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: This story was supposed to be done for Epic Proportions, but, yeah, missed that deadline. I managed to get it finished though, and so here it is. First shot at writing for this fandom and pairing, so I hope I did them justice.
SPOILERS: All of season one to be safe, but this isn't set around any particular episode.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
He lifted the model's arm and stretched it out, letting it fall in an outstretched grasp toward the horizon. Smiling, he adjusted her dress, lifting just enough of the material to show an inviting amount of thigh not too much, of course. Just enough to entice the viewer into wondering what lay beyond the rest of the material.
Unbelievably pleased, he stepped back and started snapping photograph after photograph.
The model stared up at him, her eyes unblinking.
He leaned down, tenderly brushing back a lock of her hair.
"Baby, I'm gonna make you a star."
I'm waking up at the start of the end of the world,
But it's feeling just like every other morning before,
Now I wonder what my life is going to mean if it's gone
But I believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh, well, I guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come
Let's see how far we've come
Droplets of water sprayed through the air, creating a splattered pattern across the glass as Cindy danced back and forth in front of her bathroom mirror. Brushing her teeth and wiggling her hips in time to the music, she bopped around the bathroom as the rocking, upbeat chorus deceptively hid the nihilistic lyrics under a booming bass drum.
Moving around the small bathroom, rolling her head and tossing her hair in a personal shout-out to Flashdance, Cindy couldn't help but feel optimistic. The overcast morning had burned off to reveal a pristine blue sky, she was an up and coming crime reporter for a major Bay Area newspaper, and she'd been included in one of the most exclusive clubs in all of San Francisco.
Not that they actually had a name, or were, really, a club. But she had friends, and for Cindy Thomas, that meant more than anything. On a day like this nothing could bring her down.
Running for her cell phone, she flipped the radio off just in time to pick up before the call went to voice mail. "Hello?"
Claire's amused alto rolled over the line. "Hello to you too. Any particular reason you're that breathless at 8:30 in the morning?"
"Nothing fun," Cindy answered, her smile transmitting through the phone. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Claire's tone dropped from amused to professional in the space of a heartbeat. "A woman's body was discovered over off Embarcadero. I'm almost there, and Lindsay's about five minutes behind me. Thought you'd like a little inside scoop."
Cindy already had her jeans tugged on and was halfway into her shirt by the time Claire finished. "I'll be right there."
Claire chuckled. "I knew you would be."
I sat down on the street, took a look at myself
Said where you going man you know the world is headed for hell
Say all goodbyes if you've got someone you can say goodbye to
I believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh, well, I guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come
Let's see how far we've come
Lindsay flipped off the car radio with a jab of her finger as she pulled onto Embarcadero Street, glimpsing the Pacific Ocean just beyond the piers and warehouses. There was something undignified about driving to a crime scene with Rob Thomas singing about the world burning to the ground. Even if it was sadly apropos.
Lindsay parked her SUV behind the string of SFPD police cars that littered the waterfront and made her way through the crowd of onlookers and under the police tape, two cups of coffee in hand. Jacobi was waiting for her at the far side of the pier, his trench coat flapping in the breeze, the picture of the ultimate cop.
"There ain't nothin' worse than starting the morning off with a dead body," he grumbled, taking the cup of coffee Lindsay offered.
"I'm pretty sure it's worse for our vic." She knelt down, lifting the white sheet covering the body. "Speaking of which what do we got?"
"Female, mid-twenties, no purse, no identification. Claire says obvious signs of strangulation."
Lindsey nodded absently as she looked the woman over. In life, she had been beautiful. Light auburn hair, blue eyes, good body. In death, that beauty was overshadowed by the bruises that littered her neck black and blue. "Uniforms are canvassing?"
"Yep, but I doubt they're gonna find anything. Looks like a bump-n-dump to me."
"Yeah, me too," she sighed, straightening back up. "She's got marks on her wrists and ankles too from the bruising I'd say someone kept her tied up for at least a couple of days. The rest of her looks pretty good though. She took care of herself."
"You know, with you two on the job, I'm not sure why the city even bothers to pay me."
Lindsay turned, smiling drolly at Claire's arrogant smirk. "'Cause you're so pretty." The bark of laughter from the older woman made Lindsay's smile expand into a full-on grin. "Can we help it if after years of watching you work, we know what to look for on a dead body?"
"Yes," Claire dead-panned.
Both Jacobi and Lindsay shrugged sheepishly and backed off a good five feet to let Claire have another look at the body. "Let me take her back to the lab and test for fibers, but from first glance, I don't think it was a rope not enough abrasion around the wrists it was something smoother."
"Like a scarf?" Lindsay ventured.
Jacobi nodded, as usual, right in step with her mental leaps. "Wouldn't be the first time people around here took a sex game too far."
Claire shot them both another look. "How about you let me get her back to the morgue and I can tell you more after I've done an autopsy?"
"Fine," they both sighed.
Claire motioned a couple of her assistants over, instructing them to transport the body back to the morgue. That task completed, she turned to answer the question she knew was already on Lindsay's lips. "This afternoon, you'll have my preliminary report-"
"-And not a minute sooner," Claire warned, knowing full well she would put an extra rush on all the tests. Still, she didn't need to let Lindsay in on that fact. The woman was hard enough to live with as it was.
Lindsay sighed again. Jacobi just smiled. There weren't many people who could keep a tight leash on his partner, but the Chief Medical Examiner was one of the few, and he was infinitely grateful she was on his side. Most of the time.
"Fine," Boxer grumbled, giving Claire a half-hearted smile. The smile faltered as she caught a glimpse of red hair at the police line. Following the inspector's line of sight, Claire turned to see Cindy chatting up one of the uniform officers. "She got here fast."
"I called her."
"Because it's her job to report about crime in the city?" Claire ventured with a knowing smile as they started to walk toward the police line. "And she's one of us."
"She has a police scanner you don't have to make it so easy for her."
"Because " There was no good end to the sentence other than the fact Lindsay didn't like Cindy hanging around crime scenes; didn't like the young reporter watching her, even if she didn't understand fully why. "It's morbid."
"And what we do isn't?" Claire challenged, her tone leaving Lindsay with the distinct impression the medical examiner didn't believe a word she'd said. That was always the problem with Claire Lindsay couldn't lie to her.
"What we do is, uh, for the public good." Not that she didn't try.
"Uh huh, sure." Claire hid a smile as Cindy, seeing their approach, meandered away from the crowd to talk to them. "Hey Cindy."
"Hey guys. What's going on?"
"Jane Doe," Lindsay answered, slipping into inspector-mode easily. "Looks like somebody tied her up and strangled her."
"Ouch," Cindy winced in sympathy. "Anything you need me to do?"
"I think we've got it," Lindsay answered slowly, giving Cindy a half-smile. "You just go file your story Lois."
Cindy let one eyebrow arch up in challenge, unflinchingly meeting Lindsay's arrogant gaze. "If I'm Lois Lane who does that make you?"
Claire snorted, and turned away to keep from laughing right in Lindsay's face. If there was one thing she liked so far about the new girl, it was that Cindy Thomas didn't take any shit especially from Lindsay.
"Well, I'm sure as hell not Clark Kent."
Cindy just gave her a lazy smirk looked her over. "You're too skinny to hide tights and a cape under that leather jacket."
"Cape's at the dry-cleaners," Boxer replied dryly.
"Yeah, it's always something with you superheroes."
"If you two are done, we do have a murder to solve," Claire interjected, watching the two women to see who would give first.
Cindy blinked, letting the teasing and the moment fizzle, a quick flush working over her cheeks. "I should check in with my editor. Call me if you get anything new."
Lindsay watched the redhead go, staring after her until she was lost in the crowd. Claire cleared her throat pointedly. Lindsay blinked. "What?"
"Don't 'what' me, missy," Claire shot back. "What the hell was that about?"
"We were just teasing each other," Lindsay defended, walking back toward the crime scene, Claire a few steps behind. "It's what friends do."
Claire snorted, mumbling under her breath, "Yeah friends with benefits."
"What'd you say?"
It was the smile, Cindy thought. That smile could melt steel. And the smirk sent shivers places she didn't know shivers could go
"Thomas! Where's your copy for the website? Deadline's in ten minutes for the afternoon edition."
Cindy jerked up from her musings, nearly spilling her coffee across the article she was proofreading. She blinked a couple of times to clear her head, grabbing up her copy and rushing it to her editor's waiting hands. "Sorry Miles, it's all here although, there's not much to go on yet."
"What about your source at the police department?"
Inexplicably, Cindy blushed. "Uh, I, uh, haven't heard from her yet. But I'll update you as soon as I do."
Miles glanced at the paper, years of practice letting his eyes easily scan the words. "Okay this looks good. File it. And let me know the second you hear back on the Jane Doe. For once it would be nice to beat the Chronicle to a story."
"Sure thing boss oh, hey, wait I don't have any art with this?"
"Don't worry about it, I sent Danny to get some shots. Get that filed," Miles ordered, already walking back to his office. "Don't make me regret giving you this job!"
"You got it boss," Cindy called after him, swallowing down a half-dozen less than professional retorts. Sighing, she let her head roll back on her shoulders and sat down at her desk, her eyes immediately drawn once more to her earlier distraction.
She'd discovered the picture in the Register's archives a few months before after she'd been inducted into the most exclusive club in the city. The paper's archivist, Earl Henderson, had given her a curious smile when she'd asked for a copy of the picture, but he'd made her one nonetheless. It was a few years old, a snapshot from a yearly police awards ceremony, but time hadn't diminished Lindsay Boxer's smile. It still shone through just as brightly in the black and white photo as it had that morning at the crime scene.
Cindy wasn't sure what it was about that smile, but it did things to her; things she hadn't really felt before and could only name vaguely, like an ancient city she'd heard of but never went to. And this morning, for just a moment, she thought Lindsay had felt it too. Whatever it was.
Yeah, right, she sighed, slipping the picture back into her desk drawer. It would have been easy to fool herself into thinking there was something more to her relationship with the police inspector than friendship. A part of her the part she'd ignored since the day she'd first laid eyes on Lindsay hoped against hope that there was, but she wasn't so naïve as to believe it could really happen. Women like Lindsay Boxer just didn't fall for girls like her.
"Thomas! Any day now," Miles bellowed again.
She shoved away from her desk and shoved all thoughts of Lindsay to the back of her mind where she could keep control over them. It was the only way she knew how to get through the day. "Right, boss, I'm on it!"
"So Claire said you were pretty rough with Cindy this morning."
