UNDER THE GUN
By Lori L. Lake
a/k/a Lorelei, Bard of the Lakesloreleifirstname.lastname@example.org -- www.LoriLLake.com
FIRST OFF: This is a sequel. If you havent read the first book, GUN SHY, you might want to go to: http://www.ausxip.com/fanfiction/g/gunshy1.html.
Or you can purchase a copy of GUN SHY, published by Renaissance Alliance Publishing (Quest Division), at any bookstore or online bookseller. Also, I have another book just published, RICOCHET IN TIME, which has never been posted online. A good source for both books is at The Open Book.
DISCLAIMERS: It has been so long since I have posted that I may have forgotten how to do this. <g> Maybe before I "disclaim," I ought to say a very big thank you to the many readers who have doggedly continued to write me and ask for this sequel. You all encouraged me to keep working on Dez & Jays story. As many of you know, I dont write in a linear style, so its hard for me to post until the majority of the story is worked out. I am being brave here and starting to post even though I havent got the end entirely worked out. Everybody say a little prayer. J
The characters and the plot are original and mine. Please give me advice, feedback, and criticism. If something doesnt square up for you, go ahead and let me know. I wont bite. At least not very hard.
VIOLENCE/LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This sequel is still about cops. It contains scenes of violence and/or their aftermath as well as one or two swear words here and there. The story depicts a love/sexual relationship between consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state/country where you live, either be very sneaky about reading this or else dont. Im not your mother. Do what you want.
SPECIAL THANKS: Couldnt have done this without wonderful beta readers. Janet Catran, Nann Dunne, Kas, Sobbie, and Svetla R. (so far). Thanks a million. Many blessings to my good friend MaryD, Web Goddess Extraordinaire, for encouraging me and keeping me on track. To MyCitadel, you are all just the best! Thanks for being in my life. Kitty and MaryAnn, I hope you like it since youve had to hear me talk about it ad nauseum.
DEDICATION: Of course I have to dedicate this to Diane, even though she also got the dedication for GUN SHY. Maybe she thought the process of writing GUN SHY was torturous, but it was nothing compared to UNDER THE GUN! She still deserves a medal.
THE PLAN: It is my intention to post regularly as this is beta-read and edited. By regularly, I mean about once per week. Ill try to send it to MaryD by the end of each weekend after I have had time to work out the bugs. My new website should be up quite soon . . . please check it out atwww.LoriLLake.com. Any and all comments are welcome at: email@example.com.
Keep your hands inside the ride at all times. Its going to be a very rocky ride. Dont let the beginning fool ya! So here we go . . .
UNDER THE GUN
Officer Dez Reilly squinted into the late afternoon sun as she cruised University Avenue in the warm squad car. Despite the dark sunglasses she wore, the sun still hit the hood of her white car just so, and the glare irritated her eyes. She turned on Lexington, heading north through the heart of the St. Paul neighborhood shed come to know so well, and was relieved that the flickering October sunlight no longer bothered her. As she relaxed her face into its usual passive expression, she moved her jaw from side to side and realized that her cheek muscles ached. She frowned for a moment, then bit back a smile, which made her face feel even more sore. Smiling. Her jaw was actually achy from smiling.
She glanced toward the passenger seat at the source of her facial fatigue. Rookie Officer Jaylynn Savage, five-and-a-half feet of blonde-headed, hazel eyed energy, sat two feet away, her eyes bright with a natural cheer that drew Dez to her like bees to honey.
"Dez," Jaylynn said as she pointed out toward the Como Lake parking lot. "Check out the Pavilion. Looks like they have a band there tonight. Wouldnt that be a blast?" The blonde turned her head and gazed at her partner, her face open and warm.
Though Dez knew the rookie couldnt actually see her eyes through the reflective mirrors of her sunglasses, she still felt as though Jaylynn could look in anyway, and a quick shot of adrenaline, which she tried to ignore, raced through her bloodstream. She turned forward and peered out the windshield at the parking lot filling up with cars. A silver bus with Babys Blues Band scripted on the side was being unloaded. Two men carried two guitar cases each, and behind them, three more figures wrestled with large speakers. As the squad car passed slowly, Dez caught sight of a metal trailera refreshment standdown at the end of the parking lot, past a circular fountain that spewed water four to six feet into the air. The stand looked like it was being set up to sell snacks and soda pop.
"Its just like you, Jay, to think thats such a great deal," Dez said. "All these people here are gonna sneak in beer, get drunk, and cause trouble in about" she glanced at her wrist watch, "six hours. And well still be on duty."
Jaylynn shook her head, still grinning. "What ever would you do if we had a totally boring night with no calls whatsoever? You should be happy that the Babys Blues Band is in town. Maybe something interesting will happen."
They passed the Pavilion, which sat next to Como Lake. The tall white columns around the front glared white in the slanting sun. The back three sides of the building were open with more columns holding up the dark green roof. On the fourth wall, on the inside, there was a stage with plenty of room for a full orchestra. Many times Jaylynn and her friends had walked over to the Pavilion from her house, which was only half a mile around the lake. Theyd seen local bands, high school orchestras, and dancing extravaganzas. The Pavilion was a wonderful venue to listen and watch at.
They passed the end of the long parking lot and went up the hill and around the corner toward the golf course. Jaylynn smiled mischievously and reached over to put her hand on Dezs knee. She gave it a squeeze causing Dez to jump.
"Hey!" the bigger woman said.
"Hey yourself." She stretched her arm out and smoothed a lock of dark hair off Dezs forehead. "I wish you wouldnt wear those sunglasses. I like to see your eyes."
"Unlike that band, these baby blues are sensitive."
Jaylynns hand traveled down the side of her partners face and came to rest, palm side down on Dezs right shoulder. She massaged the muscular arm, feeling the powerful deltoids and moving down to the biceps and triceps. She sighed. "Just about when you take off the Miss Macho Cop glasses, it gets dark, and then I cant see you anymore anyway. Guess Ill have to settle for the occasional blush to tell me how youre feeling."
"I do not blush," was the low answer.
"Yeah, right." In answer to that, the dark haired cops face began to glow pink, and Jaylynn laughed out loud. "You are way too cute when you blush."
Dez glanced over her left shoulder, hit the gas, and flipped a U-turn at the top of the incline.
Jaylynn grinned. "Youre going to go back and check the permits at the Pavilion."
The blonde sat back in her seat and smiled to herself. It wasnt that Dez was predictable. But she was thorough. Jaylynn could count on that. After riding with Dez as her FTOField Training Officerfor most of the last nine months, the rookie had come to understand her taciturn partner: what she said, what she didnt say, and why she clammed up upon occasion. And after spending every single night together at her house for the past five weeks, she also thought she knew why Dez was growing edgier. Jaylynn glanced over at her partner and nodded to herself. They had been together close to 24 hours a day. Even though the big cop wouldnt admit it, Jaylynn wondered if maybe she needed a break.
They rolled up to the driveway for the Pavilion, and Dez swung into the lot, pulling alongside the refreshment stand. Behind the small aluminum shrouded stand, a swarthy bald man stood. He wore a white canvas apron over blue pants and a white t-shirt. Bending down, he picked up a box from the back of a panel station wagon and slammed the door shut. He puffed on a cigarette, and as he moved closer, Jaylynn saw he carried a packing carton labeled Peanut M&Ms. When he caught sight of the cruiser, he stopped and stared at the two women emerging from the car. Spitting his cigarette out, he ground it into the grass with the heel of a worn brown leather work boot, then set the box on a tall green garbage can under the awning of his stand. Running his hand over a stubble of day old beard, he nervously said, "What seems to be the problem, officers?"
Dez kept silent as Jaylynn stepped forward. "Good evening," the rookie said. "Were just doing rounds and thought wed stop, check things out, make sure everything is squared away. Do you have a permit you can show us?"
"Oh, sure. Yeah, I do." He went around the side of the stand, up three rickety metal stairs, and ducked through an under-sized aluminum screen door. The service window on the side of the stand was quite high. Dez could see over it and into the interior of the snack shack, but as usual, Jaylynns height was a problem. The eight-inch wide Formica counter, which folded out when the window was open, hit her a little above chin level. She glanced up at her partner, benignly jealous of the fact that the dark-haired cop was over six feet tall in her patrol boots. Height had advantages.
The man came out the screen door and moved heavily down the stairs. He handed a piece of paper to Jaylynn, all the while staring respectfully up at Dez, his nearly black eyes anxious. The rookie looked the permit over quickly and handed it back.
"Looks fine," she said. "Were hoping there wont be any trouble. Are you manning this by yourself tonight?"
He nodded. "Every night this week I have been. Monday and Tuesday was some really good music. Theres been a different band playing every evening, and I have a permit to sell snacks here for the whole run."
"You got a phone?"
"Yeah." He looked at her, his face puzzled. "I have a cell phone in the car."
"You may want to keep it nearby and call if there are any problems."
He peered down at Jaylynn, concern on his face. "What kind of problems could there be? Didnt have any on Monday or Tuesday." He looked past them out at the tidy parking lot.
Jaylynn shrugged and smiled. "You never know. I hope things go smoothly, but sometimes its best to be prepared for the worst. You know, a mean drunk, some rowdy kids, whatever. Were on duty until midnight, so call 911 if necessary and Dispatch will send us or another car out if you need anyone."
