Thank You, Ray.
Ray Vecchio got out of the way as the car slammed up onto the curb and stopped with a squeal of brakes, shaking his head. "Women drivers," he muttered. He looked at the license plate, fully intending to look it up later, when he had a free moment, then she got out of the car. He grimaced. She wasn't the most attractive. Short brown hair with a few light strands just starting to pop through - highlights or the random start of gray hairs he couldn't tell, though she looked a little too young to be going gray. Her figure was roundish. She was overweight, but well built and mostly symmetrical if she got rid of her stomach. She walked around the end of her car and he noticed the nice badge on her jacket. "Who are you?" he asked before she could walk past him. This was his precinct and he was nosy.
"God. Didn't you get the memo?" she quipped sourly as she walked past him. "Late for my intro, too late for coffee and I haven't had caffeine in days. Unless that's your bailiwick around here, go be a good boy and wait somewhere out of my way." She walked around him when he tried to get her in her way. "Serious caffeine addict here," she said, giving him his last warning. She walked up the hall, grumbling about sudden summons. She walked into the detective's area, making them all look at her. "My chest is not a sideshow attraction, boys, quit staring," she ordered as she breezed past them. She walked into the Lieutenant's office without knocking. "What the fucking hell was so important I couldn't take the time to shower or find coffee?" she demanded, slamming the door. All the detectives winced and shook their heads.
The Lieutenant looked at her and shrugged. "I didn't call this meeting," he told her, pointing at his coffeemaker. "Get some before you kill again." She did that, sitting down to sip her coffee. "I have sweetener," he offered, tossing over a few packs. She tossed one back. "No sugar?"
"Diabetic. It sucks ass." She looked over as the door guard from earlier walked in. "And you are?" she asked. "Since I'm human enough to try and remember names now? Not that it's a guarantee with my memory, but still." She gave him a small smile.
"That is Detective Vecchio, you'll be shadowing him." She snorted. "Think that's funny, do we?" the Lieutenant asked, staring at her. "I could leave you in Vice."
"True, you could, or I could easily go to Homicide since they're understaffed too." He grunted in annoyance so she looked at the detective. "I'm not your secretary, detective, for all that I look like one. I'm a Detective, First Class, and you can address me as the Bitch Queen, Hey You, or even by my name if you so prefer. I'm Vice's occult specialist." He shuddered. "Good to meet you too," she said with a small smirk. "Don't worry, I don't ask for samples of hair or skin on the first day." She sipped her coffee, hoping to finish waking up. "For the record, never *ever* expect it to be a good day when a night person has to get up before eight, can't get to the coffeeemaker, and has to *drive* like that."
Vecchio looked at his boss. "Why is she here?" he asked politely, as much as he could manage.
"The Mayor said we're behind, there's a stack of warrants waiting on you to be served, she's helping you and Kowalski."
"Again?" she asked. He looked at her. "What? I love the little chocolate loving freak, but we don't get along on the job, Lieutenant. Fair warning. I try to give that before something really bad happens." He gave her a look. "Fine, so I'm here temporarily. And?"
"Your pile will be delivered later, go get acquainted. Then we'll have a briefing in about an hour." She nodded, standing up and walking out. "Vecchio, be very careful," he said quietly, catching his detective's attention. "Ask Kowalski why he's going to suddenly have a long bout of the flu if I don't reassign him to a different partner." Vecchio's eyes widened and he left.
The detective was sitting in a spare chair at Frannie's desk checking her email. "Come on," she sighed, slapping the side of the monitor. "I thought Vice had shit computers." Everyone was looking at her, even though she wasn't watching them she was getting a kick out of this. "I'm the Bitch Queen of Death, get it right now, detectives. I'm on loan from Vice. I've never had manners, don't expect me to use them." They studiously looked away.
Stanley Kowalski walked in and froze. "Fuck! What are *you* doing here!" he demanded.
She gave him a slow smile. "I'm on fucking loan. I'm told I'm your partner's Boy Friday for a few days. Otherwise I get to go talk to the dead bodies again and you *know* that freaks out the homicide guys and girls." She went back to checking her email, finding a letter that made her stop and read it. "Hey, I got my hazard pay this time. About time." She saved that one to a new folder and continued on. "Briefing in an hour, chocolate boy."
"Fucking hell," Kowalski muttered as he headed for the office. He opened the door and leaned in. "If she's here, I'm leaving. You can have my fricken' badge now if you want it." He slammed the door and headed for his locker.
"But, babe, don't you remember the good times we shared?" she called after him. "If you don't, I can remind you. I know I've got a copy of that song somewhere."
"Enough!" Vecchio called. "Stanley, heel!" Kowalski glared at him and he pointed at his desk. "Now." The younger detective sighed and came back. "You, out of the civilian aide's chair. Now." She closed her screen and stood up. "Don't make me pull the Mountie in to fix your ass," he hissed. "I'm the lead in my partnership."
"Do you dance?" she asked, looking interested. He frowned at her. "Good. Sometimes, the lead has to change. I don't take orders. I'm here to save your ass a lot of work, then I get to go back to my own stack of paperwork. Unless you want this to go longer, just give me my half and we'll go our separate ways."
"We don't work like that around here," one of the detectives told her.
"Fucking let her," Stanley muttered. "She's more trouble than she's worth."
"Next time, I'll let the Voodun priest have you," she snapped back.
"Enough," the Lieutenant said from the doorway. "We all have to suffer through this. Learn to get along. Cook him bad food or something."
"I'm not working with her," Kowalski said, tossing over his badge. "Either send me away or I'm checking myself into a psych ward now."
"I promise, I won't let any of the strange shit that flows around me get you this time, Kowalski," she said patiently. "I'll even have the nice wiccan I know ward you if I have to so they won't get you." He glared at her. "Oh, give it up, little boy. You won't win. People higher than both of us and smoking the crack peace pipe have decided that we're working together. The faster we get it done, the faster you get back to your comfy niche and the faster I get back to my studies. Now, you can put up with me, or I can go bug homicide. Mandy can come instead." Kowalski let out a massive shudder and shook his head. "Got the point?" He nodded, looking away. "Good." She looked at Vecchio. "Give me my half of the pile and we'll figure it out at paperwork time. That way I don't have to learn how to act like a good little girl and you don't have to put up with the stuff I go through daily."
The Lieutenant shook his head. "You can't do that. Most of these people are scumbags, I wouldn't even send you without backup. Get over it." He walked out. "We have a backlog of warrants going sour. We are to deliver and bring in as many people as we can, then do the paperwork in a speedy manner. Otherwise, the ACLU is going to sue the city again on behalf of someone we, in this unit, arrested on an expired warrant."
"There are how many?" a dark-skinned detective asked, wincing when he saw the unhappy look at the boxes in the corner. "All them!"
"All of those, two more filing cabinets worth, and then some," the Lieutenant noted "That's why we've been gifted with a detective from Vice to help out. This is Detective First Class Catherine Demoranth. No matter what she said, she is not going to kill you. Give her some time to let the caffeine work."
Kowalski gave her a look. "No coffee?"
"Just got some," she admitted, waving her cup.
"Shit, this was pleasant and nice then," he said with a snort. "Never get between her and caffeine. It's a bad thing."
"Worse than you and chocolate?" Vecchio asked. Kowalski nodded. "Drink more, we'll stop and get you some more on the way there."
"Oh, Stan, I'm not allowed to have sugar. Don't eat it around me, okay? We all know I have the willpower of a fruit fly on it's last day without a mate." He looked confused and she patted her stomach. "This has contributed to my blood sugar, sweetie. Do not eat the Dark God around me." He nodded, still looking confused. "Which box is ours?" she sighed, finishing that cup.
"The one on top works for me," the Lieutenant told her. "No stevedoring. No going out alone. And wear your vest."
"I don't have a vest," she snapped. "I haven't had a vest in fucking years, thank you." He looked stunned. "Yes, Vice likes to send me out into dangerous situations without any body armor and without backup. Get over it," she snapped. He backed up. She walked over, hefting the box up onto an empty desk. "Let's sort by hardness first. Take the easier ones later."
Vecchio looked down the hall. "Stanley, call Fraser. Tell him we'll need help." The other detectives groaned. "What? We'll be doing twice your work anyway," he reminded them, going to pick up a second box. He carried his into the break room. "We might as well spread out in here," he begrudged. The coffee machine was in there and hopefully she'd lose some of her attitude if she got more caffeine. He watched as she made a pot, then flopped down with a sigh. "What do you do in Vice, other than the occult?"
"Mostly? I'm training two rookies in the club scene. I've got one kid who's about to have a panic attack because I'm leaving him with only another rookie as backup and the other is going in to do those wonderful and informative school talks to the kids who know more about drugs than he does. We've been working the high-rent pros recently." She shrugged. "It's a paycheck at the moment. I liked it a lot better when I was younger and was partying all night on the clock to find drugs in the clubs." She turned, pouring herself some coffee as soon as it was done. "Got any sugar-free artificial crap?" He nodded, pointing at the cabinet behind her. She got up to get it, smirking at the selection. "Someone around here is on a diet." She pulled down three packets and added it to her mug, sighing in relief when she sipped it. "Before you ask, no I won't do anything dumb, but we're so underfunded that we've got no backup scheduled unless it's a major bust, and then we get SWAT. The last time I had backup I was a rookie." Vecchio looked stunned. "Also, I'm a night person. This light crap is going to get irritating soon." She looked out the window, then sighed. "It sucks ass in the light. Everything's too bright."
"That's why some man invented sunglasses," Stanley said as he trudged in, his badge back on his belt. "Get more?"
"Yes. Sit, let's sort. We'll have it figured out by lunchtime." Vecchio looked at the boxes, then at her. "Yes, I do live in an organized mess, but I am organized on the job." She tossed the first box lid aside. "Dangerous," she said, making a pile with a murderer. "Shitbag and dangerous. Needs to be eliminated. Petty crime. Drugs." She went through, sorting them out in her system.
"Is a rapist a shitbag or needing to be eliminated?" Stanley asked dryly. "I can never remember."
"All rapists, and especially child rapists, should be castrated, tortured, then eliminated, Kowalski. Remember your training." She noticed her petty pile was growing, that was fine with her. Pickpockets ran, murderers tried to perfect their art on you. By the time she was done, she had three murderers, six rapists - none serial, and six drug warrants. The other fifty or so were petty crimes. She grabbed some paperclips from the supply cabinet and fixed her piles, then sorted out the petty people by larceny, shoplifting, tagging buildings, stealing cars, and other major crimes. Six were put onto the bottom of her stack, they were stupid kids. She looked at the others' stacks, frowning when she saw they weren't finished. "Reading their histories?"
"Yeah. This one's a petty but he's got a history of stabbing," Vecchio noted, putting it into the dangerous pile. "I've got a lot who have been called up on hitting their women. You?"
"Lots of larceny, in varying forms," she admitted. "Three murderers, six rapists, and six kids who shoplifted for kicks and giggles." She shrugged. "Plus six drug related warrants. I'd like to do those first, they'll be easier than the murderers or rapists." He nodded, accepting that. "Kowalski, yours?" she asked, pouring some more coffee.
"Lay off that shit," he told her. "Before you get the shakes." He looked over as a traffic cop came in and smirked at her. "Did your usual splendid job of parking I see?" he smirked. She pulled out a dagger and put it into one of his piles, making him back off. "Never mind. Ray, she does *not* drive. Ever!"
She batted her lashes at the traffic cop. "Ticket my car, I'll arrest your kid the next time he's giving five dollar blows in Tangent's bathroom," she told him. He looked even more stunned. "Got it?" He nodded, heading out. "I'll move it later."
"Thank you, Detective."
"His son does what?" Vecchio asked.
"His son's wanting some more hip clothes, can't find a real job, so he's been doing fun stuff to earn it," she said with a wave of her hand. "It's a shitty practice, but his dad didn't know and I said I wouldn't tell unless I caught him again. Guess where he is right now," she said bitterly.
"Jail?" Vecchio asked.
She looked up at him from over her glasses. "Hospital actually. One of them didn't like his technique." She got up and jogged down to catch him, not sure he knew that by the look on his face. She panted as she grabbed him, turning him around. "He never called you," she said.
He frowned, shaking his head. "No, but I think we need to have a talk."
"You and the people who put ten stitches in his face last night," she told him. "I said I wouldn't tell unless he didn't quit. I made sure he went to St. Joe's last night." The cop's face ticked. "You might want to ask him why."
He pulled her out of the way of traffic. "Give," he ordered. She sighed, leaning closer to tell him everything. He nodded and walked away.
"I wasn't going to. He was being careful until last night," she called after him. "I figure he knows what he's doing."
The father looked back at her. "He probably does, that doesn't mean I can't kick his ass over it."
"Remember the social workers," she called after him, heading back to her stacks. She found the other two browsing it. "His son didn't call him from the ER." She sat down, sipping more of her coffee, frowning because it was cold. "Eww."
"How do you get into Tangent?" Stanley asked. "You're not exactly their target audience."
"The owner is my ex," she admitted.
Vecchio looked at her. "You like girls?"
"I used to like girls, then I got majorly fucked over. Now I don't like anyone," she said with a small smile. "All humans are bad and should be eliminated. Fortunately, I'm not human. Just ask him."
Stanley shook his head. "She's not. I'm not sure what she is, but she's not human." He smiled as their Mountie came in. "Mornin'. Have a lot of paperwork?"
"We have a visitor coming next week," he said as he nodded at the woman present. "I am Constable Fraser. You are?"
She smiled and held out her hand. "The Bitch Queen of Death."
"Ah, Detective Demoranth from Vice. I've heard of you." He shook her hand, sitting down. "Why are you here? Some crossover in a case?"
"Old warrants," Vecchio told him. He patted the stacks. "We incorporated yours." She shrugged. He looked at their unofficial partner again. "We've got two weeks to serve all these warrants, do the paperwork, and then go insane. You up?"
"I'll do what I can to help," he agreed. "How many have been checked to see if they're already in the system?"
"We hadn't gotten that far yet," Kowalski noted. "We were sorting by issue of importance."
"Difficulty," she corrected. "Shoplifters are easier than rapists."
"Indeed," the Constable agreed. "If you'll give me the stack, I'll do the searches while you three figure out our first targets?" They nodded, handing them over. "Thank you kindly," he said, going to do that.
