DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Demeter94[at]yahoo.de
Even though the harsh light hurt her eyes after what must have been hours of darkness, and the girl could barely see the man's outline, she stared back at him defiantly.
"You lied to me!" she accused.
His laughter sent a chill skittering down her spine. "Clever girl," he said.
She was mad at him, but madder at herself for not running when she'd had the opportunity. She'd been taught not to accept gifts from strangers, but the moment she politely refused, he had already thrown a blanket over her head and pushed her into the van.
And here she was, tied up in a dark room. She hoped there weren't any bugs.
Anyway, she believed that she wouldn't be here for long.
"My aunt is a policewoman. She will come find me and kick your ass."
Mom wouldn't be too pleased with these words, but she thought they applied fine to a man who kidnapped girls. She swallowed hard. That's what had happened to her. Kidnapped.
"You think?" The humor was gone from his voice, and she decided that she would just shut up from now and wait patiently.
Not show him any fear.
"Just let her."
He turned away and plunged her into darkness again.
A single tear rolled down her face.
It was very hard to be brave.
On the other side of the door, the man held a small pink backpack in his hands, turning it over until he found the owners initials stitched into the bottom: B.B.
He smiled. He'd wait a few days before he'd have Rita deliver the ransom. Make them wonder.
"Lindsay, thank God!"
Cindy stayed politely in the background while Lindsay embraced her crying sister. It was a tricky situation for her Lindsay always claimed that she was family now. Cindy suspected that Cat didn't see it quite that way, but now was not the moment to dwell on that thought.
Instead, she distracted herself by marveling once again at the striking contrast the two sisters presented. Cat was about Cindy's own height, her hair a warm shade of blonde.
When Lindsay stepped back to regard her seriously, Cindy could see that Cat had to have been crying for hours. Yet, she was holding on. Stubborn resolve ran in the family which was a good thing right now. "Sometimes, you know, it's women who can't have children on their own, right? She wouldn't hurt Brigid."
"It's possible," Lindsay agreed, but Cindy had noticed her stiffening slightly, and she knew that Lindsay had a lot of other possible scenarios on her mind. Much worse scenarios. "We'll get her back," she promised.
Cat appeared to be somewhat consoled. It seemed as if she was only then noticing they were not alone in the hallway. Her eyes blazed with anger. All of a sudden, Cindy could see the family resemblance very well.
"What the hell is she doing here?"
"Uh, you're kind of right. I'm going to wait in the car," Cindy offered hastily. There was actually nothing good that could come out of this confrontation.
"No." Never mind the fact that Lindsay did not share her assessment. "Cat, I know you're hurting right now. Taking it out on Cindy is not going to help you or Brigid." Her voice held a clear note of warning, making Cindy feel all cherished and even more uncomfortable at the same time.
"She's a reporter!"
"But this is not about a story," she said quietly. "If I can be of any help, or the paper just let me know." She touched Lindsay's arm briefly before turning to go.
Lindsay stood watching her leave, the dejected set of Cindy's shoulders hurting her just as much. For an instant she debated whether to follow her, but decided against it. She'd make it up to her. She'd also set Cat straight when the time would be right, which wasn't the case now, much as she wanted to.
"How are you holding up?" she asked instead.
The attempt of a smile didn't work well with Cat's tear-streaked face. "As well as you can see. I'm trying not to lose it completely for Meredith's sake."
Lindsay nodded. Brigid's little sister was probably terrified, not entirely understanding what was going on, but sensing that it had to be terrible. "Where is she now?"
"Come with me."
Cat led her through the hallway to the kitchen, where Lindsay experienced another, if not as unpleasant surprise. Well, yet.
At Cat's kitchen table, Tom sat, holding Meredith on his lap and listening to her anxious chatter. Around him, techs worked to install the call tracing device. She recognized Inspectors Atkins and Velasquez. Of course Missing Persons would be assigned to this case. So what the hell was Tom doing here?
She cast him a quizzical look as Atkins motioned Cat over. "I didn't expect to find you here," she said.
"Technically, not anymore."
He winced slightly. "I came to this girl's baptism, if you remember. We weren't married anymore."
