DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written in honor of Inspector Boxer's birthday.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Do You Know the Muffin Man?
By Ann


"I don't get it. What does Lindsay see in him?"

Cindy fidgeted with the edges of a napkin, her third since she'd slid onto the padded bench of the booth across from her two friends, the shredded remnants of two other paper napkins lying in a small heap near the base of a black metal napkin dispenser. She didn't notice that the remaining napkins appeared to quake with fear; she was too focused on Lindsay's biggest mistake.

"He's perfect," offered Jill with a casual shrug, reaching for her drink and wrapping long fingers around a double old-fashioned. She frowned against the rim of her glass as Cindy's words began to rattle around in her alcohol-diminished brain. Her friend had hit on something - he was too perfect.

Claire frowned as well, adding an audible sigh to her own frustration of the rather odd coupling. "Something's off there, that's for sure. No man is that perfect. He's got to be hiding something." She allowed the medical part of her mind to wonder if he was compensating for something else, something more sinister. It was oftentimes the quiet ones who turned out to be the most sadistic of killers.

"Exactly!" Cindy agreed, finally looking up from the tattered corpse of her latest paper victim. She'd ripped the napkin into as many shreds as she'd envisioned she'd done with Pete. She didn't have a problem with Lindsay's boyfriend being so near perfect it was scary. What bothered her was the fact that he was Lindsay's boyfriend, period. And, of course, that he was a man; she at least knew how to compete against another woman.

Jill angled in her seat and shifted closer to Claire. "Maybe we should do some checking. Lindsay doesn't need to get involved with someone who has a shady past."

"Exactly!" echoed Cindy, sitting up straighter and abandoning her paper massacre as the surviving napkins cheered silently in the background. The young reporter looked over at her two friends, her face alit with excitement and renewed hope. Maybe Claire and Jill could talk some sense into Lindsay and then perhaps even persuade their friend to try something, or better yet, someone different. Someone younger, someone who'd challenge the older woman every step of the way, someone exciting and full of life – someone like Cindy.

"He did just kind of come out of nowhere," Claire observed, suddenly wondering where the 'boy wonder' had been all this time. Had he been hiding in the shadows and watching Lindsay, waiting for the exact moment to come forward to entrance their friend with his charm?

"Well, he didn't actually materialize from nothing," said Jill, turning her mind to the day Pete had walked up the steps to the Hall as she and Lindsay had been walking down, heading toward the small kiosk that served coffee and pastries to the area's workers and visitors. "It is a bit odd that we'd never seen him before. He had to have been in San Francisco for a while if the hotel he's working on is nearing completion."

"Exactly." The reply, though the same as her previous two, hadn't been spoken with near the intensity as Cindy's other two responses, but this time both Claire and Jill turned their attentions to the reporter and each looked at Cindy as if seeing her for the first time. Although, if truth be told, they were always aware of the cute little redhead's presence, even when they pretended not to be. No, it was the wistful tone in which Cindy had spoken that had them staring across the table and smiling knowingly.

"What?" Cindy spared a glance at the front of her blouse to see if she'd accidentally spilled something on the white silky material. She scanned the shirt for any signs of stain and looked back up at her friends when she didn't find any. "What?" she asked again, nervously glancing over her shoulder and hoping to see something else other than herself that might be responsible for the twin expressions of mirth that seemed to be directed at her from across the booth.

"You're jealous." Jill lazily rolled the ice around in her glass and took another sip from her drink, her lips curling up into a grin around the smooth edges of the glass. All this time she'd been so focused on snaring a man for Lindsay when she should have been concentrating on the fairer sex, and none were as fair as Cindy.

Claire placed her elbows on the table and leaned forward, studying their friend as if the young woman had been wheeled into the morgue for autopsy. "Always needing to know where Lindsay is all the time, extreme nervousness whenever Lindsay's around, threatened by other people who are interested in Lindsay in a more than platonic way, envious when Lindsay is having fun with someone else, and…" she paused and offered a big smile, "… an almost unnatural hatred of muffins."

"I don't hate muffins!" Cindy denied vehemently, drawing a rich, deep-bellied laugh from Jill and a light chuckle from Claire. The reporter crossed her arms over her chest and stuck out her lower lip in a childlike pout. "Well, I don't."

"Okay then, I'll recant that last bit," said Claire, waving her hand back and forth as if erasing the words from the air. She did, however, note that Cindy had only denied the last particular aspect of the medical examiner's claim and none of the others that had actually named Lindsay specifically. "How about an almost unnatural hatred of the muffin <i>man</i> instead?"

Jill threw her head back and laughed even louder. "Oh, that's a good one, Claire." She continued to laugh at the appropriate moniker Claire had given Pete, although she'd hate her friend later when the blonde ADA wouldn't be able to rid her memory of the idiotic nursery rhyme that would continue to play in her head for the rest of the evening and well into the next day.

"That's not funny." Cindy hadn't removed her arms from their crossed position, but she'd at least retracted her lip to its natural place beside its mate. "But for your information, I prefer bagels or donuts."