His hand came up and stroked the whiskers on his chin. "Okay, thanks. I think Ill run out of supplies long before the concert is over. I didnt realize tonight was such a big deal. They say a lot of people will show up."
With a nod, Jaylynn said, "Guess youll have a good take tonight, and tomorrow you can bring even more stock, huh?"
The man nodded.
"See you," the blonde said, then she turned and strode back to the cruiser. The two women got in, and Dez started the engine, but she didnt drive off right away.
Jaylynn said, "You think theres something odd, too, huh?"
"Gut feeling. I have a hunch that its nothing big though."
"Did you get his"
Jaylynn was already typing into the cruiser computer. "Yup. Stephen D. Tivoli." She waited a moment, fingers tapping on the computer, until the information came up. "Tivoli, Stephen Dimitrius. Two convictions, both for theft. He did nine months in Faribault four years back. No recent arrests." Her fingers flew over the keyboard, and she closed out the record.
Dez nodded and hit the gas. Nervous ex-con. Wants to stay on the right side of the law. That made sense to her. Out of the corner of her eye she sneaked a look at Jaylynn who was busily writing in her black notebook. When the rookie looked up, after tucking the notebook away in her breast pocket, Dez quickly averted her eyes to the road.
Since Labor Day weekend, when the two women had consummated their relationship, they had been through five intense and incredible weeks. After many months of missed signals, misunderstandings, and plain old anguish, the veteran cop had finally given in and admitted her feelings for the younger woman. There were so many reasons she should not have expressed those feelings. For one thing, Jaylynn was a new officer, not scheduled to complete her years probation until the end of December, and as her FTO, Dez was technically the rookies supervisor while they were on duty. That was a troublesome issue for the tall cop. It was important to her that Jaylynns probation period not be marked by any accusations of unfairness or favoritism. The fact that they were both women was also problematic. The dark haired veteran had thought she was well in the closet . . . at least she had believed that until Jaylynn explained otherwise. She felt herself begin to blush when she considered the fact that some of her fellow officers even had a betting pool going about whether she was gay or not. She was afraid that when they discovered she and the rookie were an itemwhich she felt could happen any daysome of them would have a field day.
Dez knew full well that more-than-friend relationships between partners were dangerous. They probably shouldnt be on duty together. She knew logically that it could compromise objectivity, and was, therefore, against the rules. She had been meaning to go talk to Lt. Malcolm, to explain everything, but he had been on vacation the whole week after Labor Day, and what with one thing or another, she had not gathered up her courage to go "out" herself to her commanding officer. If she were honest with herself, she actually had no idea how to even broach the subject with him. With a sickening feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach, she admitted to herself that she did need to go talk to him before someone untrustworthy found out and reported them, which could cause an awful lot of trouble. The whole idea worried her to no end.
But the thing that concerned her most had nothing at all to do with the St. Paul Police Department. It had to do with the 135-pound bundle of energy sitting beside her, currently humming tunelessly as she gazed out the windshield into the rapidly darkening evening. In the weeks since Dez first spent the night in Jaylynns arms, neither of them had specifically used the word "love." Theyd both alluded to it, but neither had actually said those three little words beginning with "I" and ending with "you." Dez wanted desperately to do so, but again and again, her courage failed her. She had always thought herself to be strong and braveperhaps even boldbut every time she started to say those three special words, her heart came up into her throat and prevented any conversation at all.
She wanted to kick herself every time it happened.
So she tried to enjoy each day as completely as possible, knowing in her heart that Jaylynn could get tired of her, maybe move on to someone else. The thought of that made her even more sick to her stomach than the thought of talking to the Lieutenant did. She couldnt go back to how she was beforebefore Jaylynn, before the rookie had eased the grief of her previous work partners death, before the rookie had dragged her up out of a hole so deep she hadnt even known there was an escape.
She couldnt bear to think about any of it anymore, and, in an effort to lighten her mood, reached over and turned on the radio. The song playing was the theme from the "Titanic" movie, the beautiful voice plaintively mourning her lost love. Her hand darted out and snapped off the radio.
"Hey," Jaylynn said. "Thats My Heart Will Go On. Its a terrific song."
"So why did you turn it off?"
Dez debatedlie or tell the truth? She opted for the latter. "Its too sad. I justI dont want to hear anything sad right now."
Jaylynn nodded. She turned to the side in her seat, her left shoulder against the seat back and her left knee pulled up so she could face Dez. "Anything you want to talk about?"
Dez shook her head. She took her sunglasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Tucking the glasses in her breast pocket, she scanned the street and sidewalks, acutely aware of the inquisitive hazel eyes upon her. She let herself cast a glance over to Jaylynn, only to find her partner looking at her with concern on her face. She looked away.
"Dez, weve been together non-stop for over five weeks now. Do you need a break?"
Surprised, the dark haired womans head whipped around, and the two womens eyes met. Again, just as it had happened the very first time they met each other and many times since, an electrical current ran between the two, and if she hadnt been driving, Dez would have reached out to touch the blonde. She felt the butterflies lift her stomach out of the pit of dread it had been sitting in for the last half hour. "Nope. I dont need a break. Do you?"
Jaylynn smiled and reached out to touch Dezs cheek with the back of her knuckles. "No, not really, but Sara is off work all day tomorrow, and I want to spend some time with her. I have hardly seen heror Timfor ages."
Dez nodded. She knew that she and the rookie had been spending so much time together at her own apartment or locked up in Jaylynns room that the blonde hadnt seen her two housemates for days on end. "We should have them over for dinner sometime."
Jaylynn chuckled. "Where? Your apartment has two rooms, both rather small, I might add." She poked a finger into Dezs ribs and giggled when the taller woman flinched and gave her a mock-stern look.
"Its three rooms."
"Like the bathroom would count?"
Dez ignored that. "Well just go downstairs and take over Luellas part of the duplex. She wont mind."
"I told Sara I would go to the movies with her tomorrow at noon. Want to come?"
Hesitating, the dark haired cop looked across the dim car and found a pair of shiny, smiling eyes gazing her way. "Nah," she said. "Theres some things I really ought to do for Luella. She hasnt complained yet, but I havent spent any time with her either, and Id like to." She sighed quietly and thought about the lonely day ahead. Maybe she could play her guitar, watch a video, walk around Como Lake. But the thought of sitting home alonewithout Jaylynnactually made a spot behind her rib cage hurt. Geez, she thought to herself, I am in way too deep here. How embarrassing.
Jaylynn reached across the computer gear and over the night light between them and took Dezs hand from the steering wheel. She laced her fingers with her partners. ""We do get to meet up later then, right?"
Dezs breath caught and she fought the urge to smile like a silly fool. "Sure," she said calmly. "Your place or mine?"
"I really dont care. It doesnt mater . . . ." Just then, the dispatchers voice crackled over the radio, and they were off to a call.
Dez lay on her back in Jaylynns bed, one forearm on the sleeping womans thigh, the other over her own eyes. She had lain that way for what seemed like hours as the blonde woman next to her took slow, even breaths.
Turning on her side, away from Jaylynn, Dez opened her eyes and saw a shaft of moonlight shining in through a crack in the blinds covering the casement window. She wondered how many nights this would happen? Was she ever going to start sleeping "normal"? She wasnt sure how much time had passed, but it had been at least an hour. Insomnia was something she was accustomed toused toat home anyway. But here what was she to do? She gritted her teeth, enduring a sudden wave of desperation, and her heartbeat kicked up so that she could feel her pulse all throughout her body. She thought back to when she and Jaylynn started spending the nights together. She figured there had been about a week of comfort and solace...actually maybe less than that. Now that she thought about it, maybe it had only been a few days. Then boom! The insomnia was back, as were the nightmares whenever she did manage to fall to sleep. She could never quite remember the content of the dreams, but she knew full well they were awful. That was probably exactly why she didnt remember them. Already she had awakened Jaylynn two times in the last week because of bad dreams, and it worried her that she might have to admit to the rookie that she had apparently developed a nightmare syndrome that only small children are known to display.
She groaned and turned over, trying to get comfortable, but she knew sleep was not in her near future. Either I can lay here awake, bored to death, orif I finally do fall asleepI can have embarrassing dreams that might wake her up. Isnt there a third alternative?
She sat up, extricating herself from the covers without letting any cold air in on the sleeping rookie, then eased herself down to the foot of the bed. She found her jeans on the couch next to the bed and stepped into them, letting her t-shirt hang loose. Pulling her watch out of her pants pocket, she pressed the Indiglo button and noted that it was 3:39 a.m. Geez. Ive got to get up in five or six hours. Im gonna be tired.
She sat down near the bed on the orange sofa, elbows on her knees, and gazed over at Jaylynn. The young woman lay on her left side, facing out. Usually Dez liked to curl up behind her, put one arm around the solid middle, and breathe in the scent from that short, white-blonde hair. They fit together well, naturally, as though someone had designed the arcs and curves of their bodies to mesh just so. Dez examined the relaxed face, seeing the long blonde eyelashes, the unlined forehead, and the slight smile on Jaylynns lips. She looked like she was having a pleasant dream. Dez shook her head. Her partner slept like a rock, waking after seven or eight hours of sleep with plenty of energy. She envied her.