"What's married?" Meredith inquired. Her voice had gotten quieter as she picked up on the adults raising their voices slightly.
Lindsay felt guilty. "Let's hope you never find out." The dark humor worked, Tom actually smiled at that. "Okay, sorry. It just makes me nervous to have the lieutenant of Homicide on this scene." Scene. It made her cringe to think of it. Even more so, when Tom all of a sudden avoided her gaze.
When he finally looked her in the eyes, he seemed very uncomfortable. "Not here," he said intently, giving a strained smile to Cat who was walking back to them.
Lindsay could feel her stomach churn. He hadn't once denied that he was here in a professional capacity.
"Excuse me, please," she told her sister. "I need to talk to Tom for a minute. Something job-related." Lindsay prayed that it wasn't as she followed him back into the hallway. Looking back, her heart ached for her sister who was standing in the middle of the kitchen, clutching her two-year-old daughter. All alone in a room full of people. She also thought with regret of the way her sister tended to treat Cindy, like she didn't deserve to be a part of Lindsay's life.
All of that, though, paled in comparison to her fear for Brigid. Lindsay didn't usually let fear stop her. She would be a part of this, whether the detectives on the case liked it or not.
Whether Tom liked it or not.
These days, Cindy was on a friendly basis with a lot of the staff to be met at a crime scene, even though there were a few new faces. News traveled fast within the community. In the long run, it would have been as impossible to keep her relationship with Lindsay a secret than her occupation as a reporter.
Sometimes it unnerved her to have this many people gossip about her. It also had a good side: She wasn't the enemy any longer.
So when Inspector Gina Atkins of the Missing Persons department joined her outside on the porch to have a cigarette, Cindy seized the opportunity. She hadn't lied; she had come here with Lindsay with the intent to offer comfort, but it wasn't wanted. You had to keep the faces of missing people fresh in the public's mind, keep reminding them of their families' anguish.
The moment they were forgotten, you had already lost. Cindy was going to make sure that it wouldn't happen with Brigid.
She took a lighter from her purse before the inspector could take out hers.
"Thanks. I'm sorry," Atkins offered, taking a deep swig of her cigarette. "It's always hard when it's family."
That send a sliver of pain through her mind. Actually, from the moment she had first met them, she had adored Meredith and Brigid. The younger girl was more cautious towards strangers. Brigid had accepted her right away. Cindy sometimes imagined to see in her what Lindsay must have been like at that age. Even now, it made her smile, but she couldn't mask the pain entirely. "Yeah," she simply said.
The sandy-blonde inspector gave her a curious look. "You know, you and Boxer?" she said. "It's convenient. We know that at least one paper gets it right before the vultures start to pounce."
Cindy's cheeks heated a little with the deadpan-delivered praise. "Thanks."
Atkins smiled at her. "And don't mind some of the guys. Lesbians are a mystery to them... Hell, women are, period. Listen, we both know that keeping this kidnapping a secret won't help the little girl. So if your attempt at socializing means we should help each other, I'm all for it."
"Alright, what do you have? Strictly off the record for now."
"The were some fibers and a partial shoe print at the scene." Tom looked aged. He also didn't need any further prompting as they spoke in hushed tones out in the hallway, both of which was all but reassuring. "You remember the Butler case," he finally said, a statement, not a question.
Mentally, Lindsay staggered with this revelation. Anger and denial came first. "There's no way you can tell so soon!"
"Let's not jump to conclusions here!"
"The fibers were a match to those blankets used in the Butler case."
"No. It can't be true. Those people, they are in it for the big money, they wouldn't make the same mistake twice!"
The mere mention of the Butler case, here and now, was enough to make her blood run cold. She'd been part of the task force. Two children murdered, six gone missing within a terrifying short amount of time. Maurice Butler made Kiss Me Not look like a deranged choirboy.
"It's an angle we can't afford to neglect," Tom said tiredly.
"Okay." Lindsay was all but okay with this. "Where do we start?"
"Ah, no, Lindsay. You can't be anywhere near this case and you know it."
"I am right in the middle of this case," she fired back. "This is my niece we're talking about. I can't work on it, you can't either."
