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.
The jingling bell above the door announced the arrival of a new customer to Papa Joe's, but the sound went unnoticed by the four women seated at the booth under the neon sign. When they were together, the world had a tendency to narrow down to a small sphere that contained them and little else. This particular evening, they were deeply engrossed in the latest development of their case.
"So let me get this straight," Lindsay intoned as calmly as possible. "You suspect that the owner of this nightclub is the one responsible for the abduction and beating of these men and women, all of whom happen to be gay, and you want to go undercover, as a gay patron, into this bar where this criminal works?"
When Cindy nodded, Lindsay's calm façade cracked, "Are you out of your mind?"
"Look," Cindy asserted, "I'm not going to do anything stupid. Just a little recon. I'll go in, ask around, and then get out." She looked directly into Lindsay's eyes, and said placatingly, "I'll be fine."
"You're not going to that bar alone," Claire warned, in a voice honed by years of mothering, brooking no argument. "It could be dangerous."
"I'll go with you!" Jill declared, a grin extending from ear to ear. When Lindsay gave her an incredulous look, she retaliated, "What? It sounds like fun."
Cindy giggled, but grew quiet at a withering glare from the inspector. She seemed to consider her options. "Thanks for the offer, Jill, but frankly," she eyed the immaculately dressed ADA up and down, "you look straighter than a storefront display on Valentine's Day."
Jill smirked, "Tell that to my last girlfriend." If Cindy had been watching, she would have caught a momentarily exposed, horrified look from Lindsay. Instead, she was too busy being impressed by Jill's revelation.
Finally, Lindsay heaved a sigh of resignation. "Fine, I'll go with you." At Jill's raised eyebrow, she elaborated, "For protection."
Cindy considered this. "You do exude a certain butch confidence." She nodded to herself, seeming to come to a decision. "This could work. I accept."
The thrumming of the bass sent vibrations through her body as Cindy made her way through the crowd towards the bar, with Lindsay trailing closely behind her.
The bartender, a young woman with blue-streaked hair and a lip piercing, smiled when she saw Cindy lean against the counter. "Hey doll! What can I get for ya? The usual?"
That brought a sharp look from Lindsay, but Cindy smiled broadly and drew the inspector towards her in a casual embrace. "Make it two, Laurie, I've got my girl here tonight." She smiled at Lindsay and gave her a look that implored her to just go with it. Lindsay covered her unease and shot the bartender a winning smile.
As Laurie prepared their drinks, Cindy chatted amiably with her, and slyly brought the conversation around to their inquiry. "So how are things going with the new owner? I've heard some rumours that aren't pretty."
Laurie paused mid-pour, but seemed to recuperate quickly enough. "Let's just say it's been a little tense here, lately." She finished pouring the drinks, which appeared to be some fruity concoction, and slid them across the bar. Her eyes began scanning the room, cutting nervously from face to face. She leaned in close and whispered fiercely, "Just be careful!"
She seemed about to say more, but glanced up sharply over their shoulders. Without another word, she turned away from Cindy and Lindsay and made herself busy with another customer. As subtly as she could, Lindsay looked over her shoulder, but couldn't make out anyone suspicious in the crowd.
"That was awkward," Cindy breathed, her money still clutched in her hand. "She didn't even stick around long enough for us to pay her."
But Lindsay had more on her mind than payment for the drinks. She spun Cindy around until they stood face to face. "How the hell does she know what 'the usual' is?" Lindsay punctuated her question by raising her glass, practically sloshing the contents of the drink at Cindy. "Better yet, how did you know her name?"
Cindy grinned sheepishly, "I, uh, may come here every now and then."
Lindsay was livid. "How exactly did you neglect to tell me that you're a regular here? Do you even know what 'undercover' means?"
"Look, this doesn't change anything," Cindy assuaged. "It just means that, since they know me, hopefully they'll open up a bit more." She glanced over at Laurie, who was wiping down the bar and trying her best to appear busy, and amended her statement. "Granted, so far we're not really off to a good start."
"Ya think?" Lindsay was beyond exasperated. "C'mon, let's just get this over with."
The rest of the evening proved only marginally more fruitful. One of the bouncers let slip that the owner had recently "found God," and had been acting strange ever since. Beyond this, however, they couldn't turn up any more leads.
After speaking to yet another tight-lipped employee, they found themselves standing at the periphery of the dance floor. Lindsay brought her mouth within inches of Cindy's ear so that she could hear her over the music, "I don't think we're going to get anything else tonight, let's get out of here."
As she moved away, Cindy grabbed her arm and pulled her in close again to respond, "Oh c'mon, now that we're here, let's at least have one dance!"
