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 next morning proved to be as rainy as the previous evening. Nora stuffed her hands in the pockets of her thin leather jacket and watched the fat drops agitating the sizable puddles spotted along Bourbon Street. She shifted, feeling stiff and sore, and tried not to wince at the ensuing spasms in her lower back and stomach.
After a few dreary minutes of watching the rain, Nora yawned and looked impatiently at her watch. The fact that her brother was late was hardly surprising. The only thing Bobby Delaney was ever on time for was a free meal. The knowledge did little to assuage her growing restlessness. She's stayed up late with Nikki, going over the case notes until they were both about to fall asleep sitting up. Her partner had left around 11:45, parting with a wink and a soft, grateful touch on Nora's wrist.
It had been a weird moment. Nora knew she'd wanted Nikki to stay. Had almost asked her to do so. In the end she'd held her tongue and watched Nikki leave, feeling oddly alone when her partner's taillights faded into the night.
She's been without a close friend for so long. Finding a potential one in her new partner a woman who by all rights was her exact opposite was a pleasant surprise. Yet they hadn't even know each other a week. Weird. Just weird.
Nora raked a hand through her hair and glanced at her watch again.
Finally the clip clop of horse hooves sounded over the rain and Nora glanced to her left before offering a quick wave to the two mounted officers making their way over to the small coffee house behind her.
The shorter of two quickly dismounted and came closer, his clear plastic rain slicker swishing as he did so.
"Hey, bro," Nora said with a grin. "Sucks to be you on a day like this."
Bobby Delaney took off his helmet as he stepped under the shelter of a faded red awning. His hair was cropped close to his head, his baby face freshly shaved. "I heard what happened the other night. You okay?"
Nora shrugged. "No big thing. I didn't even go to the doctor." She didn't mention that she probably really should have. She had a nearly expired bottle of Vicodin in her desk from her last major injury and she was looking forward to taking one.
He didn't look convinced but he obviously knew better than to press his older sister. "So what's up?"
She fished the list of names out of her pocket and handed it over. Bobby shook the excess rain off his hand and accepted it.
"I was hoping you could do a little asking around. This case I'm working it looks like we might have six other victims. We're just trying to piece it all together."
"We? You mean the new partner I had to hear about through the grapevine?"
"We've been a little busy," she replied sheepishly. "Sorry. It all happened so fast I haven't had the chance to tell you. She wants to meet you, actually. She thinks mounted patrol is cool."
"She should try it on a day like this," he muttered as he looked at the names and the places where they'd worked in the French Quarter. "Wait a minute. She?"
He shrugged. "Can't blame me for asking."
"She's taller than you."
"You say that like I'd object." His brow furrowed. "Some of these people are they 'working' folks?"
"If you mean 'working' as a euphemism for prostituting, yeah, that's what we think. Two of them, though, had legitimate jobs."
"So what do you want me and Rob to do?" Bobby asked with a quick glance at his waiting partner who was none to subtly checking out Nora's ass. Rob was holding the reigns of Bobby's horse and was looking rather impatient with the arrangement.
"Ask around. See if anyone can tie these folks to Richard Archer."
"Will do. You want to meet up later?"
"Check in with me at the station around one. We'll compare notes."
"And you'll introduce me to your tall partner?" He grinned.
"As much as I like her I will subject her to my little brother for a few minutes." She rubbed his short hair with a quick motion then used a quick thrust of her hip to bump him off the sidewalk and back into the rain. His chuckle followed her as she turned and headed inside the delicious smelling coffee house for a quick morning treat for her and Nikki.
"Girl, you don't ask for much." Darius scratched his head, making his dreadlocks sway as he stared at the list of names he'd given his friend two days ago. He sat at Nikki's kitchen table, Nestor next to his knee. The dog sighed, his tail thumping on the floor, as he put his head in Darius' lap. Darius petted him absently.
Nikki sat down before sliding a steaming cup of coffee toward him. "Nora has her brother asking around as well."
