The following story contains adult themes depicting explicit sexual relations between two consenting adults of the same sex. If you are under the age of 18 or reading this material is illegal where you live, please do not read any further. Furthermore, there is profanity, some mild violence, drug use, and other adult themes (no sexual violence). Please be forewarned. This story _does_ take place in the '90s, after all. The writer and the person whose website this work appears on accept no legal responsibility for noncompliance with this warning.
The following is an Uber-Xena/Gabrielle story and while the essence of the background characters of Xena & Gabrielle are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance, this original story is copyrighted to me (posted March 28, 1998--L.N. James). No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. This story may not be altered in any way and this copyright information must appear with this work at all times.
Author's Note: This story is not complete which scares me. Why you ask? You see, I hate posting stories that aren't finished because I generally do major rewrites of early parts of a story throughout the writing process and so, the 'end product' is never how it started. It also scares me because I know people will be expecting me to update this with some regularity and I respond to pressure in much the same way I respond to conflict: HIDE! But, if the reader knows up front that this story will go through lots of revisions, will be updated with sporadic regularity, and that the "Official" version of this story will be indicated as such here on MaryD's page when all is said and done, then we can work with that. You might be interested in some notes about this story on my Fanfic page.
Everyone had their price and tonight, Lisa's was a few free drinks, a line of coke, and
the promise of something more exciting than staring at her apartment walls again. Running
in the big city was old hat now for the once-farm girl from Indiana. Having escaped the
mundane of that existence a year after her sister had graduated from college, Lisa headed
for Chicago in search of something, anything. What she found was a dead-end job working as
a waitress in some no-name diner, making a measly wage, and living in a run-down apartment
on the near west side with another girl, Valerie. So, both of them filled their nights
with the underground club scene--a dangerously loose crowd of stragglers like themselves,
young kids on the verge of going nowhere fast. The price of one big city night would soon
catch up to the young small town girl and it was a price she would never be able to pay.
"Hey, Lisa, let's stop by Teddy's place and hang out before we head downtown."
Lisa poked her head out of the bathroom where she had been dressing and looked at Valerie sitting on the couch, drinking a beer. She had first met the young woman when she answered an ad for a roommate she saw in the Reader in July. Valerie was originally from New York and had moved here a couple of years ago, presumably to avoid some legal trouble in the city. They were an unlikely pairing, but Lisa soon found herself intrigued by the fast-talking rough girl who was so unlike anyone she grew up around. It was Valerie who introduced her to the club scene and the friends they often hung out with. However, along with the few meager belongings Valerie had moved to Chicago, the pierced girl with a crew cut had also brought her penchant for incredibly weird and somewhat sadistic friends. Teddy was a rather nasty fellow, large, tattooed everywhere and heavily into the rough leather scene. Lisa never liked him or his crowd. Scrunching up her nose and brows, the petite, brown-haired girl looked at her roommate.
"Ugh..you know I can't stand him, Valerie. He gives me the creeps."
The young woman in leather pants and black boots rose and came over to the bathroom door and leaned against it as she handed Lisa her beer. She smiled as she watched the girl take a swig, grimacing. She had molded this farm girl into a fairly decent party friend if she did say so herself. Valerie considered everyone she met a potential partner in crime and someone to take with her when she went clubbing. Someone had to be responsible because Valerie wasn't willing to do it.
"I think he's kind of cute, actually. Don't you think his eyes are sorta like a sad puppy dog's?"
Handing the beer back, Lisa just shook her head at her roommate as she turned off the light in the grimy bathroom.
"Yeah, a dog alright. I wouldn't want to meet him in an alley that's for sure.."
Valerie smiled as she got her leather coat and gave Lisa the once over. The small town girl had started dressing a bit more hip these days thanks to her guidance and now she wore a black minidress and clunky shoes. Yeah, Teddy would approve.
"We'll only go for just a bit. I hear he just got some new stuff in and I wanna see if I can coax him into sharing some of it."
Valerie winked as Lisa slung her long black coat over her shoulders and headed toward the door. The nights had turned decidedly chilly lately it seemed. Stopping just before she unlocked the deadbolts, Lisa turned and narrowed her eyes at her.
"Valerie, I am not going to do any of that stuff, you know that don't you?"
Putting her hand on the door to open it and usher them out, Valerie just smiled and shrugged her shoulders at Lisa.
"Whatever. Let's go."
And with that, Lisa left the apartment she would never see again.
The cramped office that doubled as a coat closet occupied the corner of an equally small building on Dearborn. Wedged between a high rise and a parking garage, this building seemed out of place in the neighborhood with its grand old charm. Inside, various businesses and independent offices called this place home. The windows that covered one wall of the office afforded a view of Lake Michigan to the east. With her feet kicked up on the desk and her chair leaned back, Tina Amphipoli wasn't the least bit interested in the view outside her window. Instead, her attention was directed at the police detective standing in her office as he explained the situation to her. With an even tone, she slightly raised one eyebrow in response to his request, her blue eyes pinning him where he stood.
"Let me get this straight, Sam. First of all, you want me to take this case. And then you want me to take a partner. Is that right?"
Sam Lamonie nervously looked out the window and then looked back into deep blue eyes. While both of these requests were true, he couldn't bring himself to say it in a statement, so the answer came out as a question.
With that, Tina swivelled her chair around and proceeded to slide down into her chair with her feet propped up on the window sill, the heat of the radiator warming her up as the cold fall wind blew outside. October was such an unpredictable month in Chicago; sometimes it was 90 degrees one week and then 20 degrees and snowing the next. Unfortunately it had chosen this week to dip down to some of the coldest of the season and Tina wasn't about to go outside unless she needed to. At least not until it was time to go home.
"But, Tina, please. Our people have been working this case for months now and we're nowhere close to turning up a fruitful clue. The chief is breathing down my neck. If I don't come up with one good lead soon, it'll be my job. Please..."
The woman of few words simply picked up her Tribune and continued to read the sports page. Reading any other part of the paper was tedious and depressing. She had been reading about the new womens' basketball leagues for over a year now and she was still trying to figure out whether Kate Starbird had signed with the WNBA or with the ABL. Why wasn't there more coverage in this paper, dammit?
"One more turned up missing last night, Tina."
With Sam's soft words, the tall woman lowered her paper and sighed. Turning around in her chair, she looked down at her hands for a moment, as if pondering whether an answer lay in her palms. Standing, she was a good foot and a half taller than the balding desperate detective as she looked down at him. Of course, she knew that they only came to her when the cases were hopeless. The brass still had it in for her ever since the night she was kicked off the force but they would reluctantly turn a blind eye when Lamonie would seek out her assistance in the more dire of cases. There was no love lost between her and Chicago PD. But, her renegade ways were effective and sometimes, that was more important than protocol.
"Fine. I'll take the case."
Lamonie's face lit up at that statement as he started to move towards her to do something silly like hug her. One raised eyebrow stopped him dead in his tracks and he just stood there awkwardly.
"But I don't take partners."
With that, Tina turned to her coat rack and grabbed her brown leather jacket and put it on. The thigh-length jacket was worn, having seen too many Chicago winters, but the bronze zipper and small buckles at the cuffs shone as bright as they did the day it was custom made. Adjusting her collar and pulling her long jet-black hair free, Tina reached into her inside coat pocket and dug out her wire-rim sunglasses and put them on. Her usual v-neck white t-shirt was loosely tucked into her usual blue jeans, a wide brown leather belt and brown cowboy boots completing the outfit. She rarely varied her style, justifying it as easier to put the same type of thing on day after day than to have to choose what to wear in the morning. It was functional and served it's purpose, why change?
Reaching into her desk drawer, Tina pulled out her gun and holster and clipped it on her belt at her back, under the jacket and tucked into her jeans. It was a shining silver .38 Special with a black handle and a brass trigger. Frowning upon some of the newer guns out there on the street, the private eye preferred the time honored weapon of choice by police departments for years. Besides, this was her brother's gun when he had been on the force and she never let it out of her sight. She reached in the drawer to grab her other weapon, an illegal switchblade, and tucked into her boot. Standing up, she eyed Lamonie and grabbed her keys.
The detective was nervously wringing his hands together as he looked at his watch.
"Um..Tina. Look, I promised the department that I would involve one other person in the investigation."
Tina narrowed her eyes behind her glasses and crossed her arms over her chest, decidedly irritated.
"Why? So they can keep an eye on me? No deal."
The tall woman shoved past Sam and headed out the door, switching out the lights and leaving the detective in the dark. He scrambled out the door before she shut and locked it and stood in front of her in the hallway, his eyes pleading.
"Tina, please, they don't want to watch over you.."
The private eye snorted and put her hand on Lamonie's shoulder to move him out of the way. He didn't budge and his face grew serious. Tina looked at him like he was half-crazy to try to stop her, pulling down her glasses to pierce him with a cold stare, raising her eyebrow in surprise.
"Please, Tina, your partner knows a lot about this case already and has studied others like it. If it doesn't work out, I promise we can make other plans, but please, please give this a try. We need all the help we can get on this. Kids are disappearing into thin air. Please.."