Barefoot, the dark-haired woman slipped out of Jaylynns room and into the darkened hallway. She turned toward the stairwell and crept down, careful not to make any more noise than the creaking old steps made necessary. She headed into the living room and turned on a lamp, then went to the bookshelf and hunted around until she came up with a sci-fi paperback. Settling into the overstuffed couch, she put her bare feet up on the coffee table and began reading.
Two chapters into the book, she felt fatigue wash over her, but shed been fooled too many times. If she returned to Jaylynns room, got undressed, and crawled into bed, she knew she would snap back to alert, and this whole cycle would start over. Instead, she tucked her legs under her, leaned a shoulder into the arm of the couch, and continued to read. Soon the words in the novel began to run together and the book slipped into her lap. She let her head drop onto the arm of the brown sofa, and sleep overtook her.
The dream began, as it often did. Her chest hurt, and she could hardly breathe. Flashing lightsneon red and blue and whiteswirled all around her. Each time her eyes readjusted, she made out a narrow walkway with a chain-link fence on one side and a black hulk of a building on the other side. But then the lights would start up again, blinding her. She moved slowly down the cracked walkway, trying not to trip. When she looked down, she was alarmed to see her hands covered in blood. She reached into her holster, feeling for her gun, but it wasnt there. The abrupt movement hurt her chest, and for a moment she couldnt breathe for the pain. When she was finally able to draw a breath, she smelled something sour and metallic, something that brought tears to her eyes. For a moment, she thought she might vomit, but she forced the feeling down. I have to go on, she thought. I have to take care of this, once and for all.
With effort, she stepped forward, closer to the flashing lights. Now every time they flashed and shone on her, she felt a warmth bathe her, and suddenly she was sweating, unable to breathe at all. Taking two strong steps down the concrete walk she burst into an open area. Without warning, she fell to her knees, and as she did so, she saw the crumpled blue-clad body before her.
Dez, help me, he croaked out. He lifted his blond head, blue eyes imploring. Kneeling above him, she reached out to touch him, but instead of warm skin, his hands felt cold, like damp bread dough. She shifted back into a squatting position. Her knees stung and ached, and when she looked down, her blue pants were ripped to shreds and the skin below was a mass of rawness, warm blood running freely down her shins. She brought her hand up, her fingers brushing her abdomen until they were stopped by something shiny and hard protruding from her breastbone. With trembling fingers she groped at a metal rod so firmly embedded that she could not pull it out. Her blue eyes met those of the mans below her and she shook her head and heard her own hoarse whisper: No, Ryan. Not you.
He nodded. Yes! Let me, Dez. Let me help you. Please The blues eyes, illuminated briefly in the flashing lights, pleaded, and the thought crossed her mind that she owed him this, owed him something.
She didnt resist when he reached up, grabbed the metal bar, and pulled.
The lights flashed, blinding her again, and the pain ripped through her heart, searing like a white-hot branding iron.
The hand at her chest continued to pull, mercilessly, at the metal shaft, and it hurt so much that her breath came in short sharp wheezes. She screamed again.
Sinking . . . sinking . . . flashing lights receding . . . darkness all around. She fought it, twisting and struggling. Now when she opened her mouth to scream, nothing came out. A brackish taste of bile rose up in her throat and choked her. No, no, no! Ryan, no!
"Dez! Dez! Wake up!"
She awoke, on her knees, her arms crossed over her chest, with her face pressed into firm cloth that smelled musty. Her cheeks were wet with tears, and she was chilled with sweat.
Warm hands patted her shoulder, and she lifted her head to find herself kneeling on the couch cushion, hunched over the arm of the brown sofa. For a long moment, she didnt know where she was or what was wrong, but then the face of Jaylynns roommate, Sara, came into focus from the other side of the couch, the dark brown eyes worried and inquiring. "Are you okay?"
Dez shifted and turned away from the brown-haired woman, kicking her legs out from under her until she felt the soft yarn of the shag carpet under her bare feet and the firm cushion of the couch beneath her butt. Her heart beat hard and loud, the blood still rushing to her ears. Face in hands, she took a deep breath and forced back the tears that were threatening to come.
Sara came around the side of the couch and sat next to Dez. She patted the dark-haired woman on the thigh. "Bad dream, huh?"
Dez shivered and nodded.
"You get em often?"
Slowly, Dez shook her head up and down. As she sat, taking long breaths, her heart rate gradually returned to normal.
"Do you remember what happened in it?"
With the smallest shake of the head, Dez whispered, "No no, I dont think so." She racked her brain to remember the events or flow of what surely had to have been a nightmare, but none of it floated up into consciousness. "Was I talking in my sleep?"
Sara chuckled, a low throaty laugh that sounded like the purr of a zoo leopard. "If you call screaming in high C talking, then yes, you were talking in your sleep."
Dez felt the blood in her face drain away, and she shivered with cold. "Youre kidding me, right?"
Sara rose and walked over to the piano, her tan flannel pajamas baggy on her. She flipped open the cover, and softly tapped a high C. She waited a moment, letting the sound ring, then touched one note lower. "Nope, I was wrong. It was a B-flat, not a C."
"Are you teasing me or what?"
Sara closed the cover and turned, leaning back against the upright piano. She crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head, all the while giving a pleasant smile. "Im a music major, and Ive got pretty good relative pitch. So, hey, I was off a little bit. You screamed twice before I could get down here. And when I tried to wake you, you kept saying No. No, Ryan."
Oh shit. Must have been a really bad dream. "I cant remember any of that, but if you say so." She looked down at her hands, then yawned. "Dont tell Jaylynn, okay?"
Sara strode over and sat on the sofa again, this time tucking herself into the corner on the opposite end with her bare feet under her, the tan pajama pants stretched tight over her knees. "Why?"
Dez was at a loss for words. Why didnt she want her lover to know? The answer seemed simple enough: she was embarrassed. It felt like a major weakness to have bad dreams, somehow childish and vulnerable, like a little kid whining for her mama. But Sara didnt need to know that . . . and neither did Jaylynn. "Im sorry I woke you, Sara."
"You didnt wake me at all. Startle me, yes, but wake me? No way. Ive got my own nightmares to deal with."
Dez frowned and looked askance out of the corner of her eye. Her blue eyes met the deep brown eyes of Jaylynns best friend, and she found the other woman smiling ever so slightly. "What do you mean?"
Sara took a deep breath and sighed. "I used to sleep like a baby, like a log, like the dead, like there was no tomorrow. You name the cliché, and I slept that way. And then last year happened."
Dez nodded slowly. She had never talked much to the brown-eyed woman about the night she had first met herand Jaylynna night a year earlier when the big cop was on Third Watch and two men intent on rape and robbery had broken into this very house. Dez had been foolhardy, but timely, when she broke into the house alone without backup. She crawled in through the same downstairs dining room window by which the assailants had entered, crept upstairs, and burst in upon the scene. She subdued the two men, and got her arm broken in the process. But she had prevented the assault and collared two serial rapists who had since been convicted of 18 robberies and six rapes. Sara had watched the entire ordeal from a position half under one of the beds, her hands, feet, and mouth bound by duct tape.
Dez remembered that night as a turning point in her life, for that was when she first laid eyes on the blonde spitfire who was asleep right now in what used to be Saras room. After the attack, Sara had not wanted to sleep in there anymore, and she had exchanged rooms with Jaylynn.
Dez cleared her throat. "Will you feel better when Bill comes home? Its only a few weeks, right?"
Sara nodded. "I think Ill feel better, but I dont know how long it will be until I get back to normal, if you know what I mean."
"Did counseling help?"
"Yeah, its helping a lot. Im still going two or three times a month."
Dez was surprised. It was bad enough when she had to go see the department shrink half a dozen times after Ryan died. Then she herself had taken a bullet in her protective vest, and Jaylynn had shot their assailant. The Lieutenant forced each of them to go see Dr. Raina Goldman again, and Jaylynn was still seeing Goldman for counseling. It occurred to Dez that the last year or so had been hell on her. Still, she hated counselingall that digging around in her psychological process. She preferred to keep her private life and thoughts just that: private. "You couldnt pay me to do that two or three times a month, Sara."
The younger woman grinned and shook her head. "If you were in enough pain, you would."
Dez shrugged, thinking to herself that she would never be in so much pain that shed attend counseling of her own volition. She didnt share those thoughts with Sara, saying instead, "Well, Id better go hit the hay before Jay wakes up and finds me missing. Shes the lucky one, sleeps like a log all the time."
Sara gave the tall woman a funny look. "Jay has her moments, too, though not since you came along."
"What do you mean?"
Sara started to say something, then hesitated, and Dez waited, biting back her curiosity. The brown-eyed woman cleared her throat. "Lets just say that everyone has their own personal terrors, and we all have nightmares every once in a while."
"Not Jaylynn. Lucky little cuss gets her forty winks and most of mine, too."
Sara nodded, still smiling quizzically at the dark-haired woman. "Good night, Dez. Hope you get at least a few good hours of shut eye."
Dez awakened, curled up around Jaylynn, and fully aware that she had not had enough sleep. She tried to close her eyes and slip back into unconsciousness, but despite the peach-colored blinds covering the two casement windows, the bright sun streamed through cracks. For a couple of minutes she examined the three Monet prints hanging on the wall across the room, but soon enough she grew tired of the fuzzy flowers and muted brush. She raised her head and peered over her slumbering partners shoulder to see the bedside clock. 7:50. Too damn early. She couldnt prevent the sigh that escaped her, and at that, the body next to her shivered and turned over.