She leaned back, stretching her back. "I'd say we start after lunch. That'll give you two a chance to clean your desks if necessary since we're not going to be seeing them anytime soon." They gave her a look. "Yes, my desk is clean, gentlemen. I'm going to make sure of that in a moment. Then I'll meet you at Taco Hell for lunch?" They shrugged. "Good." She walked out with her small, held-back stack. Her desk really was clean. She had it nearly organized. People could even find things on it these days. She had made sure of it last night. She walked outside, squinting at the light, and got into her car, starting the old engine. "Oh, quit," she snapped, and it quit whirring at her. "Thank you." She drove back to her home precinct, checking on the lonely files on her desk. She signed two, tossed one at someone else because it was *their* case, not hers, then sat down to read the last one. "Interesting." She put it into her briefcase, then went to stick her head into the office. "We've got two file-boxes of warrants to serve. I'll have my phone."
"It's still broken," her captain noted, holding up a folder. "Yours. You know I don't deal with the strange stuff you do."
She looked in it, then grimaced and tossed it back. "If it's what they said it was, it's all legal. Toodles. I'll be back in a few weeks." She headed out with her briefcase and her stack of warrants, only stopping to get her spare clips and her spare weapons. One of her fellow officers looked her way in the dressing room so she made a show of stroking her stake to make sure it didn't have splinters. "Sometimes it's the only weapon," she told her with a small smirk. The woman left quickly, her shirt still unbuttoned. "Good." She also grabbed her box of tampons, just in case. She had PMS and she knew it. It would be coming soon. She headed out to her car, finding both detectives waiting against it. "Morning." She tossed her briefcase inside. "Does this mean I am driving?"
"Hell no," Kowalski said, taking her keys. "Drug warrants." She gave him an innocent look and he glared. "Now."
She sighed and handed them over. "Fine, take what little fun I have left in my life."
"Are you insane?" Vecchio asked.
She looked at him and grinned. "That's a matter of opinion, detective. Right now, I'm only cramping slightly, but ask me next week." She got into her car. "I'm headed for the one I still have. It's a whiny asshole I've arrested before. Have fun with your searching." She pulled up her spares before either of them could get the door open, heading off into the too- bright sunlight of an early Chicago morning.
She walked in with her first two, she had found one smoking and dealing while she had busted the first, and handed them over to the Lieutenant. Then she sat down, did her paperwork, and handed it over as well. "Brief, concise, it'll work in court, they're used to me by now." She gave him an interested look. "Next?" she asked nicely. He handed over the perps and drug her into his office, slamming the door behind him.
The other detectives winced and shook their heads. That poor thing, not even she deserved that.
The Lieutenant gave her a harsh look. "What part of 'we work with backup' didn't you understand?" he asked finally.
"The word backup," she admitted. "As I told you, I don't have that. I do very well in hostile situations with other detectives, but these are minor and petty individuals who are mostly already scared of me. At least the ones with the drug warrants. I can handle them on my own, Lieutenant. I don't need to stress out your nice little boys by getting them dirty. Er in Kowalski's case," she amended with a moment of thought. "You got me because I'm good and I'm fast. Not because I'm a nice girl who likes to play with the other kids. I've already got cases of my own waiting on me. So let me do my thing and I'll be out of your hair sooner than you expected. Then you can feed Vecchio a valium and get him calmed down again." She shrugged. "Who's next?"
"Your ass will sit down," he ordered smoothly as he smirked at her. "That's not how we do things here. I should tell you how we do things around here."
"Try and I'm taking a nap," she told him. "I'm good at that." She grinned brighter. "I can always go back to my body parts case. It's going to be a fascinating search to find the guy who's been stealing parts out of various mortuaries for their own personal use." He shuddered and winced. "Like I said, who's next? I'll gladly let them follow me when there's a harder one. These are little people. The one I brought in I've already busted twice, sir. He's scared of me. He didn't even try to run."
"I heard you pulled a gun on him," Vecchio said as he walked in, handing over his own paperwork for his and Stanley's first arrest. "Feel better?"
"No," she snorted. "I'll feel better when I bust the guy stealing heads from dead bodies for her own perverse pleasure."
"It's a woman?" the Lieutenant asked.
"The only good description we have of the perp is that it's either a really small, slender, lithe guy or a woman. Not even Kowalski's that fey." The men shuddered and she shrugged. "Who knows. I only figure them out a little bit, just enough to arrest them. Then I get to go home, drink my ass into a stupor, and forget about them until their trials. Can I go back to the drug warrants now?"
"No. You three are going to go together. Hand him all copies of your keys. The nice detective will be driving you home," the Lieutenant ordered. She gaped at him. "I mean it," he snapped. "And then you're going to go downstairs, get a vest, and wear it."
"They don't fit my tits, sir. It's a futile gesture." He gave her another harsh look. "Truth. You can call the supply guy. Even when I was thin they wouldn't fit my tits. They've never fit my tits and now they don't fit the rest of me either. Like jeans, they don't fit." She shrugged. "I'm fucking immortal, ask my Captain." She looked at Vecchio and handed over that set of keys. "Feel better?"
"Not yet." He walked her out, pointing at the empty seat at his desk. "Sit. We'll set a schedule to visit homes this afternoon." She nodded, sitting down to do that. "You sure you want to do the harder ones first?"
"Can you imagine chasing a rapist after two weeks of this?" she countered. He shook his head and pulled out the harder ones, laying them out for her. She looked at them, tapping a few. "Those are fake addresses. This one," she said, tapping another. "Unless he lives in the middle of an elementary school, he's lying too." He made a note on the form of those. "Not that one, the one underneath it," she said when he picked up the wrong one. She picked up one to look at. "I've seen him," she admitted, thinking back. "Where was he?" She grimaced. "Fuck, where was he?" She looked up at the ceiling, then around. "Oh, shit, I know." She handed it over. "He's got a pretty and shiny badge." Vecchio looked at her. "I doubt he's a cop, but he's got one, and a uniform. A proper uniform."
"Then we'll get him first," he agreed, setting that one aside, face down. "Benny cleared all these already. Pick the next one." She sorted through the pile, sorting by crimes. He looked at a few. "That one is a knife expert. This one's known to be armed and dangerous, we might need SWAT." He grimaced. "They hate me."
"Oh, honey, they love my ass, let me tell you. I had them doing that club riot last month." He winced and shuddered lightly. "Yeah, so they pretend I don't exist most of the time. The last time I had to go in with SWAT the old commander told me I didn't exist to him and he hoped I got shot for that riot." She heard a comment and glared at a nearby detective. "I'll have you know we were freeing the hostages, smart ass. Sixty little teenagers with parents who had no idea where their kids were or why they were in mortal peril. They hate me because the bad shit happens around me. I don't care if you don't like me and I appreciate all honesty in that arena. My usual response to that remark is 'go find someone else to play mental patty-cakes with'." He turned away and she looked at him again. "Yes, I have PMS," she said at his grimace. "The Vice Captain is really thankful *you* get to deal with me like this." She heard Stanley rush for the door. "I won't pick on you this month," she called after him. She looked at Vecchio again. "So, lunch? Or in my case, breakfast?"
"Yeah, we can do that," he agreed, grabbing their afternoon stack and following her downstairs. He would let the Mountie pull the sobbing detective out of the closet and soothe his panic attack. "You're really abrasive," he told her. She snorted. "Are you always like this or is it just because we're men?"
"Dear, I like men. I appreciate them greatly. They do things like tune up my engine. I don't appreciate being pulled away from my own casework because someone on high is high and can't figure out how to send people with street rookies in to do this. Nor do I appreciate having to do this, my caseload, and watch my rookies. I'm not Superman and no matter what my Captain thinks I'm not the Goddess. I strive to be better, but this stress is going to kill my ass soon." She stopped to look at him. "I think you're a decent enough cop, you found me this morning and that usually takes talent unless you know me. I think Stanley's a really nice guy...who needs someone to cry on now and then over his ex. I think the Mountie's a really nice guy, if a little uptight now and then from what I hear. I'm still not Superman. I'm already doing the work of three detectives and now this. What did you want me to do? Come in wearing a frilly fucking dress, holding flowers, and singing happy songs about peace and love? I'm a fucking Vice detective, Vecchio. I deal with the bad, the worst, and the strange. It's a nice night when I get hookers and serial killers. This person stealing heads is my third one this year and it's only April." He winced. "They *all* get passed to me. Except from you guys, which I really appreciate. But I'm still tired. I'm not usually up by now. I saw dawn rise this morning, that's how I like to see the sun, coming up as I lay in my bed and pet my cats." She started to walk away again. "This morning crap will get irritating very quickly."
"Too late," someone called after her.
"I still have a gun," she called back. The person disappeared. "Thank you." She looked at him as he caught up to her. "There's a reason I got my nicknames. I earned them. Seventeen years doing this shit and I earned every last dirty name they call me now." He nodded, understanding that. "Hey, I even promise I won't wear my club clothes into the shop, how about that? That a good enough peace offering for you?" she teased.
He nodded. "Thank you. I can't imagine you in some of what they wear."
"Leather," she told him. "Universally accepted." He swallowed. "Don't get sick, I can't do five people's jobs," she whined. "They keep promising Vice will get more funds and then they cut another position. If this keeps up, I'm going to go freak out the guys in Homicide again. They love me even more." She walked outside, shading her eyes. "That damn light again. Where is the switch!" she muttered, looking around. "My car?"
"Safely parked behind the precinct," he promised. "I drive in our group." She gave him a look. "I can even park," he taunted.
"Good for you. Have fun doing it?" The other two joined them. "Let's go eat. I'm hungry. We've set our afternoon up already, and then I've got to go watch a morgue tonight." She followed Vecchio to his car, slapping her beeper when it went off. "What now?" she complained, looking at it. She sighed and headed for the nearest payphone, dialing the number. "What!" she demanded. "No, I don't have court today. I have court Saturday. Yay, then get me off the warrant thing for the afternoon and I'll come, but I'm busy right now." She listened to the ranting. "Like I said, get on the phone to the Chief. Have him relieve me with Perkins this afternoon. She could use some positive handholding and the detectives they stuck me with are going to be able to do that. Yes, her," she said patiently. "Well, either that or I'm not going to be available for the next two weeks. You guys promised me Saturday, not Wednesday." She snorted at the flimsy excuse. "That's your fault, not mine. Really, and are you going to go stop the person stealing body parts tonight?" She winced as the threat came down. "Fine, but I'm not changing. Deal with it." She hung up and trudged back to the car. "Bad news. I've got court in an hour, their other witnesses were laughed out of court. Let me get my rookie in here. She's nicer than I am anyway." She dug in her purse, coming up with a little plunger device, which she set off. Her beeper went off nearly immediately once the other's did, giving her a phone number. Vecchio sighed and handed over his phone. "Thanks. I ran over mine," she said with a small grin. She dialed the number, frowning at the surly response. "I'm getting called in on the saltpeter case. You get to come help at the 27th. Yes, because I said so," she said firmly. "Yay. Welcome to Vice, Perkins. Get down here by one. You're going with Vecchio. I'm letting him do your evaluation." She hung up and handed it back. "Don't," she said, shaking her head. "She's a little bit too eager, but she gets the job done. Food?" she asked plaintively. "Before I eat a judge?"
Kowalski snorted. "I doubt you'd get close enough." She hit him and he winced, backing away from her. "Bitch."
"Often," she reminded him, following Vecchio again. "Is it my treat since I'm the new person?"
"Sure," Vecchio agreed. "We still going to Taco Bell?"
"Yeah, I can eat there," she said glumly. "The doc said that if he caught me eating at Wendy's again he was going to find my balls and castrate me." She got into the back with the wolf, letting it sniff her. "Yes, I have cats," she told him. "Do not try to scent-mark me." The mountie coughed and shook his head so she grinned at him. "Seriously. I had a lab do it last month." She buckled up, it was always polite and she hadn't ridden with him before. Who knows how bad he was at it.
Catherine looked up as someone whistled behind her, shaking her head. "Helping me?" she asked, shifting over so Kowalski could have part of the bench.
"Yeah. I thought it'd make you nicer," he said dryly, sitting beside her. "Where else are you heading tonight?"
"After this, I've got my usual meetings at Club Torment. They've found a few more kids who wanted to enter the life too soon and are handing them over," she said bitterly. "I used to wonder if LA was like this, and then I met some of their vice people at a convention. Did you know that they had trios out there?" He shook his head. "They do. They work in trios. Even on ho-stroll." He grunted. "It's gotta be nice."
"Someone suggested that your people have the money, you're keeping people out of the field," he offered.
"Perkins thinks that because the field is hard on a woman. I warned her that when she came in, long before her first ho-stroll. She's trying to claim discrimination because we don't make the guys go out." She shrugged. "She'll learn or she'll leave. She'd make a kick-ass robbery detective and I've cross-trained her as much as possible. I've even introduced her to Mark, and he's invited her to their side as his rookie detective."
"Good. Vecchio said the same thing to her face earlier." She snorted and shook her head. "You actually made the Mountie feel sorry for you."
"Sorry." She stood up, wincing when her back popped. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that a person with a head-shaped bag?" He nodded, getting up to follow her. She jogged after the demented person, unable to catch her, but Stanley did. She caught up to them. "Thanks. Too many months of deprivation." She handed over her cuffs. "I'll even do the paperwork," she said with a faint smile. They drug her back to the patrol car when it came, letting her have the special spot in the back seat while they cataloged her bag, with the head, and her car. Six of the other missing body parts were in a freezer in the trunk. She turned away and got sick, letting him pat her on the back. "Ow," she wheezed, standing up and wiping her mouth off. "That's sick."
"It is," he agreed gently, knowing she needed a partner's touch. "Come on. I'll treat you to a Sprite before you do the paperwork and change clothes." He looked at the patrol officers, who were also getting sick. "Get the crime scene guys down here. Take her to Vice. Tell whoever's there that Catherine's coming in." One of them nodded, going to make the call before he got sick again. His partner could watch the body parts. "You and the thing really broke up and you didn't take her back?" he asked as he led her away. She nodded. "Why?"
"Bitch cheated on me again," she noted, shrugging. "It happens." She gathered up her stuff, putting back into her backpack. "I brought my bike since Vecchio has my keys."
"I'll follow. I'll probably have something to fill out," he said dryly. "Then you can go see the little pain lovers." She nodded, heading to her bike. Stanley shook his head. "Seventeen years like this," he muttered. "I'd have someone kick me in the head." He went to his own car, watching as the necessary people appeared. He waved at one he knew. "She's going back to Vice," he called. "Bring the perp there." That one nodded, telling the patrol officer that he could go with the suspect now.
Vecchio looked up, holding out a cup of coffee to the zombie walking in the door of the squadroom. "You living?" he asked once she had taken her first sip. She shook her head. "We can do this at ten if you want two more hours."
"Damn, you are a saint," she muttered, putting the cup aside and putting her head down on the clear spot on his desk. "Thanks." She was snoring within minutes.
