DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Abbey for the beta!
No Way Out
How can it be that we have a 'past', when it seems like yesterday that I walked into the Register and Cindy gave me that look like I could walk on water?
It doesn't seem fair. I would have never thought that she'd walk out on me, the way Tom did. I would have never thought I'd let her, just like I let him. And Jill? How the hell can they do this to me?
I need to go home, feed Martha, take her for a walk, but I can't bring myself to move, shaking with more than the evening chill. Tears are burning in my eyes, but I force them back like I'm used to doing it; crying is useless, it won't change anything. Kiss Me Not has just once again spread his poison in my life. Maybe though, it's just an excuse.
Everybody seems to do just fine once they're not with me anymore.
I need to think. I need to clear my head. Finally, I sit in the car, start the engine.
Where I'll go from here, it's still unsure.
There's some history in this place overlooking the bay. Tom took me here the night he asked me to marry him. I've been here once with Cindy. A different quality of pain. When will it ever end?
If the monster that silences women with a needle and a thread after he tortures them mercilessly, is stopped, will I stop hurting? I doubt that somehow. There will be others in his place. I used to draw comfort from the strength of my friendships, but there doesn't seem so many left.
It will be like in those days before Claire, at the academy, where those who didn't resent me for being a woman, hated me because they thought as Marty Boxer's daughter, I had it easy. I realize I haven't thought about that time in a long time. This memory bringing others with it... no, I can't go there now. I'm so glad I don't ever have to be 23 again. The sad thing is, though, that I haven't learned.
There's no one who will not turn away eventually.
Twelve years ago
Dr. Claire Washburn was late for meeting a colleague for lunch when she passed the door left ajar. Still, she stopped in her track as she caught a glimpse of the young woman sitting on the bed, arms wrapped around her legs.
As if knowing she was being watched, the dark-haired woman looked up at her. Defiant, determined, stubborn; Claire could read all of this in her eyes. And the pain, its incredible depth.
She found herself being drawn closer as if by some invisible force. "Can I help you?"
I know, I brought this upon myself. I have a hard time letting people get close. That's why only Claire knows that Kiss Me Not and I have a longer history than anybody thinks.
Not that I haven't tried. Tom seemed to believe the theory at first, but that was a long time ago, and over time, I just learned to shut up on this particular angle. Not that I'd ever forget. Not that I'd ever be able to.
And maybe it's time to admit that he's won.
Choices. I pick up my trusty Berretta, weighing it in my hand. There's something reassuring in the feel of cold, smooth steel. It means having an option.
My cell phone sits on the seat beside me. I know with sudden clarity that if I don't make that call, that will be it. I've known fear. The day we found the body of Sarah Rice, and I knew it was him. Fear of losing the baby.
Fear of losing Cindy.
Right now, all alone out here with my service weapon, loaded, in my hand, I am not afraid. What's there left to fear?
I curl my fingers around the butt, feeling the trigger. How sad is it that the call seems so much harder to make? What if she doesn't pick up? I laugh mirthlessly at the thought. Nothing to worry about. She's like me, off duty is something that mostly exists in theory.
It takes three rings, then a sleepy voice answers. Seconds tick by before I find myself able to answer, and even then, my voice sounds strangely off.
"Lindsay!" Claire sounds way more alarmed than she should have reason to be. Then again, it's about 2 a.m. And she knows about Cindy and Jill. Who am I kidding, Claire knows a lot more than that.
Nothing much yet? I screwed up another time? I'm tired of it?
"Remember what we talked about all those years ago? When you said that if I should ever feel that way again, I should drop everything and just call you? Claire... I'm feeling that way now."
"Oh, honey," she says, her gentleness almost too much. "Where are you?"
I hesitate for another moment. Then I tell her.
Claire knocks on the window at the passenger's side exactly fifteen minutes later. She has called herself a cab. Which means we'll have to drive by her house later - her intent, very transparent.
She sits in the passenger seat with a sigh. "You know I'm not letting you go out of my sight tonight, don't you?"
I want to say 'thank you', but the words just don't come out. Instead, "I don't know how to deal with this." That's honest, at least.
Claire is silent for a moment, then she asks the all-important question. "Do you want us to continue?"
There's not just our friendship to consider. We have a pretty efficient network going, professionally. I just don't think I could handle Jill and Cindy sharing affectionate looks the way... Cindy and I did, not so long ago. I miss her so damn much.
"We have to. It works well, and this is not just about me, or my screw-ups."
"I won't be saying you didn't make any mistakes. But beating yourself up over them, won't change anything."
Claire rests her hand on my shoulder, making me look at her. "It shouldn't surprise you when I tell you that you're a wonderful person. A great friend. You're in a relationship, and you just draw back, keeping them at arm's length. I imagine that's hard to take."
"It's to make up for the none-distance that sex creates?"
"Lindsay, what are you afraid of?"
I just glare at her, and she nods. "Granted, but Cindy, just like Tom, cares about you."
I haven't missed her using present tense, and that makes my chest go very tight for a moment. They might still care, but I missed my chance. Both times.
Claire and I, both lost in our thoughts, are inevitably drawn to the past.
"Do you still think it's him?" She sounds tired. I can relate. I'm just as tired of myself.
No hesitation. "More than ever."
"I take it Cindy doesn't know?"
I shake my head, pressing my lips together as any attempt of trying to explain would only result in all those bottled up emotions blowing up on me. I can't do that now.
"Maybe that's what would help you both stop hurting."
