DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. Popular belongs to Ryan Murphy. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The version of Sam used in this story comes from another embarrassingly long Brooke/Sam saga I wrote a while ago called Just a Little Insight. But you donít have to read that to get this. I just used Sam becauseÖ itís Sam. And Carly Pope is hot.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Misty Flores
Vibrations in her hand as she manipulated the scroll wheel of the Blackberry alerted Sam McPherson to an incoming call.
Getting a good look at the screen, she didn't stop the cheesy grin from lighting up her features as she fumbled with the buttons, and then accidentally pressed 'ignore'.
"Crap!" Immediately, she slung her bag over her shoulder, and redialed. One finger pressed against her free ear, an attempt to minimize the noisy interference of a busy precinct hallway and crappy reception of the basement, she finally got a static-y hello. "Sorry," she answered immediately. "I pressed the wrong button."
"I thought you had figured that thing out by now," Brooke replied, voice lovingly laced with amusement.
"You'd think, right?" Shaking her head at her own inadequacy, Sam shrugged cheerfully. "Actually, I was in the middle of calling you."
At this, Brooke replied quickly, "Tell me we're not too co-dependant."
"You have a problem with it?" she asked, mildly amused.
"It's so lesbian," Brooke exclaimed, and Sam fought the urge to laugh at Brooke's expense. "Calling each other every day fighting a 9 hour time difference? You'd think we'd gotten over the need like five years ago."
"Hey, don't knock the intercontinental phone sex!" she groused. "What, you want us to be boring?"
"Your completely ridiculous fear of boredom tells me that will never happen."
It was an affectionate statement, and despite herself, Sam found herself blushing like a love-struck adolescent, and feeling silly as a result. Ducking her head as a passing officer looked her way, she leaned into the doorway.
"Brooke, I hate to break it to you, but when you're sleeping with a woman exclusively? Kinda makes you gay."
"Hearsay," she heard, before she heard a throaty chuckle. "So how goes the Pride? Feeling Queer yet?"
Hesitating slightly, Sam glanced back at the closed door to the morgue. "Actually I kinda tabled that for now."
"You tabled your writing assignment?"
"Oh, it's the Pride Parade, Brooke. Like it'll be really hard to write THAT up."
"Hey, until you're stuck in the Mutter Museum at three am, shooting a big ass giant colon? I wouldn't complain."
"The thrill of the Travel Channel," she agreed solemnly. "Seriously, though. Remember I told you about my babysitter and her crazy lady cop who hates me?"
"First impressions die hard?"
"Harder," she nodded. "But they're looking for some guy in China Town - some gang member with the last name Li. Cindy and I are gonna try to find him."
The other woman fell silent. "So instead of doing a nice and safe writing assignment about the Pride parade, you and the red-head are heading into the Chinatown underground to infiltrate some gang contacts to locate a murderer?"
Sam winced at the description. "Okay, when you put it that way, it sounds dangerous."
"Maybe because it is?!" The playfulness was gone completely. "Sam, come on. We talked about this. Recently."
"Yes, okay? I know." Slumping against the wall, Sam felt like a chastised child. "But I'm BORED, Brooke."
"I seriously have no idea what to do with you."
"You know exactly what to do with me," she charged simply.
That at least, seemed to buffer Brooke's ruffled feathers. "Well, what if I'm over there to do them?"
"We finished shooting early. My A.P. can handle it from here. I can be on a plane and get to San Francisco in sixteen hours."
A flash of hope stuttered inside her. "Seriously?"
"We can be Pride-Y together."
"Hooray." Behind her, the door slammed open, and jumping slightly at the noise, Sam glanced back to discover the aforementioned red-head stalking to her, face significantly more crimson than it had been before. "Babe, I gotta go. Babysitter looks pissed. I'll see you soon."
"Love you, Sammy."
She smiled. "Backatcha." Disconnecting the line, she lowered the phone just in time to stare curiously at the mottled face. "So not a good conversation?"
"Let's just go," Cindy breathed, reaching up to push a bang behind her ear, in a move that was oddly reminiscent of Brooke.
"Got a minute?" Lindsay Boxer asked, poking her head into the office of her ex-husband and current boss.
Tom Hogan, digging through paper work, snapped his head up and waved his hand to her. "Please," he begged, dropping the pen and shoving the folders to the side. "Save me from the mountain of crap that is my job."
