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
So, Simon Martins isn't in Mississippi after all.
Somehow, I'm not surprised.
"Let's go get something on the way to Ellie Dupont's," I suggest and go to grab our coats, leaving Nikki in the hallway for a moment. Nikki seems to be her more normal, clear-eyed self as I come back into the hallway, so whatever it was couldn't have been too bad.
As she puts on her three-quarter length leather coat, I ponder getting one myself. The length definitely looks good on her, but I think the shorter jacket I wear suits me more.
"Hey," she speaks up, "where are we going?"
"How about Peter's? It's on the way. Good deli." I look out the door and see that it's still raining and doesn't look like it's going to stop any time soon. "Or maybe not."
"Afraid of getting a little wet, Detective?"
The challenging look Nikki shoots me makes my spine stiffen. I only have one flaw, OK maybe more, but I'm terribly competitive.
"Not at all, Detective, but are you sure you can afford to get wet? No maidservants to run after you here with a hair dryer," I quip back.
An elegant eyebrow lifts along with a humoring smile. I think a certain Nikki Beaumont is a tad competitive herself.
The next few minutes find us out on the wet New Orleans sidewalks, jaywalking when it's safe, weaving in and out of the way of the few pedestrians that are out in the heavy rain.
By the time we hit Peter's Deli, we're a bit drenched but laughing. Of course, that's when Bobby calls me.
"Hey, Bobby. I hope you and that nag you call a partner aren't out in this?" I greet him.
"My horse is not a nag! Shiela is not a nag!"
My brother is just too easy.
"I was talking about Jim," I get a good chuckle out of it as I follow Nikki inside. We've missed the lunch crowd, so thankfully the line is empty.
"Hey, I'm calling about lunch. Nikki told me to call," Bobby asks. "Where are you?"
"We're picking up lunch now at Peter's, to go," I emphasis.
"Peter's? We're not too far away actually..."
"Umm...brrkk...rrrggghhh... You're breaking up ... brrrkk." I hang up the phone.
Nikki is looking at me, eyes wide open in surprise at my antics.
"Damn. Lost connection. Must be," I fumble for a good answer, "ionization in the atmosphere affecting our cellular area."
She laughs, "I take it he was asking about lunch?"
"Yes, but we don't have the time. Unless you really wanted to go out to lunch with him?" I ask. Did I read it all wrong? Not that I don't wish my brother to find a nice woman to spend his time with, but not... not Nikki, I realize. Damn, but what if she's bi? OK, well, still. It's my brother. He's not... She's not...
My thoughts are suddenly all over the place, trying to figure out a good reason why it wouldn't be a good idea.
"It's fine, Nora," she pauses to order a small salad.
I give my order as well, hoping they fix our lunch fast.
She waits until I'm finished and continues, "I'm sure your brother is swell, but I don't play both teams anymore."
"I didn't want to assume..." I begin, but she interrupts.
"Besides, he's your brother," Nikki explains, "I don't date cops."
I pause as I gather up extra napkins, utensils. I usually keep the car stocked with a few extras. Dan was a messy eater.
"Really? Never?" I can understand the reasoning behind it and completely agree with the sentiment, but something makes me ask just the same.
She's gives me an unfathomable look, then nudges me with an elbow, "Is that an offer, Detective?"
My face is flaming red and I'm sputtering. Something has got to be wrong with my brain today. I seriously consider that I may have to go to the doctor soon.
"Nora, I'm joking," Nikki smiles mischievously and adds, "Although..."
"Nikki Beaumont, I swear you flirt with anything that moves," I say rolling my eyes dramatically, but I'm secretly enjoying it. The flirting is just who she is and it doesn't bother me in the slightest. In fact, it keeps me on my toes and makes day lighter on my shoulders.
Picking up our order we start to head out.
"We can take my car, since it's closer," I suggest since the rain isn't showing signs of stopping. Besides, I don't think she'll let me drive her Mustang again soon and I don't want to have a stroke from dealing with her exuberant driving in this weather.
Hydroplaning is not fun.
She nods and follows me out the door. Four rainy blocks later, I spot my car and hop in, unlocking her side quickly.
I guess it's only fair that today she's the one startled by what I'm driving.
"El Camino? I always pictured them as... well..."
I chuckle as I buckle up and wait until she does as well before starting up the engine.
"I bought it from a police auction before I went to college. There she was, this '85 Chevy El Camino, in a sick green color. It was so beat up, but something about it... it was love at first sight. When I got back from college... well, dad and my brothers had fixed it up during my last year away." I start to explain while pulling out and starting down the road. The rain has thinned out a lot of the afternoon drivers thankfully.
"He did it for me as a kind of 'consolation' gift I think," I elaborate.
I reach up with one hand and pull out my St. Michael's medallion. The chain is long, so I don't protest when Nikki leans over and reaches out to take a better look at it. Her fingers brush over mine before I let it go.
"Saint Michael. Patron Saint of Policemen," Nikki notes correctly before she lets it go.
"My grandfather had a Saint Michael's which he gave my dad when he joined the force. It had always been my plan to follow in his footsteps after college, but Bobby beat me to it by three months, right out of high school. I was furious with him, of course, and since my college graduation and his police academy class graduation were happening at the same time... well, I told them not to come out since I wasn't going to attend mine."
That had been a tough three months for me. A love affair had ended badly around the same time, so I was a wreck, barely able to complete my finals. By the time I finished, I hadn't been in the mood to do anything but come home.
"And?" Nikki prompts softly.
"Dad had promised all us kids, that if one of us joined the force we'd get his Dad's St. Michael's. Kind of the start of a family tradition. Bobby hadn't shown any interest in joining the police force, and my other brothers went their own way, so it was always assumed I'd get it," I shook my head at the memory. One thing is for sure, it taught me not to take things for granted, even little things like the St. Michael's. "Anyway, Daddy gave the medal to Bobby and bought me one on his own when I went into the force. I rarely take it off."
"That was sweet of him. And the car?" she continues.
"He and my brothers had been fixing it up as a graduation present that year, but I've always considered the car to be my real present for joining the force, since he had hung the medallion off the rearview mirror before bringing it out to me."
Glancing over, I can see Nikki smiling. I shrug and add, "Bobby wasn't happy about it, since I got a hot car and he got a horse."
We both laugh, even though the Mounted Division don't own their own horses, they have their own mounts assigned to them.
"I think you got the better deal out of the bargain," she comments.
The rest of our drive is mostly silent, as I take periodic bites one-handedly of my sandwich, with Nikki helping with a well-timed napkin or drink to my hand. It probably isn't the smartest thing driving one-handed in the rain, but we have work to get to.
We're halfway through Algiers neighborhood when she packs up the remainder of her salad and my discarded remnants. Tossing it all back in the bags she asks, "Mind if I ask another question?"
I look over at her for a split second, then back onto the road. I have an idea what she's going to ask. I'm not thrilled to talk about it, but she's going to find out sooner or later. Someone always talks in the precinct. Gossip is almost as good as facts to bored cops.
She takes the last sip of her drink and puts the rest in the bag. Nikki looks around for a moment, but since there's no back seat, there's really no place to put trash.
"Just tuck it down by your feet. We'll throw it out when we get back to the precinct. It's one reason why I keep the inside of my car spotless," I say, noticing her looking around for a place to put it.
She does it, but doesn't seem to happy about it. Finally she gives in and tucks it under the seat with a heel. When she finally speaks, there is a hesitant note to her voice, like she's not entirely sure it's OK to ask. New partner jitters.
"Back in Dan's office..." she starts, but I interrupt.
"Say no more," I answer. "You should know anyway."
"Detective Bouvier was my first partner when I became detective, back in Robbery in fact," I start off. The entire incident leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I kind of wish I had some of that juice left to wash it out.
"As you can probably tell from meeting him yesterday, Bill isn't keen on me. Well, that was how it was from the start, it only got worse later after I started talking to Internal Affairs about his... habits," I spit out the word with venom.
"Let me guess. Kick backs?" Nikki asks. I know instinctively that the disgusted tone in her voice isn't for me. I can imagine the things she's seen being as her father is a Councilman.
Louisiana is known for having corrupt politicians. It has been since before Louisiana became a state. Corrupt politicians, policemen, bureaucrats. However, even though Councilman Arthur Beaumont is known to be old school New Orleans, he's also one of the most uncorruptable politicians in the state. He could have gone further into politics and run for state senate but the papers always said he turned down such offers to back his candidacy, saying that he loved New Orleans too much to leave it to the bottom feeders.
A snort of derision escapes me at her dead-on guess.
"Kick backs. Protection. Out and out bribes," I barely get it all out, my hands tightening hard on the wheel. "And he got away with it, because I was too new and Bouvier was smart. He always had me stay out in the car when he had to go into a local bar for a 'few minutes to talk to someone' or 'pick up my laundry'. It didn't take a new detective badge for me to eventually guess that something was up when we would go to the same places time after time. After a few point blank questions from me and the runaround from him, I started just watching him more closely."
My knuckles and fingers are white from the pressure but I can't seem to release the tension building inside.
"I started noticing that certain scenes we were assigned to started appearing in photos the newspapers. Not often. Not many. Just one or two photos at a time spread out over months. "That's when I went to Internal Affairs," I spit out the last two words with such frustration that Nikki reaches out and puts a calming hand on my right forearm. She only touches my leather clad arm a moment, but it instantly calms me down.
A hard shudder goes through my body as all that tension is released.
"You OK?" Nikki whispers, concern for me in her voice.
"Yes, I'm fine... Internal Affairs couldn't find solid proof and Bouvier demanded a new partner. I spent another year in Robbery with him undermining me at every turn. And then I got offered a shot with Homicide." I stop talking for a moment to get my bearings, we're in the right neighborhood, not too far away from our destination.
"Homicide? I'm surprised you made it to homicide with him trying to tank your career," Nikki said curiously.
The truth is, I had been surprised too. But apparently I have an angel on my shoulder that is looking out for me. If Bouvier had his druthers, I'd be in Vice by now. Sitting on a corner for the rest of my life picking up Johns for the wagon.
"Someone thought I knew what I was talking about, I suppose? I don't know. I spent almost two years in Homicide with Dan as my partner before the Special Crimes Unit was created and we were both asked to join. And now we're here," I say, pulling in front of a nondescript house.
"So we are," Nikki notes. She unbuckles her seat belt but doesn't get out of the car. Turning in the seat she gets straight to business, "What's the plan?"
One of the things I dislike about being a cop is that I can't carry an umbrella. They are too bulky, limit your vision, and pretty much are inconvenient when you have to pull your weapon.
So I have to live with the rain. Today is one of those days that proves my point.
Nora and I are walking up to Ellie's home when we notice the front door ajar and hear groaning coming from inside.
We both clear our weapons and ready ourselves for anything. Nora knocks on the front door frame loudly and calls out, "NOPD! Coming in!"
I have her back, checking our rear and to the sides, as she opens the door fully and steps in, her gun out and ready.
I'm only steps behind her, pointing my Glock wherever I look.
There's been a fight, a lamp lays broken on the floor but it's seeing Ellie laying on the ground, trying to scoot into a corner, that spurs me past Nora and to her side.
Nora keeps an eye on the hallway while I check Ellie.
"Ellie?" I reach down, keeping my other hand out of her reach but ready in case I have to use it.
