DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fic was written for Ajay3bee who generously bid on a fic I offered for the Help_Japan Auction. Her prompt was 'first time' anything meeting, date, etc. I thought I'd give her as many as I could while the two detectives solve their case. Thanks to the wonderful Debbie for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To darandkerry[at]yahoo.com
Today was just like any other day. Nikki and Nora had wrapped up another case, Nikki had forgotten yet another anniversary their first real kiss, not the hit-and-run peck on the cheek Nora had given Nikki when her partner, only on the force at that time, had scored two courtside tickets to the 2004 NCAA Women's Final Four basketball championship - and, just as the two women had settled down to a bowl of crawfish etouffee, the subject of enlightening the person responsible for their dinner on the true nature of their relationship once again cropped up in conversation.
"Nora, it's been almost three years. Don't you think it's time you told your mother that you're not just my roommate?" Nikki asked as she dipped a fork into her roux covered rice. She'd been over the moon when Nora had finally let her apartment lease run out and had officially moved in two years ago, but she'd been less than happy that her lover had merely added 'roommate' to her previous 'work partner' description whenever Nora referred to Nikki in conversation with their colleagues and, especially, Nora's parents. Now, Nora's mother split her time between her perpetual quest to find the perfect husband for her daughter and searching for a suitable one for Nikki, too.
"I tried," Nora replied somewhat weakly and winced at the look being directed toward her. She could almost feel the daggers pricking the whites of her eyes. Her failed attempt this past Christmas had been aborted almost immediately when her mother had again misconstrued Nora's words. When Nora had said, 'Nikki and I are much more than roommates', her mother had made what she'd deemed a logical conclusion and even smiled with her quick reply, 'I know, dear; I'm so glad you've finally found a best friend'. She hadn't given Nora time to even draw in a breath before she'd dropped her next bit of news. 'Now, did I tell you that Allison Winters has twin nephews visiting this week? And they're both single'. Her mother had gone on to detail the double date she'd already arranged and Nora had given up trying to set her mother straight, which would have been almost as difficult a task had her mother tried to do the same to Nora.
"Letting your mother plan a double date is not trying, Nora; it's going along with her. I'm beginning to think our first child will graduate high school before you tell your mother about us," Nikki said, her dejection sprinkled with as much hurt and disappointment as the etouffee had been with Cajun seasoning.
Nora choked on a crawfish. "First?" she managed to croak, her mind zeroing in on the fact that not only had Nikki made mention of the two of them having a child, but apparently her lover was expecting them to have more than one. Reaching past her glass of wine, she grabbed for her water goblet instead and downed the contents of her glass, swallowing every single drop before she continued with what should have been her initial response. "Child?"
"What?" Nikki looked up in surprise, having no idea what had possessed Nora to mention children. She ran back over their conversation and her eyes widened at her realization. She'd been upset and had said the first thing that had come into her head. It had just been a figure of speech hadn't it? Her brow wrinkled in confusion just as Nora's cell came to life with the sounds of The Clash.
*I fought the law and the law won. I fought the law and the law won.*
Nora kept her eyes on Nikki as she reached for her cell. Nikki seemed to be just as flustered with the sudden change in topic as Nora had been. "What's up, Dan?" she spoke into the phone. The baby conversation would have to wait, and Nora found herself relieved to table it, hopefully until they were both well into their non-childbearing years. "We'll be there in twenty," she said, ending the call abruptly. She pushed to her feet and reached for her plate, anxious to flee what had the potential of becoming their first real knock-down-drag-out. "We've got a murder in the Garden District."
"Got a name?" Nikki asked as she grabbed up her own plate and headed toward the refrigerator. She, too, welcomed the interruption; although, she'd rather someone hadn't had to die to cause it. Unfurling a section of plastic wrap, she covered her plate and placed it on the top shelf of the fridge, instinctively reaching for Nora's plate to do the same.
"Gloria Stevenson," Nora replied matter-of-factly, the name meaning nothing to her. She left the society section of the Times-Picayune for Nikki to read.
Nikki closed the door to the fridge and spun around to face her partner. "You're kidding?" She looked more surprised than she had when she'd first become aware of her baby remark.
"That's the name Dan gave me," Nora said with a shrug. "So, who is she?"
"She was the first person in the Garden District to move back into her home after Katrina. Said no hurricane was going to keep her out of her house. Word is that her daughter had to drag her kicking and screaming when evacuation notices went out," Nikki reported with a half-smile. She remembered almost having to do the same with her daddy.
"Okay, so that might just rule the daughter out," Nora said, her mind already turning to possible suspects and their motives. "If she wanted her dead, she could have just left her behind. Could be that something happened between then and now, though." Crossing the room, she grabbed her shield off the counter and slipped it on her belt. She did the same with her gun. "So, is that all she's famous for?" Nora wasn't sure that being the first person to return to the area after Katrina made Gloria Stevenson all that special; stubborn maybe, but not necessarily famous.