"Do it on a daily," she quipped, and after a moment of stalled silence, stepped inside his domain, hands in her back pockets. Easy friendship with Tom happened only when she wasn't expecting it. When she thought TOO much, she remembered too much, and her ex was now a married man.
Still, the transition from lover to friend was, all things considered, easier than she expected. When she drew that line, she found herself with no real need to cross it.
"What up?" he asked, with a kind smile, motioning to the chair in front of his desk. "Got anything on the club murder?"
"Working on a couple angles," she said automatically. "Actually, I was hoping you could help with that. We got a tip that he could be a member of the Joe Boys."
He nodded knowingly. "Yeah, Jacobi filled me in. I've got a couple contacts in Chinatown, not as many as I do with the Latinos, though."
"Well, everyone has to specialize," she conceded, and got an eye-roll in response. "It's okay. I'm not out of options yet."
"Right. Your many mysterious 'sources'," he replied, air-quoting with a smirk.
"Bite me," she said heatedly, feeling un-naturally defensive. "Those sources have saved your job on many occasions."
"Hey, I'm not complaining!" he back-pedaled, hands up in a surrender position. "Your sources have my thanks. You can also thank her for the cookies she sent for Christmas." He patted his stomach. "Hard as a rock but saved me from a vending machine run at midnight."
Of course, Cindy WOULD send cookies to the head of the police precinct.
A pained smile flashed on her face, and desperate for distraction, she found herself asking, "How's Heather?"
Seemingly amused at her descent into out of character politeness, Tom grinned broadly. "She's good," replied the newlywed. "Getting back into the groove of things. Settling into the married life."
"Great," she replied, a little distantly.
Watching her carefully, Tom finally leaned forward, large hands clasped together as he eyed her with kind brown eyes. "Lindsay," he began frankly. "How are you holding up?"
Normally, such a frank question would merit some kind of bullshit answer, perhaps a snide remark. The scathing encounter this morning with Cindy didn't leave her with the energy, especially with Tom's kind, intense expression studying her closely.
With a sigh, she shrugged wearily. "It's taking its toll," she responded, knowing that he'd know immediately what she was referring to. "And Asshole Agent Ashe isn't making things any better by stalking me and prophesying doomsday scenarios on my doorstep."
"Get used to it," he answered sharply. "Until we catch this guy, that one is your shadow."
"He's weird, Tom."
"You're weirder," came the snap. "And I'd rather have you stalked than have you dead."
He meant it, of course, and despite herself, Lindsay found herself battling a smile at the statement.
"Because you like to see me miserable?" she asked airily.
"Consider it a boss' perk," he responded, but his expression was serious. "That guy's still out there, Lindsay. We can't afford to get lazy."
The assumption that she had glossed over the serial killer's imminent threat was insulting. "You know, back when he wasn't threatening me directly, everyone else gave up on him. You, Claire, Jill, Jacobi- I was the only one that kept looking. I was the one that kept going after him-"
"At what cost?!" The statement was a yell, and Lindsay kept silent, the pink elephant large in the room. He blamed the devolvement of their marriage on Lindsay's obsession with the serial killer - that wasn't new. "You gave up everything to find that guy and what it got you was him coming after you. Now he's coming at you again, and he wants to do one better." Dark eyes furrowed in earnest anger. "Lindsay, don't let him beat you."
"So what? Living afraid? Living in a bubble? Looking over my shoulder and around every corner, that's winning?" The anger was real, frustration bottled up that came out ready to burst, and Tom had always been an easy target. "Keeping me so focused on my own life I can't focus on saving others? That's winning?"
"You can't tell me what it is to LOSE something, Tom!" she snapped, rising out of her chair, eyes suddenly stinging with unshed tears.
"The hell I can't!" He nearly spit back at her. "I lost you to him long before I asked you for a divorce, Lindsay."
She stared at him, the angry expression, the wild look of concern.
Shaking her head at the impossible emotion, she headed for the door. "I wouldn't worry, Tom. You recovered just fine."
"Stop." That was an order, and despite herself, she froze, eyes closing, angry at herself for allowing this to happen. "Lindsay."
Against her better judgement, she turned on her heel, and encountered an apologetic expression on her ex-husband's face. Christ, he was feeling sorry for her.
"Don't," she commanded, rough voice betraying her anger. "I'm not in love with you anymore, Tom." She said it, and she heard the words, and to her astonishment, she realized that statement was actually true. "But you telling me not to let him beat me? Say I take that advice. Say I run with it, and I keep my head held high and let Ashe stalk me. I still can't get what I want. There's still a psycho after me, and that makes me poison, to anyone I want."
