DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Della Street
Although it contained fourteen open cases, the stack rose less than four inches high on Detective Polniaczek's desk. That was how little information the homicide division of the 14th Precinct had been able to dig up on these particular incidents.
Jo sipped occasionally from her Diet Coke as she scanned the first file, a prostitute found behind a dumpster last Thanksgiving. This was pointless, she suspected, but since she hadn't come on board until a month later, a fresh pair of eyes couldn't hurt.
"Junior," the sergeant called over. "You're up."
Crap. Jo's irritation wasn't with the nickname it was inevitable for a rookie detective with a partner named Joe who had almost twenty years on her but rather with having to leave the station house. A little desk work had actually suited her mood today. Dutifully, she walked over to pluck the sheet of paper from his hand and read the brief note. DB at--double crap.
Skimming the message over Jo's shoulder, her partner chuckled. "Your favorite," he said. "Park Avenue. Time to whip out that finishing school charm."
For the umpteenth time, Jo told him, "It wasn't finishing school. It was just a school."
"For rich kids."
"Oh, yeah?" Jo said. "Then what was I doin' there?"
"Damned if I know."
The body was, as advertised, dead. It was also red haired, thin, forty-four years old, and lying on pristine beige carpet near an empty pill bottle. It had been discovered by three friends, the uniformed officer reported, Carol Vanderbilt, Elaine Henshaw, and
She was just as beautiful, just as alluring as she had always been, damn it. Concealing her surprise, Jo greeted her former roommate with a casual, "Blair," even as her heart thudded erratically.
"It's been a long time," Blair said. "Surprisingly long."
"Yeah, well, I'm on the job here," Jo said. "You found her?"
A long pause followed as Blair studied her. "Yes. We were supposed to--"
"Excuse me," she said, uttering the same words she used with total strangers and drawing a frown from Blair. Jo walked over to a second set of detectives who had just arrived. "What are you guys doing here?" she said. "We got this covered."
"Cap sent us." Hastings nodded toward Blair and the other women. "Red flag."
Meaning blue blood. Not that Hastings was more experienced, not more than her partner, anyway, but he was the best in the precinct at P.R., even if he was a complete pig in private. Hastings could schmooze the ritz as if he were one of their own, something that Jo had never wanted or been able to do.
"Whatever," she said. She closed her notepad and clipped her pen to the spiral.
Her partner was not so complacent. "This is b.s.," he said. "We come all the way out here and Wood pulls us five minutes into it?"
Ordinarily, Jo would have joined in the gripe, but not this time. "Eh, like we need one more pending," she said. "You wanted to leave early for your kid's game anyway." It would be easier in a lot of ways. She walked back over to where Blair was still standing near the door awaiting her return. "Detective Hastings will be handling the case," she said. "He'll need to talk to you." She turned to leave, but Blair reached out to clasp her forearm.
"Jo . . . ."
"I gotta go." As always, Jo was torn between saying more and just fleeing. "It was good to see you again, Blair. Sorry it was like this." She gestured vaguely toward the living room.
Primly, Blair replied, "So am I."
She hated it when Blair was hurt, even back in the day. Irritated, fine. Infuriated, great. But hurt? Just stick a knife in Jo's gut. But Jo had figured out what her relationship with Blair needed to be in order to preserve her own sanity, and that was basically no relationship.
As it turned out, getting bumped from the case was no great loss, career-wise. Pretty straightforward suicide, her colleagues concluded. The husband was halfway across the country at the time. No unauthorized access to the apartment had been detected. The wife had a minor bruise on one of her wrists, but that was nothing unusual. The verdict: one more rich broad who finally gave up on her lousy marriage the hard way. Jo wondered how Blair would deal with the news. But then she didn't really know how close the two women were; she didn't recall ever seeing them together. Spearing a hunk of lettuce, she said, "No note?"
"Nah, but it's the same old," Hastings said. "Hubbie dipping his wick in something younger and prettier."
"And richer," Dan added. He tore open a bag of Fritos. "Board room, bedroom. Same thing to these guys."
Wait a minute. Brevin was on the Warner board, wasn't he? There were only two women on that board . . . . "Who was he doing?" she asked.
"The big cheesette herself," Hastings replied. "Preskill."
Jo was shocked at the accusation. "No way!"
The three other men at the table chuckled. "What? You don't think a priss like her would spread her legs for a guy like Brevin?" Hastings said.
Granted, from the brief examination Jo had made of John Brevin when he was at the station, it appeared that he was good looking. And maybe he was a big shot surgeon. And the tan wasn't bad. And there was no gray in his stylish above-the-ear cut, and he worked out, apparently. So maybe he was pretty much everything that would have had the Blair Warner she knew drooling. But there was one far more important consideration.
"She's married," Jo pointed out. So was Brevin, but Jo didn't know if that would matter to him. It would to Blair.
"Jesus, Jo," Hastings said. "You go naive all of a sudden?"
"I just don't think she would cheat on a friend." Go with Nancy's boyfriend to the ballet, maybe, but nothing on this scale.
The others laughed again.
"Did you ask her?" Jo persisted.
He nodded. "She denied it," he said.
"Well, there you go."
Hastings leaned in toward her. "I know you're new at this," he said,"but sometimes people lie to us."