Tina looked up at the ceiling and sighed. If it weren't for that one haunting fact, Tina would have no trouble turning Sam down. Every day she witnessed the growing malaise in the city and across the nation. Young kids today were directionless and vulnerable to social forces more than when she was growing up. Many were lost and she felt a special pull towards defending the innocents. She had seen too many of the problems that plagued young kids today. Of course, her own childhood and adolescence in Detroit was not a bowl of cherries, especially after...
Shaking her head to clear her mind, Tina looked down at the anxious detective. With a slight nod of her head, she headed towards the exit.
"Fine. But I'll make no promises. I won't hesitate to go it alone if this 'partner' of yours gets in my way, ya got that?"
The tall woman stopped with her hand on the outside door, prepared to exit into the cool fall late afternoon. Lamonie sighed heavily and smiled.
"Yes, of course. Thank you..I knew I could count on you. I've arranged a meeting with your new partner in a half hour at the Italian Village. I figured we could kill two birds with one stone and have dinner as well."
Tina raised an eyebrow at Sam's presumptuous planning, not particularly liking the fact that he assumed she would say yes to the deal. She'd make him pay for dinner.
"Fine. You're paying. I'll see you there."
And with that, she climbed into her trusty gold '76 Buick Regal and started it, enjoying the feel of the supped up engine rumbling under her that she herself had built. Lamonie was just about to go around to the side of the car and get in as well, since he had been dropped off by a patrol car earlier.
She smiled at Sam as she hit the gas pedal and roared down the street, leaving him
standing on the sidewalk as a particularly biting wind blew through his flimsy coat.
The overweight detective muttered under his breath and looked around for the nearest cab. Of course, there weren't any on this street it seemed and he'd have to walk three blocks up to get one. He wished he hadn't traded his own car in exchange for that worthless motor scooter he thought he'd use to save money on gas. Too bad it pretty much fell apart a day after he tried riding it up to the station. He never had much luck when it came to buying and selling things. But, he had persuaded Tina Amphipoli to take this case and right now, that's what motivated him down the street. That and the thought of some linguini and clam sauce.
Mariel Potidean sat nervously at the table, twirling her fork absentmindedly. She had arrived at the Italian Village an hour earlier and had been sitting in the dark, cozy restaurant anxiously waiting. She was seated in the downstairs section of the restaurant in a booth surrounded by Italian murals and fake green plants. The waitress had kept coming back to refill her water glass and each time the young graduate had surreptiously looked at her watch and made some comment about how her party would be arriving any time now.
This was essentially Mariel's first time in this part of the city on her own and she was afraid she would have trouble finding the place. When she first moved here a few weeks ago, it took her almost all day as it was to figure out the elevated train system that would take her from Evanston where she lived down to the city where she worked. She had only chosen Evanston because an old friend used to live there and she sort of knew that section of town.
Once in the city, she had to take a cab to the restaurant. The young woman was fresh out of her graduate work at Purdue University and had taken her first training job as a young forensic psychologist at the FBI field office in Chicago after several months of intensive intro courses at the headquarters in Quantico. She, of course, was younger than most Ph.D.'s but she had excelled in high school and finished her undergraduate work at Wisconsin a few years ahead of her classmates. And, even though she had grown up in Indiana, she completed her graduate work at Purdue in record time, quickly realizing that there simply wasn't much to do in, or like about, West Lafayette.
"Can I get you some more bread, miss?"
Mariel turned her reddish-blond head in the direction of the waitress and smiled at her.
"Yes, please. Thanks. I'm sure my friends will be here any minute and so it's probably a good idea to have the bread waiting. Yeah."
The slightly built, but well-toned young woman looked back at her watch and sighed. She was nervous on this, her first official case. It was a bit unconventional too. Agent Ephran had called Mariel into her office last week before the young scientist even had a chance to find out where the copier and supply room of their office building was. Their conversation had been a bit unconventional as well.
Mariel barely had time to blink before she was given a box of files and sent back out the door. If it was trial by fire that Agent Ephran was going for, it certainly felt that way to the young woman. Luckily, she was a voracious reader and note taker, loved the Web, and had an almost unnatural ability to memorize details. She spent all night going over police reports, eyewitness accounts, a myriad of newspaper clippings and some rather interesting pamphlets and magazines. When morning came, the tired researcher had come to the conclusion that this case was going to involve some rather questionable characters in some questionable settings; she wasn't in Kansas anymore.
"So, did you get a chance to look over the files?"
Agent Ephran handed her a cup of coffee the next morning and sat at her desk, propping her feet up. The curly blond haired woman was about 5 years older than Mariel and had made her way through the Academy with flying colors. So adept at leadership was she that Agent Amy Ephran had been promoted to section chief of the sex crimes unit after three years of field service. While she was a skilled investigator, Ephran's strength lay in her ability to manage others and plan strategy.
Taking a sip of her coffee, Mariel made a slight face at the taste and nodded her head. She still wasn't a big fan of the bean and preferred her caffeine in the form of Diet Pepsi, but, alas, it seemed no one could escape Starbucks' plan to take over the known world. Sorting through some of the papers and files in her lap, the young researcher shook her head at some of the things she glanced over.
"Yes, I did...I was up all night looking over this case. Some of the details were a bit..shocking, I must say."
Agent Ephran narrowed her eyes and assessed the young woman's response. She could see that Mariel Potidean, while having received a couple of extra letters at the end of her name, was still just a babe in the woods. Perhaps this wasn't the case for her after all.
"And which parts did you find "shocking", Dr. Potidean. The sex? The drugs? Or the rock and roll?"
Mariel looked up at the semi-mocking tone of voice the section chief was using with her and frowned. She could see that she would have to prove herself all over again, just as she had been doing all her life. Steeling her gaze, the forensic psychologist responded.
"Actually, I find it shocking that Chicago's finest and the F.B.I. itself can't seem to crack this case. If I were leading the investigation, I'd know that in order to find out why all of these young people are disappearing, I'd have to know a little bit more about the way these kids live."
Mariel paused as her own green eyes held the brown of the agent's and then continued.
"It's not surprising that the..older..members of this force aren't able to infiltrate their world. Kids today are smarter than we give them credit for and are less likely to trust a stodgy old F.B.I. agent who knows nothing about them or their lives and doesn't even want to know. Wouldn't you agree, Agent Ephran?"
The section chief's jaw clenched and hardened her gaze on the young scientist. She could see that Mariel obviously possessed the self-confidence and determination that would make her a terrific forensic psychologist; the ability to stand up to a challenge and defend one's beliefs were key to this job. Despite receiving what she thought was a disguised insult, Amy Ephran relaxed and smiled back at the woman across the desk from her.
"Dr. Potidean, indeed, I agree and now I see you know your profession. I just wanted to make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. This case isn't pretty and the people involved aren't saints.
Ephran sighed as she sipped her coffee, her eyes meeting the green of Mariel's with quite compassion.
"We've been trying for months now to find an in with this crowd and we've come up empty handed each time."
The agent stood up and moved over to the window, the high rise buildings of the city loomed around them as the sun rose over Lake Michigan, white and blue stretching forever. With her eyes glued to the sparkling water, Ephran spoke in a low voice.
"I'm worried about this case. It seems every weekend this city loses another kid. They're so young too..most only 15 or 16. Boys, girls. And the sad thing is that there are probably even more that we lose and we just don't know about it. Kids who barely exist in the eyes of everyone. Lost from their families, alone."
Mariel quietly came over and stood next to the blond agent, briefly looking at her face before turning to look out over the city herself. She used to think it was so much safer living in the country, living in small town America, but even there, things somehow started turning, just like everywhere.
"I'm afraid we're dealing with some very cruel people, Dr. Potidean, and if we don't get to the bottom of this, those kids will stop existing, period. People won't miss them when they're gone and the life they're living will make them feel like they're dead. No one cares anymore it seems."
The softness and concern of the agent's voice spoke to the young scientist's own natural compassion and Mariel put her hand on Ephran's shoulder and smiled up at her.
"I'm going to do everything I can to not let that happen. And I care. Very much."
Agent Ephran turned and looked into Mariel's soft sea-green eyes and realized that this young woman's strength and compassion ran deep and strong. She smiled back at the newest member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and believed every word she said. Breaking the quiet moment, the section chief turned and went to her desk and picked up a blue folder and handed it to Mariel.
"One last thing, Dr. Potidean.."
The young scientist held up her hand and smiled.
"Please, call me Mariel. "Doctor" seems so stuffy and pretentious."
Agent Ephran smiled back at her and shrugged her shoulders, chuckling slightly. Despite being section chief, there was something personable about Mariel that Ephran responded to in kind.
"So much for formal protocol. And you can call me, Eph. I never go by my first name."
Mariel nodded her head and looked at the folder. It was labeled "T. Amphipoli". Thumbing through the brief contents, the researcher looked up back at Ephran.