The statement, so blithely delivered with little more inflection than a casual comment about the weather, sent Lindsay into a choking fit as she swallowed her coffee down the wrong pipe. Jill watched, wholly unimpressed, as the fearsome inspector struggled to cough and look indignant all at the same time.
"I wasn't rough with her she's a big girl, she can take a little teasing," Lindsay wheezed, glaring at Jill all the more across her desk as the blonde continued to placidly stare back. What had started as a friendly drop-in to discuss the case had suddenly morphed into a conversation Lindsay didn't want to be anywhere near for reasons she couldn't quite name. "Besides, she shouldn't be using our friendship as a casual calling card to push her career agenda, that's all."
Jill smirked knowingly. "You sure that's it?"
Lindsay's eyes narrowed, challenging Jill's cocky smirk. "Meaning?"
"You know, some people say that we choose the people in our lives because we recognize on some innate level that they share similar traits with us."
"You've been watching too much Oprah," Lindsay droned.
"Seems to me," Jill continued, ignoring Lindsay, "that Cindy shares your enthusiasm toward her job."
"We're nothing alike," the inspector deflected.
"Except for the way neither of you lets anything get in their way when they want something."
Lindsay opened her mouth to protest but found that nothing came to mind. If anything, she'd begun to believe the same thing about the reporter over the last few months they'd been working together. Cindy was constantly driven to find the truth, from the smallest story to the biggest headline. Oh, she looked sweet and innocent with that cascade of red hair and those big doe eyes, but underneath that veneer there was a backbone of steel.
"I respect her work."
"Respect. Right " the attorney said, her tone implying much more.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Jill was saved from giving the painfully obvious answer by Jacobi bellowing for Lindsay across the squad room. "Oh, thank god," Lindsay mumbled as she shoved away from the desk and her conversation with Jill. "What'd you got partner?"
In answer, Jacobi handed her a neat brown file. "The gods like us today."
She opened it and felt a concurrent sense of relief and sadness wash over her.
Their Jane Doe was a Jane Doe no longer.
"Beth Peterson. Twenty-Seven years old, lives off of Telegraph. She's a teacher, so her prints were in the system."
"Now that we have a name, I'll start drafting a subpoena for her phone records and financials. Maybe we can establish a timeline for her, retrace her steps," Jill offered.
"And we'll go look for a next of kin so we can make the identification," Lindsay agreed, tugging on her jacket. "Somehow, I think you got the easier job."
"How come this always looks so much easier on T.V.?" Lindsey wondered aloud a few hours later as she rifled through Beth Peterson's desk.
A canvas of the middle school Peterson taught at in Pacific Heights had turned up next to nothing. She was new to San Francisco and didn't have a boyfriend, or girlfriend, at least not one she'd ever mentioned in casual conversation. While her boss had rave reviews from the parents, and her fellow teachers commented on her dedication to the students, no one could manage to conjure up one personal detail about the seventh grade teacher.
They had gotten a lucky break on the next of kin a sister in Chicago but their luck had run out there. After two messages, the sister still hadn't called back.
And now it looked as if they were about to hit another brick wall.
Lindsay tried not to judge her victims by their apartments after all, who was to say whether or not it was laundry day, or they were just that sloppy? But it was especially hard not to notice the impersonal, almost spartan furnishings. No pictures, no family albums, no cards or letters. The woman didn't even own a computer.
While the apartment was neat, there were few if any personal touches. With the exception of a fairly healthy DVD collection, Beth Peterson didn't seem to have much of a life.
"You found anything?"
"A few utility bills," Lindsay answered. "No purse though and no sign of a struggle I'm guessing the killer grabbed her on the way home and trashed the purse. You?"
"Not much. Is it just me, or does this seem like one lonely woman?"
"All that's missing is the cat."
"She's got some cartons from a Thai place in the fridge. They might remember her."
"Okay, let's check them out and then head back to the station. Maybe Jill will have her financials and phone records. I can try the sister again, too."
"Given how well things have gone today, you are being way too optimistic."
The funny thing about the morgue was, once you got past the dead bodies everywhere, it actually wasn't that bad a place to hang out. Quiet, secluded, it was the perfect place for the club to meet to discuss leads on cases, or more likely, their lives. Plus, Claire usually had snacks.
"Jacobi was right I was being way too optimistic," Lindsay groused as she snagged another handful of M&Ms and popped them in her mouth.
"So you didn't get anything off her phone records, or her financials?" Jill asked, letting her head rest against the back of the couch.
"This girl didn't even have a credit card. Paid all her bills on time. With the exception of splurging on Dr. Who dvds, she put every extra cent she had into a savings account. And the only people she ever called were parents at the school, or the local take out places. She had no life."
"That is so sad," Claire mumbled, leaning over to take a handful of candy herself. "She was a good looking woman too, very pretty. Good body. What is the world coming to when a woman like that can't get a date?"
"I don't know, but I'm starting to think my sad dating life is nothing to be ashamed of anymore."
"You're dating life isn't sad, it's non-existent," Claire teased.
"It doesn't have to be," Jill added, popping her head up from the couch just enough to give Lindsay a knowing smirk.
Glaring, Lindsay let her voice drop to just above deadly-force. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh, good, are we finally bringing this up?" Claire asked, turning her chair so she had a full view of Lindsay.
"Brining what up?"
"Don't act like that," Claire ordered. "You know what we're talking about."
"No, honestly, I don't."
"You know she has a crush on you."
"And I think," Jill interjected, cutting off Lindsay's protests, "that you have a crush on her too."
"I do not have a crush on Cindy," Lindsay snapped, shoving off of Claire's desk to stalk to the other side of the room, her back to the door as she glared at each of them on the couch. "Why would you even say that?"
"Um, let's see there's the way you look at her," Claire listed. "The way you always slip into that 'aw-shucks-ma'am' tone of voice when you're talking to her."
"You're totally over protective," Jill added. "And you have nick-names."
"I can think of a few names for you two right now."
"Oh, come on Lindsay," Claire prodded. "I know you dated women before you met Tom, so what's stopping you this time? Is it the age difference?"
"The age difference isn't that big," Jill chimed in. "I've seen worse. Hell, I've been with worse."
Exasperated, Lindsay threw up her hands. "It's not the age difference- And what the hell do you mean, 'I know you've dated women before?' One woman. I dated one woman. In college. That doesn't exactly make me a career lesbian."
"But you like women."
It was Jill's turn to be glared at. "That's a leading question, counselor."
"And you're on cross-examination," the attorney countered, "so it's allowed. Answer the question."
Lindsay sighed, actively contemplating shooting them both, or possibly herself just to escape the conversation. "Yes."
"So what's the problem with you and Cindy?" Claire asked, bringing them back to the start of the hellish cycle of conversation.
"Look at me," Lindsay said slowly, her voice rising in agitation. "Read my lips: I do not have a crush on Cindy Thomas." Even as she said the words she knew they were a lie, but Claire and Jill had backed her into a corner and Lindsay only knew one way to fight that.
"No, I mean it. You two are the absolute worst yentas when it comes to this stuff. Just leave it alone. The last person in the world I would ever date is Cindy Thomas-"
"What?" It took Boxer a second to come down off her rant, but when she did she finally noticed Jill's eyes had gone big as saucers and Claire looked like she was about to swallow her tongue. She knew without turning who would be behind her, but she made herself pivot anyway.
Cindy stood ashen faced in the doorway.
Lindsay's stomach dropped. In a moment, what had seemed so clear, so simple, shifted like a sea inside her. She wanted to take back every word she'd just said and vow to never say another like them. If only Cindy would stop looking at her like that "Cindy-"
"Is that Beth Peterson on the table?" the reporter asked abruptly.
"Yeah, we're waiting on next of kin before we release her," Claire answered, trying to stay as low-key as possible, waiting for the inevitable blow up.
Lindsay watched Cindy's face slide from ashen to a sickly green in the span of a breath. A second later she was across the room, her hands holding tight to Cindy's shoulders as the red head swayed unsteadily. Cindy looked up, her eyes finding Lindsay's, stealing away her breath. "You still looking for a lead in the case?"
"Because I'm pretty sure I knew her."
Claire handed Cindy a cup of coffee, then settled against her desk. "So she went to your gym?"
"Not the gym the community center," Cindy explained, taking a deep drink of the bitter coffee. "After I got the job at the crime desk, I started taking a women's self-defense class at Mission Community Center. She was in the class. I didn't know her last name, we were only partnered up a few times. If I hadn't seen her lying there "
Lindsay rested a comforting hand on the reporter's shoulder, squeezing lightly. "There was no way you could have known."
"I can't believe she's dead."
"What do you mean?"
"She was one of the best in the class. The instructor was really impressed."
"Did she ever say why she was taking the class?"
"No," Cindy answered. "But I got the feeling it was about more than just being a girl alone in the city, you know? I remember, I told her once she was really good at all the moves, and she said she had to be like she couldn't afford not to be able to protect herself. And now she's " Cindy trailed off, trying to wipe the image of Beth's body laid out on the metal table from her mind. "She wouldn't have gone down without a fight."
Lindsay looked up, seeing enough in Claire's eyes to know there hadn't been much, if any struggle between Beth Peterson and her attacker. "Don't think about that," Lindsay said softly, rubbing her hand across Cindy's back soothingly. "Remember Beth the way she was in that class. Remember the woman who did a damn good job of taking care of herself, without anyone else's help."
"I wish I could tell you more, but I only talked to her a few times. She was a really quiet person. Never talked about herself much."
"You've given us more to go on than anyone else today," the inspector assured with a weak smile. "C'mon, it's getting late. Why don't I take you home and we can all start fresh tomorrow?"
"No, it's okay-"
"Cindy." Lindsay's tone cut off whatever argument the reporter was trying to find. "Let me take you home."
There was a flicker of something uncertain in Cindy's eyes, but Lindsay's tone brooked no challenge. Reluctantly, the she gave in. "Okay."
Goodbyes were exchanged quickly between the four women, with promises to call if anyone got an update. Ten minutes later and Lindsay was pulling her SUV out onto Valencia and heading for North Beach. They drove in silence, Lindsay keeping her eyes on traffic while Cindy stared out the passenger window, only occasionally speaking to give Lindsay directions to her apartment.
"Nice place," Lindsay commented politely as she pulled up in front of a three story Victorian that had been converted into an apartment building.
Silence stretched like an oppressive blanket over them. Cindy reached for the door handle and opened it, managing to get halfway out of the seat before Lindsay caught her hand and dragged her back. "Cindy, wait-"
"Wait for what?" Cindy snapped, eyes flashing as she turned on the brunette. "You gave me a ride home so you could feel better. Can we just leave it now?"
