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
"Freeze his assets. How the hell are we supposed to get that done? We don't even have enough for a warrant to what?" Nora stopped talking when she saw the look her partner was giving her. Nikki had her arms crossed and a glare in evidence as she sat in the passenger seat of the El Camino.
"You have history with my daddy," Nikki accused.
Nora's nose wrinkled and she fidgeted uncomfortably. "Don't say it like that. You make it sound like I slept with him."
"Jesus Christ!" Nora both looked and sounded horrified by the thought.
Nikki's lips twitched. She wanted to be mad at Nora for remaining silent about the situation, but was finding it difficult. She slipped her sunglasses on against the morning rays of sunlight pouring into the car, highlighting the dust motes that floated lazily between them. "I would think you would have said something before now." At least her voice sounded stern.
Nora looked away then tunneled her hands through her hair. She sighed. "I figured I figured he'd have told you all about it. After a few days when you didn't say anything I started to wonder."
"You've had days to say something," Nikki reminded her with a touch of frost to her voice. "You hate my daddy. I would think that would be something worth mentioning."
"I don't hate your daddy father " Nora corrected, unwilling to use the term of endearment Nikki seemed to prefer.
"You sounded like you have a lot of bad blood between you."
Nora rested her hands on the top of the steering wheel. "We do," she answered in a quiet voice.
"That was part of the reason you didn't want me as a partner, isn't it?"
Nora pursed her lips as she felt a nauseating wave of guilt wash through her. "It was a pretty big reason, actually." She met Nikki's gaze again, wincing a little when she saw the wounded look in her partner's eyes. "You set those fears aside in a hurry, Nik. You're a good cop. I could see that after an hour of working with you."
Nik. The shortening of her name managed to have the same effect on her breathing. Nikki swallowed and pretended not to notice.
"Your dad and I just don't play well. Our swords have crossed a few times, that's all." Nora knew it went deeper than that but she'd already decided it didn't matter. She liked Nikki as a partner and wouldn't let her feelings toward her father get in the way of that.
Nikki watched her partner fidget some more. She was damn cute when she was this uncomfortable. Nora was chewing her lip nervously and tapping her fingers on the keys where they rested in the ignition. It was clear the blonde wanted to start the car but didn't dare. "So why didn't you say anything?" Nikki asked again.
Nora shrugged. "I didn't " She hesitated before turning in her seat to face Nikki fully. "I wasn't sure " She sighed and collected her thoughts. "I held it against you you being Arthur Beaumont's kid that first day. But you kept keeping me off-balance. You were saying things doing things You forced me to stop seeing you as his kid and to start seeing you as a cop as my partner. In the end it didn't matter to me whose kid you were."
Nikki took that in. "Must stick in your craw to like Arthur Beaumont's daughter," she teased ever so slightly. She watched in amusement as Nora's shoulders lost some of their tension.
"You have no idea," Nora confessed. She looked at Nikki for a moment. "You know you could be in there yelling at your father. He didn't say anything, either."
"I'm not yelling at you. You'll know when I'm yelling at you," Nikki promised. "And I'm guessing you've been in a shouting match or two with my daddy."
"Or three or four," Nora admitted dryly.
"Kinda pointless to argue with him, isn't it?"
"Kinda." Nora sighed. "You didn't tell him I was your partner?"
Nikki thought about it. "I said your name was Nora. Maybe I forgot the last name."
"He knew I was in special crimes. I'm sure he decided a moment like that would be worth holding his tongue over."
Privately Nikki had to admit that Nora had her father pegged pretty well. But it bothered the hell out of her that the two of them obviously didn't get along. "My daddy can be a pompous ass. I know that. But "
"Look," Nora cut her off carefully. "Your father and I are just from two very different places personality-wise. But if you tell him I said this I will have to hurt you he's a good guy under all that money and power. You need only to see what he does for Progressive House to know that. Not to mention how well his daughter turned out "
Jesus. Did she actually just feel her heart melt? Nikki cleared her throat and nodded once before looking away. "Thanks," she managed to croak. She fidgeted in her seat before forcing herself to look at Nora again. "So how do we freeze his assets?"
"That's what I asked when we got in the car," Nora teased.