She's taken a few lumps but doesn't seem to be in immediate danger.
"Don't move," I bring my voice down to a whisper and stand back up. We need to clear the house.
Nora and I are instantly in sync. Clearing rooms, keeping each other in sight and watching each other's backs. The back door proves to be shut and locked, so we head back to the living room after making sure no one else is in the house.
"Stay here with her," Nora says and moves out to check the perimeter.
I instantly take a dislike to the order, since I don't want to let my partner out of my sight. If whomever did this is outside Nora has to find out, but I know that Ellie takes a priority now.
"Ellie, it's Detective Beaumont. We're here to help you," I state and I gingerly move her chin so she'll look directly at me. When her eyes focus on me, I gently roll Ellie fully onto her back so I can take a closer look at her injuries, going over her entire body with my left hand checking for any obviously broken bones.
"Don't... please..." she whimpers as I touch her, but I have to know.
She's obviously scared and bruised when she suddenly hurdling herself at me.
I tense up for a moment, expecting an attack, but she's just wrapping her arms around me crying into my shoulder.
I holster my weapon and pull her up onto the couch to sit, then disengage myself from her, but keeping close so she feels protected.
Flipping open my cellphone, I call dispatch and immediately tell them to send out an ambulance, but Ellie interrupts me.
"No! No! I'm okay, really," she cries, collapsing upon herself and shuddering. "No ambulance!"
I eye the front door, and just when I was wondering what's keeping my partner, Nora comes walking through the door, only holstering her own weapon when she sees that we're fine.
"Clear," Nora says and I nod back, glad everything is OK. At least on the outside of the house.
Ignoring Ellie's request I finish the short call and assess the situation. It doesn't take much to know that it's probably a domestic dispute, what with several bruises beginning to form on the woman's arms and the swollen lip.
"Ellie? Ellie, listen to me," I ask gently. She scared but has gathered enough of her wits to look at me. "Who did this? Simon?"
I've seen the look in far too many battered women's eyes as a patrol officer. The look of love and fear mixed together.
"Ellie? Where is he?" I demand a bit more firmly.
But she's not buying it.
"It's nothing. Please go," she whimpers and pulls one of the couch pillows to her middle and starts rocking back and forth. "I wasn't Simon... Simon is in Mississippi."
She's not as good of a liar today, I think silently and look up at my partner.
Nora looks tense and somewhat annoyed. It's hard to be a cop sometimes. Battered women generally make it harder on the police than the perpetrators. They still love the person who abuses them and cover for their crimes.
He loves me.
He didn't mean to hurt me.
He's just angry.
No, I will not press charges.
He loves me.
Two hours later, the police cars are gone and the ambulance is pulling away, without Ellie Dupont in it.
The EMTs said she didn't seem to be in any danger, but they did note there were prior bruises that are still healing. Ones that Ellie covered up yesterday or we would have asked her about them.
It's Nora who asks them to look for any signs of habitual heroin use, but since Ellie refuses to let them check her out and refuses to go with them, they can't say anything definite.
No matter how we pressure her, she won't press charges or even come downtown. We can't force her into the car without arresting her, not unless we want to cause a huge stink from the media nosing around.
And there are a couple around, swarming like vultures, just off the property. Nora took care to make sure they didn't harass us or Ellie too much while the squad cars and ambulance were here. She even threatened to take them all to jail for trespassing if they had stepped one foot on the premises. There should be more, since Ellie is the mother of the flavor of the day in the newspapers, but the rain has weeded a lot of them out for us.
And without some sort of proof, we can't drag her in for questioning if she keeps denying Simon is in town. Our hands are tied and she's refusing to speak.
Time to leave Ellie Dupont to her pain and ask some questions at the Blue Heron.
As we leave the house, Nora tosses me the keys to her car. It's not my baby but I enjoy driving it. Nora and I chat about the case on the way over, talking easily like we've been partners for months instead of two days.
"What are you doing tonight?" she asks out of the blue, changing the subject.
"Going to Daddy's for dinner," I reply as I switch in and out of traffic easily despite the rain. "Why?"
"How about we get together after work tomorrow? I have some snapper that I want to grill up," Nora asks casually.
It's not an unusual request from what I've seen in my 5 years. Cops don't tend to socialize outside the police department just due to the stress of the job and civilians hesitating to do anything "improper" around their cop friends. It's hard for us to make friends outside of the force. Even my old friends act differently around me, except for Darius. But then he's not just a friend, he's family.
"Sure, what should I bring?"
I glimpse Nora looking at me and I glance over, returning her easy smile. "Just yourself. A bottle of wine if you want."
"Wine I can do," I assure her, looking forward to tomorrow night.
We park near the Blue Heron and make our way inside, badges in coat pockets, guns holstered on our hips but under our coats. The customers inside eye us curiously, since we're not the average bar fly coming in out of the rain. And it's obvious we're looking for someone. It's too bad he's not here, we could have used a break.
I gaze over to the bartender, see the interest in his eyes and change my body language with a single thought. We'd already decided that I'd ask the bartender questions since Nora says I make a better "good cop". I tend to agree, I can flirt like nobody's business and could get answers out of a stone if I pour it on. Nora however probably makes a great "bad cop". I can't wait to see it in action. I bet it's sexy.
I have to stop thinking thoughts like that, it's distracting.
Waltzing up to the bar, I aim for the bartender. He's already caught in my dazzling smile believing it's just for him.
"Well, hello darlin'. What can I get yah," he greets. He's average in height and weight, pretty nondescript except for the long, blond hair pulled back into a ponytail which reaches halfway down his back. I admit it, I'm a sucker for blond hair, but his doesn't do anything for me. I look him up and down appreciatively for just an instant before meeting his blue eyes straight on.
I pull a police photo out of my coat and lean towards him over the bar. "I was wondering if you could do me a small favor?" I ask, letting my natural drawl ooze out. Men, even Southern men that have heard women speaking that accent their entire lives, go haywire when it's used on them. It makes us seem simpler in their eyes, non-threatening.
In other words, putty in my hands.
He looks around at the few other customers at the bar, then back to me.
"Well, I do believe I've seen him around here once or twice the last few days. Hanging around Daryl Stevens. Black guy. Big. No hair. Has a tat on his neck, a tribal thing. Can't mistake him if you see him," he supplies to my good fortune.
"Well thank you. Would you happen to know where he lives?"
"Nope. He's in the neighborhood though. Tough guy," he adds, looking at me closely. "You probably want to be careful around him, Missy."
"I'm sure I'll be fine. Thank you for your assistance," I tell him then turn back to my partner.
Nora seems to be amused, still standing against the back wall, arms crossed and listening carefully to the short conversation while keeping an eye out on the customers.
"Done?" she asks, cracking a wry smile.
"Well, I could spend an hour or two killing my braincells here with some bourbon, but I guess I'll have to wait until after work," I quip back. She's amused by my flirting with the bartender.
"But it would be boring, though, without the right company," I comment as we walk back out into the rain and get into the car.
Buckling up, I can't resist saying as I shake the water out of my hair, "Although if it'll make you feel better, Detective, I can show you what real flirting is during dinner tomorrow." I shoot her a syrupy sweet smile and laugh when she rolls her eyes and starts the car.
"Like I could stop you?" she laughs back.
Arrested for three counts of Assault and Battery on three different occasions. Spent five years in jail total. Arrested for Intent to distribute one, charges dropped. No known employment. No known family in New Orleans.
Quite the resume.
His last known address is about five blocks from the Blue Heron and Nikki and I had just talked with the the uncooperative landlord. Since she wouldn't let us in without a warrant and there's no answer at the door, we had gone back to the precinct with a bag full of nothing.
Back at the precinct we had spoken with Dan, seeing if we can pull some warrants on Daryl Stevens and Simon Martins. Unfortunately, without some evidence there's not a judge that's going to supply one. Which means we do this the old fashioned way.
Right now, though, we have to catch up on paperwork while Nikki and I consider our options. Final reports from the CSIs and the Medical Examiner's office arrive, but there's nothing new here that can help us.
"Hey Georgia," I call out to the SCU's only other female detective as she walks into the squad room. "Where's that old scraggly partner of yours, Mitchell?"
"Hey, Delaney. Seth is up at the courthouse. It's his turn to turn in the paperwork," she smiles as she walks over.
The tall, black woman looks at Nikki curiously, "Hi, I'm Georgia Vincent." She thrusts forward a hand to greet Nikki.
"I'm sorry, I have the worst manners," I exclaim and stand up. "Georgia, this is Detective Nikki Beaumont, my new partner."
She smiles at Nikki, greeting her warmly, which Nikki returns as she shakes her hand. "It's nice to see another female in the room."
Georgia chuckles, "Give us time, we'll be taking over soon."
"Your words to God's ears," Nikki replies and we all chuckle.
I pull Georgia back with a question, "How's that case you caught across the river in Algiers?"
Georgia rolls her eyes, "Done, Charlie reported it as a suicide. There was no note, but based on how the knots were tied, no one else could have tied them but him."
"Well..." I glance over at Dan's office and then back to Georgia, "Maybe Nikki and I can talk you in to helping with a little stakeout time on our case?"
I take a seat and motion the two of them closer. Nikki leans back on my desk on my side, her leg brushing mine. Georgia just turns and leans a little closer. We're both used to having to do to some preliminary planning and have all our ducks in a row in order to get the brass to agree with anything. And since Dan is now one of those who we have to appease, having our plan laid out is doubly important.
If I can get Georgia and Seth approved to spend a little time with us on the clock for a stakeout, he'll be more willing to approve a set or two of unis in unmarked cars for round the clock surveillance.
If this works. There's never a guarantee that the suspect will lead you the way you hope he will.
Charlie calls it, "Flushing the grouse." You send the bird dogs into the open fields, hoping there's a pheasant or grouse in the brush to flush the game. Even though you're ready for the birds to fly, you're not always facing the right way.
"The Dupont case?" Georgia asks.
Nikki steps in, "We have a lead or two, but we need to flush them."
Georgia nods, knowing where this is going, "Let me talk to Seth. I know his wife is out of town for a couple weeks visiting family so he gets bored at home alone. I'm sure I can bribe him... that is if you promise to pay up this time, Nora. The last time you had us back you and Dan up I never got my Tulane football tickets."
Ouch. I'd forgotten about that.
"I'll see what I can do, but the tickets might be nosebleed..." I start to promise but Nikki interjects.
"I can get you two sets of 50 yard line, no problem," Nikki says without missing a beat.
Both Georgia and I look at her. If you live in New Orleans, it's almost guaranteed you have to love "The Wave", the Tulane football team, so getting those good of tickets means you have access to season tickets.
Nikki looks back at me, giving me a slight smirk, rolling her eyes self-depreciatingly at the same time. "I'm an Alumni. They're always tossing free tickets at me."
She's being politic and not mentioning her Daddy, so I give her a little nod. The grateful smile she gives me is reward enough.
Coming from a family of cops, I understand how tough it must be for her. She's her own person and wants to stand on her own feet. I respect that.
Georgia gives us her promise that she'll talk to Detective Mitchell and moves off to her desk.
I look up at Nikki, still standing so close that our legs are touching. I can feel the heat through her slacks and it's oddly comforting, kind of like the hand on my shoulder this morning when we went to go see Charlie.
"You up for this tonight? I know you have dinner with your father," I ask. I'd forgotten about it until just now and I feel like a heel.
