DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the sequel to "Trial by Fire." You don't have to read that story to follow this one, but it might help. Thanks to darandkerry for the wonderful beta and title!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Playing with Fire
By Inspector Boxer
The brownstone was the size of half her building, Nora deduced, and she would swear she could smell old money mixed in with the mortar between the bricks as they passed beside the century old-building. Pungent pink flowers were in full bloom behind a small, wrought iron fence as the two partners made their way up a set of steep stone steps toward the front door. Nora had no idea what the blooms were, but she suspected they were expensive and very hard to come by.
"You don't think we'll find another Wentworth dead in here, do you?" Nikki asked before ringing the bell.
"God, I hope not."
It took a second ring before the detectives heard a series of locks disengage. A young Hispanic woman cracked open the door and peered out at them. "Yes?" Her English was heavily accented.
Nikki held her badge up for inspection. "I'm Detective Nikki Beaumont, and this is my partner Nora Delaney. We're looking for Sarah Wentworth?"
"One moment." The woman disappeared, and the door closed once more.
Nikki turned to look at Nora as they waited.
"You know the daughter?" Nora asked. Sometimes it seemed like Nikki knew everyone.
Nikki shook her head. "Met her brother David once. He's an odd one."
"Came to a social event rather unkempt. Not sure he'd bathed in a week. Rumors are that he's got some mental health issues as well as a bad habit or two."
"What kind of mental health issues?" Nora wanted to know as she glanced up and down the street. The curb was lined with expensive vehicles, and she hoped her El Camino wouldn't get towed by some snotty neighbor while they were inside.
"The kind that gets you kicked out of the country club for going ape-shit crazy and smashing a very pricey ice sculpture at the Debutante Ball two springs ago."
Nora's lips quirked into a half-smile, half-smirk. "And here I thought all these rich and haughty social functions were such a bore. I never realized how often they get physical."
"You'd fit right in," Nikki teased. "Social functions are like NASCAR. You don't go for the race you go to watch the crashes."
Nora barked out a laugh just as the front door opened again.
"Ms. Wentworth will see you now," the young woman announced as she stepped aside and allowed the detectives to enter.
Sarah Wentworth was waiting for them in the foyer. She was a tall woman, close to Nikki's five ten in height with a cascade of platinum blonde hair falling in waves down her back. Her skin was a healthy tan with a smattering of freckles across her small nose and cheeks that brought out the hazel of her eyes. She was probably close to forty in age, but she looked more like thirty-five. "Detectives," she greeted coolly. "I assume this is about Charles."
Charles? Nora wondered what kind of woman called her father by his first name. "Partially," she replied almost cryptically. "Could we sit down?"
Sarah hesitated before gesturing behind her. "It's a lovely afternoon. Why don't we take our business out to the balcony?"
"That would be fine," Nikki answered agreeably as they followed Wentworth through the spacious and tidy brownstone. There were fresh vacuum tracks on the thick tan carpet, and the residence smelled strongly of furniture polish. As Nikki watched, the housekeeper who had greeted them at the door dusted a small figurine and put it back precisely as she found it.
The balcony was actually one in a series the detectives discovered as they stepped outside. The brownstone was three stories tall with each level containing its own wrought iron space. They all took their seats as Sarah removed a cigarette from a silver carrying case and proceeded to light it without asking for the detective's permission.
Nikki and Nora exchanged a look, silently communicating that Nikki was to take the lead.
Nikki leaned forward. "Ms. Wentworth, when was the last time you saw your mother?"
"My mother?" Sarah asked as she blew smoke through her perfectly parted lips. "What does she have to do with this? Surely you don't think she dumped daddy-dearest into Lake Pontchartrain? Not that I would blame her. He was a cheating bastard who finally got what was coming to him." She almost sounded like she was going to laugh.
"Ms. Wentworth," Nikki said slowly. "We found your mother a few hours ago. I'm afraid I have to inform you that she's been murdered."
The cigarette paused between the ashtray and Sarah's lips. Her hazel eyes darted first to Nikki's gaze and then to Nora's. "You're joking."
Nora wanted to ask who would joke about something like that, but she held her tongue and waited for Nikki to continue, watching her partner's profile as the late afternoon sun almost lit her in silhouette.
"I'm sorry," Nikki told the other woman.