Constable Fraser came in a few minutes later. "Ray, whose motorcycle is that outside?" he asked.
"I don't know. It wasn't there when I got in. Why?"
"It's parked in the SWAT commander's spot but he was only staring at it. I thought perhaps we had a higher official in today."
"What's the plate?" he asked.
"DVLPRNCS. Vanity plates," he said.
"Devil Princess?" Vecchio said, looking at his unwilling helper. "Hey." She grunted. "He'll wreck your bike."
"Only if he wants to pull out the dents with his tongue piercing," she mumbled. She turned her head in the other direction then stared to snore again.
"Oh, dear," the constable said, looking at her. "Is she having trouble adjusting to a day shift?"
"No, she was up late last night. I got a call from Stanley saying they had caught the person who had that body part thing going. That was at midnight. I have no idea when she finally got done with the paperwork." Kowalski came in, giving their helper a dirty look. "When did you get to bed?"
"Just before I called you. She had two more stops to make," he admitted. Vecchio's mouth opened. "They're short too. She's still doing that job and this one." The Lieutenant came out with his coffeecup. "Sir, we'll be going out again this afternoon."
"Do you think you have that much time?" he asked dryly.
"Yes, sir, because she didn't stop her other job until probably four," he said, pointing at the unconscious woman.
"Give her another two hours," Vecchio agreed. "Then we'll head out. She can eat in the Riv." His boss looked at him. "She can. The wolf'll clean up anything she drops." He went back to sorting out the warrants. "Okay, I've got six lined up for today. Hopefully we'll get them and be back in time to quit for the day while it's still light." They had gotten off last night after normal people were done with dinner. He looked at her, frowning. "Did she get to eat?"
"Probably," the Constable noted, taking his usual seat. "She would have to since you said she has blood sugar problems." The Lieutenant came over and gave her a nudge, making Benny get out of the way as she stood up and pulled her gun in one smooth movement. "I'm sure he won't hurt you," he soothed, taking it from her. "Lay back down," he suggested gently, helping her back into her seat. "You finish your nap and we'll go." She nodded, putting her head back down.
The Lieutenant gave Vecchio a look. "Put her in the break room. It looks bad."
"She busted a Vice case last night at midnight," Kowalski defended.
"That's their problem, not ours," the Lieutenant said firmly. "Wake her up or put her in the break room."
"M'up," she mumbled, sitting up and rubbing her eyes. "Who now?" she asked, yawning. She picked up the coffee cup again, taking a long drink of the tepid liquid. "How many more in our boxes?"
"Sixty-eight," Vecchio told her. "You living now?" She shook her head, giving him a dirty look. "Want food?"
"Fuck food. I'd get sick," she mumbled, taking another drink. She stood up, repossessing her gun, glaring at the Lieutenant. "Since this is *overtime* for me, be nicer." She walked off, heading for the bathroom. She wasn't scared of him, they had graduated the academy together. She sighed when she noticed she was bleeding, pulling out the first tampon to stop it. "Fuck me, another wonderful week of hell."
Ray Vecchio had a craving and it was driving him insane. There was no ice cream in the house thanks to his nephews and niece. He grabbed his keys and his gun, kissing his mother on the cheek. "I'm going for ice cream," he told her. She gave him a smile and a pat on the hand before he left, her usual. He walked down the sidewalk to his car, got in, and headed for the nearest grocery store. It was late, but it should be open. On the way there, he saw a familiar brunette roar past him on a motorcycle and decided to follow her for a while. He wanted to watch her in action. He didn't understand her at all. He saw her stop in front of small club, wincing when he glanced at the time on his dashboard. "It's ten and she's just *now* hitting this place?" he muttered, parking to watch her. She was joking with some gang kid wearing the wrong red bandana to be a Blood. This one had stripes on it from what he could see. He didn't know that one at all. He got comfortable, watching as she played and laughed. She was a dynamic woman. He shook his head. She was still a bitch, but apparently her true nature only came out at night. He caught sight of the man with the gun who went inside before she did and winced as she pulled her own and followed him. He got out with a sigh when he heard the gunshots, going to help. He flashed his badge to the door guard. "Catherine?" he asked. He got her pointed at. "Can we clear the others?"
"Sure. She said not to. It'd make him notice."
"Did you not hear the gunshot?" he asked. The bouncer nodded, working on clearing the club for them. He followed her trail of confused people, heading into the back area. He found her struggling with the guy and raised his gun. "Freeze," he ordered. The man quit and looked at him like he was insane. "Catherine."
"Morning, Ray," she sighed. "Thank you, Ray." She slugged the guy, knocking him down. "By any chance, do you have cuffs on you?"
"I was heading out for ice cream," he told her. "You?"
"It's actually my night off," she admitted dryly. She looked at the man, then took his gun and hauled him up. "Come on. We can put you in the trunk of his nice, big, roomy car. I'll follow him." She led him out, noticing the club was nearly empty. "He wasn't going to hurt them. His partner's been stiffing him his due from the coke sales." She shook the guy. "Isn't that right?" He nodded, whimpering slightly. She looked back at him. "You followed me?"
"Yeah, I wanted to see what you were like when you weren't a raving bitch." He caught the guy before he could move. "Keep it up. I'll get the Mountie to tie you to something and dangle you off a bridge." The guy nodded, heading for the Riv. "My trunk?"
"You want him to ride pillion on my bike?" she asked.
"No. The trunk is good," he agreed. He opened it, making sure all the possible weapons were out of the way. Then she shoved the guy inside and he closed the lid. "Which precinct? This is basically no-man's land."
"I know, that's why I come here. Um, the sixteenth usually answers all calls. Even though I hate them." He nodded, getting in to drive and she followed him. "Maybe I'll still get some time off tonight," she mused as she went back to her bike. "Later, Sergio," she called with a wave.
"Mario," he called.
She grinned at him. "There are too many days when I can't remember my own name. Be thankful I called you by a guy's name." He laughed and waved her off. "Maybe I'll be back later. Maybe I'll be filling out forms again. Who knows." She got on and kicked her bike on, following the Riv to the sixteenth precinct. Sure enough, they handed them forms and let them do the work. She looked at Ray. "I know a good all-night Chinese place," she offered. "We can go dutch."
"Sure. Or I was going for ice cream." She groaned. "I know a place that's got sugar free."
"Is it real or the fluff?"
"Most sugar free ice creams aren't real ice cream, they're whipped, like fluff. It's sickening what they make us eat, and then they make us feel guilty about it." She yawned. "Or you could come back to my place, meet my cats, get some real ice cream. I've got Ben and Jerry's." He laughed, nodding. "Cool. Then I can get out of this bra." She struggled against it, trying to get it to quit hurting. "I've got to do some laundry," she muttered as she went back to her form. Halfway through, she got up and went to the bathroom, coming back to find it all-but done. "Thanks," she said with a small smile.
"Hey, I like Ben and Jerry's. Besides, it was nearly done." He watched as she signed it then they left, him following her this time. Her apartment building was in the older part of the city, the old meat packing district. It was a rundown converted house and didn't look like the optimum place to live. "Why do you live here?" he asked as he got out.
"I have cats," she told him. "I can't find a good place closer." She found a note on her door and crumpled it up. "Sometime on payday, remind me to pay my landlord?" she requested, walking inside. "Mommy's home," she called. "There's a people behind me. Don't worry, he won't hurt you," she said when most of her cats went running. She waved him on. "Come on. I don't usually bite. I've only been accused of being a vampire when I dyed my hair black." He laughed, following her back to the kitchen. "We don't eat at the table," she warned. "The cats like to watch the birds on it. It's easier than trying to fight that one." He nodded, letting her dish out the ice cream for him and taking it into the living room. It was all older furniture, looking like a college apartment really. He sat down on the couch, wincing as it squeaked. "Yeah, sorry, but with the cats, it's easier to find used stuff. Cheaper to replace too." She sat down across from him with her own bowl of ice cream and a begging cat. "Hush," she warned. It gave her a hurt look. "And don't beg Ray either. He gets enough of that." She ate a bite. "You followed me?"
"I wanted to see what you were like in the dark. I figured it was different since you're always complaining about the sunlight," he quipped, making her smile. "See, you never do that during the daytime."
"I'm never awake enough to smile during the daytime. I've always been a night person." Someone knocked on the door and she sighed. "Stay here. It's my landlord." She went to answer it. "You know when I get paid," she said in greeting. "I don't get paid until next week."
"You still owe me for last month."
"You're the one who raised the rent without warning," she told him. "Trust me, that is illegal." He scowled at her. "I'll pay you on payday. Unless you want me to bounce a check?" He stomped off. She checked for cats then slammed the door. "Asshole." She went back to her ice cream, finding no kitty noses in it. "Thanks for defending that for me. They're odd, the male, the begging one, he likes earwax and yogurt." She got comfortable again. "He raised the rent and expects me to be paid every week," she explained. "I've been trying to move now for a few months."
He nodded. "I can see that. What about a house?"
"Utilities. I'm here so I don't have to remember them too," she admitted. "It sucks but I have a horrible memory and a lounging pajama habit to upkeep. Not to mention my book and tape collections." He looked around, smiling at the masses of books. She pointed at a small set of eyes. "That should be Chocolate. She's not very friendly. Her sister Oz might come out sooner than she will." He nodded, eating another bite. "So, what part of the city do you live in?"
"I live at home with my mother. She wanted us all there and refuses to let me move out. Says she feels safer with me there." He grinned. "It's nice. She cooks."
"I do that when I have someone to cook for. I hate cooking for myself."
"I wanted to ask, should I worry about the blood sugar thing?"
"Hopefully not. It's been good recently. Whether or not I crash in the morning may be open to interpretation. Depending on whether I get breakfast or not." The begging cat came back, pleading loudly for a taste. She dropped a few drops onto the floor, making him shut up. "That's all you're getting. Mommy does not share ice cream, you know that." She looked at him again. "Sorry, training cats is hard."
"I totally understand. I've watched Benny try to train Dief too many times and fail," he said with a small grin. "I heard Stanley chased your perp for you the other night." She grimaced. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"Yeah, well, I should lose the weight but it's not coming off. My body's so fucked up it won't lose weight without me starving." She ate another bite of ice cream. "This is the first calorie containing food I've had today."
"What did you eat earlier?" he asked, frowning at her. "You should know better than that." He considered it. "Lunch?"
"I started to," she admitted. "It's in the fridge. I'll have it later while I check my email." She ate another bite, coming to the bottom of the bowl, but there was still some left on the sides. "Think Superman could have been a Mountie?" she asked. He laughed, shaking his head. "What? He and Benny have a lot in common. Or maybe all Mounties are Kryptonian." She grinned at him. "It'd make sense with how he never gets dirty." Someone rang the doorbell. "Coming!" she called. She headed that way, looking at the cop on the other side. "Oh, tell me he didn't," she said dryly.
"Didn't what?" he asked, smirking at her. "The landlord? Nah. I'm here just for you." He reached in and tried to grab her but she slapped him. "Come on. I like you."
Vecchio came out of the living room. "Leave the mean detective alone," he said firmly.
"Who're you?" he sneered.
"Detective Vecchio, meet my stalker Ken. Patrol Officer Ken Smithers, meet Detective Vecchio, my temporary partner. Now leave, Ken. I told you I'm not falling for a man." She shoved him out of her door and checked for cats, rescuing the one that had snuck outside. "Naughty Oz," she said as she slammed the door. "No going outside without the Mommy holding you. You know that." She set her down, watching as she ran around the detective. "Sorry you had to see that. He doesn't get the point that I don't like his sort of man."
"Equipped?" he asked.
"Stupid." She went back to her ice cream, grabbing the bowl to add some more to it. "That makes number three and his own Sergeant won't stop him. He says it's off-duty so it's not sexual harassment. Even though I told him I was going to shoot him the next time he did it." She came out of the kitchen, handing over the rest of the pint. "Here, have, before I eat it." She sat down again, getting comfortable. "It's little pricks like that who make me wonder why I didn't become a Fed." She ate a large bite, staring at the wall behind him. "Don't say anything to Stanley about that, okay? He gets really huffy when women are bothered by guys."
"No, not a word," he agreed quickly. Apparently behind the bitch was a real woman. It was interesting. "Which is he out of?"
"The sixteenth. That's why I was hoping for a lack of paperwork." She gave him a wry look. "His Sergeant was the one who gave me the pen. Then again, he's a recovering spouse abuser himself so I can't really expect him to do much about the lech."
Ray nodded. "Still, it'd be nice to have him talk to the kid about leaving you alone," he agreed. "It's not right. You're a detective, you should be treated like I would be."
"Yes, but I'm not the fit little kid I once was," she sighed. "Half the time I have to fight to get a real case because my own Captain thinks I've gone soft. And no, it's not about my weight," she defended quickly when he opened his mouth. "I've been overweight now for six years. This started happening last year when I broke down at a particularly nasty scene. One of the SWAT guys spread it around that I was upset about the kids who had been horribly hurt." She ate another large bite. "Somehow that means I'm suddenly soft and am looking to retire to the life of being someone's wife or mistress."
"No, if you were soft, you wouldn't have come in and sworn at Welsh that first day," he agreed.
"Him? We go way back. I tortured him at the academy. He didn't know how to swear before then. Thought 'damn' was a bad word."
Ray's mouth opened then he laughed. "Oh, that's a bad image." He shook his head. "I've seen pictures of him. He was a scrawny little guy."
"Yeah, he was," she agreed. "Time hit another of us too hard and our bodies softened no matter what we did about it." She scraped the bottom of the bowl and put it down, making it fair game for the cats to lick clean. "I wash everything," she said at his look. "Nice hot, running water and antibacterial dishwashing liquid."
"Restaurant style," she admitted. "I save the good, properly washed plates for company. You got one of those," she promised with a small grin. He laughed, nodding and eating more of his ice cream. She fidgeted a little. "So," she said finally. "Are you and Benny together or something?"
He snorted, shaking his head. "I'm straight, he's straight and clueless. Even Stanley's straight."
"Stanley's a little odd," she told him. "But I knew that." He looked interested. "One of his assignments before he got switched to be you. He had to put up with my job for six months while I healed and watched over his shoulder. He wasn't that far from being a rookie detective himself then. Stella tried to start shit about me and him collapsing on the same couch a few times but then I pointedly reminded her that she was more my type than her husband. She doesn't seem to come near me whenever we meet in the halls," she said dryly.
He grinned. "I like you, that should be more than enough around the 27th. I've got the reputation for being the hardass around there. Everyone was surprised that Benny and I get along."
"He's a really nice guy, if a little stiff," she noted. "Does he starch his underwear?" He burst out in laughs, nodding. "I thought so. Maybe we should make him stop that, it might make him loosen up again. I know there's a fun guy underneath the uniform."
