come on. Move." The irritation is obvious, but she doesn't let go until they're back in the living room again.
What am I going to do with her?
Cindy is in the bathroom, possibly hiding from me, since I have yet to read her the riot act about once again doing something... Well, following me outside has turned out to be rather inconsequential, except for dirty, cold feet, but we couldn't know that it was only a broken shutter. It could have been him; I almost feel the urge to call the precinct and check to see if Marten's still there, but that's stupid, somebody would have called me. If Marten is not who we think he is...
As if that wasn't enough. It's not like I haven't noticed, her... eyes on me like that. It's not like I haven't... *thought*... Oh damn it, look at me, sleeping with my ex when I knew he was going to get married. Just as Jacobi said - sad and stupid. My track record in relationships isn't exactly the best, and I know I'm just like that, when it comes to the job versus private life, guess what's going to get shoved aside.
I might have crossed a line with Kiss-Me-Not, but I won't be having 9 to 5 days when this is over. That's not me. And I'm way too jaded for someone like Cindy who thought nothing of trusting a suspect in a murder investigation, because he seemed trustworthy. Well, that's not what she said. She said 'cute'.
That, and I'm curious, but uncertain at the same time. Her expectations in the long run, mine... and *because*.
I mean it's not like I can't imagine... I can. Definitely. It's just that imagination is all I have to work with for the moment.
There's also another, uglier, thought - maybe Cindy thinks it, too, that my earlier decisions were sad and stupid. Maybe it's all about sympathy, cooking me dinner because I haven't been eating right, sharing my bed, because all I've got lately is a one-night-stand with my now married ex?
She chooses exactly that moment to come out of the bathroom, a defiant look on her face. Taking in how young she looks in that nightshirt, I feel guilty because of my earlier thoughts - and very foolish. Maybe I've been mistaken all along.
"What were you doing out there?" It comes out harsher than intended. I almost expect her to stick her tongue out at me.
"I thought we were through with that. I'm not a kid, even though you see me as one half the time, and I... I was worried about you."
"He could have been out there."
I can be brutal if it's to get the point across. Unfortunately, Cindy can put up, too. "I know. That's why."
Before I know it, I jump up, moving into her personal space, anger, want and fear a dizzying mix on my mind. "Are you crazy?"
"Maybe," she says.
Cindy reaches up, just like she did in the bullpen today, and caresses Lindsay's face, just like she wanted to do earlier. In a way that couldn't possibly be misunderstood. Lindsay looks almost startled, but she still finds drastic enough words:
"I don't need your pity. I'm not that much of an emotional cripple."
Figures. When it looks like giving up control, Lindsay Boxer fears it.
"I never said you were." Cindy's angry at those words, they struck, but she knows it's important to stay focused here. Make no mistake, pity is the last thing she wants to give Lindsay. "This is not to... oh come on, you know this is not a joke. You're practically my dream come t-- oh, great, now I'm making a complete fool of myself, which is all your fault, by the way."
Lindsay seems to consider this for a moment. Then she gives a quick, meaningful smile. "I guess I must live with the blame then..."
Before Cindy can ever figure out how it happened, Lindsay has her up against the wall, kissing her long and hard. If that's supposed to scare her off, Lindsay's tactic is all wrong, because she might have dreamed of something else, but her knees are weak from something other than being scared.
When Lindsay eventually releases her, both of them are short of breath.
"That's how messed up I am right now. You're still sure you want to deal with this?"
It might be a little disillusionment on her side, but Cindy has waited too long and too hard for this moment to let herself be discouraged now. "If there's any chance you still want to deal with *me*, the answer is yes."
"You have no idea," Lindsay whispers, her hand cupping the side of Cindy's face, then trailing down her neck, collarbone, stopping just short of the swell of a breast.
Cindy holds her breath. Is having no idea a good or a bad thing? She decides on the former, as Lindsay pulls her close again for another deep, intense kiss, pushing up Cindy's nightshirt to finally touch bare skin. She holds up her arms for Lindsay to pull it over her head, impatient, not wanting to miss a moment of those lips on her, Lindsay's tongue in her mouth.
She is pretty sure that she won't be able to stand upright much longer, as her legs are trembling and her whole body is tingling, aching to be touched.
Lindsay's shirt joins Cindy's on the floor, and she's kind of behind, since Cindy has only worn the nightshirt over her underwear to begin with. "Wait. I actually have a bedroom," she says, and it cracks them both up, the giggles somewhat easing the nervousness they share... They've only just entered the emotional rollercoaster.
Moments later, the back of her knees hit the edge of the bed in said bedroom, and she has a moment to collect herself as Lindsay grumbles about how there's no graceful way for a person to get out of jeans. Cindy doesn't say it aloud, but at this point, every move turns her on in a way that makes it hard to wait another second... but her soon-to-be-lover is very aware of her state anyway. Right from the start, she couldn't lie to Lindsay.
The touch of cool sheets make Cindy shiver, but only until Lindsay's body is covering hers, especially when they have removed the last pieces of clothing. This is better now, the height difference rather insignificant like this; Cindy doesn't have to strain up to meet Lindsay's mouth, and she loves to be trapped like this, not a surprise that Lindsay likes it on top.
For all her boldness, her touches are tender, tentative, in a sort of 'Can I...?' way, which makes Cindy asssume that Lindsay hasn't strayed from straight life before, the way Cindy has. She doesn't mind, though, liking this just fine.
//You can, you can do whatever you want with me...//
Lindsay gets the message even without words, because her hand slides down Cindy's side, eliciting a shiver, and there's a hint of triumph in her smile, when she reaches between Cindy's legs.
The first touch is careful, testing. When Lindsay has an idea of what she is doing, about an instant later, Cindy's eyes flutter shut as she sinks back into the cushion while her lower body strains to meet those fingers. "I must be doing something right," Lindsay muses, breath whispering over Cindy's skin.
"Believe me, you are..." Opening her eyes again, because she doesn't want to miss a single moment. And then it's too much, the warm hand pleasuring her, Lindsay's dark eyes, darker with desire now, watching her intently, and Cindy is losing herself in that gaze.
She's still trembling head to toe when Lindsay draws her close, covering them both with the sheet. It's been a while, forever, that someone has held her like this, like she's precious. At this moment, she feels happy and free, and Cindy smiles, thinking of exactly how she'll show Lindsay her gratitude.
I'm woken by the soft brush of a strand of long auburn hair against my face; and then I need a moment to assure myself that it's all real. The next reassurance I need is that I won't spend the day torturing myself with regrets the way I did after - not a good idea to think of Tom now.
Cindy stirs beside me, blinking sleepily, then her eyes widen.
I almost expect her to look under the sheet, and yes, I can say for sure, no clothes. There is a tense moment, before the smile on her face kills all my doubts in a heartbeat. So she just needed a moment to adjust to reality, too.
"A good morning to you, too," I say. "I was going to wake you in a--"
The phone rings. Not a good sign when it's before the alarm goes off.
"I'll meet you at the precinct," Ashe says. "Marten's wife has turned up." He makes a dramatic pause, and I groan, knowing, before he adds, "dead."
"Oh come on, not again. I haven't had any contact with the bitch in two years! So somebody killed her. Can't say I care much, after all the trouble she's caused me."
Marten's look at me is daring. I keep my face carefully blank.
"So where were you yesterday morning, between ten and twelve?"
His eyes follow me as I circle the table.
"Working. I bet you checked that already."
"Working," I repeat, "making deliveries, I guess. So it's a coincidence you made a delivery just across the street from where your ex-wife lived?"
He throws up his hands. Pity. I am just as frustrated by him. "Of course it's a coincidence. Why should I want to see her? It would have just pissed me off."
"Is that right?"
Before I went in the room, I also had a brief talk with Rosie Marten's sister who had indentified her body. She had told us that he'd been seeing Rosie again regularly, and that her sister was afraid, but didn't want to cause him more trouble.
Such a fucked-up thing that he would make her take the responsibility for his stalking her, but what's more important - we'll get him for this. At the moment, the CSI team is going over her apartment with a fine-toothed comb. They're going to come up with something.
"It is. She was... always talking too much, telling lies, about me, always talking. Most of the time I just wanted her to shut up."
That's when my heart starts beating faster. Shutting her up... with a needle and a thread? Rosie Marten's mouth wasn't sewn shut like the others, but what if she was where it had all started, his sick compulsion?
"So you did, right? Shut her up." I've walked around the table again, standing behind him while Ashe, who leaves the work to me again, stands at the far side of the room.
Leaping to his feet, Kevin Marten suddenly has his hands wrapped around my throat before anyone can stop him, and is squeezing, hard.
"You lying bitch, I'm going to show you--!" he yells, his hands squeezing even tighter. The attack catches me off guard, I'm struggling against his hold. Training kicks in, but even so, my vision starts to gray out; why the hell doesn't Ashe do something?
"Never shut up until I make them. Telling lies and fairy tales."