"As you said, technically there's a difference," he reminded her.
"You are not going to insinuate that someone close to Butler might have my niece and tell me to stay on the sidelines!"
"Is something wrong?"
They both spun around at the sight of Cat who looked at them pleadingly. It wasn't hard to read her. Please, God, no more bad news.
"No," Lindsay assured her. "It's just... Tom and I disagreeing over something. No surprise here." She was glad to see Cat smile at this. "It's fine. Everything will be alright. We'll get her back."
"That's right," Tom backed her up. "I need to head back to the station, though. Linds is going to keep you company, right?"
She glared at him, to no avail. "I'm staying. I just have a few phone calls to make."
Lindsay started talking the moment Jill picked up the phone, "I need to ask you a favor. Are there any trials right now that might be related to Butler, you know the one who--"
"Linds, you're rambling," Jill interrupted her with some amusement. "Cindy's so rubbing off on you." When the expected protest didn't come, she asked, "Why are you digging into that case again? Don't tell me there's another--"
"We don't know yet. Jill it's Brigid, my niece."
From the shocked silence on the other end of the line, Lindsay could tell that she had lead Jill to a misinterpretation. "God, no, we haven't found her yet. She went to see a friend... and never got there. Tom thinks there's a relation. I don't really buy it yet."
Jill wisely did not mention how part of this was mere, desperate denial. "Tom put you on the case?" she asked doubtfully.
"I forgot to mention, don't let him know?"
"I'm on it," Jill said without hesitation. "Is Cindy there with you?"
Lindsay leaned against the wall of the porch wearily. "She went home. You know... Cat and Cindy..."
"I'm so sorry, Linds."
"Yeah. Me too. When can I call you again?"
"Give me thirty minutes; I'll call you back. If you need anything else..."
"Thank you. I'm going to ask Claire to take a look at the evidence, too. Talk to you later."
Lindsay hung up to make the next call.
"It's looking good, but that's only half of the story."
Her boss sighed at Cindy's quizzical look. "The porn connection, Thomas. You brought it up."
"Those are two different stories."
"That are obviously connected. We'll have the sob story on the front page as planned, but I want whatever there is to be said about Butler right after that. We wait too long, it's gonna be the Chronicle's front page. Can you handle it?"
Cindy exasperatedly stared at him for a moment. "Sure I can." She wasn't so sure at all. She wanted to be there for Lindsay, hell, she wanted to be there for Cat if her quasi sister-in-law had just let her. Instead she'd be working overtime on this story whose implications were simply horrible. There wasn't much of a doubt though after what Atkins had told her.
At least this way she'd help to keep Brigid's face in the news, increased the chances that someone might remember her.
She sat behind her desk and started organizing her notes, trying to keep her mind functional in the cold embrace of fear.
"You and Tom act like an old married couple," Cat observed.
They were alone in the living room, with the techs having left after their work was done, and the detectives from the night shift outside. Velasquez was there, while Atkins, Lindsay was sure, was working on the Butler angle. She itched to be out there, doing something and she would, as soon as Cat was okay to be on her own.
"Well yeah, except for the fact that we're both married to someone else."
"He is," Cat said pointedly.
"Oh come on, don't start with semantics. Cindy and I would be married right now if we weren't living in a state that has a double standard when it comes to human rights."
As the silence stretched on between them, Lindsay looked at her sister in disbelief. "You can't be buying into this!"
Cat wouldn't meet her gaze as she tenderly ran her hand over the fair hair of her daughter sleeping in her lap. "What's so wrong about saying that marriage is between a woman and a man? You can't deny that the only natural way to have children --" She broke off her sentence with a sigh. "Linds, what I'm saying is I don't think you ever got over Tom leaving you or the miscarriage."
Lindsay took a deep breath, willing to hold back several retorts that came to her mind easily. This was a traumatic situation for Cat, in a way, it was for her, too, so she was pretty much willing to do whatever it took to help take her mind off the horrible possibilities. Indulge her sister, even if she had planned to have this conversation about Cindy with her for a while. But there was a limit as to how much of indulgence she could muster even now.
