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
"Could somebody turn off the damn music, please?"
Her request, not spoken particularly loudly or urgently, brought all quiet conversations in the room to an abrupt halt. What? Lindsay wanted to ask, her state of being utterly unnerved only heightened by all those looks, some curious, some worried, all interested.
After all, she thought she had the right to be just a little freaked by this duet performed by a singer and her late father, both of them in the same line of work, separated by death. She would be even if they hadn't walked in on this ghastly crime scene with the song playing on a stereo disguising as retro record player behind cherry wood doors.
Natalie and Nat 'King' Cole. Unforgettable.
It was becoming irreversibly associated with this expensive, 80s themed bedroom, with blood splatters all over the walls and floors.
Two bodies, one tied up on the bed, severely mutilated except for the face. The woman had fought the restraints to the point that the ropes had cut down to muscle.
Lindsay took a few steps closer to the bed, careful not to step into puddles of blood on the hardwood floor. The white, fluffy rug was nearly soaked, the fabric stiff with some dried patches.
Finally, the music stopped, and Claire who had been occupied with the second body, also female, tied to a chair at the end of bed, followed her.
"I don't like new records by dead people either," she muttered, and Lindsay felt her tight features relax into something akin to a smile.
"Thank you for that." She directed her attention back to the body. Lindsay guessed the woman to be mid-twenties. She wore a white silk nightgown, which now hang tattered and torn around her battered frame.
"Fifteen stab wounds, signs of strangulation." Claire pointed out the bruises around the dead woman's throat.
"The bastard had some repertoire."
Claire nodded grimly.
"Probably. How can this not be sexually motivated?"
Lindsay had to agree with her. From where she stood near the headboard, the chair at the far wall was directly into her line of vision. The perpetrator - or perpetrators - had made sure that both women had the full view of the slaughter that was going on. The one in the chair had been killed last. It wasn't the intention to torture her with pain, but with the sight of her lover being killed very slowly and painfully.
Because that's what the scene definitely looked like; those two women had been more than just good friends, and it was one key aspect to the solution of this crime. A likely hate crime.
On the nightstand, there was a paper slip that had held the CD; light beige with rainbow colors and a sprinkling of silver. Not the original cover. She wondered if it was something that the killer had left behind.
When she was just about to pick it up, her cell phone rang, and Lindsay cast Claire an apologetic look and stepped out of the room of horrors.
"Look, I know you're probably busy, but is there a chance you could meet me outside for a couple of minutes?"
"I'd really appreciate that."
"Cindy, not now!" Her words came out a lot harsher than Lindsay had intended, especially given the fact that she had guessed right away who the caller was.
"Please, I've got--"
"I'll talk to you later," Lindsay said and ended the call the same moment the noise was to be heard from the hotel suite.
"Lindsay?" she heard Claire's voice, carrying a mixture of shock and anger.
She fastened her steps carrying her back into the room, where everybody seemed to be frozen again with the new discovery. From the end to the middle of the bed, it had been cut in two with what had to be a high-powered saw. It had literally fallen apart. The sheet had covered most of it, but as Claire drew it back, they all saw the killer's work in its gory detail - it had been done with the woman on the bed. Judging from the amount of blood, she had been alive when he started it.
Lindsay frowned, imagined the whine of a saw in this room, at night. Somebody was bound to have heard it.
Before she could voice her thoughts, the sounds of heels on the floor outside alerted her to the arrival of another person - someone she didn't want to see this. Just in time, Lindsay made it to the door and outside, nearly running into Jill.
"I can update you right here," she suggested.
"Oh come on," Jill protested. "I've been to some bad crime scenes lately. I promise you--"
"This one's worse."
"Look, you don't have to be coddling--" She broke off when the door opened and Claire exited, giving her view of the hotel room. "Oh my God." She turned away, turning a spectacular shade of pale. A few breaths later, she managed to ask, "You have an ID yet?"
Lindsay nodded. "The woman on the bed, her name is Sybil Kramer. We found her purse. The other one rented the room, under Mary Smith."
Jill flinched, still looking a little green as she leaned against the wall. "What do you want to bet it's an alias?"
"You're right about that," Tom said as he joined them. "Magdalene Sandoval."
Lindsay just groaned quietly as Jill and Claire exchanged anxious looks. She had never met the woman in person, but like all of them, she knew who she was.
There'd be one hell of a lot of pressure from the Mayor's office to solve the murder of his niece ASAP.
After solemnly staring at her cell phone for about two minutes, Cindy faced the fact that Lindsay was not going to change her mind and call back. The police barrier had been set in front of the hotel in a wide half circle. There had been two bodies carried out, two vehicles of the coroner's office arrived and driven off.
Even Officer Cho was as tight-lipped as she'd ever seen him, and Lindsay had just made her point very clear. No ducking the tape this time. Her eyes darted around, finally lingering on a girl in a roommaid's uniform on the far left side outside of the barrier, smoking, looking bored. Cindy considered her options for a moment. When she'd heard about the scene of the murder, she'd pulled the most expensive business suit she owned from her closet. Somehow she'd known that foresight would pay off.
Smiling, Cindy approached the roommaid. "Excuse me?"
"Can I help you?" Off-duty, the girl struggled to maintain the easy smile that she was probably supposed to wear all day, and let slip in favor of this frustrated expression when she was on a break. It was a moment of weakness for Cindy to pounce on.
"Actually, yes. I was going to meet a friend for breakfast, and now the police won't let me through. I'm worried about my friend."
"What floor is she staying on?" asked the girl, still somewhat embarrassed, aiming to be helpful with a potential customer, or even guest.
"Fourth," Cindy said quickly.
"No, they're on the third. Sandoval always took that room when she booked someone from Unforget--" She stared at Cindy in alarm. "You're not going to tell anyone?"
Cindy didn't make any promises. "Thanks, Cathy," she said, reading the girl's name off her name tag. "I just needed to know that my friend was alright. I'll call her and come back another time."
Looking relieved, Cathy offered, "I can pass on a message to her if you want. What's her name?"
"Oh no, you've helped a lot already. I'll handle it."
Cindy was walking away, her heart pounding as she analyzed the information she'd just been given. This could not be a coincidence. She'd seen Tom's car in the parking lot - and the Mayor's. She knew that he'd been divorced for a couple of years, no children, so it wasn't much of a reach to think Cathy had been talking about his niece, Magdalene.
Cindy had met her once at a charity auction, and she had seemed like a genuinely nice person. Lonely, maybe, but nice. She hated the thought of her being murdered like this - like what, exactly, she didn't know yet, but it had to be bad with this much police presence around, and Lindsay sounding this stressed.
Powering up her laptop in her car, Cindy pondered the other part that the off guard roommaid had just revealed to her.
"Sandoval always took that room when she booked someone from Unforget--" That's when she had caught herself, too late, though. One of Cindy's sources had once worked for the high-priced escort service 'Unforgettable', where women in business could get a high-priced, discreet date with another woman.
Not that lonely, after all.
Now it all made sense, the second body in the hotel room. It was almost too easy - then again, there was a distinct chance for her to make Lindsay forget her earlier interruption. Also, get the story that Scott would never be able to write, because there were places that he just couldn't go.
A plan on her mind, Cindy sorted through the phone numbers on her blackberry until she found the one she was looking for.
"Hi, it's Cindy. I need a favor."
Magdalene had booked the room on the 3rd floor at least once a month, always in the name of Mary Smith. She had owned an art gallery and was out of the country a lot of the time, looking for new artists and works to exhibit, leaving the more boring administrative work to her employees. An exciting life that didn't leave much time for socializing, though.
It turned out she was friendly with most of the hotel staff they talked to. The concierge, a thirty-something woman by the name of Melissa Callum, was constantly wiping tears from her eyes as she talked.
"I can't believe why anybody would want her dead!"
Lindsay shared a look with Jacobi. That's how it always started. If they knew the reason why someone had wanted exactly that, they'd be a lot closer to finding the killer. So far, everyone who met Sandoval seemed to believe her to be a saint. She had given a considerable amount of the profits from her gallery to charity, for several woman's shelters and other organizations.
Okay, that would not sit well with everyone. Abusive spouses - way to limit the circle of suspects.
She laid the ID they'd found in the other woman's purse on the counter. "Do you recognize this woman?"
Callum looked at the picture, then looked up at Lindsay hesitantly. "I'm not sure... we have a lot of guests..."
"Please, try to remember."
"I've seen her before," the concierge said finally, "I didn't know her name, though."
"Was she always with Ms. Sandoval?"
At that, Callum sent an imploring look to the manager who had arrived behind her. The man who didn't seem to be much older than her, and equally as shocked about what happened in his workplace, nodded.
"Every single time," Callum confirmed.
Lindsay held up the CD slip that was now encased in an evidence bag. "Do you know what this is?"
Callum blushed furiously, and Graham, the manager, quickly suggested, "Why don't we take this to my office?"
"Jacobi, Fong, you're going to pay Mrs. Bradshaw a visit. Lindsay?"
She followed Tom into the corner of the room, making no attempt to hide her irritation. "Why am I not going?"
"Because I don't want her to know you. Yet."
"What is that supposed to--" Her eyes widened as she came to the likely conclusion. "Oh, no, Tom. There's no way I'm passing for a--"
"A client, Linds, that's the plan," Tom informed her with a hint of amusement. "It's an escort service for women. We'll have an ID for you by afternoon, and you're going in tonight. We need a quick arrest on this, and we need to know who else might be in danger. There's no one else who could do it."
It wasn't flattery, Lindsay knew, with her being the only female inspector, and being close to Sandoval in age. "I agree. You wouldn't want to see Fong in a skirt."
"Right. Let's get you ready then. And Lindsay, not a word about this to anyone. No friends, especially no member of the writing profession. You know what I mean. I want a total media blackout on this."
"You know, Cindy knows the difference when to release--"
"Not. A. Word.," he punctuated, and Lindsay frowned. "I get it, okay?"
"Good. I suppose we--"
Lindsay turned to see the Mayor heading their way. The shock was still visible on his face. She didn't want to imagine what it felt like to lose family like this. Then again, she had lost her father to a serial killer. The thought prompted another that had flashed on her mind since she'd walked into that hotel room. She prayed that she wasn't right. Not again.
"Please, be careful. You need to keep my niece's private life out of the public, I can't have the press drag her name through the mud--"
"With all due respect, sir, this is a homicide investigation. We'll do everything we can." While Tom stayed sufficiently diplomatic, Lindsay felt slightly nauseated at the Mayor's words.
"I do only care about finding her killer, not whom she slept with," she said sharply, earning a pointed look from Tom.
"I'll see you at the station, Inspector."
Mayor Sandoval had obviously not picked up on the sudden tension. "Find who did this to her," he said before turning to leave. He hadn't once asked about the other woman who had been with his niece when she died.
"Don't say it."
"Okay, but I'll tell you this. The way the bodies were arranged, the way he arranged them - damn, Tom, it looked ritualistic. We've got way bigger problems than the Mayor not being happy with his niece's sexual orientation."
"I agree," Tom said grimly. "But we'll cross that bridge if we come to it, which hopefully never happens. And don't forget it, not a word to Lois Lane."
Lindsay followed him, baffled by the fact he did seem to think he had to say it twice just as much as that he knew about the nickname.
The so-called was currently standing in front of a mirror, trying to gauge her chances for the job interview she was going to have in half an hour. While Andrea had assured her she'd pass with flying colors, now that the moment was that close, Cindy wasn't so sure.
Maybe, this was a really bad idea.
Probably, Lindsay would yell at her for this more than she'd actually be grateful for anything that Cindy might find.
Cindy raised her chin and tried to give her reflection a determined look.
Jill had called earlier to confirm they were going to meet at Papa Joe's at 10 pm tomorrow - she wasn't going to disappoint them.
Jill had retreated into the farthest corner of the morgue which didn't help much, so Lindsay moved in front of her to block her view of at least Sybil Kramer's body. Claire couldn't help but smile at the not so subtle action.
Currently, she was occupied with Magdalene Sandoval, though. There were hardly any wounds on her body, except a few scratches and bruises that indicated she had fought the attacker. Initially.
"Look at this," she pointed out a small red dot on Sandoval's neck. "He makes a big difference between the two. From what I could find, or better, couldn't, Kramer wasn't drugged."
Lindsay tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she leaned closer, inspecting the needle mark.
"So maybe she didn't see it after all?" It was an idle hope, but didn't seem to make sense with the utter violence the killer had administered.
