One month later - Saturday, June 4th.
"Do you have your keys, Bets?" Joanna said as she put on her blazer.
"Right here, hon," Betty said, patting the pocket of her jeans.
"Well, let's get the show on the road, then."
"I'm really excited! This is the first time I've been to one of those Meet The Police-bashes."
"There isn't much to get excited about. It's mostly just a bunch of law enforcement people chewing the fat," Joanna said and wrapped her arm around Betty's shoulder.
"And then there's the cotton candy, the amusements, the police big band... can't wait!"
On their way down the garden path, Betty suddenly ran ahead and flung herself against the side of the Crown Victoria.
"Oooh, I'm yours to frisk, officer," Betty said and put her hands behind her back to show that she was ready for the handcuffs.
Joanna's only reply was a grunt and a playful shove. Instead of speaking, she reached past Betty and opened the front door of the squad car.
"Are we going somewhere secluded so you can have your way with me, officer?" Betty said as she sat down on the front seat.
Twenty-five minutes later, after safely navigating the ever-busy streets of the Big City, they entered a grassy lot the police force had rented for the weekend.
All the concession stands and the mesh fence surrounding the lot were covered by so many red, white and blue balloons that Joanna briefly wondered why they didn't lift off, but she was soon too busy maneuvering the large squad car into a tightly packed parking lot to have time to think about anything else.
"Sheesh, wouldya look at this lot. Cop cars everywhere," Betty said with a snicker.
"Just remember who brought you here, okay? I don't want to come back to the car and realize that you've left with one of the foxy ladies from the SWAT team or something," Joanna said in a sincere voice that soon made Betty snicker even louder.
"Sure thing, hon. You know where my heart lies," Betty said and leaned over to give Joanna a loving peck on the cheek.
A flash of guilt swept across Joanna's face as she watched Betty climb out of the car and close the door behind her. Joanna briefly looked at herself in the rear view mirror, but soon reached for the lever to open her own door.
A while later, Betty and Joanna waved goodbye to a young widow they had spoken to and continued walking around the colorful concession stands.
"Wow, it was really sobering to listen to her story," Betty said after a long pause.
"Yeah. In our line of work, we never know who we'll meet next or what's going to happen when we do. Appearances can be deceptive as well. I remember one time where I stopped a luxury car driven by a clean-cut man looking very much like a stockbroker. Next thing I knew, he drew a gun on me. Turned out he was a lawyer who'd been embezzling his company to cover a gambling debt and now he had come to a literal dead end. I still don't know if he hoped I'd do it for him, or what his intentions were."
"Jo, please stay out of the firing line if you can... okay?" Betty said and put her hand on Joanna's elbow. The two women stopped and turned around to look at each other.
"I'll try, but there are no guarantees in the police force. You never know where the next threat will come from. Like I said, something completely innocuous could jump up and bite you in the-"
"Oh, hello, Detective Powell," a very familiar, rich female voice said right behind Joanna. Even before she turned around, she had recognized the voice. Her blood froze over and she could almost feel her teeth begin to chatter in her mouth. Moments later, a superheated wave swept over her and she felt like she was burning up from the inside. All of this had only lasted a few seconds, but Joanna had seen her entire love life flash by before her eyes.
Licking her lips nervously, she turned around and prepared to face the one person she hadn't expected to see.
"Hello, Miss Zinovia," Joanna said in a shaky voice. She cleared her throat a couple of times to get it under control, but Liliana had already picked up on it, leading to a cheeky smirk flashing across her lips. The former principal definitely attracted attention to herself by wearing a bright white, breezy pantsuit with a pale yellow scarf around her neck and a pair of sunglasses with smoke-tinted lenses.
"And you must be Joanna's girlfriend. I'm so pleased to meet you. My name is Liliana Zinovia," Liliana said, raising her sunglasses and putting out her hand.
"That's right, I'm Betty Johansen. Nice to meet you, Miss Zinovia," Betty said with a smile. As the two women shook hands, Joanna stared at both her lovers in a state of shock.
"What... uh... what are you doing here?" Joanna said, fidgeting with the sleeves of her blazer.
"I was invited by Lieutenant Barnes."
'Sweet Jesus, she's been screwing the Lou!' Joanna thought and was once again assaulted by the hot and cold sensations.
"Well, I won't take too much of your time. It was nice meeting you, Betty," Liliana said and reached out to touch Betty's arm.
"Perhaps we'll bump into each other again later?" Liliana said, looking directly at Joanna.
"Perh... *cough, cough*... perhaps we will, Miss Zinovia," Joanna said and wrapped her arm around Betty's shoulders. "Bets, I need a Coke... you want some cotton candy?" she continued, pulling the amused Betty further down the lane.
"No, a Coke will do fine, thanks," Betty said, glancing over her shoulder at the striking figure they had just left behind.
As they were standing in line for the soft drinks vendor, Betty tugged at Joanna's sleeve to make the taller woman lean down towards her.
"That Liliana Zinovia, she's definitely a looker, huh?"
"Uh, yes. Yes, she is."
"Just for fun, Jo... could you go for someone like her?"
Joanna's head snapped around and she stared gap-mouthed at her partner. "Well, I... I guess. But I don't have to because I already have one hell of a cutie pie right here," she added hurriedly.
Betty chuckled and snuck her hand down Joanna's rear pocket. "Nice save, Detective. I know what you mean, though. She looks good, but it's not always the flashy shell that matters... right? I mean, you have to look at the core as well. The heart."
"Absolutely. Good thing you have plenty of both, Bets," Joanna said and bumped shoulders with her partner.
Joanna tried to keep a smile on her face but it insisted on fading away. Even if it had been a coincidence that they had run into Liliana Zinovia, she knew that the inevitable showdown had moved a great deal closer.
After they had received their soft drinks, they continued roaming the fair, eventually ending up at a small stage where an emcee and a stand-up comedian were trying to keep the crowd entertained by firing off a barrage of jokes that ranged from faintly amusing to toe-curlingly unfunny.
Joanna could only stomach a handful of the jokes so it didn't take long for her to hook her arm inside Betty's and continue onto the BBQ tent.
"Time for lunch, Bets. What do you fancy today?" she said as they entered the tent.
Shaped like a circus big-top, the marquee had tons of balloons and wide, red-and-white festoons hanging from the rafters. Just inside the entrance, a large tri-pod billboard was prominently placed, carrying a promotional image of the Chief of Detectives dressed like a Chef. Snickering, Joanna approved of the impressive handlebar mustache some joker had drawn under the Chief's nose.
"Spare ribs if they have 'em, wings if they don't."
"Right. Go find a seat. I'll get the food and the drinks. Coke again?"
"Yes, please, hon," Betty said with a dazzling smile.
On her way back from the counter, Joanna came to such a hard stop that she almost dropped the two plates and two cans she was carrying on a tray. Down at the table, Betty was having an animated conversation with Liliana Zinovia.
Both women were smiling and laughing, and somehow, Joanna couldn't help but think that they were talking about her - maybe even comparing notes.
"Hey, would you mind gettin' a move on?" a man said behind Joanna.
"Huh? Oh, yeah... sorry." Reluctantly, Joanna began to walk again. Her legs wouldn't really obey, but she managed to move one ahead of the other in the traditional, rhythmic motion.
"Hi again, Detective Powell," Liliana said, moving her sunglasses away so Joanna could put down the tray.
"Hi," Joanna said, deliberately not looking at Liliana. Instead, she concentrated on placing a can of Coke and a plate of spare ribs in front of Betty. When she moved to sit down, she realized that Liliana had chosen the seat next to hers. Looking to her right and then across the table at the free chair next to Betty, Joanna realized that she would have to go around the entire table to get to the other side - but that would just be too obvious.
Sighing, she pulled out the chair and sat down next to Liliana. As she put her backside in the seat, she caught a whiff of the former principal's perfume. 'I wonder what she's wearing? Gotta be something exotic and extravagant. Maybe Tigress... no, I know... it's gotta be Goddess Of The Hunt by Karl L.'
Liliana was nursing a bottled mineral water, and as she took a small swig, Joanna looked at the way her head was leaned back, revealing her smooth throat.
"Sorry I didn't get anything for you, Miss Zinovia. I didn't know you'd be here," Joanna offered, stabbing a rib with her fork.
"Oh, that's all right, Joanna. Mind if I call you Joanna?" Liliana said with an unmistakable sparkle in her eye.
"Uh, no, I don't mind. It's my name after all."
"Joanna Powell. It really suits her, don't you think, Betty? It's sharp, it's to the point... it delivers," Liliana said, clenching her fists in a humorous fashion.
Betty chuckled and took a bite out of her first rib. After she had finished chewing, she grinned and nodded. "That's right. She definitely delivers."
"Okay, now you're freaking me out," Joanna said around a mouthful of rib, pointing her fork at Betty. The gleam in her eye took the sting out of the words, but in reality, she meant it more than she was letting on.
"Sorry, Joanna. Anyway, I promised Nick to meet him at the shooting gallery in a little while so I better get going," Liliana said and moved her chair back.
"Nick?" Joanna said.
"Nicholas Barnes, your Lieutenant."
"Oh... I don't think I've ever heard anyone calling him 'Nick' before."
"Now you have. Joanna, please give me a call if you hear something on Rocky Caulfield... okay?" Liliana said and put a warm hand on Joanna's shoulder.
Joanna could feel Liliana's body heat radiate through the blazer and the shirt she was wearing underneath. Although the touch wasn't uncomfortable by any stretch of the imagination, it sent her into an acute state of panic. "I will, Miss Zinovia. You have my word."
"Thank you. See ya, Betty," Liliana said and waved at Joanna's partner.
"See ya!" Betty said, digging into the last of the ribs.
At the same time, Joanna pushed her nearly untouched food away and leaned back in her seat.
"Who's Rocky Caulfield?" Betty said, taking a long swig from her can of Coke.
"The prime suspect in the boarding school homicides. He's vanished without a trace."
"Don't worry, you'll find him," Betty said and reached across the table to pat Joanna's hand.
"I wish I had your confidence," Joanna said, looking towards the main entrance of the BBQ tent where she just caught a glimpse of Liliana as she made her exit.
"Have no fear, the One-Four is here!" a man shouted from his position at one of the other entrances, earning himself a loud chorus of jeers, boos and whistles from the assembled officers.
"I think I know who that is," Joanna said and got up from her chair. With a wave, she caught the attention of Corbin Thomas and the ever-loud William Larsen who both waved back and began to stride their way around the tables.
"Are they some of your colleagues?" Betty said, wiping her lips and her fingers in a napkin.
"Yeah, they work the night shift. They're both smart, even if you can't always see it in the way they dress," Joanna said and waved again. William Larsen was wearing the same suit he always wore and he had the tie crooked and the top button of his shirt undone like always.
The two detectives sat down on opposite sides of the table, Corbin next to Joanna and William next to Betty.
"So, what's up, fellas?" William said.
"Not much," Joanna said.
"Are you done with those ribs?"
Joanna looked down at her half-full plate. Shrugging, she pushed that and an unused napkin across the table. "Sure. Knock yourself out, Bill."
"Thanks!" At once, William went to work on one of the ribs. It didn't take him much more than ten seconds to have barbecue sauce dripping from his chin.
"Last night, we managed to close the Sorranto Street case," Corbin Thomas said.
"I heard. Great work. So it was a crime of passion after all, huh?"
"Yeah. The husband was doing it with both his female neighbors. Initially, his wife said that burglars had done him in, but we found blood and skin tissue on her weapon of choice, a frying pan. A cast iron frying pan, I might add," Corbin said, looking at Betty.
"Ouch. Did he make it?" Betty said.
"Messy business, that passion," Corbin said reflectively.
The others all nodded in agreement.
"Anyway, how are things going with the armed assaults on the bus drivers?" he said to Joanna.
"Okay. We got one of them, but he won't roll over on his associates. By the looks of things, it's gang-related," Joanna said, stealing half a rib back from the plate William was eating from.
"Really? Even over here, west of the Monroe?"
"Yeah. They're everywhere these days." Joanna looked up and noticed that Betty was practicing her thousand-mile stare. "No more talking shop for me, guys. I think my girl here is bored to tears," she said and tickled Betty's hand.
"I need to get some more chow, anyway. You want some, Corbin?" William Larsen said and got up from his chair.
"A Double Cheesy Deluxe if you're buying...?" Corbin said.
"Then I'm good."
"Cheapskate," William said out of the corner of his mouth, making Joanna and Betty chuckle at him.
"Look who's talking. You're always first out of the taxi and last into the bar!" Corbin said loudly, but William just waved his hand at him.
"Do you want some more food, hon?" Joanna said, swallowing the last of the rib.
"No, thank you. I'm quite full. They were great ribs, I can't understand why you only had one and a half...?"
"Ah, I wasn't that hungry. Anyway, see ya, Corbin. Meet you back at the precinct," Joanna said and got up from her chair.
Once they were outside, Joanna knew exactly where she didn't want to go - the shooting gallery - and she dearly hoped that it wouldn't be of any interest to Betty, either.
From the other end of the fair, the first strains of a big band standard could be heard and Betty quickly turned around and put her hands around Joanna's waist. "That's gotta be the Boys In Blue police big band. D'ya want to go and listen to them? I watched them on TV the other week and they're really good."
"A big band? Well, why not. Let's go listen to the big band," Joanna said and took Betty's hands in her own. Swinging their hands back and forth between them, the two women hurried down the lane to join the hundreds of people already standing in front of the open stage.
Monday, June 6th.
"Damn, Vern, couldn't you have found a better day to have a sore throat?" Joanna growled as the telephone rang for the umpteenth time that day. As it rang and rang, she looked left and right, desperately trying to find a place to dump the heavy pile of folders she was carrying.
Finally deciding on the seat of her chair, she let go of the files and reached over the table to pick up the receiver.
"Detective Powell," she said, holding the receiver between her neck and her shoulder as she was sorting the files.
'Joanna Powell?' a male voice said.
"That's right, Detective Joanna Powell. Who is this?"
'I have some information for you.'
"Oh? On what?"
'I'd like to report a dead body.'
Joanna put down the files and took the receiver in her hand. She swiftly cleared a corner of the desk and sat down. "All right. Give me the details," she said and held her notepad ready.
'It's a woman. Mid-thirties I reckon. A tall brunette. She's been strangled.'
The caller's voice was so cold and detached that Joanna's finely honed instincts started screaming in her ear. She had heard her fair share of pranks over the years but a nagging thought at the back of her mind told her that this wasn't one of those instances - this guy was the real deal.
"Where is it, Sir?"
'Just beyond the main entrance to Beauregard Park.'
"Beauregard Park? That's not in our jurisdiction. You need to call the Nineteenth Prec-"
'I'm calling you, Powell!' The voice put so much emphasis on the P in Powell that the connection was momentarily distorted.
Grimacing darkly, Joanna ground her jaw to calm herself down so she wouldn't yell at the caller. "What did you say your name was?"
Joanna shook her head and put the receiver back down on the telephone. She began tapping her index finger against her lips, pondering the unknown man's words and actions.
Grunting, she got off the table and headed for her chair. When she noticed that the pile of folders hadn't moved itself in the mean time, she spun around and went over to Vernon's chair.
Picking up the other phone, she quickly dialed the number for the watch commander of the Nineteenth Precinct.
'Nineteenth Precinct, this is Sergeant Harris,' a female voice said.
"Good afternoon, Sergeant, this is Detective Powell from the Fourteenth. I've just been informed over the telephone that you may have a vic just beyond the main entrance to Beauregard Park. Is it possible for you to send a black-and-white to check?"
'Will do, Detective. Stand by.'
"Standing by, Sergeant," Joanna said with a chuckle.
Six and a half minutes went by and then the connection came alive again. 'Detective?'
"I'm here, Sergeant. Did they find anything?"
'No. There is no victim anywhere near there. Sounds like you got some bum info. Who told you?'
"Some joker, apparently."
'Well, there's nothing there. Just someone wasting our time.'
"Seems like it. Thank you for your time, Sergeant," Joanna said and hung up. Noticing the lateness of the hour, she went to work sorting the pile of folders so she wouldn't be late home for the sixth time in ten days.
Thirty minutes of hard labor later, Joanna exited the police station and walked over to her Crown Victoria. The parking lot was still fairly busy with some of the people working the nightshift coming in early. She tried looking around for Corbin Thomas or William Larsen's cars but couldn't see them anywhere.
The evening had turned slightly chilly so she put on her blazer and closed the two lower buttons. In the far distance, she could hear a police cruiser's siren as it moved through traffic, and she started thinking that yet another family would have their evening - or even their life - ruined.
As she was standing at the car door, she felt her sixth sense kick in and she began to scan the area for things that were out of place. When she couldn't find anything, she looked down to insert the key into the lock.
A split second later, she heard footsteps behind her, crunching on the loose gravel. Without warning, the world exploded in a bright flash that was accompanied by a terrible stab of pain from the back of her head.
Then everything faded away; first to gray, then to black.
Some time later, Joanna slowly came to; stirred awake by being bumped around in a very dark, very cramped space. When she tried to move, she could feel that her hands were cuffed behind her back and that her legs had been pulled up to her chest.
An attempt to stretch her legs was unsuccessful, and by collecting the evidence - it reeked of gasoline and exhaust fumes and she had several metallic tools poking her in the ribs - she soon came to the conclusion that she was trapped in the trunk of a moving car.
When no answer was forthcoming, Joanna launched a blue streak that threatened to peel off the upholstery.
A few minutes later, the car felt like it went off the road, throwing her around quite severely. Her knee connected with something with a sharp edge that tore a hole in her slacks, and she bumped her head twice against the inside of the wheel well, exacerbating her already throbbing headache.
"GodDAMN!" she bellowed, hoping to get the driver to stop.
She could feel the car turning again, and suddenly, the noise level grew exponentially as loose gravel rattled off the bottom of the car and the wheel wells, creating a deafening clatter.
Clenching her teeth, Joanna tried to duck her head down between her shoulders to protect her ears, but the car was bumping about too much for it to do her any good.
After driving on the gravel for what seemed like an eternity, the car finally came to a stop and the engine was shut off. Joanna took a few deep breaths of the stinking air to prepare herself for whatever was to come for her.
After a long wait, the trunk was opened, revealing a tall, broad person dressed in black clothes. Joanna tried to turn her head away from the beaming sunlight that fell directly into her eyes, but she couldn't get far enough into the trunk to do so.
Wordlessly, the man in black reached in and grabbed Joanna around her waist. Despite her vocal protests, he heaved her out of the trunk and dumped her onto her knees on what looked to be a gravel road.
"You crazy son of a bitch! Don't you understand that abducting an officer of the law is just fuckin' nuts!" Joanna shouted, looking angrily at the man. He was dressed in black from head to toe: a ski mask, a commando-style sweater, leather gloves, jeans, and boots - all black.
"Oh, shut the fuck up. I'll let you know when you can talk," the man growled.
In the vain hope that she would get out of the miserable situation in one piece, Joanna began to study the man. She quickly noted that his eyes were grayish blue and she could see traces of a dirty-blond full beard or a goatee through the mask's mouth-hole.
The man appeared to be as tall as she was, perhaps even a few inches taller. He was beefy and broad-shouldered and his stance led Joanna to think that he might've served in the military.
The man began to pace back and forth and Joanna thought that he was psyching himself up for something. Swallowing nervously, she looked down at the holster for her pistol, noting that it was as empty as she had feared it would be.
The abrasion on her knee caused by the impact with the sharp object inside the trunk stung like crazy and she shuffled around to take the weight off it.
"Where the fuck do you think you're going?" the man said and gave her such a hard shove that she keeled over and fell against the side of the car - a dark sedan.
"My knee fuckin' hurts, dickhead!" Joanna growled. Looking down, she could see a small pool of blood where her knee had rested against the gravel, and she began cursing again.
"I'll make you forget your knee," the man said calmly, picking Joanna off the ground and slamming her against the car doors.
In a very deliberate maneuver, he moved in close and punched her so hard in the solar plexus that all the air rushed out of her. Gasping, wheezing and seeing stars, Joanna couldn't stop herself from doubling over, falling forward into the man's grasp.
The man grabbed hold of her lapels and pushed her back up against the doors. When Joanna's knees buckled and she started sliding downwards, he held her erect by wrapping his gloved hands around her throat.
Joanna's eyes popped wide open when she realized what was happening, and at once, she tried to wiggle free of the man's grip. The fact that her hands were tied behind her back limited her possibilities, but the big issue was that she hadn't had time to recapture her breath before the man had put his hands around her neck.
In the first few seconds, the man didn't apply any pressure on Joanna's neck, creating a spark of hope in her that he was only out to scare her, but her hopes were dashed as the man's thumbs began to squeeze against her windpipe.
Small dots of bright light invaded her vision, growing stronger and stronger until they drowned out the natural light. With alarming clarity, she realized that if she didn't at least try to break free, she'd soon have to explain to St. Peter why she had allowed herself to be killed so easily.
Her strength was fading fast, but she summoned all she had left and began to kick out with both her legs. It was ineffective at first, but suddenly, she hit the side of the man's knee, producing a nasty crunching sound in the process.
The man roared and partially released his grip - not much, but just enough for Joanna to get a breath of air. Her vision was still blurry, but she could see the outline of the man's legs as he was leaning towards her.
Sneering, she aimed at the center and kicked out with both legs, scoring a full-on strike squarely in the man's crotch. At once, the man squealed like a pig and let Joanna go to cup his abused family jewels. Moments later, he wobbled badly and fell down onto his knees.
As the man let her go, Joanna slid down onto the gravel and began to greedily gulp air down into her lungs. Her vision slowly came back to her and she arrived at the obvious conclusion that she needed to make a run for it while the man was incapacitated.
She staggered to her feet and began to move away from the scene of the crime, but she had only made it a few feet when the man grabbed hold of her leg, tripping her up.
Once again she fell down, ending up with a mouthful of gravel and dirt that she spat out angrily. Kicking backwards, she could feel that the heel of her shoe connected with the man's arm, but it wasn't enough to make him let go.
Trying a new tactic, Joanna rolled over onto her back. Even though her hands and arms began to throb almost at once, she had a better angle to respond to the attacker. A well-timed kick at the man's face made contact just above the bridge of his nose and he squealed again and fell backwards.
Joanna immediately rolled over and stumbled to her feet. This time she was more successful, managing to get out of the attacker's reach before he could come back at her.
Behind her, the man started cursing loudly and then did something that sent a cold shiver down her back - she had heard the easily recognizable sound of her own service pistol being cocked.
Every instinct in her screamed at her to run away at once, but she didn't know which way she should go. She frantically looked left and right, but couldn't see any natural shelter anywhere, apart from a cluster of trees some distance away. Deciding on the spot that it would be as good a place to hide as any, she decided to make a run for it.
Then the first shot rang out, zinging past her.
Joanna clenched her teeth and picked up the pace as she heard the warm lead fly past her. 'Forty yards! Forty yards, come on!' she thought, egging herself on. The awkward position her hands were in made running difficult, but she ignored the pain and carried on.
When she was a mere fifteen feet from the safety of the trees, two things happened at once: first she felt a mule kick her on the back of her left shoulder, and then the ground beneath her feet disappeared, turning into an unsighted four-foot deep ditch.
