DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Trial By Fire
By Inspector Boxer
The stench hit her first.
Detective Nora Delaney winced then put her left hand to her nose and mouth. She stepped around the corner, out of the long, wood-paneled hallway, and into a posh master bedroom. She winced again when she saw the arching streak of blood spatter across the khaki green wall before her. It was like someone had taken a paint brush, drawn their arm back and slung the now dark brown substance across the surface.
Sneakers sinking into the plush beige carpet, Nora approached the crime scene. Her green eyes dropped to the decomposing figure in the bed. Tied to the bedposts with white rope now stained rust with blood, Mrs. Delana Archer was splayed out naked in gruesome form. Her red hair was her only visible identifying trait, her face now obscenely bloated and misshapen. Her bowels had obviously evacuated at death, perhaps before in fright, and the scent added to the already pungent and gag-worthy air in the still room.
Behind her in the hall Nora could hear other cops coming up the winding staircase. She'd been close by when the call came in and was nearly the first to arrive lagging only behind the reporting patrol officers. Her former partner's voice carried to her as she forced herself to cross closer to the body, taking in the details. Another voice, one lighter and feminine, was engaging Dan in conversation as they approached. Nora was curious about the source sure she'd never heard the woman before. Reluctantly she knelt next to the body and studied the knots binding Archer's left hand to the bedpost.
Dan came around the corner then drew back when the full smell of the room hit him like a truck. "Jesus."
Nora kept her hand over her mouth and nose as she turned to look at him. "Kind of early for you, isn't it?" Dan usually didn't come on shift until ten and it was only seven thirty. He was dressed in gray slacks, a pale blue shirt and tie and looked as handsome as always.
Dan covered his own mouth and nose with a handkerchief before taking in Nora's form fitting pink sweatpants, tennis shoes, and white tank top with the NOPD logo blazened across the front. Her shoulder length blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. "Did you just roll out of bed?"
The detective glanced ruefully at her own attire. "I was just getting to the gym."
Dan nodded and diverted his eyes. Despite their surroundings he still felt something in the pit of his gut at seeing Nora's bare belly. The woman was just too damn good looking for her own good.
Nora realized she was making him uncomfortable and grinned behind her hand. Then the smile fell away when a tall, dark headed woman stepped in next to her former partner.
"Whew," the stranger spoke as her small nose wrinkled in disgust. "I could understand decomp like this if it were August but it's late October."
Unconsciously Nora got to her feet.
"Nora Delaney? Nikki Beaumont. Nikki? Nora." Dan introduced the two. "Your new partner."
Both women exchanged startled glances. Nora had known a new partner was coming ever since Dan had been promoted to captain, but she never in a million years would have expected a woman.
She wasn't sure how she felt about it, either.
Nikki offered her a tiny wave from the doorway. "I can assure you I'll never forget the first time we met."
Nora snorted, faintly surprised by the humor but it did what it was intended to break the ice. "We couldn't have done this at the station?" She asked Dan.
"That was the plan until the call came in." Dan edged back toward the hall. "You ladies enjoy. I've got a meeting with the brass in ten minutes." He pointed at Nora. "Be nice." Then he was gone.
The two stared at each other for a beat.
"Do you not normally play nice, detective?" Nikki asked easily.
Nora's eyes skimmed over the expensive black leather boots, up long jean-clad legs, a wine-red figure-hugging shirt and finally came to a stop at the warm brown eyes regarding her with faint amusement. "Do you normally dress like a fashion plate for a crime scene?"
"Am I?" Nikki asked innocently. She glanced down at herself then back up at Nora, her eyes lingering on the expanse of visible skin. "Do you always dress like you're ready for bed?"
Heat infused Nora's cheeks like someone had lit them on fire. She tugged at the hem of her shirt self-consciously. "I was headed for the gym," she said a little defensively.
"I was trying to make a good first impression," Nikki answered. She lifted her eyes to meet Nora's jade gaze.
The other detective glanced around the room. "Well, this little meeting has certainly left an impression."