"He's a nice guy," he promised. "Fairly rule-bound, but a nice guy."
"Nice guys don't make it in my department, Ray. They die or they get burnt out. Or they get turned," she admitted. "Nice guys are something I'm not really used to." She fidgeted again. "I mean, you're a nice guy, but you've got that edge that means you'd survive around me. Stanley's had it, even though he's a bit weaker emotionally then when I worked with him before. He could still handle it if a club scene went bad. Or even a ho- stroll. I can't imagine Benny being near me and not getting hurt. Badly hurt."
"Benny's a lot better than most people give him credit for," he told her seriously. "He can handle some stuff. He's not real streetwise but he's very people smart." He noticed one of the cats was giving him an intense stare. "Hey, you're polite, I like that in a cat," he said, nodding at her.
"She is, that's why she gets the better treats," she promised, moving her bowl toward that one. "Here, lick, be merry." The cat continued to stare at him. "Drop a few drops right in front of her, I'll keep the male from stealing it," she told him. He did so and she stopped the male cat so that one could have some ice cream too. "Better, sweetheart?" The cat ran off, letting the male chase her. She sighed, rolling her eyes. "He's a little bully," she explained.
"It happens to males sometimes," he agreed, finishing up his ice cream. He glanced at the clock and winced. "I'd better get home. Ma hates it when I'm out too late. She either worries that I'm gonna be hurt or makes up some imaginary woman she wants to meet."
"I am not the sort to bring home to mother," she said with a bright grin. "I seem to scare them."
"Ma would probably love you, if only because you stood up to me. My sister Maria never stands up to her husband and Benny's very polite with her. Even Stanley is."
"Yeah, about him," she said quietly. "Ray, he's changed a lot since I knew him. He used to be the person to exchange insults with. He's the one who named me the Bitch Queen of Death." He winced. "I don't know what the bitch did to him, but he's emotional. Be kinda gentle on him, he's a nice guy most of the time."
"I try," he agreed, giving her a faint smile. "He's annoying, but nice." He stood up. "Tomorrow, bright and early?"
She looked at the clock. "It's only midnight, I can do that," she agreed, grinning at him. "Let me walk you out and let you have my spare lint roller."
"It's fine. Dief's left so much fur on me I've got one in the car for my suits." He gave her a gentle, tentative hug. "Try to drink coffee before you come in," he said, making her laugh. He left, listening to her lock the locks as he walked down the few stairs. The landlord was glaring at him so he exposed his badge, making the guy go back inside his house. He saw the patrol officer and decided to check up on him. People like that wearing uniforms often hurt others, which made it his case usually. It'd be saving himself paperwork in the long run he justified. He got in his car, heading back across the city to his mother's.
Ray kept looking at the clock as he worked on some of the day before's paperwork, wondering where everyone was. It was nearly ten and Catherine wasn't in. Stanley was sitting at his desk staring at the doorway. Benny hadn't come in yet, but he had called to say he had some paperwork of his own to do this morning. They were going to pick him up for lunch and monopolize his time then. Finally she walked in and it was another unhappy morning for her apparently. He gave her a look, noticing the scowl. "What happened?" he asked, going back to his forms. "Landlord come back?"
"No, Ken did," she said, putting down her purse. His head popped up and he stared at her. "Yeah, him. He tried to break into my house last night. I just got done with IAD. They adore me down there, let me tell you." She flopped down across from him.
"You're moving when?" he asked.
"As soon as I can find a new place," she told him simply. She looked over her shoulder. "This makes three," she told Stanley. "You win the bet. How much was it?"
"Fifty per year," he said, looking at her. "Ken who?"
"One of the patrol guys from the sixteenth," Ray told him. "I saw him last night." He looked at her. "You and the cats all right?"
"They're fine. They're boarding at the vets today." She stood up with a groan. "But I am going to have to take a personal day. I need to find a new apartment soon. That board over the window won't hold for long." He nodded, waving her off. "You sure?" He nodded. "Thanks, Vecchio." She walked into the office to tell the Lieutenant.
Detective Huey looked at Vecchio. "She's got a stalker?"
"Yeah, and his Sergeant won't make him stop," he told him. It was going to become public knowledge now.
"How would you know?" Stanley asked.
"I ran into her last night on my way for ice cream and helped her bust someone, then she graciously fed me ice cream," Ray told him. "The cats seemed to like me a lot, they stayed on the other side of the room and begged."
Stanley grinned. "They'll do that for a few weeks." He went back to his paperwork. "I'll treat to pizza this payday."
"Sure." Vecchio looked over as she came out, noticing the new stress lines. He raised an eyebrow and she shook her head. "Hey, Catherine, what are you looking for?" he asked. "Let me check around my Ma's place."
"Something nice, hopefully with most utilities included, that accepts my fuzzy sanity creatures. Hopefully I'll find something soon." She shook her head and walked over, grabbing her purse. "It's going to be one of those days," she told him quietly. "IAD just called. They've decided it's my fault the guys can't take no for an answer."
Ray shook his head and groaned. "That's dumb. They let him go?"
"No, because I filed criminal breaking and entering charges against him," she said. "This isn't the first time."
Detective Huey looked at her. "Why do you get stalkers?"
"Because for some reason patrol officers don't get that liking women works for some women," she said smartly. "This time this one got violent and I nearly had to kill him before he killed either myself or one of my cats. Anything else you need to know about my private life, Detective?" He shook his head and turned around again. She looked at Vecchio. "So I'm going apartment looking. If I find someplace, do you know anyone with a truck?"
"One or two," he admitted. "If you find something, I'll see what I can do about getting you a truck cheap." She beamed and walked off, heading for the bathroom and then down to her car. She apparently had another set of spares laying around. He called his mother, frowning. "Hey, Ma. That place Maria was looking at. Do they take cats? No, one of the detectives we're working with had her house broken into." He listened, making a short list. "Thanks, yeah. Sure." He hung up and put the list into his pocket, sure she'd still need it later. Finding a place that accepted animals in this city was hard. You had to be sweet, innocent, and pure, like Benny, or live in the slums. Then he got to watch as Kowalski stood up and came over to have a *word* with Huey about leaving her alone. He watched him, Stanley was much stronger than when they had first met. His Lieutenant came out of his office and motioned toward him so he went in there. "Yes, sir?" he asked, closing the door.
"She's suspended," he said quietly. "They want your opinion on what happened."
"I wasn't there for the break-in, only when she had to shove him out the door because he got pushy." He looked down at his sitting boss. "Let me guess, they want her off the force?"
"No, she's a woman and they're biased down there," he said firmly. "Go give them what you know before they come up here and bother the rest of us." Ray nodded. "She's really working Vice cases still?"
"She said they're understaffed," he said with a shrug. "That and her people think she's going soft. I doubt they're going to stick up for her." He left, going to the hated office to verbally bitchslap them. They needed it. They had all the other times he had run into Internal Affairs.
Ray looked over as Catherine sat across from him with a sigh. "Find anything?"
"I found a place but it's smaller, costs more, and it's out in the middle of conservative people," she said glumly.
"Sign a lease?" She shook her head so he pulled out the list. "From my mother." Her face lit up and she leaned over to give him a hug. "Those are maybes, not definites," he warned. She nodded, going to call and make appointments. He noticed a few of the other detectives in the restaurant staring his way and glared back at them, making them mind their own business. When she came back, she was still smiling. "Good news?"
"One of them has an open apartment, it's two bedrooms, about what I pay now plus electric, which means I'll be poor, but that's fine." She sat down across from him, noticing the frosty glares their way. "Let me guess, the complaint is known about?" she asked dryly. He nodded. "Wonderful. Maybe if the brass got off their butts, things like this wouldn't happen." She saw one detective glaring her way and gave her gun a pointed pat. He turned back around. "It'll settle in a few months. I'm sorry if they get you too," she told him.
He snorted, his mouth was full and he wouldn't talk while chewing. His mother would know and come beat him with an oven mitt again. Once his mouth was clear, he gave her a look. "All *good*cops go through that," he told her. "Are you off suspension?" She nodded. "You sure?"
"Very. My Captain went down there and reminded them that I'm the person clearing in Vice right now. Nobody down there likes me, but I get the job done in a legal and professional manner more often than not. They couldn't get me on my performance reviews either. Besides, the guy was requesting a shrink evaluation and he's already lost."
"You know her?"
"I know 'em both, both from shooting reviews. One will note he's obsessed and one will try to put him on drugs. Both of 'em will hopefully agree he's not safe in the general public. This makes my fifth move to get away from these sort, Ray. They know this. Since the other two are still considered dangerous enough to have restraining orders against them I'm not real worried."
"Not even if he's let go?" he asked.
"Then I'm moving and I'll be more careful about who knows where I live," she admitted. She slumped a little. "Maybe I'll retire to somewhere warm, another department that doesn't have a Vice squad."
He gave her a smile. "I know a few like that. You'd be a bad shock to their systems."
She beamed. "That's the nicest compliment I've ever gotten. It's almost as good as the one when Stanley asked me if I had read Manson's 'How to Win Friends to Kill and Influence Cultists' to get my attitude problem." He laughed, shaking his head. "He did." She grinned at him. Then over his shoulder as someone else came up to their table. She kicked him under it, making him look up. "Hi."
"Hi." She looked at Ray. "Ma said you have to bring her home tonight," she said grimly. She looked at the detective. "Try not to traumatize our mother," she sneered, heading off to the bar.
"Politely refuse for me, okay?" Catherine suggested. "I'm definitely not the sort your mother wants to meet."
"If she sent Frannie, she'll be sending Benny with handcuffs," he said wisely. "Don't worry about dressing too good, she won't care as long as you're not dirty and not in leathers."
She groaned, sliding down some more. "Why me?"
"You've got about as much chance of escaping this as Welsh does of having his whole sandwich when the wolf's around," he said smugly.
"I've noticed he likes deli meat and donuts. Does that not bother his stomach?"
"I'm not sure he's got a real stomach," Ray said dryly. "More like a hollow spot with stomach acid." She smiled at that. "I'll pick you up later?"
"Sure," she agreed. "You can go through my laundry and find me something to wear. I don't have too much that's not court clothes and work clothes."
"Wear something light and pants," he suggested. "We don't dress up. Usually I've come in from work and take off my jacket."
"I don't like to disappoint mothers," she said, starting to brood about it. "Mothers are nice people usually and they never seem to like me, even when I'm being nice and my toned- down self. Even back in the days before I had my attitude, when I had to meet one for real."
"You were engaged?" She looked at him and nodded. "Sorry, but you don't seem like the sort to want that."
"Eh. I thought I did, and then I realized I didn't really like him that much and that I liked most women better than I did him. He dumped me over the job, that helped a lot too," she admitted bitterly. "His mother really hated me because I wasn't going to quit being a patrol cop to be his wife and bear her grandchildren. He's a lawyer now, working on becoming a judge. His wife is horribly repressed from the look in her eyes. Apparently she hasn't had an opinion since their wedding, if that late in their relationship."
"You almost married DA Webster?" he asked.
"No, I almost married the newly appointed, but not sworn in, Judge Cicone. Then he realized I had a mind," she said dryly, making him laugh. "I can't wait until he's arrested for wife abuse."
That stopped him cold. "Can you prove it?"
"That depends, has anyone found a record of the car accident she had before that dinner party?" she retorted. "That sort of black eye is not from hitting a post box. That sort of black eye is from hitting a fist or something roughly that same shape. I've had both and black eyes from wrecks tend to spread onto your cheeks and nose. Not just around your right eye." She leaned closer. "And yes, I know that it's not exactly politically correct to say so, but with the way things are looking right now, my career's already shot." He gave her a concerned look. "Didn't I tell you? Judge Webster decided that I was brash and overly hasty in my evidence collection, even though I had a warrant and permission to search the guy's car."
"That's how IAD suspended you," he finished dryly. She nodded, leaning back again. "And?" He ate another bite of his lunch. He didn't have all afternoon off to talk.
"And, the review board met in a special session so they could report back to him. Not only was my evidence flawless, it was beyond what is normally called for in procedure. It's one of the few times I've gotten it textbook perfect. The defendant is a friend's son you see," she said bitterly.
"It does suck that the system can be more about money and influence than about Justice," he agreed carefully, "but you can't change that. It does correct itself and if it doesn't for that person you've got to believe they're not going to be rewarded for that stuff."
"That only works if you believe in the afterlife," she pointed out. "I'm borderline pagan without a tradition to follow. Personally, I believe in karma, but I'm not seeing it work fast enough. If that guy gets out, he'll do it to a few more women before he's stopped and none of the present evidence can be admitted unless they can prove he's a serial rapist. Since they're working girls, no one's taking much notice of how nearly he killed a few of them." Ray dropped his fork. "Sorry."
"No, that's okay. I didn't realize that was the same case. You're right, it sucks," he agreed, looking at her. "So tell the girls not to go near him."
"His people hire them for him," she said bitterly, frowning at a nearby detective who was watching them. "Yes?" she asked him.
"They're prostitutes, who cares?" he sneered. "They can find another job."
"Doing what?" she asked snidely. "With their past as a runaway, their lack of education and other marketable skills what job do you see them able to do?" He continued to give her a sneer. "Listen, little boy, you may not understand this, but those women are reviled and degraded every day so they have a roof over their heads and in a lot of cases food for their children. All women who work get the same damn thing, only some of us only get it figuratively. Until you actually need your paycheck to live on, I'd leave me the fuck alone." He turned away. "Sorry. I'll see you later," she told him. "Whenever you're ready, I'm going to be packing." She glared at the other detective. "Before certain people get any ideas." She got up and walked out.
Vecchio looked at him. "At least she still sees people as human beings," he taunted. "Unlike you, she can tell that everyone is a human. Except maybe you. Or is that your thing as well? Going and roughing up the working girls?" The detective left, taking his lunch to go. "Fucker." He ate another bite and decided to get a box himself. He had work he had to do. Stanley should be back by now as well. He should know about this, he was her friend, or so it seemed to him anyway.
Catherine shook Ma Vecchio's hand, giving her a polite smile. "Thank you for inviting me over tonight. The house is really lonely without my little fuzzy sanity monsters begging me for my dinner." The older woman laughed and took her into the kitchen with her. "Wow. You really do cook," she said in awe.
"Do you?" Ma asked as she tied back on her apron.
"Only when I have company. I hate cooking for myself. It's so pointless sometimes." The older woman nodded. "I'm good enough to follow recipes, but not great enough to improvise on them." The older woman gave her a smile. "Your son is a really nice guy, but I couldn't ever date him," she blurted out.