The agent sat back down in her chair and sipped at her coffee, closing her eyes at it's rich taste, a double mocha latte every morning pretty much kept her going all day. Opening her eyes, Agent Ephran raised an eyebrow and smiled.
"That, my friend, is your new partner on this case. You'll meet her next week."
Mariel's eyebrows creased together as she looked at the agent.
"A partner? Is she Bureau?"
Amy Ephran laughed and nearly spilled her latte down her shirt and blazer.
"Oh, Gods, that's funny. Tina Amphipoli..FBI!"
Mariel smiled politely while still looking clueless as the agent's laughs subsided.
"I'm sorry, Mariel. It's just that..well..as much as the FBI is governed by rules and regulations, Tina Amphipoli has her own set of rules she lives by." Ephran chuckled and continued, "No, Ms. Amphipoli used to be a Chicago cop and then..well..let's just say she didn't get along with those in command. Now, she's the best there is. Period."
Dr. Potidean looked back at the file in her hand and then to Agent Ephran.
"The best at what?"
Ephran brought both hands to the cup of coffee and held it at her lips as she gave a slight nod to Mariel.
"Would you like a glass of wine, Miss?"
The waitress looked imploringly at Mariel, her voice bringing the researcher out of her
revery. Blinking up, the young woman looked at the waitress and then down at the menu.
"She'll have a glass of merlot... And I'll have a Scotch, on the rocks."
A deep, rich voice spoke behind the waitress as both she and Mariel looked to see a tall, dark woman come from behind the waitress and slide into the booth across from Mariel. Her movements were catlike and smooth and her gaze was steady, almost smoky. Everything about her spoke of animal grace and a strength just below the surface. She took in the young scientist in one glance and then looked up at the stunned waitress, raising an eyebrow at her. Nodding, the waitress awkwardly moved off to fill the order. Then deep blue eyes fell on green and Mariel was speechless.
That is, Mariel Potidean was speechless for about one second. She knew this was Tina Amphipoli from the picture in the file but nothing had prepared her for such a sudden meeting without any introduction or preparation. And nothing in the file had indicated the amazing aura and charisma Tina gave off. It was almost disconcerting for the young doctor.
"But...what..how did you.."
"Know who you were or know you wanted a merlot?"
Mariel felt her face warm a bit as she watched Tina Amphipoli smile slowly in her direction. One of the darker woman's hands rested on the table while the other arm was casually draped across the back of the booth. The scientist looked across the table and nodded her head slightly.
"Yeah..I mean...not about the wine..but..."
Tina's smile widened as she regarded the young woman across from her. Letting her electric blue gaze drop from Mariel's face, the dark woman looked back over her shoulder briefly, then back at Mariel and shrugged.
"It was easy. You're the only one in this restaurant sitting alone, looking at your watch, obviously waiting for someone. Though, to be honest, you're not exactly what I expected."
Mariel's eyebrows creased together as once again, she felt her abilities were being
challenged. Either that, or she was simply over-sensitive, which was true but that was her
issue to deal with and no one else's business. With her voice holding a slight trace of
defensiveness, the young doctor put her arms on the table and leaned across it.
"And exactly what were you expecting? Some older man with more experience? Some seasoned agent?"
Tina's lips quirked slightly as looked back at this fiesty young woman.
"Actually, I wasn't expecting someone quite so...attractive."
The detective's voice lowered a bit as her eyes connected with Mariel's briefly before turning toward the approaching waitress. Tina casually received her beer and took a sip as her eyes watched the young doctor, smiling into her glass at the blush on the young woman's cheeks, a testament to how her fair skin could not hide her reactions to compliments.
"Attractive? What do..."
Dr. Potidean's words were stopped short by a flurry of motion at the end of the table.
"Oh there you are! I've been looking for you."
With that, Sam Lamonie came rushing up to the table sweaty and flushed. Both women turned and watched as the balding and bearded older man pushed past the waitress and eased in the booth next to Mariel, forcing the blond to scoot over against the wall, pressed up against her coat. He was no fool and the cool look he received from the peeved private eye told him he was lucky to be sharing a booth with either of them. Reaching for a glass of water, he drank while his eyes darted back and forth between Tina and Mariel.
"Here, I'll take your coat."
The dark woman's voice caught the young scientist's ear and blue eyes captured Mariel's
pale hazel-green. Smiling her thanks across the table, she handed her coat over and
watched as the detective efficiently folded it and stored it next to her. With a raise of
an eyebrow, she watched as Tina reached for her beer, nodded her head slightly and offered
up a little toast to her before taking a sip. Her eyes were glued across the table until
she felt a clumsy nudge of an elbow against her side as Sam Lamonie smiled at her.
"So, what'd I miss?"
And with that, the dinner started. After an order of stuffed artichokes for an appetizer and another round of drinks, their main courses had arrived. Tina smiled slightly as she watched both Sam and Mariel dig into their pasta dishes with equal relish. The dark private eye occasionally took a bite of her salad, but instead preferred to sit back in the shadows of the booth and sip her beer while she listened to Sam and Mariel make small talk. It seemed that the young FBI agent was quite passionate about her predictions for the upcoming NCAA season, even so much as betting Sam that Kansas would finally go all the way this year and Purdue would choke... again. The happy-go-lucky police detective was happy to debate animatedly with the young woman, he was never one to turn down a bet. Talking came easy to both of them, it seemed.
Tina, on the other hand, preferred the more..quiet approach. It wasn't that she didn't know how to hold up her end of the conversation or be charming (she, in fact, had that down to a science...it helped with getting information from reluctant lawyers or shady 'business' men). It was more the idea that she never quite trusted anyone enough to let her guard down fully. Watching her back was something she learned early on in Detroit when she was growing up. And certainly after the...incident on the force years ago, she became more cautious, aloof, and wary. Some mistakes you only make once.
"I'm going downtown tomorrow night, check out the scene."
Mariel and Sam stopped talking and looked over at the relaxed form seated across from them. She hadn't made so much as a peep throughout dinner, so her low rumbling voice took them by surprise. Sam spoke first.
"Wait, now, you're talking about the case, right?"
Tina just chuckled briefly and shook her head. Taking another drink, she pinned him with her dark blue eyes.
"That's what I'm here for, isn't it?"
Sam glanced over at Mariel and smiled back at Tina, nodding nervously as he wiped his hands on his napkin.
"Of course, of course. So, what's your plan?"
The private eye's smile faded as she stared at Sam. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as the young psychologist pushed her plate back and smiled slightly to herself as she waited to hear what Tina said. There was more than one way to tell the nosy detective to get lost. She had no intention of telling him her plan. Licking her lips, the dark woman leaned forward in a smooth move.
Her voice was velvety and low as her blue eyes held his intensely, noting the thin line
of perspiration start to form at the detective's brow. He swallowed and leaned forward.
Narrowing her eyes just a bit, Tina lowered her voice even more. The private eye took on a rather sultry look, her now bedroom eyes glinting at the cop with a primal spark. The transformation was amazing and given Tina's beauty, easily accomplished. Mariel stopped breathing at the display.
She paused, her eyes flickering over Sam's face like he was the only one in the room. The older detective nearly had a coronary right there. He'd always thought Tina Amphipoli was a dangerous beauty and here he was getting a front row seat to her charms. He swallowed again nervously.
Tina's lips curved into a menacingly seductive smile before she spoke again.
"...is between me.."
At this, Tina dropped her gaze quickly and all but forgot poor Sam as she focused her attention totally on the young psychologist across from her. Capturing green eyes, she looked in them and lowered her voice to a purr.
"..and my partner."
For long moments, the table was quiet as Tina and Mariel stared at one another. The blond scientist felt like the rest of the room faded from existence for a brief moment in time, unable to break the gaze of the dark haired woman across from her. The waitress showed up just then with their check and all eyes turned to her and the spell was broken. Tina pushed the slip of paper across to Sam and smiled a sweet smile.
"Ah, yes, well...why don't I leave you two alone to discuss your plans, yes?"
Sam Lamonie knew when he wasn't wanted and since he was damn lucky to tender the services of the best investigator in the business, he wasn't going to push it. Pulling out four 20's from his wallet, he laid them down and spoke quietly with the waitress, intending on getting a receipt so the city of Chicago could pay for this business dinner. Meanwhile, Tina stretched out her arm across the back of the booth and finished her beer, her eyes glancing across to Mariel who took this opportunity to compose herself by finishing off her cheesecake.
Standing, Sam pulled on his overcoat he had thrown behind him on the ledge of fake plants, and smiled at both women.
"Ladies...it was my pleasure."
He nodded as he tried to button his coat, his oversized belly getting in the way. With a smile to the quiet psychologist, he put on his hat.
"Mariel, it was truly nice to meet you. I hope we'll be able to work together more in the future. The Bureau is lucky to have you, I'm glad they put one of their brightest on this case. Oh, and when Duke wins, you owe me 20 bucks."
Mariel let out a laugh as she smiled up at him, her features relaxing as she sat back in the booth.
"In your dreams, Detective Lamonie. And thanks, I have a good feeling about this case."