Nikki stepped beside her lover and picked up her own shield. "There's something a little more noteworthy," she said casually and paused to wait for Nora's exasperated sigh. She chuckled when it came right on cue and hurried to enlighten her partner on the most interesting aspect of Gloria Stevenson's life.
"Gloria Stevenson is known as the last Madame of New Orleans."
"Well this is definitely a first," Nora said as she moved around to the other side of a plain pine coffin. She angled her head and looked down at the victim.
"It isn't every day you see an eighty-five year old woman, wearing a red flapper dress and lying in a pine box with a stake sticking out of her chest, that's for sure," Charlie said in his patented understated tone. He couldn't resist slipping a latex-covered finger along the corner of the old woman's mouth and peeling back her top lip. "No fangs, though," he reported, sounding almost disappointed.
Nikki glanced around the room and then at the opened entrance that led back into the victim's bedroom. "I wonder why the killer didn't close the false door when he left. It would have taken days for anyone to have noticed the smell, and even then, there's no guarantee that they'd have found this place. According to Gloria's daughter, no one in the family knew this room existed, except for her mother."
"So she says," Nora muttered suspiciously. If she'd been a kid growing up in this house, she'd have explored every nook and cranny. All these old houses had false walls and secret rooms, or at least that was what her brothers had led her to believe every time they'd snuck out of the house to venture over to the ritzy side of town. "Hey, what's this?" she fingered a tiny piece of cloth that was caught on the inside of the coffin.
"Looks like the same material as her dress," Nikki commented as she moved closer to the coffin. She ran a discerning gaze over the victim's body and smiled. "There, on her right shoulder, there's a tear in the material."
"Charlie, okay to roll her a little?" Nora asked, already easing into position at the head of the coffin. She gently slid her hands under the victim's shoulders and waited for the ME's okay.
"Yeah," Charlie replied. "Just let me stabilize the stake. I'd like to keep it in place until I can get her back to the morgue." He stepped into the space vacated by Nora and carefully took hold of the wooden stake. "Okay, easy now."
With a nod, Nora gently lifted Gloria Stevenson's left shoulder and rolled her slightly to the right, just enough for Nikki to get a glimpse underneath the body.
Nikki immediately spied the end of the stake peeking through the back of the victim's dress and then turned her attention to the bottom of the coffin. "Stake pierced through, but there's hardly any blood," she reported. "She wasn't killed in the coffin."
Nora eased the dead woman back down and freed her hands. "I think we might be looking for two killers."
"Or one really strong one," Charlie added as he released his hold on the stake and motioned his assistant over. "I'll check the body for trace when I get her on a table."
Nikki and Nora stepped back and watched as Charlie and his assistant carefully removed Gloria Stevenson from her pine coffin and gently placed her on a gurney. Charlie laid a sheet over the deceased and the two men lifted the gurney and started for the door. The stake poked the sheet up and made it look like the old woman was trying to push off the cover. Nora just hoped there weren't any reporters outside.
"So," Nora said when the two detectives were finally left alone in the room. "What do you make of all this?"
Nikki sighed and shook her head. "I don't actually know where to start." She put one hand on her hip and gestured toward the now empty coffin with her other. "Why would the victim keep a pine box in a hidden room? And why didn't she store anything else in here?"
"How about why would someone drive a stake through her heart?" Nora asked, concentrating her focus on the rather odd cause of death. "And what's with that flapper dress?" A large blood pool had stained the red material, indicating that the victim was definitely wearing the dress when she was attacked.
"That dress is the real deal," Nikki replied confidently. If there was one thing she knew well, it was fashion. "It was in pristine condition, too. It looked as if it had never been worn."
"Okay," Nora began trying to construct a plausible scenario, even though there didn't seem to be anything plausible about this case. "Gloria Stevenson goes through some old clothes, maybe for a rummage sale or perhaps she's just feeling nostalgic. She comes across the little red number, and for old times' sake, she slips it on, just to see if it still fits."
Nikki nodded her head; she'd done the same herself on numerous occasions. "The killer or killers come in and surprise her," she added, picking up on Nora's train of thought. "So, where does the stake come in? And where did they kill her?"
"They had to have brought the stake with them, although I can't imagine why," Nora replied. She scanned the room once more. "C'mon, let's check out her bedroom before the crime techs get here. You can have the closet," she teased and strode toward the door.
"If you come out long enough to let me in," Nikki whispered under her breath. One of these days Nora would venture out of her safety zone and Nikki would be there, ready to lock and bolt the door behind her lover. "Be there in a sec, Nora," she called out as she studied the coffin once more. From all indications, it appeared as if the pine box had been in the room for some time, although there were no signs of a lid.
"Hey, Nikki!" Nora's voice filtered through the partially opened wall and into the secret room. "You've got to see this!" Her tone was a mix of humor and surprise and Nikki's curiosity distracted her from going on a lid hunt.
"What?" she asked as she stepped through into the bedroom. She couldn't help but smile at the grin Nora wore.
"I found something interesting under the bed. Take a look at this," Nora said, extending her hand toward her lover. A pink and white object sat in the palm of her gloved hand and Nikki moved closer.