Nikki nodded once before entering the room. She approached the bed, passing Nora as she did so. The shorter woman stepped aside but didn't go far. Nikki stared down at the body before her gaze went to the bound wrists and feet. "Was she raped?" she asked softly.
"I don't know," Nora answered. She finally dropped her hand, unfortunately getting used to the smell. "We're still waiting on the CSIs and the coroner."
"I've met her."
Nora's eyes sharpened on her. "The victim?"
"Delana Archer. She serves on the board for Progressive House with my daddy."
Daddy? Nora's eyebrows elevated. "Who's your daddy?"
Nikki gave her a teasing look over her shoulder and Nora blushed again when she realized what she'd said. She was going to have to watch her step around this woman.
Nora opened her mouth to reply but she could only stare as Nikki continued her perusal of the body. Arthur Beaumont was a city councilman and one of New Orleans most rich and famous. What the hell was his daughter doing playing cop? And what in the hell was she supposed to do with a partner who had to have more money than sense if she wore Prada boots to a bloody crime scene? Nora suddenly suspected that Dan was trying to get away from more than just the smell.
And Dan knew how well she got along with Nikki's father. He'd witnessed more than one run-in between them first hand.
Nora swallowed. She was brimming with questions but she set them aside to focus on the job. "What was she like?"
Nikki glanced up at her from the other side of the bed. "Quiet. Really shy. Very skittish. I remember someone tapped her on the shoulder at a function once and she damn near screamed." She frowned as she looked down at the remains. "But I think she was a good person. She certainly didn't deserve this."
"No one deserves this," Nora added. "Will this be a problem for you?"
The brunette shook her head. "No. We only met on a few occasions. If anything it'll be a little extra motivation to find her killer." Nikki stood and hooked her gloved thumbs in the belt loops of her jeans.
A sound at the door had them both turning. The techs had arrived. Nora waved them in then moved to stand next to Nikki so they would be mostly out of the way. Nora was privately impressed that Nikki hadn't been offended by her question. That was a good sign. "You want some coffee?"
Nikki seemed startled. "What?"
"I've got a thermos in the car. And these guys will take awhile. You can tell me what else you know about the former Mrs. Archer."
"You make a mean cup of joe."
Nora smiled politely as she leaned back against the side of her black El Camino. The sun was finally up, filtering through the trees and warming the metal around her. It was the first thing Nikki had said since they'd left the house, now swarming with police officers, for the relative quiet of the street. Of course the neighbors were out now, milling behind fluttering police tape. They whispered and pointed at the house. At the coroner's wagon. And, Nora noted, at Nikki.
"Ignore them," Nikki said as she turned her back on the gathering crowd. "If you make eye contact they'll expect you to come over and explain everything."
"I don't answer to them," Nora responded with a touch of heat.
Nikki hesitated at the tone before continuing. "Neither do I. But a lot of New Orleans wealthy and privileged are under the impression that the police are at their beck and call. It must be annoying as hell that no one has told them what's going on."
Nora kind of liked that thought. She glanced over her shoulder and caught more than a few irritated expressions tossed her way. She deliberately turned back and took a sip of coffee as Nikki did the same. "So what else do you know about Archer?"
Back to business, Nikki realized. She hoped Nora didn't mind as she settled her hip against the side of the car. "The first thing that comes to mind is her husband. He's the CEO of Bellwether Industries."
"The shipping firm."
"Yep." Nikki was a little impressed that Nora knew that. "He's an ass."
The blonde detective cocked an eyebrow. "Is that what you've heard or what you know?"
"Both. He's a womanizer. Married Delana for her money. That I've heard. But he grabbed my breast after he got a few martinis in him at last year's policeman's charity ball and I had to knee him in the nuts."
Nora spluttered in her coffee, almost wearing some of it. She shot Nikki a startled look and the taller woman shrugged. The hell with it, Nora decided. She needed some of her curiosity satisfied. "Where did you transfer from?"
"Seriously?" Nora found that hard to believe. The woman before her was too clean cut too rich looking And she was Beaumont's kid for crying out loud.