As she fell down, she couldn't stop a short scream from escaping her lips, but it was firmly and decisively silenced when she landed hard on her side, banging her ribs against some rocks.
The rough treatment made her already throbbing head feel like it was going to explode, her shoulder was killing her, her hands were numb from being cuffed for so long and now most of her ribs on her right side were poking inward, resting against her lung and making it increasingly difficult for her to breathe.
Keeping completely still, Joanna tried to listen for any footsteps that would give the attacker away, but the blood coursing through her veins drowned out everything else.
She thought she could hear a woman screaming, and in her foggy state, she thought it was herself. Feeling embarrassed for not being able to keep her emotions in check, she held her breath and bit her teeth together.
When the screaming continued even with her mouth firmly shut, she understood that it had to come from someone else. Since she hadn't seen a woman anywhere, she reckoned that an innocent bystander must have come across the drama and had flipped out.
Suddenly the sound of a car door slamming shut reached her ears. Moments later, an engine was started and then she could hear gravel being flung up from the spinning wheels.
The car seemed to be moving away and Joanna risked adding to her injuries by stretching up to try to peek over the edge of the ditch. When she couldn't see over it, she let herself fall back down with a grunt.
'Turning into a snack bar for flies in a soggy ditch wasn't exactly what I had in mind for the rest of my life... man, I need to get out of here,' she thought, trying to wiggle her arms around her rear end so she could get to the cuffs - unfortunately, every time she tried moving her left arm, a terrible pain shot out from her shoulder.
With a sigh, she gave up and rested her head against the side of the ditch.
The loss of blood from the bullet wound in her shoulder made her weak, but her ears were still able to pick up a set of footsteps crunching on the gravel. The footsteps came from the top of the ditch and were seemingly coming towards her.
'Great, now he's back to finish me off,' Joanna thought, shaking her head.
"Hello?" A female voice said. "A-are you still alive?"
Joanna turned her head to her left and looked at the figure standing close to the edge. It seemed to be a woman in her late sixties, wearing clothes typical for a cyclist.
"Barely," Joanna croaked.
"Don't try to move, I'll call for help!" the woman said, turning away from the edge of the ditch.
"Wait! Please!" Joanna said. When she tried to speak loudly her throat hurt like hell, but she swallowed a couple of times to try to coat it.
"They must be looking for me already. They'll get he-" Joanna gasped for air; her abused ribs poking into her lungs. "... here quicker if you t-tell them that I'm homicide d-detective Joanna Powell from the f-fourteenth precinct."
"I... I don't underst-"
"Please! Just tell them..."
"Okay. Uh, don't move, I'll be right back," the woman said and disappeared.
If the situation had been less depressing, Joanna would've chuckled over the lady's words, but she didn't feel much like laughing. She rested her head against the side of the ditch and hoped that the lady wouldn't be too long.
A few minutes later, the other woman came back, holding a cell phone. "I've called them. They said they'll be here shortly."
"Thank you. Where are we, ex... exactly?"
"Beauregard Park..." Joanna echoed, shaking her head. "Of course. That motherfucker..."
When the pieces of the puzzle fell into place in her head, Joanna nodded to herself. 'Rocky Caulfield. Of course. Who else? Hitting my solar plexus, the strangulation... Rocky fuckin' Caulfield. This was his way of making me pay for screwing Liliana...'
One thought led to the next, and Joanna suddenly realized that if Rocky was in town, Liliana could be in grave danger. She licked her lips and turned her head back towards the other woman.
"I n-need you to do something for me... please call Lil..."
At that exact moment, two police cars entered the park with full sirens, drowning out Joanna's faint words. Car doors were slammed and several sets of footsteps could be heard running towards her.
The first man to jump into the ditch was Corbin Thomas. His face was pale and drawn, and he began to fumble for the keys to the cuffs when he saw that Joanna's hands were tied behind her back.
"Damn, Joanna... you have the entire precinct up in arms. What the hell happened to you?"
"I got... bushwhacked. Get these... damn things off... me, Corbin!" Joanna croaked, taking a weak breath between every other word.
As soon as the cuffs were off, Joanna moved her hands in front of her and began to clench her fists repeatedly. Her left arm was coated in blood and it had grown numb all the way up to her armpit.
"I caught one in the back... left shoulder," she croaked.
"I see it. Upper part, above the shoulderblade."
"No exit... wound. It's still... in there."
"Shit. Sounds like your ribs are busted, too," Corbin said, helping Joanna into a sitting position.
"Did you have a chance to see who it was?"
"Rocky Caul... Caulfield."
"From the boarding school homicides?"
Joanna nodded. "Where's... Vern?"
"Back at the stationhouse. He's sick as a dog, but he insisted on coming in."
"What time... is it...?"
"A quarter to ten. Why?"
"Jeez, he must've... given me... the... grand tour. Be... Betty needs... to be... told. I d- don't want... her to... hear it on... the news."
"I'll call her in a minute, Jo."
Above them, an ambulance arrived at the scene; its red emergency lights casting creepy shadows on the nearby trees. Two paramedics jumped out and lowered the lift at the rear end.
"The medics are here, Jo. Hang on, they'll get you fixed in no time."
"Did you... find my... gun and my... phone?"
"Your cell is up there, in two pieces. Your gun is gone, Jo. Did Caulfield shoot you with your own gun?"
"Yeah. Need to... call Betty... tell her..."
"I'll do it, Jo. I'll tell her you're pretty much... JESUS, JO!" Corbin said, jumping forward to grab Joanna's lolling head before it could slam into the side of the ditch.
The last thing Joanna saw in her mind's eye before the world went black again was Betty's smiling face.
Wednesday, June 8th.
The first thing Joanna saw when her eyes fluttered open was Betty's hand reaching down to move a lock of dark hair away from her forehead.
"Welcome back, baby," Betty whispered in a shaky voice.
"I was away?" Joanna said in a croaky voice. Her brain simply consisted of one, large wad of cotton wool and no matter how hard she tried, she wasn't able to penetrate the fuzziness.
"You got shot, remember?"
"Vaguely. Where am I?"
"The General. You're in the ward I work in, actually."
"Oh... you better see to your other patients, then..."
Betty let out a cry that was a mix of a sob and a laugh and she leaned down to place a tender kiss on Joanna's forehead. She took Joanna's right hand in her own and gave it a little squeeze. "No, silly, I'm not working now. I'm here to help you."
"Oh... thank you."
"You're welcome. You've been unconscious for two full days. The doctors began to get worried, but I t-told them that you were too damned stubborn n-not to put up a fight. Besides, I never got to say I love you," Betty said and gave Joanna another kiss. When they separated, she caressed Joanna's cheek over and over again, almost like she was afraid to let go.
"I love you, too, Betty."
"You've just been through a second round of surgery to remove a fragment from the bullet in your shoulder. The doctors say that everything will be all right, darling," Betty said and sat down on the hospital bed.
"That's great news. Did they catch the man who did it yet?"
"No, not from what I've heard. Detective Kransky has called me ten times asking about you. He would've told me if they had arrested him."
"Baby, you were so banged up, it's a miracle you're even here. You had four sprained ribs, a bullet in the shoulder, a mild concussion and a nasty cut in your knee, just below the cap."
"All in a day's work," Joanna said and began to cough dryly.
"Here's some water." Betty held a plastic cup of water near Joanna's good arm and she promptly took it and drank greedily.
"The doctors told me it would be good therapy to talk about what happened, so... what happened?" Betty said, going back to caressing Joanna's cheek.
"Well... I can't remember everything yet, but I woke up in the trunk of a car. I have no idea how I got there."
"That's probably the concussion, hon. Detective Kransky told me that they had found some blood on the driver's side door of the Ford."
"Oh... well, the fuc... uh, bad guy took me out of the trunk and began to beat me up," Joanna said, biting her bottom lip. A few more memories had returned to her, including the reason why the incident had taken place at all - Liliana.
"Oh, honey, he didn't try to rape you, did he?"
"No, no, that wasn't his plan. He just wanted to kill me."
"Buy why, for God's sake!"
"I don't know," Joanna fibbed, feeling a strong pang of guilt for lying to Betty while she was in such a vulnerable state. "But it's all connected to the murders at the boarding school. I'm pretty certain it was the same guy."
"Well, whoever it was, I'm just glad you're still in one piece, more or less. When Detective Kransky called me the other night... God, I just freaked out. It didn't help that his voice was so hoarse I could hardly understand what he was saying."
"Oh yeah, he had a sore throat, that's right. Weird, it was Vern's first sick day this year... if he had been there, none of this would've happened," Joanna said, rubbing her brow.
"No, but... perhaps the killer would've tried at our home instead," Betty said and visibly got the shivers. "Oh... oh, God, do you think there's a risk he'll come for you again?" she continued in a frail voice.
"I don't know, Bets, I honestly don't. We should speak with the Lou. He can give you an attack alarm. Just one click on the little button and they'll send a black-and-white within a few minutes."
"A few minutes might be too long..."
Suddenly overcome by a wave of drowsiness, Joanna's eyes began to lose focus and her eyelids gradually slid down to half mast - then she had to surrender to a yawn so wide that it made Betty chuckle.
"Get some sleep, baby. I'll be back later today. Okay?" Betty said and leaned down to place a careful kiss on Joanna's lips.
"Sure. I love you, Bets-ZZzzzzzzzzz..."
One week later - Tuesday, June 14th.
"Ow! Ow, for cryin' out loud, that hurts!" Joanna hissed through clenched teeth.
She was standing in the middle of her own bedroom, barefoot and in a Tweetie Bird tank top and a pair of pale blue shorts, while a physiotherapist was trying to manhandle her left arm into an unnatural angle to see if there was any lasting damage. "Owww!"
"Sorry, Detective. We need to see how your ligaments are coping with the stress," the physio said, secretly rolling her eyes.
"But what about how I'm coping? Ow! Where did you learn that technique? In Sing-Sing?"
"Just one more, Detective, and then I'll let you go. For today, that is."
When the physio was done, she took off a pair of latex gloves and put them into a medical bag. "Looks good, all in all. It's safe for you to resume a light workout. Nothing heavy for the first few weeks, though."
"All right," Joanna said, clenching her left fist several times.
"Did you regain full strength in your hand yet?"
"Mostly. It's working good so far. I guess I need to thank you for that," Joanna said sheepishly.
"You're welcome, Detective. See you in two days."
"Oh, I can't wait," Joanna said with a chuckle. She put her hand on the small of the physio's back and helped her out of the bedroom and down the stairs.
After Joanna had let the physio out, she returned to the kitchen where Betty was busy making pancakes. She had the radio on and was shimmying left and right to some rock'n'roll oldie, making the oversize T-shirt she was wearing flap in the breeze.
Joanna kept standing in the door, observing her girlfriend. 'God, I'm more conflicted than ever. I have no idea what the hell I'm going to do now,' she thought. 'I still love Betty, but she doesn't hold a candle to Liliana's fire and raw sexiness. I have NO idea what I'm going to do.'
Sighing, she moved up to stand behind Betty and put her hands on the brunette's swaying hips. Betty began to giggle, a sound that warmed Joanna's heart but also one that made her even more unsure of how to go about her business.
Behind the two women, the telephone started ringing in the living room.
"Wouldya mind getting that, hon? I'm kinda busy," Betty said, juggling the tools needed to make the pancakes.
"No problem. It's probably Vern calling me to remind me of the psych evaluation," Joanna said and gave Betty's rear end a little squeeze, making the woman it belonged to squirm and giggle.
Joanna sat down on the chair next to the telephone and picked up the receiver. "Joanna Powell speaking," she said, fully expecting to hear Vernon's characteristic voice.
'Hi, Jo, it's Liliana.'
Joanna stared at the receiver, most of all wanting to put it back down. "Uh, hi."
'How are you?'
"Oh, I'm fine. As fine as I can be with a sore shoulder and an aching knee."
'I've spoken to your Lieutenant. Are you sure it was Rocky Caulfield?' As Liliana spoke the sentence, her voice trailed off into a faint whisper.
"Yeah, I'm sure. It all fits. He had his brother's grayish eyes and dirty-blond beard. It was him. Liliana, are you all right?"
'I've had to move again. I've kept the flat, but you might say I've gone undercover.'
"Oh... I'm sorry to hear that. Where did you move to?" Joanna said and pulled her legs up in the chair. Without paying attention to it, she began to play with the telephone's cord, wrapping it around her little finger.
'I... well, I'd rather not say that over the phone, if you don't mind.'
"Of course not. That was stupid, sorry."
'Would you like to go out for dinner and a drink tonight? Afterwards, I could show you my new, temporary, apartment...?'
Joanna's legs fell back down to the floor with a bump and she shot up into an upright position. "No... no, I'm sorry... that wouldn't be... that w-wouldn't be... uh, that just wouldn't work, Liliana."
'You know, the offer still stands. You're more than welcome to bring her along.'
"Huh, to a..." Joanna looked up, making sure that Betty couldn't hear her. "... to a threesome? I don't think so."
'To dinner and a drink, Jo. What would happen afterwards is up to you... and her.'
"No, Liliana. Just... no," Joanna said, rubbing her forehead.
'All right. Well. I just wanted to ask how you felt, anyway.'
"Thanks. Like I said, I'm okay. Not tip-top, but okay."
The line fell silent for so long that Joanna thought Liliana had hung up, but then her voice came back through the connection.
'I miss you, Jo. I miss your touch.'
Joanna stared wide-eyed at the receiver. For each time she spoke with Liliana, she felt less equipped to deal with the things that came out of the conversations. "Uh... I..."
At the exact same moment, Betty entered the living room carrying a full plate of pancakes and a bottle of maple leaf syrup. Joanna's face instantly flushed red, worried that Betty had heard too much.
"Uh, listen, Liliana, I gotta go. Lunch has just been served, so... you know. I gotta go."
'No, wait, Jo-'
"Talk you to later," Joanna said and hung up. For the first few heartbeats, she stared blankly into space, thinking about what had just happened and what she had done.
"That was Liliana?" Betty said, opening the bottle of syrup.
Joanna nodded, almost feeling like she was having an out-of-body experience.
"How is she?"
"She's fine. She's had to move from her flat."
"Oh, that's too bad. Because of that psycho?"
"Damn. It shouldn't have to be that way. Well, come and get some while they're hot," Betty said and pulled out a chair for Joanna.
Joanna stared at the pile of pancakes and at her girlfriend. Nodding, she got out of the chair and moved over to the table.
One week later - Monday, June 20th.
"Welcome back, Jo," Vernon said, offering Joanna a Styrofoam cup of coffee the second she walked through the door to her office in the stationhouse.
"Thanks, Vern," Joanna said and gave Vernon's shoulder a soft thump. After putting her blazer across the backrest of her swivel-chair, she took the offered cup and began to drink from it.
"By the way, the Lou told me that he wanted to see you as soon as you came in."
"Mmmmm. I need to catch my breath first," Joanna said and sat down in her chair.
"How did your psych evaluation go?"
Joanna shot Vernon an Evil Eye, but then began to chuckle. "All right. I passed with flying colors."
"Good. Did you get a new sidearm yet?"
"No, I need to go down to acquisitions and fill out half a dozen forms in triplicate first. That's probably what bothers me the most, Vern. Jeez, we learned that on day one back in the Academy. Never lose your gun."
"Yeah, but this is an unusual case."
"It's no excuse," Joanna said and took a long swig from the cup. "Thanks for the coffee, I better go and see what the Lou wants."
Twenty minutes later, Joanna returned to her office and sat down with a bump. Without paying attention to it, she began massaging the outside of her knee through her gun metal gray slacks.
To get some much-needed fresh air down her front, she undid the top two buttons of her off-white shirt and began to flap the lapels back and forth.
"Did the Lieutenant rip you a new one?" Vernon said, busy sorting a pile of files.
"Something like that, yeah. Like I expected, he wasn't too pleased that I lost my gun. Anyway, what's the status on our cases?"
"Well, we're almost through the assaults on the bus drivers. The gangbanger we have in custody has finally rolled over on his crew mates."
"That's going to make him popular."
"Yeah. He's been offered a spot in the witness protection program. Don't know if he'll accept it, though. The gang is a fairly local one and it isn't connected to any of the bigger organizations."
"Mmm. And the school homicides? Do we have a lead on Rocky Caulfield's whereabouts?"
Vernon leaned back in his chair and shook his head. "Nope."
"Shit. When I could get a word in edgewise, I asked the Lou for an attack alarm for Betty. I think he agreed to it. It was kinda hard to tell with all the steam coming out of his ears," Joanna said with a dry chuckle.
"Joanna, why did Rocky target you? Of all people, why you? We all worked that case, but he hasn't come after us."
Joanna mopped her brow and got up from her chair. "Probably because I... uh, sampled the forbidden fruit. Wasn't that what you called it?"
"I think it was, yeah. And now, Rocky is jealous."
"Jealous, possessive, nuts..."
"He's going to try again, you know. Once somebody like that gets a notion into his skull, he won't let go until he's dealt with it."
"I know, dammit," Joanna said, slamming her fist into the palm of her hand.
Behind her, her phone started ringing, and she spun around and picked it up. "Detective Powell!" she barked.
'It's Liliana Zinovia. Any news?'
Joanna was struck by the business-like tone to Liliana's voice, but she knew it was understandable after the stunt she had pulled the last time they had spoken.
"I'm afraid not, Miss Zinovia. We are... we still haven't located Mr. Caulfield."
When Vernon heard Liliana's name, a big smirk formed on his lips and both his eyebrows arced upwards. Joanna waved her hand at him and turned away so she didn't have to look him in the eye.
'All right. I hope you'll find him soon as I'm quite tired of playing hide and seek with a psychopath.'
'Detective Powell, I need to see you in person. The sooner the better.'
Joanna took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. She sneaked a glance at Vernon who had gone back to filling out some form. "Okay. Where and when?"
'In the coffee shop down on McKinley in Midtown West, Heaven In A Cup. Remember it?'
"Uh... yeah. I remember the parking lot, anyway."
'In an hour? Is that too soon?'
"I'm afraid it is. We better make it two. Okay?" Joanna said, checking her wristwatch - it was nearly eleven thirty a.m.
'Two hours? Works for me... talk to you then. Goodbye, Detective.'
"Goodbye, Miss Zinovia."
For several seconds, Joanna made like a statue, holding the receiver in her hand. Then she snapped out of the sizzling thoughts that had invaded her mind and put it down on the telephone.
Sitting down, she began smoothing out her eyebrows, trying to think nothing but boring thoughts to get her mind back on track.
"That was Miss Zinovia?"
"She wants to meet you?"
"Remember what we just talked about, Jo."
"Oh, yes, we'll behave in a very adult, mature fashion. We're to meet in a coffee shop down on McKinley. That's a very public place, Vern. I doubt she'll try anything there," Joanna said with a forced chuckle.
"Even the most public place has a rest room."
"Vern! There you go with the pulp novels again! You know just as well as I do that public rest rooms are too icky to even think of sex. Jeez, just the smell... icky."
Joanna opened a file, picked up a ball point pen and began to make a few notes in her notepad. After a few seconds, she looked at Vernon and shook her head. "Icky!" she said again, mostly to convince herself instead of her colleague.
Two minutes past the bottom of the hour, Joanna bumped over the curb and drove the Crown Victoria into Heaven In A Cup's parking lot. She noted with morbid fascination that the only available space was the one she and Liliana had used in their aborted attempt at getting some coffee back in April.
When she had parked, she looked at herself in the rear view mirror. She couldn't decide if she was excited to see Liliana again or scared witless that they would end up in bed again.
Eventually deciding that she was excited to see Liliana, she got out of the car and crossed the small lot.
Heaven In A Cup was a very cozy coffee shop, open and clean, and held in pale tan and creamy white colors - to make the customers think of coffee, Joanna thought. The tables and chairs were made of steel and dark brown hardwood as was the long counter that stretched nearly the entire length of the shop. A strong, but not unpleasant, scent of ground coffee beans hung in the air, adding to the cozy atmosphere.
Because of the hour, the place was pretty full with most of the customers being well-dressed businesswomen of all ages and ethnicities. One or two of them looked up at Joanna as she was standing in the doorway, but most of them looked back at their newspapers or Smartphones when the tall cop walked between the tables and up to the shiny counter.
Feeling out of place in her regular shirt and slacks, Joanna unbuttoned her blazer as she sat down on one of the six bar stools that lined the counter. A female barista, a very pretty Latina with delicate facial features, came out from behind a curtain and offered Joanna a broad smile and a menu.
"Don't need it, thanks. Regular coffee, black," Joanna said and put the menu down on the counter.
"Oh, not even a spoonful of whipped cream on top?"
"Or a shot of Cognac?"
"I'm on duty, thanks."
"When you say regular, do you mean caff or decaff?"
"How about a-"
"Regular caffeinated coffee, please. Black. Like in no sugar, no milk or anything else," Joanna said in a friendly but decisive tone.
"Gotcha. Which cup size do you want, Miss?"
Joanna sighed and scrunched up her face. "A regular cup."
"Ah, okay. One pure black coming right up. That'll be $7.98, please."
Joanna blinked a couple of times in wide-eyed shock. With an exaggerated sigh, she dug into her pocket, found eight dollars and put them on the counter.
A person slid up next to Joanna and put a small purse on the counter. "Don't be too hard on Rita. She loves her job and she makes one hell of a Mocha Oscuro."
The sound of Liliana's rich voice sent a cold trickle racing up and down Joanna's back before it focused squarely on hardening her nipples. There was no doubt in her mind anymore; they'd end up in bed before the hour was over. She looked to her left and saw that Liliana was wearing the smoke-tinted sunglasses and the royal blue skirt suit she'd had on one of the first times they had met.
"Thank you, Miss Zinovia," the barista said, flashing a perfect set of pearly whites. She turned to Joanna and poured black coffee into a regular sized cup.
"I'll have a large Café Macchiato with a small spoonful of whipped cream and a sprinkling of chocolate on top, please," Liliana said and found her credit card in her purse.
"Yes, Miss Zinovia. Will you be drinking it here?" Rita said as she processed the card.
"Well, if we can find a table, yes," Liliana said and turned around to survey the shop. "Oh, there's a free one over in the corner. Would you mind...?"
"I'll come over with it."
"Thank you," Liliana said, putting the card back in her purse. "Come on, Detective. You can nurse your pure black over here."
A few minutes later, Rita came down to the table carrying a large cup. "Café Macchiato with a touch of cream and a sprinkling of chocolate on top, Miss Zinovia."
"Thanks, smells fantastic. Here's something for your bother," Liliana said and slipped the barista a ten dollar tip.
Joanna noted the exchange with some interest. She knew it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility that Liliana and the pretty Latina had been intimate, but she preferred to push such thoughts out of her mind.
Liliana picked up a stirrer and began to distribute the whipped cream all over the surface of the coffee.
"So...?" she said, looking expectantly at Joanna.
"I'm sorry it's taking us so long to find Rocky Caulfield."
"I am, too. Just the other day, I thought he had found me... I saw a big, burly man on the street while I was at the hair salon. Turned out to be a mover. He was waiting for his partner to come down from an apartment with a packing case or something.