Warm, brown eyes look down and meet mine, "It's fine. Daddy and I get together a few times a month for either Lunch or Dinner. He'll understand since it's work." She pauses a moment then considers, "I know you suggested the stakeout, but did you have plans tonight?"
I shake my head ruefully, "My plans are usually a long, hot soak in the tub, alone. Maybe a glass or two of Bookers or 1972..."
Nikki interrupts, putting a warm hand on my forearm, her eyes wide with delight, "You my dear, have good taste."
Shrugging, I explain, "My granddaddy taught me about bourbon. He caught me drinking some Old Forester once and told me, 'Nora, you're the only person in this family with a decent taste bud and by god, I don't care if you are a girl, I'm going to teach you right.'"
Pausing, I smile at the memory and then slyly tell her, "I was 16 at the time. we still have 'drinking lessons' once in a while, when I go up to visit."
Nikki laughs, squeezing my arm before finally letting it go. "Good man. I'd like to meet him."
"He's up in Pointe Coupee Parish, outside of a little town called Fordouche. He comes down to New Orleans a few times a year. I'm sure he'd be tickled to meet you actually. He was the one who always pressured me to be a cop," I smile. I love my Granddaddy something fierce.
The brief respite is over and we've got to get this show on the road. Sighing, I lever myself up and look over at Dan. "Let's go face the lion's den and talk our fearful leader into approving stakeout time."
"The sooner the better. We've got to get you into that bath and a nice glass of bourbon to cool you off," Nikki says.
Now why in the world am I blushing at that thought?
Getting Dan to OK the extra man-hours was easier than we thought. He's been getting major pressure all day from Chief Harrison, the media calls, and the local neighborhood church. They all want answers, and thankfully he knows that we're trying to get them for him.
It's just a shame that there aren't that many answers to be had, just more questions.
There isn't any heroin at the crime scene, except that which was on Lizzy Dupont.
The mother won't tell us anything new, not even who it was that split her lip.
Ellie Dupont said that boyfriend is supposed to be in Mississippi, but the word on the street was otherwise.
Darius also mentioned that Simon is a courier and he's apparently missing his last shipment of heroin.
Vice hasn't heard of him, so there was no help from that source.
There were at least two people entering the house, one shooting the two grandparents and the little girl at the same time, with the second in the closet with the Lizzy.
Since we have unis at the initial location back in the 7th Ward, Nora and I are following a hit we got from his parole records. We're at a possible location for Daryl Stevens here in the Lower 9th that he gave his parole officer for his place of residence when he got out of jail a few months ago. And so we're here.
No one answers the door when we arrive. Typical. It looks like Simon Martins and Daryl Stevens are not making this easy for us. There's been absolutely nothing to see here for the last hour except for a dark house on a quiet street. And if he doesn't show up here soon, we're going to have to leave and head back to Algiers to take over from the unis that are on first watch.
Stakeouts can either be really boring or moderately dull. Once again, Nora Delaney seems to be the exception to that rule. She's actually fun on stakeouts.
Right now she's creating a row of circus animal origami and placing them on the dashboard of my Mustang. My favorite is the elephant so far, she's even made the tiny trunk curl up.
She's making what I think is a horse, but...
"Are you sure that is supposed to be a horse?" I ask, trying to sound innocently curious.
OK, maybe not so innocently-sounding as I hoped, because I get an eyeful as Nora glares at me. She's cute when she's perturbed. She's also cute when she's bored. Hell. OK, she's just cute. And gorgeous. Have I mentioned gorgeous lately?
But I'm being good. No flirting. Just business. Well, admiring her... craft skills probably isn't business, but sitting here for an hour now in the dark with only the sound of the rain constantly coming down on the roof of the car and our chatter back and forth, means I have to keep my mind busy.
OK. Time to be honest with myself. I'm actually more than just enjoying being here in the car with Nora. My partner. My gorgeous, smart, funny, and talented partner. Operative word being partner.
But it doesn't stop a small part of me wishing it were otherwise.
Yes, we're cops. I don't date cops. Too complicated. Sitting here, no matter how entertaining Nora is, is driving my thoughts into areas that would be better not contemplated.
Mind back on the game, Beaumont.
We've been doing word association for the last few minutes as she does her origami thing. It's keeping us awake. Sort of.
I still don't think that's a horse. It's not drooling after all.
Nora creases a line in the paper with the edge of her short, manicured thumb nail.
That's another thing that surprises me about Nora. She takes good care of herself, but doesn't overdo it. She enjoys being a woman, but has a touch of tomboy that suits her. Sure she looks tough and I'd love to see her in the locker room to see how tough, but the nails, her gorgeous hair, the makeup that's just right, and her outfits. All scream female, not 'I'm a big bad butch cop'. But she's got that natural toughness you don't see in most women. I bet she makes a great 'bad cop' in interrogations. It probably comes from being raised in a household full of boys.
I drag my eyes back to the doorway a block down, keeping an eye out for cars and pedestrians. We're using my car, since Nora and I both agree that the Mustang, while great eye candy, wouldn't be as noticeable as the El Camino.
"Horn." I start out the next round of our little mental game. I'm not really concentrating, just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. I guess that's the point.
"Cover blown," Nora replies.
I look over and give Nora a wry grin, which she returns rather sheepishly. "I can't help it."
Rolling my eyes dramatically so she can see, I turn back to watching the house.
This isn't working obviously. I'll have to get more... creative.
There's a long pause and I'm about to prompt her, when she replies, "Moustache."
I look back over to her. "Oh come on, Nora! Moustache?"
She's looking at me slyly and I realize I've been had. I smack her thigh with the back of my hand.
"What was your first answer?" I demand, suddenly very curious.
My eyes blink several times before I get the connection and look back into the rain.
"Well, well, well... it looks like you've been reprieved, Detective." I quip as I make sure my gun is positioned comfortably on my hip and my badge is visible on the opposite side.
"It's all about the timing, Detective," Nora says as she gets out of the car.
I'm with her only a heartbeat later, both of us walking fast down the sidewalk to the car that had pulled up into the driveway.
The rain makes good cover really. I can't count the number of times when I've gotten out of my car and not looked around quite thoroughly enough, just because I wanted to get out of the rain.
"Daryl Stevens?" Nora asks as we split up and flank him while he's busy grabbing something from the back seat.
The man pulls his front half out of the back seat and looks at my partner.
To say that he looks the part of a hardened street thug would be putting it mildly. It's not the tattoos, it's not the muscles, it's the look he's giving her. A look I do not appreciate in the slightest.
"Whatcha' want?" He demands, immediately on the defensive. He's seen the badge, and Nora's leather jacket rides up enough to show her gun.
"How about we go inside to talk?" I suggest, catching his attention. He glances behind him, straight at me and I smile.
"Well, I don't know about that... we can go up on my porch tho', to get outta the rain," he says, his eyes flicking back and forth between my partner and I.
I tense up, pushing the edge of my longer leather jacket back so it's tucked behind my gun. He's going to bolt.
Unfortunately, shooting an unarmed suspect is against the law. Even when they shoulder your partner away and into you, so you both go down in a mass of tangled limbs.
Nora isn't light, but thank god she's not heavy. She gets up off of me and like a shot is after him.
"Call it in!" she yells as I'm already getting my radio out.
It slows me down slightly, so instead I turn and head for the car.
Moments later I'm gunning the Mustang down the street, hitting the low beams and sliding around a corner after them. He's booking but I can see my partner running full out after him. She's quick, but his legs are longer. Daryl Stevens veers off after hitting the next block and vaults over a back fence. Nora gestures for me to go around the block to try and cut him off.
I'm already on it.
I hit the next corner, braking and turning the wheel so my car is in a controlled slide, then gun it again. Thank god no one sane is out in this downpour.
Well, except for me. I'm sane. Nora's sane. OK, mind on the mission, Beaumont.
I catch Daryl on the other side of the block as he's about to dart between two cars and out into the street.
Timing is critical, since I don't want to run him over or break anything important.
I hit the brakes just right and slam open my car door, right into our subject. Daryl goes flying into the street and I'm there, gun out, aiming straight for his body.
"Daryl, Daryl, Daryl... stupid idea. Don't move," I yell at him. He's laying on the ground groaning and gasping for breath.
American steel versus muscle bound man, 1 - 0.
Nora comes running up, not quite out of breath, drenched to the bone and looking pissed off.
"I brought you a present," I tell her cheerfully, not taking my eyes off him until Nora has him cuffed and sitting up, back against the bumper of my car.
"No gift wrap? No bow? Can I exchange him?" She asks, levering him up to his feet.
Daryl's compliant now. Good boy.
I can hear the sirens now through the rain.
"How about a gift certificate instead? Good for one hot bath, champagne and chocolates?" I shoot back, the adrenaline is still riding through my body. I holster my weapon and help turn Daryl over so he's face down on the hood.
Hmmm...I think a car detailing is in order tomorrow. I don't approve of faceprints on my car.
Nora leans back against the hood, and I do the same, both of us waiting for the unis to get here so we can get Daryl back to the precinct.
Turning her head up to the sky, Nora lets the rain wash her hair back.
"I don't know... more water? I think I'm already soaked enough," Nora objects, distractedly.
Neither of us are really thinking about what we're saying, we're just chatting, coming down from the adrenaline rush and the feeling of being alive and well.
"Oh honey, don't say that. A long, hot soak is just what the doctor ordered after this." I sigh as two marked police cars pull up, lights flashing.
I pull off my badge from my belt, Nora doing the same, showing them so the officers will see them before they even fully stop.
"Too bad we're just going to have to settle for a two minute shower in the locker room and a set of dry clothes," Nora replies and sticks her badge back on her belt.
I stand up straight and do the same, and mourn the dream, "Oh well, perhaps another time?"
"Rain checks are good." She starts searching Daryl's pockets.
"God, do you have to say rain?" I groan back.
Call me sadistic, but I like conducting interrogations.
It's somewhat like going to the movies.
You plan ahead first. What do you want to watch? What theater do you want to see it at? Who do you want to take?
Then after you've decided and bought your tickets you have to decide what kind of refreshments you want. Soda? Sugar Babies or Raisinets? How about popcorn?
Then it's seating. In the back? Front? To the side? By other people? Middle of the row? End?
After that is decided, you wait. Arguably the only boring part of the entire experience, the waiting. Even the ads going by get a bit dull after the first run through.
And then the lights dim, but you're not to the main event yet, you're at the build up, the hook to draw you back next time.
Finally, it's showtime. The action. The comedy. The drama. Either the movie ends predictably or with a surprise plot twist.
End of the show.
Interrogations aren't much different. There are a total of seven basic plots, be it a book, movie or an interrogation.
The only difference between an interrogation and the movie are the details and I don't get to have Jujubes while talking to suspects.
When we got back to the station, Nikki headed to the locker room while I set up Interrogation Room 1 and had Daryl brought in to wait for us. My partner was out by the time I got to take a turn at a quick hot shower and change of clothes.
He'd been waiting on us this entire time and a few more minutes wouldn't make much difference in the long run, because the movie had already started. It started when Nikki and I put him in the back of the patrol car and searched his car right there and then, so he could see us. After that, he was taken to the precinct to wait on us, all the while he knew we were searching his house.
When Nikki and I finally got back to the office, he'd been waiting in holding for a good two hours and there were still cops on scene going through his house more thoroughly.