I manage to ram my elbow strategically into his ribcage; Marten loosens his grip, temporarily winded, and I put the cuffs on him, panting for breath when he's finally off me.
"Damn it," I gasp, as Ashe comes over; "You were getting back at me for *not properly covering* you?
I'm so mad I don't even care that he probably wasn't supposed to know that Tom shared Ashe's assessment of me.
"I would have intervened if I hadn't been sure you could handle it. And don't we have all the information we need? Lies, and fairy tales. Sounds like our man."
"Don't think you can get away!" Marten shouts. "I'll make you shut up, too. Soon."
Ashe gives him a disgusted look and for the first time, he actually addresses Marten. "I'd see a problem there for the lack of an opportunity."
Marten ignores him, flashing me a look of pure hate, his face contorted with it.
There's your monster.
I'm pacing in the morgue as Claire finishes sewing up Rosie Marten's body. Jill pales slightly, taking a step backwards, while Cindy looks - interested. She catches me watching her, blushes, then looks away.
"Good news, by the way," Claire says. "The blood from the van matches that from the carnage in your mailbox. And guess, what? Some of the blood in her apartment..."
She has us all captivated. "... was also from the scene. But the real clincher is - this."
I lean closer while Jill is now turning a decidedly greener shade, and even Cindy seems startled.
"A goose feather. He shoved it down her throat," Claire informs us matter-of-factly.
I grimace unwittingly, her words reminding me too much of those hands around my throat earlier today, my breathing still feeling constricted. Another bruise to add to the collection; people are going to start giving me funny looks. "So he choked her?"
"It doesn't fit the profile." Jill sounds a bit choked, too.
"He did," Claire confirms, "and he also stuck a needle in her. Right here."
She indicates a spot on the woman's face right above her upper lip, and that's when I have to reach behind me, grab the edge of a chair.
//"Don't think you can get away!"... "I'll make you shut up, too. Soon."//
"Lindsay! Are you all right?"
Jill's voice seems to come from far away. Cindy is beside me in an instant, insisting I sit down until I bat her hands away. I'm all right.
We all know what that needle was going to be used for; if he hadn't been interrupted.
He didn't get to me. We got to him first.
Marten doesn't confess. In fact, he totally clams up now. What makes me uneasy still is that we can tie him to the murder of his ex-wife, and also to the creepy delivery of the dead goose - but there's no evidence yet to say for sure that he's Kiss-Me-Not.
Oh, he's got the potential; I've got the bruises to prove it. And the upper lip is not a place where you'd inject a person... If only we could find the needle, and the thread he was going to use.
Agent Ashe agrees that we should take another look at the crime scene - "Because you know him better than any of those techs who went over the scene. You're the best bet to find the needle in the haystack - literally."
I don't comment. A few days ago he said he wasn't impressed with me; I don't need him to be now.
At 9:30 in the evening, Ashe and I leave Rosie Marten's apartment to check her ex-husband's trailer home again. My throat is sore, and my face sure remembers the encounter with *that* door. I'd like to be home, preferably get a little pampering from Cindy again... but for once, Ashe is right, we should follow up on the traces as long as there's the chance we could still find anything.
Cindy... as I have to stop at a red light I indulge myself for a moment, thinking of her, and I realize how much I want this case to end, so there'll be time to make some decisions, get this sorted out.
A step forward; I'm sure Claire would call it that, though I think Cindy and I had better keep this between us for a while. There's not been a single moment to talk to her alone since we left the house this morning...
Ashe touches my arm briefly; I've been so lost in thought I jump at the touch, almost snap at him. The lights are green again, and I refrain from sighing. All things relationship-wise will have to be dealt with some time later.
A familiar pattern of mine.
Ashe has squeezed himself into the little bathroom of the trailer when I hear the sound. There are footsteps outside. It seems, we're not the only ones interested in this place.
"There's somebody outside," I tell him curtly. He just nods and follows me, weapon drawn, as I cautiously open the door and step outside. I can see the shape of a person trying to melt into the shadows of the nearby trees. Ashe takes the front this time while I advance from the other side...
"Don't shoot, it's just me!"
I don't trust my ears. "Cindy! What the hell are you doing here?"
She tries to get away with an easy smile as usual, but I'm not sold. Too much has changed. Before, it had been an obligation to keep her from doing foolishly dangerous things. Now it's also a selfish need.
"Same as you, it seems. I thought there was maybe something at Marten's that everybody has overlooked."
"Well, there's not," I snap at her. "That's why we're leaving now. See you at the house."
"You could have arrested her," Ashe comments as we drive back to the city, and I'm checking if Cindy in her little-red-car-Maggie is still behind us.
"Believe me," I sigh, "I tried. Doesn't really help."
"So you found other ways." It's the first time I actually see him smile.
"You can bet on that."
Claire Washburn's job is to understand the stories of the dead. Which doesn't mean she hasn't got an eye for what's going on with the living; in fact, she's very good at reading between the lines.
For example, Lindsay and Cindy. Claire is still somewhat mortified that she fell for what seemed to be the easiest explanation for why Tom took the job as Lieutenant, that he wanted to be close to Lindsay. That theory has long been falsified by now, and Claire is hesitant to make just another assumption about Lindsay's private life, but still...
It's so easy to see the trouble brewing there.
Claire likes Cindy, a lot, and she saw the interest right away - but, she also suspects, Cindy gets deeply curious about a lot of things. And Lindsay - she acts tough, but underneath she's also very vulnerable, especially at the moment. So it would have been a good thing if the two of them had taken their time, but Claire knew when she saw them in the bullpen today - too little, too late.
That's how good she is at observing the living, or maybe it was just too obvious.
And she is Lindsay's best friend and therefore has to confront Cindy, even if she's anticipated the anger - and the hurt.
"You still don't trust me, right?"
It's the 'still' that hits the mark. Yes, there was a time when they weren't too sure what to make of the young reporter and her eagerness to 'join the club'. "That has nothing to do with it. All I'm saying is that the timing could have been better."
"You think I'm using her."
It's not what Claire thinks, not now, but the fact that she could have had that theory earlier, when they didn't know Cindy well, is enough to make her uncomfortable. "No, I don't. I don't want either of you getting hurt, and as this case doesn't seem to be over anyway, that's a distinct possibility."
"Claire, I..." Cindy takes a deep breath, and there's a quiver to her voice. "I consider you a friend, okay? But that's not for you to decide, it's our call, Lindsay's and mine. God, I don't know what you're afraid of anyway, I'm so much in love with her I can't think straight!"
That's exactly what Claire is worried about, but she doesn't say it aloud, as making Cindy cry - though she tries to hide it - makes her feel guilty enough. And it dawns on her that Lindsay's not the only one dealing with a lot of pressure here -- they all are, at the moment.
Even after she'd been 'in', Claire has often enough thought of Cindy as the 'kid' in their little exclusive club. Hell, it's probably because she's so young and looks younger still, but there's nothing child-like about her now. Claire muses that there's nothing like the threat to a loved one's life, and the responsibility that comes with loving someone, to make you mature.
"I'm sorry. You are right, it's not my decision to make."
Cindy smiles, though her eyes are still bright. "I understand; you just had to check... You love her, too. Well, in a different way, anyway. I hope."
Claire rolls her eyes at her, against all odds relieved that they've had this conversation.
I'm having this eerie déjà-vu feeling as I let her precede me into my house and then slam the door shut behind me for emphasis. Cindy flinches, which gives me some kind of perverse pleasure.
I'm giving her the silent treatment, waiting for her to say something that'll give me right and reason to explode.
I don't have to wait long.
"I don't really know what you expect of me," she says. "I've got a job to do, too, and--"
"Which does not include snooping around Kevin Marten's place!"
"Oh, come on. If we hadn't coincidentally met, you wouldn't even know."
"Great. Then what else are you keeping from me?"
It wasn't my intention to say this, to make it sound so... hurt, baring myself and all insecurities regarding us, but damn it, the shouting makes my throat hurt even more, and I can't believe her casual attitude. I've always been worried about her near obliviousness to dangerous situations, but that was before we got... close.
"Nothing," she says, all defiance gone from her eyes.
"I'm counting on it." I'm still upset, still thinking that someday we'll have to find a solution here, but not tonight, and I'm reaching out for her, cupping her face in my hands. Desperate to touch, desperate to taste; I got it bad.
"I'm counting on *you*," I whisper, my hands in her hair as I'm licking her lips, gently parting them with my tongue. There is no resistance. "Please, don't let me down." Hands straying under her shirt, reaching for the fastening of her bra, following soft curves, around her waist and up again.
Her nipples harden under my questing fingers, a soft blush creeping into her cheeks. I'm thinking of last night, her body shivering under my hands, over and over again.
I'm feeling powerful. I'm powerless.
She knows it. "I won't. God, I love you."
We kiss again, with a clearly defined purpose now, and moments later, I have my back against the cabinet, blouse hanging open, and my jeans have somehow ended up pooled around my ankles. I think that I must look ridiculous like that... Cindy doesn't seem to think so as she gets down on her knees in a fluid motion, like a woman with a plan. Oh well. I could have done this in bed... Although...
