~ Split Second ~
Disclaimers: See Part 1
Note: I would like to thank Linda for being a great beta on this story. It would not be what it is without you. Thank you very much.
Note: This story is finished. I will post it in four parts this week.
Chase Davidson hated when the phone woke her up at four in the morning. The news was never good, she thought, fumbling for the lamp with one hand and the phone with the other. No one called that time of the morning to tell you that you won a trip to Tahiti or that something had come up and your entire family were not going to be able to visit after all. Life didn't work that way. "Davidson here."
"We've got trouble." Debbie McLain, Chase's boss, sounded somewhat more awake than Chase, but just barely.
"Imagine that." Chase tested her theory. "I thought you might be calling to give me a raise."
"You don't need a raise," Debbie said sourly. "You've already got more money than God and you're probably going to quit next week anyway."
Chase ignored the money comment. She taught two night courses at the University on the side, so everyone thought she was rich. They had no idea college professors were almost as badly paid as cops. "You might be right about the quitting part. I'll decide after I hear about this trouble."
Debbie's voice became serious. "It's bad. In fact, it doesn't get much worse. We've got an officer down over on the Strip."
"Not yet, but it doesn't look good."
"Damn." Chase swung her legs to the side of the bed. "Who is it? Anyone we know?"
"Guy by the name of David Snell. SCD."
"Sex Crimes? What did he do? Wander into a bust or something?"
"We don't know right now. Chief Henderson got called so I got called so you got called. Go find out. I'm supposed to report directly to her personal assistant."
"Did I stutter?"
"Well, no, but…"
"The guy's partner is Rachael Stevens. You do know her, don't you?"
"The True Blue Family? That Stevens?"
"The one and only. You're a lucky woman."
"Chase moaned. "I'm too damned old for this, Debbie. Call someone else."
"Can't do that. It's certainly not official, but rumor has it you were requested for the case. Stevens' family is true blue and she's tight with the chief. I suspect the Iron Lady wants this done right with no questions left unanswered."
"So? What's that got to do with me?"
"I don't approve of your techniques, Davidson, but you are the best. When you're finished with it, everyone will know the case is tight and true and they'll be satisfied." Chase heard papers shuffling, then Debbie spoke again. "They're still on the scene, Twenty-nine forty-one Cain Street, Happy Hour's Club. Bobby Palmer is the homicide lieutenant."
As Debbie hung up on her, Chase realized what was going on. Chief Lauren Henderson might have requested Debbie to report directly to her assistant, but she wouldn't have asked for Chase. Debbie had put her on the case because she didn't like Chase and had probably wanted to call her out at this ungodly hour.
A former instructor at the Police Academy, Lauren Henderson had been the APD commander for some time, but Chase's direct interactions with the woman had been too limited for her to have requested Chase, even if she were inclined to do so. Despite the gossip, Chase had heard about the woman, she was supposed to be fair and levelheaded, but a few people thought she had gotten her job through connections rather than talent and rumors continued to circulate about some type of vague corruption going on at the higher levels. Fair or biased, crooked or straight, it didn't matter to Chase. She only delivered the truth.
Fifteen minutes later, she was dressed and in her car. Twenty minutes after that, she pulled into the parking lot of the club. Chase had the feeling she could have found the place without the yellow-and-purple neon sign of a large margarita glass. Dozens of cop cars with flashing lights were parked haphazardly on the sidewalk and in the street. Nearly that many television vans lined the street on the opposite side.
Pushing through the reporters and sight-seers, Chase spotted Bobby Palmer. Simultaneously yelling into a cell phone, talking to two other cops and answering a reporter's questions, the African-American lieutenant saw Chase and motioned her forward.
Chase nodded but took her time, looking around first. A blue plastic sheet covered a body, but it was the only one. Scanning the scene, she searched for Rachael Stevens. She popped off about Rachael's family's nickname, but in truth, she wasn't sure if she would even recognize the woman. She was supposed to be a looker and very, very smart…so naturally most of the male cops hated her and/or lusted after her. Chase couldn't think of a more volatile mix inside a police department, resentment and sexual tension. Wonderful, she thought dryly. This was going to be a real fun case.
She came to Palmer's side and waited for her turn. Palmer handled everyone else smoothly and quickly, then he faced Chase, his expression wary, his demeanor less friendly. Chase barely noticed. She was accustomed to the low-level hostility that followed her wherever she went. Everyone hated Internal Affairs.
They shook hands as Chase spoke. "Bad night. Any news on the officer who was shot?"
"I wouldn't be counting on him for the next shift. They took him to the trauma hospital, but he looked like he was already gone."
Chase held back a flinch. Most of the patients who were sent to the trauma hospital were so bad the docs swore they brought the dead back to life more often than they healed the sick. "Where's the partner?"
"EMS guys took her, too."
"Was she hurt?" Chase's voice held surprise. Debbie didn't say anything about the partner being hurt.
Palmer lifted his hand and drew a line down his cheek. "Just a graze. Didn't look too bad, but you know the medics. She tried to stay, then finally gave in." He tilted his head toward the blue covered mound behind him. "That's John Doe over there. A possible Juan Doe went to the Trauma Center with the rest of the party, but I really think he has had his last enchilada."
Palmer continued his explanation and Chase listened, her eyes going to the other side of the parking lot, where support guys had begun to crawl between the cars and underneath the bushes. Every once in a while, they would stop, open a baggie and drop something inside.
"Any questions?" Palmer finished.
"Not for now." Chase always let the lieutenants talk, but she got her real information from the officers and the scene itself. "I'll be in touch."
Palmer nodded with a bitter expression. "I'm sure you will."
Chase wandered for another half hour, talking to the uniforms and letting the details register. She was just about to leave for the hospital when she overheard two of the techs. They had been crisscrossing the parking lot, looking at the cars and trees. One of them was shaking his head as he spoke. "Even I coulda hit something. That many shots fired? These guys musta been blind."
Chase stopped. She knew a lot of the crime-scene technicians and for the most part, they were friendlier to her than the officers. "What's up?"
They looked up and greeted her. "No slugs. I don't know what these guys were smoking, but they musta been shooting into the sky." He held up his baggies. "Plenty of shells, but no slugs yet."
"Keep looking, gentlemen. I'm sure you'll do your best for the glory of APD."
They grinned and returned to their search as Chase headed for her car. The techs always said they couldn't find the slugs, but sooner or later they located them. Lodged in telephone poles or buildings, tires or pavement, the spent bullets hid themselves well.
Back on the Freeway, Chase headed for the medical center.
Against the wishes of her father and her three brothers, who followed him in everything, Rachael had attended the Police Academy at twenty-one, the first year she had become eligible. The rivalry, or maybe it was animosity, between her and her siblings was nothing new, they would have disapproved of anything she did short of becoming a nun, but her father's reaction had stung. Somehow, deep down, Rachael had always thought that if she followed in his footsteps, he might finally give her the same kind of attention he had lavished on her brothers. She was wrong.
When she had told him she had been accepted, Kenneth Stevens had frowned and muttered something about regret, then he disappeared into the garage of his aging home where Rachael had grown up. She had started after him, then she stopped. "What the hell?" She left his house, understanding, better than ever, how her mother must have felt when she left him. If you didn't see the world the same way Kenneth Stevens saw it, you were worthless to him. No wonder her mother had hit the road and never looked back. Rachael got a Christmas card from her yearly and that was it. The lack of communication had hurt until she finally understood.
After she began her classes, the ache eased even more. Time had something to do with it, but more significantly, she made friends. She had never been very good at that and she still wasn't, but the five people she had met during the six-month course were different from any she had ever known.
Except for one, the one she needed the most, they surrounded her now, their faces etched with concern as she sat on the table in the emergency room cubicle. Hearing the officer down call and recognizing Rachael's partner's name, they all came in from every side of town. Rachael was incredibly grateful for their company and support. If she had been the kind of woman who let herself say so, she would have broken down and told them what they meant to her.
Dianna McKinney stood the closest, her hand warm on Rachael's back as she patted her shoulder in a comforting way. At twenty-eight, she was nearest in age to Rachael's twenty-six, but she was the mother of the group. In a heartrending decision, she had dropped out of the Academy to follow the love of her life, but things hadn't worked out. She returned to Atlanta a year later to complete her classes, ending up in patrol. Her warm eyes were filled with sympathy and pain, not just for Rachael's injury, which was minor, but for everything that had happened in the past few hours.
Maria Santiago stood on the other side, fiercely gripping Rachael's left hand. A Latina from the east side, Maria was thirty-three. She had a difficult time growing up in Atlanta's barrios, but she had risen above her former life and come out a survivor. A detective, she was tough…and gorgeous. She swung her dark hair away from her face as she leaned closer. "Everything will be okay, chica." As if her words could make it so, Maria spoke with confidence. The only hint she was upset was the Spanish that slipped out apparently before she could stop it. "Thank God, you got the sorry cabrones who did this…"
Rachael squeezed Maria's hand in acknowledgment then dropped it as Annette Townsend spoke from the foot of the gurney. "You got them both?"
Annette was in the Missing Persons Unit of the Investigations Command. She was single-minded and ambitious and she had made her way up the department just like Rachael had, by working hard and being determined. Neither of them had a lot of free time to do things together, but out of all the women, Rachael felt closest to her. For good or for bad, they each valued their careers more than anything else in their lives.
"That's some kind of shooting. Those hours at the range finally paid off."
Rachael looked at Annette as she answered. "I didn't have a choice. When David came around the corner, they opened up."
A voice was heard from across the room. "You did what you had to do, Rachael." Kim Brennen spoke from the other side of the room. Leaning against the wall, her thin form dressed in black, she looked every inch the successful businesswoman she'd once been. She was a valuable member of the White-collar Crimes Unit, putting that experience to good use. She would be a lieutenant by this time next year, Rachael guessed. Even tempered and measured in her ways, Kim offered sound advice now. "Don't look back. You did what you had to.
"I know," Rachael lied. "But it all happened so fast and then a split second later it was over, just like that. David was bleeding and I told him to hang on and he said he would, then…" She looked down at her hands. They should have been shaking, because she was on the inside, but they lay in her lap, perfectly still with streaks of dried blood on them. She raised her eyes. "Then he died anyway. He was gone before the ambulance even got here."
Silence filled the cubicle, as Rachael's words seemed to hang in the air.
Maria touched Rachael's arm. "Have you heard from Lauren?"
Rachael shook her head. Lauren Henderson's presence would have made the group complete, but she would be swamped right now with other duties. She had been one of their instructors at the Academy and now at forty-two she was the oldest and most experienced of them. She was also the chief of police. Only one other woman in Atlanta's history had served in that position and she had been appointed by a female mayor. To the majority of the force that had meant she didn't count. "She won't come," Annette said, echoing Rachael's thoughts. "She can't appear to be too close to Rachael right now or people might read it wrong. Plus she's got to deal with the media and IA and everything else."
