DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Beta'd by tigger2384, Fallon_Ash and tanama30.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Sequel to Trouble Comes in Twos.

A Taste for Trouble
By Silk


Part 1

I missed this, running in the first sunlight of the day. Just me and the music coming from my headphones. Just me and my thoughts, drowning everything out with my feet pounding on the park paths. I'd rather be sleeping in, but it's been too long since I've gotten up and had a good run. Besides, I was already up far too early. I don't know how many more nights I'm going to toss and turn and wake up at the crack of dawn looking more and more like a raccoon, but running rejuvenates me, gets me going in the morning almost as much as a good cafe au lait does.

My nerves are shot, despite parting with Nora on a more positive note than I thought we would. Kissing her again was just like kissing her the first time and her leaving a few minutes later was like taking the very breath away from my lungs. I didn't even get to show her my home. We told each other goodnight, enjoyed another kiss and broke apart shakily. I wanted more. I wanted to hold her in my arms.

I wanted to slowly remove all of her clothing and feel her warm skin against mine. I wanted to taste every part of her body, feel her writhe and moan under my hands and lips. Oh how I wanted it. Want it. But I knew she had to go. Neither one of us wants to mess this up, whatever this turns out to be. I'd put a name to it, but is it too soon to say the L word? With work and that relationship between us, I think so.

Picking up the pace, I run past old homes and shops. Past hotels and cafes. I can't believe I'm already thinking about l... love and I've only known her a week and kissed her a couple of times.

Date. She promised she'd go out on a date with me.

OK, you can work with this, Beaumont. Come up with a plan. Nothing overdone.

I'm panting hard, having run further than I should have and I'm only half done. Focus.

Work. That's right. Think of work. It's what you've been trying not to think of for days.

Pounding feet as I start on the return route home. Blues blaring through my ears.

And all I can think about is Nora and the squad room.

And where to take her for our date.

A little over an hour later, my body still aching from over-exerting myself, I take the Canal streetcar down to the other side of the French Quarter and then walk the rest of the way to work, making only one stop along the way.

I really should get a car. I don't mind taking a cab or the streetcar, but being restricted like this is against my nature. Plus I miss driving. I'll figure something out, even if I have to get the insurance company to authorize a Harley as a rental.

OK, maybe not a motorcycle.

I'm tense as I walk into the squad room, my eyes automatically searching for Nora. Not seeing her immediately, I sweep over the room again, this time spotting her in Dan's office.

Great. Act normal, Beaumont. It's just another day on the job. Just another day.

My in-box has reproduced far beyond what I would have thought over the last three days. I sit down at my desk and wait for my partner to get done with the boss and start making inroads on the paperwork.

"Hey Beaumont, I heard you had a little trouble across the lake?" Georgia greets me as she walks in the door and leans her hip against my desk.

I smile warmly up at her and carefully answer, "Just a little bit, but it's all settled now. Nora and I took care of it."

Georgia lifts an eyebrow in surprise, "Nora? I thought she was home recuperating?"

Letting a little laugh escape me, "One thing I've already learned about my new partner is that Nora has a mind of her own. She found out about the... trouble and came up to help. I'm thankful she did since we helped the Folsom police catch the culprit."

All true, just paring down any unnecessary details. We don't need the squad room gossip hounds...

Damn. I'm already at it. Lying. Covering the trail.

Georgia and I chat a bit more before she heads off to her desk and I take another glance towards Dan's office. Nora is standing, gesturing almost violently before abruptly turning and walking out the door. A foot out the door and she sees me, barely concealing a stumble.

"Hey," Nora greets me with a smile, taking a seat at her desk.

"Good Morning," I reply with my own smile. I try not to notice too much, but she's looking good this morning. Low cut hip stone-washed jeans held up by a belt with tiger eye stones along the length. Two spaghetti strap henley tees, unbuttoned just enough, a bright yellow under a dark chocolate colored one, tucked into her jeans. Her hair is pulled up into a ponytail, her bangs wispy over her forehead, making my fingers itch just to brush them out of the way.

She looks... delicious.

I nearly groan at my own thoughts and reactions. Mind on work, Beaumont.

"What's up?" I ask, nodding towards Dan's office.

"He was a bit annoyed to find out what kind of trouble you got into this weekend..."

"Me?" I give her a mock-surprised look. "I wasn't the one in a tug of war with James Poirer yesterday."

"Ha!" Nora grins brighter, "I think Dan's more annoyed that he wasn't the one that came running to my rescue."

I snicker, amused at the thought. Dan's a big boy, but he's definitely got his ideas about Nora. Besides, despite what either of us say, Nora didn't need any rescuing yesterday. Not that I wouldn't have come running despite any foreknowledge.

We work in silence for quite a while, doing more paperwork on the Dupont case. I catch her peeking up at me through her bangs periodically and think to myself that Nora either has something really important to ask me, or that she's having a slight problem keeping her mind on her work.

Which, I admit, I am as well. It's not detrimental thankfully, just adding a bit of tension.

The next time I catch her taking a peek at me, I speak up, looking straight at her and raising an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"What?" Nora acts curious.

"Did I smear my eyeliner or something?" I ask, reaching up and running the edge of my index finger under my eyes.

"What? No," she assures me. "You look... great."

"Then why do you keep staring at me?" I lean forward and whisper just loud enough for her to hear.

Nora's face flushes bright red. Quite a feat considering her darker, tanned skin.

She echoes my body language and leans forward to answer. "I'm not staring!" she hisses.

I answer with a smirk and go back to reading the report from River Rescue. No sign has been found of Simon Martins either at the bottom of the canal or downstream.

"Hey Nora? Do you mind if we hit the CSI lot later? I want to check on my car," I ask, looking up to see the guilty and pained look on her face at the thought of what condition my car has to be in.

"No problem," she pauses then asks, "After lunch?"

"Sounds like a plan," I reply easily.

I look at the picture of my father and remind myself to give him a call. I should have last night, but my mind was other things.

A few hours later, Nora and I are completely tired of reports and head out to lunch. We're barely out of the precinct door when we're greeted by Bobby Delaney as he's heading in.

"Hey, Sis. Detective Beaumont," he greets us, especially me with a big smile. Nora gives me an amused grin then accepts a hug from her brother.

When she grunts in some pain, he eases off and sets her at arms length, looking at her in concern.

"How are the ribs?" Bobby asks, looking her up and down.

Nora swats his hands away in annoyance. "I'm fine. Make sure you tell Mama and Daddy that when you report to them."

My lips twitch as I try to keep a straight face.

"Sure, sis," he assures her then looks at me, "How was the trip?"

"A little tense but Nora was most helpful," I reply, smiling back at him.

Like I'm going to tell you how helpful. OK. OK, I know. I'm trying to be good here.

"You girls up for that lunch?" Bobby asks hopefully.

"N..." I start to get out but Nora interrupts me.

"Sure, let's go to Mr. B's," Nora says and turns to Bobby's partner.

Damn you, Nora Delaney.

"You up for some Buffalo Chicken Salad, Jim?" She gives me a big smile. "My treat."

