DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Beta'd by fallon_ash & tanama30 & tigger2384.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Here Comes Trouble
By Silk


Part 1

My Grandfather, a beat cop, had what he liked to call his "trouble radar" and he always claimed that it never was wrong. It wouldn't matter where he was or what he was doing, if he got that shiver up his back he knew trouble was coming.

Dad had it as well and it helped him on the force, but he always said that the only time it had ever failed him was when he met my mother. Since she ended up having 4 boys and me, the 1 girl, I could understand why he thought that.

Out of all those children, only two of us joined the family business, the NOPD, something for which my mother was thankful. I knew she stayed up worrying for me and Bobby more nights than she had for Daddy, but I loved being on the job.

Of all my brothers and I, only I inherited the "radar" and I was thankful that I had, since it had saved my skin more than a few times.

And now here I was, in the squad room sitting at my desk contemplating my former partner's promotion and who he might saddle me with for a replacement. I was weighing the pros and cons of a "good ole boy" vs a "golden boy", which meant a fast rising, newly promoted to detective, barely long enough in plain clothes for the paint to dry on his shield.

Of course that's when it hit me. A long, slow shiver runs up my back to lodge in the small hairs at the base of my skull. Since I knew from experience that "trouble" didn't necessarily mean bodily harm, I took a leisurely look around the room.

Nothing unusual, I thought.

And then my eyes hit upon her and stay there.

From her Italian leather boots to her salon-styled straight dark brown hair, she reeked of money. But not new money and the brash and flashy attitude that went with it. No she was old money, comfortable in her skin and looking at home wherever she was, whether at a garden party drinking an aged whiskey or in a squad room full of dirty-eyed cops who knew they didn't have a chance in hell with her, but would be fantasizing tonight about her while making love with their wives.

Trouble on two long legs with a gold badge hooked to her belt on the left, across from the Glock on her right hip.

Trouble with manicured nails and a sway to her walk that most women took years to affect, and which I somehow knew was wholly natural to her.

Trouble with a dazzling and knowing smile that told you that yes indeed she knew what you were thinking and at the same time was as warm and comforting as a balmy summer's evening.

Trouble with dark brown eyes the color of Belgian chocolates... which are looking straight at me.

Trouble... damn, whoever she was, she wasn't just trouble. She was TROUBLE in capitals with an emphasis on "going to hell with a smile on your face".

I stand up to greet her as she makes her way to my desk, eyeing the empty one that faces mine for a moment with interest before meeting my eyes again.

Holding her hand out her smile gets even brighter, "Nikki Beaumont. Newly assigned to Special Crimes."

I reach out and envelope her hand with mine. Not too hard, not soft. She meets it with just the same kind of force. Comfortable. Not competing with the boys in strength and yet more confident than most women give.

"Nora Delaney. Welcome to the club," I can't help but smile back. I don't have the winning smile she does, but I do my best.

She releases my hand and I gesture towards Dan's office. "Dan... The Lieutenant isn't in right now. He stepped out for a cup of coffee." I nod towards the far corner with its mini-kitchenette complete with industrial sized coffee maker.

"A word of advice. Stay away from the brew in here. It's good enough for the old timers, but if you have any sort of taste for real coffee, drinking what passes for it in here will ruin your taste buds in a week."

"Duly noted." She steps closer, leaning back against the side of the empty desk. "Delaney. Any relation to Tom Delaney?"

"My father," I reply. In this city, if you were a cop or knew cops, you knew Tom Delaney. 30 years on the force and retired. A good cop by everyone's opinion. Me, I was prejudiced and thought he was a great cop, but even better dad.

"Good man, my daddy thought well of him."

I can't help my eyebrow from lifting in question.

A look of self-sufferance crosses her face, which surprises me. Maybe she's used to everyone knowing who she is and who her father is.

"Arthur Beaumont." The smile doesn't leave her, but becomes almost defensive, as if she's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Well, at least I can be comforted by the fact that my well-honed detective skills are right on the money when it comes to her. One look and I pegged her for old money.

"Councilman Beaumont?" I ask, although I already know the answer.

She nods. "Don't worry though, Detective. I still put my silk panty-hose on one leg at a time."

Her eyes twinkle merrily at my sudden bark of laughter.


Part 2

Driving through the French Quarter to the NOPD's 9th Precinct house is quiet enough this early in the morning. Only business men, locals and the odd tourist or two are out. Thankfully, Mardi Gras has been over for a few months, letting the city settle back down to its more normal tempo.

I'm really trying not to be nervous. A new position in the force, a new partner... starting all over again in the give and take that is office politics. It's a pain, but I'm looking forward to the change. I wanted this job, this particular unit. Only four years in uniform and I'm finally in plainclothes. And I worked my ass off to get here thank you very much.

Thank God I got it too, because I just do not look good in public service blues. And the shoes... I fear I shall have nightmares about those horrid shoes for years.

I walk up the stairs and down the hall to the 9th precinct doors. I pause for only a second to take a deep breath, calming myself and letting all the stress go. There is just no way I'm turning back now.

This is where I want to be. New Orleans Police Department, Special Crimes Unit. I chose this. And Daddy didn't help me get in here, no matter what the good ole boys think, and no matter that he'd had preferred his little baby girl practice law instead of enforce it.

Six years of college, three of them at law school, and years of practicing on talking without an accent so people take me more seriously. And now I'm here.

The first thing I see when I step into the squad room is cops, about what you'd expect. Of course, it's the other thing that happens that I also always expect and rather enjoy in an offhanded way.

Lust in every eye that I meet as they roll down and then back up to my face. Their eyes immediately change gears as they see my face, the clothes and the walk, and they know I'm out of their league, which immediately puts points against me in their eyes. And they'd be right that I'm out of their league, but not for the reason they'd think.

Then they all pause at the gun and badge on my belt. See the gold emblem on the silver badge and know that I do indeed belong here. Of course they don't willingly believe it. I'm far too pretty of a little thing to be a cop, let alone a detective they're thinking. That momentary look of disbelief on all of their faces before the "cop look" takes over tends to raise my hackles. I smell blood in the water and it ain't mine. People tend to underestimate me far too easily.

Who did I sleep with to get that badge? Who's my daddy?

The last one always gets me, but I have become very practiced over the years in not showing it.

My daddy is a fact of my life. The fact that he's also a powerful member of this city's political machine doesn't matter to me as much as it seems to matter to everyone else. He's my daddy after all. The fact that we have more money than God seems to also be a factor that others can't seem to get past.

It's ironic really how people automatically think I'll use their social and economic standing against them, but they don't seem to realize how they immediately pigeonhole me the same way. I learned not to care about who has what or where they come from a long time ago, but I also realize how lucky I am that I can feel and believe that way. And that wasn't something I learned from the Junior League. Most of the ladies in the Garden District would faint dead away if they saw who I usually hang out with.

So it's okay that these men in blue think the way they do, because I know I'll either change their minds or I won't.

And so I smile. That satisfied smile that I'm very good at affecting and sweep my gaze over the rest of the room. It's then that I see her, the only woman in the room.

Good gracious, she is hot.

That's my first thought, visceral instinct. Thank god I learned a long time ago not to just spout out whatever might just come into my mind or I would have made a fool out of myself. Of course, that doesn't prevent me from still thinking them... lots of them.

Oh my. I hope to God I'm not just standing here looking like an idiot.

The placard on her desk says Detective Nora Delaney and my curiosity is piqued by her last name. And her lovely first name. Nora. Rather rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Especially if you do it the Southern way with a long slow drawl. A bedroom name for sure.

Best not think too hard about that. Best stop thinking like that right now in fact. Damn.

I glance at the desk across from hers, immediately realizing it's the only empty desk in the room, devoid of personal effects, let alone a stapler or desk calendar. It's obviously waiting for its new occupant and I suddenly wish that it's me.

I can't help but wonder for a moment if perhaps Saint Nicholas is visiting early this year and giving me an early Christmas gift. Lord knows I've been good enough...and chaste enough this year to be on the good list. Somewhat. If Nora turns out to be my new partner I think I'm going to actually have to go to church and light a couple candles in thanks. I just hope the Father Harkens doesn't faint while I'm there. Daddy would be mortified.

As I look back at her I'm captured by her vibrant green eyes and I can feel my lips lifting automatically in a brighter, honest smile. As we continue to keep eye contact as we introduce ourselves, I realize that there's no reason to be nervous. I'm right where I belong.

And moments later as we walk out the precinct door to grab a cup of coffee, I realize that yes indeed Nora Delaney is hot.

And has a nice ass.


Part 3

Dan can be such an ass sometimes. Like now. Right now he's being a first class ass. A first class ass who used to be my partner and now is my boss. A first class ass who used to be my partner, is now my boss, and still has the hots for me.

Not that I hadn't contemplated that particular thought a time or two. Trust me, I've seen him with his shirt off. A few times actually. I think he purposefully does it when I'm around just to get a reaction out of me. He's tall, dark, and good looking in a very athletic, but not bulky way. The boy definitely works out.

But it's not his hotness that is annoying me at the moment, it's how he's trying not to smirk at me in triumph as he instructs Detective Beaumont and myself about our first case together.

Oh, he's just loving this.

Detective Beaumont doesn't seem to notice it however, but then I don't believe the two of them have met. In fact, while she does give him an appreciative eye when he turns around to get a folder out of his file cabinet, which I catch and can't quite hold back a small snort of amusement about, she is treating him, myself, and the case, very seriously.

A good first impression. Or rather second for me.

Personally, I'm trying not to be too impressed with her, but walking out to get a cup of coffee and chatting casually with the woman has definitely warmed me to her. She may be from money, but she sure acts like it doesn't matter. Either way... there's definitely potential there.

Unfortunately, the getting-to-know-you period is going to be on the job. Dan pulls us into his office with a just-called-in case.

"So, we're working with Robbery on this?" I ask, not really pleased about that. Robbery is full of old timers, set in their ways. Always reminding me of my daddy and the way he used to do things. Plus I carry old baggage from my time there.

"We only just got the call. Robbery is there, along with the daughter who found them and the uniforms first on the scene. It's looking like a home invasion. Robbery is more than willing to take second plate on this due to the victims at the scene," Dan pauses for effect.

"Look Ladies, I know this is short notice, but it looks like you've already introduced yourselves and I'm sure I can leave my Nora in your safe hands, Nikki." He smiles oh so charmingly.

The ass.

"I'm sure we'll be fine, Lieutenant. If not we'll call Herb. We might just need his big, strong arms to protect us little girls. I might even just ask him to come with us to carry our guns. We girls don't want to break our nails, do we Nikki?"