With a nod, Sam turned to Tina, who simply quirked an eyebrow up at him. Good-naturedly smiling, he shook his head at her and spoke.
"Ah, Tina..as always, it's been an..um..experience. Go easy on her please."
Sam jerked his head in Mariel's direction and caught her eye with a teasing smile as her other eyebrow shot up as well.
"I'll be in touch."
Tina smirked as she nodded at him. With a raise of her chin, the private investigator spoke.
"You do that."
With one last smile at both of them, Sam made his way out the restaurant. If there ever was a more unlikely pairing, it was Tina and Mariel, he mused. The tough as nails private investigator and the spunky intelligent young researcher couldn't be more different. Sam smiled to himself as moved through the tables, 'they do say that opposites attract', he chuckled at the thought. Why, if he were a betting man...
The lights had dimmed as the dinner crowd thinned out a bit and the clinking of brandy glasses and dessert trays became more pronounced. Mariel sat back in her booth and looked over at Tina Amphipoli with an inquisitive, curious eye. When the dark detective's eyes caught her, the young psychologist leaned forward in her booth and spoke with a confidence that belied her truly off-balance state.
"Do you always put on such a show when you want a man to leave you alone?"
Tina chuckled, quirked an eyebrow and shrugged her shoulder.
"It worked, didn't it?"
Mariel just looked back at her, then down at her napkin.
Lifting her head back up, the blond fiddled with her spoon. Dressed in a casual navy sweater over a white t-shirt, and khaki pants, Mariel Potidean looked every ounce the college co-ed. Her long blondish gold hair was highlighted with just a hint of red and her green eyes were warm. She looked like she'd be more at home in Ann Arbor than some of the dives here in Chicago Tina was going to visit. Her plan certainly didn't include a Midwestern archetype as a club companion.
"Listen Doc, this case is going to get a little dangerous from what I can tell, so I think it's best if you do the office research and paperwork while I go out into the field."
Tina's voice spoke reasonably across the table as her eyes regarded Mariel passively. It was clear that the private eye had already made up her mind way before dinner and the scientist was clearly not a part of this woman's plan. Mariel took a breath and calmed herself before speaking.
"Let me get this straight, Miss Amphipoli.."
With a smile, the older woman held up her hand.
"Please, call me Tina.."
With a nod of her head, Mariel's caught the detective's eye with an assertive look.
"Alright...Tina, am I to understand that you intend on fielding this case all by yourself while I sit in my office and...take notes?"
Mariel was the picture of controlled indignation. Her expression clearly conveyed what she thought of the idea and her voice couldn't help but express it. Tina took stock of the woman sitting across from her and decided she liked her spunk. That still didn't change the fact that she intended on going alone on this. This young graduate was as green and inexperienced as they came. Her fancy degrees were not going to help her out there in the real dirty world of crime. She wasn't meant for the streets like Tina was. Still, there was something...determined about Mariel Potidean so Tina would see just how serious this young woman was about the gritty matters of criminal investigation.
"Well, you do seem more like the...scholarly type who doesn't like to get her hands dirty. Besides, the places I have to go to get a lead aren't exactly Reader's Digest Book of the Month meetings."
Quietly seething, Mariel steeled her gaze at the amused look she was getting from the private investigator. To say it pissed her off would be putting it mildly. Years and years of people underestimating her and dismissing her abilities finally came to a boil. The blond's temper had always been fiery and this is what got her where she was. She didn't give up easily and she would not take no for an answer. Furthermore, dammit, she was qualified enough to handle this as much as anyone else in the Bureau and they had given the case to her. Lowering her voice to barely controlled ire, she spoke.
"Look, Ms. Amphipoli, I don't know who you are and what gives you the right to judge me but I'm going to tell you one thing. This is my case, I may not have the experience you think you have, but I intend on being involved in every aspect of this case whether you like it or not. So, you'd better just get used to the idea that I'm not some sidekick notetaker for a private eye with a past."
With that, the psychologist took a breath and kept looking at Tina. Something unreadable crossed the detective's face as she sat motionless. In the dim light of the dining room, the blue of her eyes seemed to darken just a bit. Clearing her throat, Tina nodded slightly, her voice tight.
"I see the feds told you all about me. I'm surprised you even bothered to meet me."
Sighing, Mariel looked over at the detective and then down at the table. She hadn't really meant to mention that she knew anything about Tina Amphipoli's past. The files agent Ephran had given her were sketchy, but from what she gathered, the dark haired woman sitting across from her had been involved in an internal affairs investigation while with the Chicago PD, for what, the young researcher didn't know. She did know though, that the blue wall of silence had literally fallen on the rookie cop and nearly crushed her. There were never any charges brought against anyone in the force and Tina had given up her badge and gun unceremoniously. The files were incomplete since that time and the Bureau kept loose track of Ms. Amphipoli, employing her for cases in which the federal government did not want to be associated with, but wanted taken care of nonetheless. In a quiet voice, Mariel spoke again as her eyes found the detective's.
"Listen, Tina, I don't know you very well and I may not be the type of person you'd choose to work with, but I can't do this without you. Agent Ephran told me you were the best and right now, those kids that are disappearing out there need the best. I'd like to try to do what I can for them."
Mariel paused and bit her bottom lip, glancing at the guarded face of the detective across from her before she took a breath and continued.
"And to be honest, I don't care about the past or whatever might have happened. We're here right now and we both want the same thing, to find these kids and bring the people responsible to justice. I've always thought that the greater good was more important than any single person so I'd like more than anything to not let our personal differences get in the way of helping them.."
The muscles in Tina's jaw moved slightly as she listened to Mariel, looking as if she was weighing the options silently in her head. With a low voice, she glanced down and then back up to the young psychologist's face, her face softening just a bit in the flickering candlelight.
"My grandma told me the same thing when I first joined the force...about the greater good. Sometimes I forget that...Mariel."
Smiling softly, Mariel nodded. She liked this woman despite herself, drawn to her charm and mystery. She knew there was more than met the eye when it came to Tina Amphipoli and she was looking forward to finding out more about her while they worked this case. With a warm voice, the forensic psychologist and budding FBI agent quietly spoke to her newest ally.
"So, does this mean we can work it out and come up with a plan together?"
A smile slid across the lips of the ex-cop turned private investigator, softening her face from stranger to newfound partner. The blond woman sitting across from her could hold her own with gentle strength and fierce conviction. Maybe she had underestimated the scientist, had put on the charm a bit too thick, had played it a little too cool. Tina nodded slightly at Mariel and spoke sincerely.
"Yes, I think it does."
Uptown, Valerie and Lisa hopped off the elevated train at Argyle into the chilly night air, their breath floating white wisps into the city. The street was populated with an occasional shadowed person walking quickly against the cold wind that started to blow. Run-down buildings and convenience stores lined either side of the street as the roaring of the El briefly drowned out the noise of the city.
"Damn, it's cold."
Valerie pulled her leather coat around her tighter as they walked down the block, her eyes darting back and forth as she searched for Teddy's apartment.
"You can say that again, Val. Ugh, how much further? This doesn't seem like a very safe neighborhood."
Lisa cautiously looked around as she rubbed her hands together, blowing on them while she walked briskly along the sidewalk, her long hair whipping behind her.. With a sigh, Valerie looked over at the dark-haired girl and shook her head.
"Relax, will you? You're such a farm girl, Lisa. I know this area, we'll be fine."
Pausing at a three story flat of run-down apartments, the taller girl stopped and pointed up at a dimly lit window with a sheet curtain and smiled. The steps leading up to the apartment entrance were littered with broken glass and empty beer cans. A police car streaked by with sirens wailing as the two girls reached the stoop.
"See? Here it is, no biggie."
Lisa muttered as she followed Valerie up the stairs, looking back over her shoulder as the cop car continued down the street. A blur of movement raced past the darkened building across the street and down around the block. Lisa turned her head as Teddy's gruff voice came through the intercom and the door buzzed to allow entry.
"Get in here."
Valerie pulled open the door and started in as Lisa hesitated on the steps. Glancing back over her shoulder, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Sometimes...sometimes, she really missed home and her family. Lisa spared a wistful thought of their farm in Indiana, her parents, her sister. A tug on her arm brought her back as Valerie pulled her inside and they started up the dark creaky stairs, the dim light from the street outside barely enough to find their way.
Teddy's gravel voice carried across the smoke filled room of the messy, cluttered apartment. Valerie and Lisa had walked in when they noticed the door slightly ajar and as soon as they were inside, one of Teddy's bulky friends shut it and locked it tight. Teddy was seated in the middle of a low dirty yellow couch, his arms resting on his knees as he leaned forward and reached across the grimy glass coffee table in front of him. He was a shaggy brown haired hulk of a man, his scruffy face at one time might have been considered handsome if his personality hadn't been such as it was. He wore a black leather vest, opened at the chest, and black leather pants and motorcycle boots. Under the vest was a black strap with chain links and round hooks attached to it. Even in the light of the apartment, a faint diagonal scar was visible across his bare chest, the origins of which neither girl knew. With a glance, Teddy took in Valerie and her companion and nodded slightly.