Ma laughed, shaking her head and giving her a pat on the arm. "I had no thought of that," she promised. "I like to meet Ray's partners, temporary or otherwise." The girl relaxed and she smiled at her. "Wash up, you can help." The young woman walked over to the sink, washing her hands carefully. Then she rolled up her sleeves and ran dishwater, impressing her greatly. "That can wait," she offered.
"Then you'll never get them all done before the late news," Catherine told her. "You obviously went to a lot of trouble tonight, Mrs. Vecchio."
"Bah. This is a normal Saturday dinner," she promised. "Ray usually does that. He's such a good boy."
"He is," Catherine agreed, paying attention to the glass she was cleaning. "He's even nice enough to stick up for me against the guys I've sworn at recently." The women shared a look. "He's a very sweet man," she said quietly.
"Do you like him?"
"As a friend. I doubt I could ever date another man again," she admitted, rinsing the glass off. She paused to look at her. "Men aren't always my favorite people in the world," she admitted. Mrs. Vecchio nodded wisely. "But Ray is really nice and sweet and I do like him as a friend. That's why I quit swearing at him." The older woman gave her another pat and went back to her stirring. "I really should thank you. One of the apartments you told Ray about is the one I ended up taking," she admitted. "I would have brought flowers but I know some people are allergic and I didn't want to cause any problems."
"It's nothing, dear. You needed a new place to live, somewhere safe where those creatures couldn't get you."
Catherine grinned at her. "Think I could classify them as vampires?"
Ma Vecchio laughed, shaking her head. "Possibly. There are legends about those that suck souls instead of blood." She suddenly found herself on the floor and her window broken. "What happened?"
Catherine put a hand over her mouth. "Shh. Stay there, let me look." She got up, looking outside.
"It's probably just some children," she said nervously. "They're always playing ball." She looked up to find that nice young woman in the doorway with her gun. "Raymondo!" she yelled. "I think we've got a problem."
"Oh, we've got a bad problem," Catherine agreed. "Take the children, head up the stairs," she instructed. The older woman nodded, going to do that while Ray came to the kitchen. "Ray, gun?" she asked impatiently.
"Why?" He looked outside and winced. "Shit." He went to get his pistol, coming back to head outside. "Let me handle this." He walked further into the yard. "Disappear, boys. Before my mother gets very mad because you ruined her dinner." Another one joined them. "I'm serious."
Catherine walked out, her gun already cocked. "If he isn't, I am, guys. I'm not the nicest of bitches on the block." They sneered at her so she aimed at one's crotch. "I mean it. Men are creatures that should be collared and house trained, with very few exceptions. I'm thinking you should be put into the cattle class."
One of them stepped out of the shadows. "This is not your fight, young lady. Why don't you go back to the kitchen, make sure everything doesn't burn?"
"Because some of us only cook things in packages," she said dryly. "Unlike you, who should be kneeling." She kicked at him but he dodged. "I mean it, I'm not the nicest Bitch Queen of Death around." He backed away further. "Oh, good, you've heard of me," she said with a large smile. "That's excellent. That means I only have to threaten you half as hard. Now leave. I doubt Mrs. Vecchio wanted you to shoot out her kitchen window." She swung to cover the guy walking up on them. "And you are?"
"He's fine," Ray assured her. "The others were just leaving." The man gave him a look, then looked toward the house.
Catherine glanced back then backed up some. "Inside," she ordered. "Go call Uncle Benny right now." The little girl nodded and went to do that. "Don't make me get SWAT here too," she told him. "They don't like being called away from their dinners and this is the first real food I've had all week." She saw the pointed look at her figure. "Sorry, I did coke in the eighties, my body's no longer that hyped so it won't lose weight anymore. If you're really a good boy, I'll let you look down my top while I kick your ass."
The man who had joined them coughed. "Please, young woman, back off. We will not hurt Ray."
"And I believe you why?" she asked. "I'm not the trusting sort. Sorry."
He nodded. "So I can see." He looked at Ray. "Yours?"
"Friends, temporary partners," he admitted. "Nothing more. She still thinks I'm nice," he said with a sneer.
"Actually, I called you sweet, not nice," she corrected dryly. She heard claws and glanced back, getting out of the wolf's way. He would attack someone, she hoped.
Constable Fraser joined them. "Good evening. Is there a problem here?" he asked. The shooter shook his head, giving him a disbelieving look. "Then I suggest you leave before you warp some innocent children who happen to be watching out the windows upstairs. I would hate to have to defend them."
"Ah, shut up, Benny," Stanley complained as he walked out, gun already drawn. "Leave or be capped, assholes. Only options." He pointed it at the latecomer. "You too. I know you, you're already on my shit list for hitting on Ray's Ma while I was around." The man backed off.
"She seems very nice, but she should have a *decent* man in her life," Catherine put in. "Unlike those who try to protect people who just shot at her."
"I was aiming for you, girlie," the shooter sneered. She glared at him and stepped closer again, letting Benny get the door. "Can you really handle that thing?"
She nodded. "I have for seventeen years. Not only can I, but I have in some pretty bad places and times. You?" He raised an eyebrow. "Since you knew my nickname on hearing it, then you should know what I'm capable of. It's not bragging if it's true, guys. The kids'll never see you fall. Last chance. You want me, you take me somewhere on the streets, not in front of an innocent's family."
"Fine," the latecomer agreed. "Expect to see us again later." He snapped his fingers and his friends left.
"Hey, who you workin' for?" Stanley called. "So she knows where to send the sympathy card and the black roses."
"They're from the Delgato's," she said, tipping her chin up. "It's the suits, they're cheap and knockoffs." She put away her gun. "We'll see," she told him, heading back inside to turn off the burners and the oven. Then she went to the bathroom to calm down. By the time she was done, she could sneak out. That way no one else would be endangered. Someone knocked on the door. "I'll be out in a minute," she called, turning on the water to splash her face. She had been crying, even though she didn't realize it. She fixed the smudged eyeliner then wiped off her hands and face before exiting. "Sorry, didn't mean to hog it," she said, recognizing the woman as Ray's other sister.
"It's all right. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she promised. "It'll be solved later." She gave her a tired smile and a pat on the arm. "Don't worry about it. Tell Ray I'll see him tomorrow."
"Fat chance," Stanley said, blocking the doorway. "Are we or are we not buddies?" She nodded. "Then you're not taking them on alone. You're not the greatest shot."
She grimaced. "Stan, they'll come back," she said quietly. "Let me out." He shook his head. "Don't make me kick your ass, Stanley." He didn't move, only grimaced more. "Stanley Raymond Kowalski, get out of my way," she hissed. "Before someone else gets hurt."
"Ma's fine," Ray said from behind her. She looked back at him. "You're not leaving. "
"Yeah, I am. I'm not endangering your family by being here. They're nice people and don't deserve that."
"They're endangered by all of us being here," Ray reminded her, putting an arm around her shoulders. He could feel her tense up. "Come on. Let's see what we can figure out. We can fix this without it turning into a shootout in the middle of a street." She shook her head, resisting. "Don't make me have Benny pick you up and carry you," he warned quietly. "That is not how we do things around here." She slumped, letting him lead her away. Once Stanley was inside, he locked the dining room's door. "How did you know they were Delgato's?"
"It made sense," she said, sitting down with a small moan of pain for her aching knee. Stanley looked at her. "It's my knee, dear, I've been packing all afternoon." He nodded, sitting across from her. "I've only got three cases it can be about. It could be about my stalker, but he wasn't a cop and he didn't look like any of the cops I know. It could be about the present one on trial, but his friends would have dressed better or gotten someone better to do the hit. I'd already be dead with the people they can afford. The Delgato case comes up for trial next week. It's going to be long, messy, and nasty. I'm their only link in the evidence. Again, money but not as much as the present case in front of Webster. Plus, the guy had that same accent. I'd guess it was another person from the same area. Maybe the guy owed him or maybe the hitter was just from the same area, but it made more sense. They confirmed it with their looks when I said the name."
"Webster threw out the case," Stanley told her. "They've already refiled." She groaned and shook her head, looking down. "Stella's taking it this time. She said she wants him dead for it." She gave him a small look. He grinned. "She even said she'd be willing to sit in the same room and talk ta ya again."
"Miracles never do cease," she said dryly. "She still afraid I'm going to molest her?"
"Yeah," Stanley agreed, grinning more now. "This is work though and you know how she is about work." Catherine nodded. "Now. Who's got a plan?"
"Call 'em out," Catherine said. "They want me, they should get me." She looked over at Ray as he stared at her. "What?"
"Seeing if you look like an Eastwood," he said. She swatted him on the arm, giving him a mighty frown. "I repeat, that is not how we do things around here. This isn't Vice, this is my home and around here my word is Law, unless Ma overrules me." She gave him a smaller frown this time. "Really. Besides, she said you saved dinner so you're more than welcome to come back again. She even wants to meet your cats."
"They might like her. The begging duo certainly will." Ray snorted and Benny chuckled at that. "You knew that one guy, do you know their lair?"
"Slightly," Ray admitted. "Stanley?"
"More so," he agreed. "They might've moved since we busted 'em, but they're all about the same. Benny, do you remember that one?"
"Indeed I do," he agreed. "It was a warehouse if I remember right." Stanley nodded. "The older man was in shipping. A few of the ones behind him were familiar from the work area. The one with the gun wasn't familiar at all."
"He's low level scum," Ray told him. "If he was any good, he woulda killed Catherine already." He looked at her and she nodded. "Does this happen to you often?" he asked when he noticed she was staring at the ceiling.
"One of the kids is crying," she said, pointing above them. "I don't think an adult's found them yet."
Ray stood up. "I'll go do that. You two guard her. Don't let her leave." He walked out, finding his sister curled up against her husband in the living room. "Hey, Maria, I can hear one of the kids cryin'," he said gently. She looked up at him and he noticed she had been crying as well. "It'll be okay," he promised, giving her a pat.
"Why do they want her?" Tony, his brother-in-law, asked.
"She got one of the Delgato kids on a charge," Ray told him. "It's coming to trial next week." They both winced. Delgato had a kid in their son's school, they had heard of him through there. "That's no worse than the people who occasionally come after me."
"Yeah, but you're native trouble," Maria told him.
"That's fine. If you want, we'll go help her move and stuff." She shook her head, getting up to comfort their child. "It'll be okay," he reminded her, stopping her to look at her. "Really. We're gonna go fix this tonight if possible."
"Hell, everyone deserves one last good meal," Tony told him. Ray rolled his eyes and walked away. "What?"
Maria gave him a kiss. "You tried," she told him. "That's what's important here." Frannie slammed the door as she came in. "Frannie, go help Ma clean up the kitchen," she ordered, walking past her. "Someone put a bullet through a window."
Frannie jogged back to the kitchen. "Ma?" she asked. "You all right?"
"Yes, dear. That nice girl protected me," she told her.
"Nice girl?" Frannie asked. "With her mouth?" She took the broom from her mother to use it herself. "Ma, did you hit your head?"
"She has not said a thing wrong to me," she said firmly. "Go get cleaned up. You can help me strain all the sauces for glass bits." Frannie sighed and headed up to do that. Ma looked at her son. "Is she staying?"
He nodded. "We made sure of it."
"Good. A woman such as she is could use a few good people in her life." She went back to her straining for glass, just in case.
Ray went to gather his guest, making sure she was calm again. She hadn't looked like she was okay with this. It was ...sweet in a way, how she wanted to protect his family. He paused then shook his head. Stanley gave him a look. "An odd thought," he said.
"I get those all the time," Stanley said with a grin. "Can I help set the table?"
"Sure. Ma's doing the sauces right now," Ray told him, letting him out the door. "Benny, go help Maria with the kids. They'll clean up faster for you." He nodded, taking the wolf with him as incentive. "Now," he said, looking at her. "You okay again?"
"I'm fine," she said calmly. "This isn't the first time. Not the sixth, but not the first." She stood up and noticed she was shaking. "My blood sugar's low, that's all that is," she said at his frown.
"Fine. Some pasta'll cure that." He took her out of the dining room, letting Stanley set the table. They went to help his mother, doing the dishes together for her. It's not like his mother would let him cook while she was.
Catherine got out of her car and slammed the door, heading for the front door of the precinct. Then she stopped, hit her forehead and turned around, going to get her briefcase from the car. It had her gun in it. She'd need that today. Today was the day they started on the rape warrants. She opened her door and then suddenly winced and grabbed her shoulder, falling to the ground in a bright flash of pain. "Ow," she noted, rolling onto her back. She noticed there was a cop standing above her. "Hey, how ya doin'?" she asked. "Can I get a hand up? I brace myself on that arm and it's numb from the pain." He nodded, helping her up and she winced, holding her shoulder as soon as her hand was free. "I think I need a bandage."
"I think you need an ambulance," he retorted. He looked around. "Yo!" he yelled, seeing another cop in the yard. Everyone else had taken off after the shooter. "Call someone for her. She took one in the shoulder!" That one headed inside to call someone for her. "You okay?"
"Peachy fucking keen," she said with a wince. "And it had to be in the old injury too. Do I have a target on that side?" He shook his head, leaning her against the car. "I'm fine, really. Tell Vecchio I'll be up to help him later." She winced again and her knees buckled so he helped her back onto the ground. "That's it, I want morphine," she said, cracking him up. "The last time the asshole shattered that collarbone. This one doesn't hurt near as much but they wouldn't give me anything back then because they thought I had imbibed on a drug bust." She looked over as she heard people running their way. "It's in the old injury," she told the paramedic. "Wouldn't you know it, I'm on time for once and this shit happens."
"He was lying in wait for you," the officer promised. "What did you do?"
She sighed. "Take your pick. Stalker patrol officer out of the sixteenth. Rapist who's killing working girls on trial with money. Delgato case." She swatted at the paramedic reaching for her. "I fucking well want something for the pain before you do any more than check my medic alert necklace." She pulled it off, handing it to him. "And I want that back. It's pure silver." He nodded, giving her a tolerant look. She squinted at him. "You look familiar."
"I got to treat your ankle last year after that riot," he soothed. "Calm down, detective. You said you were injured there in the past?"
She nodded. "Five years ago. It shattered my collarbone. Heavy caliber rifle." She winced as he moved her hand away, pressing a pad over it himself. "Help me out of this jacket. I like it too much to have it cut off." The officer nodded, helping her out of it. He even put it back into her car for her. "Hand my briefcase to Vecchio or Stanley, have them hold it for me. My service weapon's in there. They can feed my cats if I'm not out." She stood up, her vision blurring as they moved her. "Guys, dizzy."