"If you're paying, Delaney, hell must have frozen over. I'll get a rib-eye," he says giving her a big shit-eating grin.

"Figures. Most expensive thing on the menu," Nora mutters and steps forward to walk beside Jim, leaving me to walk with Bobby. As she's walking by me, she leans close and whispers.

"This is what you get for lying about Newton. Coffee date my ass."



Nora Delaney doesn't play fair.

"Detective Beaumont?"

I blink several times, coming out of the moment of shock Nora put me in and look at Bobby. He's looking at me concerned, with Jim and Nora half-way down the block waiting and looking back at both of us.

Nora has a devious look on her face. The imp. Oh yes. You shall pay.

Turning to Bobby, I loop my arm through his and give him a charming smile, "Shall we?"

Bobby returns my smile ten-fold and walks me down the sidewalk, past Nora and her suddenly not-so-amused face.

Payback is a bitch.


Part 2

"...and then she told the guy, 'If you ever do that again, I'll make sure that the only way you'll be able to pick up a beer is with your toes."

I take a sip of my water, hiding my own amusement as my brother finishes the tale. It's not too far off from the truth, considering it's a second hand tale.

Nikki looks me in the eye and asks, "Well? Did he?"

"Oh yeah. He moved his hands off my butt as fast as you slurped down that oyster," I reply, giving her a cheeky grin.

Her eyes narrow at me dangerously, but she's smiling, admitting that I have scored again.

It's been like this since we left the station house, the little jokes and digs. Flirting without flirting.

Turning my attention to Bobby, I say, "So Bobby, when are you planning to ask Nikki out on a date?"

I'm bad. I'm very bad.

One thing I love about my brother is that when he blushes, he looks about as red as a nice, juicy apple. It's what makes this even more fun. Sputtering in embarrassment he looks at Nikki and then back at me, then back and forth a few times.

Me? I'm doing my damndest not to laugh out loud and sitting back slightly in my seat to enjoy the moment.

Jim isn't fairing so well, coughing on a piece of his steak and refusing to look at his partner.

Of course, my enjoyment of the moment is ruined when I see Nikki's face.

It doesn't take a detective to know that I'm in trouble.

And Nikki is playing it up with Bobby. Admittedly, in a very charming conversational kind of way, and thankfully not in an openly flirty way. I'd have to deck my brother out of pure frustration if she did that. She's not twisting the knife... just playfully poking me with it. A few dozen times. And using the proverbial serrated edge a time or two.

Sometimes, I'm too competitive for my own good. Just shoot me and get it over with.

"Excuse me. I'll be right back," I say, placing my napkin alongside my plate and getting up to make a beeline for the ladies room.

I really don't need the facilities, just the peace and quiet for a minute or two. And a good granite tiled wall to smack my head into a time or three.

Leaning over the sink, I let cool water run over the pulse points in my wrists.

Stupid, Delaney. She's probably pissed and I'm a jealous, competitive brat.

I don't know what possessed me to suggest Mr. B's for lunch. It's good, very good, but it's a bit pricey for only a work lunch. I can't help but wonder if it's my subconscious thinking up a way to have a safe date with Nikki during work hours. If it is my subconscious then I need a new brain because I would never take Jim along on a date, let alone my brother.

Yeah, Nikki and I in a nice cozy restaurant with company of the most uncozy kind. Now that's a great date, Nora. And playing this silly game of one-up-manship? How pathetic can I get.

Maybe Nikki was right and I shouldn't have pushed her into this.

"So, this time you're the one who ran away."

I was so absorbed in my own thoughts and so entranced by the water running over my hands that I never heard her come in. Looking at her smirking at me in the mirror, I blush in embarrassment.


Oh yeah, that's one way to use the few braincells still using oxygen.

I watch Nikki step forward, grab a few paper towels and remove my hands from the faucet.

"Nikki..." I start to say something, anything, but once again I'm speechless as she dries my hands.

She's drying my hands?

I blink at her stupidly a few times and then a few more as she tosses the paper towels in the bin and steps into my arms, placing my hands on her hips.

Nikki leans forward, her warm breath sending chills through my body as she whispers close to my ear, "Nora. Shut up."

Like I was talking?


I'm not talking.

Nope. No ability to talk here at the moment.

Then those last few oxygen using braincells explode as she takes my earlobe between her lips.

Oh my.

I tighten my fingers on her hips and move them to her lower back, drawing her fully against me, her breasts touching mine.

"Nikki..." I breathe into her ear huskily.

Her lips begin trailing down my jaw slowly and sending my pulse into overdrive. Among other things.

"God, woman," I hiss through my teeth as she trails her lips down my throat and then back up.

It's a few moments before I realize she's stopped and is looking at me, with a very satisfied smirk.

"I have no interest in your brother," she says before she kisses me gently.

"I have no interest in Officer Newton," she continues before kissing me again. "I have no interest in anyone but you, Nora Delaney, so shut up and kiss me."

My lips rush forward to meet hers this time, bruising with intensity. I take her bottom lip in mine and suck on it for a moment, then lave it with my tongue just before her mouth opens under mine and we explore each other hotly.

She breaks it off before I do, panting softly as she pulls back just enough to look me in the eyes. Her eyes. So that's what passion looks like. Warm... no, not warm. Searing hot. She's flushed, just as much as I imagine I am.

"I have something for you," she says quietly.

I'm sure you do, I think silently and then mentally slap myself. Such thoughts, Delaney and in the lady's room at that. I'm just glad that Mr. B's lunch crowd is slow today or we'd have an audience.

Wait. She's got something for me?

"It's just a little thing, but I picked it up this morning and thought I'd give it to you disguised as a 'Congratulations on Surviving your Jinx Week'," she says nervously, turning an even brighter shade of pink.

"Well... I did survive but I think I've already gotten the best gift a girl can get," I reply with a soft smile.

Nikki's nervousness turns into more of a curious look as she asks, "Oh? And what would that be?"

It's my turn to blush and answer, "You. You being my partner. You saving my life. You chasing the nightmares away. You kissing me. You... not saying no."

Her look becomes one of tenderness and she's silent for a few moments before saying, "Thank you."

A small smile quirks at the edge of my mouth, "My pleasure, I assure you."

Her answering smile could win beauty pageants, I just know it.

"Here..." She interrupts my thoughts and reaches into her pants pocket. I can hear the soft tinkle of metal, but when she takes her hand out, whatever it is is hidden in her fist.

Looking from her hand back up to her face, I ask, "What is it?"

"Well, I figured you needed a new one..." she answers as she opens her hand to reveal the long strand of a silver necklace nestled in her cupped palm with a silver medallion nestled in the middle. "but I hope you don't mind that I got you a different one."

Nikki's eyes meet mine with just a touch of hesitancy, "I know it can't replace the one your father gave you..."

I reach up and slide my fingers over hers and flip over the medallion to show St. Christopher with his crook and a tiny figure holding onto his back. Turning it back over, I notice an inscription.

To, N. Love, N.

Suddenly my fingers are trembling, but I'm smiling like an idiot.