"Geez, Dez. First you toss and turn all night long. Then you throw the blankets off every chance you get. And now, after whattwo total hours of sleep?you wake up ready to go run ten miles." The blonde let out a big yawn and stretched her arms above her head. Casting tired eyes upon Dez, in a grumpy voice she said, "Its like sleeping with a gymnast. Next thing you know, well have to hang rings above the bed."
Dez smiled through her fatigue and reached over to wrap her arms around the solid mid-section. She kicked her feet out from under the covers and felt cooler air where her feet protruded past the mattress and off the end of the bed. Warm arms stroked her back as she nuzzled her face into the soft cotton t-shirt Jaylynn wore. In a muffled voice, she said, "I dont know how you could complain about being cold. Its like an oven in here."
Jaylynn smoothed the dark hair off Dezs forehead and planted a kiss there. "You, honey, are the oven. Me and the rest of this room are perfectly comfortable."
Dez closed her eyes and relaxed into the smaller woman, a little smile twitching at her lips. Jaylynn was funny when she woke up in the morning, usually cranky for a few minutes, then wonderfully warm and sensual. She stroked the soft skin on the blondes thigh and felt her shiver, then tense up the muscle. Dez prodded at the quadriceps and said, "Not bad for such a little slip of a thing."
Jaylynn pushed Dez away and tossed the covers aside. Pointing at her legs, she said, "Whaddya mean? Look at those muscles."
"Yeah, you got muscles all right." The bigger woman poked at the tight mid-section, reducing Jaylynn to shrieks.
"Stop, stop! Stop or Ill"
"Youll what?" Dez growled.
Jaylynn twisted away and off the bed, landing on her feet. She dove right back onto the bed, landing on the dark haired woman with an oomph sound and knocking the tall woman onto her back. Arms encircled the blonde as she nuzzled into the pale white neck below her. "Ill give you a hickey every other officer on the squad will ask aboutthats what Ill do!"
Dez laughed out loud. "Go ahead. Ill just wear a turtleneck."
Poised above her, Jaylynn grinned, looking down into the striking blue eyes. "Its Indian Summer and supposed to be 75 today. Youll roast your butt off, and Ill be laughing the whole shift."
"Is that right?" Dez challenged. She brought a callused hand up to the face peering down at her and cupped the pinkened cheek, then let her hand slip around the back of the blonde head to pull it down to rest in the hollow under her chin. She closed her eyes and enfolded the toasty figure in her arms, noticing how she and Jaylynn adjusted slightly and settled into the curves and contours of one anothers bodies until they fit together like entwined vines. Warm and drowsy and relaxed, a soft sigh escaped. It occurred to her that now would be a good time to tell the younger woman that she loved her, that she wanted to spend the rest of her life waking up together like this. And she almost did it, too, but then, before she could form the words, a vision began to take shape in her mind, a vision of darkness and blood and flashing lights. In the bloody scene, the comforting body she held so tightly was wrested away from her, pulled screaming. The blonde shouted for her but she whirled away, receding as though she were falling down a pit into a fiery furnace. Dez stiffened and gasped, unable to breathe for a moment.
"Dez? Whats the matter?"
The dark-haired woman opened her eyes, confused, and found concerned hazel green eyes inches from her own.
"Uh, nothing. Lets get up."
The rookie shifted back, still studying the blue eyes before her as Dez moved away. The tall woman swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat for a moment with a hand on either side of her hips, clutching the edge of the bed.
Jaylynn scooted over, grabbed hold of a broad shoulder, and brought herself up on her knees to lean into the bigger woman and peer over her left shoulder. Dez was frowning. Jaylynn hesitated, bit her tongue, and held back what she really wanted to say. Instead, she asked, "What are you going to do today?"
Dez paused a moment, then took a deep breath. "Go home, I guess. Theres some things Id like to do for Luella. I should get out the mower and mulch up that yard full of leaves."
"Okay." Jaylynn detached herself from the broad back and slid a leg past the seated woman, using Dezs shoulder to hoist herself up off the bed and to stand on the edge of the cinnamon brown oval rug. "You want to shower first or me?"
"You go ahead," Dez said. She picked up her jeans from the arm of the sofa and stood to slip them on. "Think Ill just head home and do my chores, then shower there."
Jaylynn stood, uncertainly, as Dez slipped on her tennis shoes and picked up a few items from around the room, then turned, finally, to let blue eyes rest on her. The rookie didnt know what was wrong, but she decided not to press it. If there was one thing she had discovered about Dez, it was that she revealed things in her own sweet timeand not a moment earlier. She looked up into troubled blue eyes, then impulsively took two steps forward, wrapped her arms around Dezs waist, and buried her face in the light blue t-shirt. She felt arms enfold her tightly, and the message she feltintuited, reallyfrom the body before her was that whatever was troubling Dez wasnt about her.
She tipped her head back and looked up at the tired face. "See you at work, sweetie."
Dez leaned down and placed a soft kiss on the blondes forehead. She paused for a moment, as though considering what to say, then thinking the better of it. "Yeahand just for the record, Im no sweetie."
Jaylynn broke out in a grin. "Hmmm. Just for the record, you are, but I wont tell if you dont."
Dez rolled her eyes and swatted Jaylynn lightly on the butt, then stepped away and turned to open the door. With one backward glance, she pulled the door shut and disappeared, leaving the rookie to stare after her and wonder. She reminded herself that her partner was moodyand a very private person. Other people would have used the terms cranky and secretive, but Jaylynn had seen sides of the tall woman to which others were not privy. She wanted to think that perhaps Dez was just over-tired ...but no, that wasnt it. There was something more troubling her.
She turned toward the rumpled bed and straightened up the sheet and blanket trailing on the floor. Outside she heard the rumble of Dezs big Ford F-150 and she stepped to the window, pulled up a slat to the blinds, and watched the cranberry red truck back out from the gravel parking strip behind the house and drive away. It was probably better to have some time apart, giving them both a chance to take care of mundane details. For instance, she looked around the large room they spent so much time in. The couch was heaped with a stack of unfolded clean clothes as well as her backpack, a duffel bag with dirty clothes from work, and other odds and ends. Her closet door was open, and the small, walk-in room was stacked with bags and cartons and disorganized shoeboxes. There were shoes in jumbles all over the floor, and several items had fallen off the hangers onto them. Next to the closet door sat a huge bookshelf overflowing with books. With a little bit of stacking and sorting, she could get rid of some of the books and put the rest in order, and she figured that would only take about fifteen minutes.
Her desk, at the other end of the room next to the door, was another matter. In the last three weeks she had stacked bills, papers, and magazines there, and now there was so much junk in sight that she couldnt work at the desk or on her computer if she had wanted to.
She let out a big breath of air and grabbed a pair of shorts off the pile of clothes on the couch. Slipping on the shorts, she looked at the bedside clock. She had a little over three hours before she and Sara were planning to leave to go to a noon movie. To make roll call on time, she needed to eat, tidy up her room, and get her uniform and lunchand vacuum. Vacuuming was a must, she decided, upon seeing a dust bunny peeking out from under her desk chair. Like a whirlwind, she began working.
Dez dragged the lawn mower into the garage behind the house where she rented. The neat, two-story stucco house was divided into the main floor apartment, where her landlady, Luella Williams, lived, and a small apartment in the eaves, which Dez had rented from Luella since she left college nearly a decade earlier and joined the St. Paul Police Force. She brushed dirt and grass off the knees of her jeans, then locked the garage and came up four cement stairs to the walkway that led to the back of the duplex. Surveying the lawn, she thought it looked fine, though she wanted to take the weed whacker to some spots along the back fence one last time before winter hit.
Despite the stiff October breeze, she was overly warm and perspiring. She wiped her forehead on the sleeve of her t-shirt and went to the back door. Peeping out the back window was the cheery face of her landlady and friend. With dismay, Dez noted that the window was covered with splotches and badly needed a washing. Then the door pushed open and Luella was gesturing her inside.
Dez and Luella were about as opposite as two women could be. Luella stood a head shorter, and her dark mahogany skin was a total contrast to the stark white of her tenants face and arms. The tall womans hair was as black as her landladys was silver, and where Dez was long and lean, Luella was soft and full-bodied. They bore a mutual respect and caring for one another, and in the absence of her mother, Luella had served well as confidante, nurturer, and friend. She and Luella had worked out an arrangement perfect for both of them. Dez kept up the house, yard, and lawn, fixed anything mechanical that she could, and helped with heavy spring cleaning. In return, the older woman did her tenants wash and ironed her uniforms, tried to get the tall woman to eat "normal" peoples food, and generally enjoyed her young friends company, despite their age difference.
Now the older woman wore a bemused smile along with a purple and pink flowered housedress and clunky white Nike tennis shoes. She pulled the sweating woman through the door. "Good lord, Dez. You wouldnt get so overwrought if youd mow the lawn like a normal person. Theres no need to run behind the mower!"
Dez grinned. Theyd had this conversation a million times. "Why waste time? Its self-propelled, so why not put it on high and let er rip?"