Darius nodded. He took a sip of his coffee and glanced at the detective. She wore a distracted expression as she nibbled a chocolate Pop Tart. He shook his head. "You're rich and you eat that cardboard stuff for breakfast?"
Nikki looked down at her meal. "Unless you're gonna cook for me, sugar, this is the best I can do. So what can you tell me about the names on the list?"
Darius ignored her as he set the piece of paper down and regarded her. "You haven't said anything about what happened the other night. For that matter you didn't even return my calls."
"I might have gone all Rambo on you," she answered sweetly.
"She told you I said that?" Darius was going to have re-think his opinion of detective Delaney.
"I recognized your number on her cell phone and forced it out of her." Nikki leaned back in her chair and used her thumb to wipe off a smudge of chocolate on her lip. "Sorry I didn't call. I didn't mean to worry you. And thanks for looking after Nestor until I was able to get home last night."
"Yeah, hanging around in your posh Garden District condo was very taxing," Darius teased. "So is it true? Nora saved your ass?" His tone was teasing but he was startled when Nikki didn't respond to it in kind.
Nikki was silent a moment. "Yeah," she answered slowly. "She got pretty banged up in the process. Scared the shit out of me." She took a breath, willing her mind to stay in the present and not back to that dark, rain soaked alley. "I thought I was going to lose my partner three days after being assigned to her." She started to take a sip of her coffee but quickly set the cup back down when she realized her hand was shaking. Nikki ran her fingers through her hair, trying to mask her reaction. "Actually I was at her place yesterday. She has this really cool loft apartment in the Warehouse district. We sacked out most of the day then chatted about the case over take out from Nola's."
His friendly eyes narrowed, not believing the unaffected air Nikki was trying to project. The way Nikki talked about her partner there was something different there. An odd tone he couldn't place. "Nik?"
"You getting a thing for your partner?"
Nikki looked up, startled. "That would be stupid," she blurted.
No denial. More of a dodge, Darius realized with a smirk. "She's hot."
"Want me to put in a good word for you?" Nikki got up from the table and went to the sink.
"Nik, you know I won't judge you."
"I just met her, Darius," she said with exasperation and a touch of something he wasn't too sure about.
"It don't take long for opposites to attract, sugar."
Nikki was continuing to evade an honest answer. Darius frowned as he watched her rinsing out her cup. Normally when Nikki saw someone she liked she went for it and didn't hesitate to vocalize her attraction. This reaction was a new one.
And it caused a thread of worry to tickle through him.
"Okay," he relented. Now wasn't the time. The moment would come sooner or later. He fingered the corner of the list as Nikki put her mug in the washer. "One of these folks worked for Bellwether at one point," he said. "She went on to another corporate gig, though; was there about two weeks when she disappeared."
"Who?" Nikki came back to the table but this time she strolled up behind him and put her hands on the back of his chair.
"Margaret Hainey. The rest I'm sure you recognized Mangold. I recognize a working girl and some trannies."
"You obviously have been working this angle since you gave us the list. Who should Nora and I start with? Who do you think we can tie to Archer the hardest?"
"I'd start with those two." He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Hainey and Mangold. I've also got my ear to the ground in case Archer decides to put another hit out on you."
Nikki shared with him the theory she and Nora had formed the night before. By the time she was done he looked thoughtful.
"Maybe," he admitted. "Doesn't seem farfetched. But I'm still really leery of the guy."
"Be as leery as you want, my man." She patted him on the shoulder. "Want to meet at the station house around one? We can compare notes. Do lunch?"
"As long as I don't have to come inside. Me and police stations don't mix."
She patted his shoulder again before she moved away. "Fine. I'll meet you in the parking lot." She scooped up a black blazer off the back of her sofa. "I've got to get going. Just lock up when you're done."
Darius shot a look at his watch and smirked again. Nikki was leaving awfully early. Was she hoping to avoid his questions about Nora? Or was she eager to see her new partner? Either reason was quite telling.