Lindsay was about to say no, but before pulling away, she inhaled and felt her knees go weak. So close to the redhead's neck, she could smell shampoo and something else, a scent that belonged uniquely to Cindy. Having momentarily lost the capacity for speech, she nodded mutely and allowed herself to be dragged into the throng of dancing bodies.
Cindy was surprised by how natural Lindsay seemed on the dance floor. For some reason, she had expected her to be a self-conscious dancer, but in fact she seemed to exude a cool confidence with the way she moved her body. Thrilled by this discovery, Cindy drew in close and began swaying her hips in time with Lindsay's. Soon, she felt the firm pressure of Lindsay's hand at the small of her back. She gasped when a leg insinuated itself between hers, guiding her in time with the music. Her face flushed, she glanced up into Lindsay's eyes, which were gazing at her with a curious intensity.
Lindsay leaned in close and spoke against her ear. "I'll bet you never actually expected to get information about the case here. This was all just an elaborate ploy to get me to dance with you."
Cindy laughed in a release of tension. "Ah, you've seen through my nefarious plan. First step, con you into dancing with me. Next step, world domination."
She pulled back slightly and saw Lindsay gazing at her with surprising tenderness. She held her breath as the inspector leaned in and kissed her. It was at once soft and strong and tantalizingly sweet. They broke apart and Cindy breathlessly exclaimed, "Well, it's not quite world domination, but it'll do."
Lindsay shut her up with another kiss.
Reluctantly, Cindy pulled away from Lindsay. "I've gotta pee, I'll be right back," Cindy spoke over the music. When she saw Lindsay nod in understanding, she moved away towards the Women's Room.
She was leaving the washroom when she felt a cold, sharp instrument levelled at her neck. "Come with me," a soft voice spoke behind her. She was dragged out through a back door that led into a dank alleyway. As soon as they stepped outside, she was buffeted by the stench of rotting trash and traces of ammonia from day-old piss. She could hear rodents scuffling in the shadows close by. Beyond that, the sounds of cars honking filtered in from the nearby street. The symphony was punctuated by a slow drip, the contents of a leaky pipe collecting in a tin can somewhere to her left.
"Look," Cindy pleaded, turning to face her captor, "I don't know what you want from me, but " She trailed off at the sight of a stern-faced woman, dressed conservatively in a pastel twin set. She could have been on her way to a tea party, if not for the glinting knife held out menacingly towards Cindy.
"Wow," said Cindy, her eyes wide. "Not what I expected." The woman seemed so out of place given their current location that Cindy, despite her shock at being accosted, almost laughed at the absurdity of the situation.
Her abductor sneered, breaking the illusion of a civilised demeanour. "You make me sick, you and your kind."
"What, reporters?" Cindy asked, feigning innocence. "It's true we've got a bad rep for being a little nosy, but I prefer to think of it as inquisitive with a dash of intrepid persistence."
"Don't play coy. I saw you in there dancing with that woman." She seemed to grow pensive. "I used to be one, too, you know. I understand the temptation. But God has helped me to see the error of my ways. Just like I'm going to help you."
"See, but that's where you're wrong," Cindy cut in. "I don't need your version of 'help.' I'm quite happy with who I am, and who I love."
For all her bravado, Cindy felt a chill of fear run down her spine. It wasn't the knife levelled at her throat that caused her to go momentarily weak, but rather the calm expression of the woman standing before her. There was no glint of wild derangement in her eyes, only the cool gaze of someone who held the complete conviction of their actions.
The club owner smiled, advancing towards the reporter. "Let's go."
"I don't think so," came a third voice, gravelly and assured.
Cindy almost cried in relief at the sight of Lindsay stepping out of the shadows with her gun directed at the club owner.
"Put down the knife and keep your hands where I can see them. You're under arrest."
"A crazy, lonely, born-again Christian," Jill shook her head. "That's the worst kind." The four women were seated at their favourite booth at Papa Joe's, debriefing on the outcome of their case.
"Hell hath no fury, and so on," Claire quoted. "If I was less of a person, I'd probably say that's exactly where she belongs."
"So your first undercover gig was a success," Jill smiled at Cindy and took a sip from her martini.
"Don't sound too surprised or anything," Cindy smirked, earning a soft chuckle from Claire.
"And what about you," Jill turned to Lindsay, a sly grin gracing her features. "I'll bet the experience wasn't too painful after all, was it, Ms. Bodyguard? Did you at least have a little fun at the club?"
Lindsay looked across the table at Cindy, but remained silent. Her gentle smile said it all.
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