"Including David's family." Dianna turned to Rachael, her expression anxious. "He was married, wasn't he, Rachael? Did he have any children?"
Rachael nodded slowly, instantly deciding the details of David's disintegrating home situation would be a secret she would keep. "His wife's name is Christena, and yes, they have a little boy. I think he is three, maybe four…" Her sentence was broken as her chest tightened. She hoped the poor kid would get a better deal than she had, but any way you sliced it, growing up in a one-parent household was not for the weak.
The curtains surrounding the cubicle parted and the doctor who had stitched Rachael's cheek stepped in, a male nurse by his side. Pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, the physician handed it to Rachael while the other man began to clean up the remnants of bandages and tape scattered over the counter. "That's a script for a painkiller." Retrieving another one from his other pocket, he held it out, too. "And this is for some sleeping pills. You might have some trouble sleeping for the next few days…"
Still woozy from the shot he had given her to stitch her face, Rachael shook her head…a little too hard. She gripped the table. "I don't need it."
The doctor looked shocked. "You've just been through a very traumatic situation. Are you sure?"
His wavering image split into three men in three white coats. Each of them nodded. "All right." The sound said he had dealt with cops before. They were all macho, the men and the women.
Rachael nodded, which was a big mistake, then she walked out of the cubicle, her friends on either side supporting her in more ways than one.
The waiting room was a blue sea and it would remain so until David's body was released. That's the way it had always been done when an officer got shot and Rachael expected the tradition would never change. She entered, then stutter-stepped slightly, Dianna clutching her right elbow, Annette still holding her left. Their grips were firm but discreet. Any sign of weakness from a female cop, even one who had just been injured, set them all back.
Maria whispered from behind her. "Hang tough. We'll talk to the widow then get you out of here, okay."
Rachael nodded, the word widow throwing her for a second.
The women waded en masse through the uniforms, eyes watching from every corner of the room. In truth, the majority of the men they worked alongside were okay, but the few who weren't pleasant were a vocal minority. Rachael heard someone mutter, "…better partner this wouldn't have happened…" then she found herself staring at Jonathan Hopper. A fellow S.C.D officer, Hopper was rude, repulsive and tried his best to make every woman on the force feel unwanted. Rachael read his lips as he leaned toward the cop on his right and spoke. "Five butts, one brain…"
They had almost come to blows the first time he had uttered the insult. She and her friends, still in the Academy, had been passing his table in the cafeteria when he said the words just loud enough for them to hear. Rachael had immediately questioned his manhood and his alleged affinity for farm animals, but her comeback hadn't been enough to quiet him. He was persistent as well as stupid.
She ignored Hopper's remark and stepped before the thin, pale woman who had been married to David. Christena Snell was in her late twenties, maybe early thirties at the most, but grief had done its job and at the moment she could have easily passed for forty. Her expression blank, her eyes red and swollen, she brushed her blonde hair off her forehead then dropped her hands to her lap, raising her gaze to Rachael's at the same time.
They had talked only briefly at Christmas parties and the like. Not sure David's wife would recognize her, Rachael went to her knees and put her hands over Christena's. Too late, she remembered the dried blood that still painted her fingers. Christena didn't seem to notice. "I'm so sorry. I tried to stop them, Christena, I swear. I…I just wasn't fast enough."
She blinked at Rachael with eyes as pale as her hair. "I'm sure you did all that could be done." Her words were spoken as if they were memorized, almost mechanical.
Rachael didn't quite know what she had expected from Christena, but this wasn't it. Grief, for sure, anger, perhaps? She pondered the question for a second than suddenly realized the obvious; Christena was doped to her eyeballs, which was probably a good idea, Rachael decided.
Rachael squeezed the woman's hands, still laying under hers. "I'm sorry. If there's anything I can do…"
As Christena nodded, Rachael began to rise, but she was pulled back abruptly, Christena gripping her strained fingers to hold her still. "Did he say anything?"
Rachael looked into the woman's tortured eyes and made an instant decision, lying without hesitation. "He said he loved you and Jason."
A momentary confusion flickered over Christena Snell's face, then it was gone. Without another word, she released Rachael's hand.
Her emotions in chaos, her cheek now throbbing, Rachael stood unsteadily then turned to leave. The uniformed men parted silently as the five women walked through them. After they passed, the path behind them closed once more and the vigil resumed.
The women walked Rachael to the hospital's lobby, arguing over who would spend the night with her. She let them argue until they reached the elevator for the parking garage. "No one is staying with me. I need a ride home and then I'll be fine."
Dianna looked at her with worried eyes. "You can't be by yourself tonight, Rachael. You've been through too much to be alone."
Kim concurred. "You need company."
Rachael repeated. "I'll be fine. Besides, I want to be alone. I need time to think about everything that happened."
Maria stepped up beside her. "That's the problem. You'll think too much and get even more upset." She put her arm around her shoulder, squeezing her gently.
As usual, Annette was the lone dissenter. "Come on, you guys, Rachael knows what she's talking about. Let's let her work this out like she wants to. I think that's for the best."
The others looked uncertain but, one by one, agreed, albeit reluctantly. Exchanging a final hug, they went their separate ways, Maria the one elected to drive Rachael home since she lived nearest her. They headed down an almost deserted Main Street, winding through the University area until they came out at the freeway again.
Maria glanced into her rearview mirror then over at Rachael. "You did the right thing tonight, so I hope you don't start second-guessing what happened."
Maria sighed. "Yes, you will. You already are. I heard what you said to Christena."
"I didn't know what else to say." Rachael stared blindly out the window at the passing buildings. "I had to say something."
"So you're okay with how it went down?"
"I'm okay with it."
The rest of the twenty-minute drive was silent until they pulled into the driveway of the modest townhouse Rachael had bought the year before. She said thank you and started to climb out, but Maria's voice stopped her.
"You better prepare yourself, Rachael. This could get rough, you know. I've seen the system chew up and spit out a lot of people and sometimes the truth gets lost in the process, especially when the IA group gets involved."
"I know that there will be a dog-and-pony show, but I'll get through it. I'm a cop's daughter, remember?"
As the words left her mouth, Rachael winced. Jesus, her father. He was sure to know what had happened by now. He was even more connected since he had retired than he had been in the past. He always heard the department's latest gossip before Rachael.
"All I'm saying is you have to look out for yourself, okay? No one else is going to do it for you."
Rachael stepped out of the car then glanced back through the open window. "I'll be fine."
Maria nodded then Rachael turned and went up the sidewalk, the Jeep's lights shining on her as she unlocked the door. Inside the sanctuary of her home, she closed her eyes and lay her head against the front door, a weariness sweeping over her that quickly found a path all the way down to her bones. Her eyes were dry, though. She wouldn't cry, because she couldn't. She had been just a child when her last tear had been shed and she could still remember her father's mocking voice as it had slid down her cheek. "Buck up girl. Rachael, you know Stevenses never cry."
"Stevenses never cry," she repeated softly in the dark. As if waiting for an answer, she paused, but there wasn't one, so she straightened and walked into the kitchen, going directly to the refrigerator. She wasn't a big drinker, but she kept some beer on hand for her friends. Pulling a Coors Light out, she popped the can open and was lifting it to her mouth when the phone rang piercingly. "Kenneth Stevens, Senior" flashed across the caller ID screen and her hand hesitated over the receiver. Two more rings sounded before she picked it up.
She said hello and her father answered her, his gruff greeting followed by a heavy, accusatory silence. She hated the games he played and usually she fought them, but tonight she didn't have the strength. Something about life-and-death situations took it right out of you, she guessed.
Her voice held a tinge of sarcasm, but like always, her father ignored it. "You heard the news? Thanks for calling to check on me."
"I know you're alive and your partner isn't." He stopped there, his unspoken censure obvious. Your brothers wouldn't have gotten themselves into this kind of situation. I always knew something like this was going to happen. You're supposed to back your partner, not get him shot. What the hell have you done now, Rachael?
She had never measured up. And she never would. Swallowing her defensiveness, she gave him the details, leaving out David's inebriation. Her father would be the last one to let it slip, but if the truth got out, Rachael feared David's family might be in danger of losing all they had left now…his pension. Should the medical examiner run a drug-and-alcohol scan, which he probably wouldn't without cause, then the chips could fall where they did, but Rachael wasn't going to bring the subject up. "I've got everything under control. You don't have anything to worry about."
"I don't have anything to worry about regardless. This is your bag, Rachael. You gotta carry it by yourself."
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't want to do anything to make the family look bad." Her father had left the force with all the right metals pinned to his chest, and her brothers were equally well regarded. The four of them were known as cop's cops. Rachael lightened her tone. "Gotta keep the Stevens rep, you know."
He spoke without hesitating, his criticism slicing her heart in two. "I think it's too damned late to worry about that now."
Noon had come and gone when Chase Davidson wheeled her two-year-old Porsche Boxster into the police headquarters parking garage and made her way up the ramps to her assigned spot. The car was her only extravagance, but she frequently left it at home for weeks at a time, driving an old Jeep to work instead. Sometimes it wasn't worth putting up with the gibes she got whenever one of the guys saw her in the Porsche. This morning she decided she didn't really give a damn.
Picking up the Stevens/Snell file from the seat next to her, Chase rubbed her eyes and sat for a second. She had stayed up all night, reading the records she downloaded after coming home and she felt like hell. When this case was over, she should head somewhere down in the islands, like Jamaica. She needed a break. Maybe she needed a permanent break.
Locking the car, she reached the elevator and punched the recall button, thinking of Kimberly, her ex-lover. Seven years ago she had walked into Chase's office late one night and said that she was married to the job so she didn't need her and she left. Kimberly didn't give her a chance to explain or to defend herself, but that hadn't really mattered, because she was right. And nothing had changed since then. Chase still didn't have a life outside of work. She was thirty-eight, but she felt like a hundred. She couldn't remember when she had her last date and she was daydreaming more and more, her mind wandering when it should have been concentrating. Sometimes she imagined herself as one of the monkeys she had studied while getting her Ph.D. They would literally work themselves to death for the food pellets that she and her first-year psych students would give them.
Chase continued to labor as hard as the animals had, but the satisfaction that had once made the sacrifices worthwhile was nothing but a memory now. She wasn't quite sure how it had happened, but that had definitely become the case.
After getting a cup of coffee, she went to her office and dropped the file on her desk. She was on the seventieth floor and the view was incredible, but she didn't glance at it as the file on her desk fell open to Stevens' photo. She sipped her coffee and stared at the picture instead.