Sarah slowly brought the cigarette the rest of the way to her lips, taking a long drag on it before blowing the smoke out with less flare than before. "Well. That's " She paused. "Unsettling."
"Both your parents are now dead and all you can say is 'that's unsettling?'" Nora asked with a hint of heat.
Sarah looked at the blonde detective with disdain. "My mother hasn't been the same since her stroke," she answered, steel in her voice. "I feel like I lost her then."
"She lived alone," Nikki pointed out. "Obviously she was still capable of taking care of herself. She could certainly have afforded the help if she needed it."
"Certainly," Sarah agreed. "But her personality was different. She became abrasive, rude after the stroke. It got harder and harder to be in her presence. It's like my mother was gone, replaced by this foul-mouthed old bag who had the manners of a sailor on shore leave."
"So you were estranged," Nora pointed out diplomatically.
Sarah smirked. "What a polite way of putting it." She stubbed out her cigarette. "Still it's a shock to hear she's passed."
"Not just passed," Nikki reminded her. "Murdered."
"As you said," Sarah agreed. She shook her head. "Who would want to murder my mother? My father that I can understand even applaud. But my mother? She was in a wheelchair."
"You haven't asked how," Nora pointed out in a far less diplomatic tone.
"How what?" Sarah asked, her gaze fixing on Nora again.
"How she was murdered."
A smile slowly etched onto Sarah's features. "Oh dear," she murmured. "Does that make me a suspect?"
Nikki took a breath, sensing Nora had a strong urge to reach across the table and smack the daughter of the deceased. She also suspected that wouldn't look good in their report. Nikki put a warning hand on her partner's knee, feeling Nora twitch in surprise. "Someone slit your mother's wrists and left her in the bathtub to die."
Sarah's gaze traveled back to Nikki and lingered there. "Slit her wrists? And you don't think it was a suicide?"
"We don't." Nora's voice was hard, but it ended almost in a squeak when Nikki unexpectedly squeezed her knee. She shot her partner a glare that could melt steel.
Nikki ignored her. "We haven't ruled it out, but we suspect murder."
"I see," Sarah said thoughtfully. "Have you talked to my brother yet?"
"He's next on our list," Nikki informed her.
"I see," Sarah said again.
"Is there anyone you can think of that would want to harm your parents?" Nikki asked, her thumb absently stroking Nora's jean-clad leg. She wasn't even aware her hand was still lingering, savoring the heat of her partner through the denim.
Nora swallowed, her eyes fixed on Nikki's long fingers where they rested on the curve of her knee. It was telling that she had no desire to remove her partner's hand. Nora raked a hand through her hair as she felt her body beginning to warm at the touch. Inwardly, she scolded herself at her inappropriate thoughts. Besides the fact that she was reacting to her partner of all people, she was doing it after informing a woman, albeit a stuck-up bitch of one, that her mother was dead. Surely that meant Nora was going to burn in hell at some point, she decided.
"As I told the other detectives the other night, there are plenty of people who would want to kill my father. I'm baffled over my mother, however."
"If you think of anyone " Nikki slipped a business card out of her wallet and offered it to Sarah who studied it.
"Arthur Beaumont's daughter," Sarah said after a moment. "I thought your name was familiar."
Nikki gave her a tight smile. "Well, we'll leave you alone to grieve."
Sarah smiled as the two detectives stood. "Don't judge me," she told them as they looked down at her. "I'm just being honest in my feelings. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you just to make myself look innocent."
"From what I've heard about you, Ms. Wentworth, no one would ever accuse you of being innocent," Nikki drawled. She turned and walked away, leaving a bemused Nora to offer the now fuming Sarah Wentworth a cheeky smile before she followed Nikki back inside.
"Sorry," Nikki muttered as they descended the steps. "I let her get to me after trying not to let her get to you."
Nora hurried after her partner and shrugged as they reached the sidewalk. "Don't apologize. I just wanted to slug her. I think a slap at her social standing was far more effective."
Nikki almost giggled. Nora was quickly picking up on a thing or two about the upper class. She sighed instead. "Still. Not exactly professional of me." She opened her car door and waited to get inside until Nora did.
They both shut their doors almost in sync. "Maybe," Nora allowed, before turning to look at her partner and grinning. "But it was damn fun to watch."
Nikki felt her stomach flip at that smile. "Don't encourage me," she chastised, but there was humor creeping in around the edges of her voice. "Did that interview even get us anywhere? Feels like we just let her piss us off."