"No what you heard earlier, I didn't mean it the way it came out "
"Sounded like you meant it to me," Cindy ground our tersely, jerking away from Lindsay's grasp to get out of the car, slamming the door behind her. The shock at seeing Beth Peterson had only been slightly more upsetting than Lindsay's adamant declaration that she had absolutely no feelings toward Cindy. The reporter wasn't sure which was worse that the inspector didn't return her feelings, or that she knew about them at all.
Lindsay jumped out a second after her, following Cindy onto the porch as she struggled to open the main door. "I didn't mean it to sound so harsh. You're a great person," Lindsay explained lamely, wincing as soon as the inane words came out of her mouth. Cindy didn't turn around. "Cindy, come on, give me a break here."
"Why?" the reporter demanded, whirling to meet Lindsay's plaintive gaze, not giving an inch. She felt foolish and stupid to have believed Lindsay ever could have had feelings for her in the first place. Talk about being naïve. "Why should I? I'm just a big joke to you the little reporter with a crush why should I make this any easier for you? You sure as hell haven't made it any easier for me."
Eyes caught and held as Lindsay stared down at the younger woman. They were the type of eyes you could fall into easily and never come out of. Here it was again, that spark of electricity, that inexplicable current that ran through her every time their eyes met. Except it wasn't inexplicable any more. Lindsay knew exactly what it was. She'd known it all along, really. She just hadn't wanted to admit it. The last time she'd felt anything this strong for another person had been Tom, and that had ended in disaster; her heart broken into a million tiny shards, each one cutting her over and over again. The potential, she knew, was limitless a happy ending the likes of which she hadn't allowed herself to even hope for after she and Tom broke up. But the converse, should things not work out, was nothing short of devastation. That possibility, she realized, was what had held her back all this time.
That possibility was what was holding her back now.
She felt her chest hitch as she took another step, bringing them inches apart. "I don't think you're a joke."
Cindy swallowed hard, not backing down even as the blood started to pound in her ears, her heart trip-hammering at the intense, focused look on Lindsay's face. "Could have fooled me."
Lindsay lifted her hand, her fingers tentatively reaching out to brush across soft red strands. "Cindy "
It took all she had, but Cindy managed to turn away, brushing off Lindsay's touch as she tried to get her key into the door again. "I don't want your pity Lindsay."
The brunette grabbed her arm, turning her again, but this time there was no anger in the younger woman's eyes, only resigned dejection. Something snapped in the inspector's head, a realization of her own, and then she was moving, slowly, closer and closer, staring into wide brown eyes as she leaned down, her mouth inches away from Cindy's.
She felt more than heard her name whispered, half-question, half-plea, and then Cindy's eyes slid closed as their lips met. Sweet, soft, Lindsay lingered over the simple press of lips against her own, memorizing the taste of Cindy's mouth. Her eyes fluttered open as she pulled away, her lips tingling from the loss of contact even as she smiled. Cindy stared up at her. "That wasn't pity," Lindsay assured, letting her hand roam more freely to fist in Cindy's hair as she tugged the reporter closer. "And neither is this."
Another soft, sweet kiss shifted in the span of a breath as Cindy leaned in, her arms wrapping around Lindsay's shoulders as she pulled the brunette deeper. Everything else faded away to a white noise as they kissed, bodies fitting together like puzzle pieces, every line, every angle joined in symmetrical purpose.
It took a good ten seconds for Lindsay to realize her phone was ringing full blast in her pocket.
Startled, she pulled away, flipping her phone open just in time to answer, her eyes on Cindy the entire time. "Boxer."
"I hope you're not in your pajamas yet," Jacobi drawled, "because Beth Peterson's sister just called back and it is not what you think."
Lindsay closed her eyes, silently muttering a string of curses. "You at the station?"
She opened her eyes, Cindy's face conveying all the same disappointment she felt. Reaching up, she gently cupped Cindy's cheek, letting her thumb trace across the younger woman's bottom lip as she reluctantly answered, "I'll be there in ten minutes."
"This had better be good."
Jacobi stood up from his desk, giving Lindsay a pointed look as a woman in a dark trench coat stood up beside him. "Inspector Lindsay Boxer, this is Diane Sloan. She's listed as Beth Peterson's sister on her emergency form."
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry we had to meet under these circumstances." Lindsay shook the woman's hand and motioned for her to take her seat again before dragging over a chair for herself.
"I was just telling Inspector Jacobi, I'm not actually Beth's sister."
Jacobi gave Lindsay a look as if to say, See, I told you. "You're not?"
"No. In fact Beth Peterson doesn't really exist. The woman in your morgue is named Leslie Shaw. She's from Virginia. She found the organization I work for through a domestic violence counseling center. We specialize in helping women, shall we say, relocate, from abusive relationships where, for whatever reasons, law enforcement hasn't been able to appropriately step in."
"Like an underground railroad for abused women?" Jacobi asked.
"Why did Leslie Shaw need to be relocated?"
Diane pulled a manila envelope from her briefcase and handed it to Lindsay. "That's a copy of everything we have for her. The short story is she married the son of the richest man in a very small town. Darren Shaw. She lasted five years and ended up with more injuries than a professional boxer. Local sheriff's office could never get anything to stick, so a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend sent her to us."
"The phone number and address in Chicago?"
"Covers. We help these women create completely new lives. Which is why we keep files like that. When something like this happens, it isn't random. Inspector Jacobi told me you're having a hard time finding leads If I were you, I'd go looking for Darren Shaw."
Lindsay turned her gaze on Jacobi, silently asking what he thought. The older man shrugged. "Well, guess we finally caught ourselves a break."
I believe that dreams are sacred
Take my darkest fears and play them
Like a lullaby
Like a reason why
Like a play of my obsessions
Make me understand the lesson
So I'll find myself
So I won't be lost again
He didn't like this part of town, didn't like the people who lived here with their dirty lives and dirty ways, but it was the perfect location. No one noticed his car; no one noticed the body.
The streetlights cast shadows over her translucent skin, hollow eyes reflecting the yellow glares as he positioned her just like the other, hand outstretched toward the oncoming dawn.
He couldn't linger, despite his longing to wait just a little longer to see the sun rise over her. Resigned, he stepped back, raising his camera as he hummed, "Smile, baby, I'm gonna make you a star."
The smell of hot coffee pulled Lindsay awake. Slowly, the haze of sleep lifted as each muscle and nerve responded to the lure of morning and the promise of caffeine. Subconsciously aware that she'd fallen asleep in a less than comfortable position, Lindsay eased one eye open, light and color swirling into focus as she stared at the familiar logo of her favorite coffee shop mere inches from her face.
Feeling slightly more awake just from the knowledge coffee was near, the rest of her body surged to respond, and her brain reminded her just where she'd fallen asleep.
Cautiously, she lifted her head from her desk, wincing as every muscle in her neck and back protested the movement after a night spent slumped over.
Cindy offered a sympathetic smile. "Good morning."
Boxer smiled wearily back, her head still foggy. "You brought me coffee?"
"I called your cell phone around 2 a.m. and Jacobi picked up. He at least had the good sense to go sleep in the bunk room."
"What time is it now?"
"I was waiting for a call back from a sheriff in Virginia," Lindsay rasped, taking a long drink of the coffee. She smiled as the first taste hit her tongue and leaned back in her chair, regretting it instantly as her back protested once again.
"C'mere," Cindy motioned, walking around the back of Lindsay's chair to reach for her neck.
"No, it's okay," she lied, glancing around to see who might be lurking in the near empty squad room. "I'm... ooooh..." Whatever protest she'd been working on died on her lips as Cindy ran her fingers gently over her neck, soothing the aching, stiff muscles. "Oh, okay... yeah, that's good."
Behind her, Cindy smirked. "So I take it you have a lead," she stated more than asked, her hands working lower to massage the inspector's shoulders, her eyes drifting down to admire the long, inviting curve of the brunette's neck, the slope of her shoulders. Things she'd been admiring for months and last night had gotten within inches of tasting.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Turns out Beth Peterson isn't Beth Peterson at all - which I'll explain later - but she does have a husband in Virginia. I ran his name through the NCIC database and it popped for an arrest in Cedar Lake, Virginia. I tried calling the sheriff's office but all I got was an answering machine."
"You think her husband came out here after her?"
"Makes the most sense. After all, statistics are-"
"-statistics for a reason," Cindy echoed.
Lindsay smiled, absurdly pleased that they were on the same wavelength. She let her eyes drift shut, blocking out everything but the feel of Cindy's hands and the taste of the coffee. If there was a heaven, she imagined right at that moment, it would have been something like this.
A throat cleared, bringing her crashing back to earth as Cindy's hands limply slid from her shoulders. Lindsay knew without looking who was standing in front of her.
She opened her eyes and tried not to glare. It didn't work. "Tom."
The lieutenant's eyes shifted from suspicious to accusing as he looked from Cindy to Lindsay. "Getting an early start, I see."
"More like I never really left," Lindsay challenged, refusing to be baited. She knew that look, and she knew that tone. She knew Tom better than anyone else alive - the problem was, he knew her just as well.
"Where's Jacobi?" he asked dryly, his eyes flitting up once again to cast a suspicious glare Cindy's way.
"Asleep in the bunk room," Lindsay answered just as dryly, the moment morphing from awkward to hostile in a millisecond. "Something you needed?"
Tom gave her another look, obviously trying to decide just how far to push, and then let it drop. "Go wake your partner up. I want an update on the Peterson case in twenty minutes. And go wash your face," Tom tossed over his shoulder as he started walking away, "you look like hell."
Lindsay watched him walk away, a wry smile spreading across her face. She stood up and turned to find Cindy glaring in the general direction of Tom's office. "I don't think you look like hell."
"Yeah, but you're biased," Lindsay drawled, letting her voice drop into that low register that made Cindy shiver.
The response was immediate, the red head's eyes flashing in a way that made Lindsay's insides twist and knot. "Yes, I am."
Swallowing thickly, Boxer willed her heart to stop thundering in her chest. "Yeah, well, so's Tom."
Silence stretched between them as memories of a hundred other moments became colored by the events of the previous night. Every laugh, every smile took on new significance in the wake of their kiss a tacit admission of what Lindsay had been trying to deny and Cindy had been fighting to control.
The phone broke the silence.
Cindy let out a bitter laugh, rolling her eyes. "Oh, for the love of god."
Nodding apologetically, Lindsay picked up the receiver with a barely civil, "Boxer."