Valerie just rolled her eyes and shook her head as she headed over to the floor in
front of the coffee table and sat. With a hint of sarcasm, Valerie smiled at the big man.
"Your manners are something else, Teddy."
Teddy grunted and resumed his activities. Lisa paused at the door and scanned the room. Aside from the big guy who locked the door, the rest of the apartment was occupied by various people, most of them men in leather lounging on couches or standing in the kitchen. There were a few girls there too, all around Lisa's age. One blond girl was leaning against the hallway wall talking in slurred words to a short stocky man. Another red haired tall girl was seated on the lap of a bearded man, a linked chain around her neck dangling in his hands. And next to Teddy was a very young girl, maybe around sixteen. Her dark hair was spiked on top and longer in the back, braids of leather intertwined. She wore leather pants and a leather vest as well. She sneered over at Lisa before turning to Teddy.
"So, who's the new hole, Teddy?"
Teddy turned his head and growled at the girl, his hands pausing over the white powder in front of him.
"Shut up, Tara."
Looking up, he caught Lisa's eye and raised his chin, a smile crossing his lips. With a wave of his hand, he spoke.
"Come on in...you must be Valerie's friend. She's mentioned you."
Lisa smiled a nervous smile and moved forward, taking her coat off and sitting next to Teddy on the couch. Valerie smiled at her from her spot on the floor and winked. Somehow the room got a little darker and the music that Lisa had barely noticed got a little louder. Lisa watched as Teddy leaned forward and went back to his work, cutting the pile of white powder into smaller sections with a shiny silver razor blade. Each cut was accompanied by the clinking of metal on glass as the muscular guy partitioned off the powder on the table. Tara leaned back on the couch and looked across Teddy's large leathered back at Lisa and eyed her with a glare.
"So, you just fall off the apple cart or something? What's your story?"
The questions came in an even tone, barely disguised hostility under the surface. Glancing over at the scrawny teenager, Lisa cleared her throat before she spoke, summoning attitude she didn't feel but knew she needed to have to deal with this uncomfortable situation...something she had learned from her sister.
"What's it to you?"
Teddy and Valerie chuckled while Tara glared back. Narrowing her eyes, the girl curled her lip at Lisa.
"Fuck you. How about I kick your ass, pretty girl?"
Teddy stopped his cutting and turned towards the hostile youth, the glare he gave her unseen by Lisa. Through clenched teeth, he spoke in a low growl.
"Tara, knock it off. Go get us something to drink."
Lisa watched as the girl stared back at Teddy and then glared at her. She could tell this girl had some serious problems, most of them centering around her pissy attitude. Looking back at the leathered man's steel gaze, Tara huffed, got up, and went off into the kitchen. Teddy turned and smiled at Lisa, his brown eyes meeting hers.
"Sorry about that..she's a little juvey. If she wasn't my kid sister, she'd be history."
Lisa smiled and glanced over at Valerie who was laughing. Lisa seemed to be finding herself in crowds of questionable strangers more often these days. She had never really been in trouble as a kid, though she was always in the shadow of her older sister's achievements. She longed to fit in anywhere and had left her family in hopes of doing just that, making her own name. Truth was, she was jealous of her sister and how things came so easily to her. The problem was she also loved her and when she had left, Lisa felt...abandoned. It had always been the two of them roaming around their farm. Her sister had taken Lisa under her wing at school, made sure she wasn't picked on for her awkward social graces and her academic shortcomings. When she left for college, Lisa's social support crumbled. Her parents expected more from her and pressured her, she had no friends, had no real direction. And so she took off one winter day to make a new life; she hadn't seen any of her family since.
"You wouldn't mind sharing some of that before we go out, would you?"
Valerie's voice drifted across the coffee table as she lit a cigarette and blew out the
match. Soft laughter came from the hallway and the room got smokier by the minute. Teddy
stopped cutting the powder and looked over at Valerie, his voice a low rumble.
Valerie looked back at him with a sultry gaze while she took a long drag from her cigarette. Blowing out the white-grey smoke, she smiled playfully and raised her eyebrow. Valerie looked older than her age, the years and her bad habits had conspired to age her in subtle ways.
Teddy chuckled, turning briefly to smile at Lisa before starting to portion the powder into fine white lines.
"What's in it for me?"
Valerie pulled a dollar out of her pocket, holding the cigarette between her lips while she rolled the bill up tight. With a puff, she put the cigarette down in the dirty ashtray on the table and smiled.
"Our usual arrangement."
Lisa watched the exchange, feeling like she was one step behind the conversation. For
the three months she'd known and been out with Valerie, it always ended up with her
roommate picking up some dirty stranger and going home with him. Sex for drugs was
Valerie's game, not Lisa's, so she had always cabbed it back to their apartment after
Valerie left her for the night in some dark club. However, as far as Lisa knew, her
roommate never mentioned she had that kind of relationship with Teddy. Valerie was pretty
upfront about the men she slept with and the drugs she got from them. But Lisa didn't know
what this 'usual' arrangement was and she wasn't particularly sure she wanted to
either.Teddy gruffly nodded and bladed a line across the coffee table to Valerie.
"Fine, but I've gotta OK it with the boss."
Valerie raised her chin in agreement before she leaned over and took the line in one quick inhale, her eyes closing as she smiled against the tingle.
Lisa watched her roommate sigh in bliss as Tara came back into the room with three beers. Putting one on the table in front of Valerie and handing one to Teddy, the girl smiled as she took a long drink of the remaining one as she sat down and glanced over at Lisa. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, the teen smiled sweetly.
"Oh, I'm sorry...did you want one?"
Teddy glared back at his sister and grabbed his beer and handed it to Lisa.
With a smile, the big guy nodded his head and Lisa took the beer and drank, needing something to calm her nerves and make her feel more comfortable in this odd room. From the back of the apartment, a number of people started filing out, saying their goodbyes to Teddy. She noticed that most of the men were paired up in some fashion or another; one had his hands cuffed behind his back while he stood quietly behind another, one man actually had a dark leather hood over his head, his wrists restrained by tight leather binds. Even the two girls, not including Tara, were similarly attached to their respective partners. Lisa had never really understood the leather scene and she tried to keep an open mind about it, but frankly this particular crowd scared her. She'd known a girl once who was into the scene and she and her friends were cool. However, Lisa was getting a gut instinct about these men and this place and Teddy and everything that told her things were not right just below the surface. But Valerie was here with her so she felt some measure of safety.
Lisa took another drink of her beer as she watched everyone leave except for Val, Teddy, Tara, and the big hulky guy who appeared to have door duty. After he locked it, Teddy leaned over and took in one line of powder and then another in a quick blast, leaning back into the couch. Looking over at him, Lisa could see traces of the fine white powder on the scruff under his nose. She herself had shied away from drugs, the insidious brainwashing of Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' program from her school days apparently working. While she enjoyed a beer or two, she had never really tried anything more. She had been drunk before and had found out that she tended to be a bit..uninhibited. As long as she kept it under control, Lisa thought she'd be fine.
Glancing over to Valerie after taking another sip of her beer, she saw her roommate smile as she pulled out a neatly rolled joint. Unfortunately, with her insecurities and her need to fit in, Lisa had no chance. With Tara glaring at her from across the couch and Teddy's friend leaning against the door, his beefy arms crossed over his barrel chest, it was just too much. Lisa decided to say Yes to more than just a beer.
After clumsily taking her first line of powder, she felt edgy but that was quickly replaced by a mild euphoria when Valerie passed the joint to her and she inhaled her first hit. She had watched enough TV to figure out how all of this was done and it was kind of surreal to actually be doing drugs. It was a long way from how she grew up and for a wistful moment, she wished she hadn't let herself feel like she needed to fit in with these people. But, to be honest, she was starting to feel more comfortable. Tara got her another beer without too much hostility, Valerie was laughing and joking with her, and Teddy was an endless supply of white which seemed to make her feel alive.
Teddy nudged Lisa with his elbow and handed her something. Opening her hand, she looked at a small brown square of paper and looked up at him quizzically.
Valerie smiled and laughed as Lisa looked over at her and then back down at her hand. With a soothing voice, Val spoke as she exhaled smoke from her cigarette.
"Go on, that'll just make you feel better."
Hesitantly, Lisa picked up the piece of paper and held it between her thumb and forefinger, looking at it. Turning her eyes back to Valerie, the one person in this room she trusted the most, and spoke.
"What do I do with it? Are you sure it's not..."
She paused, not wanting to sound like she actually did just fall off the apple cart. She wasn't entirely sure what it was she was holding but she didn't want to appear like she was stupid. It was bad enough that she couldn't live up to her sister's intelligence, with these people, she could at least appear like she knew what she was doing. Valerie smiled at her.
"Just put it in your mouth and leave it there. You'll be fine."
Lisa looked at her roommate and the one friend she did have in Chicago and then looked back at the small brown square of paper in her hand. She was torn between fearful indecision and the intense desire to be something she was not. Maybe just this once she could step out behind her sister's golden shadow, have her own friends, be her own person.