"Maybe we don't have to. Maybe we can just make him think we will."
"Not a bad idea. We'll hit him with the news about Castillo then deliver the double whammy on his ass. I like it. And when we're done with him we hit Castillo's house."
"I thought the techs swept it yesterday."
"They did. But I want to take the measure of the man. Only place to do that is in his kingdom."
"Detectives, I really don't have time to chat so unless you've brought me good news about Del's killer this will have to wait until another time."
Nora shook her head as she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her threadbare jeans. Archer had sneered at her when they'd shown up at his office an hour after leaving the Beaumont estate, but the look he'd given Nikki had been even more telling. He'd recognized money when he saw it and he'd barely been able to keep his eyes off her partner since they'd walked in the door.
Of course he may have just been surprised to see Nikki was still breathing. Other than the slight scrape on her cheek from the night of the shooting, Nikki looked flawless.
"Actually," Nikki said matter-of-factly. "We do think we know who killed her."
Archer hesitated. He was standing behind his desk, his hands on his briefcase. The cut of his gray suit was impeccable as was his hair. No picture of the distraught husband this time. "Who?"
"An associate of yours," Nora answered. "You know Ed Castillo?"
Another minor pause. "I believe he works for one of my shipping companies. A foreman I think."
"He admitted to killing your wife to Detective Delaney," Nikki informed him.
Archer's eyes went wide as he looked from one cop to the other. "Then it's over? The case is over?" He began to fuss with the handle on his briefcase.
No relief that his wife's killer had been caught, both women noticed. More like the beginnings of a smug opponent who knew he was about to win the game.
"Sort of," Nikki hedged. "You see," she leaned back and crossed her long legs, hyper aware of Nora standing behind her in those form hugging jeans and wicked leather jacket. "He confessed to the rape and murder right before my partner shot him."
Archer's gray eyes jerked to Nora, truly taking her measure for the first time. His gaze lingered on the bruises on her face, almost concealed by her makeup and realized how she'd received them. Nora merely smiled in a way that wasn't remotely friendly. Archer swallowed. "Is he dead?"
"Very," Nora drawled.
Archer sat down. "Goodness," he replied, managing to sound almost convincingly stunned. "I don't know what to say."
"Well the thing is, Mr. Archer, the death of Ed Castillo has opened the door to several cold cases the police department would like to solve." Nikki watched in satisfaction as the businessman's face went decidedly ashen. "Six as a matter of fact."
"What does that have to do with me? He was just a foreman at one of my companies."
Nora snorted derisively.
Archer looked at the blonde detective then back at Nikki. He took a breath and steeled his features.
"From what we hear? Plenty," Nikki said. "You may not have killed your wife, Mr. Archer, but she's dead because of you. We'll figure out how and we'll figure out why. And we'll find out what your involvement is in those six other murders. You can count on it."
"You have nothing," he answered, all pretense of playing the devastated spouse gone. "If you had something you would have searched my other properties by now."
"That's coming," Nora promised him. She sauntered closer and put her hands on his desk, leaning well into his personal space. "We were thinking about all that money you have, though. Plenty for a man of your means to flee the country. Maybe we should do something about that first."
His eyes hardened and Nora watched in fascination as she caught a glimpse of the killer she knew lurked underneath. A cold finger touched the base of her spine but she didn't blink.
"I'm in the middle of a delicate negotiation," he started.
"You mean your hostile takeover of Delta Distribution?" Nikki asked. "Having your assets frozen could really put a dent in those plans, huh?" She smiled sweetly. "I want Ed Castillo's personnel file. Now."
He regarded her for a charged moment before slowly getting to his feet and crossing to his filing cabinets at the other side of the room. It took him seconds to retrieve the requested information and he handed it over with a murderous look.
"I remember you," he said in a deceptively calm voice.
Nikki stood to accept the file and found she was evenly matched with Archer in height. She took the file. "I left quite the impression as I recall."
He stared hard at her. "You would both do well to watch your step down by the docks. It's really not a place for " he glanced at Nora. "Ladies such as yourselves."
"Are you threatening a police officer, Mr. Archer?" Nora's husky voice rumbled.