Cindy waited as Lindsay talked to whoever was on the other end of the line, every once in a while glancing up at Tom's office to see if he was there, watching them. She could admit that perhaps giving Lindsay a neck rub in the squad room was not the best course of action, for either of them, but she wasn't about to stand by idly while Tom acted like a petulant school boy.
Lindsay hung up the phone and sank back into her chair. "That was the sheriff from Cedar Lake. Darren Shaw's been in county jail for the last six months after he got drunk and drove his SUV through the mayor's backyard. Apparently, his daddy's money couldn't get him out of that one. Which means there's no way he killed Beth Peterson."
"So, back to square one?"
"At this point, I'm not even sure we have enough to be at square one." In the background, Lindsay heard Tom's office door open and winced as he shouted her name. She turned just enough in her chair to cast a plaintive look up at him standing on the balcony. He didn't look annoyed anymore, and that worried her. "Yeah, L.T.?"
"Get Jacobi," he ordered softly. "The uniforms just found another body."
The inspector and reporter shared a look as Lindsay heaved herself up out of her chair and grabbed her gun. "Yep, right back at square one."
"Now, remember Lois Lane," Lindsay teased as Cindy trailed behind her toward the crime scene, "We don't know each other."
"Whatever you say, Clark," Cindy smirked, hanging back as Lindsay ducked under the police tape. Moving unobtrusively toward the side, she watched Lindsay confer briefly with the officer on the scene while Jacobi headed for the first witness, and started scribbling down notes in short hand. Typical S.F. morning, Tenderloin back alley, looks like a bike messenger found the body... She looked back up, trying to track Lindsay's movements as she worked the crime scene, only to find the inspector staring straight at her, Claire and Jill flanking her on either side. She couldn't begin to guess as they started to walk over what could have drawn their interest away from the victim and onto her, but the looks on their faces told her it didn't bode well.
"Okay, you guys are starting to freak me out a little. What's with the faces? What's going on?"
The three exchanged uncomfortable looks, but it was Lindsay who spoke, asking gently, "Cindy, do you know someone named Margaret Hannigan?"
Every noise, every movement faded into the background, narrowing down to nothing more than the look of sympathy and concern in Lindsay's eyes and the sound of her own heartbeat. "Maggie... she's one of my sources."
Lindsay reached out, putting a firm hand on her shoulder, grounding the younger woman as she answered softly, "Not any more."
The institutional gray walls of the police interview room set an unfriendly atmosphere despite the friendly faces sitting across the table from her. Cindy accepted the cup of coffee Lindsay offered her, settling as much as she could into the unyielding metal chair, but it was Jacobi who asked the questions so as to leave no doubt this was a professional interview.
"So, Ms. Thomas, how did you know Margaret Hannigan?"
Cindy had already answered the question at the crime scene after Lindsay had found her business card in the victim's wallet, but this time it was for the record. "She was one of my sources. I met her at the coffee shop across from the Register, where she worked as a barista."
"You used a barista as a confidential source?" Jacobi asked, clearly amused.
"You'd be surprised what people say on their cell phones, or to their friends, while they're ordering coffee. That coffee shop gets a lot of business from City Hall. Maggie would keep an ear open for any of the latest gossip and give me a call when she heard something interesting."
"And when was the last time you heard from her?"
"About two weeks ago. She gave me a tip about the city's pension fund making questionable investments. I haven't seen or heard from her since."
"Would she have had information that people wouldn't have wanted to get out?"
"You mean did she know something someone would have wanted to kill for? No, I doubt it. She kept track of City Hall gossip, she didn't have the inside track on anything. Maggie was studying art history, she didn't even care about politics except to the extent I gave her fifty bucks for each good tip."
"I see," Jacobi replied slowly, scratching something into his notebook. "Is there anything else you can tell us? Do you remember her mentioning anyone who was bothering her? Any problems at work or school?"
"No, I'm sorry. I know she has I mean had," Cindy corrected with a sigh, "a girlfriend, but I don't know her name. I think Maggie's family was from Colorado she was a Broncos fan. We talked about football on Monday mornings."
"All right. Will you give us a minute? We'll be right back." Lindsay followed Jacobi out of the interview, making sure the door shut soundly behind her. "You know what I'm thinking?"
"That there's no such thing as coincidences, and the odds of one person knowing two murder victims are astronomical, especially in a city this size?"
"Exactly," he answered.
"I don't think we should tell her until we get more information. She's scared enough as it is without us investigating every aspect of her life looking for a connection."
"And we might scare off whoever is doing this if he thinks we're onto him," Jacobi added in agreement. "So we'll handle this like a regular investigation. We're already one step ahead of the last one at least this time we know the victim's name. He was sloppy leaving the wallet on her body. If he was sloppy about that, he might've been sloppy about other stuff too."
"I hope so," Lindsay replied, already wondering if they'd already used up what little luck they had.
Forty-eight hours later she knew she'd been right: whatever luck they might have had had been used up long before they really needed it. Every lead they'd gotten on Maggie Hannigan's murder had turned into a dead end.
Her girlfriend had been out of town at a sales convention, and as she'd put it when they finally got a hold of her, she and Maggie hadn't exactly been exclusive. Girlfriend, apparently, was a pretty loose term in San Francisco. She had no debts, no enemies, no drug problems, no crazy ex's. While not quite the hermit Beth Peterson had been for good reason Maggie Hannigan hadn't had much more of a social life. With most of her time split between working full time and attending school full time, she'd barely had time to see her girlfriend. Which was the only connection, besides Cindy, between the two victims: they were both women that wouldn't be missed quickly.
With no new leads, the club had settled into their usual booth at Papa Joe's Diner, case notes spread out between plates of food as they picked each other's brains for something they might have missed.
"We're sure the same guy killed both women?" Jill asked, snagging a fry off Claire's plate. "It's not possible it was a copy cat?"
"Details were never released to the press," Cindy answered.
"What about forensics? There's a definite connection between the two victims?"
"Both were strangled. From the angle and bruising around the neck, I estimate their attacker is about 5'10" to 6 feet tall, moderately built. Both victims had bruising around their ankles and wrists from being bound at least twenty-four hours prior to being killed, and both had fibers embedded in the skin around their necks, wrists and ankles from what appears to be silk scarves. "
"And we're sure this isn't sexual?"
"No sign of sexual assault, pre or post-mortem," Claire answered, reaching across to swipe a bite of Jill's salad in retaliation. "No excessive bruises or marks. No foreign DNA or hair samples. There are traces of chloroform in their systems though which would explain why neither of them fought back."
"So he knows them well," Lindsay posited. "I mean, he must if he knows their schedules; knows when they'll be alone. Now, Beth Peterson took BART to and from work everyday, so it would have been easy enough to sneak up on her somewhere along the way, but what about Maggie? She rode a bike everyday to school and work. He wouldn't have been able to sneak up on her while she was riding that, and we've got no sign of the bike."
"Maybe he tricked her?" Claire offered. "Got in her way or something?"
"Or," Cindy countered, "maybe she knew him."
"We ran her phone records there were no odd calls, and we've tracked down everyone she talked to in the twenty-four hours before she was taken. They all checked out." Lindsay poured her shot of whiskey into her beer and took a long gulp. "Let's face it, we've got nothing."
"Not nothing," the reporter demurred. "You still haven't explored how I fit into all of this." Jill, Claire, and Lindsay shared a guilty look as Cindy took a drink of beer. "I'm an investigative reporter guys, I know how to put the pieces together. Right now, the only thing linking these two murders, besides the similar manner of death, is me. Now what are we going to do about it?"
"We aren't going to do anything about it," Boxer proclaimed after taking another drink of beer. "Jacobi and I are going to start quietly digging into your background, starting with every place you've been the last month."
"Well, that shouldn't be too hard. If I'm not working, or researching something in the Register's archives with Earl, I'm out with you guys."
"Earl?" Lindsay smirked.
Cindy gave her a warning glare. "Be nice."
The teasing smile stayed on her mouth, even as Boxer slid into inspector mode. "I'm gonna need to see your financial records, and your phone records so I can cross-check them with Beth and Maggie's."
"Sure, why not," Cindy scoffed sarcastically, "and while you're at it, would you like me to turn over my diaries too? How about my computer so you can read my private e-mail and the romance novel I've been writing for the last year?"
"It's for your own protection," Lindsay argued, choosing to file away the information about the supposed romance novel for another time.
"Yeah, that's what the government always says."
"I'm not the government," Lindsay hissed, meeting Cindy's glare. "I'm your " she paused, not sure what category exactly they fit into now. "I'm your friend."
"Right. Just my friend." The silence that followed said more than Cindy's words ever could.
There was the distinct sound of a shoe connecting with a shin, followed in short order by a sharp yelp from Jill. Lindsay and Cindy ignored both. "Geez, you know what, I totally forgot I have a motion in the morning before Judge Turner, and I really need to be on my toes," Jill blatantly lied as she eased her way out of the booth.
"You know what, I'll, uh, give you a ride," Claire offered, sliding out after her. "I, uh, need to go home and check on Nate he has a class project due tomorrow he needed help with."
"Class project," Cindy asked, still staring at Lindsay.
"Right, yes, on the California Missions. He's building a model of, uh, Mission Dolores."
Lindsay fought a smirk, holding Cindy's stare. "Well, then, you better go help him. I know how long those things can take."
"Great," Claire beamed, "We'll see you both tomorrow morning."
Cindy watched Claire and Jill walk off, laughing at their own private joke. "You let them off pretty easily, don't you think?"
"Nah," Lindsay answered, taking a long drink of her beer. "In about ten minutes Claire's gonna remember that I helped Nate build a replica of Mission Dolores last year and then she's gonna feel like an idiot the rest of the night."
"Oh, that's just mean," Cindy chuckled.
"Well, they are really bad at this."
"Their intentions were good." The reporter took another swig of beer, steeling her nerves. "Besides, this is the first time in two days we've been alone together, so I'm not going to fault them for that."
It had been an excruciating two days, the memory of the feel of Cindy's lips and body pressed against her haunting every free second Lindsay had had even as the inspector had been forced to put her feelings and needs aside in pursuit of tracking down a killer. But try as she might, she hadn't been able to shake the feeling of kissing the younger woman, or the flood of happiness that washed through her when she pictured her face.
There were a hundred reasons why a relationship between them was a bad idea a hundred reasons Lindsay had listed out and alphabetized, starting with Age Difference and ending with Work Obsession. A hundred reasons that sought to overshadow the memory of their kiss.
"Are we ever going to talk about what happened?" Cindy asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
"We're not going to talk about it?" Cindy asked again, incredulous.