I am quite good at being condescending when I want to and the smirk I give is just enough for him to roll his eyes and nod in surrender.

"You've got that right, Sugah," Nikki purrs, pouring on a refined Southern accent. "I know I can't lift a Mint Julep by myself without needing to rush to the manicurist afterwards."

Trying to keep my laugh in is hard. She's definitely quick on her feet, showing she's already got my back.

"Get out of here," Dan grumps. He thinks he's cute when he pouts, but no man is cute when they pout.

We escape out of his office, grabbing our jackets, and head out of the building.

"So, what do you drive?" I ask politely. No way am I letting her drive my El Camino, hell I never even let Dan drive it and I've always refused to ride in his Honda. Yes, he's a Honda man. Absolutely no taste in cars that man.

"'68 Mustang," she replies easily, then stops and turns around to look at me, surprised to find that I'm stock still in the middle of the sidewalk staring at her in shock.

I blink several times, mentally trying to drive some oxygen into my brain. I catch up the few feet that fell between us and we continue. "OK, you're driving."

She laughs lightly and looks over at me, steering us across the street toward where she parked. "Surprised Detective?"

"Honestly? Yes. I didn't expect you to be chauffeured, but I thought maybe you'd be driving a BMW."

She laughs again and I'm right with her, seeing the humor of it.

"I've never been chauffeured, Daddy taught me better than that. Besides, I'm more of a classic kind of gal. Can you really see me driving something as impractical as a BMW to a crime scene?"

"Not anymore. Truce, Detective?" I offer, hoping she accepts my apology. She's kept my mind off balance since she walked into the squad room.

"It's Nikki. Please? If we're going to work together, we're just going to have to be friends," she points out as she pulls out a small set of keys. "Ah...here we are. This is my baby. Isn't she beautiful?"

Yes, it's beautiful. God, I think I'm in love. I have to drive it. I have to.


"Don't insult me, Detective," she scolds.

I run my fingertips along the edge of the hood, admiring the lines and the white stripe that runs through the pearly dark maroon paint job. Definitely well built. Fits her driver, I realize. Trouble indeed.

"Sorry, sorry. Automatic would be a crime, wouldn't it? I'd have to arrest you for that," I reply mock-seriously. "Do I get to drive?" I ask hopefully.

"Well, if you aren't going to arrest me and use the cuffs, I'm going to have to say no," she quips back and unlocks the car, sliding in with practice.

I'm on the passenger's side, waiting, realizing that she does indeed look good in this car.

Wait a minute. Cuffs? Is she flirting with me?

I blank out a moment before she reaches over, unlocking and opening the door politely for me.

The smell of old leather and an indefinable scent wash over me as I get in and buckle up.

"You take good care of her," I note, taking a few slow, deep breaths through my nose. Damn, what is that smell? Mixing with the leather of the car, it's hard to figure out.

She buckles up before she replies, then grips the steering wheel. No pretentious fake pleather wrap for her steering wheel. Nope. Just layers upon layers of slick enamel paint over steel. Stock. Damn.

Nikki starts the car and I smile appreciatively at the sudden roar, then purr of the motor. She turns to me and I look at her. She's got that look that I'm already getting used to seeing, one full of mischievousness and play. Less than one hour of knowing her and I'm getting a good handle on reading her.

"I am making you drool, Detective?" The skin around her dark brown eyes crinkles up with her smile, I notice.

"Well, your car is," I answer back quickly, hoping I'm not blushing.

"Shame about that," she laughs softly and pulls us out into the street.

God. She IS flirting with me.


Part 4

Needless to say I've been to a few crime scenes, but this is a different experience for me. It's amazing how a detective badge and plainclothes changes how the other cops on the scene treat you versus being in blues.

There's still that look of curiosity, but there's an air of seriousness at the scene that's far different than how they look at me at the precinct. I'm sure Nora's reassuring presence helps. They obviously know her and respect her immediately.

I follow her in, envying the way she moves through the crowd of cops, robbery detectives, and crime scene specialists like a fresh breeze in a stale room.

She walks up immediately to a tall, balding man, who's spent a bit too much time behind a desk. He easily towers over Nora and myself, but she stands there like she's the one in charge, and now that we're here she is, and she knows it.

"Detective Bouvier," she greets him. She's got an 'all business' tone to her voice now, at least so far. I already know she's not fond of the men in Robbery.

"Detective Delaney," he responds and his tone is definitely condescending. I immediately decide I don't like him on principle.

"This is my new partner, Nikki Beaumont," she motions me surreptitiously to her side.

I smile politely and nod, reaching out at his outstretched hand and shake it, not surprised at the overwhelming pressure but refusing to let the discomfort show. Then I put my hands on my hips, and pointedly check out the room we're in professionally, following Nora's lead and letting her talk to the big oaf. I get a good grasp of the tenants lives and background just by looking around.

Despite the infamous history of the Ninth Ward, I personally know that there are more of 'just plain folks' than the more disreputable citizens of neighborhood. This house is well kept and proudly at that. Clean, well maintained. An old 'shotgun' style, named because it's said that a person could shoot a shotgun from just outside the front door and it would go straight through the narrow house and out the back door. It's an architecture perfectly suited for New Orleans summers with several rooms all in a row off of the long hallway. Each room has high ceilings and large windows, so the air flows better through the entire house. This particular home was once a double shotgun. By knocking down that shared wall, they've doubled the size of the smaller rooms and now have two hallways that run along the outer walls.

I always fancied Orleans architecture, and this is a very good example of the period it was built in.

You can see the well worn but cared for furniture, the personal objects lay around haphazardly, lots of framed pictures of family. A colorful afghan on the sofa, a well-loved black Barbie doll that hints to at least one child here. The room gives me a warm feeling despite the way the room has been tossed.

Someone, or several someones, had gone through every drawer, under every cushion, and through every possible place people might place a valuable object.

As I look around, I make sure to keep an ear on the conversation.

"Vics are in the bedrooms, two in the first door down the hall. Main bedroom, so they're probably Ernest and Nina Dupont. Another in the second room," Detective Bouvier has a slight hitch in his voice I note when he mentions the second room. It never bodes well when an experienced officer makes even a small emotional slip like that. I don't think I'm going to like what I see in there.

"Who found them?" Nora asks.

"Daughter named Ellie Dupont," he answers back sounding bored.

I look over to him and speak up, "She have a daughter?"

A small frown shows his displeased at being interrupted, "Yes. Lizzy Dupont." He turns back to Nora and I resume looking around the room.

Nora however picks up my hint, "She here?"

"Mothers in the back yard with the first officers on scene," he pauses. "The granddaughter is in the second bedroom."

I nod to myself, not surprised. Not pleased, but not surprised.

I can hear Nora breathe deeply through her nose, steeling herself for what she's going to see. I do the same myself, putting my mind completely in that mental state I have to get to in order not react to what could be a very bad scene.

"She see anything?" My partner prompts Bouvier. She's obviously used to having to pry information out of the man, good for her.

"Nah. Charlie is here, says he's not quoting time of death yet, but lividity puts it several hours ago. She got here 45 minutes ago, saw the front door unlocked, came in, no answer, saw things trashed and called 911. Then she found her parents, daughter," he quotes, reading from his notepad.

"What's she say on the 911?"

I was curious about that too, because if Robbery was called before us, it had to have been a short call.

"Short call. Just saying that they'd been robbed. Officers got here and..." he clears his throat and looks around making sure who is within earshot. "Patrol Officers Dillon and Harris. Harris is a fresh rookie. Dillon is just plain lazy. He hadn't checked out the house well enough when he called in, so me and Gill were dispatched. The rookie however did check out the house, but his partner wouldn't call that in. Haven't asked him why yet." He looks at Nora pointedly, telling her wordlessly that the chore was part of her job now.

"When Gill and I got here, the rookie pointed out that there were bodies in the house. We took a look and called it in. Haven't touched anything, been waiting on you. Charlie is the only one that's touched the body besides checking for pulses," he finishes.

Gill is his partner, obviously, probably in the back with the daughter.

"Thanks Bouvier. Anything else I should know?" Nora asks politely, being thorough. She looks over to me, probably to see how I am reacting to a little girl being in the house.

I look her straight in the eyes and I'm proud I have my best cop face on, showing nothing but professionalism. Points for me, I hope.

She looks away, back towards Bouvier and slaps him good-naturedly on the shoulder. "Thanks for your help. We'll take it from here and keep you apprised. You and Gill handle the neighbors?"

"Got uniforms there already, making sure they stay around 'till we get there," he answers, putting his little notebook in a blazer pocket.

"Dan says you think it's a home invasion gone bad, why?"

Good question, I thought. True it looks like someone has tossed just about everything that can be tossed, but it looks more staged to me, not really energetic enough, and definitely not destructive. Every scene I've been at where the place as been gone through and looted has demolished furniture, pictures. Here, it's as as if they're just making the place messy but not really searching.

"Well my detective skills aren't as polished as you all in SCU, but seeing how this place looks like a tornado went through it, I would have thought that was obvious... Detective."

Bouvier's answer is so defensive and gruff, that my head snaps around to him so fast that I'm surprised I don't have whiplash.

Nora's eyes glance over to me for a split second, having seen it, but go back to the detective in front of her, her body language relaxed as if she didn't hear the aggressiveness in his voice.

There's nothing like inter-office relationships to drive up a person's blood pressure.


Part 5

I've seen worse murder scenes, but it's never easy when an entire family is killed, especially children. Gun shot wounds, .35 caliber by the looks of it.

But the theory that it's a robbery doesn't sit well with me and I'm betting not with Nikki.

She's coping well. Very well. At least on the outside, and that is what matters right now.

I find Charlie in the kitchen, waiting for the word to take the bodies to the morgue.

"Hey Charlie," I greet him warmly. It's always a smart thing to treat the technicians with respect, they're the ones who provide you with the evidence to put the trash in jail after all. But with Charlie it's beyond that. He's a good man. His wife is a great lady too. I tease him about her often, ever since I met her. 5'9" and a classy lady. What she found so charming in Charlie's rough Cajun self, I'll never know.

"Nora. Nice to see y'all as usual," he says as he's filling out some paperwork on his clipboard.

"Charlie, this is Nikki Beaumont, my new partner."

"A pleasure to meet you," she says, stepping up next to me and looking him in the eye.

I'm immediately pleased by her reaction to Charlie, she's obviously taking my cues. I like the man and she knows it and gives him a bright smile in greeting. She doesn't shake his hand, but then we're all gloved and still handling potential evidence. She's smart, this one.