He looked back at Nikki. "Not at all. Just giving you a friendly warning." He smiled and cocked his head. "Let the games begin, eh, detective?"
Nikki smiled back but her eyes were as cold as Archer's voice. "We're several moves ahead, Dick. Try to catch up."
They left him motionless in the middle of his office, but both could feel his rage following them out the door like a palpable wave.
"Whoa," Nikki said when they hit the door to the lobby and exited into the late morning sunshine. "Did you see that?"
"That transformation from corporate viper to killer? You bet your ass. He gave me a glimpse at his soul back there." Nora yanked open the door to her car and climbed in. "What I saw will probably keep me awake tonight."
Nikki joined her in the vehicle. She popped a piece of spearmint gum and offered the pack to Nora who declined with a shake of her head. "I think we were on the money about Archer's reason for sending Castillo after me."
"What clued you in? The glint in his eyes when he saw you walk in? I bet if we talk to the right people we'll find Archer was calling around yesterday to see if Castillo reported to work." Nora turned the key in the ignition. She glanced at her watch. It was nearing 10:45. "What now?"
"Casa de Castillo," Nikki replied before smacking her gum playfully.
Nora pulled away from the curb and headed out into fairly light traffic. They were quiet for a few moments, each absorbing the meeting they'd just had. Nora broke the silence first. "I don't think we're going to have this case wrapped up by Tuesday. Not with six victims."
Nikki frowned, wondering why Tuesday was important. Then she remembered. The Shriver photo shoot. "Dan won't let us out of it."
Nora looked disgruntled. "What will the press say? We're off playing model while Delana Archer's killer is still on the loose?"
"Delana's killer is dead. He made a full confession. That's all the press cares about. At least until we tie Archer to the other murders. Right now the press doesn't know jack about that."
"Shit," Nora groused.
"Sorry. You're going to have to strike a pose," Nikki teased.
"I still don't know what the hell got into me. Some damn voodoo or something."
The taller detective chuckled. "So you busted my Uncle Edgar, huh?"
Nora shot her a worried look as she made her way past a tour bus burping black smoke. "Is that going to be an issue?"
Nikki hiked an eyebrow. "Why would it be an issue? He deserved to go to jail." Her voice was firm and tense.
"Did he ?" Nora trailed off as a sudden surge of fear for her partner blasted through her. "He didn't touch "
"I was way too old for him by the time Edgar moved back to New Orleans. He never laid a hand on me," Nikki replied. "Apparently a few distant younger cousins weren't so lucky."
Nora nodded but she felt relief sweep through her clear and strong. "I'm glad I helped stop him, then."
"Me, too. I can't believe I didn't know you were involved. Not that I followed the case all that closely. I was in the middle of cases of my own. I recall I really didn't give a damn other than feeling satisfied he'd been caught. The guy always gave me the willies." Nikki gave her partner a sideways glance. Nora's profile was backlit from the sun as they drove, putting her partner's features in sharp relief. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure," Nora said slowly.
Nikki grinned at the cautious tone. "Why did you become a cop?"
Nora's shoulders relaxed. "It's it's all I knew growing up. My dad was a cop. My biological dad, I have a stepfather now." Her voice sounded husky to her own ears so she cleared her throat. "He was a good guy. Worked a beat for twenty years. I told him I wanted to be like him when I grew up. He was okay with that. So long as I surpassed him and became a detective." She smiled.
Nikki felt her heart twist knowing what happened to both Nora and her father. "Delaney. That's Irish, right?"
"That it is. My father's father came to the states when he was nineteen. I used to love to listen to him talk at Christmas. He had the coolest accent."
"I'll bet." Nikki continued to gaze at Nora's features not even aware that she was doing so.
"He was a good man," Nora said on an uneven breath. She glanced at Nikki. "He would have liked you."
"I think I would have liked him," Nikki answered honestly.
The El Camino slid into the only empty space available on the street in front of a nice line of condos in the garden district. Nora put the car in park then looked at the address she'd written down for Castillo. She whistled. "Dock work pays well."
"Especially when you find ways to supplement your income," Nikki drawled as she got out of the car. She waited until Nora joined her on the sidewalk before walking up the steps to Castillo's brownstone. It was nice, the detective had to admit, but it was a stone's throw from her own place. "Jeez, why didn't he just whack me here?"