"Nope," Lindsay answered, sliding out of the booth. She tossed a few bills onto the table, and held her hand out to the very confused reporter. There were a hundred reasons for Lindsay to say no, but there was one very good reason to say yes: she wanted to. "I don't want to talk," she rasped, whiskey-rough and full of promise, "but if you're up for it, I'd like to pick up where we left off."
Smiling, Cindy took her hand.
In the space between what's wrong and right
You will find me waiting for you
All your fortresses go down in the night
Till the dawn I'll see you through
'Cause I know, that you know
You're all over me now
There was no hesitation, no questioning. Perhaps the alcohol had stripped what little reserve she had left, but Lindsay felt stone cold sober as she pressed Cindy into the door, kissing her slowly. Tomorrow, she told herself. Tomorrow she would let the questions come, let the doubts in, but not right now. Right now she was doing the one thing she'd wanted to do since she'd laid eyes on the other woman.
Cindy pushed at Lindsay's jacket, trying to free lanky arms from their constraints, but Lindsay shook her off, her hands easily snagging Cindy's wrists and pinning them at her waist. "Don't rush me."
The words, said rough and low, sent a delicious shiver through the redhead, drawing a plaintive whimper from her as Lindsay's mouth descended to her neck. Even, white teeth scraped across tender skin, balancing the tingle of pain with a rush of pleasure as she sucked and laved the marks.
Cindy let her head fall back against the door, baring her neck to anything and everything Lindsay wanted to do, blissfully resigned to letting the brunette have control.
Working her way down Cindy's body with a maddening pace, Lindsay let her mouth travel over each inch of exposed skin, pressing open-mouthed kisses everywhere she went, finally tasting what she'd been thinking about for months. She let go of Cindy's hands long enough to drag her shirt up over her head, tossing it aside.
A slow, honeyed smile spread across her face as she ran a single finger across the lace trimmed bra, watching the ripple of goose bumps spread over the younger woman's flesh. "Did you wear this for me?" Cindy looked away, blushing. The smile morphed into an arrogant smirk. "You did, didn't you," Lindsay pressed, leaning down so that her words ghosted across the valley of her breasts. "You put this on this morning thinking of me."
"I'm always thinking about you," Cindy admitted on a breathless moan as Lindsay palmed her breast, opening the front catch with barely a flick.
There was no hesitation in the words and no question of their veracity.
Lindsay leaned up, burying her face against Cindy's neck as she sucked in a ragged breath, undoing her own jeans. She caught Cindy's hand and pulled it to her, guiding it under the waistband of her panties so Cindy could judge the truth of her words for herself. "I've been thinking of you too."
Cindy moaned and pressed her fingers deeper; Lindsay was wet, so fucking wet, the realization almost made her come right then. The pride, the arrogance, flooded her at the knowledge that she'd caused this reaction in the stoic police inspector. Cindy leaned in, kissing Lindsay hard, her teeth nipping. "I want to taste you."
Lindsay let her head drop to Cindy's shoulder, trying not to buck into her hand, teetering on the edge of the world as the reporter continued to move her fingers in a steady, unnervingly perfect rhythm. Sucking in a harsh breath, Lindsay managed to step back just enough to get momentary control of her body. The tiniest sliver of sanity, and doubt, worked its way through the fog of desire that clouded everything in her mind, telling her that this was the type of mistake you never got over. Cindy grabbed her jacket and tugged her back, kissing her deeply.
Whatever doubts she had disintegrated under the heat of the kiss.
They danced through the apartment, past a very unimpressed Martha who barely gave them a glance before going back to sleep, and then into Lindsay's bedroom, clothes dropping like breadcrumbs along the way. Pillows were tossed to the floor, sheets and blankets kicked aside as Cindy backed her way onto the bed, Lindsay slinking after her like a predator after her prey.
Sable hair fell like a curtain as she leaned down, her mouth hovering inches from Cindy's as she settled her body against her. "This okay?"
Cindy reached up, winding her fingers in Lindsay's hair before tugging her down for a long, slow kiss. "Very okay," she hissed, letting her hips cant up to grind against Lindsay's thigh. "You, uh, you've done this before," Cindy asked, blushing furiously.
Lindsay chuckled, letting her head rest against Cindy's shoulder as she nipped at the soft flesh of her neck. "You want a list of my previous sexual partners? Now?"
"I just meant-" Lindsay flicked her tongue out, tracing Cindy's ear before letting her teeth sink into the lobe and tug, turning Cindy's question into a moan.
"I've done this before, darlin'" the inspector said with an arrogant smirk, reaching up to cup Cindy's breast, humming in satisfaction before leaning down to scrape her teeth over a pebbled nipple. "Just be patient."
"Really not good with patience," Cindy all but whimpered as Lindsay turned her attention to the other breast. "Not when I've been thinking about you for months."
"Sounds like I've got a lot to live up to," Lindsay purred, kissing a path along the valley of Cindy's breasts as she moved lower.
A strangled moan caught in the reporter's throat as the brunette moved lower and lower, hovering inches away from the place she needed her the most. "Believe me, this is better than anything I ever imagined."
"And the night's still young."
The first flick of her tongue against Cindy's folds was tentative, teasing, almost cruel, but Lindsay couldn't help but prolong the agony, watching as the younger woman trembled in anticipation. Having that effect was a high like none Lindsay had ever experienced, and yet at the same time, it left her wanting more, wanting everything. And suddenly the teasing didn't matter anymore, or the rush of the chase. All that mattered was the woman beside her and the fact that in that moment she would have done anything to make her happy.
And so she did.
She worked her mouth unhurriedly against Cindy's body, taking her time to taste every inch, heedless of the other woman's pleas and moans. Over and over she licked and sucked, working over the tender bundle of nerves until the reporter was near incomprehensible, begging for nothing more than release. Then, only then, did Lindsay slide two fingers deep inside, whimpering with the force of her own need as her hand was met by a flood of wetness as Cindy came, again and again, body shaking underneath her.
Chest heaving up and down, trying to suck in much needed oxygen, Cindy vaguely recognized her fingers had cramped painfully from clutching the edge of the bed in a death grip as she'd rode out the orgasm. Laughing softly, she managed to uncurl her hands and let her arms flop limply to the bed, picking her head up just enough to smile at the brunette kissing her way up Cindy's body. She knew she should have been exhausted, thoroughly sated, insensible to the idea of more, but something told her that now that she'd had a taste of Lindsay Boxer, she was never going to have enough.
She wound her fingers through dark curls, tugging Lindsay up to her, kissing her deeply. The brunette pulled back, intending to say something teasing and flirtatious, but the look in Cindy's eyes stopped her cold; it stole her breath. Staring down at the younger woman she felt more naked, more vulnerable than she'd even been before, and she knew that Cindy felt it too.
"What have you done to me?" Cindy asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I don't know," Lindsay rasped, brushing a piece of hair off Cindy's forehead to tuck behind her ear. "I wasn't expecting you snuck up on me. Got behind all my defenses when I wasn't looking. I don't know what to do about that."
"Well, I'm here now. You might as well let me stay."
"That's the best idea I've heard in a long time."
The sun beat warmly down across her skin, lulling her from sleep even as the crescendo of traffic and pedestrians started to prick at her senses. Lindsay shifted her leg, felt it brush across supple, silky skin, and settled back into almost-sleep. It was practically decadent sleeping wrapped around a soft, lovely body. She hadn't felt this comfortable, this relaxed in her own bed in years.
The alarm kicked on, breaking the stillness of the morning with traffic reports for the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate. Cindy shifted in her arms, turning over as she blinked her eyes open. "You're still here."
Brow knitting in confusion, Lindsay cast a quick glance around in confirmation. "This is my apartment."
"I didn't expect you to really be here."
Charmed beyond belief, Lindsay brushed a lingering kiss across Cindy's lips. "We need to work on raising your expectations."
"I think the fact you're here and last night wasn't a dream just blew all my expectations out of the water. Possibly forever."
"Forever huh? That's an awfully long time."
"Not nearly long enough."
"Let's take it one day at a time, okay Lois?" Lindsay smiled, immediately stifling a yawn, deliciously exhausted.
"I didn't think superheroes got tired."
"I hate to tell you this, but even Clark Kent needed more than an hour's worth of sleep to function."
"Hmm that's too bad," Cindy purred, leaning in to kiss a path across Lindsay's collarbone. "I was hoping that last cat nap was enough of a recharge." She ducked her head, testing the weight of Lindsay's breasts in her hand as she flicked her tongue across the tip, earning a harsh hiss of breath. "But if you're too tired "
Lindsay reached over, slapping the alarm off. "Just call me Superman."
Late was a relative term in a police station. It was hard to require someone to be on time at 8 a.m. when they'd just pulled a double shift the day before. Most lieutenants understood about one of their inspectors rolling in a little late - especially when it wasn't a normal occurrence.
Tom was obviously not in the mood to be understanding.
"Your shift started twenty minutes ago."
"Well, good morning to you too," Lindsay drawled, ignoring him completely as she walked toward her desk, shuffling through a stack of messages. "Get up on the wrong side of the bed?"
"Unlike some people, I didn't spend the morning screwing around in bed. I have a job to do."
And there it was.
The realization of just what was bothering her boss, and more importantly, her ex-husband, hit her like the proverbial anvil. In truth, it had been so long since she'd seen Tom react this way, she hadn't been able to place the constant tone, the sarcastic remarks, the distrustful looks, but now it was all crystal clear.
The statement was simple and softly worded, but it had Tom's temper snapping. "My office. Now."
Only the amount of people, and the idea it was probably bad form to kick the crap out of her boss in front of so many witnesses, had Boxer keeping her tongue. Stalking up the stairs first, she held it in until she heard the door slam behind him.
Like battling war ships, they opened fire at the same time.
"What the hell gives you the right to be jealous-"
"Don't you ever bring your girlfriend into this squad room-"
"-She's not my girlfriend-"
"-It's unprofessional and unethical! She's a damn reporter-"
"-And a damn good one! What's your real problem Tom? Is it because she's a reporter? Or is it the fact that she's a woman? 'Cause as I remember, that used to turn you on. Or are you starting to worry that maybe this is why we really got a divorce?"
Even as she said the words she wanted to take them back, knowing she'd gone too far. The wounded look on his face, instead of the anger she'd been expecting, told her that she'd hit too close for comfort. A piece of her heart broke all over again as she realized that even after all these years she still had the power to hurt him. "Tom I, I didn't mean that... you know that's not what happened between us-"
"Really, Linz? Because I've never really been sure what the hell happened." He shook his head sadly, the anger draining out of him. "I thought I knew you, but by the time things ended, I felt like I was living with a stranger. Who's to say this wasn't a part of it and I just missed it?"