"What is ew, Nora, that's disgusting," Nikki said, her face screwing up into a painful looking grimace. "Put those back," she demanded and took two quick steps backward when Nora only grinned more widely and started toward her.
"They're harmless, Nikki, and may explain why someone used a stake for a weapon," Nora said as she advanced closer to her lover. She gripped the object between her fingers and held it up for Nikki to study. "See?"
Nikki's expression turned inquisitive. "Are those what I think they are?" she asked and dared to reach out to touch the long white protrusions.
"Fangs," Nora confirmed but hurried to amend her statement. "Or rather false teeth with fangs."
"But Gloria Stevenson had teeth," Nikki said, clearly puzzled that the victim had a set of dentures. "We saw them."
"They were more than likely dentures, too." Nora looked down at the sharp-looking fangs and shrugged. "Maybe she switches them out."
"Sweet old lady by day and wicked geriatric vampire by night?" Nikki asked skeptically. She and Nora were going to catch hell from their colleagues on this one.
"Hey, Nora!" Detective Ben Quebedeaux called out from across a crowded room. He paused dramatically and waited for Nora to turn his way. "Some guy named Lestat has been calling every ten minutes, demanding police protection; claims he's next." A chorus of laughter followed Nikki and Nora as they wound their way past their colleagues' desks on the way to their own. Nora pulled up short when she spied the photos that had been spread across the top of hers.
"Very funny, guys," she huffed as she snatched up at least a dozen printed screenshots of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in various attack positions, all marked with 'Prime Suspect' across the top of each. She tossed them in her trashcan and settled into her chair. "Has Darius called back yet?" she asked Nikki, her patience already nearing its breaking point. She knew their fellow detectives were just getting warmed up, so they really needed to close this case as soon as possible.
Nikki slid into her chair and wheeled it closer to her desk. "Not yet," she answered, biting back a 'you know he hasn't'. They hadn't left each other's side since they'd been called in on the case. "It may be tomorrow before he does, too. He had a family get together this weekend."
Nora perked up at the news. All of Darius's family contacts were in one location? "Maybe we should go find him." There was bound to be one of his Voodoo relatives that had a background in vampirism, even though Nora was 99.9% sure the case had absolutely nothing to do with vampires.
"I don't think that's such a good idea," Nikki said with a firm shake of her head. She could still vividly recall the last time she'd sought Darius out during one of his family 'socials'. She'd found herself drinking some kind of foul-tasting concoction at the tomb of Marie Laveau and then discovering that Darius's family had ties to the infamous voodoo Queen of New Orleans. She was just grateful that she'd made it home in one piece.
"Why not?" Nora wasn't ready to give up just yet. "We really need to catch a break early in this one," she said, glancing over her shoulder just in time to catch Detective Boudreaux stringing a necklace of something that looked suspiciously like garlic.
"Cemeteries, Nora; they hold part of their reunion in cemeteries."
"Oh," Nora said, her enthusiasm wavering in the light of this new news. Nora really hated cemeteries. "Maybe we can get Darius to meet us somewhere else; somewhere close." She figured Nikki's snitch probably wouldn't go for it, seeing how much he'd enjoyed scaring the bejabbers out of Nora the last time they'd met in a cemetery.
"I seriously doubt he'll agree to that, but I'll ask if he ever calls back," Nikki replied. If Darius hadn't called by now, it was a good bet he'd turned his phone off; his great-grandmother was the only person alive who could guilt him into relinquishing his cell until she deemed it time to end the family get-together. Once, Darius had been without his phone for three whole days; he'd told Nikki he'd started going through withdrawals before the sun had gone down on the very first day.
Nora slumped in her chair. They really needed Darius.
"Hey, Nora!" Dan called from the doorway of his office. He waited until his ex-partner's eyes tracked to his own. "Crime techs found the murder location. There was another secret room in the bedroom across the hall from the victim's."
Nora pushed to her feet, anxious to head back to the Garden District and also as far away from her colleagues as possible. She'd only taken a few steps when Boudreaux stepped in her path.
"Here, Nora, better take this along, just in case." He held up the ends of a piece of heavy duty white string that had at least a half-dozen garlic cloves attached. It appeared as if he'd bored through the center of the cloves and had threaded the string through the middle of each. "Tie this around your neck; it'll keep the vampires away," he said with a chuckle. Nora stomped past the other detective and headed toward the door.
Nikki bit back a smile and stood. "You're lucky she didn't strangle you with that necklace," she said as she moved next to Boudreaux. In her four-inch heeled boots, she towered over the 5'6" detective. "Next time you might not be so lucky." With a quick wink, she brushed by her colleague with a lazy swing of her hips. One tease deserved another, she thought, as she followed Nora down the hall. Her cell chirped just as she caught up with her partner, the familiar tune bringing a smile to both their lips.
"Darius," Nikki greeted happily. "We were beginning to think you'd been kidnapped and exorcised." She grinned at Nora when Darius's chuckle sounded in her ear. "Can you meet us? We really need your help on this one. It's way out of our league."