She could feel herself growing annoyed. "Why would she?"
"Oh, I don't know," he said. "Maybe because her friend swallowed nineteen Darvons. Maybe ten million other reasons."
"Meaning that the Preskills have a pre-nup," he said. "She gets caught bent over with the V. P. of Sales, she's out ten mil."
Jo winced at his vulgarity, even though she had heard it before. "Ten million is nothing to her," she said. "She's worth about nine hundred."
"Nine hundred million?" Jones said. "Fuck me!"
"Fuck her, you mean," Hastings said. "Oh, yeah, give me one chance at that. She'd be shoveling over half that dough with a permanent smile on her face." He glanced over at Jo. "How do you know that, anyway?"
"Sheesh, don't you guys read?" Jo replied. That's not where she had learned it, but it had probably been in the paper at some point. "She was David Warner's only heir, you know. Anyway" -- back to the subject that mattered -- "she said she wasn't doing Brevin; you got anything that says she was?"
"Brevin himself," Hastings said. ""He's the bone-and-tell type, apparently. We heard it from half a dozen board members."
"All of whom want to do her, too," Dan added.
Joe grinned suggestively. "Who knows? Maybe she's double jointed."
"Maybe she swallows," Hastings replied.
Jo crunched the plastic lid down on her salad. She would finish it later. "Or maybe she's smart and pretty and funny," she said irritably. "You guys need a life."
"Look who's talking," her partner retorted.
"The woman lost a friend," Jo said. Granted, that had never stopped any of them, herself included, from engaging in bathroom humor, but she had no obligation to be consistent.
A few days later, she was refilling her coffee mug when the desk sergeant called her over. She nearly stopped in her tracks when she recognized her visitor.
"Hi." Blair looked pleased to see her.
The blonde was worrying a small pastel purse, the only sign that she was not entirely comfortable. "I thought I would come by and see if you had any new information about Lyla."
"It's not my case." You freakin' know that.
"Yes, well, I thought you might know, too."
"Sorry," Jo said.
Blair smiled hopefully at her. "So, do you have time for lunch?"
"We're kinda swamped."
"You have to eat, don't you?"
"Well . . . ."
She had finally reached the limits of the long-dormant Warner temper, apparently. "Jo, what the hell is going on?" Blair erupted.
The epithet, rather rare from the Princess, startled Jo. "I told you," she replied. "It's not my case, and I'm buried."
"You know what I mean," Blair persisted. "You don't return my calls, you don't come by, I don't understand what's happening."
Defensively, Jo said, "What's happening is that I'm busy."
"So busy that you have no time for me?"
"The world doesn't revolve around you, Blair."
Great, now Blair was hurt again. Well, she shouldn't confront Jo, make her say things that she didn't really want to say.
"Was it really that different last year?" Blair asked.
Another thing that Jo did not want to talk about: that evening last April when she reluctantly picked up the phone to make a call she had been putting off for weeks.
The maid was repeating back to her -- "P-O-L-N-I-A-C-Z-" -- when suddenly Blair was on the line, slightly out of breath.
"Blair, hey." Damn, she was home? Jo hadn't really wanted to have this conversation in person. Not yet. Maybe not ever. "I was just giving Hildy a message for you."
"And now you can give it to me in person."
"Well, she's got it already," Jo said. "It was just my new number, in case you need to get hold of me." Which, Jo had to concede, Blair did fairly often when she was in town.
"Thank you, Hildy," Blair said to the maid, who presumably had handed her the note. "Did you get a new cell phone?"
"New home phone."
Surprised, Blair asked, "You guys moved? Why didn't you tell me? We have an account with a moving service."
Jo smiled slightly. 'Moving service' in her vocabulary meant half a dozen guys in NYPD t-shirts and a case of beer, which had worked out just fine. "You're half right," she quipped. "I moved; Rick didn't."
"It's no big deal," Jo said. "Just making the unofficial official."
"Oh, Jo, I'm so sorry." Blair seemed at a rare loss for words, then finally added, "I know a good divorce lawyer. She'll rip his throat out."
"No need," Jo replied. "I didn't want anything from him, and you know me, all my money's tied up in real estate." Rent for this shit hole, namely. "The papers and stuff are all signed."
"All signed?" Blair said. "How long has this been going on?"
"What year is it?" Jo quipped.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Partly embarrassment, partly because Jo didn't want to answer questions about why her marriage had fizzled. She had never been good at lying to Blair. "Eh, what could you do?" she said.
"I could have been there for you, like you were after Daddy's accident."
When Blair had been thrust abruptly back into the corporate world, scrambling to hold off a hostile takeover because, even though she would make millions in the buyout, Warner Industries was her father's company and she was not letting it go. Blair never let go of things that were important to her.
"You've got your own marriage," Jo said. "You didn't need to worry about mine."
"Yes, well . . . . Come over tonight, Jo."
"Aren't you doing something?" She always was. Hardly a week went by when Blair's pretty face wasn't in the society column that Jo skimmed once in a while when the guys weren't done with the sports section yet.
Blair called out, "Hildy, call the Rutherfords and cancel. Something has come up." To Jo, she said, "Not any more."
"Blair . . . ," Jo protested.
"Jo Polniaczek, get over here," Blair ordered her.