I look down at Cindy looking up at me, that knowing little smile she gives me making a shiver run all the way down my spine. Despite all that happened last night... I can't fool her into thinking I'd know a hell of a lot more about this, because the truth is, I don't. She's most likely more experienced here than I am, which makes me - nervous? I'm not sure. In any case, she's eager, and hell, yes, I am too.
She's also a tease.
Running her hands up and down my legs, she whispers, "Just relax and let me do the work, okay?"
"I actually have a choice?" That's merely rhetorical, and we both know it.
Cindy shakes her head then, leaning forward, presses her face against my belly, her breath caressing my heated skin.
Seconds tick by, and the only thing I can hear is my own breathing and the blood rushing in my ears. Am I pathetic, or what? She drops a quick butterfly kiss on my belly button, and then, in one swift motion, pulls down my slip. Hands lightly touch my hips then part my thighs gently, and the next moment, I'm gripping the edge of the cabinet, hard.
I can't think; I can hardly take in any air as my world is reduced to her mouth on me, soft and warm, her tongue doing deviously delicious things. I'm going to melt into a puddle on the floor any minute now... when she stops to catch her breath, and I dare open my eyes, the sight of her open, nothing-hidden smile, her lips shiny and wet, is almost too much.
"It only gets better from here. I promise."
That makes me laugh, because I'm not sure I'll survive 'better'... "I trust you."
Her fingers are digging into my hips this time, and I can't help it, I just surge forward, my tenacious grip on the cabinet the only thing that's holding me up, which is enough for now. I'm not sure how long she keeps me in this netherworld of crazy need, wanting to get *there* so badly, until my knees buckle. She's with me every moment of it, the rise, the unreal moments suspended in time, and the fall, until I slide down with my back against the cabinet, and Cindy makes herself at home in my lap, drawing me into her arms. "Wow, Lindsay. You're pretty intense. Why am I not surprised?"
I decide that this doesn't really need an answer, wrap my arms around her and hold on as tight as I'm capable in this boneless, sated, thoughtless - and basically happy state.
Only moments later comes the thought that these days, it's still a dangerous state to be.
My days seems to befollowing a pattern lately, get bashed, get into an argument with Cindy that leads us to bed, then the interrupting phone call. Tom is not really interrupting anything now, but I'm smiling at the thought that if only he could see Cindy curled up against my side, gloriously naked.
Allow me a little spite, okay?
"Tom? This can't be good."
"It isn't," he says seriously. "Lindsay, Kevin Marten has escaped."
"What?" I'm wide-awake instantly. "When did that happen?"
"I wish the hell I knew. Look, I'm sending someone over to watch the house tonight." He pauses a moment, then adds, "Be careful."
"Don't bother with patrol. I'm coming over."
"They're on their way already. I want you to stay where you are. This is no challenge, Lindsay."
I shake my head at the receiver, aware of Cindy's curious look. "You have no idea. That's exactly what it is - to him. With resources like this, chances are he's already here. I won't be a sitting duck."
"See you in a few."
Cindy's sitting up in bed, looking at me questioningly, and I pull her close, enjoying the feel of her still sleep-warm body in my arms. "Baby, I need to ask you a favor." The endearment comes naturally.
She nods against my shoulder. "I have to go and meet Tom, but first, I'm going to drop you off at Claire's, okay?"
"No objections so far, though I'm not sure Claire will appreciate another houseguest... What's happened anyway?"
"It's Marten," I tell her. "He got away."
"Oh my God, what did Tom say? Isn't he going to get you protection?"
"I don't need protection. I just want to catch him." I almost regret not the words, but the tone of them. The anger isn't really directed at her. Just... when will this ever stop?
I'm out of bed the next moment, hastily putting some clothes on. Thinking aloud - "I guess we'll play it low key with the girls, okay? Now would not be a good moment to come out."
Cindy looks very uncomfortable. Oh no. That doesn't mean...
"On the other hand, if there's something that you need to tell me, now would be a *very* good time."
"It's just that--" she mumbles, and pauses again.
I raise my eyebrows.
"Clairealreadyknows," she blurts out.
"What?" I don't know what to say to this. Truth be told, I've never had the time to think that far yet, Cindy and I, a future in which people around us *know*. It's been two days!
Claire is going to think I've completely lost it. First Tom, my fear of being pregnant, my totally inappropriate reaction to not being pregnant... and now this.
I sink back on the side of the bed, leaning forward to rest my face in my hands, just for a moment feeling hopelessly overtaxed. "This can't be true," I say, meaning much more than this ill-timed revelation. "Why the hell did you--"
"I didn't do anything," Cindy says defensively. "She figured it out."
This is just going to get worse. "Whatever. We don't have time for this tonight anyway. Are you getting ready now or what?"
She looks hurt, and part of me feels clearly guilty, but I can't deal with that part right now. Marten is out there. Maybe, very literally. Time for both of us to get out of here. "Today would be nice."
"Let me pack my laptop at least, so I can do a little more work on the fairy tales. Maybe that'll help, and I've got this deadline--"
"Yeah, right. Always happy to help with your career."
That's where I've overstepped the line; she doesn't say anything after that. Her silence feels stifling and relieving at the same time. I desperately need a break - and not just in the case.
"Lindsay, I'm just wondering, could it be that you've got a problem with authority figures?"
I roll my eyes at Tom, not in the mood for jokes like this. "Are you coming?"
Tom follows me down the hall to the holding cell. He's still angry. Figures, I'm not the most liked person around these days. And I really don't care. I've had some peace in a row of horrible days, but it wasn't lip service when I told Ashe I was ready to lay it all on the line in order to stop Kiss-Me-Not.
I was *dead* serious.
"There are absolutely no traces. We have no idea how he got away." Or maybe I've been mistaken, and it's not really me Tom is mad at. Maybe I'm just conveniently here to take the brunt. Considering my conversation with Cindy, this is probably poetic justice. Why do I keep screwing up a good thing? All I want is for her to be safe. On a different level, and hence my over-the-top reaction, I want her all for myself. God, I wasn't kidding her when I said I was messed up.
I look at the lock; not a single scratch or indention. That leaves only one other interpretation.
"Don't tell me somebody let him out."
"If you have any other idea, I'd love to hear it," Tom says grimly.
Cindy has retreated to the guestroom at the first possible opportunity, not wanting to deal with Jill and Claire's sympathy.
She's still angry and hurt, as she typesaway on the laptop; in some ways more angry at herself than at Lindsay, because she should have seen this coming. Not Marten's escape, of course, or Lindsay's snide remark about her career - no, she just shouldn't have jumped into this the way she did, hoping it would all be easy...
Nothing is ever easy where Lindsay Boxer is concerned, even less so at the moment. She should have known, should have been more patient. Almost against her will, her thoughts wander back to last night, and the night before, how she had *fallen*, a bit more with each kiss, each brush of skin against skin.
Impossible to think of going back to a moment where she did not have that knowledge. Lindsay being, *um, pushy*, demanding, Cindy expected. She had fantasized about it long and hard almost from the day they first met at the Register.
The tenderness was sweet in the aftermath of their first lovemaking, but it had been when she held Lindsay close, stroking her hand down the other woman's back, and Lindsay had gone to sleep like that, that Cindy had had to blink back tears.
There are tears in her eyes now, and they're not happy ones.
She also realizes that when Claire said something about the possibility of someone getting hurt in this, she didn't just mean Lindsay.
The guard on duty swears he hasn't seen anything. He went for a coffee, his keys never left his sight, and when he came back, Marten was just gone. What's even more eerie, he sounds truthful. He's been working for the precinct for more than a decade.
Agent Ashe is on the phone in Tom's office; he interrupts the call quickly when we come in.
"Inspector. I didn't expect to see you here."
I look from him to Tom. While I drove here, road-blocks had been set up; every cop in the city is on alert tonight. I can't just be sitting here. "Why don't you assign me to a team out there? You did with Jacobi."
"That's because he hasn't made a personal threat to Jacobi. I want you to stay here. And that's an order."
I swear Ashe is smirking behind his hand.
Why don't you? Anything to make my life even more miserable.
Cindy tries to do her job anyway, and not think of Lindsay, even though it is futile. If it wasn't for Lindsay, she most likely wouldn't be here, not even at the crime desk, and admiring Theresa Woo's successor from afar.
There's something that is disturbing her, just an unformed thought still, not ready to share.
Lindsay had doubts right away about Marten being the Kiss-Me-Not killer, even when there was evidence, even after he had attacked her. The results of the DNA tests from the crime scene pointed to him as the killer - of his ex-wife.
The thing is -- from what Cindy has heard, he doesn't seem like a man who stages murders based on fairy tales. There were no books in the trailer. He's a man who thinks that women should always cater, listen to him, and if they don't, they deserve his punishment. Could be that Kiss-Me-Not has similar beliefs, but with him, it's more complicated.