Given plenty of water to drink. Alone in an interrogation room with only his guilty thoughts to keep him company. Nervous people need something to do with their hands generally and this is why we give them water or coffee to drink.
It may seem cruel when they're wiggling in their seats to go to the bathroom and no one answers the door when they pound to go out, but it's all a part of the plan.
I finally join Nikki in the observation room. Dan isn't there, but we've got a tech and Detective Herb Palmer is there to back us up in case my partner and I get in over our heads. Herb is a huge man and has stopped many a fight just by stepping up to the assailants. But if there was ever a man who acted the opposite of how he looked, Herb is it. Sweet as a baby, until you piss him off.
Nikki and I take our time going over the plan. This is her first interrogation as a detective. It's a whole different ballgame now.
Daryl is sitting quietly, fidgeting in his seat. He's already gone past the pounding on the door stage demanding the facilities. It's time.
I turn to Nikki, "Showtime, Detective. You know what to do?"
She turns to me, winks, and changes right before my eyes. The Southern flirt that I saw bring a bartender almost to his knees with just a few words is standing right before me. I can see it in her eyes. Half-lidded, a soft full-lipped lazy smile, and a different stance to her body that just screams, I'm going to take you for a ride, Cowboy. And you're going to like it.
Damn, I need to call Maintenance and get them to turn the heat down in here.
"I'm sure I can think of something, Detective. Never you fear," she drawls, leaning forward just slightly, showing off her...
I know I'm blushing and if I didn't know better I'd say that was a very throaty chuckle that is coming out of my partner.
"Just... go. God," I shake my head, smiling. Daryl Stevens is a goner and she hasn't even stepped in the room yet.
I wait for it, that moment when she comes in. I just stare at Daryl and look at his face, waiting. And sure enough, he proves again that men, no matter the background, race, creed, and probably even sexuality, are no match for a woman born and bred in the gentile South.
And she immediately shows she's on his side by giving him the one thing he needs right now that no one else has been willing to give.
Allow him to use the restroom.
When he comes back from being escorted by a uni, he's grateful. She is now good cop.
"So, Mr. Stevens... do you mind if I call you Daryl?" Nikki almost purrs out his name as she takes a seat across from him.
"O' course. What ever you wish, Ma'am."
I roll my eyes and smirk. He's so gone.
"I'm just a little confused, I'm not sure why you're here, Daryl," Nikki comments, indeed looking incredibly confused and vulnerable.
"Damn, she's good," Herb mutters from over at the video screen.
"She sure is," I reply, honestly in awe.
"You see, my partner thinks you may have had some... let's just call it, dealings of a rather shady nature?" Nikki shifts in her chair, sitting sideways, resting one arm on the back of her chair and the other on the table, giving him a decent side view of her as she continues to look at him earnestly.
There is no way I could ever pull that off. Hell, I could never pull off anything she was putting out right now. This is why I make a better bad cop. Although, I wouldn't say Nikki is a good cop right now, more like naughty cop. very naughty cop.
Mind on business, Delaney.
"Well..." Daryl shuts up.
"See, I'm just worried that you might think we're after you because of some past indiscretion, and really we're just looking for someone," Nikki supplies, pouring on her charm. "My partner is a tad... how shall I put it. Uptight."
"Got you pegged," Herb jokes.
"No more bagels for you, ever," I shoot back, not taking my eyes off Nikki.
A chuckle is my only answer from the Peanut Gallery.
I listen and watch Nikki work, trying to get Daryl to trust her, to let anything slip and finally when I think it's right, I move in.
Slamming the door open, I startle both Nikki and the suspect to jumping in their chairs. I give Nikki an obvious glare, and then turn my gaze on Mr. Stevens.
I pure every bit of distaste and anger I have about this case, into my eyes. My jaw is clenching and my lips are flat and pressed tighter than Dan with money, and I keep his eyes on me in silence for a good 30 seconds.
Then I walk up to the desk, tossing a folder down, and lean forward aggressively, ignoring my partner. My eyes are only on my victim.
Who wins in a cage match between a cobra and mongoose? More than likely it's the one without venom. I have sharp little teeth, Daryl.
"Mr. Stevens. I've got a deal for you. You tell me about the Duponts and I'll make sure you don't get the death penalty. Lethal injection may be peaceful, or so I hear, but you're still dead. Just like the Duponts," I pause and open the folder.
I have crime scene photos. Several of them. Big 8 1/2 x 11 inch glossy, hi-definition color photos. Digital photos can catch so much more detail than they could only a few years ago. And it's all right there for him to see.
Mr. Dupont is first. Supine on his bed, surprised in his sleep. The red of the blood is lurid, almost not real, but you can't get that color in movie special effects.
He's looking at them now, unable to resist. Good.
Mrs. Dupont is next. Sprawled on the bed, the hole in her neck so huge, it looks surreal. You look at it and think something is wrong with the photo. There shouldn't be a hole there. But there is.
Nikki speaks up now, talking soft and low. "Daryl, you see the problem here. We need your help. Where's Simon, Daryl?"
His fingers are clasped together tightly, like he's struggling to keep his cool, to keep calm.
So I throw out my last bit of bait. Here fishy, fishy.
The photos of Lizzy Dupont seem more real than the others, almost movie quality. She's there, laying in on the closet floor for the photographer and camera crew as if she's just gotten out of makeup. There's no hole, just blood. How can there be just blood with no damage? It feel so... fake. But all one has to do is look into those glassy eyes in the photo to know that it's real. All too real.
It's pure fury I see in his eyes as he looks up.
"That rat bastard! He killed ma' baby! Mah lil' girl!" he cries out in anger.
Well damn. The movie has a surprise plot twist.
It's dark and I'm running like a maniac through the pouring down rain. The night and the rain are obscuring my vision to almost arm's length.
Where is she?
My gun is drawn, but the flashlight I'm using is flickering in and out. Piece of...
What has it been? Three blocks? Four? A dozen? Shit. Where are you, woman?
And then she's right there, in front of me, with no one else in sight.
She's on the ground.
"Officer down!" I scream into my radio as I fling myself at her.
My knees hit the drenched ground, the cold water seeping through my jeans, but I couldn't care less. I reach down towards her, almost touching her face.
Is she breathing? She doesn't look like she's breathing.
Oh my god!
Then my alarm wakes me up with its incessant noise. I roll over and pound on it until it shuts up, eyeing the time with distaste.
Three hours of sleep.
And not a good three hours at that.
My mind veers away from the images of the nightmare which just awakened me. It's not the first time I've had one like this, since I've been on the force. With all the things I see day in and day out it's amazing I sleep at all some nights.
I lay quiet for a moment, my eyes closed, my body drenched in sweat. I hate sweating unless it's for a good reason, or person. And sweating when the weather is this humid, with the rain still pinging against the glass of my windows, seems wrong somehow.
Finally, I muster the energy to drag myself out of bed and into the shower.
Forty-five minutes later I'm out the door and driving back to work.
I pass Nora's car as I'm looking for a spot, oddly relieved by the sight of it. The dream must have affected me more than I would have thought.
When I finally make it through the door of the precinct and into the squad room I find Nora at her desk with a visitor.
Bobby Delaney's eyes widen in delight as he sees me. His reaction clues Nora in and she swivels in her chair to greet me.
"Hey, Partner," she says, a smirk on her face and eyes twinkling in delight. She's looking forward to seeing how I'm going to handle her brother.
Perhaps I should have called in sick.
Hi, Dan? My trigger finger is itching today and I want to prevent a shootout in the squad room, so I'm taking time off. Yeah, I'm going in to get a Cortisone shot for it. I should be fine in a couple of days.
"Good Morning," I smile at her serenely. Never let them see you sweat. Unless... OK, I think I went over that earlier. No sweating unless it's in the name of fun.
I look over to Bobby, "Officer Delaney. I'm surprised to see you here."
"It's Bobby. Please?" he begs, "Well, I just wanted to see if you were available for lunch today."
I have to admit, he's got an adorable smile. His stubbled head, smooth-cheeked face, and green eyes are a great package. But while I find him charming, I'm just not interested.
Nora's grinning big time, the punk, her green eyes sparkling just like her younger brothers. Now those eyes... Damn. I can just imagine a whole clan of Delaneys with those eyes.
I spend a long moment just looking at her, until she breaks the contact, clearing her throat to speak.
"Actually Bobby, we've got a couple of arrest warrants to handle today. I doubt we'll have time to meet you for lunch," she pokes him in the side. "Besides, I have it on good authority that Detective Beaumont doesn't like... lunch."
My heart is thudding so hard in my chest, I feel like I'm about to collapse. Making my way over to my side of the desk, I drape my long jacket over the back of my chair and have a seat.
Bobby, looking rather confused at Nora's comment, turns to glare at his sister. "Nora, you're such a brat. Everyone eats lunch."
I can't help it, I have to join in on Nora's fun. "Oh, I used to enjoy... lunch. But I gave it up for Lent and just haven't had it since."
A sharp bark of laughter escapes my partner.
"But Nora said you had lunch yesterday at Peter's..." he's interrupted by our bursts of laughter and looks even more confused for a second. Bobby's head starts swiveling back and forth between us before he gets a clue. "Oh, I get it. Inside joke?"
Smacking her brother's stomach with the back of her hand, Nora relents. "Yeah, Bobby. Inside joke. But really, I doubt we'll be able to make lunch."
"Nora likes lunch however..." I'm not willing to let it go just yet, enjoying the moment. The calm before the storm maybe? A bit of anxiety echoing over from this morning's dream? Who knows? Maybe I just love hearing Nora laugh.
"Well yeah, I've seen her have lunch a few times. She's not much of a breakfast gal though," Bobby mentions with a small smile for me, knowing it's a joke and that we're not going to let him in on it, but playing along to see our reactions.
Nora isn't laughing.
Her green eyes are looking at me, contemplating, measuring. She's smirking at me, but she answers Bobby, "Oh, but I might enjoy breakfast, Bobby. Our tastes mature with age after all. You used to hate tomatoes as a kid, now you love them."
I'm really glad I'm not drinking anything right now, because I'm sure I would have sprayed it over both desks at that moment.
I have no idea whether to laugh or just be stunned. Nora just doesn't play fair.
Bobby is a godsend, thankfully changing the topic of conversation, "So, Nora... have you told her about your jinx yet?"
"Huh?" Nora is still staring intently at me, with that little grin and not really paying attention, until what he says sinks in.
"No, Bobby. No." she says, veering her eyes from me up to her little brother.
He however, knows he's got good ammunition on her. He moves over a bit, to stand between both desks, closer to me. "You gotta watch out for my baby sister for the rest of the week. Nora has a bit of a..."
"Bobby." The warning is clear in Nora's voice, but I'm more than willing to let him interject into the odd tension I'm feeling.
"Jinx?" I ask with interest as I ease back my chair and cross my legs, making myself comfortable.
"No," Nora points a finger at me, "No egging him on!"
A very dangerous smile lifts my lips and I can tell she recognizes it as her head suddenly falls down to the top of her desk with a thud.
Bobby is enjoying the turnabout now, chuckling evilly at her then explaining. "Nora has a reputation for... trouble, when she gets a new partner."
A mumble comes from Nora, who is keeping her face planted on the desktop. I can't understand her comment and if her brother did he's ignoring it.