"Youre all in a latherlike a horse. Go take a shower, and get back down here lickety-split. I have some roast chicken for youand dont worry. I baked the potatoes, even though I really wanted homemade French fries."
Dez strode over to the closet next to the door to Luellas apartment. She opened it and rummaged around on the top shelf until she came up with a bottle of Windex. "You have some paper towels?"
"Sure. Why?" She stepped past the tall woman and disappeared into the hallway leading to her kitchen while Dez waited near the closet door.
When Luella returned with half a roll of Viva paper towels, Dez opened the back door, sprayed down the window inside and outside, set the Windex on the floor, and wiped the glass clean. "There. Thats been buggin me." She shut the door and looked out to see a thin, weak sun trying to fight through a huge bank of fluffy white clouds.
"Thanks for doing that. Here give me those, and you scoot up to your place for a well-deserved bath. Thirty minutes, missy, and lunch will be on the table." The silver-haired woman tucked the paper towels under one arm, and swatted Dez on the behind as she turned to go. Luella shook her head and smiled. Work ethic wasnt something Desiree Reilly lacked, that was for sure. She hadnt seen the younger woman for days, and now when she comes home, she spends the first three hours racing around the yard clearing sticks, planting two new shrubs by the front door, raking leaves and pine cones, and mowing.
Bending over with some difficulty, Luella snagged the bottle of window cleaner and took it over to the closet to stow it on the top shelf, which she could just barely reach. She wasnt sure why they were keeping window cleaner therealong with a variety of other cans and bottles and cleaning supplies. Oh well. She had everything she needed under the sink in her own kitchen, so if Dez wanted to store extra stuff there, she didnt care. Besides, it wasnt like she could even see the top shelf.
She shut the closet door and stood for a moment admiring the creamy yellow color of the back entryway. Dez and Jaylynn had painted it for her during the summer, and she was still glad theyd done it. Until it was finished, she hadnt realized how awful the previous drab light gray color had been. She liked bright colors and sunlight, something of which her quiet tenant was well aware. With a smile on her face, she meandered back into her kitchen to take in the aroma of the baking chicken and to peel carrots to go with the meal.
Dez twisted her long hair into a knot on top of her head and sank down into the tub. She turned on the whirlpool jets and closed her eyes, feeling bone-weary through and through. Some of it was lack of sleep, she realized, but that didnt explain the anxiety and worries that kept creeping into her thoughts. From Labor Day onward, up until just a few days ago, she had thought she was sleeping a little better. What is the problem now? Im happy. My job is going well. Im crazy about Jaylynn. So why thisand why now?
Bending her knees, she slipped lower into the tub until her face and the top of her head were just a couple inches above the water line. She took deep breaths and tried to think happy thoughts.
Shed chased gun-toting criminals, even been shot by one. Over the last decade, shed watched three men die in different gunfights, including her best friend and work partner, Ryan Michaelson. Every year, she found at least one dead body in the course of her job. Fires, shootings, beatings, car crashes, stabbings, explosionsyou name it, shed seen it. It wasnt that she liked violence. Most of the time, it made her feel slightly sick to her stomach. But she was used to it. It was commonplace for her to see the worst behavior people could performand its resultssometimes more than once in a shift. For over nine years she had weathered every brutal and destructive thing she had encountered. Now she found herself wondering if there was only so much a human being could see and experience before it became too much, and it overflowed, like a cesspool.
She thought then about the fact that she was lucky she didnt live and work in a big city like Chicago or L.A. or New York. St. Paul was tame by those standards. But there was a lot of ugliness and pain, not to mention stupidity and meanness out on those streets. And yet, when she considered working her shift, which was scheduled to begin in less than three hours, she was not averse to putting on her uniform and getting in the car. Every time she heard a siren or saw an emergency vehicle racing to the scene, she got a lump in her throatsometimes she even felt tears in her eyes. Her job still held meaning. It still mattered a great deal to her.
So why the unease? She hated to admit it, but maybe it was PMS. Then again, it wasnt exactly the right time for that to strike. Maybe it was just the fatigue.
But why couldnt she sleep? Its not like she wasnt wearing herself out. Okay, what if its personalall about my relationships. Correction: relationship, singular, sinceunless she counted Luellashe didnt seem to have many. Well, she had friends on the force. Crystal, Cowboy, Oster. But that wasnt the same as really close friends and family. She was getting to know Jaylynns roommates, Sara and Tim, plus Tims lover, Kevin. But the truth was shed never had a lover stick by her for more than a couple months, and she didnt have a relationship worth counting with either her mother or her brother. She wasnt even sure why Jaylynn was so smitten with her. So maybe thats it. Im insecure. Geez, yet another embarrassing thing to worry about.
She turned the jets off and let the water settle around her. It was still quite warm, but not nearly as hot as it had been when shed gotten in ten minutes earlier. She sat for a few moments longer, stretching out her arms, rolling her head to ease the tension in her neck, then pulled the plug and listened to the glugging sound as the water drained. When it reached waist level, the cool air on her back made her shiver. She put a hand on either side of the tub and rose, reached for a maroon towel, and dried herself off from top to bottom, stepping out onto the mat, then drying off her still-damp feet. She got out a hairdryer and spent a few minutes running it on low over the damp spots in her long hair, then worked the long mane into a tight French braid.
She didnt know what to do about her insecurity. Maybe she needed to give herself time to adjust. Time to trust. There was no reason not to trust Jaylynn. Something in her head screamed Relax! Enjoy your partner! Unfortunately, something else inside her was screaming dire warnings. Now was the time she wished she had a mother she could talk to.
She put away the dryer, tossed her towel in the hamper, and strode, nude, across the living room to the side of the room where clean clothes waited on her queen-sized bed. She dressed in black jeans, a purple Vikings t-shirt, and a pair of black tennis shoes. Maybe she would talk to Luella about these feelings, these worries. She put on her watch and looked at it, calculating in her head as she headed down the stairs to dinner. If she spent an hour with Luella, shed still have time to try to nap before shift started.
It was full dark and breezy, the air thick and warm. Even Jaylynn, dressed in her full uniform and bulletproof vest, was warm as they stood on the sidewalk on University Avenue. She leaned on a parking meter next to Dez as the taller woman spoke to an angry man in a shabby blue polyester suit. He kept puffing on a cigarette, pointing with his other hand at his electronics store that had a sign on it: "Huge Sale! Truckloads of Bargains." Jaylynn looked in the store, and she didnt see anything remotely approaching truckloads. Maybe he means wheelbarrow loads, she thought to herself, then bit back a smile. The shopkeeper was complaining bitterly that vandals spray-painted swear words on his back windows in the alley behind his store.
The big cop sighed. "Do you want to make a report?"
"What I want is for you people to do your jobs! This is the second time in two years that somebody has done this shit to my store. Im tired of it. I pay good moneylots of taxesand what do I get? Nothing!" His angry eyes scanned the shop, passed over the cops, and watched the passing traffic. He didnt look either of them in the eye, except when he paused to take a drag from his cigarette.
Jaylynn gazed up at Dez, saw dark circles under her eyes, and thought about how tired the dark-haired woman looked. She also noted that Dez didnt rise to the bait even though the shopkeeper kept hissing complaints in his venomous voice.
"Do you want to make a report?" Dez repeated.
Shaking his head in disgust, he dropped the cigarette and ground it into the sidewalk with a well-worn heel. "What the hell good would it do!" He tossed his hands up in the air and turned to go back into his store.
Dez pressed her lips together, then shook her head. With a weary sigh she returned to the squad car, followed by Jaylynn. They both got in, with Jaylynn driving. She started up the car, but before she pulled away from the curb, she reached over and touched Dezs warm forearm with the flat of her hand. "You feeling all right?"
"Im just tired."
"Tired or not, you sure are warm. You got a fever?"
"Nah. Im fine."
Jaylynn put her hands on the steering wheel, shifted into drive, and hit the gas. She was already wearing her long sleeved blue uniform shirts with turtlenecks underneath. Not Dez. The blonde figured it would have to snow before her partner started wearing long sleeves.
She cruised University all the way to Lexington, then went north along the darkened streets, slowing to visually check out the convenience store on Front Street. All was quiet, so she drove on until she came to the Como Park Pavilion. It was after eleven p.m., and the parking lot contained only two cars and the tan panel station wagon. The light was still on in the concession stand.
"Wonder how our good friend Tivoli is," the dark haired woman said. "Swing in and see, why dont you?"
Jaylynn steered around the giant fountain and over toward the refreshment stand. When the car lights hit the shiny aluminum, a head popped up over the ledge where customers were usually served. The rookie wheeled the car to the left until it was parallel to the stand. Dez rolled down her window.
"Evening, officers. Everything okay?"
"We were just going to ask you the same thing."
"Yes," he said. "Just shutting down for the night."
Dez nodded. "See ya, then."
He waved and disappeared from the window. Jaylynn motored around the parking lot while Dez, from her passenger seat, scanned the area and checked parked cars from the distance.
"Which band was it tonight?" the blonde said.
"Saturday, I know, is Hydraulic Woman. If we werent on duty, Id definitely be going to see them."
"Never heard of em"
"Theyre a really good local band. Sara bought the CD recently, and Ive heard it a few times. Youd probably like it."
"That the one with the girl with the husky blues voice?"