Nora shot her a look.
"I live five streets over," Nikki explained.
"Ah." Nora didn't know what else to say so she slipped the key they'd recovered from evidence in the door while Nikki used a pocketknife to slice through the police tape.
It was Nikki's turn to whistle. "The man had lousy taste in body art but when it comes to what you hang on the wall " She trailed off as she approached a large, framed painting in the hall.
Castillo's entire home was tastefully done in reds, creams and blacks. There was a lot of leather, both detectives noted, and lots of artwork on the walls. Archer obviously paid his man very, very well.
"Worth a small fortune, huh?" Nora asked when she saw Nikki studying the artist's signature.
"How about six months worth of paychecks?"
"Ouch." Nora moved away and headed for the kitchen. The techs had been thorough. There was black fingerprint dust everywhere. Drawers were empty. Cushions were overturned.
"We won't find much in this mess," Nikki mumbled as she trailed after her partner.
Nora leaned against the counter and considered their options. "What are we looking for?"
"I kinda hoped you knew."
"I meant "
"I know what you meant." Unconsciously Nikki reached out and playfully swatted Nora's arm. "The techs will have the computer, any address books or PDAs."
"Castillo doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would carry a PDA," Nora muttered. "He does strike me as a guy who would have the goods on Archer, though. If only for protection."
"What kind of goods? Bank receipts? Pictures? Recordings?" Nikki exchanged a look with her partner. "Recordings."
"Yeah." Nora stood up straight and looked around. "It would be something that Archer wouldn't guess."
"The techs would have taken all the videos they found. Any computer discs, too."
Nora looked around, her gaze skimming over the walls. There sure as hell were a lot of pictures.
The detective blinked. Nora hadn't noticed them at first. They were painted the color of the walls and were overshadowed by the artwork. She wandered back into the living room, noticing four more.
"What?" Nikki asked.
"The man likes his music."
Nikki finally noticed what her partner was looking at. "I don't see a stereo."
"Let's try upstairs."
They walked up the steps in relative quiet. Nora entered the master bedroom and looked around. Nothing.
"Over here," Nikki called out.
Nora entered the room behind her partner and was immediately greeted by a reflection of the two of them standing side by side. They did make a striking pair some part of her brain noted. Her gaze moved off to take in all the gym equipment. "Nice setup."
"Hmm." Nikki stepped inside. "It was hard working making those flame tattoos bulge like that," she joked as she picked up a free weight and did a playful arm curl. It didn't appear that the techs had done much in here. They had obviously dusted for prints but outside the gym equipment there was nothing all that noteworthy present. A thunking sound made her turn her head as she set the weight back down. She watched as Nora tapped on one of the mirrors with a knuckle.
Nora frowned and moved to the next mirror before tapping again with similar results.
"What are you doing?"
The blonde detective ignored her partner as she went to the third mirror and repeated her actions. This time the sound was different. More hollow. She turned and looked at Nikki.
"Son-of-a-bitch." Nikki came closer and tapped the surface herself. "Something is back there."
Nora gave the glass a push and was unsurprised when something clicked open. She wedged her fingers in the opening and pulled, swinging the mirror back and revealing a small room with television monitors and various playback decks for DVDs. "There's the stereo," Nora drawled.
"I'll call the techs," Nikki muttered as she slipped out her cell phone. "They missed a spot."
"I'll say." Nora noted the stereo that fed the speakers throughout the house as she slipped on a latex glove before picking up a DVD off a nearby stack and studying it. She showed the label to Nikki.
Nikki shook her head as she started talking into her phone.
With a sigh Nora slipped the disc into the machine and pushed play.
What she saw almost made her toss her breakfast.
"Jesus," Nikki whispered as she finished her call.
They watched Thomas Mangold die at the hands of a manic looking Castillo. He was enjoying Mangold's screams, smiling devilishly as he plunged a nine-inch blade into his victim's flesh. On the ground, Mangold struggled to free himself from the ropes holding him, to avoid each thrust of the knife. Castillo had left Mangold's mouth free on purpose.