"Liliana, I'm not sure he actually wants to harm you. I know you said that he slapped you when you left him, but that's really it so far. I know that's plenty, don't misunderstand me, but he had several opportunities to get to you while you were at the school."
"That's true," Liliana said and took a swig from her Macchiato.
"He knew about the apartment from the recordings, and Charles Buford Smith had probably told him a few things about your daily routines."
"I'm just sorry I got you involved. How are you feeling, Jo?"
"Oh, you know. I've been better, but I'm much sharper now than I was this time last week," Joanna said, creating a little doodle on the tabletop with her fingernail.
Liliana moved her hand over and put it down on top of Joanna's. Wearing an enigmatic smile, she began to caress the skin with her fingers. "But how are you feeling?"
Joanna locked eyes with Liliana and saw a look in the spring green orbs that took her breath away. 'The Mistress is out to play,' she thought, gulping nervously. "I'm... I'm not sure how I'm feeling, to be honest."
"Like I told you on the phone... before you hung up on me... I miss your touch." Liliana stopped caressing Joanna's hand and gave her fingers a squeeze instead. "I think I've committed the ultimate sin."
"And what's that?" Joanna said, furrowing her brow.
"I think I've fallen in love with you."
The reply stunned Joanna so much that she fell back in her chair, staring wide-eyed at the ash-blonde woman sitting at the opposite side of the table. She started licking her lips to have something to do while her brain rebooted itself.
"Well, I... don't know what to say to that, Liliana."
"I know you love Betty, but that's all right with me. I believe in open relationships."
"I don't know if I do."
Liliana cocked her head. "Which part of it, Joanna? You don't believe in open relationships, or you don't love Betty?"
"Both... or maybe... no. Aw, Jeez, I don't know what to think or do anymore," Joanna said in a voice thick with frustration.
"When we've had our coffee, would you like to come over and look at my new apartment?"
It didn't take Joanna but two heartbeats to make up her mind. "God, yes," she breathed.
Thirty minutes later, Joanna flopped backwards onto the creaky, old bed in Liliana's new apartment. Every single part of her naked body was tingling with the orgasm that had just rushed through her. She closed her eyes, relishing the afterglow as it slowly rolled over her like an old, comfortable blanket.
When she finally dared to open her eyes again, Liliana's smiling face was mere inches from her own. The ash-blonde woman winked and began to kiss Joanna's cheekbones and nose. "That didn't take you long," Liliana whispered.
"Baby..." Joanna croaked.
"Shhh. Just get the most out of it while its there... when you're ready, I... I have a little request," Liliana whispered, snuggling down next to Joanna's arm.
"If you don't want to, you can say no."
Images of Liliana wearing her Mistress outfit suddenly flooded Joanna's mind and she rolled over onto her left side to study the naked woman lying next to her.
"Listen, Liliana. I'm not... I'm not ready for the... you know. The thing. I don't like-"
Liliana effectively cut off Joanna's words by putting her fingers across her lips. "That's not what I meant. Well, it was, but not for you. I want you to wear it while you're doing me."
"Oh, Liliana... I'm... I'm a very traditional girl. I'm not sure it would work. I don't know how to move, or... Would you be very disappointed if I said no?"
Liliana leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on Joanna's lips. "No. But I do expect you to..." Kiss "... take me..." Kiss, kiss "... the old-fashioned way instead..." Kiss, kiss, kiss.
"Oh, that shouldn't be a problem. I think I'll be able to do that," Joanna purred and rose up on her elbows. After shuffling around on the bed, she put her hands under Liliana's back and moved the petite woman two feet further into the center of the bed.
The springs in the old bed gave off a few squeaking protests, but it seemed to hold up nicely.
"Good thing you live on the first floor. We'd have a patrol beating down the doors from all the squeaks we're making if you didn't," Joanna said as she was climbing up Liliana's body.
"I love squeaks," Liliana breathed, closing her eyes and flinging her head backwards as she felt Joanna's hands on her body.
Joanna lowered herself down onto Liliana to make their bodies touch from their noses to their toes. Joanna's superheated skin immediately sent off signals to her brain that she couldn't ignore, and she began showering Liliana's face, lips and throat with an endless line of kisses.
Slowly, inch by delicious inch, Joanna moved down Liliana's writhing body, using her tongue to draw a wet line from the throat to the cleavage. When her tongue made contact with the swells of Liliana's breasts, she cupped the two mounds and suckled the already erect nipples.
Joanna let her tongue move around in lazy circles over the row of little nubs at the base of the nipples; around and around until Liliana whimpered and arced her back off the mattress, pushing her chest towards Joanna.
This prompted Joanna to reach behind Liliana and lift her upper body off the mattress. While her hands were roaming freely all over Liliana's back, her mouth left the nipples behind and moved down the side of the right breast. From previous experience, Joanna knew that Liliana was particularly sensitive there, so she made sure that every last inch of the flesh was well-loved.
Liliana began to sigh and sought out Joanna's mouth for a deep, loving kiss that left both women ready for more. With a grin, Joanna lowered Liliana back down onto the bed and continued her journey downwards.
When Joanna reached the upper part of Liliana's patch of golden hair, she began to run her fingertips from the sides of Liliana's stomach down towards her center, creating a small, winged arrow with her fingers. She did this several times, each time rewarded by a moan stronger than the one before.
Instinctively, Liliana spread her legs to ease Joanna's access and the detective wasn't slow in complying. Moving under Liliana's thighs so they rested on her shoulders, Joanna leaned in and placed a line of gentle kisses on the inside of Liliana's thighs, using her tongue to cross the T's and dot the I's.
This made Liliana moan even harder and she soon thrust her pelvis up towards Joanna's face to show that she was more than ready to go all the way.
With a grin, Joanna looked at the love juices oozing out between Liliana's pink folds. Licking her lips in anticipation, she leaned down and claimed Liliana's soaked center with her mouth, relishing the taste of the salty liquid.
"God..." Liliana groaned, pressing her abdomen against Joanna's mouth that still hadn't moved from its original position.
Joanna extended her tongue and moved it between Liliana's folds, stretching it as far in as it would go. When she began to move it left and right, up and down in slow, gentle motions, Liliana rewarded her by moaning throatily and grabbing hold of the back of Joanna's head to push her even further inside.
Moving her free hand up to rest on Liliana's patch of hair, Joanna sought out Liliana's enlarged clit and began to stimulate it with her thumb. Making sure that she wasn't rushing things, she let her thumb move back and forth in a very lazy fashion, going for long-term pleasure rather than a short-term release.
After a little while, Joanna changed position and began to stroke Liliana's clit with her tongue. Alternating between clenching and relaxing the strong muscle, she soon had Liliana surfing the crest of a wave that only intensified when Joanna inserted two fingers into the slick, burning hot opening and began to ride it.
Each time Joanna thrust into her, Liliana groaned harder and harder until the sounds coming from her were reduced to a single, prolonged moan. When Joanna began to flick the tip of her tongue across Liliana's clit, there was no way back - the orgasm came screaming down on her, sending her crashing over the crest of the wave and into Joanna's waiting arms.
Liliana let out a strong groan that made Joanna's nape hairs stand erect and she soon followed her lover over the edge. Bucking in unison, the two women came as one; their bodies racked by the most primal of forces.
The afterglow soon enveloped Joanna and Liliana, and as Joanna climbed up to lie next to her lover, she felt the best she ever had. Once again her body felt warm and tingly and she wished she could stay in that zone forever.
One look at the dreamy expression on Liliana's face told her that she wasn't the only one wishing that. Snickering, she wiped her mouth on the sheet and leaned in to place a loving kiss on her lover's lips.
"Thank you, baby. That was extraordinary," Liliana whispered, taking Joanna's hands in her own.
"No, thank you. I don't know how you do it, but whenever I'm making love to you, you make me feel like a real, whole woman."
"Well, I'm definitely glad about that," Liliana said, brushing her nose against Joanna's.
"I have to go back to work now," Joanna said with a sigh.
"I know. Before you go, there's something I want to give you."
"It's a little memento of our... of our..."
"You could call it that. It's a ring. I know you won't be able-"
"A ring?" Joanna said, suddenly remembering the indent on Brian Roper's finger and the fact that they had never found a ring that matched it.
"Yes, it's nothing special, just a-"
"Yes... Jo, is something wrong?" Liliana said and propped herself up on her elbow.
"Liliana, did Brian Roper wear such a ring when Mrs. Weidemann found his body?"
Realizing where the conversation was headed, Liliana flopped backwards onto the bed and covered her eyes with her arm. She nodded.
"And you took it off his finger...?"
Liliana nodded again.
"Jesus, baby... technically speaking, that's immoral conduct with a deceased!"
"Are you going to book me for it?"
Joanna sat up and ran a hand through her loose hair. She sighed deeply and looked at the naked woman next to her. "No. Of course I'm not. Did you take it off Mark Gerlach as well?"
"No. Mark didn't want to wear it. He said his regular boyfriend wouldn't be too pleased about it."
"Gee, I wonder why," Joanna said and got off the bed. "I need to shower. Then we'll talk. Okay?"
"Sure," Liliana said, watching Joanna's two near-perfect rear cheeks walk out of the bedroom and into the small bathroom in the hall.
Some time later, Joanna turned the small ring over in her hands, pondering whether she should take it or not. "Hey, this isn't the one you took off Brian, is it?"
"No, this is a new one," Liliana said as she zipped and buttoned her skirt. "They're just $10 trinkets, really, but I like the design of it."
"I agree, it's... quite classy." The ring was made of polished steel and it had an elongated version of the infinity-symbol carved into it all around the outside.
"Will you take it?"
"You don't have to."
"No, I think I want to take it, but I can't wear it. I hope you understand."
"You better be careful. Your girlfriend might find it in your jewelry box and think it's for her," Liliana said and muzzled up next to Joanna.
"My jewelry box? Ha, ha. That'll be the day. My gun cabinet is more like it," Joanna said and put the ring into her trouser pocket.
"Excellent," Liliana said and stood up on tip-toes so she could give Joanna a kiss.
"Liliana, earlier today, I spoke to my Lou... uh, Lieutenant. He said that I should contact you to let you know that we need you to come to the stationhouse to give us a statement on Rocky Caulfield. To make it official," Joanna said as she put on her blazer.
"All right, I hereby consider myself contacted. I'll call him later today and sort out the details. Jeez, Nick Barnes. Talk about your plain vanilla."
"I. Don't. Wanna. Hear. It!" Joanna hissed, sticking her fingers in her ears.
"On the Zinovia scale of Great Fucks, you out-class him by a factor of thirty-five to one," Liliana said and grabbed hold of Joanna's lapels to pull her down for yet another kiss.
"Don't wanna hear it! Don't wanna hear-MMPHFF!"
Wednesday, June 22nd.
"We're glad you're here, Miss Zinovia. Do you want some coffee? Do you need a cushion? If you think it's too hot in here, just let us know," Lieutenant Nicholas Barnes said, making sure that Liliana was seated comfortably in a chair in his office.
"Thank you, Lieutenant Barnes, I'm fine. And you're welcome," Liliana said, pulling down in the jacket of her gray business suit.
The Lieutenant walked around his desk, completely ignoring Joanna who was leaning against one of the filing cabinets with her indispensable notepad in her hand.
Even though a chair was available next to Liliana, Joanna thought it was safest for all of them if she wasn't too close to the fiery woman - and also that she wouldn't be in a position to look Nicholas Barnes in the eye.
Grinning knowingly, Vernon sat down in the free chair, crossing his legs almost at once.
"Miss Zinovia, you would be most helpful if you could give us a clue... any clue whatsoever, in fact... on Roger Caulfield's whereabouts. With the severity of the pre-meditated and deliberate attack on Detective Powell, he showed that he's one not to be messed with," Barnes said.
Liliana sighed and looked down at her hands that were resting in her lap. "I only know of the house he had in Maughan County. I can't understand that he left it behind... it was a large and very expensive house."
"Well, he has. The local Sheriff's office has confirmed that it's vacant," Vernon said.
"Hmmm. He's a large fellow, but even so, he has the ability to blend in. He, uh... he followed me once after I had broken up with him," - Nicholas Barnes shuffled in his seat - "And I didn't notice him until he had come too close."
"You might say he's a very stealthy man?" Joanna said.
"Yes. He can be a brute, but he can also be... I don't know. Almost like a spy. If that makes any sense," Liliana said with a wistful smile.
"Oh, certainly. It certainly does, Miss Zinovia," Barnes said, grinning from ear to ear.
Joanna's mind was suddenly filled with an image of the Lieutenant and Liliana playing some kind of role-playing game, and she felt a creepy shiver run down her entire body. She blinked a few times to get over it and then shuffled around to find a better position against the cabinet.
"Actually, something has just occurred to me," Liliana said, sitting up straight in her chair. "After I had divorced David Caulfield, I heard through a mutual acquaintance that he had bought an apartment here in the Big City. I didn't think much of it at the time, that's why I had forgotten about it."
"An apartment? Where?" Joanna said.
"I'm sorry, Detective Powell, I don't know."
"Under his own name?"
"I don't know that, either," Liliana said, looking sincere.
"We'll check it at once. Detective Kransky?" Barnes said.
"I'll give him a call," Vernon said, got up from the chair and left the office.
The silence grew increasingly uncomfortable. It was clear to Joanna that the Lieutenant wanted her to leave as well so he could talk privately to Liliana, and it was equally clear to her - judging by the look on Liliana's face - that Liliana didn't want any part of it.
Joanna wet her lips, embarrassed by the awkward situation. She found herself wishing that she hadn't been told about the Lieutenant and Liliana.
Just to have something to do, she began flipping through the old pages of the notepad, stopping at a page that contained a few thoughts she had written down during her convalescence. As she read her own words, she narrowed her eyes and furrowed her brow.
"Miss Zinovia, have you met Rocky Caulfield in person since you left him? I don't mean the time where he was abusive to you, but now... in the period after the homicides were committed?"
Liliana's spring green eyes briefly glazed over and a nervous tic flashed across her pretty mouth. The strong emotions were gone as fast as they had come, but Joanna's keen eye had noticed them, and she made a mental note to make further inquiries later on.
Liliana opened her mouth to speak, but before she had time to, Lieutenant Barnes shot up from his chair and put his fists on the desktop. "Detective Powell, that's outrageous! Are you really accusing Miss Zinovia of harboring a dangerous criminal? You can't be serious!"
"Not harboring him, no. I'm just asking if Miss Zinovia has met him or spoken to him," Joanna said, looking directly at Liliana.
"No, Detective Powell, I have not spoken with Rocky Caulfield. Nor have I met him. I do believe it would be detrimental to my health if I did so," Liliana said icily.
"No doubt. I beg your pardon, Miss Zinovia. It was a question that needed to be asked."
Lieutenant Barnes tapped his fingers repeatedly against the desktop. After a few seconds, he sat down and pulled out in his collar.
Liliana put her hands back in her lap, unable to hold Joanna's gaze. "Am I done here, Lieutenant Barnes?"
"Of course, Miss Zinovia. Once Detective Kransky returns, I'll walk you to your car."
Moments later, Vernon came back into the office, shaking his head. "David Caulfield sold that apartment almost at once. Turns out it was a fungus-infested dump."
"Back to square one... again," Joanna said and closed her notepad with a soft phlum.
Sunday, June 26th.
"Ten more steps and we're there," Joanna said, pushing a blindfolded Betty ahead of her.
"Wait a minute, we're in the bedroom...?"
"That's right. That's not the secret. The secret is what's in here."
"Ooooh, can't wait," Betty said and made a wrong turn, prompting Joanna to put her hands on her lover's shoulders and turn her in the right direction.
"Not that way... this way," Joanna whispered into Betty's ear.
"Over to the bed."
"Ooooh!" Betty said, snickering loudly.
"Four more steps and we're there... three... two... one. Aaaaand we've arrived."
"The eagle has landed," Betty said with a new snicker.
After Joanna had placed a little kiss on Betty's neck, she reached up and pulled the knot for the blindfold, making the white scarf flutter to the floor.
"God... what's this...?" Betty exclaimed in total surprise when she saw the large, gift-wrapped envelope marked 'Fragile: Photographs' on her pillow.
While Betty opened the envelope with great care, Joanna walked over to lean against the doorjamb to the bathroom. She hoped that the latest gift would buy her some peace of mind, but at the same time, she knew that even if it did, it would only be temporary.
"Oh, it's just a little something I found online."
When Betty pulled two hi-gloss 8-by-10-inch promotional photos of Laurie McCanless out of the envelope, she seemingly lost the ability to speak. A split second later, she stared wide-eyed at the hand-signed autographs on both photos and let out a howl that almost freaked Joanna out.
After putting the photos carefully down on the blanket, Betty clutched the envelope to her bosom and began to dance around in the bedroom, laughing and cheering for all she was worth.
Once again, Joanna made like a statue, feeling like the world's worst S.O.B. As she looked at Betty's jubilant face, she could feel tears sting her eyes, but she quickly, and discreetly, wiped them away before any teardrops could betray her emotional state.
"OH, BABY!" Betty howled, hooking her arm inside Joanna's elbow and dragging her into an impromptu dance on the bedroom floor. "Oh, baby, I'm so happy! This is $190! GOD! We can't afford that!"
"We can afford anything when it comes to pleasing my honey," Joanna said, trying to keep up with her girlfriend as she was performing some sort of home-made jig.
"Ohhhhh, baby," Betty said again, wrapping her arms around Joanna's waist and pulling her into an embrace that quickly turned into a kiss.
"All these gifts... I don't deserve them. The concert tickets, the biography, the DVD boxset... now this...? Baby, what did you do?"
The words made Joanna's heart freeze over and her eyes darted nervously around their sockets, trying to come up with something intelligent to say. "Uh..."
"Hey..." Betty said thoughtfully, pointing an index finger at Joanna's chest.
'Here it comes,' Joanna thought.
"Are you on the take? Are you using Laurie McCanless to launder some filthy money?"
"Aw, Jeez, Bets. You've been watching too many cop shows. Of course I'm not on the take. And it's called dirty money," Joanna said and wrapped her arms around Betty.
"Filthy, dirty, what's the difference?" Betty said, looking at the two photos that were lying on the bed. They were both promotional shots from Raw Bounty; one of them was of Laurie McCanless in the navy uniform she was wearing at the beginning of the movie, and the other was of her in a black tank top and urban camouflage pants, wearing a pair of dog-tags around her neck and posing with a shotgun in a way that really accentuated her toned arms.
"Anyway, I hope you like them," Joanna said.
"Like 'em? Are you kidding, I friggin' love 'em!"
Downstairs, the phone started ringing and Joanna wasn't slow in leaving the bedroom. "It's probably the Lou with an update on the attack alarm," she said as she breezed out of the room, leaving Betty to admire her new photos.
Running down the stairs, Joanna hoped and prayed that the caller wasn't Liliana. Once she reached the telephone, she picked it up and flung herself onto the couch.
"Joanna Powell speaking."
'Detective Powell, have you lost your mind? Did the concussion give you a screw loose?'
"Huh? Lieutenant Barnes, I..."
'I took some paperwork home for the weekend and I've just read something that made the hairs on my back stand up straight. You're requesting taps on Liliana Zinovia's phone lines? On what grounds, Powell? Especially considering she's not even a suspect in the boarding school homicides. I hope you have a good excuse for requesting it. Mmmm?'
"Well, you see..."
'It has to be a really, really good one, Powell.'
"It was because of the way she reacted when I asked the question the other day... about her meeting Rocky Caulfield."
'I was there... and I didn't see anything. What did *you* see, Powell?' Barnes said in a voice that dripped with sarcasm.
"I saw a hesitation. A quick, nervous look in her eye that told me, as a police officer with nearly twelve years of experience, that she wasn't telling us everything."
'And that's it?'
'Have you asked Detective Kransky about his opinion?'
"Not yet, Lou."
'You should have... before you wasted your time typing the request. It's denied.'
"Look..." Joanna said, rubbing her forehead.
'If you can give me some hard evidence that suggests that she's involved, I'll reconsider. Good day, Detective.'
"Good day, Lou," Joanna said and hung up.
Rolling her eyes, she started walking away from the telephone. Three steps further on, she came to an abrupt stop and slapped her forehead. "I forgot to ask about the alarm! Sheesh!"
Upstairs, the bedroom had gone suspiciously quiet and Joanna felt the need to go back up to see if everything was all right. She looked at the telephone for a couple of seconds, but then shrugged and went into the hall.
When she returned to the bedroom, she found Betty kneeling on the bed, wearing a sheer, deep purple negligee and nothing else. The two photos had been moved to Betty's nightstand where they took center stage next to the reading lamp.
A warm smile spread out over Betty's features, and she stretched her hand out towards Joanna, almost like a latter-day siren luring innocent sailors into her grasp. "You've given me so much lately, baby. I want to pay some of it back. Come on, let's make love," she husked.
Joanna licked her lips, trying to think of a way to get out of the situation without stabbing Betty in the heart, figuratively speaking. When she realized she was out of options, she took off the sweatshirt she was wearing and closed the bedroom door with her heel.
Very early Monday morning, Joanna couldn't understand why the windmills she was fighting in her dreams changed into cell phones of gigantic proportions until she realized that someone was actually calling her.
The first time she tried to find the phone, she knocked her lip balm down onto the carpet - the second time, it was the book she was reading. Grumbling under her breath, she finally found her cell and dragged it under the blanket.
"Powell," she croaked.
'Jo, it's Corbin Thomas. There's been an incident out here at Liliana Zinovia's apartment. I just thought you'd want to know.'
Joanna's eyes popped wide open and she scrambled to find the corner of the blanket. When she found it, she flung it aside and sat up at once, putting her bare legs down onto the carpet. Her big toe collected the lip balm and sent the little tube spinning across the floor.
Joanna rubbed her face, fearing the worst. "God... how is she?" she said in a shaky voice. She closed her eyes while she waited for the answer.
'Banged up, but basically all right. She's got a black eye and a couple of bumps and bruises but no more than that.'
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Joanna let out a heartfelt sigh of relief.
"I'm still here. What kind of incident are we talking about?"
'Half an hour ago, we got a call for a two-eleven in progress that was upgraded to a home invasion shortly after. When we got here, it didn't appear to be connected to Roger Caulfield... however, there's something fishy here. It looks like a fairly standard, random mug-and-run, but I was hoping you'd be able to sort it out.'
"All right. I'll be there as soon as I can. Thanks for calling, Corbin. Wait, which apartment is it? The one on Loughton Street?"
'That's right. 1537 Loughton Street, apartment one-C.'
"Okay. Thanks, buddy."
'You're welcome, Jo.'
Joanna terminated the connection and buried her face in her hands. "A mug-and-run? Mug-and-run, my ass!" she said out loud.
Trying to get just a single, logical thought through her scrambling brain proved to be a greater challenge for Joanna than she had expected, and in the first three minutes after getting out of bed, all she could do was to run around like a headless chicken - then she forced herself to think clearly and began to get dressed.
As Joanna put on her blazer, Betty stirred and rolled over onto her back.