When she had gotten to the hospital last night, Rachael Stevens had already left, but if she matched the photo in front of her, she was a knockout, no doubt about it. Dark hair and green eyes. A body that looked fit and trim. She was studying the woman in the picture almost too closely for her own comfort, when Debbie knocked on the door and startled her. Chase cursed loudly as hot coffee splashed over the photo then dripped onto her newest shoes.
"Whoa, settle down!" Her boss looked at her with resentment. "What's wrong with you?"
Chase rolled her eyes and grabbed a tissue from the box sitting on the corner of her desk, propping her foot up on the edge to dab at her shoes. "Did you need something, Debbie?"
"I want to know where you are with the Stevens thing. Any thoughts yet?"
She looked up. "For God's sake, Debbie, they haven't even had time to mop up the blood. Gimme a break…"
"Okay, Okay! I'm just checking, that's all. Don't get your panties in a wad. I'm asking for the mayor."
Chase thought to herself. Damn, first the chief, now the mayor. Who was next? The governor? Chase continued to brush at her shoes. "You can tell the mayor I'll let you know what I know after I talk to Rachael Stevens and find out what she knows."
Debbie knew better than to press Chase; she had her own way of doing things and had never played by the book, but Debbie didn't expect a real answer anyway. All she wanted was the ability to report back to her superiors that she had asked. She fled as Chase took another swipe at her shoes then tossed the tissue, wondering again about the role of the higher-ups in the situation. Maybe Debbie hadn't been lying about Chief Henderson. Knowing there was only one way to find out for sure, Chase picked up the wet file and headed for Rachael Stevens' office.
After several false starts, Chase found the Sex Crimes offices. An older woman with neatly braided hair looked up as she entered their area. Her name tag read, Wendy Cambell, and she had been crying, her eyes were rimmed with red and glistening.
Chase introduced herself, but left out her department. "I'm here to see Rachael Stevens."
"She didn't come in today." The woman pursed her lips. Chase didn't recognize her, but she seemed to know who Chase was. "She was wounded last night and the boss told her to stay home."
Chase nodded with a pleasant expression and started back down the hall. As she turned the corner, she heard the woman pick up her phone and punch out a number. Before she could return to her office, Rachael Stevens would know she was looking for her. She pulled her car keys from her pocket and walked quickly down the corridor.
Gingerly touching the bandage on her cheek, Rachael stared into her bathroom mirror then reached for the vial of pain pills on the counter. She regretted not taking the sleeping pills the doc had offered, but she didn't handle that kind of stuff too well. Her cheek felt as if it had been branded though, and she had to do something. Shaking out one of the capsules, she broke it in two, then paused, her mind wandering.
When he had gotten to the scene last night, Bill Canton, her boss, had ordered her to stay home today. She had ignored his words and had been getting ready when he called her earlier that morning. He demanded as soon as she answered the phone. "Take off the suit and forget about it."
"How did you know I was…"
"I meant what I said last night, Rachael. I want you to stay home today and take it easy. We aren't doing anything productive anyway. Everyone's pretty rattled."
"I could come in and help, look at the books or something."
"No. You stay home. That's it. No arguing."
She had gone back to bed and hadn't woken until the phone had rung again a half hour ago. She was expecting, or maybe it was hoping, that it would be Lauren. This time, Wendy had been on the other end and she explained about the woman who had been looking for Rachael. The secretary seemed to know everyone on the force and she had been positive that the woman was IA, but Rachael had doubts. Things generally moved slowly at APD, but the Internal Affairs department was notorious for its unhurried process. When Rachael looked down at the half pill in her hand, though, she decided to wait. Opening her fingers, she let both pieces of the capsule drop into the sink, then she turned on the water to wash them away. If by chance, Wendy was right, Rachael wanted all her wits about her.
Pushing away from the counter, she shuffled downstairs with the vague intention of eating something. She hadn't had anything since lunch the day before, but the thought of food made her stomach churn. She decided on coffee instead. Heating a cup in the microwave from the pot she made earlier, she stared out the kitchen window to the small alcove that was her yard.
Last night had been the worst night of her life. She tried to sleep, but all she had done was replay the shooting over and over. The few times she managed to drift off, she jerked herself awake, dodging bullets. She had looked around the room hoping to see Lauren, but she was alone in this nightmare. If she thought she would have gotten any help, she would have called her dad, but even as desperate as she had been, she had known better. He had never thought she would make it on the force. And maybe he had been right, she thought, as the microwave dinged and she pulled out her mug. What kind of officer let would let her partner get shot, point-blank? The doorbell sounded and Rachael jumped, splashing hot coffee down her sweats that she put on after changing from her suit and going back to bed. Not nearly enough time had passed for it to be the IA woman that Wendy had warned her about, so the damned reporters had to have returned. Rachael cursed and brushed at the stain with a towel, then she gave up and tossed it to the countertop, the bell sounding again, this time with more insistence. She had already told two of them she had nothing to say. Storming into the entry, she jerked the door open with harsh words on her lips. "Look, I already told you people I wasn't saying anything."
A woman stood on the front porch. Rachael didn't know who she was, but she was not a reporter or a cop. The woman's suit was too expensive and there were no cameras behind her or vans in the driveway. There was a Porsche, however. Rachael's eyes came back to the woman. Her eyes were the color of cold ashes and she shivered without thinking.
"Rachael Stevens?" Her voice was smooth, a direct contrast to the chill in her stare. "I'm Chase Davidson." She held out her hand and Rachael took it. "A lieutenant with APD Internal Affairs."
Rachael's stomach tightened and she sucked in her breath. So much for her cop judgment. Score one for Wendy.
"May I come in, Ms. Stevens?"
"Of course." Rachael stepped aside and she brushed past her. The IA lieutenant was tall, a lot taller than Rachael. She made her five-six height feel insignificant. "Please sit down." Rachael waved toward her living room. "Would you like some coffee? I just spilled half the pot on my pants, but I think there's some left."
Chase made a wry face then lifted her right foot. Her leather shoe, also expensive, was freshly spotted with something dark. "I'm wearing my caffeine today, too. But I'd like to have some to drink, if it's not any trouble."
Rachael nodded. "No problem. Give me a minute."
Back in her kitchen, Rachael made fresh coffee, her nerves on edge. She couldn't believe the woman had gotten to her townhouse so quickly. She was obviously a fast worker and a fast driver. Watching the first drips of coffee flow into the thermal pot, she tried to talk herself out of being anxious, but she failed.
She put everything on a tray and returned to the living room, sitting down on the couch. "How do you take your coffee, Lieutenant?"
She turned away from the photos hanging above the fireplace. "Black is fine and frankly, I'd rather you call me Chase."
Rachael filled a cup and held it out to her as she walked toward the sofa, her request surprising Rachael. Rachael's tone sounded skeptical, even to her own ears. "Are you sure?"
Chase smiled in a friendly way and took the coffee. "I always drink it black."
Rachael shook her head. "I'm talking about the lieutenant part."
She sat down right beside her. Her closeness made Rachael feel uncomfortable, but if she realized it, she pretended she didn't. Then again, Rachael thought abruptly, maybe that was exactly why she had sat where she did.
"I may be in Internal Affairs, Officer Stevens, but I'm not immune to what the rank and file think about my division. I find it more helpful if we try not to get too stuffy during these kinds of investigations."
The lieutenant took a swallow of coffee then looked at her over the mug, her strange gray eyes measuring her in a manner that left her even more apprehensive than her proximity. "If the laxity makes you ill at ease, feel free to use the title, Officer Stevens."
It did just that but Rachael was not about to let the IA lieutenant know it. "Chase is fine."
"You were wounded." Chase smoothly changed the subject and nodded toward her bandage. "How do you feel today? Are you in any pain?"
"I'm okay. I would have gone in, but my boss wouldn't let me." Rachael touched the bandage briefly. "It's nothing."
"But the loss of your partner isn't."
Her eyes went to her hands which were wrapped around her coffee mug. She had scrubbed them for a long time last night, removing David's blood. The red stains had washed off easily, too easily, considering what they represented. "David Snell was a good cop." She lifted her eyes once more to the lieutenant's. "And a good man. I'll miss him."
"Have you thought about talking to the department shrink? Phillip Layton is very professional and he knows his stuff."
"I assume I will be seeing him at some point during all this. He's part of the package, isn't he?"
"The package, as you call it, varies with each situation, Officer. A lot of what happens next will depend on you." Chase put her coffee down on the table. "For example, you need to decide if you want to contact your union rep before we talk. That's your option, you know."
"I'm not a member of the union." Rachael's tone changed then to sound almost dismissive. "I don't need anyone to hold my hand."
Chase's dark eyebrows lifted almost imperceptibly. She nodded slowly. "I understand, but sometimes it is nice to have the support." She tilted her head toward the fireplace and the photos. "How about your dad?"
"How about him?"
"Have you talked to him?"
Chase waited for more, but she gave her nothing. "What about your friends?"
"They were with me last night."
"What about the chief? I understand you're pretty tight with her."
Rachael's eyes jerked up then. "Lauren Henderson was one of my instructors at the Academy. We are friends, but you can leave that out of this equation, Lieutenant." Rachael knew that there were enough rumors going around the station about corruption, who's sleeping with whom, and the all important rumors about who really deserved the promotion they received. The last thing she need was the IA to find out about her and Lauren's relationship.
"I intend to." The lieutenant held her gaze for longer than was necessary, then she leaned back and put her arm across the top of the couch. Her fingertips were an inch away from Rachael's shoulder and the lieutenant seemed totally relaxed with the casual gesture. "Tell me what happened, Rachael. In your own words. At your own pace. I want to hear the whole story and I've got plenty of time."
It was past four by the time Rachael stopped talking. She had been tight-mouthed at first, especially since she had explained everything over and over the night before, then the lieutenant's gray eyes had warmed and she relaxed. Relating the same story to Chase Davidson somehow felt different. For one thing, she was an excellent listener, and for another, she knew the right kind of questions to ask. She had almost forgotten that she was talking to IA. She felt as if she were talking to a friend instead. Which was probably a big mistake on her part.
She looked at the lieutenant sitting still sitting on her sofa. At some point during the story, Rachael had risen from the cushions and walked to the other side of the room, but the other woman stayed in the same relaxed position.
"Anything else, Rachael?"
"I think that's it. I did everything by the book, but I know there's a world of difference between sustained and exonerated."
If the lieutenant found the first, Rachael could face criminal charges. Needless to say her career would be over. If she found the second, Rachael's record would stay pristine.