"It wasn't Tom, I swear." The earnestness of her words made the statement un-doubtable, but it was too late. Tom had slid into the hard, professional cop mask he'd mastered as a means of defense, and there was no coming from behind it now.
"You come in late again like that, and I'm writing you up."
The dry, detached tone felt like lashes on her skin. Squaring her jaw, she nodded, slipping into her own façade of control. "Right, L.T. It won't happen again."
She took the stairs two at a time as she left his office, spotting Jacobi easily enough as he waited for her, leaning far-too-casually against her desk. She stopped in front of him, fighting tears. "You wanna go shoot something?"
The look in his eyes offered all the sympathy she could handle. "Sure."
Cindy kept her head low as she ducked around cubicles and employees, hiding her cup of coffee and muffin as she tried to make it to her desk without drawing the attention of her editor.
She managed to keep hold of her coffee, but the muffin jumped out of her hand as she whirled around, relieved and annoyed to find it wasn't her editor standing behind her but one of the staff photographers. "Danny! You scared the hell out of me!"
Danny Windsor had been on staff with the Register as long as Cindy had and considered himself the office lothario. Thankfully, his photographs made up for most of what he was lacking in personality, but he was usually good for a laugh whenever Cindy needed one the most. Chuckling, he bent down and picked up her muffin, dusting it off. "No harm done. Five second rule." Hunger overwhelming her aversion to germs, Cindy took the muffin back and kept walking to her desk, still looking out to avoid Miles. "So what has you sneaking in so late? A story?"
The smile that lit up her face was utterly sinful. "Nope."
"A date then."
"Sort of," she hedged, setting her coffee and muffin down to exchange them for a stack of articles. "Walk and talk, I need to run these down to archives."
"Ah, good, I was on my way there myself."
"For what? You hate the archives."
"I need to talk to Rosa as she's been kind enough to model for my show," Danny explained, trailing after her. "And I don't hate the archives, I just don't like hanging around in the bowels of this place. The archives are where people's careers have gone to die. Spend too much time down there Thomas, and yours might be next."
"Geez, you're so uplifting."
"I'm just saying. Anyways, I need to give Rosa her pass for the gallery."
"How come I don't get tickets?"
"It's not really your type of scene," Danny hedged, obviously taunting her.
"What's that mean?"
Danny stopped in front of the archives door, holding up the five by five invitation. Black and white with red lettering, it took Cindy a moment to realize the picture in the background was of a woman in latex tied and bound.
Danny smirked. "You are too innocent to live in this city. You know we have one of the biggest porn shops around down on Mission right?"
"I'm not too innocent," she protested, still staring at the invitation. "You have another one of these?"
"A stack of them you're not really considering "
"Give me two."
"That must've been one hell of a date last night," he chuckled, pulling two extra from his portfolio and handing them to her as they walked through the double doors.
The archives room was everything you'd expect from an archives room; dark, dusty, and filled with the smell of musty paper. She worked her way through the stacks and shelves until she found the main archival desk in the back. "Earl, are you here?"
Danny snorted. "Of course he's here. He hasn't left since he was hired two years ago."
Cindy elbowed him in the side. "Earl? Rosa?"
"We're here," Rosa called out, shoving through the storage room door with a barely concealed glare. "Sorry Earl and I are re-organizing the store room." From her tone, Cindy could tell it hadn't been the young woman's idea. "We're trying to make more room for archive servers." The Register, like every major paper in America, had decades, if not centuries' worth of papers that were being transitioned from paper and microfiche archives into digital media. Earl Henderson had been hired to make the transition and create a searchable database for the paper and its subscribers. He was usually the first one in the office and the last to leave, leaving others besides Danny to ask whether the man ever left the office.
By all accounts, Rosa Nunez was far too attractive to be working in a newspaper archive room. Cindy wondered if Miles had assigned the young woman to the archive department out of self-preservation. She doubted the male staff would have been able to concentrate. Well, any other male except Earl, who only ever seemed to notice anything other than his computer when Cindy entered the archive room. "Hey Rosa."
"How's our favorite crime reporter?" Rosa asked, shaking the dust out of her hair as Earl came out of the storage room.
He gave Danny a withering glance. "Hi Cindy."
Danny rolled his eyes. "Hi Earl."
The other man continued to ignore the photographer completely. "Did you need some help?" Earl asked, running a hand through what little hair he had left.
"I came by to drop these off," Cindy answered, setting the stack of articles on the desk.
He smiled, shoving his glasses up his nose. "I'll get on them right after lunch."
Danny cleared his throat.
Earl swung his gaze off Cindy long enough to acknowledge the photographer before turning back to Cindy. "He with you?"
"No, I'm here for Rosa," Danny answered, producing another invitation with a flourish. "For you my dear, for being such a lovely model."
Earl cast a quick glance at the invitation, his eyebrows rushing toward his non-existent hairline. "You posed for that? For him?"
Rosa shrugged. "Journalism school isn't cheap and I gotta pay the bills. It was either this or the porn shop on Mission."
"Does everyone know about the porn shop but me?" Cindy asked rhetorically.
Danny and Rosa laughed, but Earl took care to answer seriously, "You have class. Unlike this unwashed miscreant."
"You better be talkin' about Danny," Rosa muttered.
"What'd you say, Earl," Danny started, pulling out another invitation card. "Why don't you come to my show? See what it looks like outside of this place."
"I don't think so," Earl answered dryly.
Danny smirked and tossed the invitation onto the pile of Cindy's articles. "Just in case you change your mind."
"Well, we better go. I need to finish my story on Maggie Hannigan's murder before Miles comes looking for me," Cindy interjected, breaking the men's staring match.
"Have the police found any more leads?" Danny asked.
"Nothing they've shared with me."
"Doesn't surprise me. S.F.P.D. isn't exactly a MENSA convention."
"Watch it Danny-"
"-I'm just saying, these cops aren't rocket scientists. If they were, they wouldn't be working as cops."
"You think you're so much smarter?" Earl asked. "Cops aren't stupid. They just have to work within the bounds of the law, and that makes things hard."
"Thank you, Earl," Cindy said, glaring at Danny.
"Please all the biggest stories of the century have been broken by reporters Watergate, Abu Ghraib, Cambodia, hell, even the Zodiac killer contacted the press, not the cops "
"So, what," Earl droned, "you think you're smart enough to track down this new guy? You think you're better than Frisco cops?"
"I think I'd do a helluva lot better than San Francisco's finest."
"That I would love to see," Cindy said sarcastically. "It's a lot harder than it looks on television, Danny. DNA doesn't solve everything."
"I'm just saying-"
"Well don't," Cindy interrupted. "I've got friends on the force, and they work their asses off trying to keep us safe, so don't talk about them like that. Not around me." She offered a slight, conciliatory smile, then turned back to Earl and Rosa. "Thanks for filing those for me Earl."
"No problem Cindy."
She headed back toward the stairs, leaving Danny, Rosa and Earl staring after her.
"It's amazing you get women to talk to you at all," Rosa muttered, heading back into the store room. "You just don't know when to quit, do you?"
"She'll get over it," Danny muttered, heading for the stairs. "I'll make it up to her. I always do."
Earl just smiled and shook his head.
They'd emptied over a hundred rounds of ammo between them at the shooting range and had made mince meat out of the paper targets. But it wasn't until after they'd checked and cleaned their guns and found a quiet table at their favorite coffee joint that Jacobi had bothered to broach the subject.
"You and Tom can't do that again."
"Did everyone hear what we were arguing about?"
"You got lucky on that end. I could hear the screaming, I just couldn't hear what it was about. Either way, you were both acting like a couple of jackasses."
"He started it," she mumbled petulantly, taking another drink.
"What are you, five? You know better than that. The brass hears about this, they are gonna come down hard - we're talking a transfer, and it won't be Tom. Do you want to spend the rest of your career patrolling the bridge?"
"Tom won't let that happen."
"Tom won't have a choice," Jacobi countered, abrasively honest. "And the way you two just went at it, I'm surprised he's not writing up the transfer request himself. Now you want to tell me what started all this?" Lindsay looked away. There was something about saying the words out loud to him that made her stomach roil and buck. But Jacobi was no fool. "It's about Cindy, isn't it?"
Her head snapped up so fast it was almost comical. He tried not to laugh. "How did you - did I? - Was it that obvious," she finally managed to stutter.
At that, Jacobi did laugh. "How long have we been partners? Of course it was that obvious. That girl's had a thing for you since day one, and you played it cool, but I could tell she'd gotten under your skin."
"How'd you know?"
"She broke into Teresa Woo's apartment. Any other reporter would have done that and you'd have let them sweat it out a night in lock up just for fun, but you let her go." The memory made Lindsay smile. "See," Jacobi nodded, acknowledging the change in his partner's demeanor. "That's the first time I've seen you smile like that in a long time. And it's because of her."
"And you don't have a problem with it?"
"The only problem I'm gonna have is if you start making me listen to Melissa Etheridge on stake outs." The answer was flip, but it was all she needed.
"So what do I do about Tom?"
"Give him time. You didn't exactly react well when you found out about Heather," Jacobi reminded.
"We've been in and out of each other's lives for so long it's easy to forget I don't have a claim on him any more."
"And today he just got a dose of that too. Don't worry, he'll come around," her partner assured. "He's a good guy. You wouldn't have married him if he wasn't."
For about the hundredth time that day Cindy found herself smiling for no reason.
She was grateful for once that it was a slow news day. If it hadn't been, she wasn't sure how she would have been able to concentrate. Every few minutes her mind drifted of its own accord to the night before, memories almost overwhelming her. Kissing Lindsay, having the freedom to touch, to feel the softness of the other woman's skin under her fingers, her mouth. The moment when she'd dipped her head between Lindsay's thighs and taken her first taste was burned into her very cells, and she knew if she lived to be a hundred years old, that memory would never lose its clarity. Nor the memory of Lindsay arching under her, body tight as a bow as she came against Cindy's mouth
Flushed, she made her mind shut off that particular thought pattern before it got completely out of hand. Still, she couldn't help the utterly sophomoric compulsion to pull out the picture of Lindsay she kept hidden away in her desk. It wasn't even close to looking at the real thing, but it helped ease the longing that had settled in her chest the second they'd parted ways that morning for their respective jobs.
Her mind completely occupied with thoughts of the good inspector, she barely glanced up at the intern who dropped a stack of mail on her desk and kept walking. Putting the picture of Lindsay away, she shuffled through the stack of mail, drawn to the manila envelope at the bottom.