"It's perfect. It's said Saint Christopher carried a small but extremely heavy child across the river. I'd say it's apt," I pause to lean forward to give her a soft, warm kiss. "Thank you."

"Well, I did have to carry your heavy butt out of a river," she teases me as she unclasps the chain and places it over my head, letting it nestle down between my breasts. Her fingers follow the chain all the way down to the medallion, sending a full body shiver through me at her touch. "But it was worth it," comes her soft whisper.

"I'll do my best not to fall into any more rivers and lose this one," I promise her just as softly and cover her wandering hand with mine, pressing it against me for a long moment. The heat between us flares up again but this time we're less fortunate and reluctantly pull apart as the door to the ladies restroom opens up.

As we walk out, perhaps a bit more disheveled than we went in, I'm no longer worried about her charming my brother.

After all, he won't be kissing her. I will.


Part 3

I brush my hand along Nora's back before we turn the corner to the dining room. A last intimate gesture before we dive into our work personas.

Jim and Bobby both stand politely as we take our seats.

"Everything OK, sis?" Bobby asks automatically, if not convincingly. He's probably still smarting from Nora's teasing jibe. "You two were in there an awfully long time."

Time to cover my partner's back.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you to never count time when a woman is in the ladies room?" I ask pointedly, raising a pert eyebrow at him before I take a sip of my sweet tea.

His reddening face and his stammering reply almost make me laugh, but it's the thankful look Nora shoots me that makes me smile.

Nora's phone rings, forestalling any further commentary.

Looking first at the caller id she gives me a significant look and answers, "Delaney."

After a few seconds she motions for pen and paper from Jim, who quickly hands them over, and proceeds to write down what looks like an address.

"Got it. Advise the lead officer on scene that we're on our way. I assume the Medical Examiner's Office has been contacted?" she asks waiting for an answer before replying. "Good. Thanks for the call."

Nora hangs up the phone and pulls on her jacket before pulling out her wallet. Motioning to the waiter to bring the check, she turns to me and says, "Sorry to cut lunch short, but we've got a case."

She shrugs apologetically at Bobby and Jim. "Enjoy the rest of your lunch, guys."

Jim takes a bite of his rib eye steak and says around the mouthful of beef, "We will." He smiles and keeps chewing.

"You're so charming, Jim," Nora comments and signs the bill. "So charming in fact, that I'm sure you'd love to take care of the tip."

Bobby laughs at his partner's sour look and then sobers saying, "You gals be careful out there."

"You too, Bobby. Don't let anyone run into that nag of yours... or your horse," she quips as she stands up at the same time as me.

"Have a good afternoon, Jim. Bobby," I tell them, sliding my own leather coat on.

Bobby stands up politely and gives me what I recognize as the charming Delaney smile. "I don't suppose I could talk you out of your phone number?" he asks, looking at me with those blue eyes twinkling.

It would be rude to laugh in his face, so instead I just reply, "you're sweet, Bobby. But I make it a rule not to date... I mean, give out my number to other cops. Unless they're my partner, of course," I turn and give Nora's a cheeky grin, "Nora? You've got my cell number, right?"

I wink openly at her, enjoying being able to tweak Bobby's nose so publicly in something he has no clue about.

Nora just ruefully shakes her head, smirking at her brother, "I tried to warn you, Bobby. Out of your league."

Her brother just continues to smile charmingly, undeterred. "We Delaneys are very stubborn. I'll get that... number from you yet," he says to me.

Nora and I head out, but not before she smacks Bobby up alongside the head playfully, as she passes by him.

Exiting the restaurant we explode in laughter. After a few moments Nora calms down first and says, "I'm never going to hear the end of this. He's going to be harassing me for your phone number for years."

Suddenly I feel like I've been dropped into a dark and very cold river.

She said years.

Nora and me.

And years.

Years without her brother knowing I'm anything but her partner on the force, which automatically means years of never being introduced to her parents and other brothers as her lover.

I can handle not being out at work, it doesn't pay to paint a red bull's eye on my back, but being in the closet with Nora outside of work? For years?

And I do want years, I realize. I want to wake up each morning alongside her, or in her arms. I want to spend years and even more years learning her little quirks and foibles, teasing her about the small things that drive me to distraction. I want to spend so many years with her.

The very thought floors me. Seriously.

I've only known this woman for one week. I don't fall in love this fast, let alone this hard, in one week. In lust this fast? Hell yes.

But do I, can I, want to spend years in the closet?

My sudden silence and tension must have alerted Nora, because she stops us and gently pulls me out of the middle of the sidewalk into a vacant building's doorway. She's clasping my bicep with her warm hand, her gaze concerned as she asks, "What's wrong? What did I say?"

I shake my head and refuse to look her in the eye.

Bobby is right though, the Delaneys are stubborn.

She steps up closer to me, her hand still on my arm, looking even more troubled.


I interrupt her before she can say another word and look down into her eyes, "Later. If you still want to know, I'll tell you after work. Right now we have work to do, Nora."

She looks like I've just struck her, but thankfully she doesn't close up on me, just squeezes my arm gently before letting go. Her green eyes bore into me as she says, "I'll keep you to that promise."

Smiling tentatively, I reply, "I'm sure you will. Let's get going?"

By mutual and silent consent, we put the moment aside and slide back into our police roles and continue down the street, Nora steering us to where she parked this morning.

As I spot her car, Nora surprises me and holds out her keys to me, giving a hesitant smile. My mind flashes back to early last week and me holding my own car keys out to her as a sort of bribe to get her out of her sullen mood. The fact that I know she's offering her keys now, for the same reason, warms me and I take them with a warmer smile.

"OK, partner, where are we headed?" I ask, jingling her keys in my hand.

"Not far. There's a body in Treme," Nora supplies, waiting for me to unlock her door before I go around and get in on the driver's side.

Treme as it's casually known, is close, just North West of the French Quarter. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, originally where the free people of color lived back before the Civil War. Now, it's famous for its brass bands and Creole culture. Darius has a cousin, or two, who lives there and so I'm rather familiar with it.

I pull out and head the car towards the address while my mind wanders from what we will find at the scene to what Nora said after we left the restaurant.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see her reach up and play with my gift to her. I smile softly to myself and shake my head surreptitiously. I realize that I'm being overly paranoid about what she said. It wouldn't be easy living in the closet, but just to be with her... wouldn't that be worth it?

It doesn't take us long to get to the scene, between Claiborne street and Louis Armstrong Park. I pull the car into a spot near the yellow tape, and we get out, both of us placing our shields prominently on our belts, our guns already on.

Nora breezes past a uniformed policeman, who nods and lifts up the tape for us, we make our way to the small cluster of people at the corner of a small grocery store.

Spotting Charlie, Nora snags two pairs of latex gloves from a box on the ground nearby, handing a pair to me.

"Who's the officer in charge?" she asks the nearest uni, and her gaze follows his pointed finger to a sergeant talking to what looks like a couple of witnesses.

He can wait a minute, I figure. I know Nora wants our first impressions to be of the scene and not colored by his report.