"Nora, you're one lucky gal, you know that? Far prettier than Dan, that's for sure," he nods to Nikki in greeting. "Nice to meet you. You seen the bedrooms yet?"

Right to business. I love Charlie. I'd gladly trade a brother or two for him. I wonder if Mama would mind?

"Yes. Two gunshots per victim, except for the little girl. She was hiding but they knew she was here," Nikki points out.

Charlie nods, "Yep. Can't give you specifics yet, you know that, Nora, but I'll have some more information for you by tomorrow."

"Tomorrow, Charlie? Come on. It's still morning," I put a pleading tone in my voice.

"Sorry. I still have Mitchell's case from last night," he apologizes and shrugs.


Nikki's question doesn't surprise me, she hasn't met everyone in the 9th precinct yet.

"Detective Mitchell. You'll probably meet him this afternoon, him and his partner, Georgia. They picked up the shooting from Algiers that happened earlier this morning." I turn back to Charlie when Nikki nods, satisfied with the information.

"Thanks, Charlie. Feel free to call your goons in now and start tagging," I smile at him in thanks. I give him a hard time a lot, but he likes me.

I head out the back door, pulling off my latex gloves and throwing them into the evidence can that's always placed next to exits where there's been a crime like this. I'm pleased to see Nikki following suit, pulling them off so they're inside out, with potential evidence trapped inside the gloves.

I motion her off to the side, ignoring the uniforms in the back end of the backyard and the quietly sobbing woman seated near them, attended by a female officer.

She stands close to me to talk privately, knowing that this is the first "partner" moment we're going to have.

"What do you think so far?" I ask her, getting right to the point. Of course, she's new to being a Detective and probably thinks that this is a test. Of course it is, to a certain point, but I want to get to know how she thinks; and see if we're on the same page or different views.

"Honestly?" she asks, looking me in the eye.

"Of course," I reply. She's got an open pose, both hands placed on her hips, not defensive, so that's good. "Always honestly. Always. We're partners not boxing opponents."

A hint of that smile from earlier pops up and she says, "OK, but I warn you now. I do speak my mind and some partners have found it hard to... shut me up once I start."

A short burst of laughter pops out before I can stop it. Thankfully, I'm pretty sure I kept that burst fairly quiet.

Nikki winks at me, then grows serious. Somehow that little moment between us has broken another layer of ice between us. We're a good fit. I feel it.

"It doesn't feel like a normal robbery. Too staged. And I think whomever did this knew the victims. There are signs of forced entry, but they got in quietly, used pillows to muffle the sound of the shots and knew that the granddaughter was staying over," she rattles off her observations.

"They could have just looked in the room, noticed the bed was unmade and then searched the room, finding her in the closet," I note, playing Devil's Advocate.

She shrugs slightly and narrows her eyes. She doesn't like the idea, but doesn't gainsay it. "Too pat. I bet after we get the interviews from Detective Bouvier, all of the neighbors will say they didn't hear a thing."

I have to point out the obvious, "This is the 9th Ward. People don't talk to police much here."

Nikki shakes her head, "The Duponts took pride in their house and yard, so do the neighbors around them, from what little I saw coming in. Pride in their homes means they feel comfortable knowing each other. They won't like what's happened here, especially with the little girl involved. I think they'll talk if they've actually heard or seen anything...if they get a different interviewer."

I let a totally inappropriate smirk appear on my lips at that last comment. "You don't approve of Detective Bouvier?"

"Well, my detective skills aren't as polished as the gentlemen in Robbery, but seeing how this place doesn't look like a real tornado went through it, I can't help but imagine Detective Bouvier's interviewing skills," she replies, taking his earlier words and twisting them.

"Oh you're going to be bad for me, I just know it," I chuckle, and start around the house to cut off Bouvier before he starts his interviews.

"Only if you're very lucky, Nora."


Part 6

Nora decided that since it was my grand idea, that I should be the one to interview the neighbors surrounding the Dupont house while she interviews the uniformed officers that were first on the scene, and then we'll interview the daughter together. I'm OK with the suggestion, delegating uniformed officers to take any statements from neighbors that aren't immediately adjacent to the victim's house.

Unfortunately, most of the men and women that live around the house are more interested in trying to get information from me, instead of actually being able to contribute to the investigation, so I came back empty handed but looking forward to the interview with the daughter. And hungry. I don't understand how I can be hungry after seeing what I have this morning, but I am.

I step out of the way as a couple members of the Medical Examiners office make their way out of the house.

The first stretcher goes by and the noise level in the front yard has halved. It's when the third stretcher goes by that the only sound that can be heard are the birds, the scuff of the technician's shoes as they escort the small body to the waiting van and the numerous cleared throats of hardened policemen as they attempt to control their emotions.

I may have mastered not tearing up at a crime scene like this, but that doesn't mean that another piece of my heart hasn't flaked off and drifted away on the breeze.

Little girls shouldn't die.

Little girls shouldn't be shot in cold blood as they're shivering in terror in a closet.

That cool exterior of mine is in danger of breaking at the sudden white hot rage that threatens to overwhelm me.

I'm pissed.

I turn away as they close the white van doors and I look towards the corner of the house across from me and see Nora. Her eyes are as hard as I imagine mine are right now. Her jaw is clenched and I can't say as I'd ever want to see the outright fury that's showing on her face to ever be pointed pointed at me.

Then she blinks a couple of times and it's gone, replaced by one of the best blank cop faces I've ever seen in my life and I've seen a lot of cop faces, beyond just my five years on the force, and being as my father is who he is.

She takes a long slow breath through her nose then releases it before shifting her eyes to me, as if she knew I was here.

We share silently our anger in that instant and our absolute vow to get the bastard who did this.

Some days I wish that dropping off people naked into the middle of the swamp was legal.

She motions me with a nod to follow her and we head around the house to the back.

I guess we should be thankful that the officers hadn't told Ellie Dupont that her mother, father and her little girl had just been wheeled out the front. I'm glad she's spared that small pain of seeing it. It may seem insignificant compared to the pain of the whole that she's experiencing, but even little kindnesses might help.

Nora takes an almost submissive stance with Ms. Dupont, crouching down in front of her, placing her hands on top of the shaking ones in her lap. I notice that the wad of tissues she has have been twisted, torn, and the pieces litter the ground at her feet.

It's just another visible sign of the stress and grief this woman is going through. Instead of wailing and flinging her fists against the chest of the nearest burliest chest, she's huddled there in here chair, seemingly so calm except for the tears and the trembling body.

The female officer that had kindly wrapped her in a blanket and then sat with her nodded at us and quietly left us with Ellie Dupont.

"Ms. Dupont?" Nora speaks softly, calmly, not wanting to startle the woman. I step forward slowly and take the seat next to Ellie, smiling at her gently when she looks at me. She turns back to Nora.

It can be a long painful process trying to talk to a witness who has lost loved ones. Tomorrow she may be bitter and angry, but it's only been a couple of hours and we have to get a clear picture. The uniformed officers got an initial interview with her, which is always important, but experience has taught me that witnesses in shock can either remember details that you wouldn't normally think they would, or they shut down completely. I was hoping Ms. Dupont would be the former.

It doesn't take long before Nora and I realize that she's not going to give anything more substantial than she's already given.

As the female officer takes her away back to the station to identify the bodies, I find myself unsure of what to do from here. It's a new feeling for me, this helplessness. I want to help that woman with every fiber of my body but I'm momentarily lost.

I look over to my partner and something of what I'm feeling must show in my eyes.

Nora's firm lips break on one side into a small, sad smile. "I hope you're not thinking of asking for a transfer already?"

Taking a deep breath, I settle myself to speak. I'm thankful that she either doesn't hear or politely ignores the small catch in my voice as

I say, "Not today, Detective Delaney."

The smile doesn't quite meet her eyes, but I get the sense that she's satisfied, for now, with my answer.

"It's Nora. Please? If we're going to work together, we're just going to have to be friends," she parrots my own words back at me and I smile back.

And if my own eyes don't reach the small smile on my face her words give me, I think she'll forgive me.

It's turning out to be one helluva day.

It's longer than we both wished before we finally escape from the house, leaving the Medical Examiner's office, lab techs and uniformed officers to wrap up and secure the premises.

We're quiet as we walk back to my car, the work chatter stopped for now. We've been going for hours and I'm just about on empty. We've gone through all of the procedures we both now, through ones I don't and Nora shows me. She's been very free with helping me on this first day, handing out little tidbits of information; when to skip doing this, double check that.

Practical experience is more helpful than books in the long run and she's got tons of us and isn't stingy with it. I had half feared, before I found out that she was my partner, that I'd get a Detective that would never talk and that I'd have to pull teeth to get him to teach me anything.

I slip into the seat and unlock the door for her but don't start the car. For a moment I just sit there, my hands on the steering wheel and just stare at the parked marked car in front of mine.

A slim hand reaches out and touches my forearm. I can feel the heat through my thin blouse and shiver despite myself.

I turn to her, and see only compassion in her eyes. She's not judging me, thank god.

"It's hard, I know. But I know you can do this," she tells me earnestly, squeezing my arm for a moment then releasing me.

The sudden wish for her hand to touch my arm again goes through my brain. What an odd time for such a thing to wish for.

"I was proud of you in there. My Rookie Detective, her gold badge so new it's still dripping wet from the paint," She gently teases me, trying to draw me out.

It works and I smile back. "Ha. Please. A Southern lady does not go out of the house with wet fingernail polish, let alone with a tacky wet badge."

Her smile matches her eyes now, twinkling at the play between us, seeming more at ease that I'm okay. "Are you sure you don't just run out with someone holding a hairdryer behind you drying as you run?"

"Only on date night, Nora."

Suddenly another odd thought goes through my head as I hear her laugh. I really should air out the attic that is my brain if such thoughts just come and go willy-nilly.

I really enjoy making this woman laugh.


Part 7

Nikki is going to get me killed.

I hold onto the door handle like it's a life jacket as she speeds past a slower driver, making me pop out a tiny squeak in alarm as she squeezes back into the right lane just before we can be crushed by the oncoming truck. I'm going to hurt her for making me squeak.

I hate squeaking. It's not dignified.

I turn to glare at her as she pulls into the parking lot of the restaurant we both agreed upon and she turns off the car.

She fiddles with the catch a moment before finally getting the old-style seat belt buckle unlocked, then turns to me.

Damn it, she's smiling like she's won the lottery. She made me squeak and she knows it.

"Something wrong, Detective Delaney?" she purrs as she pulls the keys out of the ignition.