Another chuckle flew over the airwaves and Nora leaned closer to her partner to hear Darius's next words. She just shook her head.
Coffee and beignets; she should have known.
"So, I asked my great-grandmother about your vampire lady," Darius said with a confectioner's sugar covered grin, his lips camouflaged by the white powdered substance. He took another bite of his deep-fried pastry. "Seems Miss Gloria Stevenson had an em-ploy-ee, if you know what I mean, who had a rather interesting approach to her business deals."
"Interesting, how?" Nikki asked as she reached for her coffee. She detoured at the last second and snagged the last of Nora's beignet.
"Hey!" Nora protested. "I thought you said you weren't hungry."
"Didn't think I was," Nikki replied with a half-shrug and a teasing smile. She popped the morsel into her mouth and then licked her sugar-coated fingers. Nora watched, mesmerized, while Darius just chuckled and went ahead with his story.
"In the early years, Gloria hired a young mulatto named Jeraldine Dufour. Her parents were killed in a house fire and Gloria took her in and put her to work. In only a few weeks time, Jeraldine had become the most popular worker Gloria had ever had."
"So what made her so special?" Nora asked, having had to struggle to pull her attention away from wishing to be Nikki's fingers when Darius had begun to spin his tale.
"She was always dressed in some kind of fancy get-up, kept her room lit by candlelight only, and she had a pine coffin set up at the end of her bed," Darius said as he leaned forward. "She always bit her customers, too." He pushed against the side of his neck with his middle and index fingers. "Gammy said they looked like two perfect puncture wounds."
"And she knew this how?" Nora asked around the lip of her coffee mug.
"My Great Uncle Jamaal had the marks to prove it," Darius reported. "Gammy locked him in the basement for three months; just to be sure he hadn't been turned."
Nikki bit down on her lower lip, hard, at Darius's pet name for his great-grandmother. "Did your Gammy say what happened to Jeraldine?"
Darius shook his head, his dreadlocks bouncing up and down. "Someone killed her one Halloween Eve, just a few months shy of her thirty fifth birthday. They never did find her killer."
"Let me guess," Nikki said, sharing a quick look with Nora. "A stake in the heart."
"Yep," Darius confirmed as he sat back against the booth. "Only she didn't disintegrate into a pile of ashes."
"I take it that Gloria was upset to lose her best moneymaker," Nora conjectured, figuring the Madame was none too happy with Jeraldine's untimely demise.
"Oh, she was more than upset," Darius said. "She was heartbroken; turns out she and Jeraldine were lovers."
A silence fell over the table as the two detectives absorbed Darius's information. Was it possible that they were looking for the same person who'd killed Jeraldine?
"I don't suppose your Gammy knew when Jeraldine's birthday was?" Nora asked, trying to determine if the date of Gloria Stevenson's death held any significance. They already had cause of death to tie the two women's murders together.
Darius grinned. "No, but I bet you're on to something, Detective." He exchanged looks with Nora. "Think there's some old codger out there who's finally settled an old score?"
"Not you, too, Georgia," Nora said and sighed in disappointment.
Georgia laughed and pulled the plastic fangs from her mouth. "Sorry, I just couldn't resist." She chuckled and pointed toward her computer screen. "Found Jeraldine Dufour. Born, February 4, 1932; Died, October 30, 1966. Haven't had time to go down to records to pull the police report yet, thought you'd want to see this first."
Nikki moved in beside Georgia and bent down to read the screen. "So, Gloria Stevenson is murdered on Jeraldine's birthday. Sounds like a pretty solid connection to me."
Georgia shook her head in agreement and clicked some more keys. "And look at this," she said as she pushed her chair back, allowing both detectives to move in closer to her computer screen.
With a dark head and a light one pressed closely together, Nikki and Nora responded at the same time. "Damn," they both said, while Georgia crossed her arms and smiled. She'd said the same thing when she'd pulled up Gloria Stevenson's information.
"The same birthday, ten years apart," Nora whispered under her breath. "What are the odds in that?"
"I bet Gloria quit celebrating hers after Jeraldine died," Nikki said as she stood to her full height. "Feel like making a trip down to records?" she asked her partner just as Boudreaux rounded the corner. He grinned when he spied Nora and pulled a cross out of his pocket.
Nora grabbed Nikki's sleeve and hurried in the other direction. "Thanks for the info, Georgia," she called over her shoulder as she increased her pace. The pair hit the doors at the end of the hallway and welcomed the musty smell. "Hey, Stevens, can you point us to the cold case files from '66?"
A young patrolman looked up from his murder mystery and jumped to his feet. "Hey, Nora Nikki," he said, ducking his head and blushing to the tips of ears. "I, um, heard you pulled a lulu of a case." Marking his place, he closed the book and shuffled his feet nervously. "Georgia called earlier and said you might be stopping by, so I already pulled the case box. It's in Lindy's old office around the corner. I figured you'd want some privacy." He pointed in the direction where he'd put the cold case evidence, just in case Nora had forgotten where her retired uncle's office had been.