"Shh, it's all right. You can lay down in just a second," the paramedic promised, putting her onto the gurney. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"No, I'm more hungry. I'm diabetic too." He nodded, making a note of that. "Let's go. They have real pain killers at the hospital and you guys suck at sticking IVs." He smiled at her, knowing she was complaining to have something to do. "Guessed me out?" He nodded, putting a pressure bandage on her injury as the door was slammed. "This is really going to throw our timetable all to hell," she moaned. "We're serving old warrants."
"I'm sure you'll be back soon," he soothed calmly. It wasn't that bad of an injury. He took a finger stick too, wincing at the number. "Detective, when was the last time you ate?"
"Last night. 'Bout nine. Ray's Ma cooked," she told him. "Then I went and packed for a few hours. Why?" He showed her the number and she shrugged. "It happens, kid. It sucks but it's a nice change from going up to 170 from breathing." He nodded calling it in as the ambulance took off. "Hey, you guys are fast."
"We try," he said with a smile. "The detectives get really upset when we hang around. Then they get nosy." He checked her blood pressure, marking that down as well. "You'll be fine and they'll be giving you some good pain killers soon."
"I hope I don't have to take a nurse hostage," she agreed, getting a smile. "Surgery?"
"Through-and-through," he told her. She nodded, that would heal it faster and without much surgery. "Maybe they'll only keep you overnight."
"Not likely," she told him. "I'm leaving if they try." He gave her a fatherly scowl. "I hate hospitals. They suck ass." He laughed, shaking his head. "Didn't you do my last gunshot wound too?"
"No, that was my older brother. He was shot on the job a few months later and he's on disability."
"I'm sorry to hear that. You both have very gentle touches. You should be a doc, not a paramedic." He grinned at that, checking her bandages.
Vecchio looked up as he got out of his car, seeing the cops milling around a familiar car. He knew something bad had happened, it always did when he was running late. He walked over, glaring at the officer leaning against the hood. "What happened?" he demanded.
"Sir," an officer said, handing over her jacket and briefcase. "The detective said to have you hold that for her and feed her cats if she was kept tonight. She was shot in the shoulder." Ray took off his sunglasses, staring him down. "She was conscious and complaining when they took her," he promised, stepping away from him.
"The shooter?" Ray asked calmly.
"In custody, detective, the hard way," another officer promised. "Detective Kowalski hasn't arrived yet." Ray looked at him. "She's fine, sir. There's not much blood and they walked her to the ambulance."
"Fine. Thank you." He moved around the kid, locking the door of her car and taking the keys with him. "Thank you, guys." He headed inside to put the things on his desk and tell his boss in case he didn't know. He found him staring at the sorry person inside the cell. Ray moved closer to look. "Oh, look, it's you," he sneered at the patrol officer. "Feeling better now?"
"Bitch ruined my life," he slurred. "Deserved it."
Ray looked at his boss. "Is she fine?"
"Yeah. Shoulder shot. Through-and-through," he said quietly. "Keep Stanley from killing him." He walked away, going back to his desk. He believed someone in IAD needed an asschewing and he was the person to give it.
Ray leaned against the bars. "Feel *real* lucky I got here first," he noted. "Kowalski's coming soon." The man flinched, moving away from him. "After all, she's only my partner, he's her friend." He heard running feet and got out of the way. "Morning, Stanley."
"Fuck off," he said, looking at the person behind the bars. "You'd better *pray* that she's fine," he warned. "Not even knockout gas is gonna save you from me."
"It was a shoulder wound," Ray told him.
Stanley looked at him. "In the same place as her last one," he told him. Ray winced. "Last time it broke her collarbone. That's how I met her." He looked at the sorry individual behind the bars. Then he started to remove his weapon. Ray forced him to walk away. "I was gonna hand it to ya," he protested.
"I know you were, but you don't have a spare change of clothes in your locker and you don't need to be bloody while we go arrest people." Stanley broke free, giving him a disgusted look. "We'll check on her at lunch. If she had to go to surgery she'll be out. If not, she'll be happy on drugs. She'll appreciate the real food," he said with a small smile. "Then we can bug her all night after we kick some ass for her." Stanley snorted and walked away. "If we had the time, I'd be pacing beside you," he reminded him. "We can send Benny. He'll worry for us until we're free and guard her from his friends." Stanley nodded, heading for the phone to call him. Ray looked at his boss, heading to gather up the warrants for the day. "Sixty-two," he said happily. Stanley snorted, shaking his head. "He can't go?"
"He's goin'," Stanley said, looking at the warrants. "Who first?"
A man in a dirty, rumpled suit walked in, looking around. "Detective Vecchio?" he asked. Ray gave him a disgusted look. "Where is the suspect?"
"Lounging in a cell, safe from me kickin' him in the head," Stanley told him. "You're not takin' him." The Internal Affairs detective looked at him like he was insane. "He shot a cop while on bail. He's stayin' right there unless you get God himself to come tell us to let him go. I'll even be nice enough to make sure he makes it to his arraignment today. That way I can stick him in general populace later." The detective backed away from him. "This makes three you haven't managed to stop. Feel good about your job?"
"Detective Kowalski, calm down," he ordered. "I'm here to investigate why he wasn't arrested before."
"He was, he's out on bail," Ray told him. "After he broke into the detective's house." The Internal Affairs detective sighed. "Didn't get the full file?" he sneered.
"No, they told me he was a dirty cop taking out his partner," he said bitterly. "Give. What's going on?"
"He's her present stalker," Stanley told him, glaring at his own boss when he came out. "Ask him."
"He's the one who got me up here," he agreed. "Do you know the full story?"
Welsh handed over a form. "I had her fill out a second copy of her complaint in case the first disappeared," he said. "Your people need to be arrested. This isn't right."
"No, it's not. That's why they designated me to watch over Internal Affairs." He went to talk to the patrol officer after he read it. It was disgusting. "This shit should not happen," he said hotly. He looked at the officer, who was scrunched back in a corner of his cell. "You'll talk or I'm letting Kowalski and Vecchio have you," he warned. "That'll make what you go through in general population seem sweet and gentle."
Catherine woke up from her enforced nap, blinking at the big red blur beside her. "Oh, hey, it's you," she slurred. He nodded, stroking some of her hair off her forehead. "What'cha doin' here?"
"Ray and Stanley asked me to watch over you until they were free," he said gently. "Go back to sleep if you want to." He straightened up as the door opened, nodding at the nurse. "She's just woken."
"Good." The nurse checked the bandage. "They did some stapling this time," she told her. "Are you in pain?"
"Nope," she said, shaking her head. "High as fuck but not in pain."
The nurse smiled. "That's fine. The attending got a little staple happy. You've got twice as many as you needed, just in case you have to go back to work."
She sat up. "Yeah, I've got to do that. They're short without me."
Benny gently pushed her back. "You will be staying until tomorrow," he said firmly. "That way they can make sure you don't have an infection."
"I hate hospitals," she whined. He gave her a look. "You're not my father."
"I had no aspirations in that direction," he promised. "But you will stay here until Ray can come check on you himself. He said so."
She groaned. "Help?" she asked the nurse.
"I can't do that. Lieutenant Welsh said he was to guard you," she said, smiling at the handsome man. "He's much gentler than the usual cops we get up here." She looked at her patient again. "Need anything?"
"Bathroom and some soda," she sighed. "Please?"
"Sure. You should be able to walk." They helped her up and into the bathroom. When she was done and had washed her hands, they helped her back to the bed. "How about some apple juice?"
"I'm still diabetic."
"I know. We've got some lightly sugared stuff. Not at all bad for you and it won't bother your food allergies at all," she promised. Catherine nodded. "Good girl. Anything else?"
"We've got a small library or someone can pick up one from the gift shop," she told her.
Catherine nodded. "I'll be out soon anyway. Ray will relent or I'll get Stanley to knock him out." She looked at her shoulder. "Did it hit the bone again?"
"No, detective. It didn't. The x-rays didn't show a single fracture in it." Catherine raised her eyebrow. "It did show some mishealed older fractures, ones that didn't meet correctly. If you've still got pain in it, I'd assume that was why." She tucked her in then went to get her some juice.
"She's a lot nicer than my last stay," Catherine told the Mountie. "The last one needed prozac." He smiled at that. "Seriously. It helped her a lot." The nurse came back. "Why couldn't you have been here the last time?"
She smiled. "I was just a student then, detective. We did see who treated you last time. You'll be happy to know she's much happier in the VA hospital."
"Good. Did they ever get her prozac?"
The nurse laughed and nodded. "Indeed. Because of your visit. Will you cause me that same sort of problems?"
"Not if I don't have to stay," she said nicely, grinning at her. "And I get to have some caffeine sometime soon."
"Well, I can give you something to help with the craving, but I can't give you any stimulants. We don't want to risk your blood pressure rising," she said gently, staring into her eyes. "You won't be able to have any for a week, but then again you won't be working for that time either probably."
"No, I'll be moving," she told her. The nurse shook her head. "Yeah, I am. The guy who shot me is going to come again. I can't risk my cats that way."
"You won't be able to lift."
"Yeah, but I don't date the really butch women and I haven't had a lover in nearly six years. It's just me."
"I'm sure we can help," Benny told her firmly.
"That's taking advantage of you," she said equally as firm. "I don't do that. If I have to, I'll hire some college kids." She sipped her juice and the nurse smiled at her. "Laced?" She nodded. "Fine. I'll take another nap. I'll be going tonight."
"Tomorrow," the nurse corrected.
"Tonight," Catherine told her. "I loathe hospitals."
"I'm sure Ray can make you see sense," Benny said, sitting down beside her. "Thank you." The nurse smiled at him and left. He looked at her. "You are quite stubborn."
She nodded from behind her juice. "Usually. You'll find most female cops are, Benny. That's how we don't get eaten on the job." She finished her juice and laid down again, letting him cushion her shoulder. "These really are nice painkillers. What did they give me this time?"
"You're still under the local," he told her. She nodded, closing her eyes. As soon as she was fully asleep, he picked up the phone to call Ray's cellphone. "She's awoken and is back asleep again," he said quietly. "No, she's fine. She's stubborn. She said you'll make sure she's released tonight." He chuckled. "She thinks so," he told him. He looked down at her. "No, she was just saying she had to move this week. Of course. She also said we couldn't help her." He smiled again. "That would be fine. Is the suspect in custody?" He listened to the small rant. "At least they fixed it," he retorted calmly. He smiled again. "Of course, Ray. Thank you kindly. I'm sure the nurses won't care. Good bye." He hung up, seeing an open eye. "He said he'll bring us real food for lunch." She smiled and closed her eye again. "He also said that Internal Affairs fixed themselves. Something about it being self-correcting this time and someone named Scott."
"Detective Scott, he runs over them when they go bad," she said softly, eyes closed. "Hopefully he smacked the shit out of them too." He stroked her hair, making her go back to sleep. "Thanks," she murmured.
"You're welcome." He sat back, watching her and the door. "I wonder what you would have been like with a good department behind you," he said quietly. "You could have been one of the best Mounties." She shifted and he quieted himself again, looking out the window. He pressed the call button for the nurse, pointing at the person on the other roof. "I'm not sure, but I believe he's going to try to jump." She went to call someone.
Ray strolled in with two bags of food. He handed one to his friend then pulled over a chair, sitting down at the foot of Catherine's bed. She woke up and blinked at him. "Hungry?" he asked. She nodded, sitting up and pushing her hair off her face. He handed over the bag. "Ma said if you don't stay in here she won't cook for you."
"I hate hospitals," she complained, pulling out the food with her good hand. "How are you two doing?"
"We got lucky. The rapists were all home," he admitted. "We're starting on the car thieves this afternoon." She grimaced. "Where are your cats?"
"At the house. The keys should be in my briefcase." He nodded. "Please feed them and make sure they don't escape." He nodded again. She broke open the soup, sniffing it. "Beans?"
"Not a one," he promised. "No soy, no beans. Benny said you had an allergy." She nodded, digging in. He smiled. "How bad was it?"
"The nurse said the attending got a little staple happy," she said between bites. "I'll be back in two days once I know I can tolerate the pain meds they'll be giving me."
"We can do it without you," he promised.
She gave him a look, eating another bite, then shook her head. "There's too much for just you two. Even if you break apart for the minor kids."
"How many warrants are left?" Benny asked, eating his sandwich.
"Fifty-seven," he sighed. "All larceny. Fast little guys for the most part." He looked at her. "He's not only in custody, the judge put him into solitary." She snapped her fingers in the universal 'oh shoot' gesture. "I know, Stanley was hoping for general too, but Judge Webster was not impressed and it was his turn on the arraignment bench. He seems to have found some human emotions for the moment. His buddies have been called off as well. Most of the cops have turned their back on him for shooting you."
She put down her spoon. "So it was all right to stalk me, threaten me, and break into my house to try and kill me, but actually shooting me was too far?" she asked bitterly. He nodded, giving her a look. "Why am I still a cop?"
"Because you can't see yourself doing anything else," he said dryly. "The same reason Benny and I still are."
"No, I can see myself doing many things, I simply can't do them as well as I think I can," she corrected. "I could go to college today and be out by the time I'm forty. That'd give me thirty good years in a calm job with steady hours and a better paycheck."
"True," Ray agreed. "But you'd hate it." She nodded, agreeing with that. "What would you do when you wanted to swear at people then? Or when you had to be polite all day?" She snorted, picking up her cup of soup to drink the rest. "Slow down. You're not starving."
"Your mother's cooking stretched my stomach," she said, putting it down and wiping off her mouth. "What else is going on in the real world?"
"Nothing much. Stanley had to give a deposition so he'll be in later. After Stella finishes with him." She winced. "I know but he's gonna be okay. He was jittering earlier." He got comfortable. "You were damn lucky he was drunk."
"I know. And all I did was park and go back to get my briefcase," she said dryly. "Are you sure we can't put him into general population?"
"No, but that doesn't mean the prison guards can't get to him," Ray reminded her. She beamed suddenly. "He's still in the county lockup."
"Yeah, but so is one of my exs," she said with a smug look. "Who wanted to do the same thing admittedly, but I'm sure she'll have a few choice words for him about women who like other women." Ray shifted a little. "Sorry."
"No, not a problem. I was sitting on my wallet and it's so thin it hurts. No padding." She chuckled. "By the way, Welsh said your checks were delivered to Vice this time. Plus, there is a nasty rumor going around." Her eyebrow went up. "Someone's trying to reform Vice. A total change."
"Yippee," she said dryly. "They did that before and it didn't help. That's why we're all partnerless over there." He nodded. "How soon, so I know when to take my remaining vacation days?"
"Next month," he told her. "Should I go pick up your check since you're gonna be in here?"
"I'm escaping tonight, even if I do have to make a sheet rope and climb out the window," she told him seriously. "Let the bed go to someone who really needs it. I don't. I'm mobile."