Then again the dead goose, the feather found in Rosie Marten's body, and now Marten's escape.
They're missing a piece of the puzzle, if not more.
She steals outside the house early in the morning, leaving a note for Jill and Claire. Cindy intends to go home, have a shower and breakfast, on her own, sort things out, then go back to the Register, and maybe call Lindsay then.
She stops at a bakery near the precinct, but decides otherwise when she passes a café and recognizes a familiar person. She might not like him very much, but on the other hand, he could be just the right person to ask a question or two about unfinished thoughts.
"Any word on Marten yet?"
I glare at Ashe who has just returned from wherever he's been gone for nearly an hour. He knows; I would have called him otherwise.
"The city's sealed tight. He can't have gone far." I wearily rub my temples, trying to fool my body into believing I really have a good night's sleep behind me.
"Okay." Ashe sits down across from me, leaning into my personal space. "Where is he going? You know this man better than any of us. What is he thinking? Will he try his best to get away now?"
As tired as I am, my mind is crystal clear.
"No. There's unfinished business." I'm expecting him to answer, but he doesn't, so I speak out. "Me."
He nods, silently prompting me to go on.
"The others, the way he killed them, it's all part of his M.O. Between him and me, he thinks it's a challenge, a game that he's determined to win."
Which is too much of a sophisticated plan for Kevin Marten to come up with and execute, isn't it?
The doubts are back in my mind.
"Aren't you determined to win, too?" Ashe asks, and as the implications sink in, I hate him even more.
No one who has ever been involved with Kevin Marten seems to like him much in the long run. Faith Garner, Rosie's sister, had found colorful expletives, before she broke down crying.
Jill is once again poring over the court files. The stalking conviction wasn't Marten's only one; a few years back, his then father-in-law had accused him of stealing money from the company, a business of importing machinery for agricultural machinery.
Not that there can be any connection to the current case, can there? The father-in-law closed down the business and moved to a retirement home in Florida eight years ago.
It's not exactly the story of a serial killer, and yet, he has killed.
Making a decision on the spur of a moment, she calls Cindy. As expected, she is eager to help, though Jill thinks she can hear something in her voice, just not... as bouncy as usual. Gravity has caught up with Cindy Thomas, and her name is Lindsay Boxer.
It would have all been so sweet, except right now it isn't, too many complications - it all comes down to Lindsay once again laying her life and relationship on the line for the chance to stop this monster. Not that Jill can really blame her, because she wants him off the streets just as badly, but the two of them, Lindsay and Cindy, are good for each other, and for once, Jill wants to see a love story work out.
Believe in fairy tales.
She shakes her head at herself. "Look, I'm not really sure what I'm after yet."
Cindy's laugh sounds a little off. "Welcome to the club. What can I do for you?"
Jill tells her about Marten's in-laws, and Cindy promises to see if there's anything to be found on the company and Marten's supposed stealing, unobtrusively of course. Nothing dangerous, just checking the archives.
They will bring the different threads together, and hopefully, finally, soon, end the nightmare.
Happily ever after?
Okay, so she's supposed to just check the archives about Garner's Import Company, but as they say, one thing leads to another, and Cindy comes across an article where it's mentioned that the chief secretary was the one who found the evidence against Marten that made Garner fire him.
Rosie, at that time, had taken her husband's side, for which her father had disowned her.
From that, it takes Cindy only five minutes research on the internet and two phone calls to find out Eleanor Reed's address.
Reed, now in her sixties, sounds puzzled when Cindy introduces herself and asks her about Garner. "That was a long time ago," she says in the slow, measured tone that suggests medication; "I can't see how I can possibly help you."
"Would you meet me for, let's say, twenty minutes? I won't bother you for long."
Cindy can almost hear her shrug.
"Whatever. But you have to come visit me at home. I don't go out."
"That's not a problem, Mrs. Reed."
I try to reach Cindy but the line is busy, maybe just as well because I have yet to find the right words. Apologize? It's complicated, hard to say what the future will look like, or if there's any, for us.
The past few years the Kiss-Me-Not killer has been my most steady companion. There's hardly been a day I haven't thought him, even with all the other cases I've worked on in the meantime. Something's going to change, one way or another.
Am I scared? At the moment, I'm just tired. We're not after a phantom; Kevin Marten is real, a man with a face.
On the other hand if I allow myself, for one moment, the thought that it might not be him...
Then *he* is much cleverer than we all thought. That is what scares me.
And then I realize what's been in front of us all the time, but no one has caught up on.
We might find out what's in the box with the Golden Key after all.
Cindy has at first thought that there might be a visible reason, like a handicap, why Mrs. Reed can't go out, but the frail, dark-haired woman who greets her at the door doesn't seem all that much impaired. Face to face now, Cindy realizes that she was right about assuming medication, and the barely noticeable handshake and slumped posture of Reed screams depression to her.
Even the house seems kind of dark, and when Cindy comes further inside, she realizes that all the curtains are drawn. Even though this woman is certainly not dangerous, the whole ambience in here is... creepy.
"I made some tea," Reed says slowly, and it sounds as if it's the only thing she made today. Which is probably true. "Would you like a cup?"
"Uh, yes, sure." Cindy takes a seat in the old, overstuffed armchair, almost expecting to raise a cloud of dust. Somebody has tried to halt the passage of time. She turns around, startled at the excessive number of picture frames over the fireplace, all of them showing a young woman, sometimes with Eleanor and what looks to be friends, but no man around.
An instant later she recognizes the woman in the pictures, and a shudder passing through her.
This can't be a coincidence.
Cindy spins around so hastily, Mrs. Reed almost drops the tray she is carrying.
Eleanor Reed is the mother of Sarah Rice's, Kiss-Me-Not's first victim.
"He manipulated accounts, and I found out about it. He denied it, but Mr. Garner believed me. You should have seen Marten; he's a choleric. Made phone calls to my house, even sent me a threatening letter once."
"But you never reported him?
"Foolish, wasn't it?"
Cindy can't disagree so she says nothing, her mind still reeling from what she has just found out. And she can swear Lindsay does not know about this, or she would have shared the news inside the club. But how can this be?
"He once laid a dead cat on my porch," Reed says matter-of-factly. "Of course, Marten and his antics became very much unimportant after Sarah was killed."
"Did you talk to the police then?"
A headshake is the answer. "Look, I gave Sarah up for adoption. I had only recently found out where she lived, and... we met. But we kept it a secret from the Rices. When... it--" she swallows hard -- "When it happened, I was just scared. I had this job I couldn't risk, no one there knew about Sarah, or my past."
"Why did you give her up?" Cindy asks gently, sensing that there's a point to all this.
Eleanor Reed stares straight ahead. The longtime use, or more likely, abuse of antidepressants had dampened her emotions to the point her eyes don't turn bright even when she talks about Sarah who was the first victim found with her mouth sewn shut. Or what nightmares had lain ahead.
"Because I was in prison, serving a sentence for the manslaughter of Sarah's father."
I shut the door firmly behind me, earning myself an annoyed look from Tom who is on the phone.
He obviously reads from my posture that I won't go away, so he sighs and ends the call.
"We know somebody must have helped him, right? But there's more."
Tom looks nearly as tired as I feel. "Where are you going with this, Lindsay?"
"Marten is a murderer, but there must be someone else. I don't doubt for a second that Marten lied to us all along; he killed Rosie, and I'm sure he was at all the crime scenes, maybe even killed the women. But there was somebody with him, who used Marten as his scapegoat. The mastermind. Kiss-Me-Not."
He groans. "Please don't tell me you're serious."
"It's not unknown of serial killers to work in pairs," Ashe says. "Good work, Inspector Boxer."
I think he actually means it, which is almost as annoying as if he was mocking me.
"Good work? Oh, come on. I should have come to this conclusion years ago! Maybe then Elaine Lewis might still be alive!"
"Hey. Come on." He squeezes my shoulder. Feeling crowded, I back away. "Remember, I read all of your files. You were thorough. There was nothing to suggest it before, but with Marten not exactly being the guy to execute such a drama, it all fits. You couldn't have known before he was caught.."
Of all the people, I really don't want Ashe's sympathy. I still don't like him, not that it counts at the moment. The question is, what are we going to do with the new knowledge?
"Kiss-Me-Not would have liked an admirer, somebody whom he'd think of as inferior, intellectually, and whom he could teach to kill. An apprentice."
Something like triumph flashes in Agent Ashe's eyes before he says, "I really think we should look at your attic once more. Chances are he has watched you. He knows about this place, probably loves it for all the attention it shows you've given him. Think about it, he could have been there."
When Cindy leaves Eleanor Reed's house, it's been three times the twenty minutes she promised, partly, because there were unexpectedly so many more questions, partly because Reed possibly hasn't talked to anyone that long in months, or longer.
There's an old abandoned warehouse by the waterfront that once belonged to Garner industries, but is now considered a dangerous structure and going to be torn down by the end of the month. She is going to check out that warehouse before getting back to the city and bringing all this back to the 'club'.