"Thanks, Stevens," she said with a smile, turning his blush an even deeper red. She was grateful that the young man's infatuation with her and her partner had kept him from joining the rest of the ranks in their childish teasing. "C'mon, Nikki, let's read Jeraldine's files and then head over to view the crime scene."
With meeting Darius and then following up on the only lead they had, the two detectives hadn't had time to go by the victim's house and view the scene of the murder. Nora hoped to find something in Jeraldine Dufour's case evidence that they could later match to the Stevenson murder scene.
"Lead the way," Nikki replied as she gestured for Nora to go first. She waved a few fingers at the young file clerk. "Thanks, Stevens." She chuckled when he had to reach back for his chair to keep from falling over. It was nice to know that she still had it, even though 'it' wasn't on the market anymore.
"I hope there are some crime photos," Nora said when they finally reached her uncle's old office. She'd spent many an hour visiting with her father's older brother and had even snuck a peek or two at photos that would have made her mother ban her from ever visiting again, had her mother known.
"Where do you want to start?" Nikki asked, pulling up beside her partner. She waited for Nora to lift the lid on the box before moving to the other side of the table.
"I think we should look at everything together," Nora answered, already edging around the table to where two chairs sat, side by side. "Let's start with the physical evidence first." She lifted a plastic evidence bag containing a blood-stained stake. "I'm guessing this is the murder weapon." She turned the bag over and studied the weapon before handing it to Nikki. "One stake looks like the next to me."
"Yeah, me, too," Nikki concurred as she flipped the bag over and then placed it on the table. "Looks like its end has been sharpened more than usual."
"I noticed that," Nora said as she pulled a larger evidence bag from the box. She whistled out loud when she realized what she held. "I think this is the same kind of dress Gloria Stevenson was wearing." The blood pattern was eerily similar, too; although, she couldn't tell for sure since the dress was folded and tucked behind plastic.
"Let me see," Nikki said, carefully taking the bag from Nora. She laid it on the table in front of her and studied the material and finely detailed hand stitching. It did indeed appear to be a red flapper dress identical to the one their murder victim was wearing. This case was getting weirder and weirder. "You think someone forced Gloria Stevenson to put on that dress in order to reenact the murder scene from '66?"
Nora opened her mouth to answer but was distracted by a piece of evidence that had slipped to the side of the box. "Whoa, look at this." Nora lifted a small bag and held it out to Nikki. "These look real," Nora said, fitting her hand around the plastic bag to grip its contents.
Nikki felt a sense of déjà vu as she reached out to touch the authentic-looking fangs. "Caps?" She fingered one of the fangs through the bag. "I'm guessing they must have fit over Jeraldine's teeth."
"But Gloria wasn't wearing her fang dentures when she was killed. Something must have gone wrong," Nora pointed out, wondering if Gloria had balked and thrown the dentures under the bed.
"These caps and those dentures were professionally done," Nikki said thoughtfully. "They had to have been made by a dentist or some kind of dental technician."
"Let's read through these files and then go find out who Gloria Stevenson's dentist was," Nora replied, gripping a handful of police reports. "And we really need to go see the murder scene, too."
"That's a lot of blood," Nora said as she stared down at the concrete floor of the hidden room in the bedroom across the hall from Gloria Stevenson's. The crime scene photos of Jeraldine Dufour had shown much less blood. Hard to judge now that Gloria Stevenson's dried blood literally covered the blood pool that had been left behind from Jeraldine's murder. The room photographed in the cold case crime photos was one in the same. The killer had murdered both women in the exact same location.
"I agree," Eric Johnson replied. The crime scene investigator knelt down next to the dried pool of blood and pointed around its edges. "I'd expect this much blood loss if the victim was somehow stabbed while she was face down, but there's no void of any kind to indicate that someone was underneath her when she was staked." He shrugged and, almost as if it were an afterthought, added, "Or if she'd fallen, chest first, on the stake."
"Is it possible that the murderer positioned the victim just so and then pushed her so that she'd land where the previous victim had been killed?" Nikki asked curiously. This case was definitely getting odder and odder by the minute.
The investigator shook his head. "It's possible, but highly doubtful."
"Why?" Nora stepped next to her partner and tilted her head in question.
"Because it would mean that the victim voluntarily held the stake against her heart and didn't let go, not even to stop her fall. She'd have to want to die," Johnson explained as he looked back and forth between the two detectives. Both Nikki and Nora stared at the investigator for several moments before turning to face each other, a knowing expression brightening their faces.
"Wonder why this room was closed off, but the room with the body was left open," Nora said out loud and smiled. She reached for her phone, and Nikki nodded her agreement. It almost always came back to money.
"Georgia, you think you can scare up the financials and insurance information for Gloria Stevenson? Oh, and financials on her daughter, Sarah, and her son-in-law, Harold, too?" Nora asked their colleague and grinned at the pained sigh that sounded on the other end.
"Yeah, but you're going to owe me big time," Georgia returned, her fingers already flying across her computer screen. "Give me about half an hour," she said, ending the call without another word. Nora pocketed her cell and turned to Nikki.