"So you think instead of a happy relationship I would have needed therapy."
"I don't know, maybe? You never did so much as look at another woman. You have to admit this came pretty much out of nowhere."
"I don't want to discuss this now. Just don't tell me you voted 'Yes'."
"Are you crazy? I've got a newly-turned lesbian sister who carries a gun. I wouldn't have dared."
"Cat, this is not funny!" At a loss of words, Lindsay merely shook her head.
"I'm not joking. I'm just worried about you, Linds. She's young, just starting her career. She might be looking for... opportunities."
Lindsay was infinitely grateful that at this moment, her cell phone rang, so she was saved from having to answer that; and she would have had a lot to answer, all of it most likely inappropriate at the moment.
Cindy had expected Lindsay to stay with Cat. Still, when she got home late at night, so tired that she hardly managed to unlock the door even after the third attempt, the disappointment gripped her tightly.
She was exhausted and worried, and she had to admit to herself that she was mad at Lindsay's sister, too. You said things in the heat of the moment you didn't mean, it happened, but Cat's disapproval of her hadn't begun just today. She'd nearly thrown them out on the day of her wedding, the second one that hadn't lasted a year. Cindy wasn't going to place the blame. She just wanted to be given a chance, but she suspected that it was an idle hope.
So she would just do whatever she could to help, and her research had already given her an idea on how to proceed. She and Lindsay could help each other, as she was pretty sure that Tom wouldn't let her work the case and Lindsay wouldn't care.
Too tired to fall asleep and missing Lindsay badly, she was nevertheless feeling guilty at the thought of a little girl who didn't get to spend the night at home in her bed. After an hour of futilely trying, Cindy got up again, filled the coffeemaker and got ready to go back to work.
Lindsay had made a quick stop at home before heading back to work, but Cindy was already gone. Maybe she'd catch Atkins or Velasquez for a friendly chat in the break room at least. To hell with what Tom said.
However, when she entered the bullpen, Lindsay was struck by the sudden silence, people trying to look very busy. "What the hell is going on?" she demanded when even Jacobi barely met her eye. "Did I miss something?"
How could they all already know, and if they did... no. She reached for the edge of the desk behind her. Just... no.
"Not what you think," he assured her. "She hasn't been found yet. Still you won't like this."
Lindsay picked up the newspaper he handed her, today's edition of the Register. There was a feature about children that had gone missing over the past few months, the rows of smiling faces disturbing when you thought about their uncertain fate. On top, center of the page, there was Brigid's picture, and the headline, "Where are our children?"
"It might help," she said, mesmerized by the image of her six-year-old niece with pigtails and pink ribbons, smiling into the camera.
"Not that. The second page."
She turned the page and quickly scanned the article. Disbelief and anger rose with each line. She couldn't believe what she was reading. "Please tell me that isn't..." But her eyes went up to the name in the byline again to find unmistakable proof.
"Please tell Tom I had somewhere to go," she said grimly.
"Police sources say that the latest disappearance could be related to suspects close to the organization of Maurice Butler who was arrested and convicted of dealing with child pornography in March 2006..."
Lindsay prayed that Cat hadn't seen this yet.
Cindy had expected Lindsay to be mad at her and she'd been prepared to deal with, kind of, but she wasn't prepared for Lindsay to walk right into the conference, flashing her badge and all but ordering her out of the room.
"I'm sorry I can't leave right now," she said, flushing with embarrassment to have the colleagues' and the editor's interested looks on her. Even worse when she knew while it was 'don't ask, don't tell', they surely were aware of her and Lindsay's relationship.
"You can," Lindsay said. "I'm sure your superior understands that these are important police matters. It can't wait."
Cindy sent an imploring look at her boss who just shrugged. "If Ms. Thomas can be of assistance..."
Scott just smirked.
Lindsay was basically brimming with impatience. Straightening her shoulders, Cindy followed her out of the room.
"What the hell were you thinking?"
"Linds, you are not on the case. Everything I got was from Atkins."
"I don't care where you got it from, that information was not to be released! These people, if they are in any way involved in this, aren't playing around. You spook them, they're going to kill Brigid. Is it worth the Goddamn story?"