"Bye, Nestor," Nikki called and blew the dog a kiss.
He barked back and wagged his tail before settling his head once more in his other human's lap.
The blonde detective looked up to see Dan motioning to her from his office. With a sigh she set her cooling cup of coffee down on her desk and carefully got to her feet. She gave Georgia a mock salute as her co-worker arrived and the other detective offered her a knowing grin.
"Shut the door," Dan said when Nora stepped inside.
She did as told then leaned against it, waiting to hear what he had to say.
"How are you feeling?" Dan asked as he sat. He leaned back and steepled his fingers as he regarded her.
"Fine," Nora answered easily and readily. "I slept most of the day yesterday. Had Nola's for dinner. I'm good."
"You know you're going to have to see the shrink."
They eyed each other for a charged moment. Finally Dan leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. "That was one hell of a boneheaded thing for you to do the other night."
Nora shrugged but she was inwardly relieved he wasn't going to push or make a case out her actions. "Nikki and I are still alive so I guess I can't complain."
"I guess I can't, either," he muttered. He waved at one of the chairs.
She hesitated then pushed off the door and sat down. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you about the threat against Nikki."
"Why didn't you?"
His voice was surprisingly even and Nora gave him points for that. "We thought you'd take us off the case."
"You're right. I would have. Tell me why I shouldn't now?"
"Seriously?" Nora asked, her smoky voice sounding raspier than usual. "Castillo is dead. Besides, I called last night after I remembered what he said to me. I told Georgia every word."
"You think he did it? Raped and killed the Archer woman?"
"He said he did more or less."
"We gave that to the press this morning. Maybe that will hold 'em off a bit until we figure out who paid him to do it."
Dan thought for a moment. "So who says Archer won't send someone in Castillo's place? He wants Nikki dead. This setback won't stop him."
Nora laid out the entire conversation she'd had with Nikki the night before. Dan took it in when she was finished. He sighed and leaned back, scratching his closely shaved head. "That's messed up."
"Feels right, though."
"Yeah. Somehow it does." Dan wasn't thrilled by the knowledge, but at least they had a confession from Castillo. It was something. "So you think Archer will ignore Nikki for now? That he got what he wanted?"
"Well, we'll play it safe," Nora replied. She tried to shift into a more comfortable position then winced, hoping Dan didn't notice. "The guy is a killer no matter how you look at it. I'm just not sure he's behind the murder we're investigating."
Dan looked at her, his gaze revealing nothing. "You want all those cases?"
"Are you offering them?" she asked in surprise.
"I've got Georgia and Radek on three of them. You and Nikki get the rest. I gave you two Mangold. I figured Nikki's connections would get you further on that one. The four of you work together on this. Make sure you compare notes. But you stay focused on the Archer investigation."
"We think those victims might be a motive for Delana's murder."
"No doubt," Dan agreed. "But there are only so many hours in the day, Nora. Let Georgia and Radek help. Got me?"
She held up her hands. "Fine." Nora didn't mind working with Georgia a bit, but she was less enthused about dealing with Georgia's older partner Tom Radek. He was an old school cop and not in a good way. How Georgia put up with him, and even seemed to like the old codger, was a complete mystery to her.
Another charged silence arched between them.
"So how's Nikki working out?" Dan asked casually. "You over your whole rich girl prejudice?"
Nora bit back her initial response. She dipped her head. "She made it easy."
Dan's eyebrows rose in surprise. He had thought Nikki could handle Nora but he was floored that she'd done so this quickly. "Really? You two are getting along, huh?"
An unconscious grin shaped Nora's lips when she thought of her new partner. She remembered waking up next to her, the heat from her body so close and the smell of her perfume clinging to the sheets. "So far so good." She cleared her throat when her voice came out unexpectedly husky.
"Huh," Dan said again. He seemed inordinately pleased. "Good to hear. I don't have to worry about you falling for another guy."
Nora gave him a look then rolled her eyes. "You're implying that I fell for you."