"Yeah, she sings Late At Night and that one about shooting the guy down. Being in law enforcement, I know I shouldnt laugh at that one, but its kind of funny."
Dez nodded. "Ive heard it around your house. Didnt know who she was."
Jaylynn reached the lot exit and put on her turn signal to turn right. "Maybe well have to stop by here and check things out tomorrowfor about half an hour, kay?" She gave Dez a bright, hopeful smile.
All was quiet for another few minutes, but just before shift ended, they were dispatched to a late callan assault in progressat a bar on Dale Street near Larpenteur. The Hole In The Wall was just that, in addition to being dirty, dank, and drafty. Before they got there, the patrons with cars had split leaving only a couple of old geezers who lived in the neighborhood and the three men whod been fighting, all of whom were so drunk as to be incoherent.
Jaylynn took charge of the scene while Dez watched. Technically, the rookie was still in training, and as her FTO, Dez was supposed to stand back and let her handle calls like this. Usually the tall officer was impatient, but tonight she felt so tired that she didnt mind standing aside and watching as Jaylynn rounded up statements, talked to the bartender, and briefed the paramedics who came to take the bleeding drunks to the hospital, then probably to Detox.
The rookie finished up, and Dez followed her out to the car. The ambulance was a speck in the distance when another cop car pulled up behind them, lights flashing. The doors opened and Officers Alvarez and Nielsen emerged.
Both men were of similar builds: six-three, broad-shouldered, slim-hipped. The similarities ended there. Arturo Alvarez was dark-complected; Dwayne Neilsen was blond with a rugged face and dirty blond hair. Alvarez, a fifteen year veteran, had spent exactly the same amount of time serving as Neilsens FTO as Dez had with Jaylynn, and Dez didnt envy him the task. She considered Alvarez excellent backup, but not his rookie partner. Neilsen, who had been in the Academy with Jaylynn, was immature, hot-headed, and far too prone to pull his weapon. Rather than inspiring confidence at their calls, he tended to cause anger and dissension, or, as Dez put it, he just plain pissed people off.
The two men ambled over. Alvarez smoothed back jet black hair and jammed his police cap on. Dez had always liked the handsome Latino, and she had learned a lot about writing FTO reports from him. "Hey, Reilly," he said. "Guess we missed all the fun."
She shook her head slowly. "All the fun was over when Savage and I got here."
"Well, thats lucky," Neilsen said, as he sneered toward Jaylynn. "Wouldnt want the little princess to dirty up her hands."
Dezs eyes narrowed, but she didnt say anything. Alvarez looked at her and rolled his eyes. "Been a good night, Reilly." He looked at his watch. "Twelve minutes and we all get home safe. And thats all that counts. Night you two. Cmon, Nielsen," he said impatiently. He nodded Jaylynns way, then turned on his heel.
Dez opened the door to their squad car. In the distance she heard Alvarez saying, "For cripes sake, Neilsen. Why you gotta be such an ass all the time." This made her feel better. At least Alvarez was trying to do his job to civilize the kid. She wondered how he could stand it night in and night out. Last winter when shed caught Neilsen behind the station threatening to rough up Jaylynn, she had mentally axed him from the roster of effective and capable cops. She didnt think she would ever trust him to watch her back. No way.
Jaylynn started the car and let out a little growl. Dez looked over to see her partner was fuming. "Dont let that loser get to you, Jay. Hes a punk."
"I just wish, for once, that hed let up. Youd think hed have enough riff raff out on the street to focus on, instead of his fellow officers."
"Guys like thattheyre throwbacks to the Stone Age. Probably watched Dirty Harry a few too many times as a kid."
Jaylynn laughed out loud. She shifted into gear and did a U-turn in the middle of the street. "Thought Id meander back towards the precinct. You comin over tonight?"
"We leaving right after we sign out or"
"Nah, lets work out."
"Thought you were wiped."
"Yeah I am, but I need to lift a little. Its been three days."
"I can just finally say that Im not sore, Dez."
"Perfect, then." She smiled toward her partner. "Well get you aching again in short order."
Dez lay in that half-awake, half-asleep state where the mind wanders through green hills and floats on blue water in a comforting, hazy sort of wayeven while some logical little voice marvels that it is still awake. She lay curled up next to a lightly wheezing Jaylynn, feeling the silken softness of the young woman against her bare body. Her legs were leaden and fatigued from the hard weight workout, and she felt like a giant lump of putty. She slipped deeper into a dream where she stood at the prow of a heavy wooden boat, wind in her hair, with a far-off sound of gulls making a high-pitched squealing noise.
She jerked awake when the body next to her sat up abruptly.
"Dez? Do you hear that? Theres something in here with us."
Dez yawned, reached up a long arm, and ran her hand down Jaylynns smooth bare back. "Lay back down. You just had a bad dream. Relax and go back to sleep."
"No! Im not dreaming. Listen do you hear that?"
Dez paused and let her ears strain. Outside she heard a rumble from a distant car engine, but that faded leaving only silence. "Jay, theres nothing." She found herself feeling grumpy. She had actually been sleeping, for the first time in what seemed like days, and now the blonde had ruined it. "Lay down. Shh.... Its all right."
"YOU HEAR THAT?" Jaylynn hissed.
"Thats just the house settling. Its"
"NO! There it is again!"
Dez heard a ticker-ticker-ticker sound, then the sound of crumpling plastic. She was out of bed in an instant and to the light switch by the door. She flicked it on and stepped back frowning. Hanging from the doorknob was a plastic sack from the Target store. Empty now, it had earlier contained a t-shirt, socks, and a CD Jaylynn had bought. The tall woman bent and peered closely.
Jaylynn huddled under the sheet in the bed. "What is it, Dez? Do you see something?"
"Hmm . . . well, you better get up and come look at this."
"No. What is it? Just tell me."
"Well . . . I think you should come look."
The blonde slipped out of bed and sidled over next to Dez. "Ohmygodwhatthehellisthat?"
Dez picked up a t-shirt that lay over the back of the computer chair and advanced toward the bag. "That, my dear, is a bat."
"Oh, ick! What are you going toDez!" She backed up as the tall woman whipped the shirt against the bag, wrapping it around the bag and hastily spinning it in her hands.
"Ill take it out and let it go in the backyard."
Jaylynn nodded. "Oh, thatll be fun."
Dez gave her an odd look. "What do you mean?"
"Kevin and Tim are downstairs watching videos, and youwell, Dez, in case you havent noticed, youre buck naked." She started laughing.
Dez glared at her, then jumped as the plastic bag rattled and the shirt shifted in her hands. They both froze when they heard a thin, high-pitched squeal, and Jaylynn backed up toward the bed.
The dark-haired woman raised an eyebrow and tilted her head a little. "You gonna chicken out on me now?"
"Who me? Never!" Jaylynn said in an exaggerated fashion.
With a toss of her head, Dez said, "Well, then, you wanna slip my sweats on?" Torn between amusement and fear, Jaylynn hovered at the edge of the bed. "Cmon Jay!"
"Certainly, Miss Lady Godiva. You can just let your hair hang down over your lovely breasts." She grabbed up some blue sweatpants that had been lying on the couch.
"Oh please! Toss somethinga towel, whateverover me, and Ill take a shirt to put on once I let this thing go." She lifted each leg in turn so that her partner could slip the sweats on. "Hurry up. The bat is getting restless." With a sly tone in her voice, she said, "Or maybe youd like me to set it down to get dressed?"
"No, no, no! Justjusthere, Ill give you the sheet." In haste, Jaylynn pulled the top sheet off the bed and quickly wrapped Dez up in it. "Go. Do your duty to god and your country. Free at last. Let Count Chocula free!"
Dez rolled her eyes and held back a laugh. Jaylynn opened the door and the dark-haired woman hustled down the stairs, through the living room, and to the kitchens back door, which she opened with difficulty, juggling the twitching bundle in her hands. As soon as she got the door and screen open, she pitched the entire handful right out the door and quickly slammed it shut, unable to suppress a shudder. She wasnt any fonder of bats than Jaylynn, but she wasnt going to give that little bit of information away. She headed out of the kitchen, glad that was over with.
Jaylynn had been right. Tim and Kevin sat on the couch, and a video was running, but neither of them was watching. Kevin had his arm around the red-haired man who was leaning quite comfortably on the blond mans shoulder. Neither of them had stirred when Dez first moved past nor when she returned and mounted the stairs. She figured she could have roller-skated by, and the two of them wouldnt have wakened.
Halfway up the stairs she heard excited whispers and realized that Sara and Jaylynn were talking. She pulled the sheet around her waist and shoulders, feeling overly warm but grateful not to have to enter nude. Jaylynn was wrapped up in her emerald colored terry cloth robe. The brown-haired woman sat next to Jaylynn on the couch, wearing tan and white pinstriped flannel pajama bottoms and top. They both burst into cackles when Dez came into the room.
She stopped. "What?"
Sara pointed at her legs. "Your sweats are on inside out."
The tall woman looked down and could see the pockets hanging down. She fingered a tag on the waistband. "Backwards, too. You can blame that on your best friend there." She pointed at Jaylynn.
"You dressed me," Dez said, a mocking tone in her voice.