"Trouble? Nora? I don't believe it," I reply, my tone decidedly saying that I do believe it. I knew it on the first day.
"It's true! Ever since she joined the force, every partner she's had says that Nora gets into some kind of accident the first week that they get assigned to her," he explains. "The first time, just out of the academy, she broke her arm when she was walking down an alley."
Another mumble comes from Nora's direction.
"What's that?" I ask, really wanting to hear her comments.
Not that I believe a thing Bobby is saying, or rather, I believe that other people in the department think she's a jinx. Cops are superstitious people.
Nora looks up, a pained expression on her face, "It wasn't my fault."
Bobby keeps going, ticking off incidents with his fingers, "Wrecked a brand new police car. Two black eyes from perps. Blew up her computer."
"Not my fault," she repeats with a venomous look at her brother.
"And lets not forget when you hooked up with Dan," Bobby continued.
Interesting way to put it, even though Nora has said she and her old partner never had anything going on between them.
"Let's see, what was that again? Nora? Help me out here?" he asks with a shit-eating grin on his face.
If looks could kill, Nora would be short one brother right now.
"So what happened?" I ask, prompting my partner.
Her eyes look over to me, pinning me to my chair. There's a promise of pain in my future, which just makes my smile. I love finding out new buttons to push on her.
"I..." she mumbles the rest.
"I'm sorry? What was that?" I ask again. Come on, Nora.
"I fell into the lake," she grinds out the words.
OK, I can't help laughing. Obviously she's OK, but what I wouldn't give to have seen that. Nora wet... Wait. Stop. Stop right there.
"More like she was pushed off the end of the dock, and into the lake, by a little old lady," Bobby corrects, laughing his ass off.
"Funny boy. At least I won't have to worry about buying you a birthday present this year, since you won't see another year," Nora threatens.
Me? I'm laughing free and loud right along with him.
It's a great mental picture.
"Did she have a cane?" I get out between laughs, "Did you arrest her for being armed and dangerous?"
"Har. Har. Har." Nora grimaces and rolls her eyes at the two of us.
"No, but she had a granny cart," Bobby supplies, which just sets us off again.
"OK, that's it!" she growls and stands up, grabbing her jacket. "You two aren't allowed to be around each other ever again."
"Vroom. Vroom. Can I see your license for that vehicle, Ma'am?" Bobby gets a last verbal dig into his sister.
Nora makes a little funny face at her brother then turns to me, "We got our warrants. I know you're really enjoying this, but we have work to do."
Still chuckling, I grab my coat and slip it on. "See you later, Bobby. Great story!"
"Well, you just make sure she doesn't drive the car into the canal or something this time, huh?" he asks as he waves us off.
I join Nora in the hall and we start heading out. However, I can't quite resist giving her one more poke.
"So, did you give her a ticket?"
Ellie Dupont is a woman backed into a corner with nothing to lose. Backed into a corner of her kitchen with a knife out, keeping my partner and I at bay.
I am not amused.
Nora has her gun out but it's a standoff. Ellie isn't putting the knife down, but she's not swinging it at us either. If she does... I don't like to think about that; I have bad memories of the only time I had to shoot my gun at a suspect.
I'm right there with Nora, off to her side, my Glock out and trained on Ellie as well.
"Ellie... you need to put the knife down," I say calmly, trying to catch her eye. She's high. Her eyes are red and the pupils constricted. Her nose is runny and she doesn't look like she's taken a bath in days, even though we saw her the day before. Her bruises from yesterday are lurid against her pale, sweaty skin.
We'd entered the house after knocking and stating we had a warrant to search the premises. Since the door was unlocked and we had heard someone inside, we'd entered, but Ellie was not willing to cooperate.
Knowing that I had her covered, Nora holds out her right hand, imploring with the woman to surrender.
"Ellie, listen to me," Nora pleads softly. "Put the knife down... that's it."
Letting the knife clatter to the kitchen floor, Ellie begins to howl, crying out her daughter's name again and again.
I kick the knife out of the way as Nora hostlers her weapon and proceeds to cuff her.
Now that Ellie Dupont is secured, I call in to dispatch to get the house secured.
Nora searches her, slipping her long sleeves up and pointedly looking at the needle tracks Ellie has been hiding.
I read her her Miranda Rights from memory, but doubt she's really paying attention as she continues to sob. When she starts to collapse in Nora's arms, I help my partner move her to the living room to sit down on the sofa, then we begin to question her.
The reality that she'll be going to jail sets in and she starts talking.
"It was Simon... I wanted to get away. Take Lizzy and just start over," Ellie explains between sobs. "I knew where he hid the heroin, and took it... I was going to sell it and take Lizzy..."
"And?" I prompt.
"I took it and hid it at my parent's house when I dropped Lizzy off to stay the night. I thought I had time..." she replies as she rocks back and forth on the couch. "He threatened to kill me and Lizzy. He was just so mad. I told him where it was and we went over to the house..."
She pauses and sniffles, tears and snot running down her face. "He forced open the door when I wasn't unlocking it fast enough for him. I ran to Lizzy's room. Simon must have heard some noise from my parents' room... He was so angry," she repeats in a long drawn out wail.
"Then what happened?" I ask, wanting her to say the words out loud.
"He shot them... I had brought Lizzy into the closet, thinking I could hide her, and that's where I'd hidden the stash, in a bag. I grabbed it... And then Lizzy... right there in my arms."
Ellie collapsed onto the couch in hysterics, inconsolable in the knowledge that she was responsible for her daughter's death.
"Where is he?" Nora demands harshly.
"He'll kill me," Ellie cries then just sits there saying Lizzy's name again and again.
Several uniformed officers arrive and Nora and I spend the next few minutes having them start the search on the property and arrest Ellie Dupont.
Several hours later we come up empty-handed except for a small amount of cut heroin sitting next to her kit, which Ellie apparently had been using just prior to our arrival.
"Call Darius," Nora asks me as we get back into her car to go back to the station. The rest of the unis are finishing up at the scene and Ellie is back at the station, being monitored by EMTs as she sleeps it off in a jail cell.
I watch the rain still continuing to fall as I hit speed dial and wait for him to answer.
God, the rain.
The river is swollen, which is a sight to see, since the Mississippi is not a small river. It's swelling to its banks, barely held back by numerous canals and barriers across the city. Even Lake Pontchartain is rising.
"Hey, Darlin'. What's up?" Darius' voice is a pleasant relief compared to the last few hours. He sounds like he's somewhere crowded, voices chatting all around him, bleeding over into the cellphone.
"Any new word on where Simon Martins is? we're running out of options here, Darius," I ask, not wasting a moment. I don't mean to be rude, and I know Darius understands.
"I'll see what I can dig up, but no promises," he replies. He knows how important this is and he's doing the best he can.
"Thanks, Darius. Get back to me as soon as you can."
I hang up and sigh. "Nothing new, but he'll ask around."
Nora slams her hand against the hard surface of her steering wheel. "Well, we've got a warrant out for his arrest and put out an APB. Maybe we'll get lucky."
"No car registered to him. No known address..." I counter, not trying to be pessimistic, but just stating facts.
Nora makes a frustrated sound. "And we've had that address on Roberts watched. Nothing. We'll get the warrants and then go search the house."
I'm looking forward to dinner tonight with Nikki. We both could use a break from the case and wind down. It's been since dinner with the family that I've had a normal meal and it'll give us a chance to get to know each other out of the squad room.
Now however, we're driving over to a house off Royal, based on a tip from Darius. The search warrant for the house on North Roberts was a bust. No drugs. No Simon Martins or hint where he might be. Georgia and Seth were there going over the contents of the house more thoroughly. I'll have to remember about those football tickets to show them I appreciate the time they're giving.
"Oh come on, you don't really believe that?" Nikki looks at me with disbelief, continuing our chat.
I shake my head, trying to keep my face straight. "Why not? Sandra Bullock made a great witch."
"Oh I'm sure," she replies sarcastically. "And I bet you think 'Murder by Numbers' was a believable murder mystery?"
My lips tremble slightly, it's getting harder not to laugh at the incredulous look on her face. "Well, maybe not 'Murder by Numbers', that whole foot thing she did with Ben Chaplin's character kind of grossed me out."
Nikki laughs at that, "OK, I'll grant you that. But I can't believe you think 'Practical Magic' was better than 'Hocus Pocus'!"
Finally I can't hold it back anymore and I laugh at her. She doesn't seem too amused at first, but finally joins in with a chuckle.
"I would totally pay to see a witch versus witch movie starring Sandra Bullock and Bette Midler," Nikki says, then pauses, "Although, I think I change my mind... Sandra is way hotter than the Bette Midler. It wouldn't be a fair contest."
Nikki and I are talking about fictional witches of Hollywood with an easy familiarity usually born of months or years together.
I wonder if Lindsay Lohan could be considered a fictional witch of Hollywood?
Nikki starts up a new thread of conversation, "So, which would you kiss? Matthew McConaughey or Keanu Reeves?"
I think on it a moment, "Matthew McConaughey, in a 'A Time to Kill'."
A hum of appreciation comes out of her, "He did make a good Southern Lawyer."
I shrug. "Neither are really my type though."
Turning slightly in her seat, but still keeping an eye out on traffic. I know she's nervous letting me drive her car again, switching cars after we hit the precinct earlier, but I like that she's trying to show her trust me in.
Nikki asks curiously. "What is your type?"
"Now that's the 20 million dollar question," I reply cheerlessly. "What I want, versus what my Daddy and brothers want, versus what my Mama wants me to have."
"Well, who did you date last?"
"Mark Hannor, an EMT I met on the job," I supply easily enough. The wounds of that relationship healed relatively quickly. "I wasn't what he was looking for and he knew he wasn't what I wanted. Neither of us were really happy, we only dated about a month. He said that dating a cop made him wonder if I'd be the body on the scene when he arrived."
"That's harsh," she whispers across the car.
I smile at her, "It was for the best, trust me. I've always wanted to be a cop, but I've never really wanted to be just someone's wife and mother. I know the two aren't mutually exclusive, but..." It's hard to explain. Hell, I don't even understand it all myself.
"I dated through high school and college, but when I joined the force, everything changed," I try to explain but I don't have to, Nikki knows.
"But civilians just don't understand," she supplies.
I turn the question around on her, curious to what her answer will be. If it was hard finding someone acceptable to date as a cop, as a lesbian it would be even harder.
Surprisingly, Nikki laughs, "Well, it's hard for me as well. The girl bar scene... well, lets just say that they're confused by me. Here I am, a cop, but I'm not 'butch'. And I've never really associated with the people my age in society circles after I graduated from the first four years at Tulane... You'd be surprised at what those people do for fun."
"That's right, you said you were an Alumni," I remember, noting that she had said "those people".
"I stayed onto Law School, studying Criminal Law, just like Daddy had hoped I would, but I refused to take the bar. Instead I joined the police academy."
"Damn," I say, duly impressed. It makes sense now how she went straight from uniform to SCU. "I think I have a superiority complex now." I tell her jokingly, a wink letting her know I'm kidding.
"Well, you should. I minored in superiority," she quips and winks back. "It's just a piece of paper. Hell, I've learned more in these few days working with you than I did during all those years of college."
"Well, at least your Daddy knows he got his money's worth," I reply back. "So you don't go to girl bars..."