"Well, here goes nothing."
With a shrug and a smile, Lisa made her decision.
Hours passed in a whirl of smoke and powder and beer and music and laughter until Lisa was faintly aware of them leaving Teddy's apartment and piling into a big black Van, it's shaggy carpeted inside reminiscent of every 70's stereotype possible. With the music thumping, she and Valerie, Teddy, Teddy's friend Leon (his name she finally found out when she laughingly asked him after he had picked her up and carried her down the stairs), and Tara, still sullen but the most sober of them all took off into the city. Lisa decided to down another beer when she realized Tara was driving the van at breakneck speed north through the back streets of Chicago. Sitting on Leon's lap, Lisa glanced over at Teddy, her eyes barely focusing on the big shaggy face seated in the leather lounge chair with Val next to him.
"So, where we goin'?"
Her own voice sounded strange to her as Lisa tried to comprehend what she had just said. Things were starting to feel a bit disconnected and out of place. She was having trouble keeping any clear thoughts in her head, each time something came to mind, it quickly left. She looked down at her own hand holding the beer bottle and wasn't quite sure if that hand was attached to her or not. Something was definitely not right here. Hearing a sound, she raised her head and turned. As if the sound and the source were delayed, she watched Valerie's mouth and then heard her as she laughed. Dazedly, she watched as her roommate scooped up a small amount of powder with her fingernail from a small vile, snorting it with a grin. With an elbow nudge to Teddy, she smiled over at him.
Teddy smiled as his arm draped over the back of the lounge seat and he shifted in his big motorcycle jacket, his bare chest still visible. Lisa listened as his voice rumbled towards her in waves, sounding like an echoing roll of thunder. She barely heard them as she grabbed Leon's bulky frame, trying for one last ditch effort at holding on to reality. The words he said lost meaning as she felt herself sinking deeper and deeper.
Mariel stretched as she stepped out into the crisp night air, pleasantly stuffed. Despite feeling off-balanced by her dinner companion and partner, she was not above appreciating a good meal and a starry night. It was 9 o'clock on a Thursday and there weren't all that many Chicagoans bustling around this part of the city outside the restaurant. Even with the overwhelming glare of the street lights and businesses, she was still able to make out a few faint glimmers of stars above her. It certainly wasn't like out in the country where the entire sky lit up with a blanket of tiny flickers. She was still looking up into the night sky when she heard the enigmatic private investigator come out of the restaurant behind her.
"See something interesting?"
A low voice rumbled behind her and Mariel brought her eyes down to regard the tall sleek form moving towards her. With casual grace, Tina Amphipoli ambled forward, adjusting her leather jacket and finally letting her blue eyes rest on Mariel's. With a shy smile, Mariel glanced back up at the sliver of sky between the buildings.
"Just looking at the stars...I miss that.."
Tina turned her head upwards and narrowed her eyes, searching for the little sparkles of light she rarely paid attention to, much less was able to see. With a smile sounding in her voice, she spoke, her breath visible against the canopy of buildings and sky above her.
"Yeah? They do a lot of star gazing where you're from?"
Mariel turned her eyes toward the detective, watching the wind whip her long dark hair around. Standing there on the sidewalk, Mariel realized how tall Tina was in comparison to her and how that was probably only one of a thousand differences between she and this stranger. She could tell Tina was a woman who was confident of her abilities, who never questioned her own decisions, who took care of herself. This was exactly the type of person the young forensic psychologist envisioned herself to be, but because she had been cloistered away at school, she lacked the real world experience that Tina obviously had. Sometimes her naivete' and idealism made her feel like she was missing something important, like she couldn't see beyond a certain point and how there maybe was so much more out there in the world for her.
It wasn't until she realized that penetrating blue eyes were focused on her that she came back to the here and now. With a nervous chuckle, she smiled and blushed a bit, her own blond hair swirling around and thankfully hiding her face just a bit. Reaching up, Mariel moved the strands of hair from her face and spoke.
"Well...it's just..um, where I used to live you could look up and see forever. When I was a kid, I made up stories about all the different constellations..you know, the greek myths..the legends."
The young scientist had to drop her gaze from Tina's, unable to hold on to eyes that
seemed to be taking her in with a quiet unreadable look. Putting her hands in her coat
pockets, Mariel looked up and down the street, trying to locate a cab or the way to the
elevated train. A car whizzed past on the street, full of hooting teenage boys, their
indecent shouts echoing through the quiet neighborhood. Tina took a step closer to Mariel
and put a casual hand on her shoulder, her voice reassuringly low and matter of fact.
"You need a ride home."
Mariel turned and looked at the investigator next to her and smiled. For some reason, the thought of being escorted home by this woman was entirely appealing. As much as she'd like to think she could take care of herself, the psychologist somehow felt much safer in Tina's presence in this unfamiliar city. Smiling, she protested nonetheless.
"I can take a cab."
Mariel watched as Tina Amphipoli smiled and raised a dark eyebrow at her, her hand leaving the shorter woman's shoulder and reaching into her pocket for her keys. With a shrug of one shoulder, Tina spoke as she turned to go.
Before the private investigator got two steps, Mariel had looked around the darkened
street and then jogged to catch up with her. With a shy glance at Tina, she joined her
strides to match the taller woman's down the side street to her car. Tina turned her head
slightly and cocked an eyebrow. Mariel's lips curved into a tentative smile as she spoke.
"On second thought..."
Tina nodded her head at the younger woman with a slight smile. Mariel watched as the detective moved with grace ahead of her and reached out to unlock the passenger side door of her car. Mariel smiled her thanks and sank into the dark interior of the car that smelled of leather and spices and something deliciously mysterious. When she was settled, Tina locked the door and shut it tightly. In just a short time, they were off, gliding through the city of Chicago.
Tina glanced over at Mariel who was quietly taking in the dark choppy waters of Lake Michigan. Speeding along Lake Shore Drive, the detective was able to collect her thoughts a bit. Even though dinner had been rather..challenging, she still admired the way the young woman next to her handled herself. True, Mariel Potidean was green with youth and inexperience; however, she did possess a certain sense of conviction and strength that Tina appreciated. If there was anthing she disliked more, it was a lack of imagination. She could tell that the young researcher next to her was certainly able to hold her own. It might be possible to solve this case with her, but it would take both imagination and flexibility to accomplish it.
The private investigator was used to working alone. The way she solved cases was a combination of creative planning, artful manipulation, cunning execution, and of course, physical intimidation. Tina used all of her many skills whether it was bringing down illegal gambling rings, exposing trading commodity scams, or helping bring charges against crooked political insiders. The Windy City had a rich tradition of all makes and models of corruption. Naturally, along the way, the rogue private eye had made her fair share of enemies ranging from street thugs to rich and powerful businessmen and political leaders. Of course, she had also made many contacts, information brokers, and allies in every sector of the city.
While many people knew Tina Amphipoli, no one had neutral feelings about her. They either loved her or hated her. Her style tended to be no-nonsense. She preferred to get to the point when dealing with certain scum in the city, often using her superior physical condition to make that point. Under her street clothes, Tina kept her body lean and fit, solid muscles and power made others wary of crossing paths with the fierce woman. That also made her a target. Sometimes, tough guys would challenge her out in the field, either underestimating her or overestimating themselves. Generally a fist to the gut or an elbow against the side of the head changed their minds. However, what made her one of the most feared of foes was her ability to extract any information she wanted through a variety of means. Nothing could be kept from Tina when she wanted information.
With a sigh, the private investigator shifted in the leather seat of her car, her booted foot pressing further down on the gas. She had redone the entire interior of the Buick, replacing cheap vinyl with soft creamy leather. She had had this car since she was in Detroit and many nights it had been her home, whether that was by necessity or choice. With a casual but sure grip on the wheel, Tina drove smoothly along the stretch of road, streetlights occasionally casting a glow in the car.
"It's so dark. What are those lights way out there, do you know?"
Mariel's soft voice broke the silence and filled the car as Tina took her eyes from the road and glanced over to the smaller form sitting next to her. The Buick purred as it curved around LSD, the dimly lit interior providing little light for the occupants. With the skyline to the left and the lake to the right, Tina could only make out the outline of Mariel, the light from the streetlamps throwing a gold shadow and tinting her hair. With one hand resting comfortably on the steering wheel, Tina maneuvered through the light traffic with speed and skill. Another glance out to the lake and the investigator spoke, nodding her head in the dark towards the water.
"That's a water rig, people actually live and work out there for weeks at a time."
Mariel turn back towards Tina, her profile strong against the Chicago skyline as the
road curved sharply to the left. Glancing back out to the water, she murmured.
"That would be odd...living out there...so close to millions of people but still far away. Bet it's lonely."
Tina shifted her eyes to the young scientist. With a slight sigh, the private detective's voice was quiet.
"I think a person can feel just as lonely in a city of millions."
With that, Tina reached for the radio and turned up the volume, missing the curious look from her passenger as the Buick sped north along Lake Shore Drive.