"I don't think so. I'll have to run some tests, but I guess it was one of those drugs that paralyze you while you can feel everything. I'm sure she saw it all when he took the saw--"
"Please," Jill said in a strained voice. "We all know what he did with that saw. I do not need any more imagery on that. Why are you here anyway? Aren't you supposed to be talking to the escort people now?"
Lindsay shrugged. "I wanted to see what Claire had first."
"And Cindy?" Claire questioned.
"What about Cindy? She's not supposed to be part of this."
She didn't miss the meaningful glance Jill and Claire exchanged. "What? Tom told me not to talk to her." She had missed, though, how her voice had turned softer when mentioning their friend, making the words a lot more revealing.
"So you aren't," Jill said way too patiently.
"That's right. He's my boss."
Another glance passing between her friends. "And now that you remind me, there is somewhere else I need to be. Claire, you keep me posted? See you guys later."
The woman who opened the door to them was in her early forties, her dark hair wound up in a French roll. She wore a navy blue business suit. Lucinda Bradshaw, the owner of Unforgettable. "What can I do for you, Gentlemen?" She also made no attempt to hide her suspicion. Not waiting for an answer, she continued, "I'm not sure if you know, but Unforgettable is not for men."
Jacobi showed her his badge. "I suppose you're going to make an exception?"
Her eyes widened. "Police? Is anything wrong?"
"I'm Inspector Jacobi, this is Inspector Fong, Homicide Department," he introduced them. "Can we come in?"
She stepped aside to let them in. "Let's go to my office."
Lucinda Bradshaw sank into her leather chair slowly, her face turning white so rapidly that both inspectors feared for a moment that she could faint. She had herself in control a moment later, though.
"It's horrible," she said, shock and disbelief coloring her voice. "I'll try to help you in any way I can."
"We're going to need a staff and client list."
Lucinda sighed. "I kind of expected that, and it's not like you can say 'no' when it's about murder, right?"
"I'm afraid that's true, Mrs. Bradshaw."
"Ms.," she corrected casually. "I'm going to print it all out for you."
She clicked a few keys on her keyboard, then the printer's sound was to be heard. She stared at the screen for a few moments, then the tears started to fall. Ms. Bradshaw wiped them away hastily, almost angrily. She turned the screen so that both men could see what was on it: a head shot of her employee, Sybil Kramer.
"I can't believe she's gone." She took another deep breath and then retrieved several sheets of paper she laid on the table. "That's it all for this year. Do you need the data from earlier years? I'd have to go to the archive."
"Yes, please," Jacobi said, a sideways glance to his temporary partner showing him that Fong was just as impressed. Unforgettable didn't seem to be a small business at all.
Bradshaw gave them a wry, if watery smile. "Yes, there is money to be made with this, it's San Francisco, after all. And no, we're not doing anything illegal. Any sexual contact between clients and escorts is strictly forbidden. Breaking the rules means you're fired. I am not running this business looking over my shoulder for prostitution charges."
"But Ms. Kramer and Ms. Sandoval..." Jacobi made no attempt to hide his surprise.
"Hadn't been in a professional relationship since July last year," Lucinda finished for him. "If an assignment ends, and two people want more out of their relationship, it's not my business anymore, literally."
"You're saying that no one ever crossed the line while working for you?" Fong queried.
Lucinda glared at him, then she leaned back into her chair with a sigh. "You know that most escort services are for het women and men. Unforgettable is for successful, professional and lesbian women who might be in town only briefly, on a business trip, a seminar, or living in the city and needing company for the evening. That's what we do."
"How do you match them up? You make a profile?"
"Something like that. Also, the women who work for me all have a college degree and are well-versed in politics, literature and popular culture, to name a few. It is required that they speak at least two languages fluently. Besides English," she added with another wry smile.
"That's a lot of qualification," Jacobi acknowledged. "How do you acquire your clients?"
"I started out with a small circle of business partners. Word of mouth... you know how it is. It got around pretty quickly." There was a hint of pride under the obvious distress. "You book Unforgettable, it's what you get."
"What about those CDs?"
"Oh, it's a marketing thing," she explained. "We give out one with every contract. It's all official, we bought the rights not to the song itself, but to be able to use it that way."
Jacobi made a mental not to check the costs involved in a deal like this. "About those client lists..."
She gave a wry, if tired smile. "Sure. Just be prepared for it to take a while."
Half an hour later, the two inspectors walked back to the car, both of them carrying a tidy heap of paper in a folder, both of them, Jacobi thought, considering a change of profession there for a moment. Bradshaw surely made more in a year than the two of them combined.
With a smirk, he thought of Lindsay who was currently getting dressed up as a high profile client. She certainly got the fun part this time - even though he was quite sure she didn't see it that way.
As if reading his thoughts, Fong made another try at small talk. "So, Boxer? I hear she broke up with her long-distance boyfriend. Is she with someone?"
"Uh-huh," Jacobi murmured non-committally. Discussing Lindsay's relationship status with Fong was a bit surreal even for him.
"Come on, I'm sure you know. Who is he?"
His colleague was just warming to the subject, and with a sigh, Jacobi thought he'd be looking forward to when this temporary partnership was over.
"She is with someone." Even though she doesn't know it yet. He really hoped she would buy that clue soon, because at some point, it could be too late. As brilliant as his partner was on the job, as good was she at missing the point of no return in a relationship, and this silver lining on the horizon was just too precious to throw away. "All else, you need to ask her yourself."
He turned his attention back to the road with an amused grin, because he was quite sure Fong would never dare. Catching sight again of the folders sitting in the backseat, he sighed. Not only would it take hours to go through all these small-font filled pages, there was also a lot of political tap-dancing involved with what names they'd find on these lists.
All the while Lindsay would be going out dating rich successful women. He wondered what a certain redhead reporter would have to say about it.
"Come on in," Tom Hogan said absent-mindedly, only to look up and do a double-take at the sight of his ex-wife, looking rather uncomfortable, but stunning in the dark blue pantsuit, white silk blouse and even higher heels than she was usually wearing.
"Hey," Claire Washburn who was with her, said admonishingly. "What does your wife say about you looking at other women like that?"
"When you two are done," Lindsay said, slightly irritated, "I've got an appointment with Ms. Bradshaw tonight. Can we maybe get back to that?"
Andrea looked her over critically and then nodded. "I think it's going to work out fine."
Cindy was still nervous, inwardly scolding herself for it. How hard it could be? She knew what was going on in the world, hell, she was one of the people who wrote about it. She spoke Spanish and French fluently, add a little German and Russian. Nothing could go wrong really, could it?
"Do I look okay?" The low-cut shirt and mini skirt, both belonging to the most expensive category to be found in her wardrobe, wasn't what she'd usually wear for a job interview, but they were a bit of businesslike still. Same with the make-up, a little more than usual, but not yet in girls-night-out fashion. Too little, too much? She resisted the urge to tug on a strand of hair that had come free from the French roll she'd wound her hair up into.
Smiling encouragingly, Andrea patted her shoulder. "Don't you worry, Sweetie. You're perfect. Lucinda might set you up with a date as soon as tonight."
Cindy blushed, which made the other woman laugh. "See, that's exactly the reason why. You're going to be popular. Who knows, maybe you'll even consider a change of career. You sure have a chance at more money than those slave drivers at the paper pay you."
Cindy was about to jokingly return something, when she remembered that one of the high-priced Unforgettable escorts had ended up brutally murdered. A risk that definitely wasn't worth the money involved.
Hopefully, she could at least help with some information, so that Lindsay wouldn't be too mad at her the next time they met.
So that the next time, a lonely woman booked a date for a less lonely evening, she wouldn't end up meeting death.
"Linda Hanson," Bradshaw read from the business card. She reached out her hand with a business-like smile. "Welcome to Unforgettable, Ms. Hanson."
Lindsay took in the expensive furniture and office equipment, now understanding what Jacobi had been talking about. She smiled at the thought of her partner she'd left griping over extensive files regarding clients lists.
Bradshaw had followed her gaze with an expression of pride, then pointed at the table that was set with delicate tea dishes and, most likely, silverware cutlery. "I believe in tea before the contract, and champagne after," she said.
A pleasant fruity scent rose from the teapot, so Lindsay accepted.
"This was a gift from a very pleased client. Add a little sugar, and it's heavenly."
Even though she wasn't much into tea, Lindsay had to admit her host was quite right about it. Obviously, the woman was dissociating well, presenting her closed off happy little world, like it hadn't just been invaded in the most horrible way.
Thinking back to the crime scene, and the victim that had practically been sawn in two, made her stomach churn; it made this cozy tea & business scene look rather obscene.
"It's very good," she acknowledged. "Imported, I assume."
"India," Bradshaw confirmed. "I'd like to know more about your business, Ms. Hanson, in order to find you the perfect company for tonight."
"I took over the business from my father seven years ago." Ain't that true, she thought with sudden bitterness. "We're making paper, a very special kind. The type you'll get when you buy a real expensive gift card or wrapping paper that you can't find in every store."
"High quality." Lucinda nodded. "May I ask how you found Unforgettable?."
Lindsay made a vague gesture. "A friend of a friend... you know how it is. We met at a party at Maggie Sandoval's."
"I see. " A shadow flickered over the woman's face briefly, then she had herself in control again. "Have you thought about your preferences?"
Lindsay almost sighed. Sure she'd given them some thought over the past few weeks, but it was nothing she really wanted to discuss with the owner of an escort business on an undercover assignment. She laughed a little self-consciously. "I must admit I don't really have any idea how this works. It's just that I will only be in town for a couple of weeks, and Maggie always said you were the best."
"Did she?" Lucinda's eyes were brimming with just another sign of emotion. This time, she allowed it, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. "Excuse me, I'm so sorry. I got some bad family news today. If you haven't got any idea yet where you want to go, we could get you tickets for just about every event in town. It would help if you could narrow it down to sports or theater, for example. I'll match you up with someone with likewise interests."
"I'm sorry about your family."
"It's none of your concern, really. I'm sorry for bringing it up. So..."
An image sprang to Lindsay's mind, and the memory made her smile. "Do you think you could find me a movie theatre that still has 'Atonement'? A little dinner and dance afterwards would be nice."
"Absolutely. I actually do have someone in mind for you."
Lindsay couldn't wait for the moment this weird experience would be over and she could actually share it with the girls. She could just imagine their friendly teasing, Claire's dry humor, Jill's insinuations, Cindy... Well, Cindy would probably not be happy about the way Lindsay had brushed her off earlier, but it had been necessary. So far, Lindsay congratulated herself for keeping the young reporter at a distance from the sights and danger of the worst crime scene ever since Kiss-Me-Not's spree.
She'd make it up to her eventually.
Cindy felt like her face had to have turned the color of her hair. Over the past couple of hours she'd been quizzed about everything any employer had ever wanted to know and then some. Police records, medical, education, occupation... While communication was usually her strongest suit, she felt dizzy, a headache starting to build behind her temples.
"No, I have never slept with a superior nor a source, and I'm not sure if that's an appropriate question to ask."
To her surprise, Lucinda Bradshaw started to laugh. "You're very right, it isn't, I'm sorry. It's just that some women who come here for an interview have the wrong idea of an escort service. Escort is all we do. The women who are our clients carry a lot of responsibility and power. In their positions, a rumor can take away everything they've worked for so hard, and anyone who's working for me, has got to be aware of that."
"Good. You go out with someone, you make conversation, be good company, take her mind off work for a few hours. We give them a safe place to be who they are that they can't find elsewhere."
"That's sad," Cindy said softly, then correcting herself hastily. "I mean that they have to hide. Even around here."
"It is," Bradshaw agreed. "There's a lot of change necessary yet to come, but as long as our politicians are dragging their feet, we're offering a more than acceptable compromise."
They shared a companionable smile before Lucinda got up to fetch a bottle of champagne and two flutes from the nearby table. "So, Cindy... How soon can you start?"
"Just quick, you know, I've got a date later." Lindsay made a face as she took a sip of her coffee, giving Jill's bourbon a longing look.
Jill noticed it with barely concealed amusement. "With... What was her name? Alina. So - going against your boss's orders now?"
"It's not something you wouldn't know about anyway, as you're both on the case. I just talked to Jacobi, and he gave me names. I had no idea there were so many lesbians in the city," Lindsay said, clearing her throat when Jill and Claire shared a bemused smile.
"I mean... Where you wouldn't have guessed... Whatever. Jill, can you look into these people and see if anyone had a reason to have a beef with either Bradshaw or Sandoval? As tragic as that is, I think Kramer was a random victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"The killer was either mad at what Unforgettable offers, or at Magdalene Sandoval for using their services," Claire summed it up. "You know, I am more surprised about how many women actually can afford them. I'd like to think I have a good career going, and I would think more than twice at those prices."