Time seemed to pass in slow motion, but in reality, it only took a second for Jill's howl to echo throughout the diner. Claire joined in as well, her body visibly shaking with each and every laugh. Cindy, on the other hand, wasn't one bit happy about not being let in on the inside joke that she'd apparently started.

"What?" she asked innocently, her impatience growing steadily as she watched her two friends attempt to reel in their laughter and regain some semblance of control.

Claire wiped the tears from her eyes and drew in a couple of deep breaths. "Nothing really, something just tickled my funny bone is all."

Giving up on getting anything out of Claire, Cindy looked over at a clearly amused Jill. "Well, are you going to fill me in?"

Another round of laughter infected the other two women, but this time, Cindy wasn't nearly so patient.

"All right, that's enough. One of you needs to tell me what I'm missing."

Again, it was Claire who managed to regain her composure first, while Jill continued to chuckle not-so-silently beside her. "Sweetie, if you'll just think about it for a minute." She lightly elbowed Jill in the ribs and waited for Cindy to figure out the pastry humor. The two old friends watched their new friend carefully and knew the minute she'd made the connection. Cindy's eyes widened comically and her face turned beet red. Yep, the young woman definitely preferred donuts.

"Listen, Cindy, there's something you need to know about Lindsay…" Jill started, only to be interrupted by a low growl coming from the end of their booth.

"And just what does Cindy need to know?" asked Lindsay, shooting a hard glare toward Jill. Arching a dark eyebrow, Lindsay placed a hand on her hip and waited for her friend to explain.

Running a hand through her short locks, Jill smiled nervously. "Just that you like all kinds of pastries."

Claire grinned and Cindy almost fell over in her seat, while Lindsay tilted her head and frowned. She'd have to question Jill later, but right now, she needed a drink.

"Scoot over, Lois Lane, I need to take a load off."

Cindy scooted hurriedly toward the side wall as if she'd been shot out of a cannon. The napkins cowered when the reporter reached for the top of the dispenser.

"So, what happened to your date with Pete?" asked Jill, motioning to the waitress with her empty glass. "I thought you two were having dinner together."

Lindsay sighed tiredly and melted into the seat cushion, ignoring the slight shiver that coursed through her when her leg came to rest against Cindy's. "Something came up."

"Lindsay Boxer, you're going to die old and alone if you always let your work get in the way of your relationships," chided Claire, shaking her head at her workaholic friend.

"Hey, it wasn't me this time." Lindsay held up her hands in mock surrender. "Pete had something that he had to take care of." She paused momentarily, trying to recall exactly what her new boyfriend had said. He'd used a rather odd turn of phrase when he'd called to cancel their date. What was it?

"So, architects have emergencies, too? Who knew?" Jill said, extending her empty glass to the waitress. She gestured toward Lindsay. "I'm done for the night, but she'll have what I'm having." Lindsay just nodded in agreement, trusting that whatever Jill had been drinking would be strong enough for her, too.

"Yeah, I didn't realize it either," replied Lindsay, her mind finally able to come up with the excuse Pete had given. "He said something about having to sew up some loose ends."

Cindy finally found her voice, the phrase sounding strange to her as well. "You mean tie up, right?"

"No, he said sew up." Lindsay placed a long arm across the back of the booth, her leather jacket brushing against Cindy's shoulder. "Must be a regional thing."

Claire leaned back in her seat and watched the two women across from her. They really did make a cute couple, much cuter that Lindsay and Pete. "Where exactly is Pete from?"

Lindsay opened her mouth to answer when she suddenly realized she had no idea. That was usually the first thing she asked, too. "He didn't say." Her drink magically appeared in front of her and she was grateful for the interruption. She really didn't want to talk about Pete.

"Well, I hate to leave good company," Claire said, glancing down at her watch. "But I promised Ed I'd be home at a decent hour tonight." She reached for her purse and moved to stand.

"Yeah, I better get going, too. I've got to deliver a brief to Denise tomorrow bright and early." Jill shouldered her purse and waited for Claire to slide out of her way.

"You're leaving me?" Lindsay took a sip of her drink and watched as her friends crowded out of the booth.

"Cindy can keep you company." Claire winked at the reporter and slipped her hand around the crook of Jill's elbow. "Don't stay out too late now. It's a school night."

Cindy glared at her two friends, clearly not amused by the teasing statement or the resulting chuckles. "Very funny, Claire."

"Don't worry, I'll make sure she gets home safe," Lindsay assured, offering a toothy smile at her seatmate. Cindy's anger immediately melted away at the sight, and she now focused all her thoughts on not embarrassing herself by drooling down both sides of her chin.

Jill gave Lindsay a teasing wink. "You do that. Night, you two." With a nod, she turned and started toward the door, coming to a dead stop just a few feet away. "Oh and Cindy, I almost forgot," she said as if she suddenly remembered an appointment that she'd made with the other woman.

"Lindsay absolutely adores donuts." Turning on her heel, she led a chuckling Claire through the doors of Papa Joe's and out into the night air. It was up to Cindy to persuade their friend to choose the pastry that was right for them all, but Claire and Jill were totally confident the Muffin Man no longer stood a chance.

The End

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