We walk on, turning the corner to the alley where I spot Charlie and his techs and proceed to make our way towards him, both of us watching where we step.

The body is a big male, about 6'3" and heavy, 250 lbs or so. Dress shirt and pants. Comfortable loafers. The man is laying on his side, his back turned away from us so I can't see his face, but something seems familiar about him.

"Hey, Charlie," Nora greets the medical examiner who is bent over the body and pulling out a long metallic probe from the body, taking the vic's body temperature.

"Hey," he looks up at her, then over at me, but doesn't smile. "Figures you ladies would get this one."

She squats down next to him and greets him, "Who's our vic?"

Charlie looks startled at Nora's question, which just makes my sense of unease even more pronounced. Nora leans over the body so she can get a look at the victim's face. I walk onto the opposite side, the side the dead man is facing and feel my own go white to match the body. I've only met him once, but Nora knows him. Knows him almost too well.

"Damn," I say, immediately recognizing the man.

It's a cop and not one that I like very well either, but the fact that a detective has been killed on the street is going to rock the department. It's never a good day when we lose one of our own.

Even one such as Detective Bouvier.


Part 4

I recognize the body, of course, and have to fight to keep a calm, disinterested face. Despite the negative history between Ernest Bouvier and myself, we were still partners for a year. Dirty cop. Good cop. Whatever he was, he's now dead.

Charlie waits for the photographer to finish shooting the corpse before he rolls Bouvier over onto his back, revealing the bloody front of his shirt and the gaping slice on his throat.

"One cut," Charlie reports as his fingers gently probe the wound, "right through the jugular, trachea and even the esophagus from the looks of it. Someone was either very strong to slice through all of that in one cut or caught him by surprise."

There's a lot of blood under the corpse, soaked up through his blazer, shirt and pants. It's hard to believe the human body holds that much blood in it.

"The heart kept pumping after he lost consciousness, bleeding him out quickly until he died," Charlie continues, "I'll have to get him back to the lab to get more answers of course."

He stands up and removes his gloves carefully, and steps back for the forensic techs to finish sweeping the scene for trace evidence. It'll take hours to gather everything up and days to process it all. Outdoor scenes have tons of contaminants and garbage that have to be separated from real evidence.

I stay crouched down for another minute, looking down at my ex-partner. Then shaking my head I stand up and step back from the body.

"See you back at the farm, Charlie," I say, shooting him a smile and nodding to Nikki to follow me back out of the alley.

Walking over to the sergeant in charge of the scene, I introduce myself, "Detective Delaney, SCU."

"Beaumont," Nikki introduces herself simply. She's wearing a detective's shield, letting it speak for itself. And she's with me, so it should be obvious to everyone we're partners.

"Sergeant Andrews," he nods at us. He's a man of average build, dark hair, dark eyes, and works out enough that he fills out his uniform nicely. Andrews looks at me closely, "Delaney? Weren't you in Robbery with Bouvier?"

Now that's tactful.

My face doesn't break, instead it shuts down into that perfect cop face I have, giving nothing away.

"What's been found so far, Sergeant?" I ask calmly, no variation or hesitation in my voice. I could be ordering a salad for all I care, by the sound of it.

Sergeant Andrews doesn't have a good poker face, I note. His scowl makes his feelings for me transparent, which isn't a good sign. Damn police politics. Damn Good Ole Boys' Club.

Years ago when I was Bouvier's partner and carrying a brand new Detective's badge, I accused him of graft, accepting bribes and a couple other illegal activities. Unfortunately, Internal Affairs didn't agree and I was left to go back to work in Robbery with a new partner and a bright red target on my back. Thankfully I eventually got transferred to Homicide and met a partner worth the name. Dan. My name was besmirched amongst certain police circles, but I never really cared. Most of those circles weren't ones that I wanted anything to do with.

And now I have a new partner, who is worth a hundred times more than Bouvier. Despite all that past history, he is a murdered man. No one deserves to die with their blood spilt out in an alley.

"No murder weapon found yet. We have some officers canvassing the area several blocks in all directions, checking dumpsters and drains. The only witness is a pedestrian who was walking by, who said all he saw was what looked like a male figure in a black hoody and jeans, who stumbled into Detective Bouvier and moved on. The next thing he saw was Bouvier crumpling to the ground and our suspect already gone out of sight down the alley," Sergeant Andrews says, reading from his leather notebook.

I pulled out mine when he started speaking, dutifully making notes of my own. Out of the corner of my eye I see Nikki doing the same.

"Where's the witness?" I ask, pen already poised to jot down the man's name.

"Nick Pritchard," Andrews says, jerking his head towards a young man in a green polo shirt and jeans off at the edge of the scene, accompanied by two uniformed officers. "Tourist. Driver's License says he's from Portland, Oregon."

"We'll check that out," Nikki comments.

He turns to her and smirks condescendingly, "I'm sure you will, Detective."

Nikki's only answer to that is a blank look with hard eyes. She stares him down, waiting for him to blink.

A moment passes. Another.

Then this older man, this tough cop, blinks and looks away with an annoyed look.

I can't help the smirk on my lips and give her a sly wink when she glances over at me, which she just rolls her eyes at.

She's such a troublemaker.

"Go talk to the witness?" I ask. Nikki gives me a small nod and walks over. I let me eyes follow her a moment, enjoying the sway of her hips. I let her talk to the witness because I know she can handle it, and she's got a better way with civilians than I do, I freely admit it.

"Mr. Pritchard?"

I hear her greet him before I turn back to Sergeant Andrews, my eyes back to being cold and emotionless, letting him know without words that I don't appreciate his disrespecting my partner. Disrespect me all you want, but not my partner.

OK, maybe I'm acting like a lion with her cub, but I can't help it. It's natural for partners to be closer than siblings, and this seasoned officer should know better.

"Where's Bouvier's partner?"

Andrews eyes with me animosity but I ignore him, wanting only the information he has and because I'm the lead on this case, and on scene, he's got to cooperate. "At the precinct. He wasn't with Bouvier when it happened."

It takes awhile to drag every bit of information he's gathered out of him, but I do. It isn't much and it's very disheartening to start out on such a high profile case with no leads.

"All right, that's it... for now," I promise him. "I'm sure I'll be getting your report promptly."

The man almost laughs in my face, but I narrow my eyes. "Sure... Detective."

"Look, Sergeant. No matter what history Bouvier and I had, I'm here to find his killer. I think we can all get behind that, right?" To get some cooperation I'm trying to wave the white flag of truce.

I know Sergeant Andrews doesn't like me, he's one of the same kind as Bouvier was. Old school and not the good kind. Well, that's a bit harsh. I don't know Andrews, he might be squeaky clean, but the fact that he views me as his enemy doesn't endear him to me.

The Sergeant looks at me intently for a few moments and then nods in acceptance, "OK, Delaney. You're right. Just catch the punk that did this," he says and turns away to go talk to his uniformed officers.

I turn away and look back at the alley, where Charlie's people are marking, photographing, and bagging any possible evidence.