Cindy felt Lindsay's despair behind the hurtful words, because it echoed her own, knowing after all she'd learned about Butler's people that it might already be the case. How each of them would ever go on after that, she had no idea. As tears sprang to her eyes, she angrily pushed the thought aside. It was too early to give up hope yet. "We need those facts out there. The more people know, the better is the chance to get Brigid back!"
"Right. In a coffin." Lindsay spun around on her heels, stalking down the hallway.
Cindy did the only thing she could think of, something she'd honestly been wanting to do ever since they got Cat's desperate call. She locked herself in the bathroom and cried.
"I told you. But when it's about her, you never listen," Cat said accusingly, tears streaming down her face.
Lindsay knew, felt it that her sister was so clearly wrong, but at the moment, she was the last person to call her on it with the way she'd left Cindy. And she was still mad at her girlfriend, afraid for Brigid.
Tom had been coming around once more, bringing Heather this time who was looking after Meredith. Cat had had a breakdown, so the doctor had given her some medication and advised her to rest. Her eyes were still somewhat glassy.
Lindsay felt terribly inadequate, as if the blame for everything was on her, for not succeeding in consoling her sister, for not working on Brigid's case, for not handling her girlfriend like everyone thought she should. "Let's not talk about Cindy now," she said, keeping her voice level, but it was an effort.
Jill had confirmed earlier that indeed two of Butler's former minions were up for trial soon. It had been a long-term investigation that had yielded arrests even up to this year. One of them was a father of two kids, the other one a schoolteacher. There were no words to describe how much Lindsay hated the world at this moment.
"She doesn't care about Brigid or you," Cat insisted.
Lindsay couldn't stand it any longer. "I'm sorry," she said, squeezing her sister's hand. "I need to make a phone call."
In the girls' room, she found Heather reading a story to Meredith. "Thanks for being here," Lindsay acknowledged.
Heather shrugged and smiled a little self-consciously. "I don't mean to intrude, but if I can help--"
Outside on the porch, Lindsay called Jill and Claire. She wanted to talk to Cindy, apologize, but when her finger hovered over the button, about to speed-dial, Lindsay found that should couldn't, not yet. If they were in the same room now, more words would be exchanged that couldn't possibly be taken back.
Staying away was the most favor she could do Cindy now.
Cindy winced at the sound level in the bar that was open around the clock. According to a source who was a dancer here, now would be the best chance to find Kevin Masters who'd been testifying against Maurice Butler and gotten away with a slap on the wrist. When he got out of prison, he started his own club; no one quite knew where the money came from, but given the fact that his testimony had practically blown a nation-wide porn ring to pieces, not counting the internet, no one had asked.
She approached the bartender who was rinsing a glass with an air of boredom. "Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Masters?" she asked the man.
"Who wants to know?"
Cindy spun around, face to face with the man she recognized from his picture.
"Kevin Masters. I'm Cindy Thomas from the San Francisco Register," she said, offering her hand.
He took it, holding on just a moment too long. "Too bad. There I thought you might want to apply for a job."
"No, thanks." Cindy was glad for the dim lighting in this place, so he couldn't see her blush. "I'm just here for a few questions, if you have the time."
Masters grinned at her. "I'm a busy man, but I'll always make time for a beautiful woman. Let's go to my office."
He had barely closed the door behind her when he cell phone rang. "Excuse me."
Cindy half-turned and whispered, "Now is not a good time, Rita!" The homeless woman had proven to be a valuable informant many times, and Cindy didn't mind to spring a warm meal at regular intervals. "Call me in twenty?"
Rita sighed. "Honey, not even when it's about the girl missing?"
The girl's face was tear-streaked, but she still glared at him.
"We shall contact your Mom, right?"
"Mom doesn't have a lot of money," Brigid said precociously.
"Well, too bad for you two then. I might have to sell you to other people. Nasty people."
He saw the flash of fear on her face and grinned. "Let's see what Mommy has to say, then."
"The name is Atkins. I'm afraid I lost my password; could you help me?"
"Detective Gina Atkins? I need some kind of ID."