The idea was the first time that day Lindsay actually felt like laughing.
"Hey!" Claire slapped her arm. "What are you saying, your old married friend can't be imagining something extravagant?"
"That's right," Jill took her side. "Why are you even complaining, you're getting it for free."
"Because two women have been murdered. Because this asshole thought they didn't deserve what they had, and what they felt for each other. That's why I get it for free, so I can hopefully find the bastard and string him up by his balls."
"You don't have to remind us," Claire said softly. "We are on the same side here."
"I know." Lindsay took a look at her watch and sighed, feeling slightly mortified for her outburst and all it might have revealed. "Sorry."
"Accepted," Jill said. Lindsay's relief was short-lived though, when her friend asked the cardinal question: "Why isn't Cindy here?"
"I've got to go. See you two later," Lindsay blatantly communicated her wish not to answer this question, but even as she turned, she could just imagine the looks shared behind her back. Why couldn't they understand?
"I am so sorry." Bradshaw looked like she really meant it. "I know you were expecting Alina, but she didn't show up. I assure you that usually doesn't happen, and we'll revise the price for tonight in any case."
Lindsay thought uncomfortably that one of the escorts disappearing on a day like this could be no coincidence. She'd have Jacobi look into it as soon as she was on her way with her replacement date. "So you have someone else for me tonight?"
"Of course. Come with me?"
She followed her through a broad hallway, fleetingly noticing the artwork on the walls. Most of the doors they passed were closed... One of them had a glass door. When she caught sight of the woman sitting on the leather couch in the other room, she stopped dead in her tracks, not believing her sight for a moment.
"Who is that?" she asked, only an iron self-restraint keeping her from barging into the office. As it was, there was a tinge of disbelief to her voice that made Bradshaw look at her curiously. Lindsay took a deep breath. It was now even more important to make no mistake here, even though the impulse to go and shake some sense into a certain friend of hers was very strong.
"Oh, Cindy... I don't know, she just started today."
I bet. And she'll finish today, too.
"I don't mind... since I'm pretty new to this, too."
Lindsay was pretty proud of herself for the smile she gave the escort owner. "Maybe we'll both benefit from it. I must admit that I am a bit nervous about all of this. Can I talk to her?"
Lucinda Bradshaw gave her a long, considering look. "It's all a bit unusual, but I guess today is just a very unusual day. Go ahead."
Lindsay made sure the door 'slipped' when she closed it, so it banged shut behind her, making the other woman in the room jump. "Oh, I'm so sorry about that."
At the sound of her voice, Cindy turned around, her eyes widening spectacularly. Lindsay was glad she was too mad at her at the moment to pay too much attention at the sight her friend presented in the short black dress, sleeveless and lowcut, her hair in a neat bun. Okay, maybe not mad enough. She knew what she had to do, even though Tom wouldn't be happy about it.
"Cindy, this is Linda Hanson," Bradshaw introduced. "We had to reschedule a bit, and I was wondering if you might be available tonight."
Cindy's face nearly turned the shade of her lipstick. "Why, yes. Sure," she said quickly.
"Great. Linda, we've got you the movie tickets you wanted, dinner reservations, and there's a car waiting downstairs, I assume you didn't want to take your own?"
"That's right. I need to make a quick phone call first though. And I'm sorry, but I changed my mind. Redheads aren't really my type."
She assumed that Cindy deserved this bit of cruelty for blindsiding her this way.
Cindy looked crestfallen, Lucinda slightly irritated. It couldn't be helped.
Lucinda Bradshaw had apologized and quickly chosen her another date. Seemed like today required a lot of rescheduling. Cindy was still feeling the whiplash from the unexpected encounter, emotionally and otherwise. Honestly she hadn't expected for the PD to set up something so quickly, but now she chided herself for her carelessness. Of course she should have expected it.
And the fact that tonight was the first time on this case that she'd seen Lindsay, told its own tale. She'd been relegated to the outside. Lindsay would be extremely mad, well, she already was, hence the mean comment, but Cindy wasn't exactly pleased either.
There was one of the biggest stories in this since Kiss Me Not, and it was one of the most important, an outrageous crime that the public deserved to know about.
"You're still upset?" a soft voice asked beside her.
Barely refraining herself from sighing, Cindy turned to her companion. Annie, who owned several restaurants in the city, was a well-known client of Lucinda's, and she didn't mind a newbie.
"Lucinda told me you had trouble with a client. Sucks on the first night."
Cindy gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks, but it's really not your problem. After all, I'm here for you."
Annie was a forty-ish blonde with striking blue eyes and much better manners than a certain Homicide inspector that Cindy unfortunately still had this big crush on. She seemed nice enough to spend the evening with and unobtrusively ask a few questions about Unforgettable. She wouldn't even suspect anything, with Cindy being the eager rookie... She mentally slapped herself for that choice of words even in her thoughts. Couldn't she ever let go just for a minute?
"That's right. And you look amazing. So let's forget about the bitch, huh?"
Cindy couldn't help but laugh at this; it wouldn't be long, after all, before she'd have to deal with Lindsay's wrath... but Annie's comment was so inappropriately appropriate at the moment.
"That's a good idea."
Also, easier said than done, she realized when they had barely reached Annie's car, and she heard a familiar voice behind her. "Cindy Thomas? You're under arrest--"
Cindy spun around angrily to face the unimpressed inspector who informed her about her rights.
"Hey, wait a minute," Annie intervened. "Prostitution? That's ridiculous! We're on a date here, if you don't mind!"
"I'm sorry," Inspector Warren Jacobi said, and it sounded sincere. "There's been a witness. Ms. Thomas, please?"
"Do you need me to call someone?" Annie asked worriedly.
"She can call anyone she wants from the station," Jacobi assured her. "I'm really sorry. Let's go."
"This is a joke, right? Come on, you've all had your laughs, you can let me go now."
Cindy hadn't missed that he had to stifle a smile, and that made her hopeful. His words, however, were less encouraging.
"I can assure you, it's not a joke."
She sank into the backseat with a sigh. "Okay, so I might have crossed a line. I'm sorry. You didn't need to cuff me." One, it was embarrassing. Two, as annoyed as she was with Lindsay right now, the act was kind of associated with her in a way Cindy didn't really want to think about now.
"It's procedure." Jacobi shrugged.
"But I wasn't going to run away."
He didn't answer that, and she rolled her eyes a little. "Really!" Then she thought of something else. "You know what Lindsay is up to, right? Will she at least be there in time to bail me out?"
Cindy couldn't believe it when he looked rather uncomfortable at that. "Wait, you're not going to leave me in the holding cell overnight?"
"I'm sorry," he told her. "Short of a miracle, I don't know how to prevent that from happening."
"But-- you know she's only doing this because she's mad at me!"
"And I prefer that to her being mad at me. Everybody's a bit jittery tonight."
"I could see that," Cindy mumbled. "Look, I never told anyone, but I'm a bit claustrophobic. It's okay during the day, but the holding cell is kinda small..."
"Maybe you should just try to get some sleep," Jacobi advised her kindly.
In the locker room, Lindsay showered and changed into blessedly familiar clothes, putting off the inevitable a little while longer. There was a light on in Tom's office. With a wry grin she acknowledged that this conversation probably wouldn't be much more pleasant. She'd been mad at Cindy and used the privileges her job gave her to demonstrate it. Sure she had a reason with the media blackout to be followed, but there would have been another way.
Tom looked up as she entered the office after a brief knock. "Hey there, Linds. How was your date?"
She rolled her eyes, drawing the door shut behind her. "So far, everything that Bradshaw said seems to be correct. They are near paranoid about discretion and security. They do background checks on clients and staff."
"In other words, nothing." He sighed, and Lindsay couldn't blame him for his disappointment; she felt it herself.
"Pretty much," she agreed. "Except for--"
"Right. You gonna get her out of holding?"
"In a minute. Look, I'm sorry about that, I had to get her out of the way--"
"Prostitution?" Tom's mouth quirked into a quick grin.
"I had to come up with something quick. Listen, I know you want to keep tabs on the story, but I've been thinking--"
"No," he cut her off, all traces of humor gone.
"At least we'd have some control..."
"Yeah, right. You learned just yesterday how much."
Lindsay bit back an angry retort. No use in getting into an argument when she was still tired and somewhat angry at Cindy for putting her into this situation. That, and feeling guilty, too.
"If I work with her, I'll have that control."
Tom regarded her curiously for a moment. "We'll have to hold a press conference before the weekend. Until then, I need you to come up with a solid lead. Give her what you have and make her hold the story until before that press conference. They run it any earlier, a night in the holding cell will seem tame in comparison."
"I'm sure she'll understand that."
Stepping into the holding cell, Lindsay allowed herself a moment to acknowledge the guilt rising within at the sight of Cindy, curled up on the narrow bench, a closer look revealing her smeared make-up and slightly disheveled hair. She didn't look like the sexy and adventurous woman of yesterday any longer, just tired and scared, a girl thrown into a world that wasn't her own. Lindsay had seen it in other occupants of this place before, and seeing it on Cindy was more than spooking her.
She reached out to shake her awake, then hesitated. Here they were, back on her mind with a vengeance, the thoughts she could hardly allow herself on a good day. And still, they were haunting her. She touched Cindy's bare shoulder after all, startled at how chilled the skin felt.
Cindy jerked awake at the touch, bolting upright. She looked both grateful and mad, and... Lindsay nearly turned her gaze away. So damn young. As much as her actions had breached the trust between them, Lindsay was sure she would have done the same all over again. Because Cindy being uncomfortable and even a bit creeped out after a night in the holding cell was better than... She pushed the image of the crime scene further from her mind.
In the half-dark, Lindsay sat across from her, waiting, but no words were forthcoming. Cindy bit her lip, rubbing her goose-bumped arms.
"Are you cold?" Lindsay didn't wait for an answer, but shrugged out of her jacket and put it around Cindy's shoulders. Cindy was obviously torn about the question whether or not to accept it, but in the end, she did, sliding her arms into the sleeves with what seemed a grateful sigh.
"I don't get you, Lindsay," she said, angry after all. "You let me hang in here all night, and just now you worry if I could be cold?"
Lindsay had expected the anger, and the questions. She had rehearsed this moment a time or two on the drive here, so yes, she knew exactly what to say. All in good time.
"I know we have to talk. Come with me."
"Please," she said softly, and that seemed to strike a chord with Cindy, because she followed without a further word, and obediently sat down at Lindsay's desk. "So now we talk?" There was a hint of spite.
Lindsay pulled herself a chair. "There's going to be a press conference on the murders on Friday at 8:30. By that time, you'll already have your story done."
Cindy's eyes widened. "You're saying..."
"Yes. Why don't you start taking notes?"
"Wow, this is - awesome. But why did you ruin my undercover assignment?"
"There were two victims in that hotel room. One, the older one, was tied to a chair, her throat was slit eventually, but not before he made her watch everything. The other one... She was on the bed. He used a circular saw to cut it in half."
Lindsay knew from when Cindy's eyes widened that the realization had sunk in. She looked nauseated, too. "With her... With the woman still on the bed?" Cindy's voice was trembling a little which reassured Lindsay that she had done the right thing which had absolutely nothing to do with Tom's orders.
"Exactly like that."
"Wow, that's... sick."
"You could say that."
Curiosity won over disgust. Lindsay stifled a smile as she thought she could almost hear the wheels spinning.
"I wonder..." Cindy said.
Me, too. When are you gonna call my bluff?
"I won't deny that this is really bad, and I understand you weren't pleased about me calling, but why this--" She made a wide gesture including the confines where she'd spent the last night. "Linds, you were really pissed off me for reasons that had nothing to do with the case. I just need to know where we stand here."
"I'm not pissed off at you." Lindsay's denial was quick and even believable to some extent.
Cindy looked relieved, if a little doubtful.
"I couldn't stand you to be anywhere near this."
No sleep and the early morning time were hopefully enough of an excuse that she'd actually said it out loud. Something else came to mind then. "You're not going to go back."
"You work with me, I suppose there's no reason," Cindy said after a long moment. "Look, I appreciate your concern, but I would have been careful."
"Yeah. Like always."
"No one deserves to die like that. The public needs to know what kind of hate we're all dealing with, even here."
"What do you say we continue this conversation after I drive you home and we stop by Starbucks?"
Cindy smiled. "You think they're gonna make an exception for us and serve bucket size?"