Dez shook her head, then moved over to the bed. With her back to the two women, she unwrapped herself from the sheet, shook it out, then tucked it back in at the foot of the bed. Without looking back at the two giggling women, she slipped under the sheet and pulled it up over her bare upper torso. Under the covers, she slipped the sweat bottoms off and wormed a hand out from under the sheet to drop them next to the bed. She turned on her side to see Sara grinning at her from the couch and waving her hand over her head.
"Uh, Dez, what are you doing?"
The tall woman glanced back and forth between the two grinning fools in front of her. She had no idea what Sara meant, so she opted for the safest response to any questionanother question. "What does it look like?"
"You and Jay are going to sleep in here?"
Dez wanted to say, No, Jaylynn will probably sleep, and lucky me will be awake the rest of the night, so dont worry, Ill be keeping watch. Instead, she replied, "Yeah. Why?"
"I think maybe we ought to all go to a hotel or something."
Dez frowned. "And that would accomplish what?"
In an excited voice Jaylynn said, "Dont they travel in packsor drovesor swarms? You know what I mean?"
"Jay, it was one little bat. It probably flew in the door and got trapped in here."
"But what if there are more waiting til we turn the lights out to attack?"
Dez let her eyes scan the room. "I doubt it. You see any other little fiends swooping around?"
Sara tucked her feet under her and angled herself back in the corner of the couch, her arms crossed over her chest. "I think I still want to vote for the hotel. They have room service and everything."
Dez turned on her side. "Now theres something we all really need at two a.m. Listen, you two have bats in your belfries. You want to stay at a hotel the rest of your lives?"
"Easy for you to say," Sara said. "Tim and Kevin are downstairs, so theyve got each other "
"And a fat lot of protection theyve been," Dez grumbled.
" and you two have each other," Sara went on. "Im stuck in my little room all alone, a ready victim for any dive-bombing vampire bat."
Dez sighed. "You look perfectly comfortable there on that couch, which, I seem to remember, is your couch anyway, so why dont you just stay in here?"
The two women turned to one another, and Jaylynn held a hand out which Sara slapped. The blonde said, "See. Told ya so."
"Yeah, yeah," Sara answered. "Youre always right about her."
Dez had the distinct feeling that she had been conned, but really, she didnt care if Sara stayed in their room. She just hoped daylight came soon because if she didnt miss her guess, she wouldnt be sleeping any more for the rest of the night.
Jaylynn found herself waking every hour or so for the rest of the night remembering wisps of bad dreams where aliens with shiny teeth, dripping blood, and decayed flesh chased her. To battle the scary dreams, she did what she had been doing ever since her psychologist aunt taught it to her when she was a kid: she conjured up a hero, a broad-shouldered, fierce, resourceful protector dressed in black leather. Her hero rode a lightning fast silver motorcycle, and under her helmet, she had long beautiful black hair. She carried so many space guns and knives and martial arts weapons that Jaylynn had no fear of the monsters.
Through her teen years and into her twenties, Jaylynn had mastered her nightmares with this fantasy woman, but it still came as a huge surprise the year before, on a sweltering August night, when a real life hero in the form of Dez Reilly burst into this very room and saved the day. Two serial rapists had broken in and duct taped Sara, intent on raping her, when Jaylynn arrived home and walked in on them. She was very grateful that eighbors heard their screams and called the police. Jaylynn still rememberd how burst into the room, subdued the attackers, and gotten her arm broken in the process.
The blonde could easily conjure up her sense of wonder at seeing Dez in action. She remembered the entire episode, almost in slow motion, as though the dark haired cop was some sort of super-human dynamo. The awe she felt laterand still felt at timeswas that this hero, this childhood construct, came to life just when she needed her that one night, and even stranger, had stayed on in her life. How could she explain how mind-boggling it was? She hadnt even mentioned it to Dez yet, fearing that somehow, the tall cop would think she was a little bit wacky.
She turned over and snuggled up next to the warm form next to her. No one had ever made her feel as safe, as cared for, as Dez did. Her mind, her gut, her intuitionall told her this was a forever thing. Soon she would find a way to share the depth of her feelings with Dez, but for now, she was happy to just revel in the comfort of having her near. She curled up close and drifted off to sleep.
"Sure gets dark sooner now." Jaylynn was driving the squad car again. She glanced over at her partner who still wore her reflective sunglasses despite the fact that the sun had dipped below the horizon and the day was quickly moving from dusk to dark. "You want to stop for something to eat?"
"Nah. Im not that hungry." Dez took off her sunglasses and tucked them in her pocket, then rubbed her eyes. The rookie knew Dez hated riding shotgun. The passenger side of the car was far too cramped for her liking, but Jaylynn needed the driving experience, and besides, for field training, Dez really was just along for the ride. They rode in silence for quite some time. Soon, the light disappeared, and streetlights started popping on all over.
Over the next hour, Jaylynn completed a circuit of their sector, and all was quiet. She peered at her watch in the dim light of the car. "What do you say we take a quick break and head over to the Pavilion to check out the band? I think Hydraulic Woman went on at seven, so they should be jamming for a while."
No sooner had Jaylynn headed down Lexington Avenue than dispatch came on with the report of a shooting near Como Lake.
"So much for listening to the band," the rookie sighed.
Dez pressed her shoulder mike and spoke to dispatch as Jaylynn hit the lights and siren. The big cop opened up the glove compartment and grabbed a scene kit. "Two down, Jay. Sounds like the parking lot by the fountain."
"Oh crap. Thats near the Pavilion. I hope nobody opened fire on the crowd." She maneuvered the car around the bend and hit the brakes with force when she saw a woman with a baby jogging stroller scuttling across the road. Swerving, she hit the gas, then rode the brake and turned into the parking lot, tires squealing. She passed the fountain, screeched to a stop, and got out of the car in a hurry. In the background, the sound of acoustic guitars, drums, and a bass wafted across the lot, followed by a soulful voice singing, Oh when the cold days come, babe, Ill keep you safe and warm, in the windy rainy thunder nights youll never hear the storm . . .
A trio of young boys, all Asian, let their bikes drop to the ground and came running toward them. The tallest kid, dressed in a leather jacket and jeans, skidded to a halt a few feet from them. "Its bad," he said. Shivering, he turned and pointed across the parking lot toward the aluminum concession stand. "They look seriously dead."
Dez strode quickly the direction indicated by the boy, followed by Jaylynn and the kids. The under-sized door that led up into the snack stand was open to the inside, but the screen on the outside was shut. Because of her height, though, before she was a dozen feet away she could see the body lying facedown on the floor. Even through the screen, she could tell the back of Steven Tivolis head was blown away, much of it spattered low on the far wall of the concession stand.
The tall cop stopped and turned around, holding up a hand. "Hold it, everyone. You, too, Savage." She didnt respond when Jaylynn gave her a puzzled look. Instead she kept one hand in the air, five fingers spread. She handed over to Jaylynn the package she held. "Here, take the kit, Savage, and set up a perimeter of police tape. You boys, stay right here by me. Nobody moves." She hit her shoulder mike to make a preliminary report to dispatch and to ask for backup for crowd control, a supervisor, the crime lab techs, and investigators.
When she signed off, she watched as Jaylynn finished stringing the yellow tape, using trees, lampposts, and garbage cans to make a sizable perimeter around the area. She turned to the three boys standing off to the side. The music was still playing, but some of the spectators two hundred yards away at the Pavilion were starting to wander toward them, curious about the police car lights.
Dez realized time was short and that any minute, all hell would break loose. "Okay, boys, now tell me the truth." She looked the tallest one in the eye. "Did any of you go in there?"
The all shook their heads.
She pointed at the tall boy. "Whats your name?" Catching Jaylynns eye, she nodded when the rookie got out her notebook and started to write.
"Sai," he stuttered. "Im Sai Vang."
"Sai, how did you know he was dead if you didnt go in?"
"We could see!" Gesturing and pointing his right hand, he moved toward the front of the stand.
Dez frowned. How could they see when all of them were shorter than Jaylynn?
Sai closed his eyes, stepped up to the tall service window, hooked an arm over the counter, and pulled himself up. He dropped back to the ground. "You see? The man, he didnt answer. So I looked. Then they both looked." The boys all nodded, their faces solemn and scared. "Theres, like, brains blown up all over the place in there."
Alarmed, Jaylynn looked up from what she was writing. Dez cast her a warning look and shook her head slightly, but she could see that the rookie wasnt going to hang back. "Kids, Officer Savage here needs to take down all your names and addresses. Do any of you have your student IDs?" When they shook their heads, she went on. "You may be important witnesses. I want each of you to go over to your bicycles and get on them and stay put. Please dont talk to each other." She gave a toss of her head and the three boys scrambled to get to their bikes. She hoped to keep the blonde busy writing until backup and the crime scene team arrived. Already she could hear the whine of sirens in the distance. There was no reason any more people needed to see the gruesome scene, and as she looked around, she could see curious people from the Pavilion had made their way to the police line. A man called out, asking what was happening. She ignored him, instead motioning to the people to back up. "Police business. Everybody stay back."
Off to the side, Jaylynn finished taking down the boys information, and Dez watched as each of the kids dragged their bikes under the POLICE SCENEDO NOT CROSS tape. One song ended, and there was the sound of applause. A bass line started up, in four-four time, then a rhythm guitar strummed a chord. The dark haired woman remembered this song from the CD. She wondered if she would still like it the next time she heard it, given the circumstances now. She tried to put the melody of it out of her mind so that she wouldnt associate it with the grisly murder scene behind her.