"Here's my place."
Mariel pointed out the window as Tina made a U-turn and pulled the car to a stop along Central Avenue. They had wound their way into Evanston, the streets dark and deserted on this weeknight. The short brownstone apartments across from Northwestern University's football stadium were characteristic of the type of housing found in this neighborhood. It was a mix of student-rented apartments and condominiums, a relatively safe neighborhood. Tina smiled to herself as she thought this was exactly the type of place the psychologist would choose.
Taking hold of the door handle, Mariel hesitated and turned to the investigator as the dark woman sat with her hands leisurely draped across the top of the steering wheel. With the car rumbling in idle, the minimal glow of the street lights caught a few strands of Tina's dark hair, making it shine violet. With a smile, the FBI scientist nodded her head towards her apartment.
"Um...would you like to come up for coffee or something?"
Tina smiled in the darkness as her fingers rested against the dashboard, lightly running them along the smooth surface. A woman walked past on the sidewalk, her dog tugging her down the dark street, sniffing at everything it could find. Glancing down at the faintly glowing lights of the car's control panels, Tina's voice was low.
"Isn't it a little late for coffee?"
Mariel turned and faced the profiled detective, a sigh escaping her lips. Taking a deep breath, the researcher spoke.
"I was hoping we might get a chance to talk a little about the case or at least get to know each other a bit better."
Lifting her eyes to meet Mariel's quiet regard, she weighed her options. She had felt a tad guilty for coming on a bit too strong to Mariel earlier in the restaurant. Sometimes Tina approached strangers as either potential enemies to be conquered or as allies to be seduced with no ground in between. It was easier that way because it kept everything clear and everyone at arms length. Whether enemy or ally, no one ever got close enough to Tina...not anymore at least.
Seeing the open unguarded look on Mariel's face made the investigator reassess the FBI psychologist. Even in this short amount of time, Tina could see that there didn't appear to be any hidden motives behind those honest green eyes. It was clear that all Mariel wanted was a chance. Tina smiled and turned off the headlights, resting her hand on the keys in the ignition.
"Got a beer? I hate coffee."
With a wide grin, Mariel nodded and the deal was sealed.
Opening the door to her dark apartment, Mariel could feel the tall presence of the private investigator behind her as she clicked on the lamp. Stepping inside, she led Tina into her place as she took her coat off, hanging it on the closet doorknob. With a gesture, she smiled at the detective and spoke pleasantly as she moved off into the kitchen.
"Have a seat..I'll get us a drink."
Tina nodded back and walked further into the hardwood floored apartment, glancing out the bay window that faced the courtyard below them. On the third floor, she could see a few lights on in the apartments across and below them, the shades open. With a slight pause, she reached over and closed the vertical blinds to the window and sat down on the dark green sofa nestled under the expanse of windows. Settling herself on the edge of the couch and resting her forearms on her knees, Tina's hands unconsciously played with her keys while she looked around the softly lit apartment.
It was clear that Mariel Potidean had just moved into the place not too long ago as there were a few boxes still unpacked against one wall next to a desk with a computer. Stacks of paper and files were piled on the desk and the PC was on, the screen saver flashing a small round silver ring across the darkness, bouncing off the edge and careening back across the screen. Along the length of another wall there was a set of tall dark wooden bookcases filled to capacity with even more stacks on the floor. A few Georgia O'Keefe prints hung on the walls, but the rest of the place was sparsely decorated. The hallway leading back to the rest of the apartment was dark. Mariel's place had a comforting, familiar smell to it, a citrus scent that wormed its way deep into her memory. Though not overtly feminine, the place certainly had that kind of feel to it. Tina smiled when she thought of her own spartan apartment.
Glancing into the kitchen, the detective watched as Mariel moved in the softly lit room, digging through drawers for a bottle opener. Her longish blonde hair settled down her back, the golden tints contrasting against her navy sweater. Even from where she sat, Tina could make out the slim lines of the scientist's body. And while the detective knew a fit, trim body when she saw one, she was a bit surprised by the hint of muscles Mariel displayed as she set the bottles of beer on the counter and pushed up the sleeves to her sweater. With a grace all her own, Mariel reached up into the cupboard and pulled down a glass, turning to look over her shoulder with a question on her face. Tina smiled and shook her head.
"Nah, the bottle's fine."
With a nod of her head, Mariel turned and put the glass back up and busied herself with opening the two Coronas. Tina shook her head at herself. Now was definitely not the time to be thinking anything remotely sexual about the young woman. They had a job to do and those kind of thoughts and actions tended to make matters worse, not better in these kinds of situations. Besides, Tina seriously doubted the good doctor played on the same team as she. She looked too goddamned wholesome. Of course, the sloping, curved lines and subtle rich colors of Ms. O'Keefe's painted irises staring back at her from the wall suggested the slimmest of possibilities otherwise.
Mariel turned, making her way into the living room with two bottles of beer in one
hand. Pulling a grey cushioned chair over, she handed a beer to Tina who murmured her
thanks and sat back, crossing her feet at the ankles. With a smile at the detective, she
brought the bottle to her lips and took a sip. For her part, the dark woman did the same.
Mariel started the conversation with an unusual lack of eloquence on her part. She suspected part of the problem was the beautiful private investigator sitting on her couch. Her quietly commanding presence aside, Tina's piercing blue eyes tended to distract Mariel's thoughts. She hadn't ever really met a woman who had immediately made her nervous. She considered herself a people person and most times, she was comfortable and at ease with just about anyone. Even the guys she dated in college never made her feel...nervous...at least not in this way. Part of her profession, forensic psychology, was about getting a feel for other people and never letting one's own insecurities be shown. One did not get through graduate school by showing any fear or hesitancy and Mariel had quite effectively learned to defend her beliefs even when the evidence for them was questionable.
However, this was an entirely new situation: The big city, her first professional case, people's safety on the line, and being partnered with a woman she was finding herself inexplicably and surprisingly attracted to even though she had just met her a few hours ago. Mariel Potidean had a feeling that things were about to change and her world was going to be thrown upside down. She smiled to herself and turned her gaze back towards the woman occupying her couch. When those blue eyes hesitantly met hers, she knew that indeed, things were definitely going to get interesting.
Tara pulled the van to a stop on George Street, just off Sheffield. After accidentally driving north, Teddy had yelled at her from the back of the van and told her they were going to Lakeview. Like Tara knew? She had been driving since she was 13 but still, they fucking had to tell her where they wanted to go before she could fucking take them there. Dammit.
Valerie watched as Teddy opened the sliding door of the van and stepped out, his bulky body obscuring the dim light from the building behind him. She scrambled after him, joining Tara at his side on the sidewalk. Glancing behind her, she looked at the darkened storefront, the dirty windows painted black. A big muscled man in leather stood at the heavy black door watching them with his arms crossed over his chest. Turning her eyes back to the van, she watched as Leon emerged with her very disoriented roommate who stumbled forward with Leon's strong hands holding her up. Lisa's brown eyes were as wide as saucers, the pupils dilated as she tried to focus on her surroundings.
"So Teddy, you think your boss lady's gonna want to deal?"
Valerie spoke as she turned to her friend, Teddy. With a smile, she nodded over at Lisa and raised an eyebrow before continuing.
"I'd say this one's worth our usual and extra."
Teddy put a hand to his chin, stroking the scruff while he appraised the young woman standing in Leon's arms, oblivious to the conversation.
"And how do you figure the 'extra'?"
Valerie curved her hand around his leathered bicep and smiled, looking up at him with light blue eyes. With a wink over at Tara, she purred.
"I've been living with her for three months and not once did she mention having a family. No one's gonna miss her so it's a clean deal with no strings. It won't be too hard to erase her existence. Besides, I happen to know for a fact that she's undamaged goods."
Teddy's eyes went wide as he peered over at the staggering girl and then back at Valerie, his rumbling voice holding a hint of excitement.
"You mean to tell me she's whole?"
Valerie reached inside the leather jacket and smoothed her hands across his hairy chest. Sidling up in front of him, she smiled.
"That's exactly what I'm saying. She told me herself. Never had a boyfriend, hell, she never got to second base."
Teddy looked down at her, his dingy white teeth showing as he smiled crookedly. With a glance over at Lisa, he nodded.
"She's a bit older than the boss likes them. She's what? 21, 22? I don't know if that'll fly."
Valerie let her hands run across his chest, her fingers hooking on the leather strap hooks and tugging. Putting on a pouty look, the minor-league player from New York City looked up at him. She needed this score. The last one she found for Teddy supplied her habit for months. If she could get this one and something extra, she'd be able to finally make her way into the business. Not the same business Teddy and his boss were in, but the smack market these days was booming and she could make a fortune. She had big plans. Valerie had to sell this one good.
"Yes, but Teddy, she's from Indiana for god's sake. With that kind of stunted
cultural background, she's gotta be no more than 17 or 18 in the head. Look at her!"
Tara piped up perturbed, stepping to the side of Valerie and tapping her on the shoulder.