He merely smiled.
"Oh brother." Nora got to her feet and walked to the door. She turned when her hand was on the handle. "Seriously, though." Her voice was softer when she spoke. "Thanks for partnering her with me. I think she's going to be just what I needed." It wasn't quite what she wanted to say but somehow the words fit.
Dan's smile widened. "Then I'll expect you to have the lose ends of Delana Archer's murder solved in the next few days. The press is so on my ass I'm beginning to chafe."
Nora chuckled. "At least you've got Castillo. That's something." She'd barely cleared the threshold of his office when she saw Nikki enter the bullpen. Today her partner was in a black pantsuit with a bright, electric blue shell under the tailor made jacket. She looked
That was the word for it, Nora decided as she resumed her path to her desk. Nikki looked like she belonged in a boardroom somewhere buying and selling people's futures. She wore money very, very well. "Hey," she said when her partner plunked a Prada handbag down and sat.
"Hey," Nikki said a little breathlessly. She grinned at Nora's Harley Davidson t-shirt and low slung jeans. She wore a pair of dusty black shit kickers as well. A stab of envy for the comfortable looking attire hit her but she smothered it. They had decided last night to play up their perceived class status when they went to meet Archer for a second interview. "Nice outfit."
Nora grinned back. "This was your idea."
"I want him to perceive you as harmless."
Nora glanced down at her clothes. "I'm dressed like I should be on the back of some guy's bike. You ever talk to some of 'those' kind of girls? There is nothing harmless about them."
"He sees anyone that isn't in his tax bracket as harmless," Nikki clarified.
"So you're reminding him that you're in a bracket above him."
Her partner held her hands out to her sides. "But of course," she replied in a haughty voice. Her eyes darted to Dan's door. "You talked to him, yet?"
"He gave three of the cases to Georgia and Radek."
"You knew he would," Nora said in a practical sounding voice. "Besides, let them do some legwork for us. It can't hurt."
Nikki had to agree. "What about Mangold? Or Margaret Hainey?"
"We've got Mangold. I don't know about the rest. I figured I'd wait to pester Georgia when you got here."
"I met with Darius this morning. He's checking out any friends or relatives that might look good for this."
"I talked to my brother," Nora added. "He's getting some info on the victims as well."
"Well aren't we connected?" Nikki drawled. She thought for a moment. "Maybe we should swing by my dad's before meeting Archer."
Nora paused as she was reaching down to turn on her computer. She felt a flash of concern and hoped it didn't manifest on her features. "Why?"
"Some more ammunition to use against Archer. Daddy knows all about anybody who is worth knowing about." Nikki tilted her head, not sure what to make of her partner's oddly blank look.
It was a good idea Nora had to admit. "Fine," she agreed reluctantly. "It's just " She started to explain her last run-in with Nikki's father but was forced to bite her tongue when Georgia appeared.
"So Dan told you, right?" The younger woman asked. She held a file in one hand and popped it nervously against the palm of the other. "You okay with that?" Today her pantsuit was a deep blue-red.
"Absolutely," Nora responded. "We've got some feelers out there. If we get a hit on anything we'll pass it on to you."
"Likewise." Georgia handed her a page from inside the folder. "Here's your three. You'll note you got the rich dude."
"My fault," Nikki chimed in.
Georgia smiled. "Well you can take him. I've heard things about that family Lord."
It was Nikki's turn to smile. Whatever Georgia knew about the Mangold's she knew more. A lot more.
Georgia gave Nora a playful swat on the shoulder with the file. "You're the talk of the bullpen."
"For taking out Castillo?" Nora guessed as she finally bent under her desk to turn on her computer.
"No. For your photo shoot."
Everyone in the room heard Nora's head connect with the underside of her desk. Nikki grimaced as she watched her partner slowly straighten, rubbing the knot that had to be forming in the center of her head.
"Ouch," Nikki said helpfully.
Nora shot her a look. Then she shot daggers at Georgia. "Dan?"