"Ready to go see Doctor Anderson while we wait for Georgia's call?"
"Think he'd make me some fake fangs?" Nikki kidded, offering Nora a teasing wink as she started for the door. Johnson laughed and Nora hurried to catch her partner, poking the other woman in the side when she pulled up next to Nikki.
"Stop it," Nora said, glancing back over her shoulder at Johnson. The crime tech had already moved back to his task of trying to figure out the position of Gloria Stevenson's body when she'd died, but Nora had seen the way he'd looked at Nikki; the way he always looked at Nikki. She placed her hand in the small of her partner's back and ushered her lover through the door and across the bedroom.
"Whoa, why are we in such a hurry?" Nikki asked, pulling to a stop in the hallway. If their hunch was correct, their trip to the dentist was really unnecessary, other than confirming that he'd been the one to make the cast for Gloria's special set of dentures.
"Johnson?" Nora said in a dramatically whispered 'I can't believe what you just did' tone. She glared at her lover and waited impatiently for a reply.
"What?" Nikki replied innocently. She looked through the bedroom door at the partially opened wall. "You're jealous," she concluded quickly, a pleased smile slowly spreading across her face. A jealous Nora usually turned into a very possessive Nora during lovemaking.
"I am not," Nora returned in a loud whisper. She scanned the area for any techs that might be looming about before explaining the reason for her slight tantrum. "You flirted with me in front of Johnson!"
Nikki chuckled and Nora saw red. She stomped past her partner and headed for the stairs, pulling up short when a hand closed around her arm. She looked up into dark soulful eyes and her breath caught.
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you, Nora, but you don't have to worry about Johnson," Nikki said quietly. She started to move her arm but Nora reached out and held it in place.
"No, I'm sorry. You've been so patient with me, but I just can't "
"I know, Nora, it's just hard sometime," Nikki admitted softly. She held her lover's gaze and then smiled. "But you really don't have to worry about Johnson."
Nora wrinkled her brow in thought and glanced back toward the room. There was something in Nikki's tone that suggested . Her head whipped back so fast, she almost lost her balance; Nikki's hold kept her in place. "You're kidding," she said in disbelief and turned her stare back on the bedroom. "Johnson?" Nora couldn't see the six foot three, two hundred and ten pound crime tech who'd played middle linebacker for McNeese behind the partially opened wall, but she could picture him perfectly.
"Yes, Johnson," Nikki confirmed as she slipped her hand into her stunned lover's and led Nora down the stairs. Maybe this new revelation would coax Nora to at least peer outside of the closet door every once in awhile.
Dan and Georgia sat in front of two computer feeds and watched the separate interviews with interest. Nikki sat across from Sarah Stevenson Hebert and readied to ask the victim's daughter a series of questions, while Nora read from a file and paced back and forth on the other side of the room from Harold Hebert. She hadn't uttered a word since she'd walked in and greeted Gloria Stevenson's son-in-law with, 'Hello, Harold, thanks for coming in today. I need to ask you a few questions.'
Dan pointed at Harold. "Look how he's fidgeting. He can't keep his legs from bouncing up and down."
"And Sarah looks calm and collected," Georgia noted as she watched the new multi-millionaire sip from a Styrofoam cup of coffee. "This is going to be interesting," she said just as Nikki's voice came through the speakers. Dan and Georgia leaned forward.
"Sarah, I just have a few questions about your mother," Nikki said with a disarming smile. "Although, I hadn't realized that you were adopted."
Sarah nodded slowly. "Yes, I was just a year and a half when my mother died. Mamma um, Gloria told me about the adoption when I turned six. She said she was my mother's best friend and had loved me since the day I was born."
Nikki glanced down at the adoption papers. She'd always assumed that Gloria had had an interracial affair all those years ago and Sarah had been the end result. Since Gloria had never married, it had been a very likely explanation and one that even Nikki's father had believed. It had probably cost Gloria a pretty penny to keep everything hush-hush.
"Did you know about the life insurance policy Gloria had taken out on herself when you were born?"
Sarah shook her head back and forth. "No, Mamma never said anything about that. She just said that I'd be well taken care of after she was gone. I always assumed she was talking her house and banking accounts, but I never wanted to talk about it," she paused briefly and looked down at the table, swallowing hard. "Her dying, that is."
In the other interview room, Nora finally pulled a chair from the wall and placed it across the table from Harold Hebert. She didn't bother sitting, though. "Harold, you said that you came to the house to check on your mother-in-law. Had she been ill?" Nora asked interestedly. She'd already called all of Gloria's doctors and had been told that Gloria was in extremely good health for a woman of her age.
"Yeah," Harold said nervously, folding his hands together in an attempt to keep them from shaking. "She called that morning and asked if I could bring her some allergy medicine."
"I see," Nora said convincingly, although what she saw was nowhere near what Harold was reporting. "Allergy medicine for what?"
Harold shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure. She just said she needed some Zyrtec."
"Zyrtec," Nora repeated, taking a moment to flip through the crime techs' reports. "Hmm, I don't see any mention of Zyrtec being found anywhere in the house."