"Mmmmmhhh... what's up, darling?"
"I gotta go. Something's come up on the job," Joanna said as she put her new service pistol into the holster. Once it was secure, she fastened the little flap that held the gun in place.
"What time is it?"
"A quarter past one in the morning."
"Jeez! Do you want me to make you some coffee...?"
"No time. I gotta go at once," Joanna said and moved over to Betty's side of the bed. She knelt down and gave Betty a little kiss on the forehead. "I'll be home before you leave for work."
"Okay. It's Monday, right?"
"Don't forget I leave at a quarter past five. If you're not here, I'll put some buns on the kitchen table and then you can toast 'em yourself once you get back," Betty said, breaking out into a wide yawn.
"Thanks, Bets. Let's hope it won't be that long," Joanna said and moved away from the bed.
"Hey! Love ya!"
"Love ya, too, hon."
A few minutes later, Joanna reversed out of their parking space and roared off down the quiet suburban street with the red emergency lights on the dashboard and in the headlights blinking away like mad.
Like always, the Big City was completely different after dark. The neon signs were all shining brightly and the family sedans were gone, replaced by dozens of souped-up sportscars and custom specials filled with young people - quite often hanging out of the windows.
Joanna knew that the cruising scene was even stronger on the other side of the Monroe, but she had very little interest in finding out how badly congested the streets over there actually were.
She ducked and dived through the traffic until she reached McKinley Boulevard where she made a sharp left, headed for Loughton Street. To her right, the Monroe river disguised itself as a pitch black, hostile void, but she had no time to look at it or even at the tens of thousands of multi-colored lights coming from the high-rises on the other side of the river.
It wasn't hard to spot where Liliana's apartment building was on Loughton Street - no less than two police cruisers and an unmarked squad car were parked outside, all with their lights flashing, creating quite a show for the people who hadn't gone to bed yet.
Joanna brought the Crown Victoria to a screeching halt in front of the other cars and jumped from it before she'd even had time to fully open the door.
She practically flew through the marker tape and up a short flight of stairs where her progress was halted by a uniformed officer. Once she had showed the man her badge, he allowed her inside.
With shaking hands, Joanna peeked through the door to the kitchen. Two uniformed officers were kneeling next to a small pool of blood; one of them had just used a pincer to pick up a bloodied black ski mask. On the linoleum floor, a few bloody bootprints could be seen, along with several drops of blood.
One of the walls of the narrow hall had a two-foot long smear of blood on it, ending in a bloody handprint on the wallpaper. A small purse was lying on the floor and Joanna immediately recognized it as being Liliana's.
On her way to the living room, Joanna hurried past the entrance to the bedroom, but she stopped dead in her tracks and spun around on her heel when she caught a glimpse of a very frail, very vulnerable-looking Liliana sitting on the bed, holding a handkerchief up to her left eye.
A female police officer was sitting next to her, holding an arm and a blanket around her body. Corbin was on the other side of the bed and he gave Joanna a small wave once he spotted her.
Feeling numb all over, Joanna hurriedly closed the distance between herself and Liliana. She fell down onto her knees and took the former principal's hands in her own. The two lovers looked at each other, exchanging a silent prayer of gratitude that nothing major had happened.
"Liliana, I..." Joanna croaked. Her throat contracted itself too much for her to continue to speak, but Liliana smiled wistfully, apparently understanding Joanna's predicament.
When Joanna looked down, she noticed that Liliana was only wearing a shoe on her right foot. Her left foot had a small abrasion across the ankle, and the left leg of the familiar pair of blue capris had a long tear in it from the knee downwards - so much so that it was only hanging on by the proverbial thread.
One of the two uniformed officers who had been in the kitchen came into the bedroom holding several mangled pieces of metal in his hand. After he had placed it on the bed next to Liliana, Joanna could see that the metal was Liliana's expensive pair of titanium-colored designer glasses. The frame was all twisted and broken and both lenses had been knocked out.
Liliana sighed and removed the handkerchief to look at the amount of blood on it. When Joanna saw Liliana's black eye for the first time, the corners of her mouth twitched and she bared her teeth in a sneer.
"Thanks for your help, officer. I'm okay now," Liliana said in a shaky voice to the female officer sitting next to her.
"You're welcome, Miss. I'll be close by if you need me again," the officer said and rose from the bed.
Once the officer had moved away from the bed, Joanna got up and moved close to Liliana, wrapping her arm around the petite woman's shoulder. After a few seconds, Liliana began to sob and she leaned her head against the side of Joanna's chest.
Feeling close to tears herself, Joanna pulled her lover into a warm embrace that quickly became so heartfelt that the other officers in the bedroom began to feel uncomfortable.
"Come on, guys, let's give them some breathing space," Corbin said, ushering the other officers out of the bedroom. As he closed the door behind him, he gave Joanna a thumbs-up that she responded to by nodding.
"God, Liliana... what happened? Corbin told me over the phone that it wasn't Rocky Caulfield?" Joanna said in a half-whisper. She reached into her pants pocket and found a fresh handkerchief that she gave to Liliana.
"It wasn't. It was some random mugger. I guess he thought he had found a juicy victim," Liliana said, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose. She offered the hankie back to Joanna but the detective just shook her head.
"I... well, I'm sorry, but I find that hard to believe."
"It's true, Jo."
"What were you doing out so late?"
"I wanted a special soft drink that I can only get down at the Korean grocery store..."
Joanna's mind went blank for a few seconds; then a single word stood loud and clear in her mind's eye: Lie.
"A soft drink? You ventured outside at one in the morning to get a soft drink? Jesus, Liliana!"
"Yes, but the worst thing is that on my way there, I remembered that the store doesn't take credit cards after ten p.m. and I wasn't carrying any cash. I turned around and hurried home but when I was almost here, I noticed that I was being followed. It was a young Latino, a tall, skinny guy, dressed in hip-hop clothes, you know."
"How did he look?"
"I c-can't really say. He had a goatee and a small mustache...."
"He wasn't wearing the black ski mask that's in your kitchen, then?"
"He pulled it off in the struggle. Are you saying I'm lying?" Liliana said defiantly.
"Of course not. Go on."
"Well, he was wearing dark sportswear with gold stripes on his pants and his T-shirt, a tan bandanna around his neck and white trainers and... you know, the usual," Liliana said, pressing the bloody handkerchief against her eye.
"Mmmm," Joanna said, knowing from years of experience that they had to go through a small charade before they could get to the real answers.
"He came closer and closer, but I thought I had lost him when I turned into the alley. He jumped me just as I was unlocking the door."
"One of your neighbors watched the struggle. She called the police and said it was a mugging. I understand he took your purse?"
"He grabbed it, but I didn't want to let it go. I had my credit cards and my car keys and everything in there..."
"That was foolish, Liliana. Credit cards can be blocked. A bullet or a knife in the chest can't be fixed as easily," Joanna said and gave Liliana a little squeeze.
"I know, but... I just didn't want to... well."
"And that's when it changed from a two-eleven to a home invasion...?"
"From a what?"
"Oh... yes. I tried to break free of his grip, but in the struggle, the door had opened itself and we both fell into the hall. He grabbed my leg quite roughly and I was afraid... afraid that since he couldn't get the purse, he was going to... you know."
"I know. Go on."
"He tore my capris, but I managed to kick him on the chin. He didn't take it too well. He slammed my face into the wall and then chased me into the kitchen. I grabbed my small espresso machine and whacked him across the face."
"And you're sure it wasn't Rocky Caulfield?"
"It was a young Latino. I saw him as clearly as I see you now. He tore off the mask and staggered out of the kitchen, bleeding all over the floor. Then he left and I locked the door behind him."
"Where's your shoe?"
"I d-don't know...? Out in the hall, I guess... or maybe outside. It came off when he grabbed my leg."
Joanna began to look around the bedroom where she and Liliana had spent a wonderful, if angst-creating, afternoon only two weeks earlier. She sensed that something about the room had changed, but she couldn't quite work out what it could be.
She let her experienced eyes trail slowly over the closets, the walls and the various items in the bedroom - everything was roughly the same, allowing for the natural changes that would take place in a two week period. Still, there was something nagging at the back of her mind.
"So, you wanna come down to the stationhouse and look at our profile books?"
"Mug shots, in layman's terms. Going by the way you described the mugging and the assault, your Latino guy is an experienced one. I'm sure you'd be able to find him there."
Liliana looked away and wiped her bottom lip with the back of her hand. "No. I have a headache. I'll take some pills and try to get some sleep."
"All right," Joanna said and removed her arm from Liliana's shoulder.
Moments later, Liliana shrugged off the protective blanket and got off the bed. She walked over to one of the closets and pulled a folding door aside to take a look at the clothes inside. After picking out a gray Rokkstarr sweatsuit, she reached down into the bottom of the closet to find a pair of sandals.
As she turned around again, she held the sweatsuit up against her body. "Umm, Jo... I know it sounds stupid considering what we've done in here, but would you mind turning around while I change my pants? I'm feeling really vulnerable right now."
"No, of course not. Tell you what, I'll go outside while you change," Joanna said and got off the bed. With a wave, she left the bedroom.
Once Joanna stepped out into the hall, closing the bedroom door behind her, Corbin came over to her.
"Hey, Jo. I hope it was all right that I called you?"
"Yeah, it was. Thanks, buddy," Joanna said and ran her fingers through her hair.
"Do you buy her story?" Corbin said, looking Joanna directly in the eye.
"Not exactly, no."
"Mmmm," Joanna said, nodding. "That's pretty much how I feel, too."
Corbin wet his lips and leaned in towards Joanna. When he spoke, it was in hushed tones so it wouldn't carry through the bedroom door. "I've just called the First Precinct and asked to have a Detective from the Gangs and Organized Crime unit come over tomorrow to give us a low-down on the local factions."
"Why?" Joanna said in a similar hushed voice, looking puzzled.
"Well, the way Miss Zinovia described the attacker's clothing indicates that he belongs to a crew called the 'E-Fourteen Kingz'."
"From East Fourteenth Street? What the hell would one of those people be doing on this side of the Monroe? Visiting his sick aunt?"
"Yeah, exactly." Corbin looked towards the bedroom door to make sure that they couldn't be overheard. "Just the other night, there was a feature on the Kingz in a half-hour special report on Channel Four. They interviewed a couple of the leaders and their colors were quite prominent."
"I see what you're getting at," Joanna said, nodding.
"Good. My theory is that Miss Zinovia described her so-called attacker from the things she saw in that report. If the report had been on a different gang, Miss Zinovia's description would've been different, too... for whatever reason," Corbin said, finishing off with a shrug.
"Well, that part of it is fairly obvious. She's trying to protect Rocky Caulfield."
"But why the hell would she want to do that?"
"Beats me, Corbin. Perhaps he's got some kind of squeeze on her. Hmmm," Joanna said and began to smooth out her eyebrows with her index finger.
Behind them, William Larsen came in through the front door, whistling loudly when he saw the bloody smear on the wall. "Holy shit, wouldya look at that!"
"Where have you been, Bill?" Joanna said, putting her hands on her hips.
"Ah, we had another little thing going on that I needed to take care of first. But I'm here now, ain't I?"
"That's undeniable. Corbin, did you take a statement from the neighbor who called it in?"
"Yeah, I have it right here," Corbin said, showing Joanna his notepad.
"Good. Bill, would you mind going over to the neighbor to ask her again about the clothes the mugger was wearing? You might lead her on in saying that it was gang-wear with gold stripes on the pants and the T and a tan bandanna around his neck... like an ascot," Joanna said.
"Uh, sure. But why, if we already have it?" William Larsen said, scratching his hair.
"Well, we're trying to sort out a few discrepancies. Okay?"
"Sure. I can do that. I do a great doofus. They never know what hits 'em," William said and left the apartment.
Before Joanna had time to make a cheeky comment, the door to the bedroom opened softly and Liliana stepped outside into the hall. Joanna picked up at once that she was walking very stiffly, almost like she was nursing a few hidden bruises she hadn't mentioned before.
"Jo, I was wondering if you'd help me to check if something was stolen from my purse?" Liliana said, looking down at the aforementioned item that hadn't been moved from its position on the floor.
"Oh, you better believe it. Come on, let's go into the living room," Joanna said and put on her latex examination gloves.
Once they had sat down on a couch that looked like it was the better part of fifty years old, Liliana crossed her legs at the knees and looked worried.
Wearing her latex gloves, Joanna opened the purse, took the items out one at a time and put them on an old coffee table that matched the couch in appearance. "Let's see... credit card, mouth freshener, paper tissues, two paper clips, a lighter... I didn't think you smoked?"
"I used to. I keep forgetting to throw it out. It's so old it probably doesn't even work."
"Okay. A ball point pen, a small notepad, a pocket scissor, a nail file, lip balm, car keys... where's your Taurus, anyway?"
"It's down in the parking garage over at the other apartment. No spaces here."
"All right. Can you see if there's anything missing?" Joanna said, spreading the items out on the table.
"Everything looks to be there. Thanks, Jo. You've been a great help tonight," Liliana said and hooked her arm inside Joanna's elbow.
"You're welcome, Liliana," Joanna said and bumped shoulders with the shorter woman. Even though the impact wasn't particularly hard, Liliana gave off a pained moan that she tried to hide by coughing.
"I'm really tired now. I hope this mess won't take too long...?" Liliana said, stifling a yawn.
"It shouldn't. Do you want me to wait here so I can tuck you in once the rest of the police force has left?"
A very brief flash of something unidentifiable raced across Liliana's face and she hurriedly leaned forward to collect the items from the table top. "No, thanks, Jo. I appreciate the offer, but it won't be necessary. I'm sure you want to go home to Betty...?"
"Yeah," Joanna said with a grin. Over Liliana's shoulder, she could see William Larsen standing in the doorway, pointing first at her and then at himself.
"Listen, Liliana, I have to speak with one of my colleagues now. Are you all right?"
"Sure, Jo. Thanks."
As Joanna walked into the hall, William Larsen gave her a thumbs-up. "Bingo, Jo. The old lady... hey, she made some killer chocolate chip cookies, by the way..."
"Uh-huh? You have some on your chin and tie, Bill."
"Oh...?" William said, trying to wipe it off with the back of his hand but only succeeding in making the chocolate stain even worse. "Anyway, the old lady was one-hundred percent certain that the mugger wasn't wearing the clothes I described for her. She said he was wearing black pants, black boots and a black sweater. No logos or anything... everything was black. And no bandanna."
"Excellent work, Bill. Thanks," Joanna said and turned around to cast a glance at Liliana who was still sitting in the couch, looking down into her purse.
After accidentally sleeping in, Joanna tore around her kitchen, wolfing down the buns Betty had saved for her and hurriedly slapping her Driver's Mug into their coffee maker. Once she had all the details in place, she ran back upstairs to jump into her work clothes.
While she was jumping around on one leg trying to get her left foot into her ankle boot, she picked up her cell phone and dialed Vernon's number at the stationhouse. To make it a bit easier for herself, she pinned the phone down between her shoulder and her ear so she could pull at the reluctant boot with both hands.
'Detective Vernon Kransky.'
"Vernon, it's me, Joanna. I've slept in, sorry 'bout that. Listen, I'm going to run a little errand before I come in. Is there anything urgent on the agenda?"
'I'll say. The Lou is in here every five minutes looking for you and his face grows redder by the moment. What did you do to him?'
"I didn't do anything. It must be about the surveillance request. Hmmm. The next time he swings by, tell him I'll be in his office as soon as I get there."
'All right. Are you really still considering putting a tap on Miss Zinovia's phones, even after what happened last night?'
"Now more than ever, Vern. Did you speak with Corbin or William when you came to work this morning?"
'No, but Corbin left me a note telling me about the description that wasn't.'
Joanna chuckled and gave up the unequal struggle with the boot. Instead of bopping around on one leg, she sat down on the bed to pull it up.
"Corbin told me he had asked an expert on gangs from the First to come over and talk to us about it, but you know... it would be a waste of time for all of us. It was Rocky, we all know that. Would you mind giving them a call to cancel the meeting?"
'No problem. Oh, here's the Lou now if you want to talk to him in person...?'
"Bye, Vern," Joanna said hurriedly and hung up.
Grinning, Joanna buttoned her blazer and went downstairs to grab her Driver's Mug of coffee.
Thirty minutes later, Joanna parked at the curb on Fillmore Boulevard outside the apartment building where Liliana's original apartment was located.
She noticed with some satisfaction that the temporary newspaper stand had returned and that the same African-American man she had spoken to earlier was still manning it.
After stepping out of the Crown Victoria, she walked across the sidewalk holding her badge ready, but before she'd even made it halfway there, the newspaper seller grinned and waved at her from his position on a tall leather stool. "Hello again, Detective."
"I'm flattered. I can't even remember when I spoke to you last," Joanna said, returning the grin.
"I reckon it was two months or so ago. But I never forget a face. Especially not one that belongs to a six-foot woman with a badge and a gun."
"What can I do for you, Detective?"
"Since you never forget a face, you shouldn't have a problem identifying the man I'm looking for. He's Caucasian, six-foot plus, two-hundred thirty pounds or so, beefy fella. He has a dirty-blonde full beard or a goatee and he has grayish-blue eyes."
"What's he wanted for?" The newspaper man said excitedly, moving to the edge of his seat.
"Did you see him?"
"Sure I've seen him. Not too long ago, actually. It's funny, though, I've seen two men with dirty-blonde hair and beards recently. Both went into the apartment building. The two men were quite different, yet alike, if you know what I mean?"
"If it's the people I think it is, they're brothers."
"Ah, makes perfect sense. All right, let's see... I saw the skinnier of the two, oh... a couple of weeks ago, but the beefier one came by earlier today. Twenty minutes after I got here at eight a.m., so that's..." the newspaper man looked down to check his wristwatch "... just over two hours ago, now."
Joanna nodded and clenched her fists. "How did the beefier one get here?"
"This time he was on foot, but I've seen him drive a gray Taurus a couple of times."
"Did you notice anything unusual about him when you saw him this morning?"
"Nah... not really. I wasn't really looking at him. He did walk by me kinda fast, though. "
"All right. Thank you, Sir." Joanna took a deep breath and moved towards the apartment building's unmanned windbreak. When she tried to move the doorknob, she found it to be locked. Growling, she suddenly remembered that the door had a buzzer and she quickly moved over to the panel to scan the list of names of the people living there.
It took four tries to get someone to buzz the door open, but as soon as it was, Joanna ran inside and bounded up the stairs. When she reached Liliana's apartment, she held her breath and put her ear to the door.
A few moments later, she realized that the door was too thick for any sounds to travel through it, and she bared her teeth in a disappointed grimace. She slowly came to the conclusion that she needed to call for backup.
'On a hunch and the word of a newspaper seller. Sheesh. But if Rocky Caulfield really is in there, he'll most likely have my service pistol... and he's desperate,' Joanna thought and mopped her brow. 'Barnes is going to whip my butt if it ends up as a wild goose chase, but I can't risk going in alone. Betty would never forgive me...'
For good measure, she tried putting her ear to the door again, but the result was the same. Grunting, she went back down the stairs and out to her Crown Victoria.
After waving to the newspaper guy, she got into her car and took the mic. "Dispatch, this is One-four-William-oh-six."
'Go ahead one-four-William-oh-six.'
"This is Detective Joanna Powell. I..." she looked at herself in the rear view mirror, deciding to take the leap of faith even if there was a huge risk it would come back to bite her in the rear end. "I believe I have located the wanted fugitive Roger a.k.a. Rocky Caulfield at 1116 Fillmore Boulevard. I need uniformed backup for an insertion. The suspect is most likely armed and desperate so the unit needs to be dark and quiet, over."
'That's a copy, Detective Powell. 1116 Fillmore Boulevard, uniformed backup for an insertion, dark and quiet.'
"Roger that, dispatch. One-four-William-oh-six out." As Joanna put the mic away, she took a deep breath and reached for her cell phone.
"This is Jo. I think we got Rocky. 1116 Fillmore Boulevard. We got the point this time, buddy."
'All right, I'm on my way. Don't do anything before we get there. Did you request backup yet?'
"Yes, before I called you."
'Good. Do you have a vest and a Door Buster with you?'
'By the way, the Lou is steaming, hopping, spit-flyin' mad at you right now. You must've done something really nasty to him. Did ya kick his pet hamster?'
"I don't know what the hell's going on there. I'll have to deal with that later. Tell him that..."
Out of the corner of her eye, Joanna suddenly saw a beefy guy come out of the windbreak and walk up the sidewalk towards her car. He was wearing black jeans, a blue letterman jacket and a dark blue baseball cap. His face was mostly obscured by the shadow of the peak, but the bridge of his nose and parts of his left eyebrow stood out by being red and swollen.
The blue-gray eyes and the dirty-blond goatee gave him away. It was Rocky Caulfield.
Movement to her right made Joanna turn her head - the newspaper seller waved his arms like mad, pointing at the beefy guy.
Joanna's eyes grew wider and wider as it dawned on her that she didn't have time to wait for the backup to arrive. At the exact same moment, Rocky Caulfield spotted the squad car parked at the curb and came to an abrupt stop.
'Jo? What's going on? Jo? Don't do anything before we get there!' Vernon said from the other end of the connection.
A second later, Joanna and Rocky locked eyes with each other through the windscreen.
Another second later, Rocky reached underneath his letterman jacket, making the blood in Joanna's veins freeze over.
Rocky seemed to come to his senses as he didn't pull his gun but rather spun around and took off down the sidewalk, running flat out towards the parking garage. The wind soon caught his baseball cap and blew it off his head, revealing his dirty-blond hair.
Cursing and swearing, Joanna let go of her cell phone, jumped out of the Crown Victoria, drew her pistol and ducked down behind the fender. "Rocky Caulfield, this is the Metro Police Department! Stop at once and put your hands in the air!"
Predictably, Rocky didn't listen but instead continued running towards the parking garage.
Making a split decision, Joanna got up from her safe spot behind the fender and began to run after him. Behind her, she could hear the newspaper guy call 9-1-1, but she didn't have time to explain to him that she had already called for backup.
Rocky Caulfield turned right and began to run down the slope. Just as Joanna reached the top of the slope, Rocky lost his balance and slid the last ten feet down to the floor of the garage.
"Halt! Metro P.D.!" Joanna shouted, aiming her gun directly at the fugitive. At the foot of the slope, Rocky clambered to his knees, nursing his left elbow. While he was looking up at the Detective, the wound above his eye opened up and blood began to seep down his cheek and onto his clothes.
Keeping her eyes on Rocky, Joanna began to walk down the steep descent, taking it very easy on the slippery surface. Unfortunately, the slope was even slipperier than she had predicted, and she lost her footing and slid down the last ten feet exactly like Rocky had done just moments earlier.
Rocky wasn't slow in exploiting Joanna's mishap - at once, he jumped to his feet and ran towards a part of the parking garage where several of the strip lights had gone out, leaving it bathed in darkness.
Joanna ran to her right, ducking behind a concrete pillar. As she looked around it, she could hear a pair of roaring engines up on the street. Moments later, a black-and-white with the emergency lights flashing drove down the slope, coming to a screeching halt next to Joanna.