"I'm going to kill that pig bastard."
Cell phone calls and a meeting with Georgia and her partner kept Nora from addressing the issue of Nikki's father. By the time they'd rolled up to his large estate in the Garden District there was no time. With a silent curse, Nora climbed out of the El Camino and looked up at the house. House seemed like a very inadequate term. The thing was the size of a small castle.
The only thing missing was a moat.
Nikki climbed out of the car and glanced up at her childhood home. She could hear the lawn crew working in back, their leaf blowers shattering an otherwise quiet morning. Spanish moss hung low in the trees overhead and she couldn't help but smile at the familiar sights and scents of her surroundings. "Come on. He's probably out back having his coffee and reading the paper."
Reluctantly Nora followed her partner past the wrought iron gates and up the front steps. Her boots sounded loud as they crossed the veranda. Nikki entered a code then opened the front door, waiting for Nora to pass into the foyer before following and shutting the door behind them.
The smell of cigarette smoke clung to the air and Nora's nose wrinkled in reaction. She'd been to the house before but had never made it past the front door. She was pleasantly surprised at how light and airy the place seemed. Somehow she'd always imagined the Beaumont Estate having wood paneling and a foxhunting motif. The stained glass windows above the door bathed them in soft hues of red and gold. The white paneled walls that lined the hallway were covered with family photos. Nora spied several of a precocious looking little girl and leaned in to investigate.
"Oh no you don't," Nikki said. She swiftly grabbed Nora's hand and yanked her inquisitive partner away. "You haven't known me long enough to be privy to the baby pictures."
Nora grinned, determined to take another peek on the way out. "You grew up here, huh?" she asked as they passed an entertainment room to their right.
"Yep," Nikki answered simply. "No place has ever come close to making me feel more at home than here."
Nora said nothing to that. She could barely imagine growing up as an only child in a house this big. How Nikki did it without getting lost or misplaced was apparently an early sign of her detective skills.
They passed through a spectacular kitchen that was the size of Nora's whole apartment then stepped through the back door out onto a long curved porch. The sound of the leaf blowers increased as the two detectives turned their heads to the right. Not four feet away, sitting in a white rocking chair reading the morning paper, was Arthur Beaumont.
Nora mentally cussed again. She'd half been hoping he wouldn't be here.
"Daddy?" Nikki called.
His head lifted and a smile split his handsome features. He was perhaps fifty-five, Nora guessed, his wavy brown hair peppered with distinguishing strands of gray. Idly, Nora wondered if he paid the hairdresser to add the color after going through the trouble of dying the rest of his head. Now that she was facing him she could see the family resemblance between father and daughter especially in the eyes. He was dressed simply. Pressed kakis and a blue oxford shirt. The only concession to the early hour the navy blue slippers he wore instead of loafers.
"Hey, little girl," he answered as he set the paper aside and got to his feet. He faltered minutely when he saw Nora, but Nikki didn't seem to notice. He wrapped his daughter up in a hug and squeezed her tightly his gaze focused intently on the blonde detective behind her. "What brings you by this morning?"
Nora took a bracing breath. This meeting would go one of two ways. Beaumont would either get in her face over their last meeting or he'd be coolly civil. She was hoping for the latter with Nikki present. If it had just been her and Beaumont she would have welcomed the chance to resolve their last conversation.
"First let me introduce you to my new partner. Daddy, this is Detective Nora Delaney."
Arthur noticed an interesting inflection in his daughter's voice. She liked Nora. Wonder of wonders. He paid no attention to Delaney's choice of clothes. He suspected she was deliberately dressing that way for a reason. Perhaps to pique him even. He came around his daughter and extended his hand. "Nice to see you again, detective," he drawled.
Coolly civil. Kick ass, Nora thought. She took his hand and returned his firm grip in equal measure. "Councilman."
"You two have met?" Nikki said with some surprise. Neither her partner nor her father had mentioned that little tidbit until now.