Jaylynn stepped to the side, craning her neck, while the boys stood outside the perimeter watching her, but Dez managed to screen the doorway with her body so that the rookie couldnt see in. Jaylynn seemed reluctantly to give up. She moved aside, toward the rear of the snack shack, and Dez felt a sense of relief. But a sudden gasp from Jaylynn brought the tall cop to attention.
"Oh my god! What is this?" The rookie stood looking down at something in the shadows to the rear of the stand.
The tall boy, Sai, called out, "Oh yeah. We thought you saw that. Shes dead, too."
Jaylynn moved too quickly. Before Dez could react, the younger woman dropped her notebook and fell to her knees. She pulled her flashlight off her belt and shined it on the body lying on the cement. She knelt there, frozen in place, making choking sounds.
Dezs blood ran cold. "Aw, shit." She hurried to her partners side, grabbed her arm, and pulled her to her feet. The flashlight bumped against the bigger womans stomach, slipped from Jaylynns grasp, and fell to the ground. Dez picked it up, snapped it off, and handed it to the rookie. "Hold it together, Jay," she whispered. Out loud, she said, "First rule: dont touch a damn thing. Second rule: dont touch a damn thing. Our job here is to secure the perimeter. Lets keep things together."
"I will. I will. But Dez, shes a kidjust a young kid."
Dez nodded. "Okay. I know. And so are these boys. Go concentrate on them. Well talk later...go keep them separated so when the detectives show up, they get good statements."
Like a trooper, Jaylynn turned and moved back toward the boys to keep them company. Dez took her flashlight off her belt and sauntered over to the body in the shadows. Five seconds of light told her everything she needed to know. White female, thin, approximately 100 pounds, dark hair, Levi skirt and jacket, shot in the back and at close range in the back of the head. A smudged trail of blood led from the foot of the metal stairs, and Dez could see that this little person had likely tried to escape. She had been shot in the back, then had crawled and dragged herself fifteen feet to her present location where someone had caught up with her and pulled the trigger one last time into the back of her head.
She snapped off the flash and returned it to her belt. Police cars approaching from opposite directions converged on the parking lot. The three-ring circus was all set to begin now.
Much later, Dez lay next to Jaylynn, one arm held protectively around the crying blonde. Moonlight shone in through the slats of the blinds they had not remembered to close at two a.m. when they stripped off their clothes and fell into bed. Jaylynn had huddled there, cold and shaking, for some time before the sobs came, and now after several minutes, the smaller womans tears were slowing.
They lay on their sides, face to face, with Jaylynns hands in fists below her chin. Dezs right arm was over the blondes waist, and her warm legs transmitted heat to the chilled woman before her.
"Why, Dez? Who would kill such a young girl? Its not rightnot fair."
"No, its not." The bigger woman reached a hand up and wiped a tear away from Jaylynns cheek. She felt helpless to comfort her lover, and in the face of such pain and grief, an uneasiness stole over her. It was all she could do not to get up and run from the room. But Jaylynn needed her, so she was not going to let her down. She forced her own apprehension away, pulled the smaller woman nearer, and slipped her other arm under the trembling waist to encircle her.
The blonde snuggled in closer, pressing her face into the warmth of the tall womans shoulder. "Lucky I go see my counselor tomorrow. Im sorry to be such a wuss . . . "
"Youre not a wuss."
Jaylynn leaned back a little and searched out the blue eyes before her in the silvery moonlight. "Yeah, right. Youre the one who told me cops dont cry."
Dez shook her head. "You know what I meantat least now you do. You dont cry there, at the scene. You cry later, if you have to, when no citizens are around."
Jaylynn pulled away and reached behind her to the nightstand for a tissue. She blew her nose and took another tissue to wipe her tears. "Maybe it wouldnt be so bad if I hadnt known the guy."
"Jaya couple brief conversations with him doesnt constitute knowing him."
"But he was a person, somebody who was pleasant to us, who was just...just like...you know, a regular guy."
"That regular guy was probably into something more than you realize. Those two victims were executed. It wasnt a random attack. It sure seems like someone came there to kill Tivoli."
"And that little girl must have stumbled upon it. Who would want to kill the two of them? It doesnt make any sense."
Dez figured it would make sense soon enough, but she kept her thoughts to herself. Experience from a couple dozen previous homicides as well as two decades of discussions about murders had led her to believe there were really only four types of killings: those revolving around greedy money schemes, hate crimes, domestic cases, or the protection of secrets. Everything elseand those were small in numberwas pretty much accidental or random maliciousness. She thought the medias focus on thrill killing and upon bizarre serial murderers was nearly criminal because the vast majority of murders were committed by drunken or drugged fools who got out of control with family or friends and went too far with a gun or a knife or a fist. That didnt make it any easier to solve the crimes, given the huge capacity of human beings for denial and subterfuge.
"It was a pretty tough scene for your first homicide, Jay."
"Do you remember yours?"
The dark haired woman nodded slowly. "I saw my first homicide when I was twelve."
"Whoa! Twelve? Howd you manage that?" The blonde woman pulled herself up on her elbow and peered down into her partners face.
Dez rolled onto her back as she kicked a leg out from under the covers. "I was riding shotgun with my dad on a real slow Sunday afternoon. Somebody reported a possible heart attack in their neighbors backyard."
She recalled that they had beaten the ambulance to the scene. In her minds eye, she got out of the cruiser and followed her father, the autumn air crisp and punctuated by the falling of leaves from the maples that lined the avenue. A wide-eyed plump woman in a pale blue apron came out the front screen door and without a word, gestured toward the back of the house. Dez remembered staring at the womans face for a moment and realizing something was out of place.
She turned away and hurried to catch up with her father as he moved, almost at a trot, past some tall, neatly clipped hedges and around the side of the house. A man lay on his back next to a heavy-duty white plastic birdbath that held no water. He was clad in brown oxfords, jeans, and a red plaid flannel shirt. Even from the distance, Dez could see that his eyes were open, staring straight up. Her father went down on one knee, next to the body, his back to her. He stood up. "This man is dead. Hes been stabbed. You dont need to see this, Desiree. Go get in the car."
Dez was already looking. There was blood all over the front of the man, but it hadnt been so noticeable since the flannel shirt was mostly red.
"Desiree Reilly. Do you hear me? Get back to the car and hurry up. Now!"
He followed her back along the path to the front of the house, and she knew he needed to radio in right away. As they came around the corner past the hedges, they found the aproned woman sitting at the very top of the cement stairs, shaking her sandy blonde head back and forth. She looked dazed. Dez squinted to see her face better, and now she could see what was out of place. The side of her face was red and puffy, as though she had been struck.
"Go on to the car, Dez," her father commanded. She did as he said, but as she opened the door to the cruiser, she heard him say, "Maam, do you know what happened out back?"
The women nodded and burst into tears. She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a wooden handled kitchen knife, then dropped it on the stairs below her.
From the car, even with the window down, Dez couldnt hear all of what was said, but she put two and two together. It made her feel sad, but even more than that, it made her curious. Why had this young woman used a kitchen knife to stab the man?
Now it was nearly eighteen years later, and Dez had a much better understanding.
"Jay, it was no heart attack. The wife stabbed her husband after he slugged her, and he staggered out to the backyard and died."
"Wasnt that a horrible thing to seeI mean at 12 years old?"
Dez considered that. "I dont remember being traumatized by it or anything. It was something my dad and I talked aboutquite a bit, in fact. Her name was Delia Tyesen. I think his was Dennis. She didnt mean to kill him. She said she was making pot roast, trimming the fat off the meat, when he came up behind and hauled off and smacked her upside the head. She was four months pregnant, their house was in foreclosure, and she ended up miscarrying and then getting convicted of manslaughter. It was the first case I ever followed closely. I went to the initial hearing with my dadthey didnt have a trial. She pled."
Jaylynn shivered. She pulled the covers up over her shoulders and got comfortable on her back with her head high on the pillow. Dez turned on her side, facing the blonde, and put an arm around her. She tucked her head against the smaller womans shoulder and was rewarded with two arms encircling her.
In a quiet voice, Dez said, "That was sort of the beginning of my interest in the law. I wanted to do what my dad did. Make people get along. Solve crimes. Enforce the rules. I sat there in the car that day, and every officer at the scene came over and talked to me. Some of them were worried Id be upset, but some of them just wanted to show off for their buddys kid. I liked talking to them. I liked the camaraderie."
"What ever happened to herthe woman?"
"Dont know. She went to prison for a short while, but I dont know after that."
Jaylynn lay there holding the dark-haired woman and wondered how she would have felt coming upon a murder at age twelve. She thought back . . . age twelve . . . sixth grade. She was still climbing on the monkey bars, playing tetherball, and reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Her best friend was crazed for Barbie, and Jaylynns favorite TV show was Highway to Heaven. Her mother had just remarried after her fathers death three years earlier. She sighed. "Nope. I dont think Id have wanted to be in your shoes that day, Dez."
The dark woman grinned. "Size nine when I was twelve."
"Whaoh, you goofball."
"Shhhh. Its practically three in the morning. Arent you tired?"
"Yes. I want to sleep until noon."
Dez hoped that would happen. She didnt count on it though.
More to come Part 2
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