"Would you go with the badge number?" Lindsay asked. "Please. I need to access these files. It's a matter of life or death. Mine," she joked half-heartedly.
"Okay then." The guy sounded rather bored. "Let's see what we can do for you."
Ten minutes later, she was up to date with the case and what she found had her feeling a lot less guilty about her practically hacking into a colleague's files. It was almost scary that it had been that easy. There were indeed more missing children associated to this case. One of them was Lea Brennan, sister to Angelina. Lindsay had visited the Brennans many times, a heartbroken couple who didn't want to believe that their daughter was dead, murdered by the Butler clan.
Now, six-year-old Lea was missing too. What a horror. Worse, if those cases were really related. Lindsay couldn't even begin to think of what that could mean for Brigid.
Atkins and Velasquez had a full schedule. They were going to see a Kevin Masters, owner of a strip club who had been a witness in the Butler trial. With a little luck, Lindsay thought she could be there before them and ask a few questions of her own.
"I hear there's a lot of money involved in this." Rita didn't try to hide her interest, and Cindy didn't blame her. If this tip paid off, then the woman would most likely be rich, in her terms. Not a bad thing if it helped finding Brigid alive. Maybe they had all jumped to conclusions too soon; somebody like Butler would try to stay in business any way, but it didn't have to be connected to Brigid's disappearing. Cindy prayed that it wasn't.
"So where are we going?"
"Shh. We have to make sure he isn't there."
Cindy looked at Rita quizzically when she led her down a back alley where the buildings became continually more graffiti-smeared and run down. "Did you see anybody? How do you know it's Brigid?"
"I saw her. Pretty girl. Looks like the cop you're hanging out with, that's how I knew."
Cindy blushed a little at the mention of Lindsay, but she still had the feeling she was missing something. This seemed too sudden. "Why didn't you call the cops then?"
Rita made a face. "They don't believe crazy people like you do."
"Well, thanks so much."
"Anyway, honey, we're here."
The door barely stayed on its hinges when they entered, and there was a thick layer of dust everywhere. Sneezing, Cindy thought that Rita had to had been mistaken indeed. She could be on drugs again. Cindy scolded herself for running with it, maybe too quickly. What if Masters really had Brigid, and she was wasting time?
"Down here!" Rita said, excited, pointing to a door down the narrow hallway.
"Okay, I'm so calling the cops now," Cindy announced.
The cool whisper of the blade against her neck convinced her otherwise in a matter of seconds.
"Rita, you idiot!" a man yelled. "Why did you bring her here? Now we'll have to get rid of her too."
"Lindsay Boxer. What a coincidence," Atkins remarked sarcastically as she took off her sunglasses. They'd met in the parking lot of Masters' bar. Unfortunately, Lindsay's timing had been slightly off.
Since denial was useless, Lindsay simply waited, crossing her arms over her chest defiantly to signal that she was not sorry. "The guy told on me, didn't he?"
Atkins shook her head with a smile. "Jerry knows I'll never forget my password. When he also asked me, when did you get that sexy voice, I got an idea of what happened." More serious, she continued, "I'm really sorry about Brigid, but I assure you we're doing everything we can. I mean it Lindsay, stay off my case or I'll have to notify your lieutenant."
A snappy answer was on the tip of her tongue, but Lindsay held it back. "Please," she said instead. "Let me come inside with you. You do the talking. I promise I won't interfere." She waited for the span of a few heartbeats to deliver the killing blow. "What if it was your daughter?"
Gina Atkins glared at her. "I hate you, Lindsay. Just so you know."
"I owe you. Big time."
"Don't I know it. Alright. Remember, one word, and you're out of there."
"I'll remember," Lindsay said, making the sign of a zipper drawn shut over her lips.
Think, Cindy told herself firmly, the adrenaline rush momentarily winning over the pain. Rita and her crazy boyfriend wouldn't waste much more time as it seemed. They wanted to collect the ransom and the offer made for hints leading to find Brigid. Just their communication hadn't worked properly, and now he was yelling at her upstairs.
She tried to move, moaning at the pain now kicking in full force. Being shoved down stairs would do that to a person, but she couldn't dwell on that now. "Brigid?"
