DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

It Works on Paper
By Liz Estrada


U.S. Marshal Mary Shannon closed the van door, stepped back toward her two colleagues, and watched the orphaned ten year-old Cabrera twins ride away with their new federally assigned guardians. Luis, the younger twin by five minutes, wiped his nose and pressed a damp palm against the window. His eyes projected fear, and a cutting sense of betrayal, toward the woman who rescued him in Florida only to abandoned him with strangers in the middle of godforsaken New Mexico.

Karen Sisco felt guilty for how things went down, but these unlucky homeless street runners had witnessed three drug murders carried out by high-level traffickers. Getting them out of Miami and into WITSEC was their only chance to escape the Lujan cartel. She swallowed hard and waved goodbye.

Luis managed a weak, floppy wave in response. Carlos Cabrera, older by five minutes but more mature by five years, rolled down the window and spat toward her.

Karen flinched. Briefly, because she really wasn't great with this comforting business, Mary touched her elbow and nodded. "They'll be okay," she said.

The van touched pavement and rolled away fast. Dusty quiet settled over the remote desert road. Sisco and Shannon held still for a while, transfixed by fading tail lights.

Shannon's partner, Marshall Mann, stepped closer and brushed Karen's tense shoulder. "You did the right thing," he told her.

"I know," she said, nodding. "I just can't feel it yet."

"Feelings are overrated. If I were you, I'd take a drink," Mary claimed. She looked from Karen to Marshall, who was rather sweaty after chasing down Carlos Cabrera (twice) and wrestling him into the van. "If I were you, I'd take a shower."

"If you were me, Carlos would still be running," he teased.


"Yuh-huh. Admit it – you covet my wing-footed speed."

Mary lightly swatted her partner's thick skull and Marshall yelped loudly, far out of proportion to his actual pain.

In spite of herself, Karen smiled a little. After the sickening day she'd had, replete with traveling, crying and hostile children, and plainly hostile FBI agents, the company of these two Albuquerque goofballs was nearly medicinal. She graciously offered to buy the first round.

Mary waved her off. "Guests don't buy – we'll go to my place. My mom pilfers from her bartending job, so I'm stocked like a freakin' package store."

"It's true," Marshall confirmed. "Booze, mixers, garnishes - even the little plastic swords."

Karen remembered her father using those for cocktails and snacks on poker nights. She smiled a little more, like every time she thought of Marshall Sisco. "I like those little swords."

"Me too! But I hate those tiny, sissified umbrellas with the spongy tops," Mary opined. "This one time, in college, I woke up with four of them wedged in my bra. Dunno how it happened."

"Truly a riddle for the ages," Marshall sniggered, and got another playful smack for his trouble.

By the time they piled into the SUV and headed for town, Karen actually felt less awful.

At a poolside table behind Mary's apartment, three marshals traded war stories and drank many a Habana Libre until the moon was as high as they. Typically, Mary did much of the talking, but she drew Karen out bit by bit until their conversational dyad assumed a cushy, laid-back rhythm. They spoke of baseball thieves and con women, crooked marshals and dirty feds, and kids who learned about evil much too soon.

By the time they got around to the different corpse disposal techniques favored by crime syndicates - broken down by region, ethnicity, and effectiveness – Marshall had become a very amused and intrigued third wheel. He started wondering whether the stunning Miamian would ever consider reassignment to the enchanted southwest.

"So, Sisco - are you married?" he asked. "Fiancée? Boyfriend? Girlfriend?"

Karen was startled by this hard left turn toward the personal, and by perceptive Marshall's broad list of options. Mary looked curious, but contentedly sat back and waited for an answer. As Karen sipped her drink, water from the sweating glass dripped onto her blouse. Mildly annoyed, she brushed at it and shook her head. "Solo. For a while now."

"By choice or necessity?" Marshall pressed.

Perceptive and persistent, Karen thought, but she didn't mind the question. She hadn't talked like this with anyone, felt this comfortable with people, in quite some time. "Necessity, at first. My partner got a better job and moved to Seattle. Then I just... got used to being alone. Maybe I stopped looking."

Across the table, Marshall noted her use of the word 'partner' – that carefully genderless euphemism. "Sounds like you need a change of scenery, someplace with new and interesting people. Perhaps someone in a similar career field... "

Mary squeezed up a lime-sour face and kicked Marshall's chair. "No skeevy flirting with co-workers," she warned him, then apologized to Karen. "Sorry. We had a talk, but he's incorrigible."

"This is not skeevy flirting. This is me being courteously inquisitive about a colleague's social wellness," he protested.

"Social wellness?" Mary laughed and patted Karen's forearm. "Don't listen to him. He's even fuller of crap than usual."

"Fuller of crap," Marshall parroted. He felt secretly hopeful; Mary was half-lit, defensive of Karen, and getting handsy. She hadn't been this nice to anyone in months.

"Fuller. It's a word. And a brush company. Anyway - are you certain you want to deconstruct the grammar of a large, drunk, armed woman?" she asked. As Marshall shook his head, Mary got up to fetch some ice from the kitchen, and casually snagged Karen's half-empty glass..