"We did," Nora agreed as her smile faded. "I think she was messing with us. You got the last word, but I think we just got played."
"I don't like that," Nikki muttered.
"You and me both," Nora agreed. She started the car. "Have Darius take a hard look at Sarah Wentworth. She knows something."
Nikki was already flipping open her phone. "She couldn't have done it alone. Sarah is tall, but she didn't look especially strong. I can't see her subduing her mother, let alone her father."
"Agreed," Nora said as she eased them out into the street. "But she pings on my radar."
Nikki bit down on her lip, deciding that making any jabs about Nora's radar wouldn't be a good idea. They were making progress between them as the day wore on, the tension between them easing more and more. The last thing Nikki wanted to do was to jeopardize that.
"What the hell was that about anyway? She didn't even bat an eye when we told her that her mother was murdered. How can someone be that cold?" Nora asked, oblivious to Nikki's amusement at her expense.
Nikki just shook her head. "It'll be interesting to get a read on the brother. Wonder if there is no love loss there for the parents as well."
"Yeah," Nora sighed.
"Yeah," Nikki echoed.
"A rehab center. Why am I not surprised?" Nora turned off the ignition as they looked at the glass structure before them. "This is the right address, right?"
Nikki studied her notepad and then let her hand drop into her lap. "Yep. Should have recognized it, actually." She saw Nora give her a startled look out of the corner of her eye. "I just came off a stint in narcotics, remember? I've interviewed my share of witnesses here dumped a few off at the front door as well."
"Hmm." Nora sighed.
A few minutes later, they were walking through the front lobby, a counselor named Stan leading the way. He was an older man, probably in his mid-sixties, Nora guessed, and had more than his share of run-ins with the police during his day if the looks he kept shooting at them over his shoulder were any indication
There were lots of plants and marble in the lobby, making the world appear to be nothing but a green and gray blur as they passed empty chairs and a few patients watching a big screen TV. Two young men were sitting on a couch, their feet propped up, as they watched ESPN.
"Real tough love you have here," Nora muttered as they stepped into an elevator and waited for Stan to use his passkey to activate it, before pushing the button for the third floor.
Stan glanced at her and frowned. "They had to earn the privilege to watch," he snipped.
The elevator doors opened a few moments later, revealing what almost looked like a hotel floor. They turned left. "Mr. Wentworth is at the end," Stan informed them tightly. They arrived at the door, and Stan knocked. "David? It's Stan. May I come in?"
There was no response.
"Obviously he doesn't wish to have visitors," Stan declared as he turned and started back the way they'd come.
"No so fast there, Stan," Nikki said as she grabbed his elbow. "We need to talk to Mr. Wentworth. Open it."
"I will not invade the man's privacy."
"Stan," Nora almost purred his name. "Both of Mr. Wentworth's parents have been murdered in the last seventy-two hours. David could be lying in there on the floor dead or dying, and we wouldn't know because you don't like cops and want to be a prick about it."
Stan glanced at Nikki who smiled at him insincerely.
"Fine," the man griped. He retrieved his key again and slid it home. The locked beeped, and he shouldered the door open, moving aside to let the detectives enter.
"Mr. Wentworth?" Nikki called out. "NOPD."
The room was a wreck. Dirty clothes were everywhere, and there were multiple pizza boxes stacked haphazardly on the kitchen table. The space smelled like week old garbage.
Nikki's nose wrinkled as Nora went to the bedside table and picked up one of several pill bottles. She studied the prescription, recognizing it as a popular sleep aide. The bottle was empty. Nora frowned as she picked up two more, discovering they were empty as well. She turned and looked at Stan. "Where is he?"
Stan shrugged. "Maybe he's in the john."
Nikki moved through the room and opened the door to the bathroom. Her hand flew to her nose and mouth as the smell of vomit assaulted her.
"What?" Nora asked in alarm.
It was then that the curtains leading out to a small balcony billowed in the breeze. What Nora saw behind them made her heart leap up into her throat. "Sweet Jesus."
Nikki pulled her firearm, as Nora raced to the porch, not sure what was happening but picking up on her partner's sudden fear.
Stan stumbled out of the way, only to go still when he saw what had sent Nora scurrying outside.
David Wentworth was standing on the rail of his balcony; his arms stretched wide, with nothing between him and the ground three stories below but air. Stan yanked open the door and ran for help.