"How in the hell did you ever pass your driving exam?" I ask her bristling with indignity.

"Whatever do you mean?" she asks with what might pass as an innocent look to the half-baked fools at the yacht club, but doesn't fly with this detective.

I narrow my eyes, "I can give out tickets you know."

Nikki throws her head back and the sound of her laughter makes me realize that I definitely enjoy causing it. I suddenly wish to to hear all the different ways that she laughs.

"Why Detective, I do believe you're threatening little ole me," her southern accent thick in the car, reminding me of earlier in Dan's office.

An accent I know she isn't affecting. I find it oddly intriguing actually. Hmmm.

"If you don't start driving sanely I'll do more than just threaten... Don't make me pull out the cuffs," I quip back, the comment from earlier popping into my head.

Her eyes sparkle at my comeback. "Oh my. I do believe I shall need some iced tea with lunch to cool off."

She opens the car door, grabbing her notebook full of this mornings work and gets out, but not before sticking her head back into the car with a parting shot. "Come along now, Detective. Do I need to call the Rescue Unit to pry your hands from the door handle? Or I could provide you with more personal assistance if needed?"

Only slightly indignant I let go of the handle and get out of the car, making sure to grab my own notes. Meeting her around the back, we make our way across the lot. I answer her, letting her hear my own natural accent. Not as thick and cultured as hers, but still appropriate to the giddy mood we're suddenly in. "Why Miss Beaumont. I do believe you are flirting with me."

It's not surprising that she answers me with a laugh. If I stop to think about it, I think our highly inappropriate mood after having to deal with what we have this morning is a mix of a need for release from the tension and a bit of two new partners feeling out each other's borders.

From what I've seen so far, this is the fastest and closest I've become with a partner. The barriers are low and easy between us. I like it.

It's going to drive Dan nuts.

Yet another reason to like it.

As if she's reading my mind she breaks off her laughter and gives me a thoughtful look while opening the door to the restaurant for me.

Shop talk isn't something I want other customers to hear, so I take us to a far table with no other customers close by.

"Yes?" I ask expectantly. She looks like she's very curious about something.

"You and the lieutenant?"

"You're talking about his little 'marking of the territory' speech in the office?" I ask, smirking. It's not like Dan is subtle. He's a big man with a big ego.

"Yes. I caught the 'my Nora' bit," Nikki comments as she casually waves at a waitress to get her attention. She does that very elegantly. I always think I look like a flagger at an intersection when I try to get someones attention in a restaurant.

"Dan was my partner for two years. We got close, but not that close," I qualify quickly. "He's a terrible flirt and I know he wanted to be more than just my partner."

"And you never considered? Honestly, he is quite good looking," Nikki replies nonchalantly while looking over the menu. Too nonchalantly in my opinion.

"If you think so you should consider asking him out," I drop the bait, wondering if she'll take it.

She barks out a laugh of disbelief. "Oh no. Thank you, no. He's not my type anymore. I outgrew my taste in tall, dark and handsome men. Of course, the fact he's my boss now would be a deciding factor even if he did push all the right buttons."

I glance down the menu, spotting what I want almost instantly. This restaurant has a dish that I absolutely love and I'm thrilled to be able to get it. Dan never liked coming here. He always said he didn't want seafood, but he has roots in the 9th Ward and disliked it when we caught cases out here. He needs to get over his apprehension about his roots.

I put down the menu as I answer her. Not that I expected her to want to flaunt the 'no flirty with the boss' regulation, but you never know. Civilians would be surprised at what goes on behind closed doors at the precinct. Or maybe they wouldn't. It's not too much different than the corporate world, according to my oldest brother.

"It's funny, Dan comes to dinner at Mom and Dad's every few Sundays. They always ask him to come. I think they have high hopes for us and envision little baby Noras and Dans around." I shake my head in annoyance. My parents are wonderful people, but they don't drive my brothers to distraction like they do me in regards to my relationships. It probably has to do with me being the only girl in the family, but still.

"So, they wouldn't have minded you dating Dan while he was your partner," Nikki asks. There's an odd note in her voice, one that I can't quite put my finger on. I shrug and answer.

"No. In fact, they would have been ecstatic about the idea. They really do like him. To bad for them, I never really felt about him the way they want me to, let alone flirt with him like he does me," I answer, telling the truth. "I've gotten really good at deflecting all his little comments."

"I noticed," she chuckles, then turns to the waitress who came up to our table.

Nikki orders a small salad with some oysters on the shell on the side, and an iced tea, not unusual for this time of day. A light lunch really.

"Some of your crawfish bisque, please."

I can't miss Nikki's look of horror as I order.

"And an iced tea for me too, please," I give her our menus and grin at my partner. "I take it you disapprove of crawfish? You do know they're just miniature lobster's right?"

Nikki visibly shudders and makes a face, making me laugh.

"You do know that crawfish and lobsters are in the same family as spiders, don't you?" she queries.

"Nope, but damn them spiders are tasty," I drawl.

By mutual consent we don't talk about the case yet, taking a much needed mental break.

After the waitress comes back by with our drinks, we continue our light conversation. It's nice getting to know her. The little things she does makes me chuckle, like using 3 raw sugars, not the processed stuff or the fake sweeteners. Stirring the sweetened tea with her straw before licking, then sucking at the end before putting it back into the glass. Not something that I would have expected a person of her background to do.

"So, if you're not dating Dan the man, who are you dating?" Nikki asks.

"No one presently. You? I can't imagine that you'd be single."

She looks at me intently for a moment, and the thought that I've asked a question I shouldn't have goes through my mind, but then I only asked what she asked me. Nothing unusual about it.

She takes a dainty sip through her straw before speaking.

"8 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days single," she answers precisely. "Although, I do have a prospect in my sights." She takes another sip.

"Really? Are you sure about the timeline? It seems a bit vague there, Detective," I chuckle. I could give a general '5 months' answer if asked, but nothing so precise.

Nikki begins to nervously drum a tattoo with the edges of her short fingernails against the glass.

"Definitely, that's when my partner at the time decided she wasn't gay and went off and married her boss," she answers primly.

Well, damn. I didn't see that one coming.


Part 8

Well she didn't go running away in terror, although I almost did when she started sucking out the stuffing from those nasty mudbugs she's eating.

Nora did seem surprised but not discomforted. I'm actually surprised I said anything, especially so soon in our partnership. I've never hidden who I was, but I've never had a megaphone and shouted it out in the squad room either. My prior partners hinted atoms or two that they suspected, and while I never denied it, I never confirmed it either.. Well, except for Tonya. She made it clear from the beginning that she was so prejudiced that I just kept my personal life personal. Of course, I never had a problem tweaking her for her prejudices. In fact, I gave Darius a very thorough kiss right in front of her that first Christmas as her partner. Seeing a "refined" white woman of my background kiss a black man was a not much for her white power sensibilities.

Of course, she asked for a new partner soon after that. A bonus for me.

Ah, Darius. Speaking of which...

"Nora, I know we're trying not to think about work right now... oh my god, must you do that? It's almost... it's wrong," I whimper as I watch her take her tongue and scoop out more "juice" from inside a crawfish head.

She's looking straight into my eyes as she's doing it too, and chuckling evilly. "OK, you're just being mean now. This is for scaring you in the car, isn't it?" I demand to know.

Nora puts down the now thoroughly empty spider head and laughs softly, "Well, you do have a habit of getting me off my game, Detective..."

"Nikki," I correct her with a smile and decide to get a little even. Catching her eye I deftly pick up an oyster on the half-shell and tap a bit of Tabasco on it. Bringing it to my lips, I smile, then let the seafood delight slide past my lips and down my throat. And then just for spite, I make sure to tip the oyster again, to sip the remaining oyster juice and Tabasco mix.

"Mmmm..." I purr nice and low.

Her green eyes glaze a moment then narrow, "Now who's evil?"

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," I answer, putting the empty shell back on the plate and take a sip of my iced tea.

She rolls her eyes and concedes the battle, if not the war. "Anyway, you were saying before my eating habits distracted you?"

"Hmm? Oh yes. I have this contact that might be helpful to us. Knows the neighborhood, hell the boy knows just about all of New Orleans and what goes on in it," I shake my head at the thought. Darius is a wonder. "He's an old family friend if truth be known, but I've used him for information since I entered the Academy... actually, scratch that. I was using him for information back in High School. He gave me more good dirt on the girls at school than what I could get at the Junior League. He even managed to warn me about Malcolm Roberts before I let him take me to the Freshman ball. He had the audacity to have his daddy rent the penthouse suite at the Intercontinental Hotel for that evening."

I'm pleased Nora finds it funny as well. I had to sic Daddy on him that night. He's very lucky, however, nothing scares a man worse than a Southern debutantes father, other than her mother.

"Anyway, Darius has a lot of contacts in the 9th Ward, a lot of family even," I get myself back onto the subject at hand. "I'd like to see what information he can come up with."

Nora's been listening to me intently, which is a good sign. Doesn't seem closed up, another good sign. For a couple of reasons actually.

She spends a few minutes quietly eating more of that disgusting choice she calls a meal, obviously seriously considering my request. Finally, she nods and speaks.

"Do I get to meet him first?" she asks, a note of curiosity in her voice.

"Of course. If you're really sure? He's quite the character. I've known him my whole life though, he's a true friend," I supply his characteristics with surety. Darius is indeed a loyal friend and good at what he does. Jack-of-all-trades that he is.

"Give him a call. If it works out, I'm sure I can get Dan to allot some expense money his way. Anonymously of course. I know we do have a budget for it, although I have few informants that I'd want to give money to."

"Don't worry, I'll let his deeds speak for themselves. I think he's got some voodoo tricks up his sleeve for some of the things he comes up with," I say half-seriously.

Nora looks at me with disbelief. "Voodoo? Really? Umm..."

I laugh softly at the look of horror on her face, "Don't worry, his family is harmless. Mostly."

"Great. Just great."

I decide to wait until after we eat before calling Darius. No need to be rude at the table.

However, I do feel the need to address the big pink elephant in the room before it gets in the way.

"About that comment I dropped on you a few minutes ago," I say casually between an especially nice tasting oyster and another sip of my sweet tea.

Nora's right eyebrow peeks up through her bangs. Rather adorable look actually, but that's neither here nor there. Keep to the topic at hand, Beaumont.

"I hope I didn't freak you out?" I ask hopefully, keeping my eyes glued to her face, searching for those subtle clues I know to look for when it comes to this subject. You'd be surprise at how people try to lie or deny the subject.

She takes a moment and wipes her lips with her napkin, then answers.