"Hey! Me and Teddy are from Indiana, you smart ass!"
Valerie smiled and shook her head at both of them.
"Yes, but you two didn't live on an honest to god fucking farm, did you?"
The three of them laughed as they turned and looked at Lisa, trying to stand on her own as Leon held her up. Val just convinced the second in command that the goods were worth the price.
Lisa turned her head at the sound she distantly heard and focused briefly on Valerie. Somewhere in her mind, she realized that Valerie was her friend and that she could help her find her way back to wherever it was she was supposed to go. No longer able to make sense of things on her own, she knew that if only Valerie could tell her what was reality, she'd make the connection. Would she hear her if she tried to talk? Could she talk? What was talking anyway? Reaching out a hand, Lisa stumbled forward and Val caught her. With labor, she tried to make her mind and mouth form words that barely corresponded to the thoughts in her head.
"Valerie...this...I am..can..can you. There's something on my shoe..heavy..I..."
Valerie started to lead Lisa to the door of the building behind her. With a smile, she looked over at her roommate, she soothed words to her.
"It's ok..we're just going to go in here for a while. You'll be fine. Trust me."
Lisa only heard the last two words, making some sense in her mind. The people around her were starting to become fuzzy shapes with colors vibrating out from them. As the shape at the door opened it, she briefly caught the red neon sign just inside the door. Her mind tried to wrap itself around the fact that there were letters there and that those letters represented words and those words meant something to someone. To her?
"Cir..c...see that? Val...I think I should call my...cirra.. my..um..I need mmy...I need Mar...I..my siscirra.."
Valerie shushed her and glanced behind her shoulder, making sure Teddy didn't hear any of this rambling. The last thing she needed was for Lisa to blow this deal for her. Teddy was gruffly talking to the doorman as she pulled Lisa further into the dark club, the pulsing sound of techno music filled their ears before Lisa could utter another word. All Valerie needed to do was get the approval of Teddy's boss, collect her fee, and keep Lisa drugged up enough for them to take care of the rest. She reached into her pocket and took out another square of paper and let it slip between the unresisting lips of her roommate who looked at her with doe-eyed faith. Nobody ever said the world was a safe place to trust someone.
Teddy made his way up the stairs to the balcony overlooking the dance floor. The entire place was jam packed with sweaty leather bodies, dark lights, and the sound of bass-filled music. He had already nodded to the people who had left his apartment earlier in the evening. The room was mainly filled with men, their dancing was a mixture of rhythm as well as overt domination and submission. Black leather, chains, bondage devices, the whole place was packed with sweat and slaves. This was certainly one side of the leather scene that most people had come to associate with unease. Teddy felt right at home.
Leon had taken Lisa to a back room down below and Valerie and Tara were at the bar getting drinks. Reaching the top of the stairs, Teddy looked around the dimy lit area, a few tables were occupied by various people drinking and engaging in their own private games. Spotting his boss, he made his way across the room. A curved booth was situated against the back wall, away from all the other tables, a candle throwing surprisingly strong light and shadows against the sole occupant of the booth. With a smile, he placed a drink on the table and slid into it.
"Theodore, you know I don't drink intoxicants."
The voice coming from Teddy's boss was distinctly feminine and slightly chastising. With her lips curved into a deceptively sweet smile, the slim figure dressed in a shiny black leather bustier affected a bored look as rolled her eyes at Teddy when he smiled his apologies and adoration. Long blond hair fell around her bare shoulders and her red lipstick stood out against her beautifully sculpted face, her high cheekbones standing out in relief. This woman was a dangerous combination of sexual power and disarming manipulation. Her long fingernails tapped against the surface of the table as she narrowed her eyes at Teddy.
"What took you so long, hmm, Teddy boy? I assume you know I don't like to be kept waiting."
Teddy's face went shy and submissive as he lowered his eyes to his mistress. In a soft boyish voice, he spoke.
"Forgive me, Mistress Cirra."
Cirra inhaled a deep breath as she crossed her legs, the tight shiny leather pants painted on her squeaking as she moved. Men were so easy. Most of them wanted to be dominated and that was simple enough: A stern voice, stern punishment, whatever. To be honest, the whole scene bored Cirra because there was no challenge. If she wanted to, she could strut right down there on the dance floor and make men grovel at her feet. Didn't matter if they were gay or straight, they all wanted to feel her boot on their neck. You see, Cirra had that elusive quality called charisma, that sexual power and attitude that could be felt as strongly as a leather strap across a bare back. But the important thing was that she _knew_ it. She knew exactly how to work a crowd, how to get what she wanted from anyone. It was almost scary.
That was why she was the boss here. That was why she controlled an elaborate group of individuals all willing and able to do her bidding and make her money and make people pay. Part of what made Cirra dangerous and slightly insane was the fact that she had no conscience. Simple as that. She simply no longer gave a fuck about any other human being. She was dead inside from a wound so old she no longer remembered the pain of it. All she knew was that everyone was cattle to her and she would brand them with her own stamp before she left this world. She'd take as many down with her as she could but until then, she'd take away every mother's pride and joy...their children. She never had a childhood and she was damned if she was going to let anyone else have one. With a low growl, she sneered over at Teddy.
"Show me what you got. Now."
Teddy cowered under her firm voice, his brown eyes lowering to the table. In a quiet voice, he spoke.
"She's downstairs. Young, 21 or so."
Cirra reached over and grabbed the leather of his motorcycle jacket and yanked him to her, nearly shoving his face into the table. Her chocolate brown eyes found his and drove into them with the force of her personality.
"You _know_ I don't take them that old, you sniveling pig. Why are you wasting my time?"
From his vantage point a few inches above the table, he peered up at her, his eyes pleading as his hands found the edge of the table. He could smell the slight scent of cinnamon coming from her skin and that merely made him more submissive.
"Wait, Mistress Cirra, wait, please. She's older but she's a virgin."
He felt the blond let go of his jacket and grab his hair, raising his head to study him. A half-crazed, far off look came into her eyes and she glanced across the table, not seeing the swirl of bodies dancing below or the tables of people around her. With a broad smile, she let her index finger play with the surface of the table.
"A virgin...a virgin...in this day, at that age?"
It was a rhetorical question in a singsong voice as she pondered, her hand gripping Teddy's hair tightly. A virgin? There were so few these days, even when she started lowering the age of her trade. Cirra was surprised to find a virgin in kids as young as 13. Why, back in her day...
Her thoughts were interrupted when Valerie and Tara came up to the table, each holding a beer in her hands. With a curious look, she regarded the two girls standing in front of her booth with mild annoyance. Teddy shifted his eyes from the table to the girls, wishing they weren't witnessing his particular predicament.
"Yes? What do you want?"
Cirra's voice growled out her disdain. She knew the young one was Teddy's sister and the other one she had done business with long ago. The point was, however, they were interrupting her and that was unacceptable.
Valerie smiled and lowered her head slightly in respect. She had learned how to deal with Cirra: cautious submission. This time, however, she had something valuable and that made this meeting a little less intimidating. As long as she had something Cirra wanted, she could bargain with a little more leverage. With a soft but confident voice, she let her eyes meet the blond's.
"The virgin is mine to deal."
Cirra narrowed her eyes as she let go of Teddy's hair, forgetting him while she focused on Valerie. She was a curious young woman, from New York if she recalled. Some trouble in the city, a big habit to feed. With a twinkle in her eye, Cirra smiled coyly and motioned for Valerie and Tara to join them in the wide U-shaped booth. With a purr, she let her eyes meet Valerie's.
Lisa stood against the wall, her back firmly resting against the hard wooden surface. She knew she was in a small room, but could barely comprehend the dimensions, let alone the specifics. She was faintly aware of a single lightbulb suspended above her, swinging back and forth by its cord. Leon was sitting on a small chair by the door, his eyes roaming over her body. She was thirsty, the dehydration of the night finally catching up to her. She could hear or feel the pounding of the music against the wall as she stood there, too afraid to let go.
Just before another wave of reality disconnection swept over her, Lisa's mind played over images from her childhood like a surreal 'It's Your Life' experience. Closing her eyes, she watched the movie of her mom and dad swinging her between them, their sure grip holding her little hands as they walked along their field of growing corn. A rich, joyful laugh escaped her as she swung suspended above the ground, her tiny feet coming to rest on the green, green grass. She heard another happy laugh and looked behind her. Running, white-blond hair waved along behind a smiling face, green eyes dancing as the slightly smaller girl caught up to Lisa and her parents.
It was her sister, shorter than she but a few years older. Laughing, she watched her brown-haired self run back and take her sister's hand and they skipped ahead of their parents. The flat farmland surrounding them offered a virtually endless playground. With her hand firmly in her sister's, she followed as they ran away from their parents into the fields of corn, the green stalks rising a few inches above their bobbing heads. On and on, they ran, the stiff leaves smacking against their faces and their bare arms and legs. Neither one of them cared as they laughed and laughed, running further and further. She felt safe with her sister, assured that when the time came, Mariel would lead her home.
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