No one except the IA department understood the mazelike paths their investigations could take and rumor had it, even some of them got lost on occasion. A lot of officers, especially the union guys, felt the obfuscation was deliberate, but Rachael wasn't sure. All she knew for certain was that Chase Davidson was in charge of what would happen next. She could recommend more training and counseling for Rachael, but written reprimands, a suspension or even termination were options, as well.
Whatever she decided, after her investigation, she would present her recommendation to her boss who would, in turn, hand it over to the assistant chief of IA. The assistant chief and the Citizens' Review Committee would examine everything, then the chief would get her chance.
Lauren would make the final determination. She could send the case to the district attorney and a grand jury if criminal charges were to be filed or she could dismiss the whole affair. Either way, she counted on the IA investigator. Nine times out of ten, IA's original suggestion became the final outcome. Everything depended on Chase Davidson.
"Whatever the outcome, you can always appeal if you're unhappy with the decision."
Rachael looked her straight in the eye. "I won't be unhappy because I followed department procedures. It happened in a split second. I didn't have time to do anything else."
"That's why your training is so important. Sometimes it's all you have. Your training…and the truth."
They stared at each other from across the room. She seemed to be waiting for Rachael to say something else. Finally, after several more seconds, Chase stood and reached inside her pocket, removing a business card that she dropped on the coffee table. "That has all my numbers on it. Home, cell, and office. If you think of anything else you would like for me to know, don't hesitate to call, 24/7."
"I've told you everything, but I'm sure we will be talking more."
She murmured, "Oh, yes," then followed Rachael as she led her back to the entry.
Despite the smoothness of the interview, Rachael still felt anxious as she opened the front door. Chase took a step toward the threshold then stopped. They stood close, almost touching, and Rachael's gaze went to the woman's hair. It was thick and longer than she had thought, curling at the base of her neck. More than one strand was gray, but she found that reassuring, that meant she wasn't a rookie. She also found it strangely sexy.
Chase leaned against the door. "When you come back to the office, we'll start the paperwork, but it may take a few days. Be prepared for delays."
She frowned and focused all her attention on Chase once more. "Delays?"
"You know how it is." Chase smiled. "Forms to get the forms to get the forms. It's all routine and the whole deal won't last long, even though it might feel differently."
Rachael stilled. "I don't think I understand. What's routine and won't last long?"
Chase's eyes met hers, and she suddenly wondered why she thought them warm.
Chase spoke in a quiet voice. "I assumed you knew. Until this situation has been cleared, you'll be behind a desk."
Rachael Stevens' eyes widened until Chase felt herself enveloped by them.
"That's crazy! I know it's the rule, but I can't sit on my butt while this investigation is ongoing! My partner's dead! I'm not going to stay on the bench while everyone else is out there doing their best…"
Chase interrupted her calmly. "Your team will understand. This is SOP for an officer-involved shooting."
"I don't give a damn what's standard." Her expression was fierce, energy vibrating around her "This is different; I have to do something."
"You don't have a choice in this matter, Officer Stevens." Chase stared at her, the sympathy she felt for her well hidden now. "You're off the beat and the case, until this investigation is resolved. Homicide will be handling it."
"But I can help!"
"Your cooperation will be necessary, yes, but not as an officer. You were a participant and, as such, you can't work the case, too. Surely you understand that?"
"Well, of course I do, but this situation is different."
"It seems that way because it's happened to you, but all I can say is I'm sorry. I do know how you feel."
"I doubt that." Rachael looked at her with open animosity. "Not unless you have lost a partner too."
Chase started to tell her the truth, something she hadn't done with anyone in a very long time, but she swallowed her answer as she stepped off the porch and into the sunlight. "Call me when you decide to return to headquarters, Officer Stevens. I'll be waiting."
Bill Canton phoned Rachael that evening. "Everyone is bugging the hell outta me to find out how you're doin' so I thought I'd better call. You okay or what?"
Rachael couldn't help but smile. "Thanks for the concern, boss. Knowing you care so much makes me feel really loved."
He made a sound between a snort and a chuckle, then spoke again. "Just answer the question, Stevens."
Her fingers went to her bandage. "I'm okay. I'm coming in tomorrow."
"No, you're not. We got a new rule on the books. Injured officers gotta stay home for at least two days."
"Forget it, Bill. I'm coming in. I want to work. It's better for me than sitting here and thinking."
"Yeah, thinking can be dangerous, but I don't want you back yet. You, ah, need to rest some more."
He was bullshitting her. She waited a second before answering. "What's going on, Bill?"
The silence continued until he broke it with a curse. "The IA Bitch, Davidson, came in this afternoon and told me there's some kind of holdup with your file. Nothing important, Rachael, just some bureaucracy crap."
"It's okay. You shoulda just said so in the first place."
"I knew you wouldn't be happy about it."
"It's part of the deal, Bill. I understand how it's going to work. You don't need to baby me."
Rachael automatically smiled. "Yes, you are, but that's okay, too. Maybe I could stand a little babying, whether I want it or not."
"I'm glad you're not mad at me 'cause tomorrow is going to be bad enough as it is." He hesitated as if he wasn't sure of her reaction to what he was going to say next. "They've scheduled the memorial service, Rachael. Two o'clock at Tanner-Oak, day after tomorrow. Later on, there's gonna be a private cremation."
Rachael swallowed as she realized what Bill meant. An autopsy had to be performed and David's body could not be buried or cremated until those results were in. They talked for a few more minutes about the status of her cases, then they hung up. Closing her eyes, Rachael put her head down on the kitchen table. But she didn't cry. She thought instead. She thought about David and his kid. She thought about her and her father. Finally, she thought about Chase Davidson, as Bill had put it so succinctly, the IA Bitch.
Chase had told her to be prepared for delays, but what did it matter now? When she did get back, she was going to be stuck behind a desk instead of doing anything worthwhile.
Her mind struggled to cope with the chaos that had taken over her life. Yesterday morning, a little more than twenty-four hours ago, Rachael had had everything in order. Her future, her career, her very existence and now nothing but anarchy ruled. Her partner was dead, she was under investigation and her job had just disappeared. For one split second, she had the feeling that she might just follow.
She cursed Chase Davidson, then she took a deep breath. The woman was simply doing her job, just as she told everyone she was. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The situation was only temporary. In a matter of days, if not weeks, the IA woman with the spooky eyes would conclude her investigation and Rachael would return to the street and do what she had been trained to do. Instead of whining, she should be on her knees thanking God. Eventually, she would have her life back. David wouldn't.
Chase took a final look in the mirror and ran a brush through her hair. She had come home after a late lunch to change for the memorial service. She got as much grief over her clothes as she did her car, but she liked being well dressed. It was a throwback to her peanut-butter sandwich days. When she had been a kid and, later on, a starving student, she had promised herself she would dress well when she got older, even if she didn't have the money. People believed what they saw and if they saw someone who looked successful, they thought she was successful. Chase knew better, of course. She had worked IA too damned long to believe anything, including her own eyes, but most people hadn't witnessed all she had. Turning away from the mirror, Chase walked down the hall of her three-bedroom house. She lived in the Heights, an eclectic, historic area off the Freeway. The neighborhood was perpetually "in transition" as the architects put it, commercial property next to homes and vice versa, each one fluctuating wildly in value. Kimberly had insisted on living there, though and so she financed the place. It had been way out of bounds for Chase's salary, but by that point she hadn't cared. She let her have her way and when Kimberly left her, she paid her off, getting a loan on the side. The community had grown on her, but it wasn't for everyone.
Rachael Stevens lived in a completely opposite milieu. An organized enclave of town homes and condos, her part of Atlanta had restrictions and fences and manicured lawns with scheduled maintenance. If everything in her file was the truth, and Chase had no reason to believe it wasn't, then her surroundings fit her as well as her own did her. She was willing to bet serious money that Rachael had always colored between the lines as a child.
Chase reminded herself as she backed out of her driveway that she shouldn't be making hasty judgments about the people she was investigating. She had attended a seminar last year about sensitivity in IA matters, where they had all been admonished to keep an open mind and let the natural traits of the officers reveal themselves. Don't jump to conclusions, their instructor had instructed. Police intuition is the stuff of TV series, the instructor pronounced. Chase had pronounced her theories "bullshit" and had walked out. She had always depended on her gut and she wasn't about to start doing anything different now. Especially not with Rachael Stevens.
She knew Rachael Stevens was what she had already decided she was, an honest, conservative cop, too bright to be on the force but too dedicated to leave. Her actions the other night had most likely saved her life, though not her partner's. She had done what she had to in order to survive and Chase was ninety-nine percent sure she could investigate her until the end of time and she would not find anything to the contrary. But that one percent did exist and she knew it did because she had been bitten on the ass by it before. Also, there was something about Rachael Stevens that bothered her. She seemed like a pretty together person, yet she couldn't shake the feeling that underneath the polished exterior something more existed. For lack of a better word, she defined it as "energy." A ferocious, determined and potentially dangerous kind of energy. If she didn't keep it under control, it might end up controlling her. Chase had seen too many cops who had gone to the other side in the war they were all fighting because they couldn't handle themselves.
She swung into the right-hand lane and took the exit for the ramp. Traffic was bad. The late-lunch crowd was still on the road and the sneaking-out-early guys had begun to join them. By the time she got to the funeral home, she was almost late. Despite that fact, after parking the Jeep, she sat for a moment and watched the mourners cross the funeral home's parking lot. The majority of them were cops and Chase couldn't help but wonder which one of them would phone her. In every investigation, someone contacted her halfway into the case with a tip. The caller was always anonymous and always a cop, but not always helpful.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Rachael Stevens approaching. Talking to four other women, she passed directly in front of her car. She didn't recognize the Jeep, of course, so Chase took the opportunity to study her. Straight almost black hair hung past her shoulders and it gleamed in the hot sunlight. Her sleeveless dark dress revealed arms that were tanned and fit. She had played tennis in college, Chase remembered from her file and obviously still did. As she cleared the car, Chase glanced at her legs. They were tight and firm. As was the rest of her.
Chase shook her head vigorously, as if to shake the thought from her mind. At twenty-six, Rachael could have almost been her daughter, especially in this day and time. There were certainly twelve-year-old kids around now who had babies. She saw them everywhere. She shook the thought from her mind again and climbed out of the car.
Five minutes later she was seated two rows behind Rachael and her friends. When the service started and everyone rose, Chase stood too. But she didn't turn around to watch Christena Snell and her son approach. Instead, she faced the front so she could see Rachael's reaction as Christena walked down the center aisle.
Unfortunately, Rachael spotted Chase before she saw the widow. Her green eyes widened and she seemed to catch her breath. One of the women looked at her with a questioning glance, but Rachael shook her head at her friend's concern, mouthing the words it's okay. From where she stood, Chase read her lips, then found herself distracted by her mouth itself. She had on lipstick that seemed to be made for her. The family passed by and Chase remembered where she was.