"You were shot, Catherine. You need your rest," Benny told her. "As did I when Ray shot me."
She looked at Ray, quirking a smile. "Relationship problems?" Both men blushed and shook their heads. "Sorry, guys. It's the drugs."
Ray got up and hugged her gently. "You'd be like this even without them." He gave her a small pat on the head. "Need anything from your other desk?"
"My laptop?" she suggested. "Either that or my captain so she can explain what I'm going to be doing soon. I can still get it tomorrow."
He snorted. "You really can't take orders, can you? You're staying." He pinched her nose and she swatted at him. "You need to be here. No arguing. Otherwise I'll bring in the wolf with Ma and let him eat all your food." She groaned, shaking her head. "Lay down." She gave him a look. "Now." She sighed and slid down, letting him fuss for a moment. "Need anything else?"
"Six strong guys to lift all my books, but if my hazard pay came through then I can hire them."
"You're getting hazard pay?" Benny asked.
"Yeah, only back two years. All of us filed for it. It was that or we were gonna quit. It's bad enough they've been stiffing us on the overtime, but they haven't been giving us any backup for years. Not even SWAT. We've had to beg too many times and our union rep suggested we all file for hazard backpay. I know I got mine, I'm not sure if it's this check or not."
Ray grinned. "You've got two checks. Which bank should it go to?"
"I can do that," she said patiently.
"Not while you're in here." She scowled at him. "I mean it. You're stayin'. Even if I have ta have Benny tie you to something." She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Good girl. Keep it up and I'll sneak you in an ice cream cone." She smiled at that. "Can we steal Benny?" She nodded. "Thanks. You behave and I won't tell the nurse to handcuff you." She snorted so he pulled out her set, handcuffing her to the bed. It was his backup plan but she wasn't going to stay and she needed to. "See, I knew you'd be cooperative," he agreed, taking Benny with him. He stopped at the nurse's station, handing over the key. "When she needs to get up. You know how to hook them over the bed?" The nurse gave him a stunned look. "She's stubborn. Don't let her check herself out." He walked off, pleased with himself.
"She may get quite upset at you for that," Benny warned. "She seems to be very independent and stubborn."
"She is, but she needed it. Her shoulder was starting to bleed again," Ray told him. "They'll let her out later." He smiled as he stepped outside, Stanley was grunting at the stairs. "I cuffed her to the bed."
"We had to do that when she got shot the first time," he admitted. "She still up?" Ray nodded. "Great. Thanks. Stella said hi." He walked past him, heading up to check on her for himself. That woman would drive the nurses insane with her whining.
Ray looked at Benny. "Let's go back to the station until he comes back, then we'll figure out how we're splitting up this afternoon." The Mountie nodded, following him to his car. "Where's Dief?"
"At the consulate. Should we stop and get him?"
"Probably. We might need him. Thieves are slippery and they like to run. He can play fetch with them." He started his car, heading that way.
Catherine wobbled up her new stairs, wincing as her shoulder jarred. She had gone to her old place but it appeared to be emptied and cleaned. Either she had been robbed or someone was being very nice. She heard noise inside her apartment and saw a tin of wet food in the hall, along with one of her cats. She picked him up, looking at him. "You don't belong out here." She walked into her apartment, looking at the cat she knew wasn't hers. "You don't belong in here. Are you two switching parents?" She shooed the long-haired gray and white cat out. "Thank you." She closed the door, counting the cats. "Good, only my five." She looked around, blinking at the room. It was set up. She frowned, shaking her head to clear her vision. "Huh. Magic does work. Either that or wishful thinking." She stumbled into the kitchen, getting herself some soda. Since she couldn't get pain pills with the pharmacies being closed, caffeine would have to do. She had just popped one open when the door opened. "Oh, look, it's a helpful elf," she said dryly. "I said I could do it."
Ray snorted. "Yeah, right." He caught a sneaky cat, counting them as they went running. "Did one escape?" She nodded so he went to gather that one from where it was sitting on an ornamental shelf. "Get down," he said with a touch of disgust. "You live in there now." The cat gave him a silent meow. "Tough, now. Your mother's in pain, she doesn't need this shit." The cat meowed again.
Catherine came out. "Now, Oz. Mommy means it." Oz looked at her, then stretched out. "Right now. Don't make me climb a ladder when I'm in pain." The cat huffed and jumped down, heading down the stairs. Ray caught her and brought her back, tossing the cat that wasn't hers out into the hall again. "I'll get you guys a screen door so you can talk to the others," she promised, closing the door. That one cat had snuck back in. "You have wet food," she told her. "And a very nice father." She picked her up, looking at her. "Listen, Mistress Cat, you do not live with mine. They'd get really upset with you." She held her down and her own alpha female hissed. "See?" She looked at her again. "You're very pretty but I've already got five." She opened the door, setting her out in the hall. "Hi," she said, smiling at the landlord. "She snuck in. She's not mine." The long-haired cats' owner came out of his apartment. "Sorry if I'm getting yours in trouble. Mine are the short hairs." He smiled and shook her hand. "I think Ray put down wet food because mine are trying to sneak out." She stopped another one and the other cat parent stopped the faster one heading for the front door. "Thanks." She held them against her chest. "I haven't gotten to the bank yet. I just got back from the hospital." She nodded them inside. "This is Ray. He's my new partner, officially." Ray looked over at her, smirking at her. "I take it you heard? I got that wonderful news when the Chief of Police visited me for a chat on why I should stay a cop and let him off charges."
"Yeah. Your captain brought over some of your stuff today. Technically I think Welsh is putting you with Huey but we're not that strict." He waved. "Catch her," he said, pointing at the one sneaking out the door. She took off after that one, catching her outside and bringing her back, nagging her. "Does that work?"
"Yeah." She closed the door, handing the long-haired one to her parent. "Yours?" He nodded, petting her. "I don't mind, but my females will hiss and spit at them sometimes. They're jealous." She walked over to her box on the table, looking inside. "Paycheck?"
"Inside your laptop, both of them." He came over to help her open it, letting her have them. He watched as she opened them, eyes wide at one of them. "You weren't kidding. Two years of hazard pay."
"And unpaid overtime," she agreed, putting that one aside. She pulled out a pen and signed her regular paycheck to the landlord. "There you go," she said, smiling slightly. "I'll be home all day tomorrow if you have problems." He grimaced. "Hey, it is the city's check," she noted.
He snorted and looked around. "Those guys were very good," he noted.
She looked at him. "Yes, oh great and helpful elf, who did help you? And how much do I owe you?"
"A case of beer and a poker night," he noted dryly. "It was only the three of us. I even did your closets for ya." He went back to his cooking. "Did they give you anything for your shoulder?"
"Yeah, but the pharmacies are closed," she pointed out. She struggled out of her overshirt, letting him help her. The landlord winced at the open staples. "Sorry. The bandage kept coming off. My skin's too oily for tape to like it much." She looked down, then plucked at a staple, tossing it into the box. "There, that ends that problem." Ray gave her a look. "The rookie doc went happy with the staple gun," she pointed out. "I've got enough to spare." He nodded, making her sit down again. "I'll be back on in two days."
"I doubt it. If you show up, I'm having Welsh lecture you," he said firmly.
"Is he your boyfriend?" the landlord asked. "You signed for one person."
She gave him a hard look. "He's my *partner* and I haven't dated anyone in six years. My cats are the closest I get to a warm, thinking body around here most of the time." He snorted and left. "Remind me to put a sign up on the door about having cats," she told Ray.
"It's on your desk drying, one of my nephews drew it out," Ray told her. He nodded at the other cat owner. "She's pretty."
"Thank you, officer." He smiled at her. "Thank you for the wet food. We try to keep the bottom door closed most of the time."
"Of course. I've got my own escape artists," she agreed. "Thank you for understanding."
"It's not a problem. She's a very social cat."
"I'll put up a screen so they can talk back and forth," she said with a smile. "A small one in the door." He nodded and let himself out, careful to make sure none of the cats escaped. She whistled, bringing one of her cats. "Hey, you," she said, wincing as she bent down to pet him. "How are you?" She picked him up, putting him in her lap. "Do you like this place? Mommy does. It's bigger and you can see many more birds from the windows." He kneaded her stomach, making her smile. "Yeah, mommy loves you too, Blair," she promised, giving him a kiss on the head. He jumped down when Ray came over. "I'm surprised you managed to capture them all."
"We herded them back to the bathroom," he explained, sitting across from her. "They couldn't escape." She nodded. "Six years?" She nodded. "Why?"
"Because my last ex fucked around on me," she said bitterly. "Twice." He nodded, understanding that. "You?"
"Nearly three," he admitted. "She got blown up by her brother." She gave his wrist a squeeze. "There is some good news. We're down to forty-three warrants."
"Congrats. And only one week left," she agreed. "I'll be back in two days." He gave her a look. "So I can make sure I won't suddenly pass out on the pain killers. I'll be fine. I was back to work after a week with a broken collarbone and a gunshot wound in the same spot."
"Yeah, but we can wait on you," he pointed out. "They probably couldn't."
"No, they couldn't," she agreed dryly. "That's why they snagged Stanley and made him come help me." She grimaced. "How is he doing? He looked really bummed earlier."
"He's fine. He caught one guy and had to get a little rough, it perked him right up," he promised. "What're you gonna do with the big check?"
"Get my cable turned on, prepay some of the rent, do some jammie shopping."
He snorted, giving her an amused look. "I noticed you didn't have anything that wasn't cute or without cartoons on them."
"Hey, everyone needs a little bit of fun in their lives or they get stale and boring. Besides, I can stand those when I'm having a nudist day." She scratched gently near her wound. "Just wait until I forget to do laundry the first time. You'll be seeing me in a few of those." He shook his head. "Trust me, it's happened before."
"Welsh will drive you home and put you in a real shirt himself," he vowed.
"So I'll make the first time one of the saturdays he's not there," she noted.
"He's usually there on saturdays. He likes to keep an eye on us," Ray said dryly. "Since his kids are bigger now I guess he doesn't need to be home as much. He usually takes Wednesday afternoon off."
She grinned. "Cool. I'll see what I can work out." She looked toward the kitchen. "Are you dying stuff on my stove?"
"No, I'm cooking you a hearty soup," he said patiently, getting up to check on it. "It only looks purple in the bad light in here. Who put pink bulbs in?"
"I did. They were all I had," she defended. He gave her a look. "I've already got light bulbs on my list," she promised. "That and real food."
"I noticed the powdered milk. Why?"
"To cook with. I learned how to make soups and stews with it," she told him, getting up to stare over his shoulder. "What is that?"
"It's a beanless form of stracciatella. Ma adds a lot more stuff to hers than the standard recipe." He let her have a taste and she moaned. "See, good for you."
"Yes, you are," she agreed with a grin, giving him a gentle hug. "Thanks, Ray."
"You're welcome." She headed back to hook up her laptop on her desk, making happy noises when she found the phone line active. "Benny did that," he called. "Apparently someone over there likes him a lot."
"He's a sweet and shy boy, of course they do," she called. "They want to mess up his hair." He laughed and she came back out. "This is really nice. It's almost the way I would have put it." He gave her a look and she pointed at the couch. "I would have put that with the side facing the window so they'd have two spots to sit and stare out. Less fighting." He chuckled. "Seriously. Have you not heard my cats fight?" He nodded. "Speaking of." She opened another thing of wet food, bringing them all running. She counted noses, going to look out in the hall. "There you are," she said, bringing Oz back in. "Naughty kitty." She set her down next to the bowl then stood up, holding her head. "Dizzy," she said, sitting down again. "Wow. The world is really pretty when it's a kaleidoscope." He came over to check her pulse. "I'm fine." He swatted her. "Hey!"
"Shut up." He let her wrist go. "Go lay down. I can put this into the fridge for tomorrow. You can warm it up." She gave him a look. "Now."
"I can't. One of the cats got the bed. I'll lounge on the couch if you want to stay and talk," she offered. He nodded, going back to turn down his soup. She trudged over to the couch, flopping down again. One of her cats came over to sniff her, then made a disgusted look and wandered off. "Yeah, same to you," she muttered. "Remember, mommy buys the litter and the cat food."
"You're out of both," he said, bringing her a mug of soup. He sat at the other end of the couch, watching as she sipped it. "Doesn't that hurt?"
She shook her head, putting down the mostly empty mug. "Not really. I checked myself out after pain medicine. I should be fine until tomorrow morning, when either a pharmacy will be open or a dealer will." He frowned at her. "Sorry, bad joke. Realistic, but bad joke."
"You did that before?"
"While seriously undercover, both times." She let him see the back of her injured arm. "I got a graze and only had generic tylenol. Then my ankle blew during one. It dislocated totally and everyone told me it was only a sprain until it popped back in." He winced. "Yeah, well, six weeks of being unable to move and I was staying somewhere with stairs. I got very good at remembering how little kids go up and down them." He laughed, stroking her ankle. "Thank you, Ray."
"You're welcome. This was relaxing after beating a punk into a pulp earlier. Drink the rest of it before the cats tip it over." She picked up her mug and drank more of it, making him happy. "Too salty?"
"No," she said with a wince. "I think it'll be stronger in the morning?" He nodded. "Better. Strong tastes are always better. That's why you will never catch me eating British food again."
"You killed your tastebuds working the clubs," he told her. She nodded, giving him a small smile. "You really don't look old enough to have been on the force that long." She grinned brighter. "You've got to be about thirty-eight but you only look late twenties."
"Thanks, and I'm only thirty-five. I graduated a year early and went straight to the academy." She smirked at him. "I did my undergrad while I was a rookie, when everyone was taking coke." He gave her another disappointed look. "You know how that goes. You've got to walk the line to be admitted." He nodded. "I started out in homicide as one of their flunkies and got moved to Vice after a few months. I've been there ever since."
"Think you can handle the mundane stuff?" he asked.
"I'd better. I'm getting older and I'd better learn to slow down." Someone knocked on the door. She glanced at the locks. "Who is it?"
"It's me," Ray's mother called.
"It's open." She walked in with a casserole, heading right to the oven. "Hi, Ray's Ma."
"You can call me Ma," she said, giving her a look. "Oh, that does look bad. Did they not bandage it?" She set the casserole in to finish cooking and came over to look at it. "They didn't do a very neat job."
She grinned. "Student doctor. It was his first time stapling." Ma clucked her tongue and went to get a warm washcloth to put on it. Catherine looked at Ray. "Does this mean I'm formally adopted?"
He nodded. "Probably. She's done this for Benny and for Stanley," he admitted.