Nikki smiled knowingly then took a step closer. She glanced flirtatiously through her bangs and slid her hand teasingly up Nora's bare arm. When she spoke her voice was airy, a little unhinged. "Baby, can you fix me up? I need some ex so bad."
Nora swallowed hard as she stared up at those taunting brown eyes at close range. Okay. So if she'd been a dealer she'd have forked some of her stash over without question. "Not bad."
"Oh, I can be bad," Nikki answered smoothly and in a tone that suggested she could indeed do what she promised. She let her hand slide down Nora's bare arm, feeling toned muscle and the goosebumps she'd stirred in her wake.
Slightly confused Nora could only smile. "Why Special Crimes?"
The teasing glint evaporated from Nikki's eyes as she stepped back. "I have my reasons."
"Not going to share?"
The medical examiner chose that moment to arrive. "Nora." Charlie Duquesne dipped his head before his gaze darted to the tall brunette at her side. He noted the shield clipped to her jeans and gave her a nod as well. He yawned into his fist before scratching his muddy-red mustache.
"What have you got for me, Charlie?"
"Multiple stab wounds. I counted over thirty on my first visual sweep of the body. I'm guessing the slash to her jugular was the clincher, though." His eyes went back to Nikki. "I'm Charlie."
"Nikki. Nora's new partner."
Charlie regarded the brunette with a startled expression then his face took on a delighted look that made Nora want to growl at him.
"Well nice to meet you, Nikki. Ha. Nikki and Nora. That's classic."
They both looked at him.
"Anyway," he said once he cleared his throat. "There are signs of rape, I'm afraid."
Nikki looked down and sighed.
"Why is she so decomposed?" Nora took another hit of her coffee and wished she had a bagel to go with it.
"You might have noticed the heat was running full blast in there. The maid who found her had turned it back when she first arrived."
Not really, Nora thought but didn't voice. It was a cool October day for New Orleans and she'd been hankering for a jacket since she'd left the gym. "How long do you think she's been dead?"
"No one noticed that she was missing for a week?" Nikki shook her head. "I find that hard to believe. Where is the maid?"
Charlie turned and pointed at an older African American woman sitting on the stoop, a vacant expression on her features.
"Thanks, Charlie," Nora said as she handed him her cup of coffee. "Let me know when you have the definitive cause of death."
"You know I will, sugar." He watched the two women walk away, sun dappling over their swaying figures. Despite the circumstances he grinned before finishing off the cooling cup of coffee in his hands.
"Ma'am?" Nora paused in front of the maid and waited for her to become aware of her presence. After an uncertain moment the woman lifted her head and met Nora's gaze. She was pretty, the detective noted, probably in her early fifties. She'd aged well with a minimum amount of wrinkles creasing her light brown skin. Her graying hair was pulled back and clipped. She wore a loose apron over a green cardigan and jeans. "I'm detective Nora Delaney. This is detective Nikki Beaumont. May we ask you a few questions?"
The maid nodded and shifted a little to the side as Nora joined her on the steps. Around them other officers came and went. A few men from the coroner's office passed them with an empty gurney, heading for the body in the upstairs bedroom.
"I'm Amelia. Amelia Everly." The older woman laced her fingers and let her wrists rest on her knees. "I can't get that image out of my mind. Seeing Mrs. Archer like that." She shuddered.
Nikki guessed the woman was a smoker if her raspy voice was any indication. "You weren't here at all last week?"
"No, ma'am," Amelia answered. "I was on vacation in Arkansas. My youngest is a freshman in college there. I went to see him play."
"A Razorback?" Nora guessed.
For a moment Amelia beamed. "Yes, ma'am. He's a wide receiver. Even caught a touchdown his first game."
Nora smiled as Nikki looked on with interest at the other detective's interrogation technique.
"Think about that," Nora told her. "When you start to remember Mrs. Archer."
Amelia considered the advice then nodded her head. She took a breath. "Mrs. Archer told me to take the vacation. She knew I was missing my son and wanted to see him play. She encouraged it. Said she and Mr. Archer were going out of town for a few days and that I wouldn't be needed."
Nikki leaned against the rail. "Where were they going?"
"She didn't say," Amelia answered. "Frankly I thought it was odd that they were leaving town."