"This is all I can give you!"
I throw up my hands in frustration. Ashe prods and prods, but no magic solution is forthcoming; I feel utterly drained. The man's a freaking mind vampire.
"I think he could very well be in a law enforcement position. He could be close, unobtrusively close."
The thought is terrifying. We've searched every corner of the attic but found no evidence of any trespassing - which doesn't mean anything. "Maybe he once arrested Marten, or not arrested him in exchange for favors. He is a connoisseur of the human mind, so he could see through Marten, and his potential as a murderer."
Ashe laughs a little uneasily. "Could be any of us."
"True, but there must also be a connection between Marten, that person and the victims. Then, there are the fairy tales. I'm going to call Jill; he can probably help us there. We need to know everyone involved in his earlier arrest."
"Do that. I'll meet you later," Ashe agrees, yet again not bothering to tell me what he's going to do in the meantime.
As dusk falls, Cindy reaches the building which is surrounded by woods on one side, and water on the other. It's all wide open, the doors long off their hinges, and youths have left their marks in grisly-colored graffiti.
She almost stumbles over a beer bottle, curses, but then is inside. There are stairs leading to an upper level, and she considers her options for a moment. It might not be safe to go up there. She decides to check the ground level first and take it from there.
It's all dust, spiderwebs and dirt, and what's more, it's getting darker outside. She switches on the flashlight as she reaches the other side, where there are stairs, too, but this part of the building is startlingly clean. Except for the rusty-brown smears that lead up this side of the staircase.
At that moment, Cindy's cell phone rings, making her jump.
It's Eleanor Reed. Cindy has left her a card, just in case she she remembers something important, and now she has.
"It's strange, I haven't thought about him in years, but I think it was him just on TV, the policeman who arrested me that time. He is one of the investigators who are trying to find the monster that killed my Sarah. He was a detective with Major Crimes back where we lived then. His name was Ashe."
Cindy feels herself grow all cold inside. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Reed. I'm sorry, I'll talk to you again, but I need to make an important phone call."
As she climbs up the stairs, she dials Lindsay's cell.
There isn't anybody on the upper floor, but there is a solitary box. Cindy steps closer, peering into the open box, steeling herself for a bad sight...
... it's a huge book, rather old from the looks of it. It's got a bloody handprint of it.
Left here by Kiss-Me-Not. And chances are, Lindsay is with him now.
That's when she hears the footsteps.
On the way to Jill's office, I call Cindy once again, resisting the urge to take my anger, translate: worry, out on the innocent piece of technology when all I get is a busy line. I really want to hear her voice -- I'm aware we've got a lot to talk about, but that can wait, for now I just have this weird urge to check up on her.
"It's called being 'in love'," I hear Claire's voice in my head and have to smile.
The moment doesn't last long as the headlights of the car behind me are blinding me, and I realize it's been behind me for the past ten minutes.
My hand is on my cell phone again when the other driver slows down and parks beside a diner.
Way to become paranoid.
Cindy swears silently, switching the phone to silent hastily. The footsteps come from the other side of the building. Just maybe, if she could creep out silently and make a dash for her car, she might make it.
Her heart is hammering in her chest, and when the footsteps halt she thinks for a foolish moment that he could have heard her, but that's impossible.
Cindy slowly eases herself down the concrete steps, careful not to make a sound. The exit of the warehouse is only a few feet away, but she has parked Maggie directly on the other side... It doesn't matter; she's got to try, because whoever has come here, Cindy is pretty sure she does not want to meet them.
She breathes a sigh of relief when she steps outside into the cold, clear night air, and nothing is to be heard from the inside. Walking around the warehouse takes her about three minutes, and she can see Maggie in the distance... *Thank God.*
It's important now to make this quick, get the information to Lindsay.
Cindy shoves the key into the lock Her heart nearly stops as she becomes aware of another person's presence, even before she feels the hand on her shoulder and jumps.
"Good evening, Ms. Thomas. What a coincidence," says Agent John Ashe, smiling.
That's when Cindy runs.
She's always been a decent runner, not Olympic material, but good enough. But he's trained, it's dark, and he knows the territory better than she does. In fact, Cindy hardly knows where she is going - other than away from him - but even so, she thinks she has a chance to reach the highway. Maybe.
Her muscles are burning, but adrenaline and the will to get out of here alive are stronger.
She only now realizes that Ashe can't have come by coincidentally. He has followed her here.
Next time, if there's ever one, Cindy vows, she's going to listen to Lindsay and stay away from danger. Scout's Honor.
There's a lake to her right, silvery moonlight glimmering in the water. She can hear the highway now; if she can make it there, she'll be safe, somebody will stop. In the darkness, though, Cindy has missed the small steps that lead down to the path around the lake, and then it's too late, she stumbles, her body painfully impacting with the slick stone.
She drags herself up and cries out as her leg gives way, but what's worse than the injury is the shadow now falling over her.
"Look, I haven't seen anything..." She tries to convince him, but Ashe just smiles at her, shaking his head. Cindy tries to kick him, but with the pain making itself known, her aim is way off.
He takes his time, stroking a strand of hair out of her face with that eerie, absent-minded smile, the tenderness mocking. An instant later, that hand presses a damp cloth over her mouth and nose, and she is forced to breathe in the sickly sweet-smelling fumes. Panic wells up within her, but it doesn't last long as her vision grays out and the world goes dark.
Jill and I have established a list of all involved personnel. As far as we can determine now; there are quite a few people to check on. We agree that we can rule out the women, as the psychological profile suggests that Kiss-Me-Not wouldn't have wanted one as his, if inferior, companion.
He just wants their pain.
A shudder slithers down my spine. Jill, sensing my state correctly, looks up and reaches out to touch my arm gently. "It will be over soon," she says. "This time, he won't get away."
"Let's hope not."
I take a look at my watch, startled at how much time has passed. My growling stomach reminds me. Jill smiles. "Okay, a quick snack is warranted. Right now." We never get to it, though, because Jacobi comes inside, his gaze serious. Claire is right behind him.
"Lindsay, come on. There's been a delivery for you."
When Cindy comes to, it's in a dark room where the air is thick with dust and smells she doesn't want to think too hard about.
There's no light except for a shaft of moonlight that's coming through the high window. After a while, as the vertigo and nausea pass, she can make out shapes. Giant bookshelves. He has brought her to some kind of library.
This is Kiss-Me-Not's home.
Looking down, Cindy realizes that he has bandaged her knee. What a fucking irony when he's planning to kill her anyway! //Don't think that now.// Her shoes are missing. She wonders what he did that for. She's tied up, can't run anyway, but if she could, Cindy is pretty sure that the lack of shoes wouldn't stop her.
It's hard to breathe in here, and she can't be sure if it's the boundless fear that's pressing against her ribcage like a too tight, unwanted embrace, or if the air is really that stale in here.
Could be that the room hasn't been aired in a while, hence the smell from the far side of it. Cindy tries not to imagine what must be behind the rows of shelves to produce such a smell, except she knows, and she can't help the desperate sob that rises up in her throat and makes it past her lips.
She's been in over her head before, but this time it's different.
It's Kiss-Me-Not, and he'll do whatever possible to hurt Lindsay.
//Oh God, Lindsay. Help Me.//
The photograph is only a cheap Polaroid; the lines blurred, but I see the woman's fear anyway. No, that's not right, I can feel it, *breathe* it.
The woman is alive, not visibly harmed. Yet. The lines crisscrossing over her mouth were made by a kohl pencil. He has done this to mock me, my inability to catch him. And now he has raised the stakes in this fatal game to an unbearable height.
Not that they weren't before.
I remember how I told Agent Ashe to back off, leave me alone, because I had already failed. There was a time when I had been bitter for all I had lost to the sadistic killer - a big chunk out of my professional self-confidence, not to mention my marriage.
Now, this - it's too much. Just for an instant, a split second, the fear reaches out for me, wrapping cold hands around my throat, starting to squeeze...
But I swallow back the tears that have threatened to break through since I opened the manila folder with the picture inside. I hold the inner demon at bay, because I know, failure is not an option this time.
Jacobi, Jill and Claire have been standing around my desk, the worry etched into their faces for me as well as for the woman in the picture, I suspect.
The killer thinks that he's in charge, then, and again, but he doesn't know yet that he's overstepped an invisible line. At that moment, I vow that I am going to hunt him down, and this time I won't stop, if it's the last thing I ever do.
I look into my friends' faces, seeing the same resolve that has taken hold of me. And then I'm saying it aloud, "We'll get him this time."
With my gloved hand, I caress the picture of a terrified Cindy that the Kiss-Me-Not Killer has sent me.
"And we'll get her back alive."
There's so much certainty in my words that no one dares to object - not even that inner demon that won't release me before these two tasks are done.
She screamed and he let her, looking vaguely amused by her terror.