Lindsay laughed, some of the tension that had started gathering since she'd stepped into the hotel room yesterday, finally leaving her. She laid an arm around Cindy's shoulders still clad in her own leather jacket, leading her out of the precinct.
"Did Alina have a relationship with a former client, too?"
"I don't know." Lucinda's voice faltered, and she reached for the chair behind her, as if to reassure her that it was still there in case she might need it. "You don't think..."
"We don't know yet," Jacobi said calmly. "Her disappearing so soon after the murders is something we take very seriously though."
"I understand. You already have my files, Alina's dates would be in there. Last night she was supposed to accompany a new client, Linda Hanson. She never showed up. Which reminds me, one of my new employees Cindy? Will she need a lawyer?""
He stifled a smile. It seemed like Cindy Thomas managed to evoke protective instincts in everyone she met. Even if Lindsay acted on them rather drastically sometimes.
"That won't be necessary," he assured her.
"Good. Your colleagues have been overzealous. She has a clean record, and frankly, Inspector, I hate it when you guys scare away the new girls on the first night. Cindy in particular has a lot of potential."
This time, in spite of the more than serious situation, it was a little harder to keep a straight face.
Alina Shepherd's body was found in another upper scale hotel room, strangled. Several bones in her arms and legs were broken, her body covered in bruises and cuts.
Bradshaw had confirmed that Alina had an appointment for the afternoon, with a Physics professor named Elizabeth Brennan.
There was the chair and the rope.
There was only one body in the hotel room: Alina Shepherd's.
"She escaped," Claire mused.
"Or he killed her elsewhere."
"You're such an optimist." Jill turned away from the sight of the body, her face pale.
Lindsay picked up the CD slip with a gloved hand. The Unforgettable song. This time, there had been no music playing when they'd come into the room, but the same CD had been left behind. "Why bring them? They usually get them on the first date, as a gift from Unforgettable. Why would they bring it to this room with them months later?"
"There were no prints on the one found in Sandoval's and Kramer's room," Claire reminded them. "Wiped clean."
"He brought them," Lindsay concluded. "He's mocking them, playing the song while he kills them."
It was just as clear what she didn't say he was mocking the investigators, too. Bradshaw had confirmed that they had an exclusive license for these covers. Whoever had killed these women, had to have access to them.
Just maybe, this time, they'd be lucky enough to have a live witness.
They met for a quick lunch at Papa Joe's, and somehow, Jill found it relieving to have Cindy join them. Maybe it would mean that Lindsay would be a little less edgy about this case, though who was she kidding, they all were for good reasons.
It wasn't just about the nature of the relationship between the murdered women someone was killing them because he hated them for their independence from society's rules. Their success. Enough to make all of them uneasy.
"Cindy could so sue you about those bogus charges," she teased, trying to lighten the mood.
"She won't, right?"
Lindsay might not have been aware that she looked a little smug at that. She had reason to be. The way Cindy nearly knocked her glass over made Jill wonder how exactly the apology had happened. Then again no. They were still mostly so oblivious it was frustrating to watch at times.
She caught Claire smiling at her and shrugged. When the time was right, they could surely use a little push in the right direction. That's what friends were for. At the moment, Jill wished nothing than being able to close this case soon. There was still hope that she'd come out of it with her reputation untarnished.
"Cindy, I absolutely need you tonight. I wouldn't have called otherwise, but it's chaotic here."
Cindy stared at the article she'd just barely finished writing. She'd described Unforgettable favorably, a safe space invaded by a horrible crime twice, but she had the suspicion that Lucinda Bradshaw wouldn't be much grateful for the publicity. It couldn't be helped. People had to wake up about this.
If she said yes now, though, she'd have someone else on her case, literally.
Cindy didn't really want to find out to what lengths Lindsay would go this time to keep her away, but she also felt like she'd been missing something. Maybe she'd make everything worse by helping Lucinda out tonight. Maybe it would help to find the missing link.
"When should I start?"
"Cindy, you're a dear. Can you be here in an hour?"
"I guess so."
"Thank you so much. I hope the cops didn't bother you anymore?"
"Oh no. They realized those charges were ridiculous."
"Good. I'm so sorry you got harassed by them on your first day."
"It wasn't so bad." True, she had hated sleeping in the holding cell, but the memory of the morning after made Cindy smile, as she recalled the way they had left, Lindsay's arm around her. Unfortunately, nothing like that had happened since, but of course they were both busy with the new murder there was enough time to look at everything between the lines when this case was closed.
She knew she'd have to come up with something really good in order to convince Lindsay it was indeed a good idea to go back just once.
"I'll see you in an hour then."
Lucinda was on the phone, waving Cindy inside. From the looks of it, more disturbing news, because she jumped to her feet hastily. "I'll be back in ten minutes, then I'll tell you about your date. You're looking absolutely beautiful."
Cindy waited until the click-clack of high heels on the floor retreated further away, then quickly sat behind Bradshaw's state of the art computer. With a little luck she'd come up with something that would make Lindsay all forget about yelling.
And there had to be something. If Unforgettable was all that Lucinda said it was, why kill anyone? And the second set of murders had made it clear that this was not about any individual secret that either one of the escorts, or clients might have.
She thought about the two-piece dress Lindsay had worn that night. Not a good idea now; there wasn't any time for this. Cindy plugged the tiny USB drive she'd brought with her, in, and started searching through Unforgettable's files, downloading as much as she could. She didn't have any illusions about most of them would be coded, but that was something to worry about later.
Cindy had just removed all traces of her activities when the sound of footsteps, two pairs this time, was about to be heart. She put the USB drive into her purse and returned to the sofa, sitting up straight, putting a smile on her face when Lucinda brought the client in.
"We've got ourselves a winner," Warren Jacobi announced, holding up a file to his colleague. "Maria Peters, divorced twice, filed a restraining order against her last husband. Hubby trashed her store two weeks ago and is missing ever since. It says he threatened to kill her when she left him for a woman. I'm calling Lindsay."
If he hadn't been near having nightmares of never ending piles of dusty files, he would have been amused how Fong didn't even react to the name of his partner. They were overdue for a break.
Not that Lindsay hadn't been frustrated about the lack of progress as well, but still the better deal.
"Call her on the way."
He looked up to see Lt. Hogan standing in the doorway. "The waiter at the Seven Eleven on Ocean Avenue thinks he saw Brennan less than an hour ago. He saw her face on the TV. Tell Lindsay to meet you there."
"You look like you could use some chocolate," Claire remarked. Truth be told, she was glad for the reminder that it was time to go home, leave the riddle for another day. She could tell from Jill's expression that she wasn't just tired.
Holding out the candy jar skull to her friend, she waited.
"Funny about Lindsay and Cindy, huh?"
Claire raised her eyebrows. That, she had not expected. "Well if this case doesn't make them see the light, I don't know what will," she said dryly.
Jill nodded, helping herself from the jar again. "You can be friends for a long time, and still there are some things you didn't see coming."
"True. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?"
Jill smiled wistfully. "Not really. Thanks for the chocolate."
With those words, she left, leaving Claire to wonder.
It took Cindy a lot of effort to concentrate enough for sophisticated conversation while she was dying to go through the contents of Bradshaw's computer. That was not the only distraction, though.
Maria had opted to go dancing after dinner, and while it had the advantage that not so much talking was needed, Cindy's thoughts kept running into all kinds of impossible directions when the tall brunette woman pulled her closer on the dancefloor.
Not like she was fantasizing about some other tall, brunette woman... and how silly would that be anyway. Being slightly awkward around men, as Cindy had observed, didn't stop Lindsay from dating them. Not very often, granted, but there was no reason to assume that her friend lived in San Francisco for reasons other than the familiarity and the good weather.
Even if there had been a tiny sliver of interest, there was another subject to consider. Cindy refrained herself from sighing. All she had at the moment was another pointless date and an USB drive full of information of dubious importance.
Not much of a help.
Not much of anything.
It hadn't taken them long to locate Elizabeth Brennan. Cautiously approaching the woman cowering beside the dumpster, Lindsay could easily tell why. She wore no shoes. Her feet were bleeding. No wonder she hadn't made it far. Brennan wore a blouse and pants, but clothes and hair were disheveled.
"Ms. Brennan? I'm Inspector Lindsay Boxer. Can you tell me what happened to you?"
The other woman didn't even raise her head, but she cringed violently when the paramedics kneeled beside her, and despite their soft assurances, she only curled up into herself tighter.
She didn't talk at all.
Lindsay looked up to meet Jacobi's worried gaze. Fortunately, somehow, the woman had been able to free herself from the killer's clutches, but they were no closer to finding him.
Cindy couldn't believe her eyes. Granted, it was a folder within a folder within a folder, it took a little bit of searching, but she found the password on the fifth try. Natalie.
The folder itself contained several others, each labeled with a name. Most of them were unfamiliar to Cindy, but she started at the folders for Alina and Sybil. There were about a dozen, which was about a third of the Unforgettable employees. What had been so special about them?
Her heart beating faster, Cindy opened the first one, and then she slapped her forehead. That was what happened behind the facade then. More names, notes and details that made her face burn, though they were listed in a curt, businesslike style. Business was what this was all about, after all.
She clicked through all the names, her hand already on her cell to call Lindsay. So what if it was after 2 AM; she would want to see this.
Cindy opened the last file, quickly skimming over the contents, when she saw it.
For a moment, she just sat and stared. "Oh no," she said aloud, all of a sudden very reluctant to call Lindsay, even though she knew she couldn't put it off any longer.
"This had better be good," Lindsay grumbled, her voice sounding like she'd been woken from deep sleep. Cindy decided this was the worst possible moment to dwell on any... accompanying... images.
"Linds, I need to see you. Now."
"Are you okay?"
Lindsay sounded wide awake now. Somehow, Cindy found that very comforting. "Not physically harmed or in immediate danger. I'm fine, I just found something I need to show you. It can't wait."
"Should we get Jill and Claire--"
"No. Please trust me. Could you come over?"
"Give me twenty," Lindsay said and disconnected the call.
Lindsay couldn't believe her eyes when Cindy opened the door to her in a red mini dress, slightly faded make-up, her hair falling onto her shoulders in soft, deliberately styled waves. Which could only mean one thing that left her battling with worry and irritation alike. The latter won.
"Damn it, Cindy!"
"I know! I'm sorry."
She really looked the part, Lindsay realized, but it wasn't enough for now. "Are you hurt? Tell me the truth."
"I am not. Lucinda called me and asked for one more date I thought I could come up with something that could be of use to both of us." Cindy sighed. "I guess I did."
"We found Elizabeth Brennan today. She's not talking... severely traumatized."
"That's horrible," Cindy said softly, and for some reason she didn't want to think about, it made Lindsay want to shake her. Obviously sensing her stormy mood, Cindy added, "Try not to hate me?"
Of course, she could never hate her, quite the opposite, in fact, but Lindsay thought for going back to Unforgettable, she deserved to sweat a little. "What else do I have to give you to make you stop doing foolish and dangerous things?"
"I guess I have to give something to you this time." Cindy turned her laptop for Lindsay to see the screen, and clicked onto a folder labeled 'Sp.'
A list of files came up. Names. Lucinda Bradshaw had lied to Jacobi, after all, because these were names of the women working for her, and their 'specialties', together with names of their clients, and their preferences. Elaborated fantasies, matching clients with companions who'd make them come true.
Sybil Kramer had been among the women who offered more than just company for dinner or going to the theater, at least until she and Magdalene Sandoval became an item.
Lindsay was aware of Cindy watching her anxiously. "Okay, spill it. What could possibly be worse than you going back to that place when I practically begged you to stay away?"
"Try Katheryn Myers," Cindy mumbled, unable to meet her eyes.
Lindsay gave her another suspicious glance, then turned back to the screen and clicked on Myers' name, scanning the client list quickly. She stared at the words, speechless.
Jill Bernhardt: bi, likes to be in control, likes sex partner to be tied up, toys optional
Her face flushed as she tried to suppress the images that came with them. The anger rising within was more than sufficient for a distraction for any possibly inappropriate reaction, though. "Damn it, Jill," she said aloud. "Why the hell didn't she tell me?"
Cindy didn't say anything.
"I suppose it's something you hardly share with anyone - even friends. Maybe, especially friends, when you're afraid they could be looking at you differently."
Cindy flinched a little which made Lindsay feel guilty and curious in equal parts. "I would never... You're not saying--"
"I'm not saying anything. Except we need to talk to Jill about this. It could mean..."
"It could mean she's already on the guy's radar," Lindsay concluded grimly.