Rachael looked at Chase one more time. She had regained her composure and Chase couldn't have read her expression had her life depended on it.
The day after the shooting, Kim had picked up Rachael's Camry from the downtown police garage and dropped it off at her house. Rachael could have driven to the services, but when Dianna had offered her a ride, she had accepted, surprising herself and Dianna. Usually independent and self-sufficient, Rachael still felt nervous and fighting Atlanta's traffic was not something she wanted to do. As they left the memorial service and headed to the south side of town where David Snell had lived, Rachael found herself even more grateful. She wasn't sure she would have made it on her own, especially after seeing Chase Davidson at the services.
She'd actually trembled when her eyes had connected with the IA Investigator's and she had no idea why. Except for what she did, she seemed like a perfectly nice woman. She decided to blame her reaction on the pain pill that she had taken before leaving the house.
Behind the wheel, Dianna worried. "I wish everyone else was coming. Annette said she had something going with a case, and Maria had some kind of meeting planned. Kim didn't say why she wouldn't be there. Did Lauren tell you if she would be at David's?"
Rachael's thoughts drifted back to Chase Davidson, then she realized Dianna was asking her something. For the second time.
"Rachael? Have you heard from her?"
Dianna shot her an anxious glance. "From Lauren…Will she be at the Snell's?"
Rachael shook her head. "Wendy told me that she stopped by David's earlier this morning because she was going to give the press a statement after the services." She turned back to the window knowing that Lauren was more than likely avoiding any chance of seeing her.
Dianna reached across the seat and touched her arm. When Rachael looked over, Dianna asked, "Are you okay?"
Rachael's lied. "I'm fine."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Rachael smiled affectionately at her friend. She was lucky to have Dianna and all the others, but like her father had said, this was an ordeal Rachael was going to have to go through alone. "There's nothing to talk about, Dianna. David is dead and for the moment, my hands are tied. I want to help with the investigation, but I can't. End of story."
Switching topics, Dianna kept the conversation light after that, Rachael answering her occasional question. Just as they pulled to the curb outside David's house, Dianna's cell phone chirped. Rachael stepped out while she took the call and a second later, still behind the wheel, Dianna rolled down the window closest to Rachael and called her name.
Rachael bent down to look at her. "What's up?"
Dianna's face was wreathed in concern. "I've got to go. The team's had a call. Something is going down and it's all hands on desk. I hate to strand you like this, but I don't know what else to do."
"Forget about it. I'll find a way home, don't worry."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. If nothing else, I can call a cab." She made a dismissive motion with her hand. "Go on. Duty's calling."
Dianna nodded and pulled back out to the street, her car disappearing in a haze of heat a minute later. Rachael smoothed her dress and started up the sidewalk. Dianna's support would have been great, but until she had attended the Academy and met everyone else, Rachael had never been close to anyone. Her father and brothers had seemed to share some kind of testosterone-laden pact that she had been left out of and with no mother or even an aunt nearby to compensate for it, Rachael had had to make do on her own. Meeting Dianna, Annette, Maria and Kim, Rachael had finally learned what it meant to have friends. Lauren's success had cemented the group, giving them inspiration as well.
Jonathan Hopper opened the Snell's front door before the doorbell could finish its peals. Sucking in her breath, Rachael stifled her reaction as the overweight cop scowled then led her to a white satin guest book. When she finished signing the book, he pointed toward the back of the house, his attitude cold and indifferent. "Everyone's in the living room. There's coffee and cake in the dining room."
There were over five thousand law enforcement officers in Atlanta. Why had Christena chosen Hopper to stand at the front door and greet everyone? She had probably asked him to help since he had been on David's team. Certainly not for his charming ways.
Rachael put him out of her mind and walked down the hall. Five feet down the narrow corridor, she found the dining area. A tiny space to begin with, the crowd made it seem even smaller. All she could see was wall-to-wall uniforms, then Wendy appeared at her side. Taking Rachael's elbow, the secretary pulled her out of the stream of people and into a nearby corner. My goodness, Wendy, what a crowd!"
"I know it. It has been this way since this morning. So many people have come by, there hasn't been room to move an inch." She reached out and plucked a plate off the laden dining-room table, handing it to Rachael. "Get yourself something, then let's go into the other room. There are less folks in there."
Rachael held her hand up, the thought of food curling her stomach into a knot. "I'm not hungry, but escaping this mob sounds like a good idea. You lead the way, I'll follow."
Replacing the plate, Wendy turned around to push a path through the crowd. They came out in the comparative serenity of the kitchen. Stuffed with cabinets and open shelves full of knickknacks, the area was actually smaller, but there were fewer people in it. Rachael focused on the refrigerator, a photograph of Jason catching her attention.
Following her stare, Wendy spoke softly. "Poor little guy. It's hell to be that young and not have a daddy any more."
Rachael's throat tightened. "Is he here?"
"I haven't seen him. I think I heard someone say a neighbor has him."
A few months ago, his car in the shop, David had asked Rachael for a ride home. After she had eased into his driveway, the front door had shot open and his son had barreled out, Christena right behind him. He had been yelling something about a cartoon show. When David had scooped him up and kissed him, Rachael had seen the kind of love shining from his eyes that she had always wanted but never received from her own father.
Rachael shook the memory from her mind. "Where's Christena?"
"In there." Wendy nodded toward an open area off the kitchen. "She's sittin' on the couch. Looking bad, too."
Rachael knew she should go into the living room and give her condolences to David's wife, but her feet wouldn't move. Not understanding her reluctance but yielding to it all the same, Rachael stayed where she was, listening to Wendy. After a while, when it seemed as if they had been interrupted a hundred times, Rachael came to the realization that almost everyone present had stopped and spoken to her, some briefly, some not so briefly. Despite the lingering prejudice in the department, these men understood, in a way no one else could, the relationship between partners. The widow had lost her husband, but Rachael had lost someone important, too. Their support bolstered her and after an hour or so, she put her hand on Wendy's arm, finally halting the secretary's nonstop flow of words. "I think I should go talk to Christena." Rachael nodded toward the living room. "You want to come with me?"
"Of course, honey."
The crowd had thinned a bit but not much. They were directly in front of the sofa before Rachael even saw Christena. She wore a shapeless navy dress with a white collar, the pale lace at her neck accentuating her pallor, the dark fabric drawing attention to the bruised shadows beneath her eyes. A uniformed officer sat beside her, her hand in his as he patted her back and murmured something. He could have been a model with his blue eyes and thick blonde hair. Rachael looked closely at him, but she failed to come up with a name as Wendy pulled her forward.
"Christena?" Wendy bent over and gently touched the woman's shoulder. "Rachael's here. She wants to visit with you, honey."
The man beside Christena stood and started so speak but before he could, Christena jumped to her feet, screaming. "What do you think you're doing here? I can't believe you would show your face in my house!" As if to attack Rachael, the woman lurched forward with both hands in the air. "My husband would still be alive if it weren't for you! He loved me and you took him from me!"
Dismayed at Christena's words and shocked by her action, Rachael gasped and tried to reverse her steps. She didn't get far. In the crowded room, her back hit someone's chest and she stumbled. She lost her balance and started to fall.
A second later Christena was on top of her, her fists pounding, her nails scratching. She continued to scream incoherently and all Rachael could do was duck.
"That's enough. C'mon, stop it!" The cops nearest the two women sprang into action, but Christena continued to pummel Rachael, after they got to their feet. From across the room, Chase, who had only arrived a few moments before, heard the commotion then cursed when she saw what was happening. Pushing her way through the crowd, she stepped between the two women and thrust Rachael behind her. Their eyes met briefly. Rachael looked terrified and completely confused.
Separated from the target of her anger, Christena let her hysteria morph into noisy sobbing. She tried one more time to lunge forward, but the officers contained her and she collapsed into a heap on the sofa, disappearing behind a wall of blue.
Chase took Rachael's hand and pulled her from the room. They didn't stop until they were outside. Rachael looked over her shoulder toward the house, blinked several times, then turned to Chase, her eyes dark with disbelief. "What the hell was that?"
"I don't know." Chase kept her expression neutral. "She did seem upset, didn't she?"
Rachael's eyebrows lifted into perfect twin arches. "Upset? I think she was speeding past upset and heading straight for hysterical."
Chase played the psychiatrist. "People handle grief a lot of different ways."
"That wasn't grief. She was pissed."
"Why do you say that?"
Rachael gave her what Chase called 'The Look'. She had never known a woman who didn't have it in her repertoire of expressions, but her ex had been a master at it. Big eyes, curled lips, slightly tilted head. Its meaning was simple. Are you really that big of an idiot?
"Why?" Rachael repeated. "Why? Maybe because she just tried to beat the shit out of me!"
She trembled as she spoke, but with fear or with anger? Chase couldn't tell. "It's a natural reaction, if somewhat dramatic. She has to blame someone for David's death. You were handy."
Rachael shook her head. "She didn't feel that way the night of the shooting?"
"How do you know?"
"She said so at the hospital. I made a point of speaking to her before I went home. I told her…" Pausing, Rachael licked her lips and took a breath then continued. "I told her I had tried my best and she said she knew I'd done all that I could. What happened between then and now?"
Chase was pretty sure she knew, but she kept the information to herself. "She was probably in shock."
"She was out of it. You could have driven a truck through her pupils."
Chase smiled a sad smile. "The doctors must have given her something."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
Her answer was too ambiguous to let slide. "What does that mean?" Chase paused, an idea forming before she could stop it. "Did David Snell use drugs, Rachael?"
Her green eyes shot up instantly. "Why do you ask?"
"You just implied his wife might . Chances are good that if she does, he did."
"I'm not sure I agree with your logic." Her voice was stiff, her spine the same. "But to answer your question, David didn't use drugs, as far as I knew."
Something about the way Rachael said the word drugs tugged at Chase's brain. Rachael's abrupt announcement gave her no time to figure out why. "I'm wiped out. I'm going home. I've had enough of this for one day."
Rachael opened her purse and removed a cell phone instead of a set of keys, punching the buttons almost angrily. Chase reached over and took the phone from her shaking hands, closing it gently. "I'll take you home. There's no need for that."
"A friend of mine brought me, but she was called out the minute we got here." She took her phone back and began to dial again. "I can get a cab…there's no point in troubling you."
Chase closed her phone one more time. "It's on my way," she lied. "I insist."
She started to argue, but stopped and tottered slightly. Chase took both of the woman's elbows in her hands. "Whoa, whoa. You okay?"