"Well, I can't say that you didn't surprise me," she says with a smile. "Considering how you flirt, I'm not shocked."

There's absolutely no sign of discomfort in her face and I breathe an internal sign of relief. Thank god. I feel like I almost blew it with my rather sudden inability earlier to keep my mouth shut.

"Really? Me flirt? I'm horrified at your low opinion of me, Detective," I say playfully.

She doesn't take the bait though and replies back in a serious tone. "I had an Uncle, on my Mother's side, who was, as my uncle used to describe himself, 'Light in the loafers'. I loved him dearly. My father and brothers however always seemed weirded out when he came by for Holidays, so it made things a bit tense when he was around. My mother loved her brother however, and I ignored how my brothers treated him. He was the gentlest soul I knew."

Nora smiles softly in memory and I smile back, happy for her and a little sad.

"How'd he pass?" I ask softly.

"AIDS. Eight years back while I was in California. I was taking my college finals during my third year at the time. I almost didn't make it back for the funeral, but I talked a couple of my professors into letting me take them all in one day," she answers easily enough.

"My mother and I were heartbroken, but I remember his lover that day and..." she stops and shakes her head, then takes a deep breath and lets out a wry chuckle. "I have to say that I've never had such a deep conversation before on the first day with a new partner."

I recognize her attempt to distance herself from the moment for what it is and let it be. There will be more than enough time to get to know this woman who has more depths than I realized. She's definitely surprising me and intriguing me to no end.

We're both done with our meal only a few moments later. She settles up the bill as I call Darius. I make the call short, just saying that I'd like to meet him down at the little coffee shop across from the district house in the French Quarter. I know he's curious, but he doesn't bug me for information. He probably already knows anyway.

As we make ourselves comfortable in the car, Nora breaks the silence that brewed up since our talk at the table.


I turn my head and look at her , the question obvious in my eyes. "Hmmm?"

"To answer your question more directly. No, I don't have a problem with your sexuality. Just as I'd hope you wouldn't have a problem with mine," she says earnestly. "My being straight is no bigger deal to me than your resume with the Junior League. From what I've seen, you're a good cop and a good person. Good head on your shoulders. You're willing to learn. You're compassionate with the grieving. You stood tall in the face of all those new faces in the squad room and at the scene."

She's going to make me cry. I hate crying. My mascara will run if I cry too much.

So I let a smile grace my lips. A true one because her words do that to me. And then I let a little gleam of my mischievousness into it.

"You're just saying that, Detective Delaney, so I'll quit flirting with you."

I'm pleased with my shot at changing the subject. She's not the only one with that particular skill.

But I almost hit a parked car when she waits until I'm on the road again to say, "Who says I want you to quit flirting with me?"

Damn she's good.


Part 9

It's mid-afternoon by the time Nikki and I get back to the precinct. Darius hasn't called her back yet, so we spend a bit of time getting supplies for Nikki's desk and gathering together reports. Evidence comes trickling in slowly; color photos, interviews with neighbors, and reports from everyone on the scene. We spend a couple of minutes going over the reports to see if anything pops out to us, but it's too early in the investigation yet.

It's when we're talking to Ellie Dupont again in one of the interview rooms that Nikki's phone rings. She steps out for a moment while I continue asking Ms. Dupont more questions. She seems lucid and calm, but now that we're away from the scene, there's something off about her. She's too calm.

She answers all my questions, but her her eyes are red and glassy. I can't be sure without a drug test, but it seems to be more than just from crying all day.

Boyfriend? Yes. He's in Mississippi visiting family for a few weeks.

Do you know of anyone angry at your parents? No.

Any problems with the neighbors? No.

Do you know of anyone angry at you? No.

Who knew Lizzy was staying at your parents? No one else.

Where is Lizzy's father? Haven't seen him since before she was born.

What's his name? She gives it.

What was his last known address? She gives it.

Do you parents keep anything valuable in the house? Anything worth stealing? No. Just a television and DVD player and a small stereo.

Nikki's right. I'd noticed it while walking through the house that the obvious things that should have been taken, like jewelry and electronics, were all there.

So either they never found what they were searching for, or it was meant to look like they were searching for something and didn't find it.

Why kill the parents and the kid though? They could have just as easily gone through the house when everyone was gone.

Something wasn't right, and looking at Ellie Dupont I get that sense again.

I sense trouble, and not the same as when Nikki walked into the squad room this morning. I can't say why it didn't hit me earlier at the house. Perhaps it was because everything about that house was wrong, starting with the fact that people had died there. Maybe it's because I've been feeling a bit off my game today, what with a new partner to break in and be broken in by. Or maybe I shrugged off her reactions to grief. Perhaps I'm imagining things and this is just how she deals with pain.

I finish up my little chat with Ms. Dupont and let her go home, making sure we have all her contact information in case we need to speak with her again. Which we will, I'm sure of it.

Nikki's waiting for me outside in the observation room looking over the monitors as a technician rewinds the interview.

Silently, we go over the last bit again, where Nikki went out for her call.

"Something just isn't right with that girl," Nikki notes and I smile.

"You noticed it too?" I reply, glad that I wasn't the only one.

She gives a little nod, her dark bangs falling in front of her face for a moment before she reaches up and sweeps them away.

Nikki thanks the tech and we walk back to our desks, both of us taking a moment to see if Dan is in his office. Thankfully he's not. We don't have any answers for him yet and I hate being pressured for them.

Leaning against the side of her desk while I take a seat at mine, Nikki taps a short fingernail against the small stack of folders that make up the case so far.


I shake my head minutely, "Not a thing, but we need to take a closer look at the daughter."

"Darius can help with that," she offers with a smile.

"Was that him," I ask, referring to the phone call.

"Yes, Ma'am. He's waiting for us at the café. My treat apparently."

She waits for me to lever myself back up and smiles at my audible sigh. I was just getting comfortable, too. I stick the reports in a drawer and lock it before following her out of the building.

We walk together, in sync I notice. Huh. The Velvet Moon is a little coffee shop that is frequented by cops and locals alike. Being in the French Quarter as it is, it's surprising that it's not overrun by tourists and day trippers except that when you think about it, the café locale across the street from a police station probably has something to do with that.

I follow Nikki inside, impressed how she can maneuver rather gracefully around chairs and people so easily. By the time we get to the back table she's aiming for, I've had to apologize at least 4 times.

So this is Darius.

Looks young, maybe twenty-one to twenty-four. Nikki's right, he's definitely a character, I can tell. Bright silver nose ring. Pencil thin mustache and a petite goatee. His hair is all natural, not extensions. Braided but gathered up into a ponytail. He's smiling and you can't help but smile back. His big grin takes up about half of his face, I swear, with teeth so white it's almost blinding against his black skin. He looks comfortable, sitting here surrounded by policemen, like he doesn't have a care in the world.

"Nikki! Where've you been, girl?" He says, standing up and giving her a quick hug before sitting back down. "And this must be your lovely new partner, Detective Delaney."

I look at Nikki, "You told him about me already?"

"No," she laughs and takes a seat.

I take the one next to her, placing myself directly across from Darius.

"I am a font of information, Ladies," Darius leaned forward, whispering. "I can tell you, or find out, just about anything you need to know. I can even tell you what kind of underwear Nikki here wears."

He sits back just smiling as Nikki reaches out and smacks him hard on the shoulder. I laugh at the two of them. It reminds me of me and my brothers, especially of me and Bobby.

"Darius, don't you dare! Behave!" Nikki demands, doing a poor job of faking her annoyance. It's hard to be upset when you're laughing at the same time.

I lean forward towards him, catching his eye. He leans back over the table and I ask, "Well, what kind?"

He laughs so loud that the nearby tables are all looking, but I don't care. The look on Nikki's face is priceless.

I ignore the sputtering coming from her and sit back in my seat, sprawling out, making myself comfortable. Yes, I am pleased with myself, and the looks I'm getting from Nikki just make me smile even brighter.

I think I like this Darius guy already if he can shoot Nikki down a peg or two. I'm sure he has lots of secrets I can extort, or bribe, out of him.

After ordering café au laits all around and letting Darius have a couple minutes to wipe his eyes and gather himself, we get to business.

"So, Ladies," he clears his throat one final time and gets to the reason why we're all here together, "Not that I am not pleased to meet you Detective, but I'm sure you brought me down here for more professional reasons?"

Nikki turns to me and I return the look and nod to her, letting her take the lead here. He's her friend and I can learn more about Darius by watching him at this point.

"We caught a case," she starts, keeping her voice down, but loud enough that we don't have to huddle.

"The one in Algiers or the 9th?" Darius asks. His face is intent now, which shows me he's serious. The fact that he knows about both murders, the only ones SCU has been assigned since yesterday, means he does keep an ear out.

"You have a habit of knowing which crimes are going on, Darius?" I ask him point blank, not accusing, just curious.

He doesn't seem offended when he looks me straight in the eye and answers, "Yeah Detective. For the last five years especially, I keep my ear down to the ground wherever Nikki is around. She's family."

I see Nikki's gentle smile out of the corner of my eye and nod, "And now that she's been assigned to SCU?"

"I still keep my ear out at certain places and talk to certain faces, but I do listen if your unit is involved." He pauses a moment then looks at me seriously, trying to get his point across. "She's family. I just happen to have access to bits of information here or there. She knows I'm clean. I just happen to have... sources. I can't let someone else..."

He stops right there, but he doesn't have to finish. I felt sorry for pushing him now.

"Hey," I make sure he's looking at me, not through me. "It's okay."

A moment of awkward silence descends on the table before Nikki speaks up. "So, Darius... Hon. Sweetie."

He chuckles and looks at her, and the veil that had dropped over him at whatever memory he had been trudging through, is gone. He's smiling again.

And she did it. They really must be family. I think I'm once again shocked at this woman. She's blown up more preconceptions I had about her than I realized I even had.

I think I'm feeling a twinge of jealousy and I can't fathom why.

"Yes, Detective Beaumont? What can this humble servant of the public trust do for you today?"

She blushes at him calling her Detective Beaumont, I see. It's still new to her, her accomplishment. I smile softly and let her answer.

"We need information about the Duponts. I'm sure you know the address," she says notes wryly before continuing. "And their daughter, Ellie Dupont. We want as much information about her as you can find out. Boyfriends too. Find out who that little girl's father is. You know what to look for."

He looks over to me with a questioning look and I smile and nod. "Show me what you got, Tiger," I challenge.

That huge smile is back but with a little something I don't quite recognize, "Oh, I'd be happy to show you what I got, Detective. But I think Ms. Nikki over here would be jealous."