It probably amuses him that she freaked out because of a simple kohl pencil, smooth and tasteless against her lips as he drew the 'xxx's over her mouth, tears streaming down her face beyond her control, though he barely touched her when doing it. That the light of the camera made her flinch violently.
Cindy is by degrees calmer now. It might be wishful thinking, or just a measure of her mind to protect herself by dissociation, but she is not yet convinced that she won't end up dead with her mouth sewn shut, like the others.
She'll have to stall.
//Like Melissa Paquin? Sixteen hours?//
Claire had mentioned it one time when she had just come in, it was more inside than inside news, between Claire and Lindsay who had shared the nightmare ever since.
"Pity," he finally says. "I haven't even been interested in you, but what you told me this morning was telling me you'd gotten too close - that, and I realized you're my best bet to get Inspector Boxer in here for - let's say, a final one-on-one."
"I wouldn't bet on it," Cindy blurts out and then mentally slaps herself.
Ashe steps closer, leaning down to her. He lays his hand against her cheek, smiling when she flinches. "You've got a lot of trust in her. Which is probably because she's fucking you."
"You -- have no idea!" she shouts angrily, and he slaps her hard, then grabs her chin hard enough to leave a bruise.
"Don't you ever say that!" He's punctuating each word by tightening his fingers. "I. Do. Know. Her. She's mine."
Cindy gasps for air, wanting to say that he's a delusional jerk, but she doesn't, very aware that she's nearly triggered him into killing her right here and now.
When he releases her, she is breathing hard. "What... ever. Since you're going to kill me anyway, why don't you just give me the story I'm never going to write? Why did you kill the women?"
She doesn't ask about Lindsay, because Cindy is fairly sure she won't be able to handle what he'll have to say. Maybe, if she's very lucky, the girls will have made the connection and found Ashe's hideaway in time - before she has to hear what he has planned for the woman she loves.
And maybe she's just a little delusional herself, because for the moment, it's *her* tied to this chair.
"Oh, I will tell you all about it," he promises while gagging her with the silk scarf he brought with him when he came back. "We'll have lots of time for a good story and pain."
"Okay, tell me again exactly what Cindy told you she was going to do."
It isn't until Claire shoots me a warning glance that I realize I'm actually interrogating Jill.
"I'm sorry," I say. "It's not your fault." Right, I know exactly who's to blame here.
"It's not yours either," Claire says somewhat sharply, but I choose to ignore the implication.
"Whatever. Jacobi and I are going to the Register; Jill, we need a warrant to search her desk, and we need the phone records."
I'm cool, systematic, the way I would be if we'd been dealing with any other victim. It's what keeps me going; not for a minute can I allow myself to think of Cindy, shivering with pleasure in my arms, telling me that she loves me. That would make it too real.
Not for a minute --
-- she could already be dead.
Ashe has a flashlight which he is shining in her face intermittently, as he talks. "You want to know all the reasons now, don't you?" He has set up an IV line, but not used what's in the vial on the table next to it on her.
Cindy supposes it's what he meant when he talked about pain. Better to have him talking yet.
"I know you found the fairy tale book. Why not start at the beginning then. It belonged to my mother."
The question must have been obvious in Cindy's eyes, because he laughs now.
"No, I didn't kill her," he says, "but I wanted to. I spent hours upon hours of dreaming about how I'd shut her up, get those damn fairy tales out of my mind." He shakes the vial lightly, and holds it up for Cindy to see. "Histamines," he explains. "It will be like an allergic reaction at first. Your blood pressure sinks, you'll have trouble breathing... but we're not there yet; you're going to get your story before we get started, little good as it will do you... but I'm going to record and play it for Lindsay, before it's her turn."
Ashe walks around the table to stand behind her, resting his hands on her shoulders. Cindy feels like jumping out of her skin. "I was going to tell you about my mother. She was right in one thing - fairly tales are very much like real life. She just didn't understand how much."
Cindy hates that smug tone in his voice. She has met many people who have been hurt in their lives, some very early, but none of them became serial killers. There's always a choice not to pass it on.
He unbuttons his shirt, and for a moment, there's another, deeper fear rising within her --
but he's showing her the deep scars crisscrossing his chest. "People get punished for their wrongdoings, and the fairy tales show us ways how to do that. They might be archaic, but there's more justice than any constitution can ever give to society. My mother got hers in time; she fell down some stairs in the cellar and broke her neck. I celebrate that date to this day."
//I bet you do.//
"The others? I worked Marten's case, when he was stealing from his Daddy-in-law, not the stalking one. That's when I found Eleanor again - and she had just found Sarah. Haughty, arrogant Sarah. I couldn't just let her be. Of course, that was when I also met beautiful Lindsay."
The way he says her name makes Cindy want to gag, but she can hardly breathe as it is, so she forces herself to stay calm - as much as she can in this state.
"Marten got away with a slap on the wrist, but then his marriage broke up and he was stupid enough to stalk the bitch, and went to prison, but not for long. I could see the potential and I had to plan ahead, so when he got out, I shared Melissa's punishment with him. That was a long night... Oh, by the way, it's Marten in the other corner of the room. I have no more use for him."
That's when Cindy starts to retch. Ashe watches her struggle for a moment as the blood rushes to her face, then when she is on the verge of losing consciousness, he sharply yanks off the silk gag.
We are trying to trace Cindy's steps after she talked to Jill on the phone. Fortunately, her research is still in the cache of her computer, and so, together with the phone records, we can establish that she made two phone calls before she left - to the city building authority, and one to Eleanor Reed.
"Where's your shadow?" asks Jacobi, as we leave the Register, and I can only shrug. I haven't seen Ashe since I went to Jill for the court files. He won't answer the phone.
I'm about to say that I even don't care much when the thought comes to mind that it's strange that he's disappeared now - just like Cindy.
I still can't have a look at any of those emotions under the surface; the fear for her, the rage, //how dare he// - I'll just have to keep them safely locked away until this nightmare is over.
Jacobi will see Eleanor Reed. I'm going to the warehouse Cindy asked the building authority about. I'll bet that's where she went, despite Jill asking her to do quiet, harmless desk work.
Before we part in the lobby, Jacobi briefly lays a hand on my back, the gesture and his gaze saying much more than all those words we've exchanged lately. "Remember," he says. "We *are* in this together."
There's nothing left to say.
"Death isn't the punishment. In the end, they didn't mind. They were grateful, when it came. I'm thinking that you will be grateful, too."
Cindy almost wishes that he's going to use what's in that vial, because it seems so much less intimate than what he did to the others. Almost. She still holds on to the belief that she will still see the next day, that this is where it's going to stop, because Lindsay has already figured it out.
He's almost finished telling her exactly what he did to Elaine Lewis, whose death he staged after the fable of King Bluebird. Her crime was curiosity. She had once followed him and found the library, as well as Melissa Paquin's body.
"You know," he says, picking up the vial again and breaking the small seal to fill a syringe with the contents. "It's not for your benefit that I'm telling you all this. It's for Lindsay - so she can have the pleasure of having solved the riddle before she dies."
A light drizzle of rain has been coming down all day; I can clearly see the tire tracks on the ground, next to Maggie. The key is still in the lock, easy to recognize Cindy's keychain with all the stuff she keeps on it, a mini-flashlight, a small teddy bear, a pink gem formed like a heart which has a substantial weight.
I teased her about it once, and she said that one, she'd always find it in her purse, and two, heavy as it is, it'd be a handy weapon should somebody attack her. It didn't help her today.
In the warehouse I discover the same bloody traces that she must have seen, too. Up the stairs, there's an empty box. Whatever was in it, must be the figurative key...
I look around, trying franticallly to figure out where she went from here. Was he already there? I kneel down next to the box, shining the flashlight around it. That's when I see it, a small piece of lined paper, torn from a notebook. It's the kind Cindy uses, but the handwriting on it isn't hers.
I'm leaning back against the hard cold wall, needing this moment to center myself. This can't be.
I saw the same handwriting this morning. There is no other explanation.
Jacobi picks up before the first ring ends. "I've got news for you," he says.
"Me too. I know who he is."
Cindy's head hurts; she's uncomfortably aware of the flush creeping over her body. She feels like she can't breathe, and she knows it's only going to get worse from here.
Not bad enough for Ashe who has abandoned her for a moment, and even though she's finding it harder to concentrate with each moment, it's clear to her what he's going to do - set a trap for Lindsay who he expects.
She can't see what he does, but there are clanking sounds, the hiss and flame of a blow torch, and a sudden obtrusive smell that seems to drown out the... other smell. Her stomach is churning again, but there's nothing left to throw up.
The temperature seems to have risen in the stifling room, and still she's shaking. She wishes she could be... heroic, convincing him somehow that it's not Lindsay he wants after all, take his mind off her, but Cindy is literally breathless with fear.
There are moments when she feels lightheaded, *light*, actually, part of her having distanced itself almost out of her body, only to have the pain slam reality home again.
He hasn't put the gag back in, but she feels like she can't take in enough air to scream anyway.