"Why?" Nora asked.
"Mr. and Mrs. Archer " the maid hesitated. "They don't spend much time together."
Nora nodded as she shared a knowing look with Nikki. "When was the last time you saw Mrs. Archer alive?"
"Last Sunday. She seemed rushed. Said her trip was last minute. She told me I didn't need to come in until " Amelia broke off and brushed a loose tendril of hair away from her features with a shaky hand. "I came in this morning and found her like that." She shook her head. "Who would do that to her? She was so small. So harmless."
"We'll need to get your prints and a sample of your DNA for exclusionary purposes," Nikki told her.
Amelia nodded. "Whatever you need, detectives. Whatever you need."
Two hours later Nikki dropped her purse onto her nearly bare desk. The squad around her was pretending to work but she knew that they were all eyeing her surreptitiously. Nora had ducked out to talk to Dan, leaving her alone at her new desk to get settled in. She hauled back her chair and sat. It creaked a little as she reclined, surveying her new home away from home.
It was a big concrete and wood box, she decided. Mostly men filled the space with a few less-than-friendly looking females. Nikki focused on Nora and wondered if her partner was one of them. Although Nora had been polite all morning there was definitely some friction there. What was causing it was a mystery.
Nikki used her right foot to spin herself around. A pretty African American woman was standing there, a cluster of folders tucked under one arm. She was dressed in a pressed white pants suit that made the flawless mocha color of her skin stand out vividly. Her shoulder length hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. "Hi," she drawled.
"I'm Georgia," the newcomer said as she offered a well manicured hand. "Welcome to the squad."
Nikki noted the detective shield on the other woman's hip and she smiled. "Thank you," she replied giving Georgia's hand a firm shake. "Glad to see Nora isn't the only other female detective around here."
Georgia glanced toward Dan's office where she could see her boss and Nora having a very animated conversation. "We're few but we're feisty," she said with a grin. "I'm on my way to court but we'll have to get together sometime for coffee."
"I'd like that," Nikki answered sincerely. She glanced around the squad room and was amused as several gazes skittered away from hers. "You can tell me who to avoid around here."
"Will do," Georgia promised before giving her a friendly wink and walking away.
"Well at least I've got one ally in this place," Nikki muttered as her eyes went to Nora's profile again. She wondered what the two were arguing about. Probably her she admitted.
She'd been surprised to be paired with Nora Delaney. No doubt about it. She'd heard plenty about the other detective during her years on the force and she'd been excited to meet her when she'd transferred to Special Crimes. Being her partner, however, was not something she would have ever anticipated.
But she was grateful for the chance and was determined to get Nora to like her if it was the last thing she did. The other woman had way too much to teach her and she had plenty to learn.
And the fact that Nora was just plain hot didn't hurt, either.
Nikki pursed her lips, mentally chastising herself for having such thoughts. Not that they weren't true she thought with an inward chuckle.
"No!" He sat down behind his desk. "That's final."
Nora fidgeted then sat opposite him. "We're from two different worlds."
"Make it work."
"How?" Nora almost whined. It wasn't that she didn't like Nikki. She sensed she could really enjoy her company which was surprising when she considered how she usually felt about the rich and pretentious.
"Nora " Dan said plaintively. "She's a good cop. She's got a clean jacket and a hell of a lot of arrests under her belt."
"Which is where you came from as I recall."
Nora crossed her arms. It was clear this was a fight she wasn't going to win. She glanced toward the squad room and caught Nikki watching them. The brunette offered a tiny wave, reminiscent of their first meeting and Nora realized she was smiling back at her before she had any conscious thought to do so. She looked back at Dan who had caught the whole exchange. "What?"
"What?" he said defensively. "Look, Nora. I've wanted to elevate you into a more prominent role in this department. You're good at handling the high profile cases but you " He struggled to find a polite way of saying what was on his mind and couldn't. "But you suck at dealing with the upper class."
Nora said nothing knowing that he was right.
And she was proud of it.
"Nikki has plenty of dealings with that society. You help her get acclimated to the homicides and she'll help you with the high society types."