Nikki laughs and shakes her brunette locks dramatically, "I don't share, Darius. You know that. Now hush and go get to work."

"It was a pleasure, Detective," he says to me as he gets up. He gives Nikki a quick buss on the cheek just before she shoos his off with a long, elegant hand...

He leaves the café, not even waiting for his café au lait, smiling and shaking his head in laughter.

Nikki watches after him, turned so I can't see her face. When she turns back to me she has the saddest look that I've seen. Those big, dark eyes of hers don't hide sadness well.

"Who did he lose?" I ask, feeling like a fool for bringing up such a hurtful memory for him.

"His mother," she answers back with a bittersweet smile that doesn't reach her eyes. Nikki brings her hands up to rest on the table in front of her and just stares at them for a moment.

"She died, killed in a car accident. The driver was drunk and didn't have a scratch on him. He was in the backseat sleeping and woke up just before it happened," she pauses holding her breath for a moment. "My mama and I were in the car with them. Darius and I were the only ones to survive."

A tear pools up in her eye and I don't know what to say or do.

"I'm sorry..." It's all I can say and it's not enough.

She reaches over and places a hand over mine and squeezes once before letting go. "It's OK. It was a long, long time ago. Darius' Grandmother was our housekeeper at the time and took him and moved into my daddy's home so that she could look after him during the day. I was around 10, he was 5, but after they moved in our house, it was like Darius and I were brother and sister, right from that point.

"I think Daddy was glad there was someone to take care of me there for a little while. His heart broke that day," Nikki reflected.

I'm silent, just sitting here, not knowing what to do or say. Oddly, I'm not uncomfortable, but what can I say?

We sit for a good ten minutes, drinking the coffee that the server finally brings to us. We're both quiet, each to our own thoughts. I think of my Uncle and the lover he left behind. I wonder if she's thinking about her Mama.

When we are finally done and the bill is paid, we make our way out of the café, me grumbling and apologizing to everyone I keep running into on the way out.

My mind turns to business and I hope that Darius gets us a good lead or two. He seems willing enough, I note.

It's when we're about to cross the street that she leans over and whispers close to my ear. "So, Detective... You still want to know what kind of underwear I wear?"

Damn, that woman is just plain trouble.


Part 10

It takes me about 10 minutes to find a spot this morning. Obviously my good looks and charm aren't going to win me a decent spot today. However I did still manage to wrangle a government"-only spot just before that blonde in the blonde in the Mercedes could cut me off.

I had spent the entire ride here thinking about Nora Delaney. And the case. Mental note. Keep your mind on business today. What must that woman think of me after yesterday? That I'm a flake? A freak? There I was, crying over my coffee... not even beer! Coffee! I can't even get a stereotype right. Good Lord.

Nora Delaney. I made a right fool of myself yesterday and I would not be at all surprised to find she has asked Dan to switch me with someone else.

I just do not know what is with me. Ever since I walked into the squad room yesterday, I've been a freak. Flirting. Being serious at the scene was appropriate at least. More flirting. Coming out. Flirting. Hello? More flirting. Although, she did almost make me wreck my baby. That was quite funny though. More flirting. Introducing her to Darius was certainly entertaining. Except for the not so fun part. But there was a flirting moment after that. I do believe that made up for it. Except for the look she gave me when she almost got hit by that car because she wasn't paying attention. Good thing I have fast reflexes.

The rest of the afternoon and early evening was paperwork. Very appropriate and professional. Not much chance to flirt when you're going over crime scene photos. But getting to sit at my new desk, front to front with hers, is a definite plus. I may not have flirted after the café, but I did look.

And I know I caught that girl looking at me a time or two.

But still. I don't want to mess up this partnership over some stupidity of mine. I like her. She's a very good cop. She knows her stuff. She gave Darius a chance to prove himself just on my word. On her partner-of-one-day's word.

I sigh to myself as I rifle through the glove box...now where did I put that damn sticker. I swear to God if I have to change spots because I lost...

I'm startled by a tapping at my driver's side window. I look up and see blue. Blue I'm very familiar with after five years.

I sit up and look out, rolling down the window.


"Ma'am?" the man taking up my entire window space with his head and big shoulders is a member of the Mounted Patrol.

I am a detective after all. I can see the horse. OK, two horses. His partner is in back, his horse sniffing my baby.

I swear if that nag gets even a fleck of horse snot on it...


"What can I do for New Orleans' finest this morn'in?" I drawl just so I can see the gleam in this pretty blond boy's eyes. He really is quite cute.

He straightens up a moment and makes a show of looking my car up and down.

Yes, Pretty Boy. The car, she is mine. You may look, you may not touch.

He looks back at me and pushes his cap off his head and holds it in his hands. "Ma'am. Do you realize you are parking in a government-only space? You have to have a special..."

"Sticker. Yes, I know," I look over to my glove compartment and spot the tip of it stuck out between between some old papers. "I just got this yesterday and didn't have a chance to put it on."

I wave the blue parking sticker with the upside down crescent for him. The number 9 clearly seen under the emblem. "I hadn't scraped off my old precinct one before last night. I just started here yesterday?"

He seems pleased and more than friendly now that he knows why I'm here.

"What do you do, Miss...?" he asks for my name, and not very subtly.

"Detective Beaumont, Special Crimes." I supply matter-of-factly. I'm hoping he moves soon or I'm going to have to open this car door into him. I do not want to keep the good Miss Nora waiting. I have to make a better impression this morning.

"Beaumont? Nora's Beaumont?" Pretty Boy asks with a startled look on his face.

Nora's Beaumont?

I blink several times at him, then finally get a clue and look at the name on his jacket.

"Delaney. Any relation to Detective Nora Delaney?"

The Pretty Boy smiles so wide and proud you'd think he was her daddy.

"My sis. Well damn. Detective, well how about this for a coincidence," he says as he places his hands on his hips and continues to smile broadly. He turns for a moment and speaks to his partner.

Or maybe he's about to speak to the horse, I don't know. I open the door, making him take a step back as he says, "Hey Jim. This is Nora's new partner. How about that."

"Ma'am," the other officer tips his hat. Not "Detective" but "Ma'am". Well, it could be worse.

I make sure there's no horse drool on my car first before turning back to him and smile sweetly. "Nora mentioned she had brothers."

"I'm the baby of the family. Bobby," he offers his name, holding out his hand.

I shake it, pleased to see he has a nice handshake for a cop. I never complain, but there have been days when I've come home with my hand just aching from the crushing grips some of these men give out.

He seems nice enough and I guess I can't call him Pretty Boy now that I know his name. Nora might shoot me.

I make a pointed effort to put the sticker on the inside of my windshield before locking the car up.

He gets the hint. I'm on the job. So is he.

Bobby Delaney puts his hat back on, still smiling all the while. Still pleased as punch with himself about something. I don't think I want to ask. But he's Nora's brother, which makes him family of a sort.

"It's been a pleasure meeting you, Officer," I tell him, giving him a bright smile to take away with him. He really does seem like a nice guy.

"Detective," he nods. "Maybe we can get together for lunch today?"

I don't sigh. That would be rude.

"Perhaps. Give Nora a call later to see if we can manage it," I say, turning and waving at Jim, then escaping. I thought I was subtle. I want to make sure he doesn't think this will be a lunch for two.

At least I don't have to worry about her trying to fix me up with her brother.

He's cute. But his sister is more my type.

I did NOT just think that.


Part 11

Last night was dinner at my parent's house and I don't think I've ever had such a long, never-ending, torturous dinner. Normally, I try to get out of even the family Sunday dinners, but we were all asked to come celebrate Daddy's birthday.

All my brothers were there; Clarence, Donald, and Harold, my older brothers. Their wives were present as well... unfortunately. I have never heard so much girl talk in that house. Ever.

Football. Basketball. Tulane. Tulane. Tulane. The Saints. Tulane.

That's what I'm used to hearing in my Mama's house. But now that all my brothers, except Bobby, are married, it's all about the babies. And the burping. And who got what jewelry. OK, I don't mind that last bit, really. But the shoe talk?

By the dessert time and Daddy's favorite, blackberry pie, rolled around I had been about to stick that fancy silver pie knife of Mama's through my right eye just to relieve the pain that was shooting through it.

Of course, just as I was contemplating how to wrestle it away from Bobby without having to use lethal force, my Daddy asked THE question.

"So how is Dan?"

You know, at that moment I wanted to stab both eyes out, just so I wouldn't have to see the smug looks on my sister-in-laws faces. And the drool. I let the silence go on as long as I could before it was so overwhelming that I knew had to say something or they'd think that I was trying to keep something like Dan and I eloping a secret.

"He's fine. Says hi," I replied.

And that had been the end of that, as far as I was concerned. But Mama couldn't leave it alone.

"You should invite him for Sunday dinner again. He's such a nice boy," she beamed at me. BEAMED at me. Like she was envisioning little beautiful mocha colored children running all over the place.

"Mama, he's my boss now. Even if there was some interest there..." and I stopped and glared at all the wives before they could even draw in breath, "which there ISN'T and WON'T be. He is my boss now."

It was damn good blackberry pie. Mama makes great pie.

Of course, I wasn't going to get to enjoy it in peace.

"Oh that's such a shame. He's such a nice boy," Mama said sadly.

I sighed and put down my fork and silently mourned my forlorn piece of pie as I looked over at Mama.

"Mama, I've told you. I'm not interested in him. He was a great partner and a good friend. He STILL is a good friend. But he's my Boss now," I pleaded with her, hoping she'd drop it until the next dinner.

Daddy rescued me. I love my daddy.

"So, Nora? I hear you've gotten yourself a new partner?" he asked, looking interested.

Thank you God for Daddy.

"Yes, Nikki Beaumont. I like her already," I smiled as I said her name. I realized that I really do like her. We're already partners and the warming up period was next to nothing. I'm still surprised by it.

"Beaumont? Any relation to the Beaumonts in the Garden District?" Mama asked and everyone paused and looked at me with keen interest.

"Hmm? Garden District Beaumonts? Let me think," I said carefully before I took another bite of pie. "Yes, I think she may be. Why?"

"She Arthur Beaumont's daughter? I heard she was on the force." Daddy still had his ear to the police line of gossip, even after being retired for 5 years.

I nodded, affirming his suspicions.

"You like her you say? Good. He's a good man," he proclaimed, "for a politician."

I choked on my pie. Thankfully dinner had ended soon after that and I escaped with a parting, loving word to my Mama for the wonderful dinner. I swear I ate more rich food that day than I had in weeks. I was going to have to do an extra 5 miles the next morning.