Time is running out.
She got as far as putting the key in the lock; that's when he caught up with her. I'm back at Cindy's car, waiting for Jacobi, pacing around it. Where did he take her? I'm clenching my hand to a fist, very much welcoming the pain of fingernails biting into the skin. I need to stay focused. I need to approach this pragmatically because it's her only chance.
Maybe she ran; Cindy is smart, and fit, but she's no match for a trained agent. The answer is somewhere here within a few yards.
She would have tried to reach the highway. Would she have been able to think clearly enough as to remember what the right direction was?
She had to have cut right through the trees, because there's the lake to the other side. I imagine her frantic dash down this small slope, maybe she stumbled and... there are the steps down to the lake. I kneel down and shine my flashlight on the stairs, until I find it. It's a piece of fabric.
It's from the shirt Cindy wore this morning.
I don't have to go much further to find the shoe.
The story this time --
I turn and turn, willing myself into my opponent's mind. He's too clever not to leave these clues intentionally. He isn't far... because he isn't running anymore. Ashe wanted to know the way *I* think, and I was dumb enough to share it all with him. He knows how much I wanted to catch him all these years, and... God. He knows about Cindy and I.
He is waiting for me.
"Damn it, where are you?"
I'm all but stumbling over the entrance a short distance from the path, hidden by bushes. It's a tunnel, leading, from what I can see, at least ten feet deep down. Testimony to how well he's played us all the time - it was the connection to this place, Marten and Garner Industries, that we never knew of.
He was here... laughing at us.
Laughing at *me*.
No longer. I call Jacobi again; he's on the way and as expected, strongly advises me to wait. I hear him sigh over the phone. "But we both know you won't do that, right?"
I'm staring into the dark ahead, knowing that the moment I walk in there, I'll be out of range. "She might not have that much time."
There's a moment of silence as neither of us dares to say what we both think.
Then I say, "Get an ambulance here. I'll see you in a few," flip the phone shut, and go inside.
Cindy feels feverish. The image of Ashe walking back to her, wavers and clears again. He has finished whatever he did there at the door, something to be set in motion once Lindsay arrives. As he comes closer, she sees that he's got a knife.
Cindy tries to shrink back into the chair, but she can't move, and he strokes the cool blade along her cheek. "It's a long way from the first cut," he whispers. "We shall begin now."
I'm on my own.
That's what he wanted. I can't care now, that it was maybe all in his plan, to make me find this shoe, the entry to the tunnel - he knew I'd be coming alone. //We know each other so well.//
It seems like somebody has built this as a secret escape, economically built. I have to duck as I go in further, not keen on adding another bruise.
There's a crossroad, and I hesitate for a moment, wondering if there's a whole system I might get lost in and never get out.
We've come from the Brothers Grimm to Greek Mythology. There's Hades waiting for me down there. It might be pure self protection, trying to prepare myself for what I might find, but there's another Greek myth that's actually helpful now -- I tear a strip off the sleeve of my shirt and leave it there in the middle of the passage, with a stone on it to keep it in place. Ariadne's thread.
I should wait here. I really should.
But I've spent too long a time imagining the last moments of Sarah Rice, Melissa Paquin and Elaine Lewis. I know everything he put them through, in detail.
Cindy's been with him... too long, either way.
I hasten my step.
When I hear the scream, I start to run.
I won't be too late this time.
She can't believe he has stabbed her. Cindy feels the evidence, blood, warm and sticky trailing down her collarbone to her chest; she sees her blood gleaming on the blade, but she refuses to believe it.
He's distracted, looking up as if hearing something, a smile appearing on his face. What did he do with the door? What will happen to the person who tries to get in?
That's when the pain kicks in, and she also hears the sound.
It's pain and fear all mixed together, but not only for her. When Ashe gets up, exchanging that knife for a revolver, her voice is suddenly *there*.
I kick the door open, but immediately react at Cindy's warning, and it's a good thing I do, as, for a moment, my vision is almost drowned out by stinking black, and even though my jacket holds off the brunt of it, my arm still feels like I put it in scolding water. What the hell is this? The black substance is steaming, hot, after the first rush, still dripping from the doorframe.
I've been fast, but not fast enough, with droplets of it burning painfully into my skin.
Which had almost been poured all over me. I step over the pool of black to find myself in a giant library. It's dark in here, rows of giant shelves blocking my view, only a small source of light further into the huge room. To the center... where he's waiting.
"Come on in, Lindsay," he calls. "I've been expecting you."
I'm inching forward, cautiously, just in case he has another 'surprise' prepared. I have little time to consider if it would be wiser to hide in this maze of bookshelves when I hear Cindy's choked whimper.
"That's right; you came just in time."
I step out of the shadows, my gun still drawn. "Last time I checked, we weren't on a first name basis... Agent Ashe."
He holds the flashlight in her face to illuminate her eyes wide in terror, but I can hear the grin in the tone of his voice.
"I wouldn't say that; our relationship was always kind of intimate, right from the start, five years ago... Now, don't be silly and put that gun away. And don't test my patience, if you want it quick and merciful for her."
My blood runs cold as I see the deep red, seeming almost black in the half-dark that's staining the front of her blouse. Cindy is shaking, so hard I'm afraid he'll cut her even accidentally with the knife he's holding to her throat. Her eyes are glazed over; it's hard to say if it's shock or the injury. Either way, I've got to get her out of here soon.
If I shot him right now... but I can't take the risk that he's taking her with him.
"Why bother?" I say, carefully putting my Glock back into the holster, vaguely proud that my voice is steady, not showing the fear for her life, or the rage I feel for him. Intimate? He's not so wrong about it. "You don't need her. It's me you want. I'm here."
His gaze is almost as clouded as hers, for a different reason, I know.
"You give me the gun now... and I maybe won't be using this on her."
He presses the knife closer as he indicates the table to their right with his other hand. Kiss-Me-Not's equipment, including several needles and surgical thread.
Cindy's eyes beg me.
"Let her go."
"If I don't, then what? Face it, Lindsay. I won. You can never stop me."
In a split-second, I realize that it won't matter what I say; that's why he wants me to be here. It can't get more intimate than having me witness the death of the person that matters most to me.
I act before his hand tightens on the handle of the knife, not once questioning the possible foolishness of engaging in hand-to-hand combat with him. There's no more time.
//I'm trained//, I tried to defuse Jacobi's concerns. That's when I hadn't known that the killer was, too.
It doesn't matter. Anything to get him away from her.
The knife clutters to the floor, a satisfying sound I don't have much time to care for, as he's using all the tricks they taught him in Quantico. I know a few of my own and let him know. The ground is slippery, and we both end up on the floor, me on top of him, but then he's getting in a punch of his own that makes my head snap back.
Even through the pain, there's the thought, he'll be going for the gun, and that'll be it.
We wrestle for it, kicking, banging against walls and furniture. My body screams with the pain of another encounter with the concrete, but then there's a deafening noise and--
I feel like I can't breathe, muscles burning, but I muster all the strength that I have left into this one kick, and then the weight on my chest is gone, my vision clears as I getup, training the gun once again on his prone body.
He's curling up against the pain, from my kick as much as from whatever is in that syringe Cindy has pushed into his side. She looks ready to keel over, her eyes wild and fearful. I hold up a hand, indicating to her to stay back, annoyed to see it shaking.
I get closer to him, and my cautiousness must have been premonition, as he surges up at me with the knife poised, and it ends up inches from my face as I pull the trigger. And again.
The demon dies.
I catch her before she crumbles, not trusting my ability to hold us both up at this point, so I lower us to the ground, draw her close, using another piece of my already torn shirt to press against the wound. Cindy makes a pained sound of protest, but then she slumps into my arms.
I reach up to stroke a strand of hair back from her flushed, tear-stained face. "It's okay. They'll be here soon."
Meaning Jacobi, the paramedics I told him to call, probably the girls, too, but I think she gets me. For moments, we just stay like this on the cold damp floor, but it doesn't matter. He finally did make a mistake, waiting for me like that.
If I had come here to find her like the others... but I did not, thank God, I did not.
Exhausted beyond imagination, I lean forward, burying my face into soft red hair that smells faintly of strawberry shampoo, a sensation totally out of place in this room of horrors.
In here he killed Marten, whose body is dumped in a corner beside the door. And I'm pretty sure, the other women died in here, too, in Kiss-Me-Not's library.
Cindy turns and cranes her neck to look at me. I'm blinking back my own tears. Not now.
"Hey," she says in a small voice. "You still mad at me for telling Claire about us?"
I try to laugh, which comes out all wrong. "You can put that on the front page of the Register. I love you."
For some reason that makes her cry, and I just hold her closer. There are sounds indicating that we're no longer alone... which is a good thing, as I'm so very tired.
Cindy just can't stop shaking, and the fact that she has to let go of Lindsay's hand as the paramedics gently coax her down on the stretcher to get her out of this hole and into the hospital, doesn't help. In fact, there's a scream inside her that she constantly needs to smother, even now, especially now that the monster is dead. Her body is tense with holding it in.