"That's not true," he said, automatic, desperate to be a cheerleader.
With a lost shrug, she bit her lip and shook her head. "Yes it is. I'm done wasting people's time."
Sam McPherson leaned over to inspect a tray full of turtles, stacked on top each other.
Between that, and the fish who had to lay on their sides to just stay underneath the barely filled water tanks, she felt culturally insensitive and vaguely ill.
"Lily," she breathed as a prayer to her environmentalist friend, "I think I just became a vegetarian."
Wiping at the sweat at the back of her head, she resisted the urge to buy a turtle and save him from a soup existence. She could almost hear Brooke speaking logically in her ear: Come on, Sammy, where would she stash a turtle in a hotel room?
"I should buy Mac a turtle," she said, cocking her head at the thought. The little sister she and Brooke shared appreciated aquatic pets, though Sam's mother already complained incessantly about the intricate aquarium that had been bought by Sam and Brooke, and now had to be maintained.
"Buy who a turtle?" Cindy finally appeared, looking sweaty and a little tired.
"My little sister," Sam explained, but thoughts of freeing the poor little turtles flew from her mind. "So? What's the word?"
They walked quickly through the fish market, and Sam had to duck underneath a particularly large tuna as they leaned together to compare notes. In this part of Chinatown, away from the tourist stalls with the little drums, firecrackers and bamboo plants, they were conspicuous, but Sam supposed, as they pulled out the map to investigate, they could pass as lost tourists who had gotten off track.
"Okay," Cindy breathed, looking at the pen marks they had scrawled against the incomprehensible diagram that was Chinatown. "So we were right about this being Joe Boys' turf. My guy said that there has been talk about the guy around here, but as a people, Chinese don't talk."
It was another aspect of cultural identity, and Sam found herself nodding grimly. "They take care of business on their own, definitely."
"I was able to get the location of three major hang outs," Cindy continued, and with a red pen, circled three areas in their grid neatly. It drew a neat triangle.
Sam studied it closely. "Cool," she sighed, giving Cindy half of the map so they could view it better together. "That leaves " Pulling out her blackberry, she glanced at her notes. "Approximately four registered Li's between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five registered in that area." Her feet ached from the walking. "Four's better than thirteen."
"Narrowing it down at least," Cindy agreed. "I really want to go further, but I have a feeling if we start questioning these guys about a murder suspect it might get dangerous, and Lindsay has a tendency to arrest me when she feels I've overstepped my reporter bounds." Their eyes locked. After a moment, the other girl smiled. "You know, whenever someone tells me that my job is glamorous, I feel the compelling urge to clock them in the head."
It was a familiar mantra. "Yeah," Sam agreed, folding up the map and handing it back to her. "Not that the invention of 'Google' hasn't helped, but don't you wish real reporting was like what it is in television? You know, flash cut and boom - you've rifled through all the thousand year old articles and found the one you're looking for?"
"Try eleven biker bars and thirteen pawn shops to find one laptop," Cindy added, wincing at the thought, as they once again squirmed their way through the busy fish market. "I'm usually the lone Ranger kinda gal with this stuff. It's kinda nice to have like-minded company."
"Those who slave together, stay together," Sam quipped, and then grew silent. "You know," she began, a little more carefully now. "You might be on your own tomorrow though." At Cindy's questioning glance, she shrugged. "Brooke's getting on a plane, meeting me here. Keeping me on the Pride-y straight and narrow."
There was a flash of something in Cindy's eyes, but she smiled at the news. "That's great," she said. "It'll be nice to meet her."
"Yeah," she replied, but found herself furrowing her eyes at the obvious distracted tone. "So Bitchy Lady Cop will be happy with this," she offered, holding up the map. "Saved her some work."
Cindy nearly grimaced in response. "Yeah, I guess. Doesn't really distract from the big picture though."
"What's the big picture?" When Cindy hesitated, Sam frowned. "Come on, Cindy. You can trust me."
Biting down on her lower lip, the other girl finally seemed to give up, voice lowering as they kept walking. "I know, but I promised Lindsay."
There was a word for Cindy: Whipped.
"Okay," she finally agreed, and they walked on, the silence between them suddenly awkward.