Which I did had done very early this morning. It was wonderful, until the rain started pouring down. By the time I got home I was drenched and exceedingly cranky.

And now I was back here in the French Quarter, making my way to work and all I could think about was wondering how Nikki's night went. And the job. Right. The case.

Is that Bobby?

I pull up beside the two mounted police officers making their way down the avenue. Rolling down my window I lean over and yell.


He leans down so he can better see me, smiling like he always does. I swear nothing can make that boy mad. Mama always said that Bobby came out smiling as a baby because he knew he was the last of the Delaney clan. Of course, that always made Mama smile too, but for an entirely different reason.

"Hey sis. You're a bit late this morning aren't you?"

"I had a run this morning," I explain.

"Hey, I met your new partner. She's hot, Nora! How'd you get so lucky?" Bobby asks.

Oh my god. If he flirted with Nikki, I am just going to have to commit fratricide.

"You be nice to her you hear? Or you'll answer to me," my baby brother threatens.

I grin at him. "She's out of your league, Bobby. Garden District, remember?" I remind him, not really thinking Nikki was that type to let that stand between her and someone she wanted. But the fact was that Bobby wasn't her type.

"I asked her out to lunch today," Bobby proclaims, very pleased with himself.

I nearly run over Jim's horse.


Part 12

Nora is late. Which means I'm not. Which also means I look good to the new partner.

Unfortunately, it also means Dan keeps looking this way through the window of his office. So, I do my best to look busy, going over new reports that have landed on our desks. One in particular catches my eye.

Well damn.

It's bad news on top of bad news, with just a smattering of good news to keep it company. If you can really consider it good news. I am rather ambivalent about that.

"Good Morning," comes the not-so-cheery-sounding voice of my partner.

I look up from my desk and smile a greeting. Hmmm... Nice choice in outfits. Chocolate baby doll v-neck t-shirt with very nice, low-riding jeans. Nice... belt buckle. Is that her belly button peeking out from under the t-shirt?

"Nice boots," I comment. And they are. Semi-dress boots in a light mocha color. Nice.

Why in the world is she glaring at me? I blink in confusion, and then point to the stack of files on my desk. "I started without you. That OK?"

A wry smirk graces her lips. She's annoyed with something but I'm not sure with what.

"So...how was your morning?" Nora asks, taking a handful of the new reports to her side of the desk and having a seat.

OK. Something is odd here.

"Fine. Wet. Rainy. Horse slobber. The usual." I think the horse bit is funny but she's not laughing. But then again, she wasn't there.

She looks over at me with confusion. "Horse slobber?"

"Mmmm. Yes." I roll my eyes dramatically. "Imagine my surprise when I almost got a ticket by your brother. Who just happened by. And who called me 'Nora's Beaumont' when he heard my name. And asked me out to lunch."

There, I said it. I'm wondering if I should have worn my vest. I also wonder what her score is on the shooting range.

"Lunch hmm? Imagine my surprise when I saw him this morning and he mentioned he asked you out to lunch," my partner shoots back. Score.

"Well, did he tell you that I suggested he call you to see if we were even available for lunch?" I answer back, emphasizing the 'we' and wondering where all this is going. It's rather odd.

I watch as Nora reaches up and rubs the tip of her nose, looking sheepish. Damn. That has got to be the most adorable thing ever. No wait. I forgot. I am to be professional today. Toe the line, Beaumont.

"He didn't mention that," she admits. There's also a cute little blush on her cheeks now. No. NO! It is not cute. Knock it off.

I clear my throat. "So are we going to be available for lunch? Or do you mind if I keep you all to myself?" Now see. That was subtle right there, Nikki m'dear. Show her that you are not interested in having lunch with her brother. No other meaning to what I just said. None. I will deny it if asked.

Nora looks at the stack of files on her desk and mine. "To be honest, I doubt it. First thing we have to do today is go down to the Medical Examiner's building and see Charlie."

I get serious. "Speaking of the case, the department CSIs dropped off a preliminary report that I think you really should have a look at, before we do anything else."

Getting up and walking over to her side of the desk, I show her the file I was looking at when she came in, leaning over her shoulder to point out the piece of information I was looking at.

"Accident," Nora exclaims. "How..."

"Here," I point out another sheet, complete with diagrams of the two bedrooms.

"Damn. It went through the dresser, the wall, luggage, and then hit her?"

"Looks like. According to the sticky note here, they're going to set up lasers in the room today to track trajectories just to make sure. However, considering that the spatter pattern is away from the wall and towards the closet door, I see it as Lizzy being an accidental death," I explain.

Nora looks up at me. "Still doesn't make it right."

I agree. "But it does make it easier to swallow. I'll admit that I had a hard time yesterday thinking that someone purposefully put a bullet into that child."

She sighs, her eyes suddenly heavy with the memory. It's one that will stick with me for a long, long time as well.

"There's more," I proclaim, pointing out another hastily scrawled note on the page. I can't wait until Charlie's crew finishes up typing their reports, I can't read some of this handwriting at all.

Nora's reaction is more vocal this time, and more profane. I don't blame her. It's shocking to me as well to read that the spatter pattern in the closet indicates that there was someone there, hiding with Lizzy, when she was shot.

But it's the last bit of information that makes Nora stand up and charge out of the squad room, with me right at her heels.

That poor little girl had traces of high grade heroin all over her.


Part 13

"Charlie," I greet him as Nikki and I breeze into the morgue. We've got good timing, I notice, as he and his assistant seem to be finishing up on Mrs. Dupont.

The big guy smiles, his left cheek bulging with chew. "Girls, you're just in time," he nods to Nikki as she steps up beside me.

She's been quiet since we got into her car, willingly playing chauffeur since I wasn't in the mood after I stormed out of the squad room. After asking her to drive us to Charlie's office, I sat quietly the entire trip. Reflecting. Brooding. Wondering how God could let such evil be created that not only do people lie and cheat for the things they covet, but innocent little girls die for it.

Heroin. In a little girl's room. The thought just boggles the mind.

But now we're here and I have to play the professional.

I force a half-smile, just to make Charlie believe I'm happy to see him. I am happy to see him, but there's just so much going through my mind right now that I know he can tell it's fake. He's used to it. He works with cops for a living.

"How are you doing, Charlie?" Nikki sounds more cheerful than me, for which I'm thankful. There's only room for one broody cop in this partnership.

The Cajun grins more brightly, if that's possible, and astonishingly doesn't lose the wad of tobacco in his mouth. I guess it's a good thing to have a talent like that. I can't imagine what it might drop into if we was at the autopsy table.

I shudder at the thought and look at him expectantly.

"What have you got for us?"

Snapping off his bloody gloves, he throws them into a medical canister, then picks up three folders. One for each victim. Our timing is impeccable if he's finished with all three.

Nikki and I walk over to him, both of us eyeing the two occupied tables as we walk by. I only recognize one, the other isn't from our crime scene.

Charlie opens up the folder and the the two of us lean closer on either side of him, to get a better look.

"You see this?" He points at a lab result graph.

I can't read the technical bits, but the summary explains it all.

"High grade heroin," he points out, "with minute levels in the lil girl's throat. Nothing in her lungs or blood stream, however."

Nikki looks at me, "With it all over her, it had to be in the closet with her. We'll have to check back with the lab and see if they found any traces in the room and closet."

I frown, something is bugging me. We're missing something important, obvious.

Her eyes narrow and I can see she's thinking fast, going over possibilities. "Whoever was in the closet with her was carrying it?"

"I think it's more than likely," I affirm, but my sense of unease doesn't lessen. "The contact on her was almost negligible. What got into her through her nose and mouth happened a breath or two before she was shot."

I look up at Charlie. "T.O.D.?"

"Approximately 3:30 am for all three of them. Two gunshots to the male. Both upper chest. One right through the heart which killed him instantly. Two shots to the grandmother, with the first one hitting in the shoulder. I figure that there were three shots, with one missing so badly that it went off and hit the little girl. One of the shots hit the grandmother's shoulder and a third was the fatal shot. She was sitting up when she caught a bullet in the throat," Charlie rattles off the details from memory.

"And Lizzy Dupont?" Nikki queries. There isn't an single inflection of emotion in her voice. She sounds like she might just be asking for a glass of iced tea. I don't think I could do any better.

Charlie sighs heavily and opens another folder. He's such a big man, in height and stature, that you'd think nothing could get to him. After all, he works with the dead all day and should be inured to all this. But it's a rare man like Charlie that still shows such emotion in this cold place.

"That little girl got what had to be a third shot that was meant for her grandmother. Trajectory should show that when your CSI boys are done. It went right through the dresser in the grandparents bedroom, through the wall and closet. And right into that darling girl. It hit her in the back of the chest, almost expended of all energy by that time," he explains.

He gestures with his chin towards the far wall, wanting us to follow him. "Look over here."

He hands the reports to Nikki and walks down the wall along the stainless steel bays that house the dead when they aren't on the autopsy tables. He hesitates, and then walks down a few more doors, finally opening up the one he is looking for. He's silent as he does this work... this ritual. He's the one person no one living ever wants to see, but he's one of the few living beings that treats them with a last piece of dignity after they're dead. All the dead who come here to this cold room have died from cruelty. I can't imagine a man more thoughtful and loving to take care of them.

When the body, with it's pure white sheet, comes into view the only thing I could think of was how little she is.

Clearing my throat, I can't look at anyone, just down at that white sheet preparing myself. I can't help it, this is the way that I prepare myself. Distancing myself from what I'm going to see. Cop eyes. Cop face. Cop mind. Damn. Sometimes I feel like every day on this job steals a bit more of the person I used to be.

Charlie reaches over and pulls the edge of the sheet down so Lizzy Dupont's head and chest are revealed and I see her. Little Lizzy Dupont. Pretty black hair in cornrows along her skull. Her skin, once dark like molasses, now with a bluish-purple cast. Her eyes are closed in repose, but she doesn't look like she's sleeping. She looks dead.

Damn it.

An almost inaudible sigh escapes me and I reach up and pull out a long silver chain with a medallion on it. My Saint Michael's medallion. My good luck charm. Usually it soothes me to rub my thumb over the back of it, but I'm not feeling very soothed right now. I almost jump as a warm hand slides across my shoulder and squeezes my bicep briefly before drifting off.


I glance over to her seeing that she's standing next to me on one side. With Charlie on the other, we all looking at the little girl intently, our best game faces on.

"The exit wound is tiny," Nikki notices, squinting.

"That isn't an exit wound," Charlie contradicts.