It's hard to fathom that someone I know is dead. Even someone that I revile like Bouvier. He's as cold as the cement and asphalt he's laying on, his blood a sticky, drying mess.

Finding a reason why he was killed is simple. Finding a valid reason that won't get me a reprimand is a bit more complicated. Years have passed since I accused Bouvier of being a dirty cop and now that he's dead, if he is dirty, it'll come out. No stone will be unturned. Nikki and I and the resources of the SCU will have to go over every moment of every day to find a clue to who killed him.

Unless it's a random murder.

No. My gut tells me it's not. And not because I know Bouvier was a dirty cop. No. He was killed quickly and decisively. Targeted. But proving it is going to take time and evidence.

"He tell you anything interesting?" Nikki's voice over my shoulder startles me.

"I didn't hear you come over," I tell her as I turn and give her a sheepish look, wondering how long I had stood there staring at that alley. Apparently long enough for Nikki to be done with her interview. "Andrews doesn't have much information but I think we finally got on the same page."

Nikki raises an eyebrow. "Really? He doesn't seem like the cooperating type."

The edge of my mouth quirks up a little bit in amusement, "Well, I had to remind him that we're here to find Bouvier's murderer and not rehash old wounds. I just didn't tell him that we might dredge up some of Bouvier's dirty laundry and let it rise to the surface."

Nikki takes a deep breath and lets it out slow. "You know that the Powers That Be will work to never let anything we find go public? He's going to be given a hero's funeral, even if he isn't one."

If anyone would know that, Nikki would. She's lived on the outskirts of her father's political career, a man known for being a good honest politician in a city and state drowning in corruption. Unfortunately, I've been around enough to know how true it is for myself.

Nikki's eyes and mine meet and share a moment of silent communication. She speaks up first, speaking for the thoughts both of us are having.

"I'm not afraid of the flak we'll get from what we find, Nora," she tells me with a fearless look in her eye.

I don't voice the words echoing in my head, but I let my eyes tell her how I feel at that moment. I'm proud to have her as my partner and know I need to let her know that.

Damn, I love this woman. My partner.

Wait? Did I just think that?


Part 5

Time passes fast when you're out in the field on a case. It's late afternoon by the time Nora and I get to leave the scene and finish the last of our interviews. We've already interviewed the store clerk at the scene, been to the Robbery division at Police Headquarters to talk to Bouvier's partner, and now we're across the river to speak with Mrs. Bouvier.

The Bouvier's live in a nice neighborhood in Algiers. When we pull up I can't help but notice the extra cars in the driveway. Two marked police cars and another two that look like standard unmarked cars out of the NOPD motor pool. It makes sense that Mrs. Bouvier would have company from her husband's co-workers.

Nora stops the engine but doesn't get out of the car immediately. Instead, she sits there her fingers flexing and releasing on the steering wheel. The tension is high, almost like a dark cloud around her.

"Talk to me?" I ask softly, unbuckling my seat belt and turning my body to face her.

Nora takes a few deep breaths and then turns to face me. "This isn't going to be an easy interview. The last time I saw her was at the NOPD yearly picnic when she slapped me in front of about twenty cops and their spouses."

"Ouch," I reply, wincing. It had to have been infuriating and embarrassing for Nora.

"Yeah," she sighs deeply then continues, "Which is why if we're to get a good interview out of her, I'm going to stay out here and you're going to have to go in and brave the lion's den."

I think about it for a moment, then nod in agreement. "You're right, unfortunately." I reach out and squeeze her hand in comfort before exiting the car. Closing the door, I lean back through the window and smile. "I'll take care of it. You relax... work on your origami circus or something. Maybe she'll be nice and send out some coffee."

I turn around and walk two steps before a mischievous smile graces my lips and I turn back to her.

"Oh, and you're coming out to dinner with me tonight."

And just like that I leave her, putting a professional look on my face and walk up to the Bouvier house.

Let Nora stew on that instead of obsessing on Bouvier. Now I just have to think of where I want to take her that won't be full of tourists and is casual enough for us to come in straight from work, since I doubt we'll be out by five today.

Mrs. Bouvier was indeed a hard interview, especially since she had heard Nora was on the case and asked me point blank where my partner was. I did my charming best to give her the idea that Nora was respecting Mrs. Bouvier's wish for privacy, but that I had talked Nora into letting me interview the widow, against my partner's wish. I try to remember that this woman just lost her husband and ignore the coarse words she has for Nora. According to Mrs. Bouvier, her husband was a paragon of the police department and a wonderful provider for her and their daughter.

It took quite a bit to calm the widow enough to get a decent time line of her husband's morning. But when I asked about her husband's last few days and if he had talked to her about any cases or other activities he may be involved in, I got read the riot act. In front of the supporting cast of Bouvier's work buddies.

I didn't run out of there with my tail between my legs, we Beaumont women have more spine than that, but I definitely felt I was on the receiving end of a losing battle. I've always thought I was good with the grieving widows and witnesses that were in shock, but I don't think anyone is good with antagonistic and grieving widows.

Sliding back into the passenger's seat, I let the tension I've accumulated in the last hour rush out in a long cleansing breath.

"I guess it's my turn to ask if you're OK," Nora comments. "And apologize for sending you in alone."

I give her a bright smile and shake my head, "Sugah, there's no way I would have wanted you around that woman. Honestly Nora, you didn't miss much."

"Still..." she tries to continue to protest, but I interrupt her.

"It's my job as your partner to cover your back. Don't worry about it. Really," I assure her and motion her to start the car. "Let's get out of here and get to work."

We're pretty quiet on the way back to the precinct, our minds on work. Well, not completely on work. I know I was thinking about dinner with Nora. I can't help it, thoughts of her invade no matter what I'm doing.

Thankfully, even though rush hour has started, traffic cooperates and we're back at the station house in good time.

The hallway up to the 9th precinct squad room is a hint about what lies within, with politicians, uniformed police, and higher ranking officers talking in small groups in the wide hallway.

The squad room itself looks like it's been turned into an Emergency Response Center by the time we make our way through the pockets of people and get inside. Large white boards have been wheeled in and boxes upon boxes of what could only be Bouvier's case files have been stacked on and around Nora's and my desks.

Added to that it looks like the entire Robbery department, those who aren't at the Bouvier residence, have arrived and are making themselves a nuisance. With Dan not in his office and nowhere to be seen, the room feels like it's about to explode from too much testosterone.

Two plainclothes cops, not from the SCU, are sitting at our desks, making themselves right at home. The one at my desk has the picture of my father in his hands, looking at it with a smirk.

OK, that's it.

Slamming my hands down on the edge of my desk, I look him in the eye, "Is there something I can do for you, or do you usually paw through other people's desks?"

"Ummm..." the cop looks almost terrified. Good.

"Yes? Did you have something to say or does your jaw usually flap open in that becoming manner all the time?" I ask, my eyes boring into his.

I patently ignore the guffaw of laughter coming from Nora off to my side.

"Up. Now," I command and then turn to the man sitting at Nora's side. "You too. Take yourself and that hideously orange paisley tie out of here."