And just as she had for the past fifteen years, Jo grudgingly obeyed, sitting on one end of the sofa washing down pizza with a beer, thoughtfully procured by the chauffeur before he was dismissed for the evening, while Blair nursed a Chardonnay and they reminisced about Eastland, and Langley, and Mrs. Garrett, and Beverly, and Tootie and Natalie, and their own tumultuous relationship. Behind the couch, Jo's .38 lay hidden on the floor beneath her folded-up jacket, banished there by a dismayed apartment owner who had no interest in having a gun on the premises.
Blair had an extra ticket for the opera the next night as it turned out, if Jo was interested in joining her (minus the weaponry), and she didn't have anything important going Saturday night and wouldn't mind going to the hockey game with Jo, surprisingly, and before Jo had really thought much about it, she had spent a month of evenings with her old friend, including the occasional overnight stay in the spare bedroom when they were out too late or she just didn't want to leave. Jo had almost begun to think of the palatial digs as her own place.
Until the night when, clad in the silk pajamas that Blair kept around for her, Jo heard a noise outside the apartment as she reached into the fridge for some o.j. Briefly, she regretted acquiescing to Blair's insistence that she leave her horrid gun at home, but then the front door swung open and a man stepped into the room whom Jo had managed to avoid for four years, not a difficult task since he spent most of his time in the Middle East.
As luck would have it, Blair chose that same moment to flounce in wearing her pretty pink nightie, calling over to Jo, "We do have a little vodka--Rob!" Recovering from her surprise, the blonde changed course, reaching her husband in a few steps and greeting him with a kiss on the cheek. "I thought you were still in Riyadh. You remember my friend Jo."
He looked Jo over. "Bonner, right?"
"Polniaczek," Blair corrected him before Jo had a chance to. She did not mention the reason for the change.
"You're a cop."
Jo nodded. "Fourteenth Precinct." She wasn't sure why this felt so awkward. It wasn't as though they were doing anything wrong.
Proudly, Blair told him, "Jo is applying for a detective's position. She has a really good chance at it."
Like he gave a rat's.
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming home?"
"And ruin the surprise?" he replied. He was still eying Jo as though had caught her at the safe with a blowtorch.
Blair did not reply, let alone explain what Jo was doing there. Preskill picked up his monogrammed suitcase and carried it toward the master bedroom with its king-sized bed and wall-mounted 42-inch TV on which Jo had watched McNeil-Lehrer and late night movies a time or two. Along the way, he stopped to peer into the spare bedroom, where Jo had left her rumpled bed a few minutes earlier in response to the suggestion of a fridge raid. Blair remained expressionless, yet for some reason Jo found herself irritated on her friend's behalf. But then, Jo had never liked Robert Preskill, in spite of the fake smile she had managed to conjure up at the wedding.
"Hey, thanks for letting me crash here," she said. "I'd better head out."
"Don't be silly," Blair said. "It's the middle of the night."
"I think I ought to."
Blair stepped behind the counter. "This doesn't change anything," she said.
Yes, it did. Jo had no desire to be here while Blair was "welcoming" her husband in the other room. The thought of it made her physically ill. Preskill's unexpected appearance had solidified what Jo already feared: She was head over heels for Blair, and the only way to avoid sinking in deeper was to avoid her. Now that she had seen the Preskills together in their home, had imagined them in their bed, reality had come crashing down and Jo wanted to be anywhere but in Blair Warner's presence.
"So, what happened?" Blair demanded now.
Angrily, Jo shot back, "Some of us work for a living, Blair."
"That's never stopped you before."
"I'm fucking busy, okay?"
"Don't you swear at me!"
In an instant, Captain Wood was there, shoving Jo to one side. "Christ, Junior," he growled at her. He gave Blair an awkward smile. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Preskill. Detective Polniaczek has been working long hours."
"Warner," Jo muttered. At his confused glance, she said, "It's Warner-Preskill." She hated it when people just erased the first twenty-six years of Blair's life.
Wood glanced at Blair, gauging whether she was offended by his mistake. Erring on the side of caution, he said, "Mrs. Warner-Preskill. Anyway, Junior here needs a few lessons in manners. I apologize for any inappropriate, uh, remarks, or . . . ."
Jo listened to him stammer around the fact that he had no idea what the two women had been fighting about.
"That's all right," Blair said. "I'm used to it."
"If you'll come this way, we'll get you an update on Mrs. Brevin's case," he said. "Would you like some coffee?"
With a final glance behind her, Blair let him lead her over to a desk in the corner, where Hastings and Winchell shot to their feet as if it was a visit from the Queen. Close enough.
Afterward, the captain must have funneled Her Highness out another exit, because when he next approached Jo, he was alone. And pissed. "Do you know who that woman is?"
Now that was funny.
"That is a damn good friend to the NYPD," he went on. "For almost as long as you've been here, Blair Preskill has been the single largest contributor to the police benevolent fund."
"Warner," Jo said automatically. It was Blair Goddamn Warner.
"Don't fuck with me," he snapped. "You remember Sal's chemo that the insurance wouldn't pay for? You remember when Eddie got hit by that cab? You think workers' comp would have been enough for Theresa and the kids to get by?"
Jo had the good sense not to roll her eyes. She got it already. Blair Warner was God's gift to cops.