Nora almost jumped when Nikki's fingers wrapped around her bicep.
"He's toying with him," Nikki realized in horror. None of the blows would have killed Mangold instantly even though the blood loss ultimately would.
Nora felt rather than saw when Nikki turned away as Mangold screamed in misery, his voice raspy with desperation. She turned the DVD off. Her insides felt like they were shaking. She took a breath before turning to Nikki. There were far more than six DVDs present.
"He used multiple cameras," Nikki said as she stepped out of the room, in dire need of fresh air.
"He edited the video."
He had, Nora realized. The camera angle had cut between Castillo and his victim. "The bastard recorded his murders."
"That's why he led us to that alley." Nikki realized. "He had cameras in that alley."
"We need to get back there. He'd have had more than one. And we wouldn't have looked at adjacent buildings." Nora glanced back at the small room and almost shuddered. "As soon as the techs get here we'll go. There might still be something in those recordings we can use against Archer."
"I'll bet you a bottle of expensive wine that Archer somehow knew about that room. That he only left what could be used against Castillo." Sucking in a deep breath Nikki went back inside. She went to the computer and took it out of safe mode before hitting the eject button on the DVD player.
The disc slid out.
For a moment Nikki could only stare as she processed what she was seeing. Nora came up behind her and looked. The label on the disc said it all.
"Oh my God," Nora whispered. She slid past Nikki, slipping on her other glove as she sat down at the computer. She double clicked on what appeared to be editing software and waited. A list of projects appeared and she clicked on the one with Archer's name. A timeline appeared along with two windows. Nora punched the spacebar then swallowed hard.
The camera turned on revealing a frightening close up of Castillo's face. He stepped back and the detectives could see the unconscious figure of Delana Archer stripped and bound to the bed. As Castillo moved further away from the camera they could see he was naked and aroused.
"FYI. I'm skipping lunch," Nikki said.
Nora could have kissed her for the much needed moment of humor. She hit the spacebar again and the image stopped. Castillo was half on, half off the bed, about to straddle Delana's prone body. Both souls in the shot were now dead but only one of them deserved to be. Nora knew she'd have to watch the rest of the act later and the mere knowledge left her nauseous. "Sometimes I hate my job."
A warm touched eased over Nora's shoulder before rubbing coaxing circles. The detective released a shaky breath, taking unconscious comfort in the contact.
Nikki knelt next to her and studied the image. "She was out before he tied her to the bed."
"The bruises from the ropes indicated as much," Nora said. She shook her head. "How did he get the drug into her? I can't see her sitting down for a cup of tea with a guy like that. Yet there was no evidence he forced it into her. No injection site to suggest he used a needle." Something tickled the back of Nora's brain as she stared hard at the image. There was something there. Some piece of the puzzle she wasn't seeing.
They heard voices down stairs. Someone called Nora's name.
"Up here," she yelled back. Nora turned and looked into Nikki's eyes. "Why don't I hit the alley? I'll get some of these guys to meet me "
"I'm good," Nikki said firmly. "Where you go I go."
"Nora," Nikki cut her off gently but firmly. "I'm not the one who almost died there."
With another sigh Nora nodded and got to her feet just as the first CSI walked in the room.
"Damn," the tech said when he saw the open mirror panel. "Shit. We missed it."
"Dumb luck we found it," Nora lied as she slid out of the room.
The tech saw what was on the screen and blanched. He turned and looked at Nora. "We'll seal this one up tight, detective. Every spec of evidence you'll get."
"Thanks, Jason," Nora said wearily. "I'll need those discs sent over. Nikki and I are going to have to watch them later."
His gaze went from Nikki then back to Nora. "Consider it done. We'll process them for prints first thing."
"Thanks," Nikki said as she followed Nora from the room. They made their way back to the car in pensive silence. Nikki was mildly startled when Nora handed her the keys.
"You drive. Okay?"
"Sure," Nikki answered slowly. She watched Nora slide into the passenger seat, her partner's thoughts clearly chewing on something. She wanted to ask what Nora was thinking, but some inner instinct told her now wasn't the time. Nikki slipped behind the wheel and started the car.
They didn't say another word until they reached the alley.
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