Nora steps up and lets out a piercing whistle, getting the attention of everyone in the room. "OK. Ladies and Gentlemen. If you're actually assigned to help Special Crimes, you're allowed to stay. If you're not, please let us do our jobs. I know you all want to help and if and when we do need more assistance, we'll be in touch. Until then, you're hampering the job me and my colleagues are trying to do."

Damn. She's hot when she's commanding like that.

There is a lot of grumbling and slow feet, but eventually the room empties out leaving only the people that work here or need to be here.

I walk towards the other side of the room and lean on Georgia's desk, "Quite the set of lungs, hmmm?"

Georgia and Seth both laugh, not looking at Nora so as not to draw her attention.

"Where's Dan?" I ask quietly, "I would have figured he would be here keeping the zoo animals on their leashes."

"He's chatting with our Assistant Superintendant. He should be back soon, since the suits refuse to miss cocktail hour," Seth supplies with a smug grin.

I give him the chuckle his comment deserves and take a look over my shoulder at my partner. She's already cleaning the left over coffee cups, pizza bones, and donut crumbs from both of our desks.

"Thanks, guys. Talk to you in a bit," I tell Georgia and her partner and walk back over to my own.

Silently I help her finish cleaning off the crud a horde of policemen leave behind after feeding and then start organizing the numerous boxes that are inhabiting the area on and around our desks. Like I thought, they're filled with all of Bouvier's case files for the last few years.

"Looks like it's going to be a long night," I comment, taking a seat, going through Bouvier's current caseload, and look over at Nora. She's sitting down, going through a file of her own, and she's got that adorable little crease between her eyebrows she gets when she's reading. I wonder when the last time she went to the eye doctor was? I wonder how she would look in a pair of reading glasses?

She looks up and gives me a little smile, "No way are you getting out of buying me dinner, Beaumont. We can always order out."

The next thing I know Nora is laughing out loud at the look of horror I give her and says, "OK, maybe not. I don't see you as the pizza kind of gal."

Hmmph. She thinks she's so funny.

"Actually, Detective Delaney..." I look around quickly to make sure no one is close enough to hear what I have to say next, "I don't mind take out, I just wanted to have a more... private dinner."

Nora's green eyes blink a few times, then her smile turns a bit brighter. "I'm sure we can take off after a couple hours and go have dinner."

You see? Even Nora Delaney can be a good detective and catch a clue once in awhile.


Part 6

Charlie isn't a happy man right ow, which is why I'm bringing him a baker's dozen of beignets from Cafe du Monde. Yes, I am not above a good bribe to the city Medical Examiner, especially when I called him on the way over and could hear the stress in his voice.

Hell, I'm stressed too. Everyone's stressed. Nothing drives cops to distraction like a cop dying on the job. Of course, according to records, Bouvier hadn't been on the job yet when his throat was slashed. He'd called in late, saying he had errands to run. There was no official reason for him to be out there. So either he was there on personal business or... other business.

Oh how I remember those errands he used to run, but no amount of pressure to the convenience store owner turned up any proof of nefarious doings on Bouvier's part that morning. He could have been going anywhere in the neighborhood, his car was parked blocks away.

I'm torn between wanting to do my job and catch his murderer and wanting to vindicate myself to the entire department. So far I've kept my cool and stuck with trying to just find the murderer without overtly digging, but this dual-need of mine is still there. Yelling at a room full of well-meaning cops wasn't a good way of dealing with that stress.

And Nikki is feeling the pressure as well. Her little scene at the squad room, railing against the two cops who had the ill luck to be sitting at our desks, is either a sign of her own stress or just a reflection of my own. Or both.

And the murder investigation hasn't even hit 5 hours yet.

Yeah. This is going to be fun, especially since I think I'm going to have to break our dinner date for a more convenient time. When Dan made it back to the precinct, he pulled Nikki and I into his office and made it quite clear that we would eat and sleep this case.

He also made it clear that I wasn't to let my personal feelings towards Bouvier color my investigation, which just pissed me off to no end. I would have thought that Dan's time as my partner would have taught him otherwise. Sure, I had my moments but I'm a professional.

After storming out of his office, with Nikki close behind, I called Charlie to see how his side of the investigation was going, while Nikki made a call or two of her own.

And now we're here after a tension filled quiet ride. I'd half expected Nikki to bring up what had happened, but I think she knew I needed time to cool down first. Of course, she could have been spending the time cooling down herself since Dan's instructions included her as well.

I stop just before we enter the morgue doors and turn to Nikki, "Hey... I'm sorry about what happened in Dan's office..."

Nikki softly smiles and leans close to talk privately, "We'll talk. I promise. Maybe not over dinner tonight," she rolls her eyes, "or pizza in the squad room..."

A reluctant chuckle is forced from me. At least I know she understands about our dinner date. I swear I wish we were still at the Folsom house.

"I..." I start to interrupt but she keeps talking.

"We'll talk. About everything. This damn case. You and Bouvier. You and Dan, or shall I say, us and Dan. And then we'll talk about you and me," she promises, "but right now we both know, and Dan has kindly reinforced, that we have a job to do. It won't last forever."

She risks taking my hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. "We will have time. And we will talk. Believe that, OK?"

I give her a half-smile and squeeze her hand back. "OK. Thank you for understanding."

Releasing my hand, she shrugs and says, "I'm a Detective, you know. Getting to understand your little moods is part of the job."

Blushing I turn and start to push open the door, pausing to only toss a quiet, "I don't have 'little moods'."

Sneaking a peek at her as she enters behind me, I feel a kind of sense of satisfaction that she looks as amused as I know I am.

Damn, I love that look.

Work. I'm here for work. Must concentrate. Get it together, Delaney.

"Hey Charlie," I greet, waggling a white bakery bag full of his favorite bribe.

The tall, red-headed Cajun looks up from a microscope and waves at us. "Ladies. You're early. I haven't completed my report yet. Although, I've got all my people on it, " he hurries to reassure us.

"Hello to you too," Nikki quips.

"Sorry," he answers back, looking sheepish.

"You're lucky we like you, Charlie," I walk further into the room, nodding politely at the two technicians who look up from their work.

"No," he contradicts me as he pulls off his latex gloves, "you're lucky you brought beignets."

"Ha!" Nikki gives a little chuckle, "Are you so sure we didn't bring you jelly donuts?"

"Nora wouldn't dare," Charlie replies easily. "What can I do for you today, Ladies?"

He snags the bag out of my hand and pulls out a pastry and promptly bites it in half. I've always been amazed at Charlie's ability to ingest the amounts of pure sugar he does.

"We just came by to see how far along you are on the autopsy before we head over to the CSI geeks," I answer, looking over at the empty tables.

Charlie nods as he starts walking to bay two, putting his bag of goodies on the counter before opening the swinging doors for us to follow. "We put him back here out of sight of the main room. I was just finishing up the blood tests when ya'll came in," He waves towards the only occupied table in the room where Detective Bouvier is open for all to see.

"My assistant is about to stitch him back together," he slips on another pair of latex gloves and motions us forward.