Claire was beginning to think she'd been left out of the loop regarding quite a few things. Her suspicion deepened when Jill sat across from her, telling her that Lindsay had called her to meet at Papa Joe's.
"That's strange. She was at her desk all morning, why didn't she just come over?"
Jill looked decidedly unhappy, but she didn't offer up any information.
"So what did you do, ask Cindy out?"
"No!" Jill protested indignantly. She sighed, starting to take the layers of her napkin apart and tear them into neat squares. "Of course not. Who would want to get in the way of true and undying love."
"What's that sentiment I detect there between the lines?"
"Nothing." Despite herself, Jill offered a smile, but it was shaded by worry. "I kept something from Lindsay," she confessed finally.
"I'm sure it can't be bad enough to--"
Jill could tell from the look on Lindsay's face that she knew, and the disappointment she was sensing made her feel defensive. Lindsay couldn't have expected her to come forward unless she really had no choice but to do so. It seemed like the moment had come earlier than Jill had hoped.
Cindy gave her an encouraging smile, but she seemed tense, too.
Predictably, Lindsay began, "Elizabeth Brennan is still not talking, but there are other news. Seems like Bradshaw has a side business she didn't tell Jacobi and Fong about, but it should be a lot more interesting for our killer than the escort service."
All of a sudden, there was a loaded silence at the table.
Claire was the one who broke it. "I know that it's an important fact for the case, but now we need to make sure there's no damage for... either of us."
At those words, Lindsay's eyes went wide. "You knew?" She hadn't once looked at Jill though.
"I told her ten minutes ago."
Lindsay was shaking her head in disblief. "Just great. So when were you planning for me to find out," she finally addressed Jill. "In court?"
"It's not something I wanted any of you to know," Jill said tersely.
"Oh, really? I can't remember you ever having been shy about details. Or wait, is it that this time, it's actually illegal?"
"Lindsay," Claire said warningly, but to no avail.
"I wonder how come you have developed this suicidal streak lately. Lois Lane here goes back for just one more date, that's after we've got the third body in this case. And you, Jill? Is what they offer really worth risking everything you've worked for? Hell, what we have worked for. It's not not like this doesn't concern each of us."
Lindsay clearly believed what she said, unaware of the lines she was crossing easily, but Jill who had been feeling anxious and scared ever since the first murder, decided she wouldn't have it. Having to hide was bad enough, but they were supposed to be her friends. Well, Claire at least had acted like one. Cindy might sympathize, but she had her own issues, being head over heels for Lindsay, another aspect the inspector seemed oblivious to.
"It does concern me," Jill said icily. "It's none of your business."
"It is now."
"So what irks you more about it, the fact that it was a woman, or that I paid for it?"
"I am not going to have this conversation with you here."
"Fine," Jill said and got up to walk to the door that lead out into the back, not turning to look if Lindsay was following her, knowing that she would.
"I feel bad for bringing it up," Cindy said wistfully.
"You had to," Claire reminded her. "Besides, if you had held that back, it would be you now Lindsay would be mad at. I guess you've had that already."
"Yeah." Cindy sighed. "I know this case is especially bad, but she sure is wound tight."
"She worries, because she cares. About Jill... and you." Especially you, she added silently.
Cindy took a hasty sip of her drink and promptly started coughing. "I hope this will be over soon," she said when the fit was over.
"Me too," Claire agreed, meaning more than the case.
"You're such a hypocrite!" Jill couldn't hold back the words any longer, and she didn' want to make the effort. Yes, she had been careless, and she was worried about what this list could mean for her career. That didn't mean she was okay with Lindsay giving her the cold sholder now. Especially when Jill was sure to know the reason for her friend's behavior.
"I'm not the one jeopardizing my career over my sex life."
"Right. You'd have to have one to do that!"
Lindsay stiffened, but she didn't comment. "I think this conversation is over."
"You're going to lose her."
"What?" Lindsay was still not in the mood for right, reason and logic, but Jill figured she had earned the right to tell her.
"She's going to find another woman who's just as gorgeous, passionate, and, less of a coward than you."
"Would you mind not calling me names?"
"You are all these things. Does it make you uncomfortable to hear them from a woman?" It was very clear that they wasn't talking about the coward accusation any longer. "Don't you worry, Linds. I don't think you'd be going along with my preferences either, considering that you're usually the one to slap the cuffs on others."
She could tell that Lindsay had a hard time not to smile which had nothing to do with the current situation, and everything with a memory that obviously came to mind. She returned to the matter at hand quickly, though.
"It wasn't just once, right? They wouldn't have kept a file on you otherwise."
"Correct." Jill didn't see any point in hiding the fact.
Lindsay nodded. "I'm trying to keep your name out of this."
"And I appreciate that. Just talk to Cindy. She deserves that much. So do you, really."
"That's nice, but... Let's see what we can about your situation here first."
Jill was relieved and annoyed in equal parts, but she figured the fact that Lindsay hadn't even tried to deny she really wanted to be with Cindy was a sliver of a beginning.
There were all kinds of conversations in her future that Lindsay dreaded. She'd try as promised to make sure Jill's name wouldn't appear in relation to Unforgettable's special business, but she couldn't do it on her own, so she probably wouldn't get around telling Tom.
About that other conversation... Okay, Jill hadn't said she had to do it right away, but she had drawn out the future for Lindsay quite clearly. Cindy, beautiful and smart, would have no trouble finding someone. And it was true, while she had dragged her feet coming to the likely conclusion, Lindsay had enjoyed and relied on the younger woman's affection. Needed it, in fact. She just wasn't sure where to go from there. She hadn't even treated her very kind in the recent past, so Lindsay guessed she shouldn't have been surprised when Cindy looked very worried opening the door to her the next evening.
"I didn't do anything," she said by way of greeting.
"I know. It's just that--" The urge to turn and run was growing stronger by the minute. "I've been thinking about some things."
Cindy frowned a little at that, and Lindsay realized that her words had sounded quite cryptic.
"I'm sorry. I mean... I thought you might like to share this." She held up the bottle of wine she'd brought. "Since we still wait on the information about Peters' husband, and I won't have any date until the day after tomorrow--" Heavens, that sounded bad. Cindy now looked a little less worried, more amused.
"You're not asking me out, right?"
"In your dreams."
Just like always, from the first time they'd met, during conversations about how great Pete was, to the present moment, there was something entirely different between the lines. It gave Lindsay hope. What had Jill said? Gorgeous. And a coward.
"It doesn't mean I'm okay with the risks you--"
"I know," Cindy said quietly. "I worry about you, too. Are you going to come in now, or are we continuing this conversation in the doorway?"
The conversation was being continued on Cindy's couch, still a little stiff and awkward, because Lindsay feared her intention was too obvious, while at the same time, she had no idea how to approach the subject. So she talked about Pete and how convenient he'd been until they came to the sensible conclusion to end a relationship that couldn't go anywhere. He'd been a friendly phantom living on the other side of the world, but making everyone back off regarding her dating life.
Well not everyone, Jill, with a load of problems on her own now, hadn't backed off. That was because she knew Lindsay better than most people.
"I'm so tired of this game, of always having to explain myself. That I need my space, that I take my job seriously."
"I understand that." With Cindy, she knew those weren't just empty words. "But don't you want to be with someone eventually?"
If I do, it has to be something meaningful. Something that lasts. Lindsay wondered if she'd scared Cindy away, had she spoken these words out loud. She turned to look into Cindy's eyes, intent on her, wide and hopeful.
Couldn't Jill have said anything sooner? Or maybe she was just as delusional as Lindsay was, because... this.. would be too good to be true. At least she could blame it on her friend then. "Jill read me the riot act," she confessed. "And I guess... she was somewhat right about it." She laughed self-consciously. "You know I'm not good at this under the best of circumstances, and, well the circumstances are less than perfect at the moment. So... It's true, I've been having... feelings for you, even before Pete."
Her face felt uncomfortably hot, but Cindy put her out of her misery quickly, leaning in to press her lips against Lindsay's softly. Once given permission, she couldn't turn back, the light touch turning to something as deep and intense as her hopes had been to this moment. Not a fantasy any longer.
"Thank you for saying it," Cindy whispered, and just for that, Lindsay had to kiss her again.
They spent some time regrouping over lunch break. While Jill was still worried sick about the consequences that might await her, she couldn't help but smile when she saw Lindsay and Cindy in the booth together, holding hands. That was fast. She'd always known that all they needed was a gently friend-ly push.
"Hey." She leaned in to kiss Lindsay on the cheek for greeting. At her puzzled look, she said cheerily, "We'll scratch 'coward' off the list. Congratulations, girls."
"Well thanks. I'm relieved," Lindsay drawled, and Jill breathed a sigh of relief. It was good to know that she wasn't blazing mad at her any more. Seemed like Lindsay had had the opportunity for some unwinding after all. Cindy simply looked very happy. That must have been some mutual confession.
Jill thought ruefully that she couldn't wait for this damn case to be over so things could go back to relatively normal for all of them. "Other than that," she continued, "Maria Peters' husband has some interesting history. Assault, breaking and entering, convicted every time."
"That's what has me a little worried," Lindsay said just as Claire arrived. "Is he clever enough to pull off a scene like this? He seems choleric, not a planner."
"So Maria told me when we went out," Cindy chimed in.
If the situation hadn't been as serious as it was, Jill might have been amused at the quick, not-so-amused sideways look Lindsay gave her at that. Cindy cast her an apologetic glance in return and said, "I might be able to get more. Lucinda texted me that Maria would like to meet me again, and she also wanted to talk to me about something..."
"You forgot to mention that last night," Lindsay said suspiciously, completely unaware of the revelation she'd just made.
"Yes, I forgot," Cindy returned with a hint of defensiveness. "I was distracted."
"You shouldn't be anywhere near Peters at the moment." In this, Jill could easily take Lindsay's side. The client's jealous ex-husband didn't seem like a very aimiable person, judging from his file. Claire nodded.
"However, maybe you could call Lucinda and see what she has for you. You could say you read about Peters and are a bit worried, too."
"Sounds reasonable." Even Lindsay had to admit it. She took a look at her watch and sighed. "I've got to head back. Appointment with Tom in fifteen minutes."
Jill didn't need further information. She knew that her name was going to come up in that meeting.
"I've got to go too," Cindy said, getting up quickly. Jill smiled a little at the sight of her hurrying to keep up with Lindsay. She started when Claire touched her arm.
"It's going to be alright. Lindsay is adjusting well as you can see, and Tom will want to keep this under tabs too," she said, reading Jill's worries exactly.
"I hope so." With a heavy sigh, she leaned forward as Claire placed a comforting hand on the small of her back.
"You knew that a Deputy District Attorney was involved in this and you didn't tell me?"
Lindsay winced a bit at Tom's sudden raise of his voice. "It's true, but--"
"But?" he cut her off. "Linz, you have no idea what's going to happen if we don't close this case, and soon. I've looked the other way before, because you usually come up with good results, but this time, I can't. Jill has to be off the case. I won't even start about Ms. Thomas."
You better not. Lindsay barely held back the words. "Tom, I need your help here. We need to keep Jill's name out of this mess."
"I hate to say it but she should have thought of the consequences in the first place."
"I wasn't going to discuss the moral aspect with you," she said sharply.
"I wasn't going to." The implied reprimand hadn't gone unnoticed by him. "I'll try. I can't promise you anything."
"Fair enough. Thanks, Tom."
He gave her a long thoughtful look that made her slightly uncomfortable. "What?"
"Nothing. I'll see what I can do. I'd hate for the DA's office to lose her over this."
"Yeah, me too." Lindsay knew he was genuine about this, so she left his office a little more hopeful than she'd been before, wondering what it was that Lucinda Bradshaw had to offer to Cindy.
Cindy had voiced her concern about going out with Maria once more to a surprisingly understanding Lucinda. "That's okay, dear," she said. "About the other thing though, I'd like to see you. How does a late lunch sound? I'll pay."
Meeting her in a public place couldn't be all that dangerous, Cindy decided and agreed. "I might not be hungry, but I'm curious about what you have to tell me."
Lucinda laughed. "I hope. I'll see you in ten minutes, Cindy."
By the time Cindy arrived at the restaurant, Lucinda had already ordered two glasses of champagne. "Have a seat," she said, smilling pleasantly.
"What's the occasion?" It was remarkable how well this woman could compartmentalize.
"You haven't been with us for long, Cindy, but I've got to tell you, you're pretty popular. Remember Linda? She apologized and asked especially for you the next time."