"Doesn't seem like a fair trade," Nora muttered but her gaze drifted to her new partner once more. Nikki was on the phone now, smiling that charming little grin of hers as she jotted something down on her notepad. Nikki was too pretty to be a cop, Nora decided. Too refined. For some odd reason Nora didn't want her new partner to be touched by the kind of darkness working in Special Crimes brought every day.
"At least I don't have to worry about your new partner hitting on you," Dan teased.
Nora blinked then looked back at him. "Is that what this is about?" she asked with a trace of a laugh.
"Get out of here and go find Delana Archer's killer," he ordered before picking up his own phone.
Nora shook her head but did as told. She strolled back into the squad room and took a seat at her desk, waiting for Nikki to finish her phone call.
"Thanks, Darius," Nikki was saying. "Yeah, I'll do that." She hung up then looked over at Nora.
"Boyfriend?" Nora asked casually.
Nikki smiled. "He's a boy and he's a friend," she replied.
"So." Nora clasped her hands and put them on her desk. "Where do you want to go from here?"
"Would I seem like a loser if I said lunch?"
Nora grinned, realizing she was doing a lot of that today. If Nikki weren't Arthur Beaumont's kid She mentally sighed. "Lunch sounds good actually. Then we should hit the husband."
"Did that already," Nikki reminded her.
For a second Nora looked blank then remembered Nikki's comment about the policeman's charity ball. "Right. Maybe I should do most of the talking on that one."
"Fine," Nikki said as she got to her feet and shouldered her purse. "But I get to pick where we eat."
Nora nodded once, hoping wherever her partner chose she could afford it. "Okay. Let me change then we can get out of here." She grabbed a duffle bag from under her desk and sauntered off toward the ladies room indicating with a dip of her head that Nikki was welcome to tag along.
Nikki did, following Nora into the bathroom. She leaned against one of the sinks as the shorter woman entered a stall and began changing. Nikki had plenty of topics she wanted to discuss with Nora, not the least of which was what she and Dan had talked about. Instead she stuck to the safer ground of the case. "The guy I was on the phone with he's a contact named Darius. He's plugged into every tier of New Orleans society. I asked him to ferret out whatever he could find about Delana Archer."
Nora shrugged out of her tank top and stuffed it into her duffle bag before pulling out a thin, soft figure hugging brown sweater. "You trust him?"
"He's never let me down once. His info is as good as his gold teeth."
Nora shook her head before slipping the sweater on. Nikki had a very interesting sense of humor. "Do I get to meet him?"
"Of course." Nikki crossed her feet and watched as the sweatpants came shimming down. There was a small, ornate cross tattoo on the inside of Nora's left ankle. Nikki smiled. "That's where we're going for lunch."
"There better be food involved in this meeting. A PowerBar only takes a girl so far."
Nikki shuddered at the thought. "There's food. You know Sweeny's?"
The blonde paused with one leg inside her tan slacks. "You know Sweeny's?" she said with a different inflection.
"Best friggin' bar-b-cue in the city. Best kept secret, too."
"It's a dive," Nora replied, still getting over her shock that someone as high class as Nikki Beaumont had even heard of the place. Maybe she was being too unfair toward Nikki's society status. Clearly there was more to the woman than her money. She wouldn't be a damn cop, otherwise.
And the mystery of how someone as rich and privileged as Nikki Beaumont became a cop was almost more tantalizing than their current case.
"Oh yeah," Nikki readily agreed. "Sometimes I think that's why the food is so good." She fell silent as Nora emerged from the stall. Her partner sank her feet into a pair of soft, brown leather boots before turning to pick up her duffle bag. The sweater rode up, revealing a delicate design across Nora's lower back. Nikki heard her own breath catch and she averted her eyes. Jesus that tattoo was sexy as hell. She really, truly could have gone without seeing that.
Oblivious to the effect she was having on her partner, Nora turned and stood, slinging the bag over her shoulder. She pulled the clasp on her ponytail, shaking out her blonde locks before running a hand through them to order her bangs. Finally she focused her gaze on Nikki. "Then let's eat."
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