Behind the black-and-white, Vernon flew down the slope as well, just barely avoiding slamming into the back of the patrol car when he was taken by surprise by the slipperiness of the surface.
In two seconds flat, Vernon and the two patrolmen jumped from their cars and ran over to Joanna.
"Boy, am I glad to see you, Vern," Joanna said with a nervous chuckle, staying well behind the concrete pillar.
"Well, I'm glad to see you, too, Jo... which part of 'don't do anything before we get there' didn't you understand?"
"I understood all right, but Rocky didn't."
"Where's your vest?"
"No time to put it on."
"Where did he go?" the first of the two patrolmen said.
"Over in the area where the lights are low. Let's try to out-flank him. On three, I'll run up to the next pillar. Okay?" Joanna said.
Vernon nodded. "Works for me. But stay well away from the bullets, Jo!"
When both patrolmen nodded, Joanna took a deep breath and counted off silently. On three, she sprinted from the first pillar to the next, arriving there without any difficulty.
Just when she started thinking about looking for fire escapes or other means for Rocky Caulfield to escape from the garage, the first of the patrolmen came out from behind the pillar and ran towards her.
Inches before he had made it, Rocky fired twice from his hiding place on the other side of the parking garage. Both shots missed, but the first one ricocheted around the concrete walls for a few seconds, creating an even greater danger than the original shot.
Joanna swiftly moved around the corner of the pillar and held her weapon ready but she didn't want to fire without a clear indication of where Rocky was. Two seconds later, she jumped back behind the pillar, shaking her head.
"Jeez!" The patrolman said as he slid to a halt next to Joanna. "This guy is serious!"
"He's already killed twice. He knows he'll get the chair when we catch him," Joanna added dryly.
"A cold chair or hot lead, what's the difference?" the patrolman said, adjusting the grip on his revolver.
"Yeah. Stay here, I'll move on to the next one," Joanna said, nodding in the direction of the third concrete pillar. Moments after she had said that, she noticed Liliana's charcoal gray Ford Taurus parked behind it.
Taking a deep breath, she briefly closed her eyes and sprinted towards the third pillar.
While she was on her way there, Rocky came out of his hiding place and fired off two rounds in quick succession, but he soon had to duck back into the shadows as Vernon and both patrolmen returned fire.
Joanna slid behind the third pillar, peeking around it at once. From her vantage point, she had a better look at the shadowy side of the parking garage, and she thought she could see Rocky's blue letterman jacket between two cars.
Looking around, she noticed that beyond the third pillar, the garage was much narrower compared to up at the entrance, so she would only have to run thirty feet in the open to get to the other side where it would be more difficult for Rocky to get a fix on her.
While she was still weighing her options, she looked over her shoulder, noticing that the second patrolman had reached the second pillar, and also that Vernon had stayed at the first. Nodding to herself, she rolled her shoulders to get herself psyched up for the task at hand.
The next time she peeked around the pillar, she could clearly see Rocky's letterman jacket behind a metallic blue car, and she made up her mind to go for it. After making sure she had a firm two-hand grip on her service pistol, she left the safety of the pillar and ran out into the open.
When Rocky noticed that Joanna was running, he took a pot shot at her, but the bullet never got anywhere near her. He fired again when she had reached halfway, and this time, she could hear the bullet zing past, flying dangerously close to her ear.
Putting her long legs to good use, she rapidly closed the distance between herself and the safety of the pillar on the other side, almost jumping in behind it like a touchdown pass in the Superbowl.
Moments later, Rocky fired again. This time, his aim was better as the bullet struck the pillar Joanna was hiding behind, sending a cloud of concrete dust and sharp fragments into the air. Several of the fragments slapped so hard against Joanna's cheek that she instinctively turned her head and took an involuntary step back.
Joanna's cheek began to sting almost at once and when she reached up to touch it, her fingers became coated in blood and concrete dust. "Sonovabitch," she growled, reaching into her pocket to find her hankie - a split second later, she remembered that Liliana had taken it during the night's events.
"Ah, that's just great. Just what I needed," Joanna said out loud as she looked at her bloody fingers. Rolling her eyes, she wiped them off on her dark blue V-neck blouse to make sure that the blood wouldn't cause her to lose the grip on the gun's handle.
Joanna looked over at Vernon who was gesticulating wildly, pointing at the dark part of the garage. She nodded and peeked around the corner of the pillar. When Rocky didn't fire at her, she jumped out and sprinted towards the first of the cars.
She went into a forward roll and dove down next to a metallic blue Pontiac, ending up taking shelter behind the car's fender. Licking her lips nervously, she jumped up and moved her arms in a sweeping arc, constantly looking down the barrel of the gun. A flickering shadow on the other side of the car made her look in that direction, catching a brief flash of a blue letterman jacket moving away.
Taking a deep breath, Joanna ran around the front of the Pontiac, still holding the gun straight out ahead of her in a two-handed grip. In a heartbeat, she was at the car's rear fender. On her left, a white GMC minibus restricted her line of sight, but she crouched down and dared a quick peek around its rear.
No more than three feet away from her, Rocky Caulfield had his left side turned towards her while he was focusing intently on the ejected clip of his gun. Before Joanna had time to do anything, Rocky slapped the clip back in and worked the action on the weapon.
Time slowed down to a crawl for Joanna. She could feel her heart thundering away in her chest and she suddenly realized that she was sweating like a pig.
Deciding to go for it before Rocky moved again, she jumped out from behind the minibus and aimed the gun directly at the man's chest.
"Freeze, Rocky! Metro P.D.! Drop your gun and go out into the light! NOW!"
Joanna could hear Vernon and the two patrolmen come running towards her from the other side of the parking garage; the bare walls meant that their footsteps echoed wildly.
Rocky didn't drop the gun - in fact, he began to move it slowly towards Joanna.
"Drop your gun, Rocky! I won't tell you again! I will shoot if you don't drop it!"
A flash of something dangerous and animal-like raced across Rocky Caulfield's eyes. A split second later, he roared crazily and swung his arm and the pistol up towards Joanna.
Earlier, Joanna had experienced that time had slowed down to a crawl, but now she felt it come to a complete stop.
Staring wide-eyed at the muzzle of the gun that was pointed at her - the gun that Rocky had stolen from her in the attack - she could almost see the burning hot lead come out of the little hole and fly towards her. She knew what a bullet from a police sidearm could do to a human body at point blank range, and she had no interest in being on the receiving end of one.
The only way to stop that would be to shoot first.
She squeezed the trigger twice in rapid succession, feeling the powerful recoil of the gun as it tried to jump out of her hand.
The two bullets struck Rocky Caulfield in the chest; one above and one below his heart. As he was thrown backwards, his index finger jerked, pulling the trigger of his stolen gun.
Fortunately for Joanna, Rocky was no longer in a position to aim, so the shot went through the rear window of the GMC minibus, breaking it into a million pieces.
After Rocky's body had landed with a hard thud on the concrete floor, time resumed its normal rhythm for Joanna and she leaned against the wall, completely out of breath and feeling lightheaded. She looked down at the smoking gun in her hand and grunted.
A heartbeat later, Vernon came tearing around the corner of the minibus and grabbed hold of Joanna's arm. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Vern."
Joanna pulled her blazer back and put the gun back in its holster. When she reached down to secure the little flap, her fingers trembled so much she could hardly do it.
"Well done," he said and thumped her shoulder.
"Thanks. Phew," Joanna said and hunched over to put her hands on her knees. As the adrenaline slowly left her system, she was assaulted by a wave of fatigue and her throat became as dry as parchment.
"Crouch down, it'll lessen the effects. I'll take care of business here."
With her throat too dry to speak, Joanna settled for nodding. Sliding down the filthy concrete wall, she went into a crouch and buried her head in her hands.
An hour and twenty minutes later, Lieutenant Nicholas Barnes walked up to stand on the top step of the staircase leading to the stationhouse of the Fourteenth Precinct. After he had straightened his tie and cleared his throat, he tapped the microphone in front of him to see if it worked.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, we welcome you to this press conference to mark the closing of the Jeremy Malone Boarding School homicides."
The masses of photographers below him all used their cameras at once, showering him in a barrage of flashes and powerful spotlights from the TV crews.
"Ahem. Today, Monday, June 27th, after more than two and a half months of intensive, thorough investigation and hundreds, if not thousands, of man-hours, Officers and Detectives from the Metro Police Department were able to corner the dangerous fugitive Roger, a.k.a. Rocky, Caulfield in a parking garage on Fillmore Boulevard.
Mr. Caulfield chose to engage our Officers and Detectives in a firefight in which he was fatally wounded. The point Detective was Joanna Powell. Joanna, please come up here," Barnes said, reaching out after Joanna who was standing off to the side, looking utterly miserable.
Joanna hadn't had time to change clothes so her blazer was still peppered with concrete dust and her dark blue V-neck blouse still showed the blood smear she had wiped off her fingers. All she'd had time to do was to get a small Band-Aid on her cheek, but the tan fabric stood out against her pale skin like a sore thumb.
Once she was in front of the cameras, a dozen reporters all shouted her name, creating a cacophony of voices that threatened to bowl her over. For several seconds, she stared blankly at the blurry faces below her before finally pointing at a blonde reporter from Channel Eleven.
"Detective Powell, what made you go to Fillmore Boulevard this morning?"
"We... we had discovered some discrepancies in the case and I wanted to follow up on a hunch I'd had earlier."
"Roger Caulfield was staying at Liliana Zinovia's apartment. Has she been arrested?"
"I don't have an answer to that question."
"Did you engage Roger Caulfield inside the apartment?"
"No, I had been at the apartment, but did not meet him. I saw him a few minutes later out on the street."
"Detective, is the rumor true that you weren't wearing your regulated bulletproof vest?"
Joanna scrunched up her face. 'Who the hell told them that?' she thought. "Well... that's right. I didn't have time to put it on. I didn't expect to bump into him on the street. I-"
"Had you called for backup at that point?"
"Yes. They arrived a few minutes later. Very efficient as usual." Joanna sneaked a glance at the Lieutenant who was beaming over her words.
When the blonde reporter sat down, a man from one the major tabloids shot up from his chair, holding a recorder in his hand.
"Detective Powell, three years ago you were involved in an unjustified shooting. Are you sure that this one was jus-"
"That's neither here nor there. Next question!" Lieutenant Barnes said, having snatched the microphone out of Joanna's hands.
"I'm Maria Lorenz from the Tribune. Lieutenant Barnes, did Roger Caulfield confess to the two homicides?" a female reporter said.
"No, but we have enough evidence to pin both..."
While Barnes kept talking, Joanna stepped away from the microphones and went over to stand next to the glass doors at the entrance, thoroughly fed up with the whole situation.
A minute or so later, Vernon tapped on the inside of the glass, holding up a cup of coffee. Joanna sighed in relief and went inside. She quickly took the cup from Vernon's hand and gulped down half of it in one go.
"Ahhh. Jeez, I needed that," she said and wiped a few drops of coffee off her top lip.
"I though you might. By the way, the crisis counselor is in if you need to talk to a pro."
"Thanks, Vern. Nah, I'm good."
"You didn't look so good out there... or in the garage for that matter."
"I know. It was the timing of the deal that threw me off. I got lucky, I pulled the trigger first. If I had hesitated two heartbeats more, I might've been on a metal slab down at the morgue right now, keeping Rocky company."
"A lot of things can happen in two heartbeats, Jo. Anyway, go down to the cribs and take a hot shower. You look like something the cat dragged in!"
"Yes, boss," Joanna said and drained her coffee.
After showering and cleaning her clothes to the best of her abilities, Joanna walked back up the stairs and through the corridors to get to her office. On her way there, she peeked into the main squad room to see if Barnes had returned to his office.
Instead of the Lieutenant, she spotted a large banner hanging on the wall that read 'ACE WORK, JOANA!'. Chuckling, she greeted those of her colleagues that were in there, moved between the desks, grabbed one of the felt-tip permanent marker pens they had used to create the banner and inserted another N in her name.
"Two N's, guys. Two N's," she said and put away the pen.
"Detective Powell, may I have a word?" Lieutenant Barnes said as soon as he saw Joanna in the main squad room.
"Of course, Lou," Joanna said. She tried to read his face, but it was even more one-note than usual.
After closing the glass door to his office, Nicholas Barnes sat down in his chair and began twiddling his thumbs. "It was excellent work in the press conference, but I'm sorry you had to listen to that crap about the unjustified shooting."
"Thank you. Ah, doesn't bother me these days," Joanna said and sat down in one of the two chairs placed in front of the desk.
Barnes leaned forward and scrunched up his face. Joanna suddenly remembered that Vernon had warned her that the Lieutenant was spit-flying mad at her for something, and she gulped nervously.
"Detective Powell... Joanna. I... I have to give you an apology."
"Apo... an apology? What for?" Joanna said, leaning forward in her seat.
"Earlier today, I was quite mad at you. I don't know if Detective Kransky told you...?"
"Uh, yes he did."
"Well, the reason was that Miss Zinovia called me late last night, after the ordeal."
"She told me that she had felt cornered by you when you interviewed her. That you hadn't believed her when she told you about her mugger."
"Frankly, I didn't believe her, Lou, but I never cornered her,"
"I understand. Well, after the shooting became breaking news on the TV stations, Miss Zinovia called me again, claiming that she had been under severe duress when she had spoken to me earlier. That it had indeed been Rocky Caulfield who had attacked her, and that he had threatened her with physical harm if she told the police that he had moved into her old apartment."
"All right." 'This all worked out perfectly for Liliana. With Rocky dead, there's no one to contradict her story... but Sweet Jesus, if it turns out she really was involved in the murders somehow, my career is dead and buried,' Joanna thought, briefly getting the shivers.
"I've called Miss Zinovia and asked her to come over as soon as possible. She understands that we have to do something about her obstruction of justice. Thank God we hadn't already found some random Latino punk on the street who matched the description she gave us. Can you imagine the reaction in the liberal press?"
"Fairly well, yes."
"She should be here shortly. Please... uh, negate this little misunderstanding between you. Like she told me, she was under severe duress. With Liliana being such a petite woman, she wouldn't have stood a chance again Rocky Caulfield, that big brute."
Joanna nodded, still trying to make the final pieces of the puzzle fit together.
"Well, that's it. Get back to work. I'm sure you have a mountain of paperwork to go through," Nicholas Barnes said and opened a file, giving Joanna the cue to leave the office.
Ten minutes later, Joanna was typing so furiously on her computer that she didn't hear a faint knock on the doorjamb behind her.
"Jo, there's someone here to see you," Vernon said, closing a file.
When Joanna turned her swivel-chair around, she found herself looking into Liliana Zinovia's spring green eyes.
The former principal's left eye had developed such a shiner that she looked like she had gone a few rounds against the world heavyweight champion. Compared to the rainbow of colors surrounding her eye, her face seemed pale and drawn and she was dressed in the familiar gray business suit which seemed appropriate for the occasion.
Neither of the two women spoke, each waiting for the other to make the first move.
"Tell you what, I'll go make a few photocopies. It should take me about ten minutes," Vernon said and grabbed a stack of folders.
Once Vernon had closed the door behind him, Joanna got up from her chair and wiped her suddenly sweaty palms on the back of her pants. "Hi."
Joanna came a few steps closer, realizing that they'd never get anywhere unless she took the lead.
"Look-" - "I'm sor-" they said at the same time.
"You first," Joanna said with a chuckle.
"I'm sorry that I lied to you last night. I didn't like it, but I had to. Rocky had a squeeze on me," Liliana said and moved closer to Joanna. She put out her hands and Joanna wasn't slow in taking them in her own.
"I understand, Liliana. The Lou has already told me a few things."
"Oh... I really hope you do understand... I had to do it. He came to my doorstep one evening and forced his way in. Two days later, I was lucky enough to find the other apartment over on Loughton Street and I moved at once."
'But what did they do in the mean time...?' Joanna thought. "Did he beat you up?"
"Yeah. More than once. Underneath my clothes, I'm still black and blue in places."
"I suspected as much. Why did he come to you last night?"
"He wanted money but I didn't have any for him. Then he got angry and started slapping me around," Liliana said, looking down.
"You don't have to be afraid of Rocky anymore. He's dead. You're safe now," Joanna said, putting a finger under Liliana's chin.
"I know. Thank you for killing him."
The two women locked eyes, re-establishing their connection almost immediately. Joanna felt her mouth go dry for the second time that day, but for a wildly different reason compared to the first time.
Liliana smiled, making her lips curve upward in a graceful gesture. At once, Joanna's eyes flicked down to Liliana's enticing lips, thinking that the two pink lines were just begging to be kissed.
The temptation proved to be too great to resist and she soon leaned down to claim Liliana's lips in a searing kiss. Almost at once, their tongues began to dance against each other, performing an act that was a precursor of things to come.
Behind them, someone knocked on the door. When no one answered, the door was opened and a person entered the office.
"Hey, baby, I watched you... on... television..." Betty Johansen said in a voice that slowly trailed off as she digested the event that was taking place in front of her.
The ice cold hand of panic reached into Joanna's body and took a firm grip on her heart. The hand squeezed and squeezed until she thought it would crush her heart completely.
Since they had been caught red-handed, it wasn't any use to deny what had happened. Pulling back from Liliana, she turned to look at Betty with guilt, fear and embarrassment etched into her face.
Betty was wearing an off-white windbreaker over her nurse's uniform. Her face was ashen save for a few dark red blotches on her cheeks and her forehead. Two wet lines ran down from her eyes, sending large, salty tears dripping off her chin.
The terribly upset look on Betty's face sent Joanna's soul plunging out of her body and down into the ground below her feet, and a tidal wave of white heat rolled over her, making her break out into a sweat. No sooner had that receded before she felt so cold she shivered. In the end, she just felt empty - and like a complete bastard.
Liliana picked up her purse and stepped away from Joanna. "I better go. I'm sure you have a lot to talk about," she said quietly.
When Liliana walked past her, Betty didn't even acknowledge her presence - instead she just nodded to herself and wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
"Betty... I'm... I'm s-sorry... I..." Joanna croaked in a voice so dry that she had trouble articulating the letters.
"Have you had sex with her?" Betty said in a shaky voice. When Joanna nodded, Betty sighed deeply and reached up to run a hand through her hair. "How long has it been going on?"
Joanna opened her mouth to speak, but she couldn't get a sound across her lips.
"That long? Ever since you first met her...?"
Betty wiped her eyes again. "There's nothing left to say, Joanna. I want you gone from my house. Today. When I get home from work tonight, I don't want to find even a single thing of yours there. Goodbye." With those words, Betty spun around on her heel and exited the office.
Feeling lightheaded to the point of being dizzy, Joanna buried her face in her hands and let out a long, frustrated groan. She had known from the start that it would come to this, but she had never expected to hand-deliver the evidence on a silver platter.
"Jesus, Betty..." she said and set off after her fleeing girlfriend. Catching her at the double doors, she put a hand on Betty's shoulder and tried to turn her around, but Betty resisted.
"Betty, please listen to me..."
"Why should I? All those gifts... I should've known," Betty said, tearing the glass door open. Without stopping for even a second, she flew down the stairs and ran towards the parking lot.
"No, baby, come on... don't make a sce..." The irony of the situation slapped Joanna across the face. She was going to say to Betty that she shouldn't make a scene, but she realized that she had already made it herself.
"I don't want to listen to you, Joanna. I don't want to be anywhere near you. Like I said before... goodbye!" Betty said and unlocked her Mazda.
"Betty, for Chrissakes!" Joanna said and grabbed hold of the driver's side door before Betty could slam it. "We have to talk... we need to talk about it!"
"Let go of my fuckin' door!" Betty said, jerking it out of Joanna's grip. Once the door was closed, it was all over. Betty turned on the engine and reversed out of the parking space in a shower of gravel.
"But, Betty, I love you...!" Joanna said, grabbing her head as a tide of panic threatened to drown her. Betty simply floored the throttle and disappeared out of the parking lot.
"FUCK! FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK!" Joanna roared in the middle of the parking lot, drawing attention to herself from each and everyone there. Groaning, she hunched over and put her hands on her knees.
"Jesus, this is the worst day in the history of mankind..." she croaked, shaking her head repeatedly.
Liliana slowly drove her Ford Taurus up behind Joanna, rolling the window down when she reached her. "You need a lift somewhere, Jo?"
When Joanna turned to speak with Liliana, she felt so weak that she was surprised she hadn't already keeled over in the middle of the parking lot.
"No... I need to go rent a U-haul or something. And some storage space. And a place to spend the night for the next twenty years until I retire," Joanna said, leaning against the window sill.
"Can't help you with the first two, but you're more than welcome to come over to my apartment on Fillmore. Rocky made a bit of a mess, but... hey, perhaps you could help me clean up?"
"Well, thanks for the offer, but... I just don't have time today, Liliana. I need to do ten thousand things and I need to do them within the next..." she checked her wristwatch "... three hours."
"All right. You've had the offer. If things don't work out for you, you know my number."
"Yeah. Thanks. Oh... what about the apartment on Loughton Street? Is that available?"
"I don't think so. The landlady hated all that hassle. I only got half of my deposit back."
"Figures. Well, anyway... see you some time, Liliana," Joanna said and began to move away from the Taurus.
"Jo, remember what I said about falling in love with you?"
"I wasn't under severe duress then. That part of it was true," Liliana said with a coquettish wink - then she rolled up the window and drove off.
Joanna looked after the Ford as it left the parking lot. She cocked her head, not sure if another piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place or if one had been taken out. 'Why is she so unaffected? It's almost like she doesn't care that Rocky is dead. All right, he abused her and now she's glad the S.O.B. is gone, but... there's still more here than meets the eye.'
Soon after, the moment of professionalism faded and all her thoughts returned to the fact that she was now alone. She buried her face in her hands, unable to stop a strangled sob from escaping her lips. When she realized what she was doing, she only grew more angry with herself, and she clenched her fists and forced herself not to show any emotions in public.
After wiping her eyes, she stomped back into the police station to make a few phone calls.
An hour and fifteen minutes later, Joanna drove up in front of the house she and Betty had shared for so long. The van she had rented was too big to fit into the space where she usually parked the Crown Victoria, so she left it at the curb.
Walking around the back, she opened the rear doors and stared despondently at the ten brand new pieces of folded cardboard that would eventually turn into packing cases once she got them beaten into the right shape. With a sigh, she picked up an armful of them and began the trek up the garden path.
After depositing them on the floor in the living room, she went to work on unfolding the first one.
A little while later, with four cases ready, she started looking around for the things that belonged to her. She had no illusions about what Betty would do to the things she hadn't packed, so she went around and scooped up everything she could find.
After fifteen minutes, she realized that she didn't really have very much at all. Apart from a few books, a few DVDs, her clothes, her police equipment and the things for her laptop, the rest was all Betty's. It was Betty's furniture, Betty's kitchen utensils, Betty's TV and stereo, Betty's paintings and posters, Betty's flowers, Betty's everything.
"Betty's house," Joanna said out loud, putting her hands on her hips. "It's almost like I was never anything more than just a guest here..."
When the silent house didn't offer any consolatory reply, Joanna shrugged and began to haul the loaded package cases down to the van.