Her boss continued to rail at her. "Your attitude problem is going to change, here and now," he said. "You went to school with people like her and they were shit to you, so you"
"She was at Eastland when I was there," Jo said. That was a slight understatement for living together nearly ten years, but it didn't matter.
Surprised by the disclosure, Wood said, "You never mentioned that."
"You pulled us off the case," Jo said. "It didn't matter."
"Well, it matters now," he said. "So she was a bitch to you in high school. Get over it."
That wasn't fair to Blair. "She wasn't that bad," Jo said. "Actually, she . . . . Look, she's not that thin-skinned. She's not gonna stop donating just 'cause we yelled at each other."
"And you're going to make sure of that," he said. "I told her you'd go by her place and apologize."
He held up a note with Blair's handwriting on it. Jo looked at it. Blair Warner-Preskill's address? Like Jo needed that. She snatched the paper from his hand. "No way," she said. This was ridiculous. She could feel every one of her teenage Bronx hackles rising, along with other emotions.
"This afternoon," he said. "You're gonna kiss her ass and whatever else she presents, got it?"
She crumpled up the note. "I'm not doing it."
"Then you're on desk duty until you retire."
Fucker. Jo slammed the paper ball into the trash can. Why did she feel sixteen all over again?
In the background, she could hear the sounds of some kind of gathering. So Blair wasn't expecting her after all, apparently. Jo wasn't sure how she felt about that. "Havin' a party?" she said.
"No, just entertaining a few Board members," Blair said. "They're actually on their way out."
Jo decided to bite the bullet. "Look, Blair, did you really tell Wood I had to come over there?"
"He offered," Blair replied. "I accepted."
The next words Jo expected to hear were a declaration that Blair was just kidding, that Jo did not have to do this stupid thing, but Blair didn't say anything more. "You're not serious about this, are you?" she finally asked.
"I want to see you," Blair replied. "If this is what it takes, so be it."
"Just a minute." Through the muffle of fingers, Blair's voice said, "Thank you, Henry; I'm glad you made it. Give my love to Ellen."
Leaning against the wall of the phone booth, Jo looked out through the pane while Blair did her thing. Not that she was using the payphone in there; she had her cell. She just didn't want to give Blair any clues as to where she was at the moment.
"Frankly, Jojust a minute."
Jo checked her jeans for lint. Her new jeans, to go with her new belt, to go with her new green open-neck blouse, all the product of a busy afternoon getting ready for an encounter with Blair Warner that she did not want to happen.
When she heard a break in the round of goodbyes, Jo said, "Look, Blair, this is obviously a bad time. Why don't we-"
"No, it isn't," Blair interrupted. "I told you they're--oh, wait, the timer's going off."
"I'm putting you on speaker," Blair said. "Don't hang up."
And, just as she would have done since the day she met Princess Warner, Jo kept the phone to her ear. Well, maybe not that first day, she decided. At sixteen, she would have slammed down the receiver to make a point, and then stewed about it for hours until she saw Blair again. By eighteen, she would have just stayed on the damn phone all night long.
"Blair?" Yet another guy bidding her farewell. Amazing how attentive these guys were to their attractive CEO.
Sounding a little distracted, Blair replied, "Oh, hi, John, I thought you'd gone."
Jo perked up a bit. John Brevin?
"What are you doing?" the male voice asked.
"Just getting these out of the oven," Blair replied. "I think they're done."
"You're baking something?"
Now Jo could hear metal objects rattling around. "Hand me that other pan," Blair said. "It's under the skillet." More clamor. "Does this look nine by thirteen?"
Brevin didn't know either, apparently. "Since when do you cook?" he asked.
Jo pondered that question. If Blair and this guy were really having an affair, wouldn't he know the answer already?
"You'd be surprised," Blair replied. She sounded amused. "I know my way around a kitchen."
Jo rolled her eyes fondly. She'd be bragging about her extraordinary oatmeal-making talents next.
"Sure you do." The jerk was patronizing Blair, Jo decided, which gave her a vague sense of satisfaction, because what had been an irrational dislike of John Brevin now had a solid factual basis. "So, what's the experiment?"
"Brownies for Detective Polniaczek," she said. "She likes them. Or she used to, anyway."
Mmm, brownies . . . .
"She works with Detective Hastings," Blair explained.
"She's coming here?" he quizzed her. "Why?"
"Oh, a courtesy call, I'd say," Blair replied. "She'll be here in about an hour. These were just a test batch. It's been a while since I tried this."
There was still an hour to go? Jo had only been skulking in the lobby of Blair's apartment building for forty-five minutes? It seemed much longer.
"Do you think it's wise to have her here?" Brevin asked.
Why was he still hanging around? As if Jo didn't know the answer to that, from personal experience, in fact. Hanging around Blair Warner was an addiction.
The question made her friend laugh. "Probably not," she said. "But I've made that mistake before."
"I mean it, Blair. This is no time to get complacent."
"What are you talking about?" Blair sounded confused.
"Us," he said.
Jo's stomach began to churn. At least Blair's husband was barely there, so Jo could console herself on any given evening by thinking that they probably weren't together. She had refused to believe this alternative scenario.
"Us?" Blair repeated. "I don't understand."