Before she could answer, Chase noticed her bandage. This was a new one, smaller and less conspicuous than what she had worn right after the shooting, but in the scuffle, one corner of the tape holding it down had come undone.
Rachael spoke faintly. "I'm fine. It's just the…the pain pill I took. I don't do so well on meds."
Chase lifted her hand to Rachael's cheek and smoothed the small dressing back into place. Her skin was unbelievably soft and almost transparent and Chase wondered what it would taste like. Her fingers lingered a little longer than they should have.
Rachel repeated. "I'm fine."
Chase wanted to agree, but something told her she might not appreciate the compliment right now. She dropped her hand from Rachael's cheek. "My car's right here." Chase nodded toward the other side of the street. "Let's get you home."
Chase walked her up the sidewalk, took her keys and unlocked the front door. Half worried she might pass out, Chase put her hand firmly in the center of Rachael's back and directed her into the entryway ahead of her.
She made it to her sofa then sank down. Chase took off her coat and found her way to the kitchen, where she filled a glass with cold water then brought it back to her.
She took the tumbler with shaking hands. "Thank you. I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Getting shot makes some folks a little woozy. Everything's just hitting you at once. I'm not surprised." Chase perched on the edge of the coffee table and stared at her. The paleness of her complexion made her eyes look even more green. She waited until she regained some color, then she spoke. "If I were you, I'd avoid Christena Snell for a while."
"Don't worry, I will. She might come after me with something besides her fingernails next time. I don't need any more scars."
Chase found herself reaching over to touch the bandage on her cheek. Again. "Does it hurt?"
Rachael blinked, then shook her head. "Not really. Not like I thought it would." Looking into the glass she held, she stayed silent for a bit, then she raised her gaze to Chase. "The wound isn't my problem. And the pills probably aren't either. It's just the whole…the whole damned thing."
"Losing a partner is hard."
Rachael's expression went thoughtful, and Chase braced herself as she spoke. "You've been through this yourself, haven't you?"
Chase wasn't the kind of person who lay in bed at night and worried about what should have been instead of what really was. The past was over. She started to lie as she usually did but changed her mind. "Yes, I have. It's not something I like to talk about."
"I can certainly understand why" She paused. "But would you mind telling me? It might…help."
She couldn't say no. Rachael Stevens was a woman hard to refuse, no matter what the request. "I was a beat cop in New York. I'd been partners with the same guy for almost six years. During the day, I went to school and he took care of his kids while his wife worked, so we did the graveyard shift. One night, we caught a domestic in Hell's Kitchen." She shook her head, remembering the uselessness of what had followed. "The call was totally routine, nothing special. We go up the stairs, knock and announce and the next thing I know there's a bullet busting through the door and into my partner's chest. He never knew what hit him."
Her hand at her throat, Rachael seemed to hold her breath. "Was it an ambush?"
"Nah." Chase looked out the living room window to the sidewalk where a kid pushed a bicycle with a flat past the mailbox. "The perp was aiming for his wife. She was standing by the door, but he missed her and got Jimmy instead."
"I am, too." Their stare held for a moment longer, then Chase stood abruptly, suddenly uncomfortable with what she had shared. "It happened a long time ago. The shooter got stabbed two years into his time and Jimmy's widow remarried six months later." She shrugged. "Life goes on."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure." Chase took her coat off the chair where she had dropped it. "It may not seem like it will, but it does. Eventually."
"How long does it take to stop hurting?"
"That's one I can't answer." She slipped her arms into her jacket, then looked at her. "A lot of years have passed and I'm still waiting."
Chase walked out of the house, closing the front door behind her. She had a hunch Rachael's healing time might last a lot longer than hers. She and Jimmy had just been partners. From what Chase had heard, and apparently Christena now, too…Rachael and David had shared more than just the front seat of a cruiser. Gossip had it they had shared a bed as well.
That weekend, Rachael tried to call each of her friends, but Kim was the only one home. They talked for a bit, then after they hung up, with nothing but time on her hands, Rachael began to nitpick the entire conversation. In the end, there was nothing she could actually point to, but in retrospect the chat felt awkward. Kim just hadn't been herself. After thinking about the situation more, Rachael decided she hadn't been, either. Her anxiousness had probably rubbed off on her friend and Kim had simply reflected Rachael's feelings. She spent the rest of the weekend wondering how Lauren could stay away in this situation. She wanted to know how someone that you shared your dreams with, not to mention your body with, could be so distant when she needed someone so much right now. She understood that they argued the last time they had seen each other and she knew that Lauren had to be worried about her career, but if the tables were turned she knew that she would be there for Lauren.
Monday morning, a lot of officers stopped her and said something about David, but a few seemed cold, too. She puzzled over their attitude then blew it off just as she had Kim's. Whatever the problem was, if it even existed, everything paled in comparison to the fact that she kept expecting to see David around every corner. She missed him. The conversation she had with Chase about losing her own partner echoed in her mind. She obviously knew what she was talking about, but at the same time, Rachael hoped she was wrong. She couldn't stand the empty, hollow feeling in her gut. If it lasted forever, she was doomed.
She closed her mind to the pain just as she had to Christena's strange behavior the day before and entered the cubicle Bill had assigned her. The desktop was smooth and completely clear except for the telephone. For a moment, she panicked. What the hell was she supposed to do all day long? Thankfully, the phone rang just as she dropped her purse into one of the drawers.
Annette Townsend's voice made Rachael immediately feel better. "You doing okay?"
"I'm hanging on, but I'm sure glad you called. I'm looking at a very clean disk and eight hours to kill. Why don't I come down and we can run over to Starbucks for a hit?"
"I can't get loose right now, but I do need to talk to you, if you've got a minute."
"No problem. What's up, Nett?"
"I heard about the episode at the Snell's. What was the deal with Christena?"
"I have no idea." Rachael took the chair behind the desk and stared out her door to the wall on the other side of the hall. The cubicle didn't have a window. "I guess it was just an emotional thing, a delayed reaction or something."
Annette paused. She seemed to be considering what Rachael said. "Hmm…"
Rachael heard a warning in Annette's tone. "Did you hear something?"
"Not directly, but you could say I have some news about the situation."
"Someone told you what's going on with her?"
"C'mon, Nett. What the hell is this?" Rachael's tone was impatient. "Twenty questions?"
"If I were you, I'd be grateful to know whatever came my way, Rachael. People have a way of clamming up when things get tough."
Annette's abruptness wasn't completely out of character, but Rachael fell silent. She didn't know what to say. Apparently neither did Annette. She was quiet for a moment, then she cursed softly. "Look, I didn't call to give you a hard time, okay? I called because certain people know certain things and they felt you needed to know these things as well. I'm just the messenger."
Rachael stiffened. "Why didn't that person call me and pass on the information directly?"
"Because that person can't."
Rachael understood instantly. "Are you talking about Laur…"
Cutting Rachael off, Annette interrupted her again. "I'm not naming names and neither should you."
Was Annette implying Rachael's line was bugged? She sure as hell hoped not, but an image of Chase Davidson's cold eyes shot into Rachael's mind. "All right. What is this important information?"
Annette corrected her. "It's gossip, not information. But either way, it's going to hurt you and you need to be prepared." Rachael heard her friend draw a breath. "Rumors are being spread that you and David were having an affair."
Rachael almost laughed, her relief was so great. "Are you kidding me, Nett? Jesus, that's old news. Surely no one in their right mind thinks that's true."
"Christena Snell is the one doing the talking, Rachael."
Rachael's amusement evaporated.
"And she's making sure people in high places hear her." Annette paused. "There's more, Rachael."
Her mouth suddenly dry, Rachael waited.
"She's telling people you wanted David to leave her for you, but he refused."
"That's crazy, Annette."
Annette continued, as if Rachael hadn't spoken. "And because he rejected you, you took things into your own hands."
"Took things into my own hands? What does that mean?'
Annette didn't hold any punches. "She's saying you killed him."
Rachael's throat closed and she couldn't breathe. On the edge of panic, she wondered how long a person could live without air, then her lungs escaped their paralysis and stared working again. "Christena thinks I shot David? That's…that's insane! She can't really believe that."
Annette sounded stiff and strained. "She's told a lot of people she does."
Rachael realized she was gripping the telephone with both hands. She forced her fingers to relax, but she couldn't control her heart. It continued to beat way too fast. "Jesus, Annette, please tell me Laur…" She stopped and started over. "Please tell me no one actually believes this. The idea is completely mental."
"I don't know who believes what right now. Things are getting…complicated."
Since they had left the Academy, once a month the five women had made it a point to get together and have lunch. Over chicken-salad sandwiches, they had spent endless hours speculating on the rumors of corruption within the department. The topic shot into Rachael's mind now, burning its way into her brain without her completely understanding why. Rachael pulled in a sharp breath. "Do you think…"
"I'm not implying that I think anything, Rachael." Annette's voice turned even more curt. "I only called to pass on the message. Since I've done that, I'll let you get back to work and I'll do the same."
In a daze, Rachael hung up the phone. Wendy came into her cubicle a second later with an armful of files that she dumped on the desk. "You wanna clean these out for me? I need to shred all the pink copies, file the yellow ones and send everything down to the IT department."
Her mind still on the conversation she had just had with Annette, Rachael answered with distraction. Only after Wendy walked out of the cubicle did Rachael realize she must have said yes.
In the days since the shooting, Rachael had practically tied her hands behind her back in an effort not to call Lauren. She knew their friendship could not interfere with any kind of investigation, but if Christena Snell was spreading rumors like this, something had to be done. Rachael couldn't allow the woman to ruin her reputation, much less bring up such serious charges with no proof whatsoever.
Besides, if Lauren had heard this gossip, who else knew about it? Rachael's answer came to her immediately. Maybe that was what had been bothering Kim. It obviously had Annette on edge. Then she thought again and her heart stopped. Chase Davidson.
After Chase had left yesterday, she examined their conversation from every different angle, but she hadn't been able to figure out where the IA lieutenant had been going with her queries. Now it all came together.
Rachael pushed her chair away from the desk and headed out the door. She had to find her and explain.
Chase was walking out the entrance when she heard her name called. She turned, but the double doors had already swung shut and she assumed she was mistaken. Continuing down the sidewalk, she was stopped a second later by a tug on her jacket. She looked down to see Rachael.
"Your secretary told me I might be able to catch up with you if I hurried. We need to talk, Lieutenant Davidson."
The thought of Rachael had been with her all weekend and she was old enough to know that meant trouble. The kind of trouble that appealed to her greatly. She analyzed the situation and came up with the brilliant deduction that Rachael's powerful personality and seductive looks were tinged with just enough vulnerability to make her one of the sexiest women she had ever encountered. "Call me Chase. I'm sorry, but I'm on my way to district court. I've got to be there in fifteen minutes."