The last things she packed were her clothes and her spare police equipment, including the things inside her gun cabinet. Since she didn't give a toss about what Betty would do to the heavy cabinet, she let it stay in the bedroom.
After she had stored the final three package cases in the van, she went back to give her home of the last three years a thorough check. She briefly considered writing a note explaining the situation to Betty, but she knew it would be a waste of time. Once she was satisfied that she hadn't overlooked anything of value or importance, she locked the door behind her and threw both her sets of keys in through the letterbox.
On Joanna's way down to the van, she could feel tears sting her eyes. As she closed the little garden fence behind her and turned to look at the house, at the garden and at Betty's pride and joy, her prized flower bed, the tears spilled over and began to stream down her cheeks. She didn't do anything to stop them.
Thursday, June 30th.
Groaning, Joanna swung her legs over the side of her temporary sleeping arrangement in the stationhouse's basement quarters affectionately dubbed 'the cribs' and began to shuffle around on the bunk to try to find a place that wouldn't poke her in the rear end.
Detectives and officers were allowed to spend a few nights there while they were working on major cases - or if they had been thrown out of their homes - but they were strictly co-ed, so Joanna had to share the ten-bunk room with a male Detective whose apartment building had suffered a fire and a uniformed patrolman who was there for a similar reason to Joanna.
Sitting with her elbows on her knees, Joanna felt miserable beyond belief. The lines next to and under her eyes resembled a road map of Death Valley and she hadn't even bothered to comb her hair. The mattress was lumpy and uncomfortable and she was sure her back and rear end were dotted with red puncture wounds from all the broken springs. If that wasn't bad enough already, both of her crib-mates were snoring loud enough to wake the dead.
As she looked to her left at the filled package cases that were lined up next to her bunk, she once again grumbled under her breath; complaining vociferously about her lack of judgment and her world record levels of stupidity.
Joanna sighed and checked her wristwatch which read 5:42 a.m. Since there was no point in trying to go back to sleep, and she didn't have anything better to do, she grabbed the plastic bag with her towel and her shampoo and went into the showers to freshen up before the stationhouse came alive.
Five hours later, Joanna fell down on the swivel-chair in her office, dead-tired from spending nearly all morning with the district attorney working on wrapping up the Jeremy Malone homicides and all the mess surrounding them.
She took a swig from the coffee she had just made, hoping that it would give her a much needed boost. Moments later, she made a horrified face when she discovered that it tasted like dishwater.
Scrambling to her feet, she moved over to the coffee maker to check the mix. Once she saw what she had done, she slapped her forehead and poured the entire pot out into the sink.
"Coffee trouble?" a very familiar, rich voice said from the door. Joanna sighed and turned to look at Liliana Zinovia.
"You might say that. Vern has bought a new bag of ground beans without telling me. This one needs twice as much as the old one did. I just made it on autopilot," Joanna said and rinsed out the pot.
"You look like shit, Joanna."
"I know. You look great."
Even in her depressed state, Joanna couldn't help but shoot the former principal an admiring glance. Liliana was wearing a pair of dark green jeans and a matching vest over a white T-shirt. Perched on her regal nose, she had a new pair of designer glasses that were slightly less flashy than the old pair but still far more stylish than regular glasses.
"Thank you. Listen, do you think you could get a sick day, or something? You look like you could need some of Rita's coffee," Liliana said, sticking her hands into her back pockets.
"The barista down at Heaven In A Cup."
"Oh... Liliana, I don't know if that's such a good idea. We always end up in the sack when we're there..."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Liliana said with a throaty chuckle.
"It's what got me into this mess."
"No, what got you into this mess was your lust for adventure... and believe me, Joanna, I know that feeling very well," Liliana said, slithering closer to Joanna. "You're feeling it right now, aren't you?" she continued in a honeyed voice.
Joanna sighed deeply and ran a hand through her unruly hair. "Yeah. Yeah, I feel it. But for once I have to stand firm. I can't right now, Liliana. Last night, we got called out to a murder-suicide... a real stinker of a case. I have so much paperwork... and then there's all the nonsense with Rocky..."
"All right, fair enough. I understand."
Joanna looked at the ash-blonde woman and narrowed her eyes. "But, uh..."
"Yes?" Liliana said, cocking her head. A sly little smile flashed across her lips and she moved even closer to Joanna.
"What if I invited myself over to dinner at your place tomorrow evening? Would that be inappropriate?"
"Dinner tomorrow evening would be very appropriate, indeed. I'll organize the food and the entertainment. Perhaps you could bring the wine?"
"Uh... I'm not really a wine-drinker, Liliana. I'm more of a beer-kinda gal."
"Okay. I'll make some food that goes with beer. Not that we'll have much time to eat it," Liliana said, grinning.
"Nah, I guess we won't," Joanna said, returning the grin. "I'll swing by at eight or so...? Would that be-"
"How about nine-thirty instead? We could turn it into a little midnight seance?"
"A midnight seance sounds good. I definitely need one of those right now. Not that I know what it is, exactly...?"
"Well, I know, but I'm not going to tell you. That would spoil the surprise," Liliana said, standing up on tip-toes to give Joanna a nice, little kiss on the cheek. "Wouldn't it?" she continued in a hoarse whisper.
Joanna grinned, not knowing whether she should be excited or terrified about what the word 'surprise' might imply. One thought kept echoing through her mind: she might finally get to meet the Mistress.
Vernon suddenly entered the office, holding his indispensable notepad and an equally indispensable cup of coffee.
"Well, I better get going. See you tomorrow evening, Joanna," Liliana said, blowing Joanna a finger kiss as she left the office.
"Tomorrow evening. Can't wait," Joanna said, meaning it from the bottom of her heart - or at least the bottom of her libido.
Wearing a silly grin, Joanna spun around on her heel and walked back to her swivel-chair.
"Careful, Jo. I know that look on your face," Vernon said, looking at Joanna over the rim of his glasses.
"Yeah, yeah... I'm careful."
"By the way, you look like shit."
"Why, thank you, Vern. You're the second person to tell me that today," Joanna said with a dry chuckle. When she reached for her coffee mug, she realized that she had forgotten to turn on the coffee maker after she had thrown out the old pot. With a loud groan, she rose from her chair to get it done.
Friday, July 1st.
Twenty-two minutes past nine in the evening, Joanna drove the Crown Victoria down the slope in the parking garage next to Liliana's apartment building, noting that the concrete surface was still as treacherous as it had been when the shoot-out had taken place.
After parking next to the familiar charcoal gray Taurus, she turned off the engine, but instead of getting out of the car, she kept sitting, turning her head to look at herself in the rear view mirror.
'Joanna Powell, didn't you want a quiet, steady life? Liliana can't provide that, she's much too wild. Didn't you want to experience true love? Liliana can't provide that, either... she's said more than once that she insists on having open relationships. If all you're looking for is someone to do the wild monkey dance with, you might as well have called an escort service.'
Joanna looked down at the six pack of beer and the bouquet of roses lying on the passenger seat. Picking up the bouquet, she sniffed the flowers and then broke out into a wide grin. "Sometimes, you just have to live in the moment," she said out loud, took the two items and got out of the car.
Three minutes later, Joanna pressed the little buzzer next to 'L.E. Zinovia' on the panel at the main entrance.
"Hey, Liliana, it's me. I have the imported beer you asked me to buy... and a little surprise as well."
'Ohhhh, I love surprises. One moment.'
Joanna already had her hand on the doorknob and as soon as the buzzing sound was heard, she flung the door open and sprinted up the stairs to Liliana's apartment.
A small note pinned to the apartment's door said that Joanna should use the doorbell when she arrived. When Joanna read it, she grinned and put the six pack and the bouquet down on the carpet.
Beginning with her footwear, she gave her appearance a very thorough quality check - she checked the luster on the tips of her boots, she checked that her dark blue pair of jeans was zipped, she checked that her brass belt buckle was lined up straight, she checked that all the little, shiny brass buttons on her black shirt had been closed properly and she checked that the white T-shirt she was wearing underneath was showing just the right amount above her shirt.
She suddenly felt unsure whether or not she should roll up her shirt sleeves so her wristwatch was showing, but decided to go ahead with it. 'I have a pretty good tan going right now and it would be a waste not to flaunt it,' she thought, leaning down to pick up the beer and the flowers.
After clearing her throat and puckering up her lips a couple of times so they were ready to kiss Liliana at the first opportunity, she pressed the little button for the door bell.
A short while later, light footsteps were heard from the other side of the door. Once a few locks had been worked, the door opened to reveal Liliana Zinovia wearing something that made Joanna's jaw fall down to her belt buckle.
"Ho-ly shit," Joanna said, practically unable to control her tongue.
Liliana was wearing beach sandals, a pair of tight, blue shorts that came to mid-thigh, a multi-colored Copacabana-style bikini top and a sheer yellow, green and blue tunic she had wrapped around the upper part of her body. Her eyes were covered by a pair of pitch black sunglasses and she was holding a Panama hat in her hand. Grinning, she put the hat on, making sure it sat in just the right, crooked angle.
"Oh... my... God...!" Joanna breathed, lapping up every visible square inch of Liliana's body - at the same time, her imagination was working flat out on the inches that were hidden.
"You like?" Liliana purred, running her fingers down the brim of the hat.
"Me like. Me need a cold drink... no, me need a cold shower," Joanna said and stumbled into the apartment.
"Silly. You look great, too," Liliana said and pulled Joanna down for a kiss that spelled out pretty clearly what her intentions were for the evening.
When they separated, Joanna licked her lips and broke out into a grin. "Thanks for the compliment... and thanks for having me. I do believe these are for you," she said and held up the bouquet.
Liliana took them and immediately put them to her nose, breathing in the sweet scent of the red roses. "Oh, thank you, Jo, they're wonderful. You know, a girl can still be charmed by a bouquet of red roses. That's one thing that'll never go out of fashion," she said, raising her sunglasses so she could look Joanna in the eye.
Joanna noticed that the skin around Liliana's left eye was still a bit discolored after the shiner, but it was looking a lot better than it had been. "Glad you like 'em. Hey, I got the imported beer you wanted," Joanna said and held up the six pack of Brahma Pale Lager.
"Great. We're having a Brazilian party tonight. The dish is already in the oven. It's called Arroz e feijão."
"Oooh, sounds exotic. What it is?"
"Rice, black beans and marinated chicken. "
"Yums," Joanna said and tried to pinch Liliana's rear end, but she moved away too quickly for Joanna's fingers to make contact.
"Nuh, nuh, we'll save that for later. Oh, and we're going to dine on the beach... well, the living room floor, but you get the picture."
"Uhhh, oh, yeah, I certainly do," Joanna said, staring at the multi-colored bikini top.
"Why don't you go into the living room and make yourself comfortable?"
"Into the beach pad?"
"The beach pad, yeah. I'll just find a vase for these beautiful flowers and then I'll put the Brahma in the fridge so they're nice and chilly. Dinner's ready in twenty minutes or so," Liliana said and sought out Joanna's left hand. "Oh... you're wearing the ring I gave you...?" she said surprised when she noticed the polished steel band with the infinity-symbol on Joanna's ring finger.
"Yeah. I thought it would be... you know... fun. Anyway, I never wear finger rings, so it feels a bit odd, but I really like the design."
Smiling, Liliana began to play with Joanna's long digits, alternating between tickling and caressing them and giving them little squeezes that made Joanna think of something else entirely.
"Just yell if you need me... um, in the kitchen... oh, you know what I mean," Joanna said, gulping nervously.
"Oh, believe me, I do," Liliana said saucily. With a coquettish little grin, she waltzed into the kitchen with her hips swaying so much that Joanna almost got dizzy from watching them.
Joanna felt her libido give her a strong kick in the pants but she didn't want to ruin all the things Liliana had prepared by moving too quickly. Instead of acting on her favorite basic instinct, she forced herself to turn around and go into the living room to check out the decorations.
"Wow..." Joanna said as she looked around the living room that had been completely transformed into a mini-Rio de Janeiro. Festoons in the Brazilian national colors - green, blue and yellow - were hanging everywhere, draped over all the lamps and the backs of the chairs.
The table that was usually standing in the center of the room had been moved over to the far wall to create a perfect space for a square, red beach blanket. The blanket had already been set for two, with the cutest matching plastic plates, glasses, knives and forks Joanna had ever seen - one set was green, the other blue.
The blanket's backdrop was a twenty five-by-fifty inch cardboard vista of a genuine Brazilian beach, complete with white sand, blue waves and dozens of scantily-clad, dark-skinned, droplet-covered beach bunnies in bikinis that left very little to the imagination.
"Is it okay?" Liliana said, sneaking up behind Joanna.
"Okay? Are you kiddin'? This is sensational, Liliana."
"Good. Thank you so much for these roses, I really appreciate them," Liliana said, once again sniffing the bouquet.
"You're welcome. It's the least I could do... considering all the shit you've been through," Joanna said, looking longingly at the sheer tunic as Liliana walked past her to put the vase onto one of the sideboards.
"I've burned a CD with some mood music. I hope you like salsa and samba," Liliana said as she put a compact disc into the player in her stereo. Soon, the living room was filled with enticing South American rhythms.
After turning the volume down a notch so it was less intrusive, Liliana began to sway to the music. At first, she moved in a fast dance beat, but her movements soon slowed down and became more exotic and passionate. She seemed to be lost in the music, not sensing any of the things that went on around her.
Joanna watched the display with great interest. Gradually, her lips were pulled back until her mouth was showing a wolfish grin. Her mind went blank at the sight of the dancing Liliana and she couldn't have spoken a word even if she had wanted to. A vein started thumping so hard on the side of her neck that she had to put a finger inside her collar and move it out, even though the top buttons were already undone.
When the first tune ended, Liliana seemed to snap out of her trance and she eventually came to a halt. When she noticed the look on Joanna's face, she grinned and lifted her hat and bowed. "There's plenty more where that came from," she husked.
Joanna just nodded. The speech center of her brain hadn't come back online yet.
"Dinner's served!" Liliana shouted as she carried the tray with the rice, the black beans and the marinated chicken into the living room and put it down on a heat-resistant mat on the blanket.
Joanna quickly moved away from Liliana's bookshelves - where she had been studying the titles with great interest - and sat down on the floor, folding her legs up underneath her. "Smells fantastic. What did you call it again?"
"Arroz e feijão. Literally rice and beans. A simple dish that tastes great."
"Oh... right. I can't say that I've ever tried it."
"Let's see if you like it, then."
"How can I not? After all, you made it," Joanna said, flashing Liliana her most winning smile.
Liliana soon returned to the make-believe beach pad with two cold Brahmas. After removing the caps with a bottle opener, she handed one to Joanna and poured half of her own into the little plastic cup.
"To us," she said, holding the cup high.
"I can drink to that. To us," Joanna echoed, taking a probing sip from the foreign beer. "Hey, this isn't too bad. How did you know about it?" she continued, taking a slice of marinated chicken with her fork and transporting it over to her plastic plate.
"I know a lot of things, Jo."
Joanna stopped cutting up her marinated chicken and looked at the ash-blonde woman before her. Cocking her head and lifting her left eyebrow, she let out a throaty chuckle. "That's a fact, Liliana. That's definitely a fact."
"Wow, that was great. Thank you very much for dinner," Joanna said, wiping her mouth in a blue napkin that she proceeded to put down on the empty plastic plate.
Joanna began to get up from the floor. "Come on, let me help you with the dishes," she said and began to scoop up the various items on the blanket.
"No, no, I got it. Don't worry, I'll just put 'em on the kitchen table. I never do the dishes while I have visitors," Liliana said and put a warm hand on Joanna's shoulder. "... dishwater just kills the mood," she husked.
"Right. Well, if you need my help with anything, just say the word," Joanna said and stretched out her legs.
"Sure. Just keep sitting for now."
Once Liliana returned to the beach pad, she turned off two of the lamps, allowing a veil of duskiness to drape itself over the living room. Looking directly into Joanna's eyes, Liliana went over to the stereo and turned the volume down a few more notches, creating a very cozy, warm atmosphere.
"Time to move over to the hammock," Liliana husked, pointing at the futon that had been pulled back slightly to make way for the blanket on the floor.
"The hammock...? Right... loving it already," Joanna said and slipped up into the futon. She patted the seat next to her, but Liliana had other plans.
"No, move up into the corner and lie down. It's wide enough for both of us."
"Yes, ma'am!" Joanna said and quickly took off her boots. Then she flung herself into the top corner of the futon, scooting up against the backrest to leave plenty of room for Liliana to lie down next to her.
Once Joanna was in place, Liliana joined her. She knelt down on the futon, swung her legs up and moved around so their bodies were touching each other all the way down.
"Mmmmmm... nice," Joanna whispered, looking into Liliana's spring green orbs that were only a few inches away from her own.
"Very nice," Liliana replied, leaning forward to place a little kiss on Joanna's lips.
Of their own accord, Joanna's hands began to move upwards, past Liliana's tight shorts and up to the little bow tie that held the bikini top in place. When she started toying with it, Liliana reached behind herself to still Joanna's hands.
"Not yet," she whispered and moved Joanna's hand down to rest on her hip.
"This is a good place, anyhow," Joanna said and clawed Liliana's hip a couple of times, earning herself another little kiss.
"It's a quarter to eleven so it's not quite a midnight seance yet. I'm saving the good stuff for the witching hour," Liliana said quietly.
"Let's talk a little first."
"I sense that you're still a bit confused about my role in the two murders out at the school."
Joanna froze slightly, not quite believing her ears. Several thoughts and doubts flashed through her mind - all bad. Narrowing her eyes, she forced herself not to jump to any conclusions. "Your role...? You need to explain that a bit better, Liliana."
"I got them killed... wait, wait, I didn't do it myself!" Liliana said off Joanna's wide-eyed stare. "Rocky did the physical part. But by organizing those parties, I put them in a position where they... well, exposed themselves. Literally. Where they put themselves in the spotlight, to their families as well as the public."
"Mark Gerlach's family hated the fact that he was homosexual and they never wasted any opportunity telling him. Or telling me, for that matter. Perhaps that was why he and I ended up having sex. The act worked as a quiet rebellion."
"What about the Canadian fella and Brian Roper?"
Liliana chuckled dryly and began to move her index finger across Joanna's forehead. "I just thought they were hot," she said, shrugging.
"Liliana, I... there's something I've been meaning to ask you for a very long time. Weeks ago, Maurice Jerrod told me that the boarding school's scuttlebutt had it that your husband had divorced you because you... uh, because you..."
"I know what you're talking about. It's mostly true."
"David told us differently. Or rather, he didn't tell us that part, specifically."
"He hated it. I asked him if he wanted to try and he said yes. We tried it, he hated it and we never did it again."
"Cross my heart, hope to die." To underline her sincerity, Liliana took Joanna's fingers and let them make a little sign of the cross over her heart.
Joanna wanted to make a cheeky comment but she kept silent when she could see from the look on Liliana's face that she wasn't done speaking. Instead, she just smiled and waited for Liliana to finish sorting her thoughts.
"I have something to ask you, too," Liliana whispered, running her hand up to rest on Joanna's neck.
"Would you like to try it? I know you've already said no once, but I thought that since your old girlfriend is out of the way, it couldn't hurt to ask again...?"
"Oh, baby, I... I don't really..."
"It's okay. I don't want to push you into anything you're not ready for."
"No, no, wait. I... the fact is that I'd love to meet the Mistress... but I don't think I'd enjoy being sodomized. Actually, I know I wouldn't."
"Jo, I never talked about sodomy. That's not my thing, either."
"But...? Okay, now I'm confused. Didn't you just say that your ex-husband hated it?" Joanna said; her face one, large question mark.
Liliana leaned her head back and laughed out loud. "Anybody home, Jo? Yes, he hated it, but what do guys lack that we women have?"
"Ohhhh... so it's just...?"
"Don't tell me you've never owned a vibrator?"
"Well, of course I have."
"And that's all there is to it. Well, it's on a harness, but apart from that, it's the same."
"Aw, Jeez," Joanna said and slapped her forehead. "I've had too much Brahma."
"You had one bottle."
"It's much stronger than what I'm used to."
"Must be. So is that a yes?"
Joanna licked her lips nodded her head enthusiastically.
"Excellent. But that's for later. That's for the witching hour," Liliana said and kissed the tip of Joanna's nose.
"What should we do 'till then...?" Joanna said, winking cheekily.
"Oh, I'm sure we can think of something," Liliana said and moved her mouth a lot closer to Joanna's neck. Extending her tongue, she began to play with Joanna's earlobe, flicking it back and forth, suckling it, nibbling on it and even giving it a few gentle tugs.
"Mmmmmmm, oh yeah, I like your thinking," Joanna breathed, feeling her libido kick into gear almost at once. A warm, pleasant wave radiated out from her ear and down her throat and chest, making her nipples and her center respond in a similar fashion.
Joanna reached around Liliana and pulled her even closer, giving her an even better opportunity to play with the earlobe. Liliana's bare back proved to be irresistible for Joanna's hands and they were soon on the prowl, ceaselessly moving up, down and across the smooth skin.
When Liliana's leg accidentally slipped between Joanna's and applied pressure to her already heated center, her eyes popped wide open from the sensation it created. Every fiber of her being wanted to rip their clothes off and finish the job right there on the futon, but before she had opportunity to do so, Liliana pulled back slightly, removing her leg from its exquisite resting place.
"Ohhhh..." Joanna whined, feeling like her toys had been snatched away from her.
"Not yet, Jo. Not..." Kiss "... yet." Kiss, kiss.
"Oh, darn. I was all good and ready now."
"I noticed," Liliana said and leaned in to give Joanna a final kiss on the lips. After they separated, Liliana swung her legs over the side of the futon and waltzed her way towards the kitchen; her hips once again swaying like mad behind the sheer tunic.
"Oh, but where are you going? It was just getting fun," Joanna whined, rolling over onto her back and putting her hands behind her head.
"I've bought some natural aphrodisiacs. Wanna try?"
"Baby, you are an aphrodisiac. No, don't laugh, I'm serious!"
Despite the warning, Liliana still chuckled in a husky way that made Joanna's nape hairs - and her nipples - stand on edge.
"I'll remember that," Liliana said and walked into the kitchen. When she returned a few seconds later, she was holding six incense sticks in her hand. "These things are called the Essence of Aphrodite. They're supposedly made exactly like the original sticks that lovers ignited in Aphrodite's temples to get the Goddess' attention back in ancient Greece."
"Well, that's an easy sell 'cos nobody can verify it... so the smoke is the aphrodisiac?" Joanna said and sat up on the futon.
"Not the smoke itself, the scent that emanates from them. I think we should try them. Or at least some of them."
"Well... why not? I mean, it's not that we need it, but it can't hurt to try. I'll help you," Joanna said and quickly got off the futon.
"They even come with their own matches," Liliana said, showing Joanna the package the incense sticks came in.
A few minutes later, a column of faintly pink smoke rose from the three incense sticks they had lit. A romantic smell filled the room, rolling over the furniture and the two women like a comfortable blanket.
"Wow, that's not bad at all. Not heavy or cloying or anything. I thought they were gonna stink everything up," Joanna said and took a deep breath of the scented air.