"I bet she did," Cindy muttered, but she couldn't stop the smile spread across her face. "Thanks," she added, refering to Lucinda's earlier statement.
"You're welcome. And I trust you. That's why I wanted to talk to you. I've got an offer for you."
"I'm not sure I can do this much longer," Cindy said honestly.
"Look, it might happen that you find yourself attracted to a client. The attraction might be mutual."
"Um, okay, I know. I can't be their escort then. But that wasn't the reason with Maria. She's nice and all, but I'm a little scared of her ex. He vandalized her store."
Lucinda nodded somberly. "I know, but I wasn't talking about Maria. Just in case this scenario should happen, there's a possiblitiy that you can be something more to them. You're funny and smart. You're special, Cindy."
Cindy felt her face heat with the blunt praise.
"We make special offers at Unforgettable. You choose what, and who you are comfortable with, and fulfill a fantasy for both of you."
"I'd do Arabian Nights." Cindy laughed nervously. "I've been told I talk too much."
Lucinda smiled affectionately. "Just think about it. Like I said, you're popular. You think about it and then give me a list of things you might need. I'll get you everything."
And I bet you'll create a special folder for me. "Thank you," Cindy smiled, thinking that there was only one person she'd wanted to fulfill any fantasies with. Maybe, starting tonight.
"This sounds very interesting."
This time, it was Cindy showing up on her doorstep, and it was pretty clear that both of them still had some adjusting to do as to the new situation. After a moment of hesitating about what would be the right way of greeting while having some very specific ideas on her mind, Lindsay just pulled her inside and kissed her softly. Specific ideas could wait for later, she reasoned.
"So you missed me?" Cindy asked hopefully.
"Very much," Lindsay confessed even though they'd seen each other at lunchtime. "I hope you haven't eaten yet."
"Did you order in?"
"Actually, I cooked," she said, feeling somewhat offended that Cindy obviously had a hard time imagining it. "I do, every now and then, so you don't have to look so worried."
"I'm not." Cindy smiled, and Lindsay thought resignedly that she was clearly unable to be mad with her for any length of time. "Actually, I'm starving. How about we eat first and then I'll tell you all about Lucinda's plans for me?"
How about after that, we'll move on to all those plans I have for you? "Good." Lindsay turned rather apruptly to hide the blush creeping up her face rapidly.
After dinner, they sat together on the couch once again, talking through the specifics of what would and what wouldn't go into Cindy's story. Something had righted itself, Lindsay thought, some of the tension gone now that the cards were on the table and they could actually talk about work again.
Another kind of tension just growing. But there was no way of indulging it now, and truth be told Lindsay was just a bit relieved about it.
For the moment, she was pretty happy with the way things were, Cindy close beside her. The possibilities... endless. At least after this case was closed.
"So what was it Lucinda had to tell you?"
Cindy started a bit at that; she'd been leaning closer continually and had obviously been just about to go to sleep. Lindsay found it extremely endearing. "Long night yesterday?" she asked teasingly.
Smiling up at her, Cindy answered, "Kind of. I've had a lot on my mind... anyway. Lucinda offered me a spot on the specialty list."
"What?" Lindsay sat up straight. "Has she lost her mind now? Have you?"
"Calm down, it's not like I'm going to do it!" After a small pause, Cindy continued, "I told her I'd think about it."
"You" Just moments ago, Lindsay had been all set on forgetting about the case for a while, just enjoying the warm weight of Cindy in her arms and the hint of a fantasy of what could happen if she just made a little less of an effort of keeping her hands still. The new information had the effect of a cold shower. "Is that how you define staying away?"
"You didn't say I couldn't talk to her at all," Cindy defended herself. "She trusts me. Lucinda might know something that she isn't even aware of, and that could help us solve the murders."
Us. Lindsay winced though it was basically true. Cindy had had quite a share in past investigations. Lindsay didn't mind sharing the glory. She just wanted Cindy to stay away from dangers she wasn't equipped for, and her own constant failure of that mission worried her.
"I won't go on another date," Cindy assured her. "Except if... You know, Linda Hanson asks me out. Even if she was kind of cruel with that line about Redheads."
"Well, there is that." Lindsay cleared her throat, very self-conscious all of a sudden. At the time, there hadn't been a lot of alternatives to a quick and somewhat cruel response. "So what's your specialty?" Worry, attraction, it was a dangerous mix of feelings.
Cindy met her gaze unflinchingly. "Arabian Nights. I'm gonna make all your fantasies come true."
Somehow, there wasn't enough air left for Lindsay to take the deep breath she needed to take. Cindy leaned closer, her palm cool on Lindsay's heated face. "And you know what's the best?"
What a question.Every single moment was too good to be true. "You tell me," she said, her voice dropping to a low whisper.
"For you it's all free."
Cindy closed the space between them, pressing her lips against Lindsay's, her tongue slipping inside as Lindsay pulled her closer. This was only a reprieve, she knew. Before they could head into this direction, acknowledge what was between them, they had to provide closure to the victims who hadn't been given that chance.
Lindsay had left for her 'Unforgettable' date; Claire announced that she was going to head home, too. Cindy watched her go with a sigh. "I should go home, too. I've got work to do."
"Actually I was hoping you'd come check out this new club on Howard with me." When Cindy failed to answer right away, Jill misinterpreted her hesitation. "I told Lindsay it was only fair when she is sipping $300 champagne with Katheryn that I kidnap her girl for a night out."
"You planned that." Cindy wasn't sure whether she should be annoyed at that description when in fact, it made her heart beat a little faster. Well, truth be told, every time someone mentioned Lindsay in her presence had that effect. She got it bad, and she loved that, even more so because since last night's unexpectantly sweet turn. It wasn't like much had happened, and Lindsay had said something about taking it slow, but it was a promise Cindy had hardly dared to hope for. She was all for taking it slow.
And this evening, talking the case through again, they'd held hands under the table.
"You used exactly those words?" she said after a long while.
Jill smiled knowingly. "You two are so cute," she teased. "According to Lindsay, if I take good care of you which I plan to, I'm allowed to take you out. She also said to ask you, since of course you make your own decisions."
"Wow," was the most eloquent response Cindy was capable of. She wryly acknowledged that she probably wouldn't get any work done tonight, with her thoughts being accupied otherwise. "Let's go then."
It was less than an hour later that Lindsay found herself in the ER, talking to a young doctor who was still under shock. His colleagues were frantically working to keep Elizabeth Brennan alive, but for Officer Grant, the assigned guard outside Brennan's hospital room, all help came too late. He'd been injected with a lethal substance that was yet to be determined.
The killer had cut off the patient's air supply. Brennan was still alive, but she had slipped into a coma.
It was not a good moment to spend the night in an expensive restaurant, Lindsay thought, but it wasn't really she had much of a choice.
Sitting across from Katheryn Myers, she had a hard time to focus for a variety of reasons. There was trying not to think of the list or having any inaproriate thoughts about her friend. There was trying not to fantasize about Cindy who was having a girls' night out with said friend.
And lastly, the visit to the hospital had rattled her more than she was ready to admit. Elizabeth Brennan still could die; she'd been strong enough to escape from hell, and they had failed to protect her. If she surivived and was able to talk at some point, she was probably the only one who could describe the killer. 'If's that were too big for Lindsay's liking.
"You look tired," Katheryn observed. "I know that wasn't the plan, but I know a place where you could get a great massage. Not far from here."
"Really?" Not that she had any intention to go.
"My place." Katheryn winked.
Lindsay gave her a smile to show both susprise and interest. "I thought... in the contract..."
"Lucinda trusts you. When that's the case, there's always the possiblity to, let's say, extend the contract."
"That's... amazing." Lindsay thought that quite a few people would think differently. For once, Tom. She stifled a grin at the idea of having to explain to him.
That, and she was quite literally taken. Hook, line and sinker. Thinking of Cindy, her smile turned a little more genuine. "Another time, I'd love to," she said. "Speaking of trust. I read about your colleagues in the paper, I'm sorry."
A pained expression crossed the young woman's face. "That's so horrible. Even more, for the children who are left behind."
"Children?" If any of the victims had had children, why didn't they know that?
"Sure. Alina had two kids who are living with the Dad after they divorced. But I don't want to bring you down. How about you tell me a little more about that paper business of yours? You're producing in how many countries?"
Lindsay got up from her chair. "Seventeen. I'll be right back. I'm sorry, Katheryn, I have to make a quick phone call."
"Guess what," Jacobi who met her in the hallway, said. "Peters' ex is still at large, but the daddy of Alina's kids owns the business that produces the paper slips for those Unforgettable CDs. How much is that for a coincidence?"
"Not much," she said, smiling to herself as she picked up her phone. "Let's see if a friend of ours can get a rush on a warrant."
"What do you want from me? I haven't spoken to Alina in two years, ever since she decided to go crazy. I had to protect the girls. They never need to know about her mother's perversions."
Jill had her cell phone turned off, but at least Denise had been very helpful with getting them the warrant they needed to pick up Alina's ex-husband who brought up the children with his new wife.
Lindsay got up from where she'd sat across from him, crossing her arms over her chest. "Mr. Atkinson, what 'perversion' exactly are you talking about?"
"Alina is a freaking lesbian!" he snapped.
"Oh, that." Lindsay shared a look with Jacobi who rolled his eyes behind the man's back. "Your information is a bit outdated. It's not illegal. It's not even considered a disorder anymore. So did you have any other reasons to keep the girls from their mother?"
"It's enough reason for me." Atkinson gave her a contemptuous look. "Wouldn't expect you to get it. The way you talk, I'm thinking you're one of them."
"The way you talk," Jacobi pushed himself off the wall and walked closer, before Lindsay could return anything to that, "I'm thinking you really had it in for your ex-wife. So if you can just give as an alibi, any kind, we'd all be more than happy to end this conversation."
Atkinson rolled his eyes. "I was on a plane. Business trip. I suppose that would be easy enough for you to check.. Can I go now?" He didn't wait for an answer, just stood up. "I didn't kill the sick bitch, but don't expect me to grieve a lot."
As he was turning to the door, Lindsay stepped into his personal space. "We'll check that alibi, thank you very much, Mr. Atkinson. Meanwhile, I'd like to remind you that your ex-wife was brutally murdered, along with two other women that we know of. The fact that you seem to very much agree with the killer will keep you on our radar."
"Bitch," he murmured before he yanked the door open.
"What an idiot," Jacobi commented.
"How can he possibly tell?" Lindsay wondered, more to herself.
"Nothing. Nothing at all."
After a few drinks Cindy had finally loosened up enough to say yes right away when Jill asked her to dance. She couldn't help but let her thoughts stray a little, wondering what it would be like. With Lindsay. With the case and all, there hadn't been much time to do anything beyond words and kisses. Not that that hadn't been great. Dancing hadn't been on the list yet, and with Jill's arms around her, Cindy had to wonder what had taken her so long.
"So you're finally moving forward. I'm glad. Did you sleep together yet?"
Cindy gasped, sure that the colorful changing lights were not enough to hide her blush. "Come on!" she protested, though not really surprised by the question.
Jill sm iled widely. "What? It's a valid question. You've been doing that yearning thing for almost a year now. Trust me, Claire and I almost couldn't stand it any longer."
Hanging out with a good friend, slightly plastered, could be a dangerous combination. As weird as it seemed to discuss the subject on a packed dancefloor, Cindy couldn't seem to hold her tongue. "Well yeah, that's because I... I mean... I haven't," she told Jill's shoulder and dropped her gaze to the floor before she added, "With a woman. And don't you dare laugh at me."
"I wouldn't dare." Jill tipped her chin up to make Cindy face her. "It'll be okay. You'll figure it out. Two virgins, huh? I'd so like to be there when you do."
Even though her face was burning, Cindy couldn't help but laugh. Jill just easily made her. "Great. No offense, but I don't think I want you to at that point."
"Be careful what you offer," Cindy countered.
Chuckling, Jill pulled her closer. "Don't you worry. You're going to be great together. And since I clearly have more experience than you two, you have no choice but to believe me."
Aside from all the more or less alcohol-induced silliness; Cindy realized she could see the truth in Jill's words. It seemed too good to be true, and still made her senselessly happy. "Thank you," she said earnestly.
"You're welcome. See, I'm a sucker for happy endings."
By the time Cindy crawled under the sheets of her bed, she was bone-tired, but still just barely resisting the impulse to call Lindsay, just to hear her voice. She was ridiculously in love, and didn't feel sorry for it at all.
She also had an important story to tell that could hopefully be a wake up call for a lot of people. Lucinda Bradshaw's side business, illegal as it was, wasn't the biggest focus, and not just because a friend was involved.