"Cindy! Is that really you?"
"Hey there." Cindy forced a smile though her eyes were watering. She used the table in the middle of the room to pull herself up. Brigid, tied to a rackety chair with a cable, watched her every move anxiously. "I didn't take any gifts," she said tearfully. "It wasn't my fault."
"I know, honey. You alright?" Touching her cheek briefly, Cindy crouched beside the chair to work on the knots, willing her focus away from where her shirt was sticking wetly to her side.
Before he'd pushed her down those stairs, he had cut her.
"I'm fine," Brigid said, bravely fighting back tears.
Finally, Cindy had freed her, and Brigid rushed into her arms, hugging her tightly. Cindy couldn't help the gasp, making the girl step back immediately. "Are you hurt?" she asked worriedly.
"It's okay," she said. The side of her shirt was soaked in blood, and she was feeling dizzy. No time for that now. "Let's get out of here, shall we?"
Brigid nodded vehemently.
Cindy looked at the only window in the room, and she realized that Brigid would be the only one to make it through. "Okay," she said. "Now listen carefully."
"Look. I have no idea about any missing kids," Masters claimed. "What's it with everybody asking me about Butler lately?"
"Who else did?" Detective Atkins asked.
"Well, that pretty redheaded reporter came by--"
Lindsay groaned, and Gina sent her a warning glance. "Cindy Thomas? What did you tell her?"
He shrugged, grinning. "Well, since I didn't know anything, I offered her a job as a danc--"
"You did what?"
"Where is she now?"
"Yeah, so?" Masters said irritably. "She declined. Got a phone call, now that you say it, something about a missing girl. In any case, I haven't seen Butler since court. I don't care to."
"Did she say where she was going?" Gina asked with more urgency.
"Meet some informant, I think. Are we done here?"
"We are," Atkins said firmly, but it was more meant for Lindsay than for him.
The lock of the window was old and rusty, protesting every attempt to get it to move.
"Let me try," Brigid suggested.
"No. I've almost got it." Cindy gritted her teeth against the pain and continued although the tips of her fingers were bleeding already. It would be hard enough for Brigid to make it through the window. They could use the chair for her to get up, but then she'd be on her own.
Following her gaze anxiously, the girl said all of a sudden. "It's too small for you to get through."
"You'll go. You get help."
Brigid shook her head stubbornly. "I'm not leaving you alone. Aunt Lindsay would--"
"But she's not here, right?" Cindy regretted her harsh tone immediately when the girl's face fell. "It will be okay," she said, softer. "I'm sorry. You'll call the police and they will come here. It's the only way."
The scowl on Brigid's face was very familiar, then she nodded. "Okay."
They both froze when there were footsteps to be heard, coming down the stairs.
The man was pissed. Things weren't going according to plan; that Masters guy who had promised to make the contact to Butler's people hadn't come through. The brat had annoyed him, but she did have a point; Catherine Boxer couldn't pay what they would have.
Now Rita was messing up plan B. He'd just get rid of them all, except for the girl maybe, and get out of here.
When he opened the door though, there was only the reporter, staring at him defiantly. The cold draft coming in through the window and the chair underneath told him exactly where the girl had gone.
Swearing, he raised his gun at her, his finger halting on the trigger when he sensed someone behind him.
"Don't even think about it. I'm faster than you."
"I'm sorry." Cindy looked ready to collapse with her bruised face and disheveled hair. Her eyes were bright. "I was going to call you."
"I know. It's alright." Lindsay couldn't possibly be mad at her any longer as the scenery gave her all the clues of what had happened here minutes ago. "Thank you for watching out for Brigid." She stepped forward to embrace her lover, her relief short-lived when he had touched warm sticky wetness.
"How did you find me?" Cindy asked, her eyes starting to glaze over.
"Thank God for GPS. Damn it, where are those paramedics--"
Cindy leaned into her more heavily. "I'm sorry, Linds, I don't feel so good."
"I need help in here! Now!"
I am sorry. Because I should have listened to you.