"You and I," Brevin said. "Half our problem has been solved."
Jo pressed a finger against her free ear to hear better.
"John, what are you talking about?"
"You're not happy with Rob."
"Of course not," Blair said. "Everyone knows that."
"I know how you feel about me," he said. "Lyla told me."
Jo stood deathly still as she listened to whatever was playing out twenty-five floors above her.
"I never said anything like that to her," Blair said.
"You didn't need to," he replied. "She said the man you really wanted was married. Someone you've known for--"
Blair cut him off. "I don't want to discuss this right now, John," she said. "Why don't we get together for lunch tomorrow?"
"Lunch?" Brevin sounded incredulous. "I'm not one of your customers, Blair. Why are you acting like this?"
Something was horribly wrong here. Hurrying from the booth, Jo clamped her fingers across the mouthpiece to keep out the noise from passers by. She knew the desk clerk well from her visits last year, but when he opened his mouth to greet her, Jo held her right index finger to her lips to shush him, then gestured that she needed a pencil and paper.
"Lyla was a good friend," Blair said. "She didn't tell you who it was because she was protecting me."
"Who it was?"
"It wasn't you, John."
In Jo's ear, a stunned Brevin uttered, "What are you saying?"
Call 911-Det. Polniaczek needs backup--apt 2612--code 13. She thrust the note at Leon and ran toward the elevator.
"I like you, John. I always have, but--"
When the doors opened, Jo waited until the occupants exited, then held up her badge to keep anyone else from entering behind her.
"No." Brevin was losing it, Jo could tell. "I killed her for you."
Oh, shit! Jo pressed the Close Door button, trying to remain calm.
"What?" Now it was Blair who seemed stunned. "You weren't even in New York when Lyla died."
"Oh, please," he scoffed. "Do you know how many men look like me and will walk around a hotel for a thousand dollars and a new suit? He thought he was helping me cheat on my wife."
Blair did not respond.
"And now you're telling me that you were just leading me on the whole time."
"I wasn't leading you on," Blair said. "I didn't even know . . . ."
Of course she didn't. For someone who had used feminine wiles quite effectively all her life, Blair was amazingly oblivious to the effect she had on men at times. Hell, three hours into a ski vacation and a grown man had been willing to call off his wedding for her. That was when Jo had realized the true magnitude of the Blair Warner phenomenon.
"You've never said anything."
"I didn't think I had to," Brevin said. "My God, you really are a cunt."
"Chet told me, and I didn't believe him."
"Chet?" Blair sounded baffled. "Of course I flirted with Chet," she said. "I was trying to save my company. I needed his vote."
"And you'd fuck, cheat, lie, whatever it took to get your fifty-one percent."
"I never slept with Chet!"
"You just led him on, too." Brevin laughed. "Funny thing is, he doesn't care. He still thinks you're some kind of goddess, when you are just plain evil."
"Detective Polniaczek will be here any minute," Blair said quickly. She was truly frightened now.
I'm coming, Blair. Jo jabbed helplessly at the 26 button. Come on, come on!
"An hour from now, I believe you"
Jo stared down in disbelief at her cell phone, which blinked 'Call lost' at her. "Blair!" she yelled. Damn elevators!
When it finally arrived at the top floor, Jo ran down the hall until she came to Blair's penthouse. She rang the bell, and when no one answered, slammed her fist against the wood. "NYPD--open up!" she yelled. "Brevin, I know you're in there!"
She took a few steps back and threw herself at the door. It didn't budge. Summoning every bit of strength that she had, Jo charged again. This time the door crashed open, hanging at an angle by one hinge.
Oh, my God! On the floor beside the couch, Blair was on her knees, clawing at her throat. Behind her, John Brevin tightened the grip on a striped tie that was looped tightly around her neck.
Jo leapt straight at Brevin, knocking him off his feet. He was bigger and more muscular, and with little difficulty he tossed her away from him. She jumped on him again, wrapping a forearm around his neck as he tried to dislodge her. He spun around and slammed her up against the wall, and then again, knocking the wind out of her. As she fell to the ground, gasping for air, he hooked an arm around her neck and dragged her out onto the balcony.
He was going to throw her off, Jo realized in a panic. Twisting out of his grasp, she clambered to her feet and swept the back of his legs with her calf, using his momentum to push him up and over the railing. At the last second, his hand grabbed at her shirt, and Jo tumbled over with him. Flailing desperately, she jammed her arm between two rails to keep herself from plummeting.
The metal scraped against her skin as she hung there, kicking ineffectually at Brevin, who had hold of her legs. "Let go," she yelled, as if he actually would. The fucker was going to take them both down. Brevin reached for her belt and jerked on it as he tried to pull himself up. "Shit!" she grunted.
Suddenly, from the corner of Jo's eye, she saw a blur of motion. Something clanged against Brevin's head and he went motionless. A moment later, he dropped noiselessly to the street below.
Jo looked up. Blair stood above her, wild eyed, with a skillet in her hands. She dropped it to the floor of the balcony and grabbed at Jo's forearm.
"Let go!" Jo told her. The last thing she wanted was to accidentally drag Blair over with her if she fell, and damn if Jo's skin wasn't a little too sweaty for comfort right now.
"Get back up here!"
"Like I never thought of that!" Jo growled.