Soon enough, her body settled into a deep and restful sleep, not disturbed by any nightmares.
Cindy woke not from a sound, but the strange and disconcerting feeling that she wasn't alone in the room. The nightmare was real, and it lasted only for a few terrifying moments, a damp cloth pressed over her mouth and nose, her brief desperate struggle before darkness drowned her.
"The alibi doesn't pan out. That will be enough of a probable cause to keep him for a bit, right?" Lindsay asked hopefully.
"I think so." Denise Kwon gave her a curious look. "So why is it that you woke me at 2 AM and not Bernhardt?"
"Her cell phone is turned off," Lindsay gave the honest answer which prompted a wry smile from the acting D.A. Then she frowned. "Are you sure everything's okay? It's unusual. The case could break any day now... and I'm sure she'll know it first anyway."
Lindsay ignored the slight barb, wondering if Denise was actually worried about Jill. And, if she had reason to. But no, Jill and Cindy were just out for a night of fun. Nothing would happen, especially since she believed the murderer of the three women to sit in a holding cell right now. She still wanted to talk to Peters, but Atkinson seemed more like a man who could come up with and realize those scenes.
"I am sure."
She knew her words to be a lie seconds before the ring of her cell phone startled them both.
"I just got home and I got this... picture. I'm so sorry." Her friend's voice was thick with tears.
"Okay, calm down, I'm coming to pick you up," she said intently. "Where is Cindy?"
"Linda!" Lucinda Bradshaw was visibly startled. "I didn't expect you until later." Giving Lindsay the onceover, she added, "I almost didn't recognize you, but the casual style suits you."
"Thanks." Lindsay wasn't about to waste any more time with niceties, so she flashed her badge at the woman. "Inspector Lindsay Boxer, SFPD."
"Wow. You lied to me, and you did it well," Lucinda said dryly. " Do you think I murdered the women? They were like family to me!"
"You are not under suspicion for murder. However, it was probably your side business that attracted the killer's attention."
"My side oh my. Cindy, is she a cop, too?"
If the situation hadn't been as serious as it was, Lindsay would have allowed a moment of pride. "She's a reporter."
"So you think what we do justifies this sick bastard's actions? Because it's not completely in tune with your laws?" Bradshaw challenged. She shook her head. "What kind of world are you living in? We offer a discreet and safe space."
"Safe? Three women have died, a fourth has been traumatized to the point she can't talk about what she's seen. That's hardly safe. Tell me, do you recognize the name Jill Bernhardt?"
"Is she okay?" Lucinda asked, alarmed.
"Yes, she is. But he's got Cindy."
Lindsay understood the sentiment all too well, but she couldn't give in to it now. Cindy's life depended on her ability to function. "I need your help," she said.
Lucinda nodded grimly. "Anything," she promised.
"Jill. This is not you fault." Lindsay grasped both of Jill's arms for emphasis. She didn' mind being the one who needed to give comfort as at the moment, it kept her from falling apart.
"He saw us together." Jill's eyes were glistening with tears. "We already know he had access to the files, then he knew Lucinda had offered Cindy the specialty spot. He put two and two together."
That was exactly what Lindsay had thought, only her reasoning was a different one. Jill couldn't be blamed for this mess just because she took Cindy on a girl's night out. If anything, it was on Lindsay as she could have damn well tried harder to keep Cindy away from Unforgettable.
She forced herself to take another look at the picture, enlarged and printed out, the kidnapper had sent to Jill's cell phone.
Cindy looked peaceful in her drugged sleep. She was barefoot, wearing a blue and white cotton nightgown. She was simply asleep; Lindsay knew, because she looked unharmed otherwise. The perp had always killed the escort first, but he'd wanted them aware. This picture had been taken half an hour ago.
There wasn't a lot of time.
It also meant that it couldn't have been Atkinson, or he had help all along. Which was likely.
"We'll find her," she said with more conviction than she had reason to, for her benefit just as much as Jill's. She picked up the picture again, resisting the urge to trace her fingers over like a caress. There wasn't time for this. Then she started, looking at it again.
"Jill? Come on, tell me you see this too."
Upon waking, Cindy wondered for a split-second why she was feeling so cold. When she opened her eyes, finding herself in a dark basement instead of her bedroom, panic set in as she tried to bolt upright, but was brought up short by the rope around her wrists.
There wasn't much to see, nothing to clue her in as to who had taken her and why. Not that it was so hard to figure out. With the way she'd been left here... Cindy swallowed hard. That's how convincing she'd been on her undercover gig.
Seemed like the killer had believed her.
A towel had been left carelessly at the foot of the bed, the stitching not readable, but Lindsay did recognize the coloring. "It belongs to the hotel where Magdalene and Sybil were found. Paradise Inn."
"But Alina was found in another hotel," Jill reminded her. "Where's the connection?"
"I don't know... yet. I need to go over the staff lists of both hotels again. See if anything clicks."
"Find me someone conspicious and I'll get you the warrant."
"You bet," Lindsay promised.
"You must be mistaken!" Graham Turner, the Paradise Inn's manager claimed. "Hell, it's so horrible anything like this happened here. We want our house to be a safe haven for our guests, and now it's the crime scene tourists we attract. Do you have any idea how much damage has been done to our reputation?"
"Forgive me if I only care about the damage done to the two women," Lindsay said sarcastically.
He was sweating. She was quite sure he was lying about something. The temptation to shake it out of him was alarmingly strong, especially given the fact that she knew, every minute counted for Cindy.
"You know something, Mr. Turner. You tell me now, or we could be here all night. By then, it'll be another death on you." She delivered the words coolly, in a matter-of-fact tone while the mere implications scared her witless. "He took another woman, Graham." Lindsay leaned closer to him, seeing his eyes widen. "We don't find her in time, I'll make it my personal mission to make sure you'll be put away for aiding and abetting a murderer, and do you want to know what's awaiting you then?"
"I didn't!" he shouted, beats of sweat running down his forehead. "God, I had no idea."
Lindsay took a step back and sat in her chair. "Okay. You help us, we're gonna help you, it's that easy. Don't even try to play games with me. I'm not in the mood."
Graham Turner had been working briefly in the hotel where Alina's body had been found, as a stand-in, which explained why it was in his file but not on the general list. Both the Paradise and the Sunset Inn belonged to the same chain. Jarrod Peters, Maria's husband, had had a temp job as a janitor for the Paradise Inn. He'd convinced Graham that they could both make a fortune by spying on the guests.
What he hadn't mentioned was that he was after one in particular, his ex-wife who had left him for a woman.
It all came down to Peters again. Graham claimed he had an adress that might not be known to the police as he'd visited Peters while they planned the placement of the bugs in the hotel rooms. "That's all I did," he insisted. "I didn't know he was killing those women."
Lindsay couldn't spare a moment to feel sorry for the man.
"San Francisco Police Department, open the door!" In the neighbor's garden, a dog barked. Otherwise, the scenery was eerrily silent.
Lindsay felt uncomfortably hot under the Kevlar, a drop of sweat sneaking down her spine. It was too damn silent. They couldn't be too late. She just couldn't afford the thought. Exchanging a look with Jacobi, she nodded, and they broke down the door, rushing into the house and immediately to the door leading to the basement. There hadn't been much light in the room Cindy had been held.
If Peters was hiding in there, he might be armed.
They crept down the uneven stairs cautiously, coming to a halt in front of the massive wooden door.
Lindsay gripped her gun tighter, trying the lock. The door swung open.
The room behind was clearly the one from the photograph. It was empty.
He held up the paper slip in front of her with an ugly grin. Cindy had seen those, not on the crime scenes where they'd been left, but on Atkinson's web site.
"Do you know what that means?"
She was shaking with fear, but still not giving him the satisfaction of talking to him, so Cindy just stared up at the man with as much defiance as she could muster, clad only in her nightgown and bound to the bed in this new room. A suite bedroom. He'd never planned to kill her in the basement, she realized.
"No? I guess you're gonna find out, bitch," he said,slapping her hard enough to make her lip split. "Soon enough."
He went over to the stereo and put the CD in the player. "Gonna be Unforgettable," he said, snickering. "Unfortunately, you won't be around to tell about it."
The room was darkened by a blanket hanging over the window, pipes running along the wall. The bed was a mere iron frame with a dirty mattress on it, the towel hanging over the foot. There were ropes still bound to the frame; pointing her flashlight at them, Lindsay could see the dark stains. Blood.
She straightened, looking around for any clues as to where the kidnapper might have moved. She was aware of the fear like a choking hold, but she couldn't give in to it now.
The ringing of her cell phone and Tom's name on the caller ID did nothing to improve her mood. "The house is empty. They've been here, but he took her elsewhere," she forewent any kind of greeting. "What is it?"
"I've got Ms. Bradshaw on the phone. She wants to talk to you."
"Put her on," Lindsay said curtly.
"Lindsay, I put the word out there with the girls to watch out for anyone suspicious. They know what Peters looks like. Katheryn saw him yesterday. She's on the way here."
"Okay. So am I." Before she could hang up though, Tom interrupted her again. "I'll send Jacobi and Fong. Linz, I want you at the hospital. Brennan just woke up."
Unfortunately, he knew her too well, thinking it was probably less likely for her to shake information out of a woman who'd been comatose until a while ago than with the man who was likely behind Cindy's abduction.
"Don't worry, Linz," he said. "I'll take care of Peters; if he knows where Cindy is, he's going to tell us. We'll find her."
She hung up, probably too late for him to not detect the emotion in her voice. At the moment, Lindsay just didn't care.
Jill felt lightheaded as she followed Jacobi into the room behind Lucinda Bradshaw's office, a conference room with a table big enough for everyone gathered. Both were familiar even she hadn't been here for a while.
She nodded to Hanson North whom Lucinda had commissioned for her defense in the case of her 'specialty list', and cast a quick look at Katheryn who did a double take at the sight of her. Jill couldn't be worried about any secrets coming out now, the cold and anxious feeling that had taken hold of her since the first text message with the picture had arrived was all for Cindy.
According to Claire, none of the women had been killed right away, but the escorts had suffered torture for hours. Jill wanted nothing but find herself a quiet restroom and give in to the tears pressing behind her eyes, but she knew she couldn't. Doing her job was the only thing she could do to help Cindy now. So she would.
"I've seen Peters' car parked at a hotel," Katheryn told her, careful not to look at Jill. "I know it because I'd seen it when we were on a date once he used to follow her around. It was the Sunset Inn."
Jacobi was already on the phone. "Hell if he's that bold," he commented.
"Why are you here?" Jill whispered to Hanson. "No one really cares about anything but the murders at this point."
"Why are you?" he countered with the familiar jovial smile. "It's not like there's any suspect in this room, is there? As far as I'm concerned, I just wanted to see you. You haven't been around much lately."
Jill rolled her eyes at him, but she struggled to keep her voice level as she said, "You heard about Cindy Thomas."
He nodded. "Good luck finding her." It sounded genuinely honest, enough for her face to relax into a tight smile.
"I didn't see much... it was dark... black van." The fact that the woman was able to form these words bordered on a miracle, however Lindsay couldn't bring herself to feel celebratory yet. No one could say yet if Elizabeth Brennan's memory was affected even though she seemed surprisingly lucid. She was a fighter. Lindsay was grateful for that. She was also scared. This was already taking too long. Time was running out.
She held up a photograph of Atkinson. "Did you see this man?" The fear in the woman's eyes was all the answer she needed.
"Don't worry, he's currently sitting in a police station. Elizabeth... Was there more than one?" When she saw Brennan struggling to form words, she added quickly, "You don't have to speak. Just blink once for 'yes', and twice for 'no', can you do that for me?"
The woman blinked once.
"Were there more men at the place?"
Once, again. "Did you see him?" Lindsay asked, showing her a picture of Jarrod Peters. Elizabeth blinked twice. Had she even understood the question?
Her lips moved again, and Lindsay leaned closer for the faintest chance to understand her. The woman was getting tired, and this seemed like the last chance today getting any information. The last chance before it was too late. "Younger..." Brennan whispered.
What the hell did that mean? Were they looking at another suspect?
"Can you describe him to me?" Lindsay felt slightly guilty for putting all the pressure possible on a woman who'd escaped death twice, but she had no choice. In Elizabeth Brennan's eyes she read something familiar: A stubborn resolve. Neither of them was ready to give up yet.