There was no postage, no return address. Just her name typewritten on the front and marked confidential. She slit the top of the envelope open, curiously glancing inside before dumping the contents out onto her desk.
Beth Peterson stared up at her, unblinking in death, the scene caught in stark black and white.
Cindy's hands trembled as she reached for the photo. It took all her will power, but she moved the photo of Beth aside to confirm, to her horror, that the next picture was of Maggie.
Her cell phone rang. She eyed the Caller I.D., but it simply read 'restricted.' She answered it anyway. "Hello?"
"Who is this?"
"Don't worry about that. It's not important right now."
She stared down at the pictures, bile rising in her throat. "I find it's usually helpful to know the name of the person you're talking to."
"You'll find out my name soon enough," the man assured, chuckling softly. "After I'm done, I'm going to be the only thing you ever think about again."
Instincts ingrained over millennia of evolution screamed to her that this was a man worthy of fear; a predator in every sense of the word. She swallowed hard, letting her voice drop into the professional, no-BS tone she'd only recently started to perfect. "I don't talk to people I don't know. So if you want to continue this, you better give me a name."
It was pure bravado, and they both knew it.
"Oh, come on now, Cindy, I can't do everything for you. If you want to know my name, you're going to have to do some of the work."
"Give me a hint then."
"I already have. Two of them in fact: Beth Peterson and Maggie Hannigan. You've gotten my pictures? I have to say, they were both excellent models. The best I've ever worked with."
The phone slipped from her hand and clattered onto the desk. She scooped it back up with trembling fingers. "Who is this?"
"Your best friend."
"Who is this?" she demanded again. "Who the fuck is this?"
"Now, now, Cindy, watch your language. You don't want to make me mad, do you? I'm your biggest fan. I'm gonna make you a star."
Her voice shook as she asked, "You killed Beth and Maggie." It wasn't a question.
"They weren't the first. They won't be the last."
"You son of a bitch-"
His laugh was completely mirthless. "My, you are a spitfire, but I expected no less from a frisky Frisco girl like yourself. That's why I chose you, Cindy. You're special. We're going to make each other immortal."
"What do you want from me?"
"I already have what I want from you I have your attention. And soon, I'll have your respect. Remember to thank me when you get your Pulitzer."
"I don't understand-"
"You will," he assured. "Just wait you will."
The line went dead.
She ran for the bathroom, dropping to her knees in the first empty stall to empty out her stomach. Shivering from fear as much as shock, she slid into a heap against the tile wall, vowing not to cry as tears leaked from her eyes, four words echoing in her mind: It's all my fault.
The sun had begun its nightly descent into the Pacific Ocean bathing the squad room in a warm orange glow. Lindsay rubbed at over-taxed eyes, the various numbers of Cindy's financial records morphing together into one blurry, black ink spot. She sat back, stretching her neck as she tried to clear her head. Combing through the reporter's bank statements had taken longer than she'd expected, every transaction serving as a distraction as Lindsay remembered a shared meal or contemplated how one person could spend two-hundred dollars in a book store. And that question just led into others, like what kind of books Cindy had bought, and once Lindsay had gone down that path, there was no quick way back.
If her argument with Tom hadn't been enough, her talk with Jacobi had confirmed it: she was completely infatuated with Cindy Thomas. She felt silly, like a teenager with a crush, but she couldn't help but blush as she thought of the way they'd touched and kissed and tasted the night away in her bed. She hadn't wanted to admit it, even to herself, but a part of her had fallen for the younger woman the moment she'd first seen her oh-so-casually trying to eavesdrop in the newsroom of the Register.
Cindy had been nosy, and clumsy, and completely endearing all at once, and a part of Lindsay had been instantly attracted to the unique recipient of all those traits. Everything since then had been varying degrees of antagonism and flirtation, although she was certain Jill and Claire would classify those as the same interaction where Lindsay was concerned. At least now that she'd acknowledged it, and accepted it, she could stop kidding herself that she had no interest in the younger woman. She could stop making excuses for why it was a bad idea to pursue the reporter.
Her mind was so wrapped up in thoughts of Cindy that for a moment when Lindsay saw the redhead walk in she was sure she'd conjured her purely by mental will power. She glanced around quickly, then walked across the room, chiding herself the entire way for being much too eager.
Looking at Cindy, she found she just didn't care. "Hey, I was just thinking about you." The reporter didn't answer; she just kept staring ahead, her eyes focused on some distant spot. "What's wrong," Lindsay demanded, knowing in a moment that something was off. "What happened?"
"You need to check my cell phone," Cindy answered, her voice so soft Lindsay had to lean in to hear her. "You need to see if you can trace the last call I received."
"Because I just got a call from a guy who says he killed Beth and Maggie, and I don't think he's done killing yet."
Take the ribbons from my hair
Shake it loose and let it fall
Lay it soft against your skin
Like the shadows on the wall
Come and lay down by my side
'Till the early morning light
All I'm taking is your time
Help me make it through the night
She'd told the story once to Lindsay, once more for Lindsay, Jacobi, and Tom, and now, on the third time around, she was relating it to Jill and Claire as the club assembled in Lindsay's apartment to go over the events of the day.
"He admitted killing them? Just like that?"
"He said they weren't the first and they wouldn't be the last."
"Okay, so not a flat out admission," Jill sighed, cataloguing the evidence like the attorney she was. "I think I can beat the hearsay rule by saying it's a declaration against interest. No one in their right mind implies they've committed multiple murders unless it's the truth."
"What do the rules of evidence have to do with this?" Claire asked.
"Well I'm going to need Cindy to testify once we find this guy. And despite what happens on T.V., criminals don't willingly confess to district attorneys. I'm going to have to, you know, actually build a case."
"I'm all for the rule of law, but this guy doesn't deserve a trial," Claire muttered, taking another sip of wine.
"I thought I was the only one allowed to say things like that," Lindsay joked half-heartedly.
"If we ever catch this guy, I'll be a grandmother by the time he gets the needle," Claire said, shaking her head. "He'll spend more time in prison than those girls spent alive."
Cindy rubbed at her temples. "Guys can we not-"
"-So what are you saying, we should go back to vigilante justice?" Jill asked incredulously. "Because we have such a good history with not arresting the wrong people-"
"So, what, are you saying it's the cops' fault?" Lindsay demanded. "I have never arrested anyone I didn't think was guilty as hell-"
"Guys, please-" Cindy's pleas went unheeded as the other three continued to debate and argue the relative merits of capital punishment, prosecutorial misconduct, and a racist criminal justice system. Their voices echoing around her magnified the headache that hadn't eased up from the moment the phone had rung that afternoon. Looking down at the coffee table and the morning copy of the Register's headline proclaiming "Dead Co-Ed's Killer Still on the Loose" she felt something snap inside her, breaking the fragile control she'd kept all day.
"KNOCK IT OFF!"
The silence was immediate. Three startled women stared back at her in surprise.
"Why are we even talking about a trial or a death sentence or an execution when we haven't even found him yet? Beth and Maggie's killer is out there, right now, and we don't have a god-damn clue who he is!"
The frustration, the stress, had taken a toll on all of their emotions, but it wasn't until that moment the others realized how well Cindy had been faking it. They were veterans in the war against murderers and criminals, hardened against becoming overly attached, at least as much as possible. But Cindy was new, and though her presence in the club had felt as comfortable as an old shoe, it hadn't occurred to the rest of them that she wasn't as prepared to deal with the emotional repercussions as they were.
Lindsay took a tentative step toward her, then another. Slowly she reached out and wrapped her arms around the younger woman, drawing her into a bone crushing hug. "It's gonna be okay," Lindsay whispered against her hair. "I promise. It's gonna be okay."
Fighting tears, Cindy jerked away, not even looking at the brunette as she walked into the bedroom and slammed the door.
Dumbfounded, Boxer ran a hand roughly over her face and turned around. Jill and Claire stared back, equal parts concern, amusement, and smugness coloring their faces.
"Don't even say it," Lindsay warned, collapsing into the corner of the couch with her beer.
"What are you doing?" Claire demanded, eyeing the bedroom door purposefully.
"I think she wants to be alone," Lindsay drawled.
Disbelieving, they stared at her like she'd grown a second head. "It's universal, isn't it? How bad you are at relationships. It doesn't matter male, female you don't have a clue do you?"
"Go after her," Jill prompted, smiling.
"She's scared, Linz," Claire interrupted. "She hasn't dealt with this like we have."
It didn't take much to realize they were right. Lindsay set her beer on the coffee table and walked to the bedroom, knocking softly on the door. When Cindy didn't answer, Lindsay opened the door and stepped inside, shutting the door behind her.
Curled up on her side, Cindy stared toward the window, ignoring her. Lindsay eased across the room and sat on the edge of the bed, the same bed they'd shared under much better circumstances less than twenty-four hours earlier. "I'm sorry. I'm so used to having you around, I forget you haven't been through a lot of this." She reached out, idly running her fingers over Cindy's leg, the urge to touch, to ground herself in the younger woman almost palpable. "This is what we do sometimes," she explained softly. "When it gets to be too much. Talk about anything else except how completely helpless we feel. It's how we cope."
"What do we do if we can't find him," Cindy asked faintly.
"We're not gonna let that happen," Lindsay vowed. "I'm not going to let that happen. We're gonna find him."
Cindy moved her hand lower, threading her fingers through Lindsay's. "Would you would you just hold me for a while?"
There was no need for an answer, only the sound of shoes being kicked off before Lindsay crawled onto the bed and spooned behind the younger woman, her arms wrapping tightly around her, drawing Cindy back into the steadfast warmth of her body. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you," the brunette promised, blinking away tears as Cindy started to cry in her arms. "I'm never going to let anything happen to you."
The apartment was silent as she slipped quietly out of the bedroom an hour later but it wasn't empty.
Jill walked in from the kitchen and handed her a fresh beer. "Is she asleep?"
The attorney couldn't help an impish grin. "We figured as much. It was too quiet for you to be having sex."
Lindsay tried to look scandalized, but she just couldn't quite pull it off. "I hate you both so much right now."
"Uh huh, sure," Claire demurred, patting the cushion next to her on the sofa. "Now come over here and tell us everything."
Lindsay glared. "No."
"Fine," Claire sighed. "Then come over here and help us go over this evidence so we can figure out who the hell is messing with our girl."
"That's it," Lindsay asked uneasily as she settled onto the couch. "You're not going to say anything else?"
"What else is there to say?" Claire asked rhetorically. "We love Cindy. We love you. And we knew this was coming."