"Well, hurry up!"
The woman drove her crazy! A dozen retorts rolled through Jo's brain, but instead she said simply, "Stay back." She tightened her hold on the rail and swung her left leg up as high as it would reach. A stream of epithets later, she dropped down onto the balcony, exhausted.
Blair hurried over and sat down beside her, laying Jo's head in her lap. "Are you okay?"
Expelling a loud sigh of relief, Jo nodded. "Nice aim," she said. "I always said you were dangerous in the kitchen."
Blair stroked damp hair away from Jo's forehead. "Thank you for breaking down my door when you did. You must have been nearby."
"Yeah, kind of," Jo said vaguely. The stroking of Blair's palm was soothing, and she closed her eyes. Abruptly she remembered the scene she had barged in on, and she reached up to finger Blair's neck. "You all right?"
"Just some bruising, I think," Blair said. "I've been wanting to buy a new scarf, anyway. Halston has a new line of sheers out."
Suddenly, Jo blurted, "Who do you love, Blair?" Now that she had time to breathe, a crucial part of the conversation she had overheard had come roaring back into her brain.
After a brief pause, Blair replied, "It doesn't matter."
"Yeah, it does," Jo said. It mattered a lot.
It was, she decided, God's lousy sense of humor that sent three bull elephants rampaging into the apartment in that very instant, shouting her name.
"Put away the artillery," she told her colleagues when they finally made it out to the balcony. "He's gone."
"Who's he?" her partner asked.
"Brevin," Jo replied. "He was tryin' to strangle her." She looked up at Blair, and saw a slight smirk forming on her friend's face. They were both thinking what Jo would have added at one point in their lives: "Not that I blame him."
"Where is he?"
Jo nodded toward the railing. "Down there," she said. "You'll need a squeegee."
"Either of you need a medic?" Joe asked.
Her shoulder had been yanked out of its socket, Jo was pretty sure, but it didn't hurt as long as she stayed still. "Nah," she replied. "Why don't you guys go check out the mess? Give us a minute to get straightened out."
When they were gone again, Blair said quietly, "Poor Lyla. I would never have believed it of John."
The detective, on the other hand, was not all that surprised. She had seen plenty of guys lose it over a woman. And what a woman to lose it over. "Guys get crazy in the head," she said. "You're hard to get over."
"True," Blair replied thoughtfully. She looked down at Jo. "But not for my friends, apparently. I've really missed you."
In the relaxed atmosphere, Jo let down her guard a little. "Well, you know, Rob was back, and . . . ."
"He left again a week later," Blair said.
"Yeah, but . . . ."
You're married. You're straight. You're unattainable.
"Rob has very little to do with my life," Blair said matter-of-factly. "He was convenient. I was tired of fighting off those Japanese investors. Tired of being asked when I was going to get married. Just plain tired. So I decided to get it out of the way."
Get it out of the way? "You seemed happy enough at the wedding," Jo said.
"So did you and Rick."
Point taken. But Jo hated the idea of Blair Warner just settling. At one time the heiress had talked of marrying rich, without seeming to care much about compatibility, but Jo thought she had grown out of that. "You should have held out, Blair," Jo said. "Someone like you, there would have been a ton of offers."
"I didn't want their offers."
Jo couldn't stop herself from continuing the interrogation. "You were never interested in anyone?"
"Not in a practical sense."
What did that mean? "What, was the guy a garbage collector or something?" Jo asked. She had always wondered what would happen if Blair fell for someone below her standards. That brought back an amusing memory. "Remember that guy in Australia?" she said.
"The one we thought was a policeman?"
She could remember the face, but damned if Jo could remember his name. "What would you have done if he had turned out legit?"
"Done about what?"
"You liked him," Jo reminded her. "Would you have lowered your standards?"
Blair scoffed, "I liked every man I met back then." She countered, "And you liked the other one--what was his name?"
Jo did not remember it that way. She had mostly viewed herself as Blair's wing man, sticking around to keep her ditzy friend out of trouble.
"But if you're asking whether I would have been willing to marry a police officer, the answer is no."
Yeah, that was what Jo figured.
"Not back then," Blair clarified. "I would now."
"I've experienced a phony marriage," Blair said. "It's not worth it."
Jo wished they had engaged in this dialogue a year ago. She would have told Blair to boot the oil company exec and change the locks.
"I've never been attracted to Rob," Blair admitted. "Fortunately, I think he has a 'distraction' or two of his own in Riyadh, so he pretty much leaves me alone when he's here."
"You deserve better than that," Jo said honestly.
"I think so, too," Blair said, "but that's not always how life works out."
"Was there another guy you liked?" Jo thought back to what Blair had said to Brevin.
"He was married?"
"Are you sure we shouldn't get you looked at?" Blair said. "Your arm's bleeding."
Jo wasn't letting her off the hook that easily. She waited pointedly for the answer.
"Oh, all right," Blair said. "You'll laugh at me, but . . . . I'll say one thing more, and then we're through with this subject."
Jo did not reply. She would see whether she agreed with the condition.
"I met a woman. I think I'm . . . attracted to her." She suddenly decided to check out Jo's arm again. "See? I told you it was silly. It happens to most people at some point in their life, you know. There was an article about it in last month's Vogue. It's actually considered chic these days, and you know I've always been a trend setter." She paused in her rambling to glance into the main apartment. "I think your friends are back. We should go inside."