Lindsay walked out of the house in a daze, only vaguely aware that there was blood on her clothes and hands. She finally found Brigid with Jacobi, and crouched down beside her niece to embrace her. "Hey, B."
"Aunt Lindsay!" The girl beamed. "Finally! I knew you would come."
Yeah, finally, Lindsay echoed silently.
"Cindy, will she be alright?"
God, I hope so.
"I was scared." Brigid seemed rather mortified about it. A family thing.
"I don't know, it seems to me like you did very well. You're a brave girl, B."
"I want to be just like you," Brigid whispered softly, then she started to cry. Lindsay held her close until Cat arrived, then handed her to her overjoyed sister. Cat gave her a watery smile over Brigid's shoulder. "Thank you," she said.
"You can thank Cindy," Lindsay said, straightening. "She's the one who's in the hospital."
Lindsay shook her head. "Not now, Cat. I need to go see her."
When she'd finally made it to her car, Claire was waiting there for her, simply holding out her hands. Lindsay rolled her eyes at her, but handed her the car keys.
It was good to have friends who knew what was the right thing to do without making many words.
"She'll be fine," Claire said.
"I know." Lindsay gave her a tight smile.
When Cat Boxer entered the room, Cindy had the impulse to look behind her, as Lindsay's sister couldn't have possibly come here alone. Unfortunately, that seemed to be exactly the case. She was glad that Brigid was as okay as she could be at the moment, but she couldn't care much for small talk with the person who still thought she didn't deserve Lindsay.
Cat had made her point very clear several times. Cindy didn't think she needed any more prompting.
"Lindsay isn't here," she said unnecessarily.
"I know." Cat blushed, looking uncomfortable. "I wanted to talk to you. Would you mind?" she asked, pointing to the empty chair.
Cindy shrugged, just barely refraining herself from sighing heartily. She was tired and hurting. Except for Lindsay, she didn't really want anyone to be around. "Go ahead."
There were some minutes of awkward silence before Cat finally began. "You know, when Brigid was missing, I hardly kept it together. I thought I was dying. I'm thinking Lindsay was just as afraid for you."
Congrats for coming to that conclusion, Cindy thought, but her eyes were stinging. She wasn't up for a highly emotional moment yet.
"I don't claim to understand or even condone the kind of relationship you have," Lindsay's sister talked on."
Cindy winced. Cat seemed unaware. "But you risked your life to save Brigid. For that, I'll always be grateful."
"I was just lucky."
"You love Lindsay."
"I do. But you know what, Cat, this is a little late. I really wish none of this had happened to Brigid, but if it's the only thing to make you have a change of heart, I'm not sure it makes me feel better."
Cat looked startled. "I wanted to apologize. I thought we could be okay."
"Maybe we will. But not right away," Cindy said.
"You heard her." They both turned to see Lindsay standing in the doorway. She came walking into the room. "Cat, you know I love you. That will never change. Forgive me if I need a little more time to trust you."
"Alright then," Cat said curtly. "I'll see you. Get well soon, Cindy."
Then she left, and Lindsay sat on the side of the bed, drawing Cindy into her arms. This time, the silence felt just right.
"And then I almost kicked him in the balls--" Brigid, somewhat hyper after too much cake and hot chocolate, paused in her narrative to see if anyone would chide her for language.
Claire shook her head with a smile. Jill cracked up. "I can see where you got that from," she said with a pointed look at Lindsay sitting across from her.
"I did not tell her to phrase it exactly like that," Lindsay claimed.
Cindy took her hand, linking their fingers together. "She's a very courageous girl. Just like her aunt."
"Would you please stop it?"
Brigid smiled at the antics of the grown-up women, encouraged by their reaction. "Aunt Lindsay, when are you going to marry Cindy?"
Brigid was a smart girl, so for a moment, Lindsay entertained the idea of telling her about the double standard of law, but then she simply smiled at her niece, then her lover, and said, "Real soon," winking at Brigid.
The announcement called for more cake, and champagne for the adults. They'd almost missed the woman who had entered the diner, coming to their table hesitantly.
"Can I come?" Cat Boxer asked hopefully.
Lindsay studied her for a moment, then she got up to pull her sister a chair.
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