"But can you feel any difference?" Liliana said, putting down the plastic bag the sticks had come in.
"Ummm, not yet. Maybe if you come just a teeny-weeny bit closer I will."
"Perhaps we need some background music," Liliana said and turned around to put a new disc in the player.
"Baby, you're all the music I need," Joanna said in a mock deep voice. She grabbed Liliana's waist and pulled her so close that their bodies were touching from top to toe.
Joanna put her hands on Liliana's rear end and began to sway to a non-existent rhythm. Liliana wasn't slow in joining in, and soon, the two women were dancing so close they could feel each other's body heat.
"Mmmm... this is nice. I think the sticks are working. I do feel very romantic right now," Joanna said and leaned down to claim Liliana's lips in a searing kiss.
As the kiss deepened, the dancing slowly came to an end. It wasn't long before their tongues took over where their bodies had left off; writhing, snaking and wrestling against each other, the two muscles seemed to have gained a life on their own.
Once again, Liliana pulled back, grinning mischievously. "No, no, no... we're not going there. Not yet, Jo."
"Ohhhh!" Joanna whined, stomping her foot into the carpet in a very juvenile fashion. "You know what's gonna happen, don't you? I'm gonna explode and then you'll have to use a spatula to scrape me off the ceiling!"
"I'll have to chance that. Come on, let's go back to the beach pad. There's something I want to show you."
"But we are going to make love tonight... aren't we?" Joanna said, making the cutest puppy dog look she could come up with.
"Yes, but we're going to go far beyond that. I promise that I'll take you to a whole new level... introduce you to a whole new dimension," Liliana said, slithering closer and closer to Joanna. "I'm going to share some of my secrets and preferences with you. I'm going to teach you a few things that will show you that there is more to sexuality than merely the physical stuff."
As Liliana spoke the words, she pushed Joanna down onto the red blanket and climbed on top of her, straddling her hips. A short while later, Liliana leaned forward and pinned Joanna's long arms to the carpet.
"I'll show you that the woman is the world's most powerful creature," Liliana continued, moving her hands down to cup Joanna's breasts through the shirt. Flinging her head back, she let out a sensual groan and ground her hips twice against Joanna's in a preview of what was to come.
"I'll do a few things that may shock you..." Liliana said, reaching down and cupping Joanna's center with her hand, stroking the already damp jeans.
All this sweet torture really got Joanna's attention. She could feel her body respond to the seduction in ways she didn't even think were possible. Every time Liliana touched her, her nerves seemed to catch fire, and when Liliana had stroked her center, she had felt her vaginal muscles clench just like they had done the first time they had made love.
"... but most important of all, I'll show you that there is no upper limit when it comes to pleasure," Liliana whispered, leaning down to give Joanna a kiss and to nibble at her lips.
With her heart hammering away in her chest, all Joanna wanted to do was to get naked and throw herself at the wildcat sitting astride her. "Uggh... God, I need... I need you," she croaked, reaching up to see if she could remove Liliana's bikini top.
"Turn around and get on your knees," Liliana said, swatting Joanna's hands away. She climbed off Joanna's hips and stepped away so the taller woman had space to turn over.
"Do it. Turn around... yeah, that's right. Now lean down so your elbows are on the floor."
"Yeah. Arch your back down, not up."
"Strut your booty, baby," Liliana said, stroking Joanna's aforementioned body part.
"I'm overdressed, Liliana. Way, way, way overdressed," Joanna said from her slightly precarious position on the floor.
"I'll deal with that in a little while. Okay, you can sit up on your knees now. I just wanted to see how flexible you are."
Joanna leaned back to rest her weight on her thighs. After dusting off her hands, she began to unbutton her shirt, but a quick swat by Liliana made her stop.
"No. Like I said, I'll deal with that. Now you just wait here. I won't be long. When I return, we'll begin the lessons," Liliana said and backed out of the living room. When she reached the door to her bedroom, she reached up and untied the sheer tunic, making Joanna grin broadly.
The flighty material fluttered harmlessly to the ground and Liliana kicked it to the side so it wouldn't be in the way. With a slight tug on the bow tie, she undid the bikini top but kept the fabric in place by holding her arms in a big X in front of her chest.
"Tease!" Joanna said, laughing.
Liliana slowly backed into her bedroom. As soon as she was out of sight from the living room, the bikini top came flying through the air, landing next to the tunic. Moments later, the pair of tight, blue shorts followed.
Joanna wiped a few beads of sweat off her brow. She knew exactly what was going to happen now, but she didn't know if she had the nerves to go through with it. She had a feeling that meeting the Mistress would be one of the defining moments in her life, but she couldn't put her finger on why she felt that way.
"Joanna Powell," Liliana said in a pathos-laden voice from somewhere inside her bedroom. "Behold the Mistress of the Night."
As Liliana stepped out into the hall and slithered into the living room, Joanna's eyes grew wider and wider until they were almost popping out of her head. Liliana wore high, pointy leather boots with four-inch high heels, a pair of pants and a vest both made of black leather, black elbow-length gloves seemingly made of very smooth silk and a black half-mask that framed her eyes.
Joanna let her eyes glide down Liliana's lithe, petite body that had suddenly been transformed into an imposing figure by the acres of black leather she was wearing. When Joanna spotted the central piece of the ensemble, she could feel her heart rate picking up dramatically and her mouth go bone dry in anticipation.
Hanging low around the hips, Liliana was wearing a ten-inch ivory strap-on phallus on a harness that was attached somewhere under her leather pants. As Liliana came closer, she started stroking the phallus, sending a barrage of conflicted emotions scrambling through Joanna's brain.
"Pull your shirt out of your pants and unbutton it," the Mistress said huskily, kneeling down behind Joanna.
Joanna obeyed at once, tugging like a madman to get the fabric free of the jeans. Once it was loose, she began to undo the brass buttons.
"Good. Now take it off. And the undershirt."
Soon, the two clothing items flew through the air, landing in an unruly pile on the floor next to the vista from Rio de Janeiro.
The Mistress reached ahead of Joanna and ran her fingers across the smooth skin she found there. Her gloved fingers caressed Joanna's breasts through the bra, circling the boundaries of the fabric; cupping, squeezing and gently kneading the two mounds.
"Lose the bra," the Mistress whispered.
A split second later, the lacy bra flew through the air, joining the shirt on the pile.
The Mistress leaned forward again, letting her hands roam over Joanna's liberated breasts. She moved her fingers in two identical circles that narrowed until they were only just skimming the nubby areas at the base of the erect nipples.
Joanna began to pant heavily and to writhe under the Mistress' touch. The circular movements threatened to send her over the edge even before they had made it past first base, but when she reached for the Mistress' gloved hands to beg for a pause, she felt her hands being slapped and moved away.
"I'm in control," the Mistress whispered into Joanna's ear. "And don't you forget it."
Joanna nodded eagerly, frantic to get on with it, but understanding that Liliana wanted to put on the best show she possibly could.
"Now undo your pants... but don't take them off."
At once, Joanna reached down and undid her belt buckle and the button of her jeans. Raising herself up, she pulled the zipper down and made the jeans loose around her hips. When the Mistress didn't offer any further instructions, she looked over her shoulder to see what she should do next.
"Excellent, Joanna. You're a quick study. This is one of the keys in getting the most out of this experience. If you do as I tell you, I'll reward you... if you don't, I'll punish you... by stopping."
As the Mistress was speaking the words, she let her gloved hand slide down into the pants from the back, gliding past Joanna's butt until she cupped her thoroughly soaked center through the panties. Just to underline her words, she applied a bit of pressure to the outer folds.
It wasn't much, but it was enough to make an electrical current race through Joanna's entire system. Arcing her back, she let out a sighing groan that didn't sound like it came from her own throat.
"You don't want me to stop, do you?"
"If you do, just say the word."
The Mistress suddenly tightened her fingers and tried to poke them through the fabric of the panties and in between Joanna's folds. The unexpected sensation was enough for Joanna to buck into the gloved hand and she let out a short scream. "God, no! Don't stop! Don't ever stop!" she croaked, panting heavily.
"You're ready. The Mistress is satisfied," Liliana whispered and removed her hand from Joanna's center, earning herself a long, howling whimper in the process. "It's time to get naked."
Joanna quickly shed her socks, her jeans and her soaked panties, and went back to resting on her knees.
"Now lean forward. Elbows on the ground, like before," the Mistress whispered, pushing on Joanna's back until she was flat on the floor.
Joanna's heart rate increased again. Every single part of her was humming or throbbing and she couldn't fathom how darkly exciting it felt to finally be subjected to the Mistress. Breathing heavily, her mind had gone blank, completely devoid of any thought whatsoever. Her entire system had reverted to running on the basic instincts, and all she could do was feel.
When she suddenly felt the tip of the phallus play around her outer folds, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, knowing that she was about to step into the unknown.
With her gloved fingers, the Mistress gently spread Joanna's folds and then inserted the tip of the phallus into her dripping wet vagina. Once Joanna had adapted to the foreign object inside her, the Mistress slowly moved her hips forward to make the full length of the shaft slip inside.
Feeling the entire phallus inside her, Joanna arced her back and let out a strangled groan that left her throat quite sore. She panted heavily, wanting to have the Mistress start the rhythmic motion, but not daring to demand it.
"Are you all right with it?" Liliana whispered, giving Joanna a slight thrust.
"C-come on..." Joanna croaked.
Liliana laughed saucily and began to thrust into Joanna in a slow, grinding rhythm. After half a dozen strokes, she gradually increased the pace until she had found the cadence that suited her best.
Once again, Joanna found herself unable to fathom that she was doing something so far removed from her comfort zone and that she was enjoying it so much - or even that she was willingly allowing someone else to take the lead.
As the act went on, Joanna was just hanging on for dear life, moaning and groaning harder and harder with every thrust. Each time Liliana thrust the phallus forward to go deep inside her, her center sent out a wave of pleasure that spread to all her other body parts, making them scream for equal attention.
Eventually, her body was practically on fire and she damned the fact that she was unable to attend to her needs apart from what was going on in her burning hot center. Just when she thought she couldn't cope any longer, the Mistress slowed down, eventually coming to a stop and pulling the phallus out of her.
Liliana positioned herself so her legs were directly behind Joanna's. She took a firm grip on the taller woman's hips and leaned in towards her.
"Jo, let's get back to the futon. I'm about to show you lesson number two."
"God..." Joanna croaked, quickly doing as she was told.
Liliana got up and moved over the futon, holding the phallus ready as she sat down on the center cushion. "Come on... fold up your legs and turn your back towards me."
Grinning, Joanna hurried up onto the futon. Reaching down, she helped insert the phallus and made sure it wasn't hurting her.
"Are you still all right?" Liliana whispered.
Joanna nodded, eager to get back to the serious part.
"Good. Now ride me," Liliana said, reaching up to caress Joanna's sorely neglected stomach and breasts.
As Joanna resumed the rhythmic motion, she let out a long moan and grabbed Liliana's hands to guide them to where she needed it the most. Liliana quickly caught on and went to work on Joanna's breasts, fondling them, squeezing them and rolling the nipples between her gloved fingers.
With all the important parts of Joanna finally being serviced, she grew bolder and added a little twist to her hips that increased her pleasure tenfold when the phallus was in the deepest.
Spurred on by her own boldness, she tried twisting her hips a bit more and found that it worked even better. Sighing with joy, she increased the cadence, slamming hard down onto the ivory dildo that was perched between her legs.
A handful of thrusts later, she felt an orgasm building inside her and her movements grew ever more frantic. She began moaning louder and louder for each thrust and soon, she voice was quite hoarse, adding a husky quality to it.
A tell-tale tingle emanated from between her legs and soon spread out through her body. As she felt the orgasm roll over her, she jerked her hips back and forth to get the most out of the climax and leaned her head back to let out a husky groan.
What began as a simple orgasm soon turned into something far more for Joanna. Her vaginal muscles clamped down on the phallus, creating so much friction that the sensations threatened to blow her mind. Her eyes popped wide open when she felt not only a second orgasm but a third one as well scream through her, making her brain so befuddled that she could hardly even breathe.
Even though she wanted to stop to save her sanity, her hips kept jerking on their own accord, thoroughly milking the phallus. Her breath came in explosive bursts; her moaning rising in pitch until it was transformed into a series of short screams.
She grabbed Liliana's hands that were still fondling her breasts, giving them such a hard squeeze that she nearly pulled the black gloves off. Her features were contorted by the pleasure, drawn back into an almost satyr-like mask that only grew more extreme as a wave of warmth followed hot on the heels of her orgasms.
When her inner muscles finally relented and released the phallus, she raised herself up to get it out of her. With a long sigh, she flopped over to the side, landing on the futon with a soft bump, completely out of breath and utterly satisfied.
Liliana chuckled and got up. After unhooking the phallus from the harness, she knelt down next to the futon and wrapped her arms around Joanna's naked torso.
"Did you like it?" she whispered, already knowing the answer.
Joanna was so far into her afterglow that she couldn't speak. Instead, she just nodded with the goofiest grin imaginable on her face.
"I'm glad," Liliana continued, giving Joanna a hug. "No more lessons for today. Even the female body has its limits."
"No... but... unf... that's unfair. I w-want to pay back your favors..." Joanna said in a horse voice.
Liliana chuckled and stroked Joanna's cheek. "Let's see in a few minutes. If you're up for it, we can talk about it."
"I've... I've never had three in a row before... are you sure you're human?"
"I'm not human, I'm the Mistress of the Night. My touch creates unbound pleasure," Liliana said, trailing her index finger down Joanna's throat and onto her chest.
"God, I need a minute..." Joanna said with a tired laugh, grabbing hold of Liliana's hand.
"In that case, the Mistress bids you farewell. In her place, you'll meet Liliana. I hope you'll treat her well," Liliana said with a smile and a wink.
Rising from the floor, the Mistress made a grand exit into the bedroom, leaving a chuckling, well-loved Joanna behind.
Five minutes later, Liliana returned to the living room, as naked as the day she was born.
Joanna looked up with a grin, hoping for an encore - but when she saw the extremely vulnerable look on Liliana's face, the smile melted away and she shot up into a sitting position. "Baby, what's wrong?" she said hoarsely, staring at the uncharacteristic display of emotions.
"I... I'm just happy..."
"Well, you don't look particularly happy to me," Joanna said, scratching her hair.
"But I am happy, Joanna. I'm happy that we met, even if it was under bad circumstances. I'm happy that we're still seeing each other, even after I treated you badly... several times."
"Ah, I'll live. I'm a big girl."
"And I'm happy that I've found someone to love. That's a new experience for me. I've had countless lovers, b-but I've never connected with any of them the way I do with you."
Liliana's heartfelt words went straight to Joanna's soul. She felt her heart swell to twice its regular size and she felt a new wave of warmth course through her body - only this time, it wasn't lust, but love.
"Come here," Joanna said, jumping up from the couch and reaching out with her arms.
Without thinking, Liliana moved over to the futon and fell into Joanna's waiting arms. The two women hugged each other fiercely; their nakedness only adding to the intimacy. Smiling, Joanna ran her hands up and down Liliana's back and whispered soothing, nonsensical words in her ears.
After a little while, they moved over to the futon and sat down next to each other. Liliana wrapped her arms around Joanna's waist and pulled herself really close to the taller woman.
When Joanna's eyes flicked down to the fading bruises on Liliana's body, she shook her head and actually felt glad that she had stopped Rocky Caulfield.
"Jo, I want you to make love with me," Liliana whispered.
"Uh, I can do that."
"... If you don't mind, I'd like you to wear the phallus."
"Oh... I'm... uh..."
"All right," Joanna said, caressing Liliana's face. "I s'pose I could work it out. I mean, how tough can it be, right?"
"I find it to be just as rewarding, only in a different way," Liliana whispered, drawing little patterns on Joanna's thighs.
Liliana's touch set the wheels in motion all over again for Joanna. Soon, she felt a pleasant wave of warmth flush over her, and she nodded enthusiastically.
"Let me get the harness. I'll show you how to wear it," Liliana said, getting off the futon.
While Liliana was away, Joanna picked up the phallus. Staring at it, she turned it over in her hand several times, trying to see it from all angles. Chuckling, she put it away and wiped her hands on her thighs.
Liliana soon returned with the nylon harness. "Stand up. I'll put it on you," she said with a cheeky smile.
Joanna did as told, handing the phallus to Liliana who effortlessly clicked it onto the harness.
When Joanna got a good look at the harness, she noted with some degree of fascination that it had a small, companion dildo that was designed to go inside herself while she was servicing her partner with the larger one.
"Ohhh, that's, uh... interesting. I've read about 'em, but I've never tried one of these things before," Joanna said as Liliana wrapped the nylon straps around her rear end and clicked the plastic locks into place.
"And there we have it," Liliana said and took a step back.
Joanna looked down at the ten-inch shaft protruding from her crotch. She shook her head several times and laughed out loud at the unusual sight. "Wow, this is going to take some getting used to... I almost feel like I need to guzzle a couple of beers and watch some football," she said, mussing Liliana's hair.
Liliana just smiled in her customary enigmatic way and moved herself down onto the red blanket on the floor. Grabbing a cushion from the futon, she placed it under her rear end and shuffled around to get comfortable.
When Joanna didn't follow her, she shot the taller woman a sizzling come-hither look that left no room for misinterpretation.
Joanna gulped and knelt down on the blanket. When Liliana spread her legs and lifted them off the floor, Joanna moved in close and put the tip of the phallus near Liliana's opening.
When Liliana nodded, Joanna slowly moved forward and let the shaft glide in an inch past Liliana's outer folds.
"Am I doing it right?" Joanna said.
"Yeah... come... come on. All the way... please."
Joanna did as told and moved forward again until their skin touched. The sensation was unlike anything she had ever experienced. The small companion dildo was doing its job, but it was the look on Liliana's face that really sent her libido into orbit. Deciding to stop thinking and to just follow her basic instincts instead, Joanna began to grind her hips and thrust into Liliana's writhing body.
After a few thrusts, Liliana moved her legs up and crossed them behind Joanna's back. Using her muscles, she pulled Joanna forward to let her know that she wanted her to be a bit closer.
Joanna quickly caught on and leaned forward, placing her hands on the blanket on either side of Liliana's chest. When she discovered that she was able to move her hips more freely in that position, she grinned and went to work on pleasuring Liliana.
Closing her eyes, Joanna concentrated on keeping a solid rhythm going to give Liliana the best ride she possibly could. After a few minutes, Liliana suddenly gasped loudly and began to whimper and move around underneath her, but Joanna thought it was all part of the thrill.
The next moment, Joanna's world exploded in a bright flash when the rubber sole of a size ten boot was slammed against her cheekbone, sending her flying towards the futon.
"YOU FILTHY, DISGUSTING WOMEN!" a male voice shouted hysterically.
Joanna's head was swimming and she was seeing stars of all shapes and colors. She shook her head to try to get them out of her vision, but the movement only made it worse. She could hear that Liliana complained vociferously, almost like she was being manhandled around the room.
Then Joanna heard the easily recognizable sound of a hard slap connecting with soft tissue, quickly followed by a thump and by a woman weeping.
"GET UP! GET UP, YOU DISGUSTING CREATURE!" the man shouted, grabbing hold of Joanna's arm. Despite her foggy state, she could see the man holding a metal blade that glinted in the faint light.
The man held her arm like in a vice and she had no choice but to follow his orders. She rose to her feet but was soon pushed down onto the futon in a very harsh fashion. Feeling acutely embarrassed over the protruding phallus, she reached down and took off the harness.
As Joanna's sight returned, she could see a large man dressed in dark clothes moving back to Liliana who was still lying where she had fallen. The man's face was partly obscured by the shadows, but she could see that he had a dirty-blonde full beard.
The man growled, moved over to the wall and flicked the light switch, bathing everything in a strong, unpleasant light.
When the light assaulted her, Joanna had to shield her already aching eyes, but she'd had time to see that the man was holding a very long kitchen knife in his hand.
"God, no, David, please don't hurt us!" Liliana said from the floor.
"David? David Caulfield?!" Joanna roared, clenching her fists.
"That's right, bitch." David reached down and grabbed Liliana's hair and jerked her head back. At once, Joanna shot up from the futon, but David just shook his head and put the knife against Liliana's throat.
"Go on. I dare you," he said, winking at Joanna who fell back down on the futon and let out a long, slow sigh.
"Nice. Now get over there, you filthy bitch," David said and yanked Liliana upright. When she was standing, he gave her such a hard shove on the back that she flew forward, tripped over the edge of the blanket and fell down onto the futon with such force that it creaked.
"If you do that again, I'm fuckin' gonna kill ya with my bare hands!" Joanna roared, helping the whimpering Liliana up into the futon.
"Sure you will. Why stop at my brother? Why not kill my whole family as well while you're at it?"
Joanna grumbled a few choice words but concentrated on comforting the weeping Liliana.
"Cover yourselves up, bitches. You make me sick," David said and kicked Joanna's clothes over to them.
Joanna quickly put on her jeans and her white undershirt, but when she got up to snatch Liliana's tunic and her blue shorts, David shook his head and started waving the knife in the air.
"No! No, no, no, bitch. Give my wife the black shirt."
"She's not your wife anymore, sicko. She divorced you!" Joanna grumbled, but she was only successful in making David Caulfield laugh.
Liliana quickly put on Joanna's black shirt and buttoned it. It was much too big for her and hung on her like a tent. The sleeves were too long as well and she used them to cover her modesty.
"Ah, yes... the divorce. Actually I divorced her, but I digress. I couldn't stand all her... all her filthy carnal activities!"
"Just admit it, wimp! You weren't man enough to keep her happy!" Joanna barked.
David began to laugh, a weird little cackling sound that sent a cold shiver down Joanna's back. "I'll kill her for what you just said," David said, pointing at Liliana with the tip of the knife. "And I'm going to make you watch, stupid cop."
"Why are you doing this, David? What happened? We had a great time last week... why now?" Liliana said quietly.
Joanna narrowed her eyes down into blue slits when her mind processed Liliana's words. 'A great time last week...?' she thought, feeling a strong pang of jealousy race through her.
"That's right, we were okay last week. But last week, I didn't catch you having your brains fucked out by some... some... filthy, disgusting woman. Wearing a cock, no less." Turning to face Joanna, David began to inch closer to both of them. "Hey, bitch, how dare you fuck my wife?"
Joanna opened her mouth to shoot David an appropriate response, but when she felt Liliana grab her hand and give it a big squeeze, she kept quiet.
"In my world view, adultery is a capital offence ... and I have the right tool for the job right here," David continued, wielding the knife.
"David... please put the knife away. Can't we talk about it?" Liliana said.
"The time for talking is long gone. The time for killing is now..." David said. Stopping suddenly, his face looked like he'd had a brilliant idea. A smile briefly flashed across his face, but it was gone as quickly as it had come.
With a roar, he jumped forward, holding the kitchen knife straight out ahead of him.
Both Liliana and Joanna screamed and tried to fend off the madman, but David was moving too fast to stop.
With a sickening sound, the knife plunged into Liliana, not stopping before half the blade was buried inside her.