"Are you happy?" Jill asked more seriously.
Lindsay considered her answer for a long time, knowing that with Jill, a simple question about happiness was like a plumber asking about the theory of relativity - they kind of understood it, but it was doubtful they'd ever put it into use. "I don't feel like I have to justify myself to her. She understands my job, she understands why I have to do this, maybe better than Tom ever did. But at the same time, she makes me want to be better. A better person, a better cop, a better friend - a better everything. And not because I'm in some competition with everyone around me, but because I want to be better for myself, you know? Not make the same mistakes." Lindsay took a breath and turned her eyes back to Jill. "So, I guess all that is my way of saying yeah, I'm happy."
Jill offered a watery smile. "Then that's all that matters."
"So," Claire started, shifting gears as Jill looked away, wiping her eyes, "Jill and I started going back over everything including the pictures the killer sent Cindy. Take a look at them, tell me what you think."
She laid the photos of Beth and Maggie out side by side, watching Lindsay's face for her reaction. She knew immediately in the way the inspector's eyes lit up that Lindsay had made the connection. "The bodies they're laid out in the same position their arms and hands are stretched out in the exact same way."
"Not just the hands the whole body. Their hair is brushed back from their faces, their legs are at the same angle. This guy posed both of them like this."
"You ran the victim profile through the national database, right?" Jill asked.
"I did but strangulation with female victims brought back about a thousand hits. There was no signature, no way to narrow it down."
"Maybe his signature isn't the strangling," Claire countered. "What if it's posing the victims?"
"Before, we were just looking for strangled women, early to mid-twenties, silk scarves, right," Jill postulated, catching Lindsay up on her train of thought. "What about expanding the search to include posed victims?"
"We can try if no one else has made the connection, it won't be in the NCIC database. We'd have to go through every unsolved homicide crime scene photo for the last ten years, at least," Lindsay sighed.
"We can narrow it down though, by age and gender of the victim."
"That's still like looking for a needle in a haystack. And San Francisco is a pretty damn big haystack on its own without looking anywhere else."
"It'll take time, but unless we're going to wait for this guy to call Cindy, or kill someone else, it's the only thing we have to go on," Jill pointed out.
"Speaking of which what are we doing about our mystery caller?" Claire asked.
"The department tech guys have her phone. They're installing a wire tap on it now so hopefully if the guy calls back we can trace it. And Tom agreed that Cindy needs police protection, although not the full SWAT unit I asked for. He's gonna park a squad car in front of the Register, I'm driving her to and from work. And I talked to her editor and managed to get two undercovers in there as office temps."
"Oh, she's gonna love that," Claire chuckled. "Have you told her yet?"
"I was going to let it be a surprise," Lindsay smirked, already knowing she was slated for ten rounds with the reporter over the rest of the protective measures. She was willing to take the chance on Cindy never finding out about the undercover officers if it meant avoiding even five minutes of that fight.
"Then we better hurry up and go over the rest of this, because I don't want to be anywhere near you when she finds out."
"I'd go easy, Linz," Jill teased, "It would be a shame to break up before you two even really started dating."
"With friends like these-" Lindsay muttered.
"-Who needs serial killers?" Jill filled in, drawing a laugh from Claire. Lindsay just shook her head and took a long drink of beer.
"This really isn't necessary."
"Do you have a badge and gun?"
"Then let me decide what is and isn't necessary. I'm a peace officer charged with protecting public safety. It's my job to protect you."
"It's your job to protect the public," Cindy argued. "I can take care of myself."
"You're connected to two murder victims and a serial killer has you on speed dial. You're lucky it's only me your dealing with. I had to talk Claire and Jill out of following us."
They'd been having the same argument for two hours ever since Cindy had woken up for the second morning in Lindsay's arms and the good inspector had declared herself the reporter's personal bodyguard. Two hours and Lindsay hadn't wavered from the party line.
Knowing it was useless to continue to fight, Cindy had no choice but to give in. "Fine," she sighed, "but if you're going to be hovering around all day, I need coffee."
In need of caffeine herself, Lindsay swung into a free parking space on the corner across from the Register's building. She could see through the window that Peet's Coffee was bustling despite the late hour. "The guy who owns this place is gonna retire a millionaire," she muttered as she slid out of the SUV.
"Tell me about it - they know me by name. This is where I met Maggie."
"I know. Jacobi and I canvassed the place, but nobody seemed to know anything." She held the door open for Cindy and followed her in, immediately scanning the coffee shop for anything out of the ordinary, but there was no one out of place - just a lot of people looking for a caffeine fix.
Lindsay turned to the sound of the voice, stepping minutely closer to Cindy, her hand ghosting toward her gun.
"Hey, Danny." The inspector could tell the greeting was forced. One look at the man with his perfectly coiffed hair and too-trendy leather jacket and she knew why. If that wasn't enough, the look Danny gave Cindy as he walked over made Lindsay want to deck him. "What are you doing here?"
"My morning ritual - vanilla latte and a bran muffin." Danny let his eyes wander to Lindsay, giving her an obvious once over. "Who's this?"
Cindy gave Lindsay a sidelong glance, deciding in a heartbeat that less was more as far as this introduction was concerned. "Danny Windsor, this is my friend, Inspector Lindsay Boxer."
Lindsay nodded politely, her smile thin and tight. "Nice to meet you."
"You as well detective."
"Whatever - tell me, have you ever done any modeling?"
Cindy felt more than saw Lindsay's hand twitch toward her gun. Cindy elbowed her in the ribs. "You'll have to excuse Danny, he has no manners. He's one of our staff photographers."
"Not for long. Once my show opens, I won't need to keep snapping crime scene photos for a living."
"What kind of show?" Lindsay asked, shifting away from Cindy to avoid another jab of elbow.
Danny pulled a small advertising card out of his jacket pocket and handed it to her. Expecting shock, he was mildly disappointed by Lindsay's less than impressed glance at the invitation.
"Nice," she commented dryly.
"Thanks," Danny smiled back, his lips curving into an arrogant sneer.
"So you two work together-"
The polite inquiry was cut off as Danny turned around to yell at the nearest barista. "Hey, is my latte done yet? I've got real work to do sweetheart, I can't stand around all day waiting for you."
The barista glared, but managed to hold back the litany of epithets Boxer could see running through her head. "Coming right up." Danny turned back, but Lindsay kept her eye on the barista, watching as the young woman glared just a little too long at his back.
"So, why the police escort?"
The women shared a look. "I, uh, I've got a guy who keeps calling me," Cindy hedged.
"A stalker, huh? Well now you really have hit the big time." The barista came over and handed him his coffee, smiling at Cindy in recognition before heading back behind the counter.
"You must be in here a lot," Lindsay asked, changing subjects. "Did you know the girl who was killed?"
"I don't talk to the people who bring me coffee detective."
This time it was Cindy who corrected him. "Its inspector Danny, don't be an ass."
"Right, of course. My mistake." He offered a fake smile to Lindsay by way of conciliation, then turned back to Cindy. "So, are you coming?"
"I haven't ordered yet-"
"Well, you better hurry. It's Miles' weekly 'what-the-hell-is-the-matter-with-you-people' meeting and if you're late he's gonna go nuts."
"Shit, I totally forgot."
"Come on," Danny offered, smirking at Lindsay, "I'll protect you."
Cindy hated to admit it, but Danny was right: serial killer or not, Miles would have her ass for missing the meeting. The light of day brought a clarity and courage she hadn't felt the night before and she was going to be damned before she let fear overshadow her career and her life. "You'll be five minutes behind me Linz."
She wanted to argue, but like the sucker she was, Lindsay gave into the pleading, doe eyes of her lover. "Fine. I need to check in with building security anyway. What do you want to drink?"
"Don't worry, they know my order." Cindy smiled, then impulsively leaned up to kiss Lindsay's cheek. "I'll see you in a few minutes."
"Nice to meet you detective," Danny called out over his shoulder as he and Cindy walked out together.
"It's inspector," Lindsay muttered, watching them go. "You miserable piece of-"
"Can I help you?"
Lindsay turned and took a deep breath, trying to shake off her annoyance as she walked up to the counter. "Uh, whatever her usual is," Lindsay said, motioning out the window toward Cindy, "and a large white chocolate mocha." The barista glanced out the window at Cindy and Danny then started ringing up the order. "Is he in here a lot? With her?" Lindsay asked.
"They're both in here every morning, but not together," the barista reassured. "Cindy's usually at least an hour earlier than he is."
Lindsay smiled wryly, picking up on the girl's tone. "You don't like him much, do you?"
"Who, Mr. Sleaze?"
"Mr. Sleaze?" Lindsay echoed. "What do you mean by that " she eyed the girl's name tag, "-Andrea?"
"It's what I call him. He hits on every girl in here, customers too. He's always talking about how he's some big-time photographer and asking the girls if they want to be models for him. Fifty bucks an hour. God knows where he gets that kind of money, anyone can see he's a two-bit sleaze with a crappy day job."
Lindsay motioned the girl to the side, stepping away from the listening ears of the rest of the customers. "You know about Maggie Hannigan getting murdered, right?"
"My partner and I interviewed all the employees here, I don't remember talking to you."
"I've been out the last week. My Mom's sick so I had to go down to Riverside to take care of her. I just fond out about Maggie when I came in for my shift last night."
"Did Maggie ever have a problem with Danny? Did he hit on her a lot?"
Andrea shrugged. "No more so than the rest of us, but I think she was actually considering taking up his offer. Art school isn't cheap and she's been doing this on her own. Her parents kicked her out when they found out she was gay. And that girlfriend of hers is a complete barracuda. It wouldn't surprise me if she did something stupid to make some extra money."
"Did you ever notice anyone else hanging around? Anyone out of the ordinary?"
"It's a coffee shop, so we get plenty of people just hangin', but no nobody weird."
"Thanks for your help." Another barista came over and handed Lindsay the coffee. She set it down just long enough to fish out her cell phone. The line rang twice before Jacobi picked up. "Hey, it's Lindsay. Do you have the evidence log for Maggie Hannigan right there?"
"Uh, yeah." Papers shuffling echoed over the line. "Okay, got it."
"How much cash did she have in her wallet?"
"Says here she had one hundred, fifty two dollars and change. Why, does that mean something?"
It should have dawned on her before. What the hell was a broke college student doing carrying around that much cash?
"Maybe. Let me call you back." She hung up without preamble and dialed Jill's work number, scooping up her coffee again as she headed for the Register.
"Jill, it's Lindsay. How creative can you be with a search warrant?"
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