The call hadn't come yet. Claire knew that as long as that hadn't happened, as long as she didn't know that Cindy was safe and alive, she wouldn't be able to direct her thoughts to anything else, so she'd gone over the contents of the crime scenes again. Fibers, samples, there wasn't a lack of them, but nothing to point at the perps. They had been damn careful. Which suggested that either the murders of Sybil Kramer and Magdalene Sandoval hadn't been the first, or they had been planning them for a while.
The first crime scene the Paradise Inn. The towels in the bathroom had been of the same kind as the one that had been found in Peters' basement.
Where was the connection between these men, and who was behind the plan in the first place?
Were they looking at a 'club' of murdering ex-husbands feeling entitled and how did the peeping Tom hotel manager fit into it?
He had access to reservations. He had admitted to spying on guests.
She put the CD from the surveillance camera into the player, opening the file from the night after the murder, and started when the content was entirely different from what she had expected. This wasn't a tape from the hotel, but an amateur video showing Cindy on the stairs of the building that housed Unforgettable, together with a blonde woman in her forties.
Her confusion rose when she saw Jacobi showing up and talking briefly to the women, before the picture went black. Who had replaced the CD and who had filmed Cindy on her first night out at Unforgettable?
Elizabeth Brennan had managed a couple of more words before exhaustion overwhelmed her and the doctor had chased Lindsay out of the room. "Melissa... cabin." She remembered the name of the concierge at the Paradise Inn, and minutes later, she'd snatched Melissa Callum out of her shift where the young woman tearfully confessed that she was afraid that Graham could have done something bad.
She'd found him and Peters spying on the guests; that had been before she had dated him twice. One of the tapes got lost, and he got very mad. Melissa had overheard a phone call between him and somebody named Jarrod... At that point, Lindsay was ready to shake her.
"Ms. Brennan said something about a cabin. What do you know about that?"
"It's Graham's. He likes to go hunting."
I bet he does, Lindsay thought grimly. "You show me." She called it in, requested back up and then turned on the siren, pulling out of the parking lot with screeching tires.
She was shaking. So hard she could barely keep her fist closed around the substance in her hand, and she'd almost forgotten what good it wood do when the moment arrived, but Cindy held on to it anywa.y.
The coarse rope had cut painfully deep into her skin, but finally she'd slipped her hand out, the only thing she could grab a handful of soil from a near pot plant.
It was all the time she had before Jarrod Peters walked back into the room after an angry call on his cell phone outside the door where he told the person on the other end of the line to get their ass over here. Cindy didn't want to wait for that moment.
She tightened her fingers around the handful of soil, and then the door opened.
Lindsay had turned off the siren before they came into earshot and parked at a safe distance in the parking lot of a diner. Backup was close.
She couldn't wait that long though.
"You stay here," she told Melissa Callum who was watching her anxiously. "My colleagues are going to be here in less than five minutes. It's going to be alright."
God, how much she hoped that.
"Mr. Turner, I'm afraid we have a few more questions for you." Jacobi walked up to the man with quick strides; Graham Turner nervously backed away, glancing over his shoulder, only to run into Fong who was right behind him.
"I think you heard my colleague," Fong remarked. "Why don't you tell us from the beginning?"
"Bitch! I'll get you for this!"
Lindsay heard the voice coming from a lower level of the cabin, and it sent shivers down her spine. Whatever was going on down there, from now, minutes counted. She ran.
The first room at the bottom of the stage was empty once more, but with the camera set up, she could easily guess what it was meant for.
"Don't think you can hide from me!" she heard Peters's angry voice. "Slut, you're gonna get what's comingto you."
Don't think you can hide from me, Lindsay thought, moving further into the dark hallway.
She shouldn't have tried to hide inside the damn house. As she cowered inside the utility room, Cindy knew she had made a mistake. It wasn't a very big cabin. He would find her and do everything he'd threatened earlier, and her desperate attempt to get away had only made him madder.
She remembered Lindsay describing him as a choleric. At the thought of her, Cindy's resolve began to crumble and she started to cry. She pressed her hand against her mouth as if that would help her at all. Maybe it had been foolish of her to think she could do this self-assigned undercover job not that her editor had minded when she'd told him she had an in.
She could feel every bruise on her body, and there'd be a lot more before... Cindy curled up further into herself, wishing she'd had at least the chance to say goodbye. No, that wasn't right. She'd wanted so much more... She didn't want to say goodbye anytime soon. Reaching behind her, her fingers encountering a cool smooth object.
She could hear him outside now.
There was a heartwrenching scream and a shot rang out. Lt. Hogan hurried down the stairs, the SWAT team on this heels as they neared the source of both.
Jarrod Peters lay on the ground, his injuries not keeping him from uttering expletives. There were dark smugdes on his face like camouflage, his eyes reddened. The gunshot seemed painful but not life-threatening, just as the cut on his arm dripping blood.
Tom's eyes fell on the woman cowering in the corner, clutching a pair of blood-smeared garden shears in her equally bloody hands. She looked bad with the dirty nightgown and her hair disheveled, but thank God she was alive.
He watched Lindsay approaching her, talking to her softly as if addressing a frightened child.
"It's okay. It's over now." She dropped to her knees beside the younger woman, waiting patiently until Cindy finally laid the scissors into her hand. Lindsay put them on the floor and then drew her into an embrace very carefully.
The last piece of the puzzle fell into place. He turned away, stifling a smile as he addressed the leader of the SWAT team.
Lindsay didn't want to let go, but at some point, she had to, and she had to have lost some time, too, because she had a hard time remembering how she'd gotten here into the waiting room of Mission Cross North, exhausted beyond reason and blood on her hands and clothes that wasn't her own.
Tom had called Claire and Jill who, as it seemed, had dropped everything and simply got here. Times like this she remembered why she'd once loved him. He could just take care of things without making a fuss when needed. For sure, she loved her friends, but at the moment she just felt incapable of interaction of any kind, like she was in a fog. "I just want to see her," she insisted, wincing at the sound of her voice.
Claire exchanged a look with Jill, then she got up to lay and arm around Lindsay's shoulders, "Sure, Sweetie," she said. "But first, let's get you cleaned up a little."
Jill went outside to take Tom's call. "Is she going to be okay?" he asked without preamble, and she smiled a little even as her vision got blurry.
"Pretty beaten up, but yes, I think she will be." She was aware though that he probably hadn't called her because of that in the first place. She knew she probably should be worried, but she was too tired for the sentiment.
"That's good. There's something you should know. All the information that would connect Bradshaw to prostitution it got lost."
A couple of nurses just coming from their shift turned into her direction curiously, and Jill walked a few more steps away. "I mean, how?"
"My guess is as good as yours. With Magdalene Sandoval's name on that list, I can't help thinking it might be for the better. The only copies that exist now should be with Bradshaw herself and Cindy Thomas."
"I understand." She did, everything he had and had not said. "There'll be no case against her," she concluded.
"Other than the questionable handling of security, I don't know what you could charge her with."
"Alright. Thanks for telling me."
"You're welcome. Good night."
Washing her hands and face and putting on a a fresh shirt in the visitors' bathroom had done wonders for her mental state. It was even better when she could finally sit in the chair next to Cindy's bed, their fingers touching... Not that Cindy was aware. It was Lindsay who needed the contact badly, just as before in Turner's cabin where she'd held Cindy on the dirty basement floor.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I should have done better."
"That's bullshit and you know it." Claire's voice behind her made her jump. She's alive because of you."
Lindsay shook her head, the memory of the moments in that basement - finding Peters standing over Cindy, the brief fight until she finally managed to pull the trigger starting to get fuzzy. "Why can't I keep her safe?" The question was exposing, making her feel naked and uncomfortable even with her best friend as the only witness.
"You do," Claire assured, "but you can't keep her from doing her job."
Staring at the woman she'd fallen in love with long before she could acknowledge it, Lindsay took in each bruise. This wasn't supposed to be Cindy's job. She wanted to say it out loud, but knew that her voice wouldn't obey her, so she just pressed her hand against her face, willing to hold back the maelstrom of emotions.
"Turner came up with the idea, then he looked for interested accomplices on the internet. Unforgettable was supposed to be the first target only." Jill shook her head. "Like a murdering club of homophobic assholes."
"Well, they didn't count on our club," Cindy said, earning some chuckles. She looked tired, but between Chinese take-out and the final hashing out of the case, they could almost make themselves believe that this was business as usual.
She was writing her story out of sick leave though, and Lindsay had taken off some time too to spend with her. What Cindy had been through wouldn't be as easily erased as a name in a file, Jill thought with a shudder.
Still, she was so very grateful. Lindsay caught her gaze, giving her a knowing smile.
They'd make it through, all of them, even if some things would take a while longer.
"That's not what I meant when I talked about fulfilling fantasies," Cindy said dejectedly. She'd woken up crying for the third time tonight, on top of having trouble falling asleep anyway. Peters hadn't just hit her in the face. She still hurt all over.
Lindsay eased closer carefully, laying an arm around her waist, mindful of her battered state. The blatant tenderness only made Cindy want to cry harder. "I'm a mess."
"You're doing fine," Lindsay whispered, a merciful white lie that Cindy just couldn't let go.
"I'm keeping you up all night," she pointed out, frustrated. "Why are you even putting up with all this crap?"
"That's a rhetorical question, I hope." Lindsay's dry tone relaxed her some, and she actually had to smile.
It was, she knew, because Lindsay had had all the chances to back away if she wanted to. She hadn't done so in the past couple of weeks, not even during the nights when neither of them had gotten any sleep at all. "I know," she said, cuddling closer, "you haven't forgotten what I promised about free specials, right?"
"Sure." Lindsay laughed, but her tone was serious when she continued, "You have no idea how special you are to me."
Cindy found that she didn't have anything to argue with that, nor did she want to. "We both have a few days left. Why don't we just go... I don't know, somewhere?"
"I'd like that," Lindsay said. "There's just one more thing I'll have to do."
They had planned to leave after breakfast with the girls, but before that, Lindsay excused herself, leaving Cindy in the safe company of her friends as she had one more visit to make.
Lucinda Bradshaw poured herself a glass of champagne, pointing to another, empty one as Lindsay entered her office. "Have one too." There was a song playing on the stereo, eerily appropriate, Natalie Cole's Starting Over Again. Lindsay thought that she'd never be able to listen to her songs the same way again. She shook her head. "No thanks, I'm on duty," she lied. "I'll take some of that imported Indian tea if it's not too much of a hassle."
"It's fine. There you go." Of course, she had some ready, too. Bradshaw was a businesswoman through and through, always everything available for a contract. For a while, they sipped their drinks in silence. "Strange," Lindsay said, "how all the files on your side business got lost. Strange, but convenient. The DA's office won't bother now trying to put a case against you together. They're busy with the murders as it is."
Lucinda smiled cordially. "I'd call it a lucky coincidence. I'm sure Jill appreciates it too."
"She sure does. So basically, your business is safe now."
"I'm thinking that's the conclusion to which your colleagues came. Give my regards to Inspector Jacobi, please."
"I'll do that. Ms. Bradshaw, you won't be taking the risk and rebuild that section, right?"
"I'm not planning on it right now," Lucinda said with a shrug, but Lindsay wouldn't have wanted to see that answer spelled out in graphics on a polygraph right now. She let it go like she'd known she would. "Though, I must say, I hate to lose Cindy. She's a natural, such a charming girl."
Lindsay could barely stop her lips from twitching into a smile, and she could tell from the escort owner's knowing expression that she was aware of it too. Thinking of Cindy though also reminded her of the nightmares that wouldn't be past them for a while to come though.
"I could tell you knew her from the first time I saw you together," Lucinsa confessed. "I was guessing ex-lovers. You've got that possessive-protective thing going on where she is concerned. Now that I think about it, I'm sure it wasn't Inspector Jacobi's idea to have her arrested on fake charges on her first night."
Feeling fairly uncomfortable with being figured ou so easily, Linday countered, "She nearly got tortured and killed. It makes a person feel that way. I've been to each of those crimes scenes, and I knew what they'd planned for her."
Lucinda nodded somberly. There was a hint of warning in her voice, though, when she asked, "I protect my girls, too. None of them will have a prostitution charge hanging over their heads. Right?"
"That's right," Lindsay confirmed. She could just imagine Hanson coming up with terms of witchhunt and sexism in that case. She didn't care to go there. "Thanks for the tea," she said, getting up. "You might want to invest in better security. Protect them better. I would like to convince myself that you do."
"I'm on it. Also thank you for catching these sons of bitches."
"Take good care of that girl of yours."
This time, Lindsay allowed the smile to show. "I plan to," she said as she drew the door closed behind her.
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