I immediately look at him in puzzlement for a split second and then look at the wound more closely. Nikki crowds closer to get a better view, brushing up against my side.

She says it before I can. "Very shallow scalpel cut. The bullet lodged between her breastbone and skin?"

Damn she's observant. And right on the money as Charlie nods, confirming her observation. Charlie had to just barely cut the skin to get the bullet out. It was to the left of the Y incision that Charlie had made during the autopsy.

"This little baby girl just could not catch a break" he mutters, gently replacing the sheet over her and sliding the steel table back into the wall.

"Damn," I mutter, "I've never seen that happen. But it went through a lot to get to her."

I can hear a small sigh escape Nikki. I bet she's thinking the same thing I am. If Lizzy been on the other side of the closet door, the bullet would have lodged in the door and little Lizzy might still be alive. But considering the spatter pattern, whoever was in that closet had been in line for the bullet if it had kept going through Lizzy.

Charlie looks over at the two bodies on the autopsy tables. "I hope you get the bastard that did this."

It's something Charlie says every time I see him at the start of a new case. He's a passionate man. He would have made a fine cop, but instead he chose to help from behind the scenes. I can't fault him for that and I'm immensely glad we have his talents.

"We'll do our best, Charlie," I say as Nikki and I make our way out of the room.

"Definitely," Nikki assures him and then the door closes behind us and it's just us two again.

We're quiet for the few minutes it takes to get to the huge parking garage. I'm thinking about the case and where to go from here. Ellie Dupont is a good start. Nikki and I both think she's not telling us everything. And after the heroin evidence came up, I bet she's going to wind up being involved with it.

"So, talk to Dan next?" Nikki asks.

"Might as well," I agree with the idea. I would love not to have to see him today, but she's got a point. He's our boss and he's got to know where we are on this. Plus I want to sic him on the uniformed officer first on scene for being so damn sloppy. And Bouvier. Oh yeah.

We're almost to the car, when Nikki nudges me in the side, startling me out of my thoughts. Broody cop is still around.

I look at her, slightly aggrieved but she's got a little grin tugging at the corner of her lips as she holds out her hand offering the car keys. Broody? Moody? Me? Oh hell no. Not if she's offering what I think she's offering.

She nods, still with that quirky smile and I hold out my hand. Then I snatch it back, fast as lightning, as soon as she drops them into my greedy, hot little hand. I don't want her to change her mind. No sir. No changing of the mind allowed. I'm smiling and it's not just because she's letting me drive her car. I know what she's done and why she's done it. Dan used to buy me ice cream to get me out of my funks. My new partner is going to let me drive her car. That's love right there.

"I think I love you," I whisper reverently, not even realizing what I'm saying.

Nikki looks at me with a wide-eyed started look that makes me almost laugh. With those big brown eyes of hers, she does look like a deer in the proverbial headlights.

"I meant the car, Nikki."

Ignoring her snort of indignation, I gaze at Nikki's baby. Yeah. I'm in love all right. Come to me my sweet, sweet creation of steel and power. Oh yeah, come to mama.


Part 14

I know it's only a mile to the precinct from the Medical Examiners office, but I swear to God that if Nora doesn't quit drifting over to the right and endangering my side-view mirror, it's going to be the last day she's going to drive. Ever.

My hand grips the door handle so hard I think I've put in a permanent imprint in it.

Nora's wide smile as we pull into a spot near the entrance makes it all worth it however. And that's what I intended, to try to bring her out of her rut or whatever it is that she's been in this morning.

I've always believed that's what partners are for. Not just to back each other up whether investigating or under fire. But to be there to pull each other out of the muck that we have to swim through every day, and in my fine estimation Dan has been letting Nora slip away into it. Yesterday, it was new to us, but now we're getting into the meat of our new relationship and I hope I don't step on her toes as I try to remind her she's also human as well as a cop. I hope she does for me when it happens, and it will. No one can be human and NOT let it effect you. But this is a new relationship and one can't know what blind alleys and cliffs are right around the corner until you hit them.

But I'm subtle. I took a calculated risk giving her the keys to my baby and I don't mean that I was risking that she might wreck it, I truly don't believe she will. No, the risk I took was to our newly born partnership.

I gambled and won.

Shaking my wrist to get some blood back into it, I exit the car, leaving Nora to her tricky seat belt. We get inside the precinct just in time to escape the downpour outside only to find a miniature storm inside the squad room by the name of Lt. Dan Jackson.

I follow Nora into his office, taking a seat when he gestures to the ones in front of his desk. "OK, not a problem," he ends the call, and turns to us.

"That was the Chief. He needs answers. I need answers. So, let's have it, Ladies."

All business is good.

Nora looks at me for a moment with a questioning look. I have a good idea what she's asking and I don't mind, so I give her a small nod, letting her know that I realize she has to take charge of the conversation.

It affords me the opportunity to watch their interactions as she proceeds to go over our findings. Then she goes into how we're going to try and track down Simon Martins, the boyfriend of Ellie Dupont. He's supposedly in Mississippi but no one answered the phone when I called yesterday afternoon. The phone is registered to his mother however, a Maureen Martins Perhaps a call to the local sheriffs office would get an officer or two out there just to check for us.

Then something hit me. Dan said he just got off the phone with the Chief of Police. He wouldn't have needed to tell us that unless it concerns us specifically. What is going on here?

"Lt. Jackson?" I interrupt at an opportune moment. Nora has given most of the information we have, so I don't feel as if I'm being rude. I do note that she hasn't mentioned Darius yet.

"Call me, Dan, please," he smiles at me, throwing a little charm my way.

"Dan..." I drawl, tossing a bit of my own charm out there.

Nora does a little fake clearing of the throat behind her hand, trying not to laugh. I don't know what's so funny however. I'm charming. I know it. Anyway...

"Dan, you mentioned you were just on the phone with Chief Harrison?" I put it out there, hoping I'm right and that there's something to share with us.

He nods, but doesn't look happy about the thought. "Have either of you heard the news or watched it today? Seen a paper?"

When both of us shake our heads, Dan continues, "A member of the esteemed fourth estate," he says the word as if he's describing dog excrement on the sidewalk. "managed to buy a cellphone picture from someone with an extremely good shot of the little girl on the gurney being wheeled out of the house. Someone that had to be on the scene," he adds.

"Well hell," the exclamation just comes out. With news like that it can only mean one thing.

Media storm.

Nothing like having to see a photo of a dead child to rile up morning coffee drinkers.

Nora speaks up and she's definitely not happy with the situation, "Dan, you know who sold that photo..."

And just like that the conversation is over and Dan's face closes up, "I'll make sure Robbery gets taken off the case as secondary. Now, get to work. Get me results."

Nora is out of the office like a shot, slamming the door open and walking to our desks.

Myself, I stand up slowly and give Dan an inquisitive look, inviting comment or some kind of explanation. Something. Nora was his partner not too long ago, so it would be nice if he could give me a clue as to what may have pissed off Nora.

"You're excused," is all he says. Pointedly looking at the door.

Thank you, very much. No, no, it's OK. Please keep all your little Nora secrets to yourself. I'm sure I'll get to have more secrets with her than you could even dream about.

It's funny how you think something, and realize that it comes out with a different meaning than what you intended.

I walk out of his office, making a beeline towards Nora, conveniently forgetting to close his door. Before I can get even halfway there, my cellphone rings.

I look at the caller id and immediately answer.

"Darius, it's always a pleasure," I greet him cheerfully, speaking a little too loudly in order to catch Nora's attention. I nod towards the hallway, cluing her in that I'm going to take it in a more quiet atmosphere.

"Hey sweet thing, you sound so very pleased to hear from me. Are you sure you should be flirting with me with that gorgeous new partner of yours around? I wouldn't want to cramp your style," he chuckles evilly over the phone.

"Hon, if I wanted you to comment on my lov..." I immediately stop what I'm about to say as I realize Nora has followed me out into the hallway. God, if I could please not be blushing right now, I would forever be thankful.

Damn it.

"What have you got for us?" I demand, trying to get the conversation under control. Nora stands next to me, listening in on my side of the conversation and watching the few people going down the hall.

"Heh... she just walked up didn't she?" he ignores my request. I swear that the man is the bane of my existence, and, fortunately for him, a blessing of it.

"Yes. Now may we please..."

He interrupts me again, but his tone has changed. Darius knows he can only push my buttons, big red buttons though they may be, so many times before I attempt to kill him.

"I got some info on your girl, Ellie Dupont. The word is she likes bad boys. Bad boys that like to take care of her. Unfortunately, her latest bad boy..."

This time I interrupt him, "Simon Martins?"

Nora perks up at the name. I know she would love to be interrogating Darius herself, but she's being good and letting me be his handler. I appreciate the trust.

"That's him. He's got some heavy hitters looking for him right now. Apparently, the last shipment of junk he was couriering over from Mississippi is missing. And so is he. He's alive however. He was spotted near the Blue Heron, down by N. Robertson in the 7th Ward, sometime last night."

Darius sounds certain about his information and I trust him not to give me a false lead. Especially not a false lead in the 7th ward. 27 murders in that neighborhood alone last year. The highest in the entire city. The 9th gets a bad rap, but of the 125+ homicides each year, the 9th is no where near the top.

"Thanks, hon. I appreciate it," I tell him, meaning it.

"One more thing..." he interrupts before I can say anything else.

"What is it?"

"I'm pretty sure, not positive mind you, that he's got someone with him, backing him up. So be careful. Don't make me call MeeMaw on you," he threatens. He knows how powerful of a threat it is too. His Grandmother, his MeeMaw as we say in the south, is a terror if you get on her bad side.

"I will," I promise earnestly. "How you do your magic, Darius, I will never understand. You're a miracle worker."

Nora's being a champ and just keeping an ear out on my side of the conversation. I'm sure I'll be swamped with questions after I hang up.

"Well, I did find out his shoe size if you really want to know," Darius answers seriously.

Huh? I take the phone away from my ear and look at it, puzzled, for a second and then bring it back.

"Right...and I'm sure you know his underwear size too," I quip back, winking at Nora.

"No, but I did find out what kind Nora wears," he deadpans.

It's an odd mixture of sensations and feelings going through me right now. I'm both startled and curious.

"Thongs, Nikki. Thongs," he laughs and immediately hangs up before I can respond.

Not that I notice, since I'm struck dumb.


Oh my.


A warm hand comes up to my shoulder and squeezes gently to get my attention.

"Nikki? You OK?" Nora's voice finally cuts through the haze in my mind.

I'm going to kill that little...

Part 15

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