"Oh I didn't say that. It always seems rather forced to me," Nikki corrects. "I just don't do the whole 'pick up scene' and it's not like I can find a date on the job..."
"Why not?" I interrupt. "I know you have a 'no cop' policy, which is a good thing in my opinion, but why?"
She's silent for a few breaths and I get to thinking that I stuck my foot in my mouth again. But then she replies in a tone that definitely makes me wish I hadn't asked, "My first partner asked me out once. He knew who my Daddy was, of course, it's not something that I can really hide in this town. I was still high from having a badge and being in uniform, boy did I get over the love of the uniform quickly. But I wasn't attracted to him and he spread it quickly that he had indeed 'sampled my treats' as he put it, and it spread like fire in the squad room."
My teeth are grinding. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a fact of life, doubly in a male dominated workforce like ours. "What did you do?"
A truly smug smile sprouts on her lips as she says, "I told his wife."
After we laugh at that a few moments, she continues, "No, I don't date cops. It's just asking for trouble." Her voice trails off and we sit like that for minutes, until we come up to the address.
Fifteen Minutes Later...
I never expected I'd live to a grand old age, spending my last days in a rocking chair out on the front porch, telling all my grandnieces and nephews about my thirty years on the force. Spinning tails that got wilder on each telling.
No, I never much expected to live a long life.
But I never thought go to out like this. Struggling against a torrent of water, trapped in a car, and hearing an angel's voice screaming at me.
As everything fades to black and the cold of the Mississippi river blankets me, one last thought goes through my mind.
I guess I won't be making dinner for Nikki.
15 minutes earlier.
I'm still annoyed that Nora thinks Sally Owens could best Winnie Sanderson in a magic duel. Some people just have no taste in movies.
I get out of the car, putting the search warrant in an inside pocket to keep it out of the rain.
Damn. I realize New Orleans is in the middle of its rainy season, but this is getting to be a bit much. I hate having wet, scraggly hair.
I wait for Nora to meet me on this side of the car before I start walking towards the house we're here to search. I take one last look at my car, then nudge Nora playfully.
"Not a scratch."
Nora nudges me back with a sharper elbow, "What? You want me to ding it for you?"
"No. No," I forestall her with a smile. "It's quite all right. I'm just teasing. You're a perfect driver."
Nora looks over at me with a look that says she knows I'm full of it.
"Damn..." she grabs at my elbow and slows us down. "Look over to your right. The backyard... is that?"
I casually look. The sun is almost an hour away from setting, but with the heavy clouds and rain, it's making visibility really tough to get a good view of him.
Simon Martins. Or at least it could be from the description we have of him. Considering we're a couple houses down from our targeted address, the likelihood is that it's him. It looks like he's going through all the backyards, away from his house, and since he's not taking the sidewalk out front, he must know the house is being watched.
"Go behind him, I'll try to cut him off." Nora tells me as she pulls her Sig Sauer. Still gripping my arm with her right hand, she squeezes it for a split second.
"Be careful," she says before moving back the way we came.
"You too," I whisper back, hoping she hears me. Pulling my own weapon into a 2-hand grip, I move quietly between two of the houses, along the wall of the one he disappeared behind.
No fences between these houses, just bushes and trees. The rain both helps and hinders me. I can't hear worth a damn but he can't hear me either.
Taking a low position at the corner, I ease around and search the yard. I don't see him.
Then I spot a flash of white through the bushes between this house and the next.
I follow the lines of the house, keeping my back to the wall, stepping over a child's bike and around the back stairs.
I spot Nora.
I'm there kneeling next to her before I even realize I've moved.
"Nora?" I whisper and place a hand on her back. She's stirring, getting her knees up underneath her.
Sliding my hand up her back, I move her hair to the side so I can see her face better.
She's a little red in the face and breathing heavily, almost gasping for air.
"He... knocked the wind... outta me... damnit," Nora gets the words out, "Go after... him. I'll be right behind you."
She's sounding better and she has her gun still. I'll trust her judgment on this.
"Call dispatch," I tell her as I stand up. "Which way did he go?"
She jerks her head to the right, along the line of backyards. I disappear behind some bushes, following his trail with only the sound of the rain and her voice, as she speaks into the radio, to accompany me. Soon, even that's gone and it's me and Simon in the half-dark.
I'm startled out of my wits when the back door of the next house slams open, revealing a mother and child about to exit. We're shocked to see each other, but when they notice my gun their faces change to fear.
"Police. Go back inside. Lock the door," I tell them just loud enough for them to hear. The mother immediately obeys, pulling her child back indoors and locking up, while I continue after Simon Martins.
The end of the block is coming up and if I don't see him, that's going to be the end of it. Dogs won't be able to catch his trail in the rain and...
My thoughts stall as the sound of a vehicle starts up. It's close by and I start to run, hoping it's him but also praying it's not. I can't chase a car on foot.
Running out of the last yard into the street I spot him. So close... and yet so far away as he guns it out of my reach.
As I'm holstering my weapon and memorizing the plates, I'm startled by the sudden roar of a very familiar car.
Nora screeches to a halt beside me and I climb in.
Grabbing the radio from her, I call in to dispatch advising units to take over the search in the area and put out an APB on the license and make of the car I believe the suspect is in.
"Buckle up!" Nora orders as she makes a hard turn, slowly gaining on the retreating vehicle.
"SCU32. All units advise, suspect is turning north onto Caffin," I click off the talk button and buckle up.
I pull an old fashioned blue rotator police light from under my seat and plug it into the cigarette lighter. Then rolling down the window, I reach up, letting the powerful magnet clamp it tight to the roof. The strong flashing cut through the dim late afternoon light.
Finally, opening the glove box, I pulled out a small siren hooked into the car system, flipping the switch to full wail.
"Well damn. You came prepared," Nora notes as she goes around a car that has pulled over. We're right behind our suspect now, but he's not slowing down. While a light and siren is a good preventative measure so that civilians don't get hurt, it makes it easier for the perps to keep going as well.
"Hold on!" she yells as she slams on the brakes and then the gas again, turning West.
My shoulder slams into the car door as we take the corner hard. I find myself screaming into the radio, "SCU32. Suspect has just turned West onto Florida. He's aiming for the bridge. I need a unit to block that access NOW!"
"Good call," Nora says almost absently, her focus on the car in front of her and the civilians around her.
I unconsciously groan as we speed along and I can hear a sort of evil chuckle come out of her before she says, "Don't worry Nikki. I'm not going to crash your car."
A bark of laughter escapes me. I can't believe she's thinking about that. It was actually the furthest thing... OK, nearly the furthest thing from my mind. "I don't care about the car!" I hiss out as we barely miss the front end bumper of a car coming southbound through an intersection.
I think I can hear other sirens now, but I can't see a single marked car.
Then up ahead, only four to five blocks up, I spot the access to the small bridge that would take us over the canal. The flashing red and blue lights of a marked car are a welcome sight.
"They've got someone blocking him from the bridge," I yell at Nora over the blaring lights.
"That's good... damnit!" Nora cusses in frustration as our fleeing suspect turns right, taking the last street before the bridge. It's not even a street really, turning immediately into gravel. I don't know this area well.
I was about to give out our new position on the radio when the words are driven from my lungs as Nora takes another almost immediate left.
I realize with horror that this is NOT the way we want to go, that Simon is either lost or just plain stupid.
Thick sheets of rain.
Near total darkness.
High speed vehicles.
End of the road.
All of these things mean that my warning is too late.
Simon goes off the end of the gravel dead-end street and through the barrier like it's nothing. Braking through grass and mud is just as ineffectual as he goes off the end of the small strip of land and launches into the air.
I drop the radio and brace my arms in front of me.
It's either Nora or I yelling. Maybe both. I know she's pumping the brakes, trying to gain control before we end up following Simon to the end. But it's too late. The dead-end left turn off of Harbor road is short. Too damn short. And goes straight into a shipping canal.
We've already passed the barricade and are skidding sideways... There's a chance we might slow down. No. We spin around, the back-end tottering over the edge.
I look back as I hear Nora fuming, cussing, trying to get my baby moving any way but the way it looks like we're going to end up.
The Mississippi is swollen like a fat leech. Filling the canal to nearly overflowing. I can see the tail lights of our suspect's vehicle disappearing under the roil of water further out.
As I reach for the radio, we tip and start to fall.
The river is so swollen that what would normally be a 7-8 foot section of canal is closer to 15 feet. I don't even want to guess how deep it is where the other car went down.
The back-end of my car hits first, then we slide in until the front of the Mustang hits the water. We're only feet from the edge of the overhang, but it's still underwater.
"SCU32... in the water at the dead-end off Harbor Road... Suspect in the water..." I start yelling into the radio as I try and unbuckle my seat belt.
Nora is already working on hers. The water is rushing into the car but she's smart and has already rolled down her window.
Feet. Calves. Already underwater. It's going faster.
"Get out, Nora!" I scream as I click off the seat belt and shrug out of my jacket. Off with the Sudini ankle boots I just got last week from Ballins. The pressure of the water on my door is making opening it almost impossible, so just as the water starts to seep over the car hood, I pull myself out through the window. As soon as my feet are through, I turn, looking at Nora fully expecting her to have gotten out by now.
"NORA!" If there's a frantic edge to my screaming, I'm sure anyone listening would have understood. Unfortunately, we're alone and Nora's about to go under.
What seems like seconds later I'm frantically scrabbling over the only part of the car even visible above water, the roof.
"DAMNIT, NORA!" I scream and thrust myself underwater where I know her window is.
My hand brushes hers in the water, floating up through the open window. Reaching up only an inch away from fresh air.
I grab her arm, pulling myself along her body, reaching through the window and down to her waist. She's utterly limp now, but I can't think about that... will not think about that... Damn you, Nora!
I can't see a thing. The Mississippi is dark water on a good sunny day, right now it's pitch black at twilight.
How long have I been under? All I can feel is the car finally settling on the soft bottom, Nora's limp body swaying against my head and arms and that damn seat belt.
Then, finally the clasp gives. I yank Nora up out of the seat and through the window with my lungs almost bursting from the need for air.
I've only been four, maybe five feet, from the surface, but I wasn't going to fill my lungs until Nora was out.
Dragging Nora's limp body over the settled car, I catch my breath as I continue my way to the shore.
I pull her up on... well, not dry land, but at least it's not underwater.
I press against her diaphragm pushing out water.
"Damn you Delaney! Get your ass back here!" I scream at her, pushing more and more dark water out of her lungs.
"You are not a damn jinx! Do you hear me!" My heart is pounding as I yell at her. I search for a pulse.
Suddenly, Nora coughs violently, spasming and turning over onto her side to spew out more water and take in air.
I collapse forward, my forearms on the ground and my forehead resting on the wet earth as I begin trembling with reaction to all the adrenaline in my body.
Damn. That was way too close, I decide. Daddy? Can I go home now? The other kids aren't playing nice and I want a nice hot bath. Please?
I force myself back up and reach out to Nora, patting her a bit forcefully on the back since I don't know what else to do. It's a few moments before she's got her breath. Pulling herself up into a sitting position she rests her arms on her knees and looks at me. Sirens are close. I can see the police lights cutting through the dark above us.
Damn, she looks horrible. But oddly good wet. Sweet Jesus what a time to have such a thought.
She's pale and looks like hell, but she's alive.