She started walking again, but Rachael caught up with her in two paces and this time when she stopped Chase, her fingers dug into the woman's arm. "I'm sorry, too, but this can't wait. It's about my case and it's important."
Pedestrians flowed around the island they made, separating then coming back together on the other side. "I don't know anything new and even if I did, I can't…"
Rachael pushed at a strand of hair the humidity had dropped into her eyes. "I just heard about Christena Snell's gossip and I know you've heard it too. But there's something you should understand before you get the wrong idea. It is not true. Not at all."
While Rachael's candor surprised her, rules were rules. She couldn't reciprocate. "Look, I can't talk about this with you..."
Rachael tightened her fingers, interrupting Chase and her voice softened. "Chase…" She took a breath and let it out slowly. "Please."
That was all it took. One word and her name and she was done. She looked down the street with a sigh then brought her gaze back to Rachael. "I'll be finished in an hour. Meet me at the diner on Clay. It's about six blocks north of here."
"I know where it is. I will be there." Rachael gave her a small smile. "Thank you."
A noontime stroll in the middle of August was not something a sane person did in Atlanta, but, restless with anxiety, Rachael walked up one street and then down the next, glancing at her watch every five minutes. After half an hour, she found her way to the tiny diner Chase had mentioned and stepped inside. The dark and dingy restaurant felt like a cave, but it was a cool cave, so she took a table and ordered iced tea.
Time slowed to a crawl that matched the speed of the roach going up the wall beside the door. Rachael thought about leaving several times, but she had to talk to Chase so she stayed and planned out what she would say, the words playing inside her head over and over. The idea of her shooting David was so ludicrous she didn't even address that part of the issue. The pending autopsy results would prove she hadn't. Christena had obviously turned unstable in the face of her grief.
The supposed affair, that was another thing altogether. Drawing her finger through the circle of water her glass left on the table, Rachael shook her head. As far as she had known, the old gossip about her and David stayed at the station. It hadn't followed him home, she was sure. Who would have been so malicious as to tell Christena Snell and why now of all times? Obviously she had given the information credence and that's why she had gone after Rachael, but it simply wasn't true.
She thought of her conversations with Kim and Annette. Surely her friends didn't think she had hooked up with her partner, a married man.
The bell over the door sounded and Rachael looked up to see Chase cross the threshold and come toward her table. Waving a finger to the waiter who was lounging by the double doors of the kitchen, she slid into the seat opposite Rachael.
Rachael didn't wait for her to settle in. She went straight to the point. "Look, I need to make sure you don't believe this awful gossip…"
The waiter appeared with a glass of iced tea and set it on the table in front of Chase. She thanked him and waved him away. Immediately Rachael picked up where she had left off. "…that Christena Snell is spreading. I know you have heard it so let's cut straight to the chase."
Chase leaned back in her chair and stared at her. Chase wore a pair of sunglasses she hadn't had on when she had seen her before and they made her look even more stern. And sexy. "I am not allowed to discuss ongoing cases, especially with the officers involved in the investigation. Surely you realize that?"
She started to argue then she realized what Chase said. She spoke carefully. "I don't want to discuss the case. I want to give you some information about it."
Chase paused. "You can talk all day long if you like. I'm just here to enjoy a nice cold glass of iced tea."
In the face of her growing anxiety, Rachael's carefully rehearsed speech disappeared. "It's not the truth. What Christena Snell is saying about David and me. She's lying."
Without giving any indication she even heard her, Chase took a sip of her tea.
Rachael leaned across the table. "It's important you know this. I did not sleep with David Snell. He was a married man and a cop. I don't mess with either."
Chase looked at her and nodded. "That's good."
Chase's lack of reaction was frustrating, so she pressed. "Do you believe me?"
"I have no reason not to." She removed her sunglasses and looked up at her again. "Unless you're lying." She paused, her strange-colored eyes steady. "Are you lying?"
On the surface of it, her question seemed ridiculous. If she were lying, she obviously wouldn't say so. As she stared into her eyes, Rachael suddenly felt as if she had been connected to some kind of psychic polygraph machine. "I have my share of faults, but lying isn't one of them. Especially considering how important this is."
"But that's exactly when most people do lie." Mimicking Rachael's earlier movement, she leaned closer to the table. "The stakes have to be big, don't they? That's the motivation."
"That may be true, but not in this case. Not with me."
Chase paused for a moment before speaking. "All right."
The nervous hole in Rachael's gut remained. In fact, it seemed to grow even larger.
Chase then got the waiter's attention and showed him her empty glass and looked around the diner. After the waiter came over and refilled her tea glass, she looked up again and seemed almost surprised to see Rachael still there. "Was there something more?"
Uncomfortable and anxious, she only shook her head then stood and started to leave. At the last minute she paused beside the table. "There is one more thing."
Chase looked up, her slate eyes unreadable. "Yes?"
"Just for the record. I didn't kill David Snell."
Through the row of windows that lined the diner, Chase watched Rachael cross the street. She wore an off-the-rack navy suit that was a little too big and a blouse that didn't match, but men and women still stopped and turned to watch her pass. Chase didn't blame them. She would have done the same, hell she was doing the same. Something about the woman demanded your attention. Unless you were blind or dead, you had to take notice of Rachael Stevens. David Snell hadn't been blind, but he was dead. Had she lied to Chase? Had there been an affair? Had she killed him? Chase took off her sunglasses again and polished them thoughtfully. She hadn't actually believed Christena Snell's vicious talk when she first heard it and she still wasn't sure she believed it now. Regardless, if Rachael Stevens and David Snell had been a couple, their actions would have been stupid but hardly illegal. Of course, nailing the guy was one thing, but killing him was another matter entirely. Still something about the situation bothered her and she was suddenly afraid that something might be Rachael herself. The thought disturbed her. She finished her tea, threw some bills on the table and walked back to her office.
By Thursday Chase finished the proper forms and conducted most of the necessary interviews. In the process, her file on Rachael had grown to over six inches thick, but what was growing even faster was the grapevine. Its tendrils had reached into everyone's office and no matter where Chase went, she heard the rumors being repeated. She knew from experience that even if solid evidence proved otherwise, the salaciousness would continue to spread. It was much more interesting than the truth.
Picking up her phone the following day, Chase punched in Homicide's number and asked for Bobby Palmer, the officer who was handling Snell's death. The lieutenant came on the phone a few minutes later. "Just checking in, Lieutenant. You got any news for me?"
"I was hoping you might have some for me."
Palmer hadn't heard the gossip. If he had, he would have said so, Chase decided to keep the information to herself, although she didn't know why. Chase stated vaguely. "Not really. I'm messing with the reports, doing the paper shuffle, that kind of thing. Did the techs ever find any slugs?"
"Not a one. That's weird, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but not unheard of. Sometimes they just seem to disappear. How's the shooter?"
Palmer snorted. "Hangin' in there. The docs still won't let me talk to him. No ID on him yet. It's driving me crazy. I call the nurses twice a day, but they're getting downright irritated with me. They may do him in just so I'll stop calling." He paused. "Which, now that I think of it, wouldn't bother me one damned bit."
Chase understood what the man meant. No officer accepted the death of another one lightly. In fact, most of them took it very personally. "Stay in touch, Palmer."
Chase put down the phone, then picked it right back up and dialed the medical examiner's office. In a building separate from headquarters, the medical examiner's office stayed busy all the time. In addition to handling all the metro cases, the pathologists performed contract work for some of the nearby smaller counties that had only justices of the peace for coroners. "Where do we stand on the Snell case?" Chase didn't bother with preliminaries. The secretary who answered the phone knew who she was.
"The autopsy's been done, Lieutenant Davidson, but we are still waiting on some last minute reports. We're getting to it. I'm afraid your case isn't the only one we're dealing with right now."
"Of course." She had heard that before. "How much longer?"
"At least another day. Maybe two or three."
She sounded so unsure, Chase labeled her reply as a guess more than an answer. She hung up, her frustration only growing. Becoming restless, she rose from behind her desk a few minutes later. Until she had these last few components, the autopsy report and its subsequent findings, Rachael's case would be on hold. And Rachael would be behind a desk, her life in limbo.
Chase stopped beside her window and put her hands on the glass, the sun warming her fingertips. When Rachael had said her name the other day, she had felt herself falling into a very deep well. Chase had been there before with other women. It was a great place to be at first, then something inevitably happened and the walls began to press in.
When that time came and it always did, it was a long climb out. And she was too damned old to take on something so daunting, especially with someone as young as Rachael. Turning away from the view, Chase went out to the hallway and began to wander aimlessly, her mind on the case. She got coffee, drank half of it, then threw away the cup, pouring another one five minutes later. She stared out the windows in every direction then made the circuit, returning to her office. Sitting down in her chair, she popped up again and walked back in the corridor. When she found herself outside Rachael's cubicle, she wasn't too surprised.
Even more uneasy now than she had been before she talked to Chase, Rachael gave in to temptation Friday morning. She picked up the phone and dialed Lauren's office. But when her assistant answered, she lost her nerve and hung up. Immediately she picked up the phone and dialed again. "Annette? It's Rachael. Can you talk?"
In the millisecond of silence that followed her question, Rachael suddenly and unaccountably felt uneasy. Annette's unit was always incredibly busy. Sometimes she simply didn't have the time to chat and she would say so. But this pause felt different. "I'm trying to decide if I should call Lauren or not, Nett. Do you think I should?"
"I'm sorry, Rachael, but this isn't a good time." Annette's voice was cool and remote. "But I wouldn't know how to advise you on that, regardless."
"Oh…Well, okay. I…I'm sorry I bothered you." Rachael hung up, confusion and doubt sweeping over her. She tried Dianna next, but once she started talking and making sympathetic noises, Rachael couldn't get away fast enough. Pity wasn't what she needed. She said a hasty goodbye and left Dianna in mid-sentence.
Telling herself she was acting crazy, Rachael stood up and left her office for the break room down the hall. Maybe some caffeine would clear her mind of the unpleasant thoughts that were beginning to form. As she drew even with the elevators, the doors opened and a woman stepped out from the crowd.
"Maria!" Rachael's cry was automatic. She started forward then suddenly faltered when she realized her friend didn't look as pleased to see her as she was to see her.
Turning, Maria spoke to a man who had gotten off the elevator with her. "I'll be right there. You go on." He shot an unpleasant look at Rachael then nodded and went to the end of the hall to wait.
Maria stepped forward. "Rachael…How are things going? I, uh, haven't seen you in a while."