Glancing over to Nikki, I see her intent face and struggle to put my own best cop face on. I may not have liked Bouvier, but he's the first person I've seen on Charlie's autopsy table that I personally know. His chest is open, his throat wound is white and garishly red in the fluorescent lighting. Charlie has incised his throat to get a better look at the wound, making it look like an alien has exploded out of his throat, the flesh and skin peeled back with precision.

Years ago, when I came here and saw my first open body, I had embarrassed myself by running to the sink and spewing my breakfast down the drain. After that I learned how to set aside that harsh emotion of seeing the reality of what a human being looks like with all their insides showing. But this... this is almost bringing back that first day for me.

"Damnit," I growl softly and clench my fists. No way is Bouvier going to do this to me. The asshole.

Grinding my teeth, I put everything in perspective. I see the body, not the person. I see the wound, not the gaping Y incision in his chest. I do not see Bouvier's spine showing through his throat.

Nikki isn't fooled by my act, however, and I feel the slight brush of her hand on my lower back as we both stand close across the table from Charlie.

"OK. So what can you give us?" I ask, completely back in control and Nikki's hand leaves my back.

Charlie looks at me for a long moment, then nods, "The murderer was definitely left handed. The entry wound is on the victim's right side, a stab wound, and then sliced from inside and out through the front." He probes the open wound on the body, demonstrating.

"Wow. Definitely needs some strength for that," Nikki notes.

"And the method says Armed Forces," I supply, "or someone who watches the Military Channel."

Charlie actually chuckles.

"What kind of knife?" I ask, ignoring the fact that they know that I probably watch the same shows.

"Something sharp," he replies sarcastically. Seeing that I'm not appreciating his sense of humor right now, he continues, "It's at least 5 inches long, with a sharp point, and either a single or double edge. One thing that might help is that there was more tearing on the wound as the knife was sliced out through the throat, near the base of the blade. That means that part of the edged side has a serrated section near the hilt. That's all I can tell you by the wound. The CSI techs might be able to tell you more about the blade."

I take a long, deep breath and look down at what used to be my ex-partner. "Anything else that can help us?"

"No. COD is exsanguination, of course. His general state of health was on a fast track to a heart attack," he notes.

"OK, thanks Charlie. Let me know if you have anything else," I tell him, looking up to shoot him a small smile.

"I'm glad they put you on this case," Charlie says.

I'm not sure I can agree with him on that, but I nod my acceptance of the compliment.

"Thanks, Charlie," Nikki replies and points to the bag of treats. "Make sure you share those with your assistants."

"Ha! They'll be lucky if I let them out to get dinner," Charlie jokes as one of the assistants comes into the lab.

"We'll let you get back to work. Thanks again, Charlie," I say and start leaving. As we exit out the last set of lab doors, I look over to Nikki and smile, "Hungry?"

"Starving. I haven't eaten since breakfast and it's way past dinner time," Nikki says, while matching me stride for stride as we walk down the hall.

"Ugh... same here," I reply, remembering breakfast fondly. No lunch. No dinner. Nora hungry. I can't believe I'm hungry after leaving Charlie's lab, but I am.

"Unfortunately, we don't have time. We should hit the CSI lab before heading back to the precinct."

I sigh dramatically. If the guys in the squad room ordered pizza I'm going to just have to shoot someone.


Part 7

I'm dancing across the floor in the arms of a woman with vibrant green laughing eyes.

And lovely lips. I mustn't forget her lips.

I lean forward and kiss them quickly before she can capture them and dart away again. Yes, I am a tease, but she likes it. I laugh, feeling carefree and enjoying the warm night.


Smiling at Nora, we dance...

"Nikki... come on..."

and dance...

"Nikki, wake up."

I can feel the backs of Nora's fingers on my cheek as I drag my eyelids open.

She's smiling softly down at me, sitting at the edge of the tiny twin bed, and stroking my cheek to wake me up.

"Mmmmm... what time is it?" I croak out the question. By the feel of it, it couldn't have been long.

"Two hours," Nora replies, still brushing the backs of her fingers along my cheek, which makes me smile.

"Feels like two minutes," I reply and turn my lips slightly to give her fingers a quick kiss before I sit up.

"I would have let you sleep longer, but..." she hesitates, a troubled quality creeping into her words, "there's been another murder and it could be related to our current case."

Sitting up, I blink the sleep from my eyes.

Another murder like ours?

"Another cop?" I ask simply, dreading the answer.

"Yeah," Nora answers and then leans down to give me a quick kiss before standing up and heading towards the door. "Freshen up, we're needed at the crime scene."

I didn't even get time to enjoy the kiss, let alone any decent amount of sleep.

Getting up, I exit the small room where I was napping. There are three located off the larger exercise room and lockers for those times, like tonight, when cops can't go home and need to catch an hour or two of sleep in the middle of a harrowing case.

Personally, I would have preferred taking the nap with Nora, but she insisted on going over the files again and I was too tired to argue with her.

Has it really only been 30 hours or so since we got back to New Orleans? I can't believe that we thought our budding personal relationship might become an issue with our jobs. If anything it might be the other way around.

It only takes me a few minutes to change my shirt and touch up my makeup and hair to a more presentable state, and then meet Nora in the hallway outside of the squad room.

She's grabbed our coats already and starts walking out of the building after she hands mine to me. I have to stretch my legs to keep up with her as we make our way to her car.

It's late enough, or rather very early enough, that all the partiers and tourists have gone to bed, leaving the streets a mess for the city workers to clean up before the morning commute starts.

"Find anything in the files?" I ask as I get in and buckle up.

Nora starts the car, taking her time before replying, "No. The uniforms that tracked his movements back to his car didn't come up with anything either, and there is no evidence to show where he was going, except for the two lottery tickets from the convenience store."

"Not his lucky day," I say, staring out the window as we pull out into the street.

Silence reigns in the car for a few minutes, leaving both of us to our own thoughts. Mine take a more worried tone. Worried for Nora. My partner and the woman.

"You don't have to worry about me, you know," Nora says, breaking the silence.

Apparently she's good at reading thoughts as well.

"And no, I'm not reading your thoughts."


"You sure about that, Sugah?" I look over and smile, somewhat amused and then turn serious. "I'll admit I was worried how we would get along once the workday started, but..." I pause and take a deep breath, "but you and I, well, it's like nothing has changed."

"No, you're wrong," Nora shakes her head, "it has changed, but in a good way."

I think on that for a moment and nod, "OK, I'll give you that. Maybe I'm more worried about Bouvier getting between us."

She's silent for a good long time. Long enough that my heart starts hurting.

"I won't let him," Nora finally reassures me, pausing to look at me earnestly while we're at a stop light. "No matter what he was, he is a murder victim. I'll remember that, I promise."

I return her look and reply, "I know you will." Giving her another smile, I continue, "So, Detective. If you took a few days off, where would you go?"

She knows I'm trying to lighten the mood and thankfully plays along since we have a ways to go before we hit the next crime scene.

"Ski trip?" Nora suggests with an amused tone.