"So, speaking of google," Cindy began, breaking with an easy conversational tone. "On a whim, I ran a search. I'm a little impressed."
With a muted smile, Sam nodded humbly. "Backatcha."
"That piece on the Iraq war, about the food supply shortage?" Cindy's shoulders came up. "It gave me chills."
The memory that came with it was a painful one. "Yeah " she managed, bright expression dimming somewhat. "It's gonna be hard to forget. So you're going to ask me how I went from doing hard-hitting war stories to Pride puff pieces?"
"The thought had crossed my mind."
"I was almost kidnapped," she admitted roughly. "The guys I was with, their unit? A car bomb exploded while we were delivering food supplies to civilians. We barely made it out. Two of them died. Brooke and my family they just they flipped out. After that, I promised Brooke I'd take it easy."
"That's quite a sacrifice," Cindy said, and Sam immediately knew she was talking about curbing the baser instinct for the truly meaningful story, in favor of fluffy lifestyle pieces.
"I know what it's like to almost lose somebody," she conceded, thinking immediately to the always hateful memory of seeing Brooke mowed down by a vindictive Nicole Julian on prom night. "And I wasn't ready to die yet. It sounds cowardly, doesn't it?"
"No," Cindy answered immediately. Her eyes were dark, expression distant. "It takes a lot to put someone else's needs before your own."
"Well puff pieces aren't gonna cut it," Sam decided. "But you know? I'm really into music, and for a while, I was doing some pretty awesome stuff. I got this interview with this up and coming indie singer? It went over well and I really liked it. She used to have a band that was huge in LA, Elphaba Thropp, but now she's gone solo."
"Wait." A hand on her elbow forced her to stop. "Dusty? Dusty Sims?"
Sam blinked, surprised at the obvious familiarity. "Don't tell me you know her?"
"Please, when it comes to indie rock, I know everyone." Cindy looked adorable star struck. "How did you know Dusty Sims?"
A reluctant smile spread over Sam's lips. "She's Brooke's ex-girlfriend."
"God, that's incestuous."
Sam gave her a look.
"We're gay step-sisters in love," she replied flippantly. "You can't get more incestuous than that."
"So explain to me why exactly it is so friggin' hard to get through Lois Lane's head that sharing with reporters is off-limits?"
The greeting from Lindsay Boxer forced Claire to look up from the body she was currently examining.
Eyeing her haunted friend, Claire considered her words carefully, concentrating on getting her tweezers into the cavity at just the right angle before she began, "Only if you explain to me why it bothers you so much."
The question was met with stalled silence, and then it sunk in.
"Jill told you," Lindsay remarked flatly.
With a small nod and a faint smirk, Claire nodded. "'Fraid so."
Hissing, Lindsay stomped her foot, looking suddenly like a petulant child. "Aw, man!" she drawled, Texas accent more pronounced.
"Well, we don't have to talk about it." Agreeably, she smiled supportively. "Obviously, if you're not ready."
"I just don't see the point!" Lindsay growled, flipping black tresses over her shoulder and out of her eyes. "Talking about things changes nothing. I don't see why everyone is so amped on explaining themselves and their emotions."
"Well, some people consider confiding in friends a release," Claire explained diplomatically.
"And some people just can't seem to stop with the confiding!" Lindsay pouted, scuffing the ground of the morgue with her boot as she leaned against an empty metal counter. "I bet Cindy's told her everything by now."
"Now that's not fair, and you know it."
"I don't have to be fair," Lindsay grumbled. Apparently, her emotionally constipated friend was determined to be childish about this. "I'm a cop."
"You know you really hurt her this morning." That, at least, managed to get a startled glance up, and a guilty expression.
"She had it coming."
"No she didn't," Claire countered softly. "You're obviously jealous of this Sam girl and between that and your mixed emotions about your aborted affair, you lashed out."
"Oh, fine. Take her side."
"Lindsay, being emotionally constipated is no excuse for hurting a friend," Claire said firmly, and once again, she caught the slightest look of vulnerability flash over Lindsay's features. "I know you like her, Lindsay, and I know your reasons for trying to keep her away from you. But if you're serious about calling this girl a friend, then she deserves better than abuse and mixed signals."
Ready to argue, her stubborn friend opened her mouth, and after a stalled minute, closed it again, looking once again to the floor, scuffing her boot along the floor.
Crossing her arms, Lindsay mumbled faintly, "No one said you had to be so damned reasonable about everything."