"Well, I brought some," Harold said defensively. He moved his hands to the tops of his legs to try to keep them in control. "They must've missed it."
Nora nodded and flipped to another page. "I do see where Gloria Stevenson wrote you a check for ten thousand dollars last month. What was that for?"
While Harold was running his hand through his hair, his wife was sipping on her coffee and staring down at a bank statement Nikki had just handed her.
"I don't understand," Sarah said as she moved her finger across the page. "Harold never said anything about Mamma giving him money." She knew her husband had lost his job, but Harold kept insisting that he had another one lined up and everything was going to be okay.
Nikki sat back in her chair and watched the confusion and upset roll off Sarah Hebert like waves crashing on the Gulf Coast beaches. This woman had had no idea what Harold had been doing, but thanks to Darius, Nikki was now in the know. She treaded carefully.
"Sarah, Harold is in big trouble with some very dangerous individuals. He lost his job because he wasn't making his quota and finally just quit going into work altogether," Nikki said gently. "I think your mother gave him money to bail him out. Problem was, it wasn't nearly enough."
Sarah Stevenson Hebert was not a stupid woman, and it didn't take long for her to put it all together. "Are you saying that Harold killed Mamma for that insurance money?" Tears filled her eyes and she choked back a sob.
Dan and Georgia watched the scene play out and shook their heads sadly. "Poor woman had no idea what her husband was up to," Dan said as he turned his attention to the other screen. "Guess Harold was in this alone." He shot a hard stare at the fidgeting man and then focused back on his detective.
"So, Harold, what was the money for?" Nora pushed again and readied to up the ante. "In too deep with the Gillette's? Ten thousand wasn't enough so you went to Gloria to ask for more. What happened? She wouldn't give it to you so you killed her? Staged some scene that was so outrageous it would deflect attention off the fact that it was you who'd found her?"
"No!" Harold said loudly, practically pulling his hair out by the root. "I didn't kill her! She was already dead when I got there!" he shouted, pounding his fists on the table. He looked at Nora with tears in his eyes and his voice softened to a whisper. "She was already dead."
"Make me believe you, Harold," Nora said just as softly.
He nodded once. "I was going over there to ask for more money. When I got there, Gloria didn't answer the door. I saw her car in the garage and I got worried, so I dug the key from under a hidden rock in the flower bed and let myself in. I called her name several times, but she didn't answer." He glanced up at Nora. "I knew something was wrong."
"So you went upstairs?" Nora prodded. "Did you see anyone else?"
Harold shook his head. "No, it was just me." He licked his lips nervously. "I went into her bedroom and saw the opened wall. I couldn't believe it: a hidden room. I thought maybe Gloria had some cash stashed there so I went over and peeked inside. All that was there was an empty coffin."
"Empty?" Nora's brows scaled to her hairline. "I thought you said she was already dead when you found her."
"She was," Harold said, pressing his fingers against his temple and rubbing hard. "I saw the light on in the bedroom across the hall and called out Gloria's name again. No answer again so I went to investigate and almost keeled over when I saw another wall opened. I wish that I'd never gone inside." He closed his eyes and shook his head back and forth, trying to dispel the image of Gloria, lying on the floor, impaled on that stake. All that blood
"What did you see, Harold?" Nora asked gently. "We need to know what happened so that we can find the person responsible." Harold may be guilty of moving the body and hiding evidence, but it was clear that he hadn't done the deed.
"A note " Harold said, moving his focus to the pristine white paper that had been pinned on the wall across from the body. " a note in Gloria's handwriting apologizing for killing herself, for making her life insurance policy null and void, for no longer wanting to wait any longer to be reunited with her first and only love."
Nora sat back in her chair, her suspicions confirmed; however, she did need a little more information. "I'm guessing the insurance policy bit caught your attention. Who'd you call to help you move the body?"
Harold choked back a sob. Gloria was dead and all he'd thought about was money. "My cousin, John; I explained my situation and he agreed to help. We used the coffin lid to carry her into the other room. We were very gentle with her, honest," he said as he reached in his back pocket for his wallet. Opening it, he slid a folded paper free and began to unfold it. "I just needed the money." Pressing the letter flat on the table, he pushed it across the table toward Nora and cried like a baby.
Nikki watched the man break down and was glad that she'd sent a patrolman to escort Sarah to Dan's office to wait. Sometimes being right sucked, but at least, evidence tampering and insurance fraud weren't as serious as murder. And even though Jeraldine's murder was still a cold case, Nikki took comfort in her belief that the two lovers were together once again.
"I really don't feel like a family dinner today," Nora said as she pulled away from the curb and headed in the direction of her parents' house. She and Nikki had gotten in late last night after finishing all the paperwork on the Stevenson case and had fallen into each other's arms, each intent on showing the other the depth of her love.
Nikki stifled a yawn. "You know what happened last time we didn't show."