"David?" Nora called as she eased out onto the balcony. "David, my name is Nora."
David turned and looked at her. He would normally have been a handsome man in his late twenties with his cleft chin, bronze skin, and dark sweep of hair that hung low on his forehead, but there was madness in his eyes, an unhinged quality Nora had seen in too many cokeheads in her time. There was vomit on his dark blue shirt and jeans; probably where he'd heaved up all the medicine he'd taken. She extended her arms to look as non-threatening as possible, and he laughed.
"Wanna fly too?" he asked, sounding almost like a little boy. "Fly, fly away."
Nikki re-holstered her weapon and watched her partner take a step closer to David Wentworth. Her own heart was thundering in her chest now, so loud she could barely make out what Nora was saying. Only the soothing tones of her partner's voice seemed to sink through, Nikki realized, and that at least made her feel calmer even if it wasn't working for David.
"David, you need to come down now," Nora continued as she inched forward another step. She could hear voices from below and guessed Stan had notified the proper people of what was happening. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Nikki easing around Wentworth's other side. Fear for all of them settled like a cold ball in her belly. They would both try to grab Wentworth if he jumped. She just hoped his momentum wouldn't fling them all over the edge.
"Why?" His head fell back, and he took a deep, congested breath. "Flying means freedom. Freedom means flying. Wanna get away. Get away from everything I've done."
Nikki wanted to ask what he meant, but she didn't want to spook him. His attention was on Nora exclusively. Hopefully he didn't even realize she was there.
"What did you do, David?" Nora asked casually.
David's features lost some of their euphoria. "Bad things. Really bad things." He looked down at the people swarming below. Suddenly, he smiled again. "Think they could catch me?"
Nora swallowed hard. "I think they'd rather not. You might hurt them."
"Hurt them?" David frowned. "Don't want to hurt anyone else."
"That's right," Nora agreed, almost to the ledge now. "You don't want to hurt anyone else. So you need to come down now."
"But I wanna fly," he whined, some part of his still functional brain clearly torn between his options.
"We'll fly together tomorrow, okay?" Nora offered. "We'll go some place even higher than this one. We'll be able to soar in the clouds."
With that, David abruptly turned and hopped off the ledge, nearly scaring both detectives witless.
"Promise?" David asked Nora like a hopeful child. His hands gripped her shoulders to keep him upright. He was completely unaware of the other woman behind him.
"Promise," Nora said tightly. Her gaze drifted down to David's left hand, and she had a moment of hatred for her job.
The broken soul she'd just talked off the ledge had dried blood under his fingernails.
"This is not the Wentworth's week," Nikki murmured as an ambulance pulled away from the front of the rehab center.
Nora sighed as the two detectives waited until the vehicle was out of sight before turning and heading back to David's room. The lab techs would be there soon, so they knew they'd better get a look while they could. "Not exactly ours, either."
"Is it wrong I almost feel sorry for him?"
"If it is, then we're both screwed," Nora confessed. She rubbed at her tight neck muscles and winced.
Nikki looked on sympathetically. It had been a hell of a day, and there was no end in sight. An appealing thought struck her, almost making her breathless by how badly she wanted to make it a reality. She licked her lips before mustering the courage to ask Nora what she wanted to ask. "Listen," she said slowly.
Nora glanced at her.
"When we finally wrap up this day can I can I buy you a drink? Not in a date sort of way," she hastily added. "Just one partner buying another partner a beer after a really shitty day."
Nora knew it was best to say no, to keep the distance that had formed between them. But she missed Nikki's company desperately, and a part of her craved the chance for the two of them to be alone together, if only for a while. It was bound to be tense and awkward at times, but Nora weakly confessed to herself that she'd take even that if it meant spending time with Nikki.
The revelation was a terrifying one, but there was something strangely freeing about it as well.
"I " Nora hesitated at the door to David's room. "I'd like that."
Nikki's shoulders visibly relaxed. "Maybe we could go to Orange? Get a little dancing in while we're at it?" she offered with a fraction of a smile.
The two partners stared at each other for a long moment.
"Yeah," Nora finally said. "Sounds pretty damn perfect."
Nikki watched her partner step through the door of David Wentworth's apartment, and she swallowed. She'd really only meant the invitation to be from one partner to another. So why did it suddenly feel like so much more than that? Why did it feel like maybe she'd gone over that ledge after all?
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