"We're from the South Nora, what do we know about snow and skiing?"

"OK. How about going to a small Caribbean beach?" She tries again.

"Now you're talking my language."

"No tourists. Just you, me and a few tropical drinks with those tiny umbrellas."

More like, you, me, and bikinis... and Jacuzzis. And out of bikinis.

"Mmmm... Good answer. Especially since you're including me in on this vacation."

"Too bad we can't leave today," Nora says, breaking the fantasy.

I sigh dramatically. Just when I was getting to enjoy myself. "We could give it all up, and considering we can't even get that first date going..."

Nora slams on the brakes so as not to rear-end another car. Turning and reaching out to me, she pulls me forward for a quick but hard kiss. Pulling away after a moment she whispers, "Don't even joke about that."

Blinking, I watch her as she gets the car going again. OK, no more suggestions of that sort. Definitely not.

Clearing my throat, I say, "Well, it was just an idea. Not a serious one."

Nora chuckles over in her corner, "Good to hear."


Part 8

"Sergeant Carlos Rameriz. Assigned to the Narcotics Division. Has a wife and one boy," one of the uniformed officers on the scene supplies.

Another possible cop murder, within a 24-hour period. It's suspect, but not definitive proof that the two were related. Dan is here on scene, however, and since the SCU deals with all cop-related deaths, we're working on the assumption that they might be related.

We arrived at the Stark Hotel along with all the late-night scavengers. Or formerly known as the media. Nikki had forged ahead to the taped-off area, sweet-talking a couple of the reporters to move and elbowing one or two that weren't moving fast enough for both of us to get through.

Nikki is questioning the manager while one of Charlie's assistants is taking pictures. Charlie himself is examining the victim before letting any of the rest of us closer. Right now there are only three of us in the room, me just inside the door, Charlie and his assistant. Even the techs are waiting outside in the hallway, ready for the M.E. to give the word.

Sergeant Rameriz is lying in the middle of the floor, vomit visibly noticeable around his mouth and in several spots around him. His arms are behind his back, so he's possibly tied up, but we won't be able to check until after Charlie has done his bit. I'm guessing they are however, and that definitely makes this murder.

His piece is still holstered, so that leaves out a physical conflict, which just makes me wonder how someone had gotten so close to him and killed him. Or was he meeting someone here that he knew? The arrogance of letting Rameriz keep his weapon as he's being killed is astounding.

"The manager wasn't too much help. The Stark is more of a 'pay by the hour' establishment," Nikki says with disgust as she walks up to me, "there's no video surveillance here unfortunately, and as far as he knows, there wasn't supposed to be anyone in here."


"He did say that Rameriz had come in and said that there was a report of a disturbance on this floor. He'd told the manager that he should stay downstairs and let him handle it, but when Rameriz didn't show up for an hour, he came up to the floor and noticed the door to this room ajar. He says he came in and saw the Sergeant on the floor and immediately called us," Nikki reads off from her small notebook.

Dan is in the room just across the hallway, using it as a temporary command center, talking to a couple of uniformed officers and an EMT.

"Mind going over and see what they have to say?" I ask her, jutting my chin over to where Dan is.

"Sure," Nikki replies and immediately heads over and introduces herself to the two officers in the room.

I can barely hear Dan's deep voice speaking, but I ignore the conversation, instead I'm looking at the scene with as much professionalism and insight as I can muster.

Charlie frowns and gently pries Rameriz's mouth open and then pulls something out with a long pair of thongs, to place it in an evidence bag after it's been photographed.

"Charlie?" I ask, too curious to wait for him to tell me on his own.

He looks up at me and waves me forward, through the minefield of evidence cones scattered along the crime scene. I have booties on, so I know I'm not bringing contaminants into the field of trace evidence.

Squatting down across from him, he seals the small bag and then hands it to me.

Inside, half-dissolved it looks like...

"Damn," I mutter harshly. "Crack?"

"We'll have the lab techs check it, of course, but yeah, it looks like crack cocaine. By the look of it, he swallowed it, and that's the last bit that came up as he died," Charlie says and then points to the large puddle of vomit. "They'll take all this and do a drug comparison as well. If there's any left inside him, I'll find it. How much, I won't know yet, until I open his stomach up and send blood samples to the lab for a tox screen."

Someone force-fed Rameriz crack? Not a pleasant way to go for sure. Drug mules swallow a lot of balloons full of heroin, and so every once in a while NOPD will be called out to a hospital where one of the courier's balloons has burst and they're overdosing. Somehow I don't think Charlie is going to find any latex products inside Rameriz's stomach.

Since Charlie still hasn't finished, I back out of the room, taking off my booties to put into the evidence can next to the door and go into the room where Dan and my partner are chatting.

"Hey, Dan," I greet him, looking my partner in the eye to gauge her mood before focusing on Dan again. "Helluva time of the day, isn't it? Remind you of old times?"

Dan grimaces in remembrance, "You'd think that with the grand title I'd be able to sleep more, but no."

"Somehow I can't find it inside to have sympathy for you," I grin at him, enjoying his discomfort.

"So, what do you think?" Dan asks seriously, his eyes looking over my shoulder towards the crime scene and then back to mine.

"I want Nikki to get a fresh look at it before I give my opinion," I reply easily. She's my partner and Dan ignoring that he has two Detectives on scene is very short-sighted of him.

Thankfully he gets my drift and nods at Nikki and me, "Agreed."

"You should get out of here, Charlie isn't too far from having to bag up Officer Rameriz," I suggest to him, "Besides, you'll want to get out of here before too many more vultures show up."

"Ugh, the reporters," Dan grouses and both Nikki and I chuckle. "Another thing that came with the promotion that I could do without."

"At least we don't have to talk to them," Nikki adds cheerfully, "We'll let you bigwigs do that."

"Thanks," he replies back sarcastically, but with a small smile. "OK, I'm out of here. You'll both keep me up to date and let me know if there's a correlation between the two crime scenes."

"You get that hinky feeling too, huh?" I comment, knowing the two cop murders can be coincidence, but this close together? It doesn't feel right.

Dan refuses to answer, but I can read it in his eyes. He gives us a wave and ducks out of the room, heading down the hall.

Sighing, I turn to Nikki, who has been mostly quiet while my ex-partner and I talk. We're alone in the room for the moment, so I feel comfortable stepping closer for a quiet word.

"Anything from the unis?" I ask, looking at her intently.

She shakes her head and replies, "No. They arrived only three minutes after being called, but it was too late." Nikki takes a breath and looks back at me with a worried look, "You really don't think this is coincidence?"

"Go look at the scene first, then we'll talk," I promise and begin writing down my observations into my little notebook. I could have gone with Nikki back into that room, but part of my job is to teach the newest SCU Detective, no matter my personal feelings towards her. Besides, I know very well that my thoughts of Bouvier are coloring his investigation, no matter how hard I try. I am human after all. But I don't want to dismiss something obvious and tie these two cases together without a second and third pair of eyes on the scene.

I have a really bad feeling that they are tied together.

To Be Continued

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