"Don't remind me," Nora said with a frown. "She's still pissed at me about that one." Nancy Delaney had almost discovered, with her own eyes, just what kind of roommates they were but, thankfully, Mister's barking had alerted them that someone had entered the house. Nora had grabbed up her gun and her robe and started downstairs. She'd pointed her gun at her mother midway down the stairs and had scared the woman so that Nancy hadn't realized that Nora had come from the direction of what she'd believed to be Nikki's bedroom. She'd been too busy holding her hand over her heart and scolding her daughter for threatening to shoot her.
Nikki chuckled and turned her gaze to the passing houses. "I'd have loved to have seen the expression on your face when Georgia handed you those cheap plastic fangs," she said, changing the subject to something much more amusing to her, at least.
"Not funny," Nora grumbled as she eased into the left lane. "She set me up."
"She'd have set us both up, if I'd been there, too," Nikki said, pushing against the headrest and rolling her head toward her lover. "Really, Nora, I had no idea that she knew."
"Wish you had been there," Nora said. "Would have been a helluva lot easier to take, if you had been." Nora was just glad that Dan hadn't been around. Georgia had waited until both Dan and Nikki had left before she handed Nora a set of plastic fangs and told her to put them to good use later. Nora had just stared down at the fake fangs, and Georgia had pushed to her feet, chuckling on the way to the door. At the last minute, she'd turned back and called Nora's name. When Nora had looked up, something was flying toward her and she'd instinctively snatched it from the air. She'd frowned when she'd discovered it had been a second pair of fangs. Georgia had just laughed and said, "Those are for Nikki. You girls be sure to take turns now."
"She knew I'd probably have a comeback," Nikki said, secretly pleased that Georgia knew about the two of them and seemed to be okay with it. It would be nice to have a work ally.
"True," Nora agreed, knowing that her lover was much quicker on her feet and much more comfortable in her skin. She reached across the seat and took Nikki's hand in hers. Smiling, she turned her attention to the road and the two rode in comfortable silence until they pulled into the Delaney driveway.
"What is she doing?" Nora asked as she let go of Nikki's hand to put the car in Park. "She's going to kill herself." Climbing from the car, Nora hurried to the front porch and steadied the ladder her mother was teetering on. "What are you doing?"
Nancy looked down at Nora and smiled. "Oh, hello, dear, I'm just putting in another hook for my hummingbird feeder. The other one is all rusted."
Nora grabbed hold of her mother's leg. "Get down from there." She looked around for her father or one of her brothers, but there were no males to be found. "Where are the boys?"
"Out in the back helping your father light the grill," Nancy replied, giving one last twist to the new hook. She was sure that the birds would appreciate a better foundation. "You know how long that takes."
"Yes, forever," Nora said, watching as her mother finally let go of the hook. "Now, get down from there." She reached out and steadied her mother's other leg.
"Oh, all right; you'd think I was some kind of invalid or something," Nancy said, looking at the hook one last time before she started her descent. She glanced down at her daughter and frowned. "Nora? What's that on your neck?" she shot down the ladder and whisked back her daughter's collar before Nora could blink. "Nora Beth Delaney!" she scolded, although she was secretly pleased that Nora had let someone close enough to put a mark on her neck. "We've talked about how important it is to put our love bites in strategic positions." Positions that wouldn't allow the public to see the result.
Nora blushed. She remembered all too well that conversation and had had to stop her mother from outlining the parts of the female body that were better suited for such marks. She opened her mouth to begin a weak defense, but her mother moved past her and addressed an approaching Nikki.
"Nikki, dear, could you please explain to Nora " Nancy's voice trailed off as her ever-observant gaze picked up the edges of a similar mark on Nikki's neck. In fact, it appeared to be in the exact same location as Nora's, right on the pulse point of the brunette's elegant neck. Nora's mother could recall only one such time when strategic placement of a love bite had taken a back seat to the heat of the moment, and it had been literally in the backseat of her soon-to-be husband's Chrysler Plymouth. She'd had a really good reason for throwing caution to the wind. It was the first time Harold had told her
Inhaling sharply, Nancy looked back and forth between the two women before she focused her full attention on Nikki. "Are you in love with my daughter?"
"Yes, Ma'am, I am," Nikki said without a moment's hesitation. "In fact, I've loved Nora from the first moment I laid eyes on her."
Nancy stared at Nikki, but the other woman held her ground, not backing down an inch. A tense moment passed and then another before Nora's mother smiled approvingly. That was all she'd ever really wanted for her daughter; someone who would love Nora completely and unconditionally. Stepping forward, she hooked her arm through Nikki's elbow. "A little suggestion if I may," Nancy started as she led Nikki into the house. "It will make a much better story if you tell your grandchildren that is was love at first bite, not love at first sight." She tossed her head back and laughed. Nikki just shook her head and chuckled as the pair made their way into the dining room.
Nora stood stock still on the front porch, completely dumbfounded. In all of her memories, this was the first time her mother so obviously approved of someone Nora brought home. Granted, she'd brought Nikki home on more occasions than she could count, but before, Nikki had just been her 'roommate'. Now
"Well, I'll be damned," she said with a smile as she hurried to catch up with the two women. She'd finally gotten it right.
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