"Seriously, this job can smother your personal life," Marshall continued. "I mean, look at Mary – here's this funny, sexy, amazingly smart woman with a platinum heart and eight mile legs, and she's alone. Just like you. There's something inherently insane about that. And... you know... I'm not seeing anyone, either."

Marshall's stilted delivery made the last bit sound like an afterthought, or camouflage in case Mary overheard. Karen widened her eyes and glanced from the young man to his partner, then back to Marshall again, as if to clarify the subtext of his message. He lifted his glass and winked at her over the rim, a gestured communique that read, If you're interested, then I approve. You might actually be good enough for my best friend.

"You're not seeing anyone because you're too weird for the nice girls and too nice for the weird ones," Mary theorized on her return. "You want a steady girlfriend, act like a boring jerk."

Marshall gave a dubious squint. "Relationship advice from the expert."

She plopped down across from him and smiled. "Yup. Five cents, please, Charlie Brown."

"Thank you, Dr. Van Pelt."

"Nickels, nickels, nickels. That wonderful sound of clinking nickels." Mary rocked her ice, raised her glass, and Marshall clinked her a toast.

Amid the Peanuts banter, Karen noticed that Mary hadn't simply topped-up her drink; she'd wiped the condensation from the drippy glass and wrapped it in a paper towel. The unremarkable gesture spoke of attentiveness, of consideration, and Karen's face bloomed a gentle smile. No one had been this nice to her in months. As if to say See? Told ya so, Marshall winked at her again.

At Mary's urging, they all toasted to the Cabrera twins getting a second chance at a normal life, and wished a joint DEA/FBI pox on the house of Lujan. Afterwards, Karen let her forearm come to rest against Mary's on the tabletop. And there it stayed, as they sipped rum cocktails and spitballed theories about why the mass of FBI supervisors are royal dickweeds.

Marshall snuck a hand into his pants pocket, and his phone buzzed a few seconds later. He smiled and typed in a few text messages, then announced that a lady friend would be sending a cab to bring his "tight little drunk ass" over to her place.

"You said you weren't dating anyone," said Karen, in a tone of playful accusation.

"Yes, but I never claimed celibacy," Marshall explained. He gallantly kissed Karen's hand, leaned down to whisper good wishes in Mary's ear, and sauntered out through the back gate.

Bemused, Karen watched him go, then cleared her throat. "I've never been able to work with a partner. You guys make it look easy."

"I'm not easy. Marshall's just a freakishly good guy. Best I've ever known," said Mary. She chuckled and added, "You must never tell him I said that."

"He adores you," Karen noted. "You two ever...?"

"No! No. God forbid." Mary literally shuddered at the thought. "Marshall's my best friend, my partner. Anything more would upset our delicate balance."

Karen nodded; prioritizing friendship and work over romance was something she understood all too well. She brushed the back of her hand along Mary's arm, creating a trail of raised hairs and chill bumps - a nice, confidence-building reaction. "So... I'm guessing he doesn't try this often."

Mary laughed, a little nervously, and tucked her hair behind her ears. "What? Set me up to score with a hot chick, then prance away like a naughty little pixie?"


"No," Mary admitted. "He's very choosy. Not for himself, obviously, but for me... yeah. This is exceptional."

Karen hadn't been vetted by a third party quite this way before. Though she felt oddly flattered to pass muster, there was also a sense of expectation, of pressure, that only honesty could alleviate. "Just so you know - I've only been with one woman, and that didn't end well. She fled to the opposite corner of the country."

"Okay. So you're no cakewalk. Me, neither. Mutually assured destruction." Mary knocked back the last of her drink and flashed a killer smile. "Shouldn't we actually do the naked fun part before we over-process and break up?"

Karen blushed, embarrassed by her own presumption. Still, she knew a cue when she heard one, and pulled Mary into a kiss that tasted of rum and lime, grenadine, and maybe.

When she woke the next morning, despite the full desert sun crashing through the window and the metaphorical axe splitting her forehead, Karen Sisco felt nearly okay again. Much better than the previous morning, when she arrived at the Sunport with two distraught Cabrera twins, one cursing her and one clinging to her waist. The messy custody transfer went as well as it possibly could, largely due to the professionalism of the Albuquerque marshals. Maybe they played things a little loose in the way-down west, but they knew the job and did it well. It was a solid operation – though Stan McQueen was no Amos Andrews.

She'd never really thought about leaving Miami before, but there wasn't much left for her there since her father died, since Marley Novak grew tired of waiting to be taken seriously.

Mary Shannon, the lanky, naked blond snoring against the small of Karen's back, wouldn't want to be taken seriously. Not for a while, anyway. She was fun and gorgeous and fucked like an Olympic champion, and she was four hours away by plane. Two female U.S. Marshals who loved men named Marshall, who each had dated a ballplayer for the Florida Marlins, who favored the Sig and the Colt and the right hook... it could work.

She heard Mary's breathing change, felt a kiss brush over the base of her spine. Heavy and smooth, the moving, welcome weight of her. The splayed hands, gentle, large and deft. Contrasting softness of breast and hip to lean thigh and long arm... it could work.

Mary pushed her nose through Karen's silken dark hair, kissed her ear and whispered, "Time to break up yet?"

Karen snickered into the pillow. Rolled over slow, and filled her arms with six solid feet of trouble. "Let's not skip ahead," she said.

The End

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