Time seemed to come to a standstill for Joanna as she watched Liliana try in vain to grab the knife sticking out of her chest.
Liliana let out a strangled, pained cry that trailed off before it had even got going. With a sigh, she slipped off the futon and onto the floor, at first leaning against the edge of the seat, but soon keeling over without being able to stop herself from falling. Within a few moments, blood seeped through the black shirt and pooled on the red blanket that had doubled as the beach pad.
David took a few steps back, cackling insanely and clutching his dirty-blond hair.
Frozen solid, Joanna stared at her lover in wide-eyed horror, unable to grasp that what she was seeing was actually happening and not part of some horrible nightmare. Then she turned her head to stare at David who seemed to be lost to insanity.
Roaring, Joanna jumped forward and swung her fist at David's face. The fist made a direct hit on his cheekbone with a resounding, satisfying thud.
The blow seemed to bring David back from wherever he had been - the next time Joanna swung at him, he was ready for her and blocked it, eventually matching the swing with one of his own. Even though he missed the punch, he still managed to grab hold of Joanna's arm which tripped her up.
Landing on her knees with a hard thump, Joanna cursed loudly and kicked out behind her, landing a hit on David's leg. When she could hear from David's squealing that the kick had been successful, she jumped up and spun around.
Even as she was still spinning, she put out her fist and aimed directly at his head. If the punch had connected cleanly, she would've taken his head off, but he managed to evade it by stepping back at the very last moment.
Joanna's fist still made some impact with his shoulder, but it wasn't enough to unsettle him. Almost at once, he came back at Joanna with a sissy-punch to her gut that only made her angrier.
With the first exchange over, the two combatants separated, almost appearing to move into their respective corners of a boxing ring.
Bopping up and down on the soles of her bare feet, Joanna waited for the right opportunity to make a strike. It came sooner than she had hoped for. A pained whimper from Liliana made David turn his head towards his ex-wife - this was the opening Joanna needed.
Flying forward, she rammed her shoulder so hard into David's gut that he threw up on the carpet. The stench mixed with the tangy smell of the blood seeping out of Liliana and the burning incense sticks, creating an environment that was completely unsuitable for humans, and Joanna had to clench her nostrils together to concentrate.
David was staggering badly; the last hit had taken nearly all the fighting spirit out of him. His legs wobbled and he fell down onto his knees. With a pitiful groan, he began to rock back and forth, nursing his gut.
Joanna looked down at Liliana who was lying far too still for the experienced police officer's liking. She licked her lips nervously, trying to figure out where her cell phone might have gone to. She knew that with stab wounds, time was always of the essence, and she knew that she had lost too much of it already in the fight against David.
David Caulfield wiped some vomit off his chin with the back of his hand and began to cackle again, even more insanely than before. "You can't save her! Ha! You can't save her, bitch! Now you get to watch her die!" he shouted, cackling like a madman.
Joanna's nerves snapped and she clenched her fists and let out a terrifying, primordial scream that penetrated even David's foggy insanity, making him stop his cackling and stare at her with wide, confused eyes.
A split second later, Joanna kicked him in the face with such force that his nose was crushed, sending a cascade of blood out into the room. He was thrown backwards, stumbling over the armrest of the futon which sent him sprawling head-first onto the floor.
Joanna stormed through the room and jumped the futon to get to David Caulfield. Reaching down, she grabbed his hair and yanked his head upwards. She raised her fist, ready and willing to pounce him into next week, but she discovered that he was already out cold. Grunting, she dropped David's head like a rotten potato and ran back to her lover.
Liliana was still breathing, but in a very labored fashion. At once, Joanna knelt down and put a hand on Liliana's forehead to feel her temperature - she was clammy and her skin was waxen, save for a few red splotches on her cheeks. The pulse in Liliana's wrists wasn't too good either, and Joanna felt herself slowly going into a panic.
Liliana's arms had fallen to her sides, and she didn't respond at all when Joanna tried to squeeze them. Joanna knew that it would be a wrong move to try to pull the knife out, so instead, she unbuttoned the black shirt and gently pulled it apart to see the condition of Liliana's skin.
The wound was located a hand's width below Liliana's left breast. It had a clean edge that was pointing inward around the blade, and it was still bleeding profusely. From the amount of metal that was left on the outside of the wound, Joanna calculated that the blade had gone in at least three inches.
Joanna got up and wiped some sweat off her forehead even though her fingers were covered in Liliana's blood. She looked around frantically, searching for her own cell or the apartment's telephone.
She quickly located a Skype handset but she didn't have time to figure out how it worked. After putting it down again, she ran into the bedroom, hoping to find a phone on the nightstand, but again she came up short.
When Joanna returned to the living room, she could see at once that Liliana was trying to move, and she tore over to the injured woman, fell down onto her knees and grabbed Liliana's hand.
Liliana began to cough slightly, and when she did, blood started trickling out of the corners of her mouth. Joanna's eyes grew wider and wider when she realized that she was losing Liliana and that there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it.
Joanna suddenly caught a glimpse of her cell phone under one of the chairs. Letting go of Liliana's unresponsive hand, she jumped over to her phone and turned it on. Once it had come alive, she dialed 9-1-1 and waited with bated breath for the connection to come through.
After the dispatcher had said her customary greeting, Joanna felt her own professionalism kick in and take over. She had been in many crises and dramas over the years, and she knew she had to let her accumulated experience assume control over her emotions for the time being.
"This is Detective Joanna Powell from the Fourteenth Precinct. I urgently need an EMT at 1116 Fillmore Boulevard. I have a level three stabbing trauma, the object is still in place. The victim is unresponsive with severe blood loss and a weak pulse."
'Copy that, Detective. EMT to 1116 Fillmore Boulevard. They're on their way, ETA three to five minutes.'
"Good. Thank you," Joanna said and terminated the connection. She heard someone cough, but she knew it couldn't have been Liliana. Growling, she went over to check up on David Caulfield, but he was still out cold. The blood from his crushed nose had coagulated and was caking on his mouth, but she wasn't inclined to give him a helping hand.
She hurried back to Liliana but quickly established that her condition hadn't deteriorated while the phone call had been made. Taking a deep breath, Joanna dialed the number to her own precinct, hoping that Corbin was present.
'Metro Police Department, this is the Fourteenth Precinct, how may we help you?' the phone operator said.
"Hi, this is Detective Joanna Powell. I need to speak with Detectives Corbin Thomas or William Larsen, please. It's really urgent," Joanna said into the cell phone. When something tickled her hand all of a sudden, she gasped and looked down.
Liliana had managed to seek out Joanna's hand and give it a little squeeze. A very faint smile flashed across her pale lips, but it was only there for a short while.
"Baby, don't leave me... hang on... please, Liliana. I d-don't know what I'll do without you," Joanna whispered, suddenly feeling in her heart that Liliana's struggle had moved into the endgame.
'Hello?' Corbin said from the other end of the connection, but Joanna was too pre-occupied holding onto Liliana's hand to notice.
The familiar sound of an ambulance was heard from the street and Joanna knew that she had to get down to the door and open it for the paramedics, but she couldn't get herself to let go of Liliana's hand.
Snapping out of her trance-like state, Joanna stared at the telephone and quickly brought it up to her ear. "Yeah, Corbin, it's me. I'm at Liliana's apartment at 1116 Fillmore. She's been stabbed. Badly. The medics are here, but I need some backup from the local precinct for an arrest. C-can you handle it?"
"Later, Corbin. Can you handle it?"
'I'm on it, Jo. Stand by.'
"No time, I gotta go."
'All right. I'll take care of it,' Corbin said and hung up.
Joanna carefully put Liliana's hand down on the red blanket, got up, and hurried out of the door and down the stairs to open the main entrance for the medics.
She arrived at the windbreak at the very last moment. The medics were already on their way back to the ambulance, but they responded quickly when Joanna opened the door and shouted at them.
"It's up on the second floor. The door is open. The victim is a woman, forty years old and generally in good physical condition. She has been stabbed in the left side of the chest with a clean-edged kitchen knife, and..." Joanna said, rambling off the information almost like it was a single sentence.
"We're on it. Are you all right?" the first paramedic said, looking at the blood on Joanna's undershirt and on her forehead.
"Yes, yes, this is all her blood. I'm fine." Even as Joanna spoke the words, she could feel that the toes on her right foot were hurting like hell, but she didn't have time to do anything about it.
The next five minutes went by in a blur for Joanna. Medical terms flew back and forth between the two paramedics, sending Joanna into such a confused state that she could hardly even remember her own name.
All she could do was to clutch her head and watch the medics work on saving Liliana's life. She felt so cold that she was shivering, but she refused to leave Liliana in case something happened while she was away finding something to wrap herself in.
"Jo?" Corbin said from the door.
"In here... the living room," Joanna croaked, rubbing her hands on her upper arms.
"Joanna, this is Detective Franco Santini from the one-five," Corbin said as he entered the living room.
Joanna turned to look at the new man. Detective Santini was in his early thirties with black hair and a narrow, black mustache. All in all, he looked like a typical cop: tall, buff and wearing a slightly worn pale brown suit over a white shirt.
"Detective Santini, this is Detective Joanna Powell," Corbin said, pointing at Joanna.
"Pleased to meet you, Detective," Santini said, putting out his hand. When Joanna smiled apologetically and showed him her own, bloody hands, he hurriedly pulled his arm back.
"What in Sam Hill is going on here?" Corbin said, waving his hand under his nose to get rid of the stench of the vomit, the blood and the incense sticks.
Joanna nodded down at Liliana's body. "She was stabbed."
"David Caulfield. He's over behind the futon. I kicked him in the face. He's still out cold."
Franco Santini grunted, put on a pair of blue latex examination gloves and went over to check up on David Caulfield.
"Speaking of cold, you're almost turning purple," Corbin said, took off his blazer and put it over Joanna's shoulders.
"Thanks... it's gonna get bloody."
"It'll wash off." Corbin eyed Liliana's nudity under the tattered remains of the black shirt and coughed in a bout of embarrassment. "Joanna... I'm sorry, but Detective Santini needs to know what happened here tonight," he continued.
"Well, he won't be whistlin' Dixie in a hurry," Detective Santini said as he came back from checking on David. "Detective Powell, like your colleague just told you, I need to know everything. Let's step into the kitchen so we won't disturb the medics."
"No. I'm not moving an inch," Joanna said vehemently.
"All right...?" Santini said, looking first at Joanna and then at Corbin Thomas.
"I don't keep secrets from Detective Thomas. We've known each other for nearly three years. He knows all there is to know."
"I see. Well...?" Franco Santini said, finding his notepad and a ball point pen.
"I arrived just before nine thirty for a date with the owner of the apartment, Miss Liliana Zinovia," Joanna said, staring almost without blinking at the two medics who were still working on Liliana. "After dinner, we retired to the futon."
When Franco Santini's mind connected the dots, he pressed the ball point pen so hard down onto the notepad that it ripped the paper. With an 'ahem', he tore the ruined page off the notepad and started over.
Corbin stifled a laugh, but Joanna just rolled her eyes.
"At roughly twelve thirty, Mr. David Caulfield entered the apartment. He probably used his own set of keys as the door isn't forced open. Obviously."
"Ah, yes. Why did Mr. Caulfield have a set of keys to this apartment?"
"He is Miss Zinovia's ex-husband."
"Oh. Ohhhh..." Santini said, connecting a few more dots in his mind. "And you and Miss Zinovia...?"
"Were quite busy at the time," Joanna said dryly.
"I get the picture. Then what happened?"
"He was wielding a kitchen knife. I haven't had time to check if he took it from here or if he had brought it with him. He threatened us repeatedly with the knife. Finally, he snapped and attacked us."
"And stabbed Miss Zinovia...?"
"Yes. After that, I wrestled with him briefly, finally managing to bring him down without further injury to myself or Miss Zinovia."
"By kicking him in the face...?" Santini said, making a lot of notes.
"Yes. Once Mr. Caulfield was no longer a threat, I called 9-1-1... and my friend, Detective Thomas."
"Hmmm," Franco Santini said, chewing on his cheek.
With her patience running low already, Joanna turned away from the Detective and looked at Liliana's prone body that had been placed in an inflatable survival cell. The knife had been removed and the bleeding had finally been stopped, but it hadn't improved on her skin color which was still quite waxen. She appeared to be breathing a little easier, but the oxygen mask she was wearing obscured her face too much for Joanna to know for sure.
"Boy, the paperwork on this one is gonna be a killer," Santini said and went over to David Caulfield. He unclipped the handcuffs from the back of his belt and slapped them around David's wrists. "David Caulfield, you are being arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say..."
Joanna had heard the words so often that she didn't pay any attention to them. When Franco Santini eventually hauled David Caulfield out of the apartment, it felt so unreal to her that she was sure she was watching a cop drama on television.
Concentrating solely on Liliana, she blocked everything else out, even Corbin trying to offer her a few consolatory words.
One of the medics pulled up the zipper on the survival cell to shield Liliana's bare legs and abdomen. Joanna didn't know whether that was a good sign or not, but she couldn't get her throat to work long enough to ask about it.
Corbin seemed to understand and he went forward and talked to the medics. They spoke in hushed tones, adding to the unrest that was festering in Joanna's stomach.
A minute later, Corbin came back to Joanna and put a hand on her shoulder. "Jo, they can't do more for Liliana here. They're taking her to the General so she can go into emergency surgery. The lead EMT says that the blade missed her lung by a hair but that it will have done some damage to her abdominal cavity and muscles, and maybe even her intestines.
Joanna sighed and began to chew on her lips.
"Clear the path, please," the lead EMT said and waved his arms. At once, the two detectives moved aside to make way for the paramedics who were carrying Liliana between them.
The survival cell had been zipped up to Liliana's neck leaving only her face out in the open, but even that was mostly covered by the oxygen mask. Joanna wanted nothing more than to give her lover a hug, but she knew it was impossible.
Liliana's face was at peace and free from the pain it had held earlier, but seeing it gave Joanna a kick in the gut. Her heart suddenly started hammering away in her chest and she began to pant so hard that she had to hunch over and put her hands on her knees.
Corbin was at her side at once, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulder. "Jo, it's all right. Just let go," he said quietly.
Joanna shook her head and wiped her aching eyes. "No. No, I won't cry as long as she's alive." Standing up straight, she put her hands behind her head to draw several deep gulps of air. "Where did you say they were taking her?" she said in a croaky voice.
"To the General."
"That's where Betty works..." Joanna said, shaking her head over the awful irony.
"Come on, Jo, get your gear on. You're coming with me... we'll follow them there."
"I have my Crown Vic parked down in the garage..."
"Oh, I'm sure you do, but you're not driving anywhere tonight. Come on."
Sighing, Joanna began to look for her socks and her boots.
"No, she's been in surgery for nearly an hour and a half now, Vern ... No ... I don't know, nobody is telling me anything," Joanna said and ran a hand through her bloodstained hair. She looked up at the large clock on the wall and let out a long sigh when she realized that it was ten to three in the morning. "Yeah, but... No, there's no point in you coming over right now ... we're just sitting here, Corbin and I ... Yeah ... Yeah, all right, talk to you later, Vern."
Sighing again, Joanna terminated the connection and put the phone in her jeans pocket. She started shuffling around on the uncomfortable plastic chair to try to find a good spot, but she gave up when she realized that it was equally hard all over. Leaning forward, she yawned so widely that her jaw almost broke off.
The hospital people had told her to stay in a waiting room, but she cringed when she noticed how impersonal the white room actually was. The walls were adorned by a few posters that urged people to quit smoking, drinking and eating unhealthy foods and by a bookcase where one could read the latest guidelines on pregnancies or how to avoid them, on donating blood, on patients' rights and a dozen other things related to health issues.
The only way out of the room was a glass door on the wall opposite the bookcase, but it had been shielded off very effectively by a Venetian blind where the wires had been removed so it couldn't be opened - Joanna had already tried. In the ceiling, two powerful strip lights were shining so brightly that she wished she could find the light switch to turn them off.
She had a throbbing headache, a sticky feeling all over from not showering, a stinging pain in her crotch from the unusual positions she and Liliana had tried, and she reckoned she had sprained most of the toes on her right foot from when she kicked David Caulfield in the face. All in all, she was feeling miserable.
To get away from the strip lights, Joanna covered her eyes with her hands and began to think about all the things that had happened since the day in April where she had been called out to the Jeremy Malone Boarding School.
'That was the day where my life began to fall apart... one brick at a time. Jeez, getting to know Liliana was the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me. What would have happened if we hadn't clicked...? I would still have a nice home to live in instead of sleeping in a bunk in a basement. Betty and I would still be together... probably. I wouldn't have been pistol-whipped, beaten, shot in the back, left for dead in a ditch, beaten again... Sheesh.'
When the glass door creaked open, Joanna looked up at once - and sighed when she realized it was only Corbin, returning with two Styrofoam cups.
"The coffee machine was on the fritz. I didn't know if you liked tea so I bought you some hot cocoa instead. I hope that's all right?" Corbin said, putting the cup of cocoa down on a low table in front of the row of plastic chairs.
"That's great, Corbin. Thanks."
"Careful, it's hot as hell. Here's a stirrer and some sugar if you need it," he said, putting a few assorted items down on the table.
Absentmindedly, Joanna picked up one of the sticks of sugar, tore the top off it and poured the contents into the Styrofoam cup. After watching the sugar disappear down into the thick, brown liquid, she took the stirrer and put it to good use.
When the clock hit twenty past three, Joanna rose from the plastic chair and stretched her back, making her joints pop loudly.
"For cryin' out loud, Jo...!" Corbin said with a chuckle.
"What the hell are they doing in there? Playing Poker? How can it take them so long? Two hours! I mean... I could drive halfway across the state in two hours!" Joanna said, running her fingers through her stubborn hair as she was pacing back and forth in the relatively small waiting room.
"Not at fifty-five you couldn't," Corbin said under his breath.
"Yeah, all right... but two hours!"
Joanna's prayers were answered when the glass door suddenly opened to reveal a doctor. At first, Joanna thought he might bring bad news because of the way his face was set, but then she realized that he was probably as tired as she was.
"Miss Powell, I'm doctor Benjamin Curtis, Miss Zinovia's surgeon. The opera-"
"How is she, Doctor?" Joanna said in a voice so choked up she could hardly recognize it herself.
"Well, given the circumstances, she's all right. The operation was a success and we've just wheeled her over to-"
"Thank God," Joanna said, breathing a sigh of relief.
"Her lung, intestines and her left ovary were untouched, but there was a great deal of tissue damage, in particular to her abdominal musculature. We've patched it up the best we could by performing reconstructive surgery. Miss Zinovia will be weak on that side for a while, but she should make a full recovery."
"The knife had glanced off the lower rib on the left side which was good and bad. Good because it meant it missed her lung completely, but bad because the odd angle meant that when it went down into her abdominal cavity, it snagged on the muscle tissue, like I've already explained. That's why we need to keep her here under observation for several days, maybe even a week. For infections, you see."
"There was one blessing in disguise, though. If the knife had had a jagged edge, the resulting wound would have been far worse... well, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. In short, Miss Zinovia was lucky that the attacker used a knife with a smooth edge."
"When can I see her?"
"Oh, not yet. She's still under the influence of the anesthetic and she will be for several more hours, I'm afraid. If you return at ten or eleven, there's a chance she will have woken up in the mean time."
"Return? I'm staying right here!" Joanna said and sat down with a bump, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Well... do what you feel is best, Miss Powell. If you will excuse me, I have other patients to attend to," the Doctor said and grabbed the doorknob.
"Of course. Thank you for the news, Doc."
"You're welcome," the Doctor said and left the waiting room.
"At ten or eleven...? Shit," Joanna said and buried her face in her hands.
Many, many hours later, Joanna - wearing a hair net and a pale green protective suit - stepped through a door and entered the recovery room. The unmistakable smell of antiseptics lingering in the air only added to her headache and made her crinkle her nose in disgust.
The recovery room had space for four beds, but three of them were lying dormant, leaving only one in use. Liliana appeared to be breathing unassisted, but she had tubes sticking out of her arms and she was hooked up to several machines and monitors that made all sorts of beeping noises. On her left wrist, the tube with the IV-drip had been inserted through a skin-colored glove-like contraption that made her wrist look like it was swollen to twice its usual size.
The nurse who had helped Joanna into the recovery room patted her shoulder and left to allow Joanna and Liliana to have some privacy.
Joanna gulped nervously and took a hesitant step forward. Despite having lived with a nurse for three years, she had to admit to herself that she had a bit of a phobia when it came to hospitals, but she forced herself to stand firm and not freak out like a big chicken.
When Liliana suddenly stirred, Joanna forgot all about her phobia and jumped forward to be at her lover's side. Unsure of what to do, she put her fingers very carefully onto the back of Liliana's left hand and gently stroked the smooth skin in front of the contraption for the IV-drip.
"Oh, baby... I hope you'll be fine," she whispered.
Liliana's eyelids fluttered open and she began to look around the room, finally focusing on Joanna. A faint smile spread out over Liliana's features and she opened her mouth like she wanted to speak - unfortunately, it was soon evident that she wasn't able to get a word across her bone dry lips.
"Oh...!" Joanna said, feeling her insides performing a series of flip-flops when she locked eyes with Liliana's spring green orbs.
When Liliana's pink tongue moved out of her mouth and tried to wet her lips, it finally dawned on Joanna that Liliana needed some water.
"Uh, water... of course," Joanna said and looked around the room. A small trolley stood at the far wall with a jug of water and several plastic cups on it, and Joanna hurried over to it and filled a cup of water from the jug. Remembering to grab a drinking straw, she hurried back to Liliana's side and held it up to her mouth.
Liliana sucked greedily on the straw, ending up almost emptying the cup. When she pushed the straw out of her mouth, a few drops fell out of the tip and dribbled down onto her chin.
Smiling, Joanna leaned forward and wiped the droplets away with her thumb. "How are you feeling?" she whispered.
"Sore. Very, very sore," Liliana croaked.
"Do you remember what happened?"
"Yeah. What's happened to David?"
"He was arrested."
"Yeah. Oh, are there any more Caulfield brothers you forgot to tell me about...ha ha?" Joanna said, chuckling nervously.
"I only know of the two."
"Great." Joanna reached down to move a few stray hairs away from Liliana's eyes and was rewarded by a faint smile.
"Boy, am I tired. I think I need to go back to sleep now. Thank you for being here with me, Jo."
"Are you kiddin'? There's no place on earth I'd rather be," Joanna said and took Liliana's free hand in her own. She gave it a little squeeze and was relieved beyond belief when she felt Liliana match it with one of her own.
"Hey, baby, you know what? I think I love you," Joanna said. Unable to cope with the pressure any longer, she finally allowed herself to let go. Tears began to stream down her cheeks and onto the pale green protective suit, but she didn't care one bit.
"I love you, too, Jo," Liliana said, yawning widely.
"Go back to sleep. We have all the time in the world," Joanna whispered, lovingly caressing Liliana's cheek.
The smile Liliana offered in return was faint, but it was enough to warm Joanna's soul. She grinned through the veil of tears, realizing that even though the last two and a half months had been hell in so many ways, they had given her something, and someone, very special indeed.