"It would sound like an excuse."
"Not if you were really letting her go."
"See, that's my problem."
Claire just smiles sadly.
"Oh, hi, Lindsay."
There's a cautious tone to Cindy's voice, and I hate it, knowing that I'm to blame for it. She used to be so happy to hear my voice, hers would go up a notch. It wasn't all that long ago.
This is going to be hard. I couldn't wait much longer though, or I wouldn't have dared to do this at all. "I was hoping we could talk. No, wait. It's not what you think. I just need to tell you something. That's all."
Silence. Then she says, "I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Please." I already know that it'll take more this time to make her come around. So I say it, even though the other option I had thought of for myself, probably would have hurt less. "I know you're with Jill now."
"I do. That's not what it's about. Walk Martha with me tonight? One drink, and we'll be done?"
It sounds rather cruel to me, but it seems to reassure Cindy.
"I'll meet you at your house at seven," she says.
The first time Tom Hogan saw her, she was half-naked and about to be bleeding to death. Not such a good start, and looking back, Lindsay still thinks it was a bad idea to let anything evolve from that, even all those years later.
She couldn't let herself be vulnerable with him.
He felt like she was shutting him out.
They were bound to fail long before the killer struck again.
Cindy's head snaps up sharply; looking at me with this wide-eyed, shocked expression.
"Don't feel sorry for me. It was a long time ago."
"But you think it's him, out there?"
I agree, it's a scary thought, that the guy who whispered, "Shut up, bitch," that night in the locker room before he rammed the knife into my side could be out there sewing women's mouths shut, because he wants to shut them up, too.
Because he can't stand it when they talk back to him, when they don't cower. I was 23. Every one of Kiss Me Not's victims was around the same age. I know it's a reach. But this guy, he wanted what he thought was the perfect woman, a puppet on a string. Working on some administrative job at the acedemy at that time, he had access to files. Maybe I wasn't the first one he chose.
Kiss Me Not has to know a thing or two about law enforcement, or he wouldn't be so good at eluding us.
At that time, he got away, but he's staying in touch. That will be his mistake.
"I'm so sorry," she says, her arms coming up, but then she aborts the movement to embrace me. It's better that way. I'm not good at letting go. "We need to get together. If no one else believes it, I know some friends of yours who will."
She gets up, hesitates. "Will you be okay tonight?"
Kind of. I glance at the mostly empty bottle of wine that we shared. I think Cindy had a glass of it. I needed some more in order to gather the courage to take that trip down memory lane. Martha watches her intently and starts to whine as soon as Cindy moves for the door.
I feel like joining in.
I want her to stay, want for once to feel like it's okay to cry in somebody's arms, because I'd been scared to death and part of that feeling keeps coming back.
"Sure," I say. "See you tomorrow, then."
Tomorrow night at Papa Joe's. Cindy and Jill, together.
That night I dream of the cold floor of the locker room, slowly warming with the feel of blood pooling under me. I see Cindy coming in, giving me that regretful look as she says, "I didn't stay with you because it was crippling, Lindsay.", and turns away.
Martha watches me with big, sad eyes, as I get out of bed, trying to shake the images that cling to me.
It's going to be another long night.
Four months later
I sit in the last row, watching him, listening to the sound of his voice that never fails to make my stomach cramp, even after all these years.
He's made that mistake after all, and we were there to catch him. Jill did an amazing job demonstrating to the jurors how his attitude towards women led him from assaulting a cadet to going on a killing spree later.
I wanted to keep my distance, but I've found that wasn't possible. When I had to get on the stand, it was the girls who kept me sane during my testimony.
Jill went for life without parole.
I remember how he jumped up, shouting. He had to be physically restrained. "Shut up, bitch! You shut up now or I'll make you!"
Jill's eyes had met mine; I could see she was shaken, not so much by his outburst, but by what it revealed. Yes, I'm lucky to still be around. And that it was only a knife wound, because sure as hell he had a lot more planned for me.
It'll be over, one way or another.
The jury foreman starts to read the verdict, and I feel like I can't breathe, until the words finally break through the protective cloud around my mind, "...find the defendant guilty." Guilty in all three cases, Sarah Rice, Melissa Paquin, Elaine Lewis. Sadly, I think there must be more. But from this day on, he'll never kill again.
I lean forward to rest my head in my hands, distantly aware that my knees are shaking.
Kiss Me Not really is the guy who tried to kill me because I wouldn't date him twelve years ago. And he carried through with other women.
"Hey." There's a hand on my shoulder, and I look up into Cindy's smiling face. "We won."
Jill is standing beside her, looking uncomfortable, but she extends her hand to me. I get up, forego the too formal gesture, and we embrace. For the first time in a long time, it feels right.
There's Agent Ashe coming over to us, giving me a rare smile. "Congratulations, Inspector," he says. "Your club is very efficient."
"It's not a club," we echo together.
When he's gone, Cindy says, "Please say you're going to join us celebrating tonight."
Her expression is so hopeful, I can't really tell her 'no'. When was I ever able to? "I just might..."
She shares a smile with Jill, the look passing between them so loving it just about kills me.
Turn the knife.
Still, what we did together calls for celebration. We came out alive. Still friends.
Claire falls back a little to walk with me as we're leaving the building. "You okay?" she asks.
I consider her question. "Just took a step towards it."
She smiles and lays her arm around my shoulders.
I am not over Cindy yet; she knows it, I know it, but I'll get there someday.
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