Her green eyes are just staring at me, thanking me, but she also seems a tad annoyed.
"What's wrong?" I ask, leaning close, wrapping an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to me to warm her up. Leaning my head against hers, I can feel her trembling, whether from the cold or from reaction, I can't guess.
Probably both, since I'm shaking as well. Water is running down my face and I'm not altogether sure that's it's only the fresh water of the Mississippi.
"You need to get that damn seat belt fixed, Nikki," she croaks out.
A bark of laughter escapes me, I can't help it. She obviously doesn't see the irony, but I'm more than happy to point it out to her.
"Sugah, my seat belt isn't the only thing that needs fixing in my car now."
Nora leans her head back from mine, looking at me eye-to-eye and says almost cheerfully, "This means we get to take my car around now, doesn't it?"
I smile at her. She's going to be all right. She's going to be all right. I let the mantra go through my head a few times before I let out a big, shaky breath. "Well sure, but if you think you're driving, you're sadly mistaken. And if you think this little mishap is going to get you out of dinner tonight..."
Damn she looks cute when she's outraged.
I hate nurses.
I hate needles.
I hate doctors.
I hate hospitals.
And not necessarily in that order.
I'm bored and aggravated.
I let yet another deep breath out for the ER doctor who's attending me. "Are you happy now?" I ask him. OK, I'm snippy. But come on. I have things to do. I'm alive.
"No. I'm not happy, thank you for asking," he mutters behind me. "Breathe."
I am breathing. Can't you tell?
"Nora. Behave," my partner says, looking as concerned now as she did when she pulled me out of the drink.
Letting out a little sigh first, to show that I am not fully caving to either of them, I give him what he wants, a big, deep breath so he can check my lungs.
"Well, you sound only slightly congested, but considering you were that close to drowning, it could be worse. The x-rays of your chest and ribs came back clean as well," the young doctor looks smug, like he pulled off my good health all on his own.
"So, I'm fine," I announce. "I'm going home."
"I don't suggest..."
It's Nikki who interrupts, "She can rest at home, right? No head injury. Just bruising from the steering wheel and bruised lungs from the... near drowning."
I look at her closely as she says the final words. Nikki isn't looking at me right then, but speaking directly to the doctor. Pure cop face.
Her eyes are what's bothering me. Haunted is the only word I can think of to describe them.
It's been a little over an hour since our swim in one of the canals just off of Old Man River and our arrival at St. Claude Medical Center.
"Yes. As long as someone stays with her to watch over her," the doctor acquiesces. "Sign this... and this... and yes, that... OK... you're obviously familiar with the forms... sign... yes... yes..."
It finally ends and I'm free to leave.
I jump off the table and grab the clear plastic bag holding my wet clothes. Nikki has my more valuable effects. Gun and badge included.
"Let's go!" I start walking through the curtain around the exam area, but my partner pulls me back in.
"You might want to get dressed first," Nikki points out with an amused smirk on her face.
OK, maybe waltzing out with my rear compartment out for all to see would be bad.
Nikki has already changed out of her soaked clothes, having commandeered scrubs for both of us. Unfortunately, while I would have loved to have worn them, the hospital staff required me to put this drafty thing on.
"I knew that," I try to keep a straight face. "I was going to change..."
"Just get dressed Nora, before everyone gets here," Nikki says sliding the curtain back to let the doctor out.
When she made to follow him, I stopped her, "Stay."
She freezes for a second, then lets the curtain drop and turns to me. "Hmm? Not going to change? If Dan arrives before we get you out of here..." Nikki leers suggestively. "I'm sure he'll enjoy the sight."
Rolling my eyes I get the scrub bottoms on without a problem. It's when I have to reach behind and untie the ties to the gown that I run into a small issue.
"I need help," begging silently with my eyes for her not to argue, then turn back around.
It's a long few seconds before I feel her warm fingers brush against my skin and untie the two ties.
"I thought you said you were fine?" Her voice is low, close, and very concerned.
A shiver travels through my entire body. Damn hospitals never keep it warm enough in here.
I pull off the gown, my back still to Nikki and then move my arms through the scrub top. Unfortunately, I can't reach my arms up high enough to finish the job.
"Nikki. Please. My ribs are sore. Not broken. You heard the doctor. Please, just help me get home? I'll be fine in a couple of days. He gave me painkillers, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotics. I'll be able to open my own pharmacy, if I want to retire from the force," I try to jest. I'm standing here with my hands sticking out of this damn shirt but I can't lift it over my head.
"Please, just help me get this damn thing on?" I look at her over my shoulder. The anxiety for me is radiating from her in waves. "Please? I promise I would stay if it was anything important."
Her arms reach over my shoulder and gently help me raise my arms up just enough to get my head in. She helps finish dressing me and then reaches into my bag for my shoes.
Coming around in front of me, she kneels down and helps me slip them on, untied. Just enough to keep my feet from ripping up on the pavement. They're still wet and nasty, but I'm glad I didn't wear nicer shoes today. Fortunately I had worn a pair of tennis shoes that I could throw out without a shred of guilt.
I look down and notice Nikki's wearing a pair of hospital slippers.
"Nice shoes. Sax?" I tease her as she gives me a pat on the leg and stands up.
Nikki reaches out a hand and brushes my bangs out of my face.
"Come on, Trouble, lets get you home. I'll call a cab," she ushers me out of the exam room and right into...
"Hi, Daddy. Mama," I gulp. "Everyone."
The next thirty minutes are insane. Even my sister-in-laws are dutifully concerned. Hell, they even brought flowers. And then there's Dan.
We move everyone out to a private waiting room while Dan and my parents proceed to grill the poor doctor who looked at us both. The only constant is Nikki, who meets and greets everyone with a smile. She's all charm that one. I think I'll keep her.
With Nikki assuring everyone that the incident isn't as bad as it sounds, that the doctor is releasing me... OK, not willingly, but still releasing me... they finally calm down enough to let me escape.
"OK. I'll take you home, Nora," Bobby offers, but Nikki interrupts.
"Take us both, please? Someone has to stay with her. And we both have to rest at least a day," Nikki asks, looking at me.
OK, if I don't let her stay over, she's going to press the ribs issue. If I don't let her stay over, I might have to put up with Mom, heaven forbid Bobby... No way in hell I'd let Dan stay over.
Nikki versus Everyone Else.
I think I'll take Nikki Beaumont for a thousand, Alex. Far less stress. I don't even hesitate with the answer, even though she's only been my partner on the force for a few days.
Dan gives us two days off to recuperate. The paperwork can wait since they have to pull the cars out of the canal and drag the river. The only thing he'd tell us about that was that our suspect wasn't in the car, but the heroin was.
It's another half hour before Bobby pulls up in front of my house. I've spent the time in the backseat with Nikki, leaning over, resting my eyes. It's not even late, but I'm tired. Thankfully, the painkillers are working wonders.
On the eight day God made painkillers and it was good.
"Wow. You have..."
Blinking from the weird thoughts my mind was wandering off to, I look up at my house and smile at Nikki's profile.
"I keep telling Nora that she shouldn't have bought it. In this state? It'll float away one day, mark my words," Bobby says as he gets out, opening the back door for me.
"I like it. It won't float away," I argue. "It's perfect."
Climbing out gingerly, I ignore Bobby's eye on me. He can tell I'm sore, but we're cops. I've seen him still on duty after being kicked in the thigh by Sheila, his horse.
Nikki is already out of the car and waiting for me at the trunk, taking my hospital bag of clothes before I can even reach for them after Bobby unlocks it. She's fast, doesn't even let Bobby get take it for her.
We walk down the long gangplank that leads to the houseboat off at the end of it. Nikki hands me my keys and seconds later we're inside and I'm sinking down into the huge sectional couch in my living room and kicking off my ruined shoes.
The view from the couch is straight across from the huge sliding glass door.
All I can see is water, the reflection of myself on the couch, and more water.
Water. Rising above my head. My breath knocked out of me by the steering wheel. No air in my lungs. No air...
A warm hand lands on my shoulder and squeezes gently.
Nikki leans close from behind me and whispers. "It's OK. You're alive. You're OK."
I shudder in reaction and try to pull it together. My brother is still here after all. He's good at keeping my secrets, but this is something I don't even want him knowing. I don't need him to see me break down.
"Hey Bobby?" Nikki speaks before I get a chance to. "Can I borrow your phone? Ours are toast. I need to make a few calls."
I can see her in the reflection, but not her face. She's switched hands on my shoulder so she can talk to him, keeping a connection with me, to calm me. Reassure me.
I listen to her on the phone as she calls her Daddy. Dan hadn't called her emergency contact, since the officers on scene had only called me in as being carried away by ambulance. He's concerned, I can tell by her reactions, but he seems reassured by her explanations.
Darius however is another matter. After only a minute of talking to Darius, my partner hands me the phone with a soft look. "He wants to talk to you."
Raising my eyebrows in surprise I take the phone gingerly, half expecting him to already be screaming at me.
"Hello?" I clear my throat and greet him. "Darius?"
"Nora! Thank god, you're OK. I couldn't get a hold of either of you..."
"Umm... our phones got a little wet," I say, chagrined.
"A little wet?! Girl, you almost drowned!"
Yep, there was yelling.
"It's OK, Darius. Nikki's fine. Honest. She only went for a little dip," I try to reassure him.
"Girl, I know that. I was worried for you too. After I gave you that information... I thought... when I heard the news... Jesus. I almost got you killed," Darius says the last hoarsely.
"Shhh. It's OK. You got us what we needed. Thank you. And we're fine. We're both fine. Really," I say as I smile up at Nikki. She's still got that soft, vulnerable look on her face. She's not the only one about to break down apparently.
"Hey, Nikki wants to talk to you? How about you come over for lunch tomorrow? I have some red snapper I was going to grill tonight but..." I let it trail off, the explanation is obvious.
"Heh. OK. But you take care of yourself, you hear. I mean it!" he demands just before I hand the phone back to Nikki.
"Yeah? OK. Do me a favor though? I need some clothes... OK. No, tomorrow is fine, I'm sure Nora has something I can wear tonight. I'm staying at her place to keep an eye out on her. Bobby says she goes all Looney Tunes when she takes painkillers," she winks at me.
"What? I do not!" I mock-protest, knowing she's trying to lighten the mood. Bobby is chuckling in the background, trying not to listen in on the conversation. I realize that he might think Nikki and this Darius have something going on and I almost laugh at his facial expression. Awwww...
Nikki finishes her calls and hands the phone back to my brother.
"Hey Bobby, have someone bring over my car tomorrow? You have that extra set, right?" I ask him, not trying to be obvious, but I want him gone. I'm fading again.
"No problem, Nora. I'll have it brought over in the afternoon," he answers, taking a moment to step closer to me and placing his hand on my unoccupied shoulder. Nikki hasn't let go yet. I'm not entirely sure if this is just for my own benefit now.
"Take care of yourself, lil sis," he leans down and kisses me on the cheek, then ruffles my hair.
Like my hair needs more chaos added to it after the day I've had.
"Big sis," I correct him.
"You're littler than I am," he smugly replies before turning to Nikki. "Take care of my sister... and yourself. Night Ladies."
"Good night, Bobby," Nikki says as she releases my shoulder and follows him to the door.
"G'night, Bobby," my words reach him just as he exits. He ducks back in for a second to wink at me, then he's gone. Nikki locks the door after him.