"Didn't Nora tell you? She was the one to put away your uncle Edgar," Arthur said sweetly as he continued to grip Nora's hand.
Maybe not so civil, Nora amended silently. "A deed you didn't take kindly to as I recall."
"I threatened to sue you so hard your great grandchildren wouldn't be able to pay off your debt. I remember."
"Daddy!" Nikki wasn't at all surprised to hear Nora had booked her uncle Edgar. Her great uncle Edgar if she wanted to be specific. In fact the news only raised her partner's profile in her eyes. "Uncle Edgar was a perv!"
Nora bit her lip.
"Indeed he was, dear. Your mother really wasn't blessed with the best relatives." Arthur let go of Nora's hand and regarded her. "You did realize," he told her. "That what I did was all for show? The Beaumont's have a reputation to protect. No hard feelings."
Show? Nora would have laughed in his face had Nikki not been standing there. The man had insulted her down to her DNA. "And I had the children your relative was molesting to protect. No hard feelings," Nora answered back.
He surprised her by smiling. "Can I get you two some coffee?"
Nikki wasn't sure which of them she wanted to corner first. It would have to be Nora she decided. The instant they were back in the car. "I'm fine. We need to ask you some more about Richard Archer."
Nora stuffed her hands in her pockets as Beaumont continued to regard her. "What?"
He merely smiled then returned to his rocking chair. "So what is it you want to know?"
Nora decided to let her partner handle the questions. She wandered over to the rail and watched the grounds crew cleaning out a large, ornate fountain in the center of the sprawling gardens. She had to admit it was all pretty damn well, pretty.
Nikki shot her partner a worried look then took the chair next to her father. "We're specifically looking for buttons to push."
"Ah. Trying to rile him up are you? Hit him in the nuts again."
Good one, Nora privately admitted.
"Daddy, did you not hear what happened the night before last?" Nikki asked carefully.
"I was out of town, visiting your grandmother in Baton Rouge," he reminded her. "Why?"
Nora was surprised that a man as connected as Arthur Beaumont hadn't heard about his daughter being used for target practice. Dan must have really pulled some serious strings to keep the shooting under wraps.
"Someone tried to kill me," Nikki informed him.
His brown eyes zeroed in on his daughter's face, all trace of humor gone. "What?"
Never one to pass up an opportunity, especially where her new partner was concerned, Nikki used the moment to her advantage. "Yeah. I'd be dead if it wasn't for Nora." She glanced up at her partner in time to see her partner's back stiffen.
"What?" Arthur asked again. "What the hell happened?"
"I can't go into details just yet," Nikki told him with practiced remorse. "But Nora kept me from getting shot."
"Is that true?" Beaumont demanded of the blonde detective.
Nora finally turned. She knew what Nikki was trying to do and it wasn't going to work. There was nothing that would build a bridge over the troubled waters between her and Nikki's dad. "I did my job," was her answer.
"Did your job. You shielded me from the shooter, took him on in hand-to-hand combat on a rickety fire escape and eventually shot his ass." Nikki looked at her father. "All in a day's work," she drawled.
Nora willed herself not to blush.
Beaumont took his daughter's hand. "Are you alright?"
"Right as rain. Nothing a good night's sleep and a meal from Nola's couldn't cure." Nikki squeezed his hand affectionately. "I'm fine, daddy. Really."
Beaumont glanced up at Nora and was relieved to see she'd returned her attention to the gardens. He cleared his throat. "You think it was Archer?"
"It was an associate of his."
He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "Hell. Alright. He's very competitive."
"We know that."
"He's in a bidding war right now. Trying to take over a small shipping firm called Delta Distribution. You want to piss him off? Find away to freeze his access to his accounts. That'll send him into the stratosphere."
Nora's brows knit before she turned to face them again. "So instead of taking shots at his pride "
"That is his pride, Detective," Beaumont quickly cut Nora off. "Nothing is more important to Richard Archer than his money. Nothing."
Return to Nikki & Nora Fiction
Return to Main Page