"I'll be with you, I promise."
Lindsay's voice floats over to her, and she manages to hold on to that, keeping the words with her like a lifeline, as she is carried up the stairs leading from the basement up to the house that belonged to the Kiss-Me-Not killer.
There's been a Happy Ending to the gruesome fairy tale; only it wasn't a prince who rescued her.
The thought makes Cindy want to giggle, but she's afraid they will send her to the psych ward right away, so she bites her lip. Tastes the remants of the kohl that Lindsay had tried to wipe away for her, still, and then she feels the hot tears streaming down her face.
"If you say 'I told you so', I will never talk to you again", I warn Jacobi as he hurries to my side. I don't quite understand the urgency on his face. Yes, I'm pretty battered, and probably still reeking of the pitch, but still.
"I wasn't going to say that. I--" He looks indecisive for a moment, but then steps forward to embrace me.
"I couldn't wait. I'm sorry, I really couldn't wait when I--" I'm rambling. "I heard her," I finally say, and there is no further explanation needed.
Jacobi nods, but looks alarmed an instant later. His hand which had touched my arm comes away wet and crimson, and that's when the pain makes itself known full force, and I stagger.
"Damn it! The bastard shot me. And this was my favorite jacket." Not to mention the pitch that ruined most of it in the first place.
"Boxer, you're clearly delirious." Jacobi shakes his head at me. "The next ambulance is yours."
He totally disregards my protest.
It is only a flesh wound, after all, but I don't protest when Luke, Jill's-ex-Luke of all people, tells me that I'm supposed to stay overnight. That's closer to Cindy, too.
Jill and Claire arrive soon after that; more hugs, and tears, theirs, not mine, until it's almost too much. I appreciate their support. I am grateful, but for now, I really need to crash.
One more thing, though...
Luke looks a little doubtful when I tell him I need to see Cindy, but he doesn't argue too hard, obviously acknowledging that he can't win. I promise to be a good patient afterwards. I'm about to go in, when a hand on my arm stops me. I spin around, ready to snap, when I realize it's...
"Lindsay. Thank God you're all right." After looking me over critically, he adds, "Considering," which at least elicits a weary grin from me.
"You could say that. It's finally over."
There's this moment of... suggestion, possibility. After all, the one obstacle that destroyed our marriage is out of the way now. I can almost sense the questions forming on his mind, about decisions made, and bridges burned. It wasn't all bad.
So when he reaches up a hand to touch my face, I take a step backwards. There's no use in clinging to the past; or even using Kiss-Me-Not as an explanation for everything - if it hadn't been him, it would have been another. We've had some good years together, but we're not meant to be.
Tom follows my gaze to the open door of the hospital room. I'm not sure if he has an idea... but maybe he has. He pats my shoulder, a gesture that's friendly, but not laden with hidden meaning.
He smiles. "By the way, I want you to take some days off, sort things out. That's an order. Goodnight, Lindsay."
We both laugh, then he's gone and I'm finally in the room.
I'm pulling myself up a chair and all but slump into it, leaning close enough to clasp Cindy's hand into mine. She flinches at the first touch, giving me an apologetic look.
"I know," I say, literally unable to let go. It might just be a little weird in the immediate future. It'll pass. We'll go back to where we were before, no, better. "It takes a while longer to feel safe, even when you know you are."
Her skin is cool, the tension now slowly leaving her body from what they've given her, so she can rest without replaying the horror movie of the past few hours. I should leave now, let her have that rest, but it's so hard.
"Thank you," she whispers. "I was scared... all the things I could have never told you."
I'm smiling, though the image of her is swimming before my eyes. I didn't exactly treat her very well before we parted... just yesterday. I almost didn't get a chance to make up for it.
"What she said," Claire chimes in, slipping into the room. "A lot of time, so you don't have to hash it all out tonight. The nurse is coming this way, and she will not be amused to see one of her patients up and moving."
Cindy smiles a bit at that, and very reluctantly I get up, her hand still in mine.
"We got it covered." Jill has come in behind Claire. "I'll stay."
There's not much left to argue about, except I lean down for a quick goodbye kiss, not minding the audience a bit. I straighten and turn to my grinning friends, not really wanting to leave, but now the nurse arrives.
Claire leaves with me, while Jill settles in for the night.
Back in my room, I finally get out of my tattered shirt, the clothes I don't think I'm going to wear ever again. Claire has brought fresh ones, and I'm trying to thank her, though suddenly I seem unable to form the words.
Decompression comes quickly.
Claire pulls me into her arms, and I rest my forehead against her shoulder, still trying to keep it at bay, until the moment I could maybe take a minute or two in a restroom and get it the hell over with.
"Now, don't worry," she says, using that familiar no-nonsense tone of hers. "Your secrets are safe with me; I won't tell anybody that Lindsay Boxer actually cried."
The kindness underneath is more than I can handle.
As I'm climbing the ladder to the attic, every bruise and other injury of the past few days makes itself known. I feel like an old woman, wincing at my own thoughts... but that'll pass, I'm confident. The worst of all has passed, too.
I'm looking around, remembering how Ashe said the ominous words, //He could have been there.//
There's an investigation by Internal Affairs to find out how it could have been possible that he'd never been caught before. The things he told Cindy? I'd be surprised if half of it was true. A notorious liar, charming and intelligent - except with me, I guess - he knew how to hide in plain sight.
Much of it will remain a mystery, but much as I'd wanted answers, this one is the most important -
He won't ever do it again.
The air up here feels a lot less stifling with this realization.
I'm finally saying goodbye to Sarah Rice, Melissa Paquin and Elaine Lewis; there's nothing more I can do for them, let them rest in peace.
In the past.
Jill and Claire have prepared a meal, and Cindy has agreed to rooming with me for a while. All things in order, I can also get Martha back from Mrs. Hatwich. I already expect the girl to have gained a pound or two in the elderly woman's care.
We sit around the table, chatting over food and drinks like nothing's changed, but that's only on the surface. Because everything has changed -- I'm not fool enough to think that Kiss-Me-Not was the worst that humanity has to offer, but there's one less of them.
Closure for the victims' families - and for each of us.
Cindy's unusually quiet tonight - I know she's having nightmares, because I'm waking her from each of them; just as well to stay close these days. And frankly, it's good to have Claire and Jill know; nothing worse than having to put on a show with friends.
"Wouldn't have helped much anyway," Jill says. "You guys have been so obvious."
"That's right. Even before either of you got a clue." Claire takes her side.
There's quite a bit of banter after that, and I let it go on for a while, but Cindy seems tired, and honestly, I am, too. Not such a bad idea of Tom's that I take some days off after all.
That night, when I'm holding her, and almost unconsciously searching for a familiar presence in my mind, one that has accompanied me for the past few years, I have to realize... *that* demon is gone forever.
It's Friday evening; on Monday, we're both going back to work, but for the last couple of days we have chosen to get away from it all, a weekend special hotel room, candlelit dinner and all.
Mrs. Hatwich was enthusiastic at taking Martha in once more; Martha's reaction a little more reserved; I guess Cindy and I will have to work hard at getting on her good side again.
It's a temporary retrieve from reality; after this, we'll go back to our everyday lives with the less beautiful parts of it... but at the moment, I feel pretty confident even about those.
The ring of the cell phone jolts me out of my thoughts.
Cindy's asleep, for once not plagued by nightmares, and I rush to get the cell so she won't wake up. Whoever this is, I'm not pleased, and I plan to let them know.
"Oh. Tom. You ordered me to stay away from the precinct, remember? I am very okay with following that order. So what's so important it can't wait 'til Monday?"
"Lindsay, I'm sorry." Tom sounds very guilty indeed, which can't be a good thing. "I think you should take a look at this."
"What exactly is 'this'?"
"Double homicide. Two teenagers in a family home."
I hear the sirens in the background, imagine the headlights illuminating the grisly scene - well, I assume it must be grisly, because if it wasn't, he wouldn't have called me.
I walk back from my hiding place in the bathroom, back into the bedroom, while he tells me the address, ruefully acknowledging that my time off, the reprieve, is over. My hopes have not been answered - Cindy is fully dressed already.
"Okay, I'm coming over. Just give me a few minutes to get dress-- to get there." Silly me. He can't really know who's with me; and it's none of his business anyway.
We hang up, and I'm prepared to argue. "You are not going there."
"You're going back to work - so am I."
I rub my forehead wearily as I don't really have an answer to this. And maybe I've been fooling myself to think that in the future, I'd be able to keep her away, to somehow - keep her safe. Not just outside the yellow tape, but far away from these things. Who's delusional now?
Cindy walks over to me, wrapping her arms around me. "We're going to figure this out." I hug her close, not objecting.
Yes, we will, even if we might just have exchanged one demon for another. They all make a mistake, sooner or later.
Unlike five years ago, I'm not alone in this anymore.
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