"You didn't have to stay, you know," I slide over and lay down on the couch. I can't bear to look out the glass doors, so I lay on my back.
"It's OK. I don't mind," Nikki assures me as she comes to my side of the couch, blocking the doors from my sight.
"You should take a shower," she advises. "All that nasty water."
Her eyes are such a deep brown.
I remember thinking they remind me of Belgian chocolates, the really expensive kind that you buy small amounts of so you eat them slowly. Savoring each nibble as it melts on your tongue.
When was that? Oh yeah, only days ago. When she walked into the squad room for the first time.
I never even notice when I fall asleep.
The cool breeze is what wakes me up from my nap.
I look around the small living room of her boat house and spot the sliding glass doors open. I also spot the bag with all of her wet clothes thrown about haphazardly.
OK, nothing to worry about, Beaumont. She got a couple hours of sleep and woke up, so she must be around here somewhere. Check the obvious places first.
Throwing back the afghan I had tucked around me not too long after Nora had passed out and I had taken up a watchful eye over her, I unfurl myself from the recliner and head outside.
I can see her out in the dark, the low glow of the one light from inside just barely touching her.
Nora's standing there, arms bracing herself against the railing, just staring out into the dark. With the water less than a foot away.
Reaching out hesitantly, I slide my fingers over her left shoulder, hoping I don't startle her. I'd really rather not have to do another water rescue tonight.
She's so still, that she doesn't even react to me. It's... disconcerting.
"Nora?" Too loud to be a whisper, my voice cuts through the night. It's so quiet out here. No traffic. No birds. Just the slap of water against the pontoons and logs under us.
Turning her head she looks at me... my heart just hurts at the look. She seems so lost.
"Hey," Nora greets me, her voice hoarse.
I slide my arm along her shoulders and stand next to her, giving her a companionable one-armed hug. A small smile tugs at the corner of her lips in response.
"What are you doing out here?" I ask her, seriously wondering at her state of mind.
"I can't find my..." she clears her throat and ducks her head in embarrassment.
"What? What can't you find?"
"My medallion," she whispers softly.
Oh. I hadn't even noticed when they'd removed everything from her at the hospital. Going back over those hectic few minutes in my head, I cataloged everything that I'd been given. All of her clothes had gone into the plastic bag and they'd given me the wallet out of her jeans, her keys, her badge, and her gun.
There hadn't been anything else. Damn.
"It wasn't with you when they took everything off to examine you. I'm sorry." All I can do is apologize for her losing a precious item like her Saint Michael's. Not precious as in monetary value, but in personal worth. Her father had given it to her, along with her car, when she'd entered the academy. Sort of a family tradition.
And now it was gone.
I let a sigh escape and suggest, "Maybe we'll find it in the car?"
She looks back up at me, the light from inside hitting her eyes just right. So green. So sad. Weary.
"Maybe," is all she offers back.
"What else? Nora? What else is bothering you?" There's something off about her and I think I know what it is. It was there just before she crashed on the couch. Fear.
"It's nothing," Nora turns and looks out in to the dark again. The rain finally stopped sometime while we were at the hospital.
I reach out to hold onto the railing, with my free hand resting near hers. Her fingers are clenched tight against the wood. Bone white tight.
"Nora?" I can't help the small sound of fear for her in my voice.
"It's the water..." She takes a deep breath and holds it for a moment, then lets it noisily escape. A cleansing breath.
"Nora," I wince, unable to stop the tide of guilt I've been holding back all evening from washing over me. "God, that stupid seat belt. I... almost got you killed because I couldn't take the time to..."
She turns to me, face to face. "No," she interrupts me. The fear in her is gone, at least momentarily. "No. You saved me, Nikki. A stupid seat belt didn't almost get me killed. Simon Martins did."
I blink at her. "Nora..." I want to argue with her. Plead with her. It is my fault. I almost got my partner killed. This woman I've only known a few days, but who I've gotten so close to that she chose me to look over her instead of her family. Of course, I might have done the same if I had a big family like that. Nora's a solitary soul. A bit like me, no matter how outgoing I may seem.
"No." Her eyes are firm on mine. Insistent. She doesn't blame me, even though I'll blame myself for the rest of my life. "I'm just a little jittery from the accident. All that water," she continues. "I love living out here, but all I can think is 'what if' now."
Nora visibly shudders and I rub her shoulder to warm her. It's never really helped me, but it's something we humans do. Maybe to make it feel like we're trying to help. Warm them, even though it's not cold and it's not the temperature making them shiver.
We spend a few long silent moments enjoying the quiet and the dark. And each other's company.
Finally, I decide to take a chance and ease the tension.
I poke my nose towards Nora's hair and sniff again.
Ugh. Let it not be said that Nikki Beaumont doesn't sacrifice herself in the name of friendship.
Nora jerks her head back to look at me oddly.
"Nora?" I sniff again and make a godawful face so she can see it.
"You smell like week-old dead crawfish," I deadpan and try not to laugh outright at the look of horror on her face. "Perhaps you'd be willing to take that shower now? And point me to the towels so I can take one too?"
Her eyes get as big as saucers at the thought of something. Of course, I do have a sneaking suspicion what that something is, since I intentionally put it there.
A shower sounds fantastic.
And the thoughts that Nikki's flirting words have put into my head... The thought of a double shower sounds...
OK. I'll admit that my mind is frozen, stuck on a series of hot erotic images that include my partner. I'm being honest with myself. Maybe it's my near-death experience? But...
I clear my throat and move unsteadily back inside, Nikki's hand slipping away. I instantly miss it and am confused by missing it. I shouldn't be. I understand that people aren't always one way or another. They're usually a mix of grey. Not completely straight, or completely gay.
I sure can't say that I'm attracted to all men. Not by far. Hell, not by a long shot.
But women? If I'm honest with myself, growing up in New Orleans and spending several years in California has taught me that yes, I have been attracted to women.
I head to the small linen closet next to my bathroom and get out two sets of towels and washcloths.
I can feel her behind me. Watching me. It's both comforting and... God. Since that first day when she walked into the squad room with her amazing presence, I've been drawn to her.
Add to that her being the perfect partner so far. There's no excuse not to appreciate her professionalism.
On top of that, our easy friendship that went straight from the shallow end of the pool to the deep end in less than a day. We've shared even more since then.
The pressures of the job. The adrenaline moments. The long periods when there's nothing to do but talk. And share. So easily we share.
I think over every excuse I might have for what's going on in my head... and my body.
Painkillers? Please, I took half of the recommended dosage and it worked itself out of my system while I slept.
Again, the near-death experience? The car chase, the shared brush with death fueling a need to feel alive? Well, while I can't say that I've drowned while Dan was my partner, the old lady notwithstanding, but I've never felt anything like this with him after some of the things we've been through over the years.
Now there's an interesting question. Is it just physical? I honestly don't know.
I step into the bedroom and grab a set of pajamas for myself and another set for Nikki. Thankfully, even though she's a tad taller, all my pajamas are draw string and a bit long.
The black silk for her I think, as I turn to exit the bedroom. I almost stumble as I spot her in the door of the room, just watching me with an unfathomable expression. Not wearing her cop face, but she's studying me intensely. I can feel my breath start to pick up as I just stand there under her regard.
God. She's beautiful. She's wearing those scrubs from the hospital still, the same kind I am. She looks a mess. But she's beautiful. Pale, perfect skin and hair so dark and lively that I just want to run my fingers...
I clear my throat and start moving, handing her the pajama set I picked out for her as I brush past to set my pale blue ones on the bathroom counter.
I lean into the shower to turn it on and call out, "I know it's inconvenient, but could you help..."
"Sure," her voice is low, soft. Somehow more intense than I've ever heard before.
I struggle not to jump as I close the shower curtain, letting everything warm up before I get in. I didn't hear her follow me in here and look over my shoulder at her.
Shrugging a little, she explains, "I figured your ribs..." she leaves it at that.
She's right. I'll need help getting the damn thing removed since the painkillers have worn off. I'm more sore now than I was in the hospital, but I don't want to take the drugs, detesting being muddle-headed.
"You could join me. Be environmentally conscious and save water," I give her a teasing smile over my shoulder as I turn the shower on. I know she won't take it seriously, but I half-wish she would.
OK. What was that? And why is my heart thumping like a snare drum?
Nikki's big brown eyes widen in surprise. She looks like she's trying to come up with something appropriately funny to come back with, but can't think of anything. Unfortunately, I seem to have surprised her.
I step back from the tub, with my back to her and start to pull up the blue scrub top. Just as I predicted, I get stuck halfway up as my bruises and my ribs protest.
She hesitates and I'm thrown back to the hospital as I asked her to help me undress then.
What am I doing?
I'm shivering and it's not cold. It's Nikki. God.
I can feel her step closer, the heat between us ramps up. She reaches on either side of me, fingers barely brushing over my skin as she helps me get the top off. Letting it drop to the ground, I grab a towel, wrapping it around me before I turn around to meet her eyes.
I never realized I could be this powerfully attracted to another human being. I'm not a virgin by any means, but I can't remember feeling this overwhelmed. By a man or a woman.
NO. Not just a woman. Nikki.
The silence grows between us, heavy and as thick as the steam coming from the shower.
I can see something in her eyes, matching mine. It scares me almost as much as my own feelings do.
Nikki smiles at me softly and reaches up to tuck a lock of hair behind an ear.
"Nora. Trust me..." she stops for a moment and tilts her head up to the ceiling, then back down to gaze into my eyes. "There is nothing I want right now but to kiss you, join you in the shower, and then drag you to bed to spend the next two days making love with you. I can't deny that I'm attracted to you. I'm not dead and you're the most gorgeous thing on two legs. Yes, I flirt with just about everything that walks, as you mentioned yesterday, and I do love flirting with you. But there's no way... I can't... We can't..." her words trail off.
I've been punched in the gut so many times I've lost count. But this, this is by far the most painful.
"Wha...what did you say?" I get the words out, barely, hoping that I misheard.
Please God, let me have misheard.
Or not misheard. Hell. I don't know what I'm thinking anymore.
She steps forward and I find myself backed up against the bathroom wall.
When did I back up? I don't... it doesn't matter.
Her hands reach up and press against the wall on either side of my head, keeping her body tantalizingly close and yet still too far from mine. I can see her arms trembling as she tries to keep herself from pressing against me.
"I said that we can't do this. It's...we're partners. Cops. The job is just too important..." her words trail off, but her hot breath is still washing over my face as she pants softly, trying to regain some semblance of control.
Then she's gone, closing the door behind her and I'm alone in the bathroom.
For the best, right?
Damn it all to hell.
I spend a very long time in the shower, pulling myself together. Nikki and I are professionals. No problem.
What am I doing?
What do I want to do? Well duh, I think I made that pretty ob...
My thoughts are interrupted as I hear a door slam. Concerned, I turn off the shower and call out, "Nikki?"
"Nikki?" I call again, a bit louder as I get out of the tub and wrap a towel around me. Poking my head out of the bathroom, I scan the room looking for her, but I don't see her.
Searching the house doesn't take long. It's empty, and so is the deck.
It's as I'm coming in from outside that I spot the folded note on top of the phone.
My heart clenches painfully.
Reaching out, I ignore my fingers trembling and pick it up. It's short. It's heartbreaking.
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