"When did you meet this woman?"
With a shrug, Blair replied, "A while back. We're done with this subject now. I dealt with it."
"When?" In case the blonde tried another dodge, Jo clarified, "When did you meet her, Blair?" She didn't care if the guys were in there waiting for her. Jo's life hung on the answer to this single question.
"Sixteen years ago."
Jo grinned at her. Thank you, God. "Anyone I know?"
"You're very annoying," Blair replied. "It was Pippa, in fact."
"Pippa was ten years ago," Jo corrected her. "And half your age."
Ignoring the protest, Jo went on, "You need someone the same age. Someone who knows all of your bullshit but for some reason puts up with you anyway."
Blair replied, "I could say the same for you."
"You could." Jo studied her friend. "So, have you ever kissed a girl?"
"No," Blair said. "It never came up. And after I married Rob, there was the pre-nup . . . ."
Rob. "What are you going to do about him?" Jo asked. When Blair didn't reply, it occurred to Jo that this was all moving a little fast. Or maybe it was way overdue. "Blair." She made sure she had the other woman's attention. "You deserve better," she said again.
Blair had always been confident in her ability to make decisions. "Yes, I do," she finally said. She peered through the balcony door to see if they were being observed, then placed a quick, almost chaste kiss on Jo's lips. "But I'll settle for you."
"Good morning, Birthday Girl."
"Mmm," Jo replied, stretching luxuriously. "Morning." She liked these surprise visits from Blair, especially on Friday nights when she didn't have to be up early the next day.
"How about some breakfast in bed?"
Sounded good to Jo. She reached for her lover. "I'm always up for that."
Blair wriggled from her grasp, compensating Jo for the loss with a kiss. "Time for that later," she said. Rising from the bed, she slipped into her lavish silk robe and walked over to unlock the door, getting the paper, Jo assumed. Instead, in walked a chauffeur and maid with grocery bags in hand.
"Right on time," Blair greeted them with a smile.
Jo quickly sank down beneath the sheet until only her face was sticking out. Geez, she was naked here!
Blair led her employees to the tiny area of Jo's studio that had euphemistically been called a "kitchen" in the ad. "Fromage frais sucre and croissants coming up," she announced happily.
So typically Blair. Beckoning her over, Jo whispered, "What are you doing? There's only one bed in here. And I'm naked." She gestured subtly toward the double that two people had obviously just slept in, among other things.
Patiently, Blair replied, "Charles brings me here in the evening and picks me up the next morning at least once a week. And Hildy doesn't change the sheets in the spare bedroom any more when you stay over." She leaned closer and whispered, "I think they're starting to suspect."
Jo frowned. God knew that she loved Blair, but her c'est la vie attitude toward everything could be a little frustrating.
"Come on, Sweetheart," Blair said. She reached for Jo's robe and held it out so that it concealed the brunette from view, not that anyone was looking. "You'll love this new dish. I had it in Paris last month."
She had time for a quick shower while Hildy stirred or whatever it took to make this French delight, Blair decided a few minutes later. Meanwhile, Jo sat back in a chair and shared the Times with Charles, pretending that this whole scenario wasn't mortifying for all of them. Finally, she couldn't take it any more. "Sorry about this," she said.
He shrugged and turned the page.
"You know Blair," she went on.
"This isn't bad," he said. "Better than when she leaves places at two in the morning. I don't get breakfast then."
Jo stared at him.
"That was a joke."
He set down the paper. "You don't really think she'd do that, do you?"
Jo wasn't insecure, but . . . .
"You're it for her," he said. "Kinda boring, actually." He went back to the perusing the opinions page.
The breakfast, whatever the heck it was called, was delicious. Afterward, Blair sent Charles to take Hildy home and then return for her later, which left them a little time . . . .
Arching her back, Jo buried her hands in Blair's locks. "Ohhh, God . . . ," she groaned. Hell, yeah. Opening her eyes, she gazed down at Blair, who planted a kiss on her stomach before raising herself up to snuggle contentedly into Jo's shoulder.
"I wish you didn't have to go," Blair said.
So did Jo. It just kept getting better every time.
Reluctantly, she forced herself out of the bed and into the shower. But when she emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, Blair was seated on the bed with her arms crossed. Jo knew that look. Something was wrong.
She didn't have to ask what it was. "You missed a call," Blair told her. She reached over and pressed the Play button on Jo's answering machine.
"Hey, Cutie," the woman's voice said. "I've made up some of my world famous potato salad, so you're on for chips. See you there."
Oh, hell. Jo wasn't sure what to say.
"Who was that?" Blair asked.
Her lover nodded as if she had expected the answer. "You said you had something at work today," she said. "That's why we couldn't spend your birthday together."
Lamely, Jo said, "It is a work thing." Kind of.
Blair waited for her to elaborate.
"It's . . . . an outdoor thing," Jo said. "For the precinct."
"And their families," Blair guessed.
Jo did not deny it.
"It's not really for friends," Jo said. "It's basically just . . . you know."
"Do men bring their girlfriends?"
This was painful. "Blair . . . ."
Blair held up her hands. "Fine," she said.