"If you wanted anything else you would have gone to Jill. Or Tom. Or even Jacobi." Lindsay froze, looking caught. "You already went to everybody."
"Tom and I got into another fight about the Kiss-Me-Not Killer, Jacobi asked me who the hot brunette reporter was who was running around with my third grader and if she was single, and Jill told me she loves me but at the moment wasn't ready to play Cyrano, and to come see you."
"Nice to know I'm a last resort," Claire said, amused in spite of the situation.
"Nah," Lindsay sighed, pushing off the aluminum and heading her way. "Just wasn't in the mood to hear the truth."
"The truth is," Claire began as delicately as she could, "That girl adores you. No amount of brunette reporters is gonna change that. Though at least we're beginning to see that Cindy's got a type." Blushing fiercely, Lindsay rolled her eyes. Gently, Claire continued, "We're gonna get this guy, Lindsay. And when we do, maybe you'll think twice about burning your bridges."
Dark eyes met her own, and after a heated moment and an odd buzz, Lindsay glanced away, pulling out her phone, and scanning the incoming message.
"Well, look at that," Lindsay remarked, sarcastically enthusiastic. "Cindy and her new appendage have narrowed down the Li's to two, and here are their addresses." She shoved the phone back in her pocket. "I gotta grab Jacobi."
"Be nice!" Claire called out after her departing friend. "Or I'm grounding you."
"Miss McPherson." Fumbling with her hotel key, Sam was slightly creeped out when a man in a suit stepped out of the shadows, and presented her with an FBI ID. "My name is Agent John Ashe. I'd like to ask you a few questions."
Carrying a take-out order of Chicken Tandoori and Aloo Palak (no naan), her laptop, and a rough draft of her article riddled with an editor's scratches, Cindy didn't have much room to maneuver when she realized her phone was ringing from somewhere inside her bag.
"Crap," she breathed, and then tried some awkward juggling, transferring her laptop to the other hand and bending her knee, trying to keep her things balanced as she fished inside of her purse blindly, finally grabbing the blackberry. Straightening, she managed to answer it, but wasn't in any position to actually see the caller ID.
Grumpy and tired, she answered her phone with an unwise, "What?"
"Geez," Jill Bernhardt exclaimed, offended by the rude tone. "What did I do to you today?"
"Do you want a list?" Cindy asked snidely, before sighing in reproach. "I'm sorry," she said after a moment. "It's been a bitch of a day."
"Try having Denise for a boss," Jill returned.
"I thought she was being nice."
"It's wearing off. Her guilt-induced attitude can only last for so long before she starts in with the shrewery."
"It was a matter of time," Cindy agreed, adjusting her walk as she rifled through her things. "What's going on? This isn't another awkward attempt at a talk, is it?"
"No, you made your feelings on that pretty clear," Jill acknowledged with a sigh. "Though I have to be honest? It wasn't a picnic for me either."
"Then how about we don't dwell?" Cindy asked, more than agreeable to a truce. "I've heard great things about moving on. The All-American Rejects wrote this great song all about it."
"See, this is why sometimes I think you're twelve," came the flat response, and drew an eyeroll in return. "Fine. I'm all for not dwelling, but I need you to promise me something before we do."
"Promise you something?" A sinking feeling in her stomach accompanied a sudden fear. "You're not going to make me talk about my intentions again, are you?"
"No forget your intentions. I just want you to be nice to Lindsay."
The favor was the oddest she had heard in a while. "Shouldn't she be getting this conversation about me?"
"Oh, just promise me that you won't hurt her, okay? That's all I want. No wisecracks, no sputtering aggrieved excuses, just give me your word, as a friend, that you'll be nice to her even if she continues her reign of bitchery."
Eyes on her teetering stuff, Cindy didn't know whether to be annoyed or bewildered. It made more sense to just humor Jill and forget the whole conversation ever happened. "Look, I don't understand why I would even get the chance to be MEAN to Lindsay, considering I haven't seen her all day, and she seems to kinda not want me around "
"But I'll be nice!" she insisted. "I promise. If, by some miracle, I see Lindsay, I'll be nice."
"Good," came a gravelly familiar voice, and Cindy's eyes snapped up. "Because she's standing right here."
Pushing away from Cindy's apartment door, Lindsay Boxer wore a curiously meek expression, as she smoothed her palms down her jeans, and stared at her uneasily.
Stunned, Cindy dropped her Indian food.
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