"I'm hanging in there. I haven't really talked to anyone since we went to David's service. Is everything okay?" The question sounded feeble, but Rachael didn't know what else to ask.
"I guess we've all been really busy." Maria's expression shifted and she moved the folders she held from one arm to the other. "I'm sorry I haven't called, Rachael, but…" Her voice died out and she looked toward the man who waited for her. "I…I haven't had the time. Things have been kinda rough lately."
Kinda rough? Rachael almost laughed. She didn't know what Maria was talking about, but unless she was under investigation for the murder of a fellow officer, too, Rachael wasn't impressed.
"Look, I've got to go." Maria tilted her head toward the end of the hall. "I'm sorry but…"
Rachael lied. "It's okay. You go on. I understand."
Maria nodded, then hurried down the hallway. At the corner, she paused and glanced back and her gaze locked on Rachael's. Still standing by the elevator, Rachael held her stare. A second later, Maria disappeared.
Rachael forgot about her coffee and decided to return to her office. Lost in thought over the strange behavior of Annette and now Maria, too, Rachael didn't look up until she was halfway down the hall. When she finally did, her heart began to hammer. Chase Davidson stood outside her door. She was dressed as elegantly as she had been the first time they met, her dark charcoal suit obviously custom-made…and obviously expensive. Whoever the woman's tailor was, knew her business. The cut of the jacket emphasized Chase's already broad shoulders and the pants hugged her narrow hips in all the right places. Her shirt was a soft gray. A much warmer, much nicer shade than the eyes behind her glasses. Reluctantly Rachael headed toward her and when she reached her side Chase greeted her. She was a soft spoken woman, Rachael realized, and in different circumstances, she might have been tempted to label her voice seductive. Right now, as crazy as it seemed, she actually sounded sympathetic when she spoke her name, which made even less sense. Rachael told herself she was losing it.
Chase gave no indication she had heard the conversation between Rachael and the other woman, but it was clear to her that Rachael had been snubbed. Looking into her green eyes, Chase decided she knew what had happened, but she didn't understand why. Her expression was filled with a confused bewilderment that made Chase hurt for her. She suddenly wanted to take her in her arms and comfort her. The thought shocked her so thoroughly she physically shook her head as if to dislodge it. "I was just passing through and I thought I'd stop by." She spoke as Rachael halted beside her. One lie was as good as any. "I had to come down and see a guy around the corner. How are things going?"
Rachael nodded, her expression becoming more composed, her professional mask back in place. "Fine. Just fine."
Chase doubted that.
"As you can see, Lieutenant, I have plenty of work." She waved a hand toward the files stacked on the desk inside the cubicle. "Our unit secretary is delighted to have some help, but she doesn't yet know how inept I am at filing."
"We all have our strengths and our weaknesses."
Rachael's eyes suddenly sparked and she moved closer to her. For a moment, Chase thought she was going to take her arm, but she didn't. "We do," she said, suddenly intense. "And sitting at a damned desk isn't mine. Get me out of here, Chase. I'm going nuts."
"I can't do that. Until the investigation is complete..."
Rachael shook her head impatiently. Her spiel meant nothing to Rachael. "But I could help. We'll never get more media coverage than we're getting right now and we should be using everyone we've got. If we don't push hard and ID those guys while the cameras are running, it might take months to figure out who they are."
She continued to plead her case. She was eloquent, too eloquent and Chase felt herself wanting to help her, which she couldn't. She cut her off with her hand. "Everything you're saying is correct, Rachael. But I can't change the rules. You have to be patient and let me do my job."
Rachael just glared at her.
Chase found herself apologizing, then she walked away. Her physical escape turned out to be meaningless, however. Rachael's angry eyes stayed with her the rest of the day.
At five, Chase left the office and headed for the south side of town and the university. Midway through her lecture, she decided it sounded incredibly stupid. When she counted three kids in the back row snoring, she finally gave up. The sleeping thing didn't usually happen until they were much further into the summer session. She wanted to blame the students, but she knew the fault lay with her. Her heart wasn't in explaining the theory of personality regarding the freedom of will versus reductionism. She woke everyone up and dismissed them.
Putting the top down on the Porsche, she left the university and drove faster than she should have up the Freeway. The humid night air sticky and hot despite her speed. She was on the Strip in twenty minutes and not quite sure why; the car had seemed to find its way on its own. Things frequently happened to Chase that she couldn't explain.
A line of vehicles waited to get into the parking lot at the Happy Hour's Club and it was only nine. Apparently David Snell's death hadn't slowed things at the club. Instead of fighting the crowd, Chase turned right and pulled the Boxster into the darkened lot of a small office building across the street. Removing her Official Police Vehicle sign from under her seat and sticking it on her dash, she decided that the dermatologist wouldn't mind if Chase took up one of his patient's spots. He wouldn't be having any business this late in the day. Sitting back, Chase stared at the steady stream of patrons and wondered what in the hell she was doing. Two seconds later, she had her answer. On the other side of the street, Rachael came around the corner, paused, then entered the bar.
She hadn't wanted to meet Candy at Happy Hour's, but the teenager had insisted. As Rachael passed the spot where David's body had lain, she started to tremble, her eyes jerking to the sidewalk without her permission. A faint stain still darkened the concrete. Or did it? Maybe she was imagining things again. Crazy things. She had begun doing that yesterday after she had talked to everyone. Maybe her friends weren't really her friends after all and maybe Chase really was on her side.
By the end of the day, she had decided she had to concentrate on what she knew. She made a vow to take her life back and then she had figured how to do so. Her first step had been to track down Candy. Tunneling through the crowd now, Rachael made her way to the bar stool where she had sat before. A different bartender brought her a lukewarm Coke, but it tasted even worse than the iced tea she had ordered before and she pushed it away after one sip.
Candy said that she had already told Chase everything she knew about the shooters, but Rachael had told her she needed to hear the story, too. Making up a wild tale connecting the bum who beat up prostitutes with David's murder, she had gotten a promise from Candy to meet her again.
Rachael imagined how Chase's gray eyes would look if she found out she had called the teenager. Quickly eliminating the image from her mind, she told herself it didn't matter. One, she would never find out and two, if she did, Rachael really didn't give a damn.
"Is this seat taken?"
Rachael jerked her head up, her heart jumping into the middle of her throat as shock, pure and cold, washed over her. How in the hell had she found her. "No…no, it's free."
Chase had leaned down so the could hear her, the music as loud tonight as it had been the night of David's death. "Are you sure?" Chase's breath brushed her ear. "I thought you might be waiting for someone."
"Who would I be waiting for?"
Her eyes still connected with Rachael's, she tilted her head behind her. "I assumed it might be her."
With a sinking feeling, Rachael looked past Chase's shoulder. Candy stood at the other end of the bar and as Rachael watched, she raised her right hand and wiggled her finger, pointing to a drink in her other hand and mouthing the word thanks.
"I bought her a glass of iced tea." Shaking her head, she sat down beside Rachael then swiveled the bar stool, her back to the mirror, her face to the crowd. "Strangely enough, that's what she said she wanted."
Rachael made no move to answer. She still couldn't believe the IA Lieutenant was there.
Propping an elbow on the bar, Chase leaned closer. "What are you doing, Rachael?" She smelled of an expensive cologne whose name Rachael couldn't dredge from a suddenly blank mind. "Why did you ask Candy to meet you here?"
"I wanted to talk to her about the case I was investigating when David got shot."
"Really? That's not what she told me. She said you wanted to discuss the shooting."
"Actually, yes, it matters greatly." Chase pulled back and looked at her. Rachael dropped her focus to Chase's mouth, which seemed safer to look at than her eyes. Until she focused. She had full, perfect lips and in a bizarre flash she could only blame on stress, Rachael let herself imagine what that they might feel like pressed to her throat.
Chase's voice broke her fantasy. "You aren't supposed to be investigating anything. You're on desk duty."
"I'm on my own free time."
"Cops like you don't have free time."
"You don't know what kind of cop I am. You don't know me, period."
Chase waited for a heartbeat to pass before she spoke slowly. "Your mother left the family when you were barely two and you seldom hear from her. You and your three older brothers attended school a block from where you lived. Your brothers are all in law enforcement and your dad retired two years ago from the force. Your father was against your becoming a cop and your brothers agreed because he rules the roost and they agree with everything he says. Regardless of that, right after college, you went directly into the Academy where you graduated top of your class. You spent a year on probation and eighteen months in patrol, then you joined Sex Crimes. You've never been married, you live alone and you're a size six.
Rachael corrected her without thinking. "I'm a size eight."
"Maybe that's what you wear, but you are a size six. Trust me on that one."
Rachael just stared at her.
Chase smiled. "My ex was a purchaser for Neiman-Marcus. I used to go along on buying trips. I know my Versaces from my Laurens, but the rest of it came from your file."
Rachael made a mental note of the word ex. Not ex-boyfriend, ex-husband or ex-girlfriend. "All that stuff might be true, but it doesn't mean you know me any better than I know you."
"Well, what would you like me to tell you?" Chase held out her hands in a gesture of openness. "Ask away. You already know the only secret I tend to keep."
At her invitation, Rachael realized a thousand questions about Chase had plagued her since she had walked into her house, but she wasn't about to ask her any of them. "Your personal life is none of my concern." Her tone was stern
Chase shrugged. "Fine by me, but let me point out one thing that is your concern."
Rachael stood, anxious to get to Candy and even more anxious to get away from Chase. Looking over Chase's shoulder, she tried to spot the teenager but the corner where she had stood was now empty. Had Chase paid Candy to leave? Cursing under her breath, Rachael turned back to Chase. "What is that?"
"You have no business doing what you're doing and if you persist, I will have your badge pulled."
Her threat froze Rachael in place. "Are you serious?"
"Dead serious. No pun intended."
Recovering quickly, Rachael slung her purse over her shoulder and spoke with renewed determination. "Christena Snell is spreading gossip and vicious rumors about me. Since I have no one else to depend on, I'm going to do what I think is best. That means defending myself and establishing the truth. I'll talk to whomever I please."
She started past Chase, but she reached out and stopped her. Her grip was loose, her expression casual, yet something told Rachael both could change in a split second. "Let's not make this harder than it has to be, Rachael." Her voice was almost pleasant. "Believe it or not, I want the truth and that means I'm on your side."
Deep inside her, a tiny flame of hope flickered. But being who she was, Rachael extinguished the light before it could grow any brighter. What was wrong with her. Was she so desperate for help, she thought Chase might be it? She is IA, for God's sake. She could accept that she might be attracted to Chase physically, but she couldn't trust her. What would it take for her to realize that? "I'd like to believe you, but I'm afraid I know I'm on my own. Don't try and make me think otherwise."
Continued in part 3
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