Defending herself, Jo pointed out, "It's easy for you. You've got nothing to lose." That much was true. As long as Blair Warner had the kind of money she had, she would always be invited to this event and that. People might speculate behind her back, but she would never be ostracized. Not that Jo would, either, not with the guys she worked with, but still . . . .
"I'm sorry if I make things difficult for you," Blair said.
Jo shook her head. "You know that's not what I mean."
"Actually, I'm not sure what you mean," Blair replied, "but I'll let you get to it."
"I don't have to be there til noon."
"Well, I have some things to do," Blair said. "I'll see you tonight."
So their dinner date was still on. That was a relief. Jo had her doubts about the usual after-dinner treat, though. "Let me just finish up," she said. "I'll walk you out." It was a hard and fast Polniaczek rule: Blair was not to set foot in the detective's shitty neighborhood without an escort. But when Jo stepped back into the room after brushing her teeth, Blair was gone. On the kitchen counter was a small, flat object wrapped in gold leaf and a red ribbon that had "Love, Blair" embroidered on it over and over.
Jo hurried down the stairs in her bare feet, but there was no sign of her lover.
"Someone's lost," Dan announced, aiming a chicken leg toward the parking lot where a woman had just stepped out of a shiny silver Jag.
"No kidding," Hastings replied. "What a sec--that's freakin' Blair Preskill." He started to rise, but Jo clamped a hand on his shoulder to keep him in place.
"I got it," she said.
Her nervousness built as she approached the blonde, and not just because most of her co-workers would be observing the exchange. Blair looked stunning in her blue capri pants and a floral blouse. It was nicer than what anyone else was wearing, but it fit the Warner definition of "casual".
"You got my message," Jo said.
"All of them," Blair said. "Office, cell, home, and Hildyyou were quite thorough." She smiled at Jo. "But then, you usually are."
Sexual innuendo from Blair never failed to make Jo weak in the knees, and normally she would have replied with something equally suggestive, but she had something to get off her chest. "Listen, I'm sorry," she said.
"There's nothing to be sorry about," Blair replied. "I shouldn't have pressured you into something you're not ready for."
Seeing Blair standing there, looking so beautiful and so wonderful, Jo couldn't remember why she had resisted this. "Come on over and meet the guys," she invited her.
"Are you sure?" Coyly, Blair added, "Last chance to chicken out."
Smart mouth. Jo knew what to do with one of those. Stepping forward, she reached for Blair's waist with both hands and kissed her. Nothing too obscene, not the oxygen-deprivation-tongue-twister Jo would have given her if they were alone, but enough to send a telegram to New York's finest sitting over in the picnic area.
Leading Blair back to her table, Jo shoved Dan a foot or so down the bench and swept her hand across the painted wood, then gestured for Blair to sit down. "Guys, this is Blair Warner," she said. "My girlfriend."
They had apparently received the message with enough time to absorb it, because as Joe's wife Trina reached out a hand in greeting, the man himself simply muttered, "Guess that explains Junior's good mood lately."
Introductions went quickly, and then Hastings swallowed his oversized bite of ham and turkey on rye. "So, did you have to eat ten mil for her?" he asked Blair. "'Cause I'd ask for my money back."
Before Jo could object to the intrusive question, Blair was answering it freely. Of course. Ms. Warner had never considered finances anything to keep quiet about.
"Actually, Jo and I behaved ourselves until the divorce was final," Blair said. "At Jo's insistence."
And what a miserable four months that had been, especially the night that Blair modeled the negligee she planned to wear on the big day. One look at that had strained Jo's resolve to the point that she had finally just snatched up her jacket and walked all the way home. Jo drifted into another memory for a moment. That negligee had only been good for one wearing, flimsy thing. Oh, yeah. She wondered if Blair had ever bought a replacement . . . .
Returning to her surroundings, Jo realized that she had missed something. "I remember that," Joe was saying to Blair while the other guys hooted. "She was in such a hurry to get out of there that she knocked half the shit off her desk. We asked her where the fire was."
In Jo's blood. It was the day that Blair had called to say the decree was final, and that Charles and Hildy and her assistant had been given the afternoon off. Twenty minutes later, Jo had let herself into the penthouse. Two minutes after that, she was on top of Blair in her new queen-sized bed, enjoying the sweetness of her friend's lips for the first time.
"So, Jo, you gonna move in?" Trina asked her.
Blair arched an eyebrow. She had made an offhand remark along those lines herself a few times. "I had my chauffeur time it, and it's only an extra ten minutes to the station," she said helpfully.
"You sure as hell can't have her at your place," Joe opined.
Well, I have, Jo almost said. Many times.
"I thought that dump had been condemned," Hastings said.
"Ha ha," Jo replied. "Who's hogging the dogs?"
It wasn't that she wasn't tempted, and they had sort of talked about it. Jo wouldn't even consider it without paying rent, and Blair had at least agreed to that ("Whatever").
Blair's leg pressed into Jo's as she laughed at some probably tasteless thing that Dan had said.
It wasn't as though she hadn't lived in close quarters with Blair before. Nothing scary there. Well, nothing new, anyway. And she could get used to the staff, she supposed.
Blair's calf rubbed against hers again.
But they would need a lot more time off . . . .
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