"Twice for Stanley," she corrected as she came out of the bedroom. "Here, put this on top of it, let the skin relax again." She made sure the young woman did that. "There, better?" Catherine nodded. "Good." She pinched her cheek then smiled at her son. "You did a very good job," she praised. "All the cats are napping in the spare room."
"I'm not surprised. The litter box should be in there," Catherine told her. "Oh, yeah, don't touch the bed until I've had a chance to spray and flip it. Chocolate doesn't like her orderly world flipped around. It pisses her off." Ma nodded, looking like she understood as she went to check on the soup. She made a gasping noise and she looked over at her son for *daring* to touch her recipes. "I'm allergic to beans, Ma."
"Ah. No wonder he didn't follow my recipe." She shared a look with her son. Then she rolled her eyes. "Fine. I will not fuss in here." She caught the cat trying to sneak out, closing the door. Then she went to make sure all the cats were there. "You have five, correct?" she asked. Catherine nodded. "Good. I thought one might have gotten out. You really should get a lock for that bottom door."
"I'll suggest it to the landlord next week," she agreed. "When I go to pay him a few months in advance. Then I get to buy a new bed and some new clothes since my old position only made sure I was covered. I'm guessing the 27th is going to be much more strict."
Ray smirked at her. "I can help you with that."
She gave him a look. "I wouldn't look good in your suits," she taunted. He laughed, shaking his head. "But, hey, if you really want to help me go underwear shopping, I wouldn't care. I haven't had anyone to go shopping with since most of my friends grew up and left the city." Ray was giving her that look that was making her insides mushy again. "Stop that," she hissed. He smirked at her. "They grew up and got married and decided I didn't keep the city safe enough for their new spouses so they moved away. That's all it was."
"It happens to the best of us," he told her. "I sent one of my childhood friends to prison three years ago for blowing up his sister." She sat up, giving him a hug. "Thanks. Maybe you should stay on those pills. They seem to calm your temper." She laughed against his shoulder so he laid her back down. "Stay there. You were shot."
"I know I was shot. How bad is the parking lot?"
"Not bad. It was easily hosed off after the crime scene team got done with it."
She snorted. "I had to rinse out the one behind Vice after I got shot out there. They kept giving it a horrified look and I got tired of stepping over the puddle whenever I parked in my spot." She suddenly frowned. "Why did they stick me with Huey?"
"He doesn't have a partner and technically Stanley's mine." He stroked her ankle again. "Then again, we're not that strict around there. Half the time we do it on our own for all that Welsh doesn't like it."
"Hey, the budget's bad, it's understandable. Is my briefcase here?"
"Inside your desk," he promised. "I unloaded your revolver so it wouldn't go off." She nodded, relaxing again. "That was a pretty gun."
"Thanks. It was a present from Mara."
She looked at the nearest bookshelf. "The pastel photo album." He got up and grabbed it, bringing it back. She sat up, sitting next to him. "I've always taken photos of my lovers for future reference. Just in case something happened to them because of me." He opened the book, then looked at her. "Yes, I was rather free in my youth, Ray," she said patiently. "It was the seventies." She let him flip through some pages, smiling and pointing at one. "Mary. She taught me the joys of clubbing and the wonders of a club that all fell down in a sudden orgy," she said quietly. "I was damn lucky for the most part."
He nodded. "You were. Back then things were still dangerous." He continued to turn the pages until he came to the last female picture. "Her?"
"Her. Mara. Cheating and lying bitch." She leaned back. "We were well suited to each other in temperament but she wanted a wilder life than I did. I was content to sit at home after a long day and she wanted to go party. In the end, she did, just with other people." He gave her an understanding look, turning the page, finding two guys' pictures. "My two guys. The judgmental one and nice one." She touched the younger guy's face. "He was so damn sweet."
"He looks like it." He put it aside. "Why did you give it up?"
"Because I figured out he wanted a life I couldn't lead. He went into the Marines. I lost track of him after that." She shrugged. "I figured out with Mara that I was looking for certain qualities in a person, they were just more prevalent in women."
"Like?" She looked at him. "Hey, I helped you find this, maybe I can help you find a decent lover too."
"You might. I have no luck." She glanced in the kitchen, his mother was ignoring them on purpose while eavesdropping. She looked at him again and nodded slightly that way. He grinned and shrugged. "Mostly, I'd like someone who understood me. Someone who knows what it's like to work all day and come home exhausted and hating the sight of other people. Someone who listened to me would be nice. Maybe even someone who would like to give backrubs. I'm a sucker for a good backrub. Someone who wants to sit and read with me, or watch tv with me. Mara couldn't understand why I watched cop shows." He rolled his eyes. "Hey, it's entertainment. Not reality. They have it a lot easier than I do. It's nice to see someone who can solve a case without doing much legwork, no undercovers, and no going out and sitting in clubs each night to catch drug dealers."
"It's our version of the fairytale," he agreed. She nodded, looking happy. "What else are you looking for?"
"Someone who likes to cuddle. I'm one of those people who will chase you across a bed. I need someone who stays in one place through the night and doesn't mind me snoring in his or her ear. Some nights Mara came out to sleep on the couch instead of near me because I was so clingy."
He laughed. "I've been accused of that," he agreed quietly, glancing at his mother. Then he looked at her again, seeing the smile she had. "Think we can stay friends, even though you're going to have to look at me each day for the next six months at least?"
"Days?" she whined. He nodded, smirking at her. "I guess," she sighed, grinning at him. "As long as I get to smack Huey the first time he stares at my tits."
"Sure. Slap away. He doesn't usually do that but if he does try to change your image to better suit himself you go ahead and fight with him. The rest of us would love to see that," he said with a smirk.
"I can't wait to open up his narrow little mind. Think he'll mind the voodoo doll on my desk?"
Ray looked stunned. "Of who?"
"Stanley actually. He pissed me off and I made it, bringing it in the next morning with a meaningful look." He burst out laughing. "I guess I should take some time tomorrow to go strip my computer and clean out my desk. I'll miss my bookmarks and my saved passwords for the occult sites I research on."
"You really do that work?"
"Yeah. No one else does in the city. Plus, I work with a few of the various priests and priestesses in the city. Sorry, not Christian," she told him. "Not sure which part I am, but definitely not Christian. I was taken through the young girl's tour of faiths as a child and I couldn't stand what some of them stood for." He nodded. "And hey, I don't care if you are, just don't push it in my face."
He nodded. "You won't have a problem with that. Will Stanley have another freakout from the doll?"
"Hopefully not. If he does, I'll help him make one of Stella." She grinned and winked. "If he hasn't already gotten one made."
Ray snickered, shaking his head. "Not that I've seen. Of course, he could have it in a small shrine in his closet. That's where his pictures of her are." She nodded. "He had a date tonight; otherwise, he'd be here."
"Wow. Finally. It's only been five years. I thought he was going for my record."
"No, I don't know anyone but some priests and nuns who can hold a candle to not dating for six years." Ray's mother came out with plates for them. "Thanks, Ma." He heard a plaintive meow and looked down. "I'm not the one to beg, that's Ma." The cat continued to stare at him pitifully. "Tough, cat."
"Blair!" Catherine snapped. "Go eat your kitty pood. Now." He meowed at her, jumping up to get between them. She pushed him back onto the floor. "You know better." She ate a bite, then had to wave her mouth. It was a little warm. "S'good," she said as soon as she could swallow. "Thanks, Ma." The older woman smiled and went to put down a small dish for the cats. "Not too much. They'll only really like the sauce," she told her. Blair followed her, going to sniff this new treat. He left it alone, coming back to beg them again. "What? It's the same thing." He meowed again so she sighed and stood up, putting some from her plate onto it. He nosed it and licked happily. "They're like three-year-olds," she shared. "Sometimes the obvious escapes them." Ma gave her a gentle pat and sent her back to the couch. "Yes, ma'am." She sat down, eating happily. "I could get used to this eating thing," she shared.
"You need to do it more often anyway," Ray reminded her. "You can't starve or you'll pass out and Benny will have to carry you around. Not that he'll mind, but he blushes whenever he has to pick up a woman."
She snorted, giving him a sideways look. "I'm sure he'd sprain his back and give it up quickly."
"You're not that big," he retorted.
"Ray, I know how much I weigh and I am very realistic about being fat. I know what size I wear." She ate a bite, humming as the taste exploded across her tongue. "Hmm, herbs," she said happily. Ray smiled at her. "This is really good, Ma. Thanks."
"You're welcome, Catherine. You needed it and Ray shouldn't cook for people who were injured. He only makes them soup."
"You can eat soup in bed easier," Ray defended. "That's why you fed it to us every time we got sick, Ma.
She smiled. "Of course I did. You were a bambino. She's not." She loaded dishes into the dishwasher and turned it on. Then she bent to pet the kitten, making him look up at her in shock. "Yes, I am the one you should beg for treats. The wolf does too."
"Speaking of," Catherine noted. "If he brings Dief over, expect either a stampede for a safe place or a lot of hissing and batting. The cats aren't used to other animals."
"That's how we herded them into the bathroom to catch them today," Ray said dryly. "Dief was not impressed with Chocolate. He gave Benny a look like 'what is this thing' while carrying her around."
"He carried her?"
"Picked her up like he would a puppy." He shrugged. "She didn't bat at him after that. She got him good across the nose once or twice before then. He didn't shake her or anything."
"I'm glad. Dief's awfully big in relation to her."
"Dief's big in relation to most domestic animals," he reminded her, smiling at her. "She's fine. You've seen her since then and Benny got her calmed down. She got him good a few times too. A nose up the tail from Dief stopped that too." She winced. "She let him pet her earlier then went to take a bath. She's fine."
"Yeah, but now I'll get attitude tonight," she reminded him.
"She's a cat, don't you get that most of the time?" She nodded, grinning wryly. "Then it shouldn't be too bad." He looked around. "What else are you buying for in here?"
"A better bed, now that I have a way to close the bedroom away from Chocolate. Some new litterboxes. Those are really old." She thought about it. "I was thinking about buying a daybed instead of the couch so someone could sleep on it comfortably if necessary. Stanley used to complain about my last one."
"He complained about getting this one inside today," he told her.
"I'm not surprised. I'm only surprised that Chocolate didn't do anything to it too."
"I shooed her off it earlier," Ray shared. "She gave me the same look you did after you nearly ran me over." She grinned at him, blushing a little. "Ooh, is that a blush?" he taunted. She swatted at him, then ate more food. He smirked. "Remember not to do that around Huey. He will take advantage of it and pick on you about it."
"He'd better not or he'll find his desk full of porn," she said dryly, eating more. She really was hungry. "I have friends in a few leather clubs and I'm sure I can get some of their old stuff off them. Obviously well-used and well-watched." He gaped at her and she gave him her meanest smirk. "Yes, I will. Ask Stanley." She scraped her plate and went in to get seconds. "Is there more left or did Blair eat the rest?" she asked. Ma scooped her out some more and gave her a gentle pat. "Thank you for feeding me again." She went back to the couch now that Ray wasn't blushing any more. "What?" she asked innocently.
"You go to leather clubs?"
"As part of the job. They get a lot of runaways. Plus, I've made some really good friends in some of them. Club Torment is one of my faves. They're all pretty nice down there."
"I've never been. I always thought they were...." He searched for a word.
"Perverse? Odd? Freakish?"
"Those'll work but I was thinking indecent. That they were doing things in there that'd make Marines blush, much less me."
She nodded. "Sometimes. Sometimes they keep them in the private rooms. It's what they want and I don't have a problem with it. You?" He shook his head quickly. "I figure it's consensual. If not, they wouldn't be there. I've watched. They're very careful to lay out safety restrictions and are very clear about what they're going to do. Even if they don't say it, you still *know*. After a while, you don't even need the hankie code to know what's going to happen upstairs."
"Doesn't that fall under prostitution?"
"No. No cash exchanges," she explained. He nodded, looking interested. "Most of the time it's like going to a swingers club, only with more unusual sexual tastes and experiences. Everyone there knows why they're there and what they want. Everyone leaves happy. The worst I've ever seen in some people bringing in some mild hallucinogenics for their own use. Mostly to loosen up. It's not like it was when I first started out. Things are a lot different now."
"I bet. AIDS had to have impacted them," Ray agreed. She nodded. "Eat." She ate a big bite, then followed it with two more. "Do you....."
She grinned and shook her head. "Nope, sorry. The closest I get is watching. I only really go in there to chat, drink in a place where the average age is around my own, and make sure there's no underaged kids. It's a very tight place. You have to know someone to get into the club. They're good about handing over spare runaways. The ones who take someone in because it's mutual are very honest about it and very careful to make sure they're following all the laws possible." He nodded, still looking thoughtful. "But sometimes, you just gotta watch," she said with a happy grin. "Some of those guys are really odd when they're in a playful mood. Ask me later about the last birthday party I saw there." He blushed and shook his head, glancing at his mother. "That's why I said later," she whispered, making him blink at her. "I doubt she wants to hear about it."
"No, I don't think so either," he agreed. "You're a lot nicer when you've had caffeine and sleep." She laughed, nodding, eating more of her very good pasta casserole. She suddenly yawned. "Here, lay down," he ordered, shifting down. The cat he displaced gave him a dirty look. "Sorry, didn't see you." She walked over him, walking up to knead her mother's legs then lay behind them when she curled up. "Fine, you lay there," he agreed. He put down his plate, going to get her a blanket. "How do you do the bed?"
"Strip it, put it into the blue hamper," she said through another yawn. "Spray it with the bottle marked alcohol, then flip it and spray the new side with the kitty febreeze in the white bottle," she told him, her eyes drifting shut. "Sorry 'bout this."
"It's not a problem," he assured her, going to do that. He knew where everything was, he had put her bedroom together for her. Stanley had refused to get into her closet and Benny had blushed too much. He came out to find his mother checking her forehead. "Is she hot, Ma?" he asked quietly.
"No, she'll be fine." She stood up and looked at her son. "Are you staying here tonight?" He looked startled. "She will probably have nightmares. The cats are not good for those. She needs a real person around. You can take the couch." He nodded, picking her up and taking her into the bedroom. He came back out and found his mother had left, smiling at the locked door and the long-haired gray and white cat. "You again?" he asked. He picked her up and walked her out, handing her back to her owner so he could retrieve her missing cats. All four of them were trying to get out the bottom door. "Guys, you live here now. Get used to it." He carried them upstairs, locking them inside. Then he came out and got the other off the decorative shelf again, putting her on top of the bookshelves. "Fine, I'll make sure you can get up high. Better?" he asked. She gave him a silent meow. "You're welcome." He checked the door and did a nose count, then went to put up the food the one cat was slowly inching toward. "Ah! You know better. Off the counter," he ordered, pointing. She jumped down and ran away from him. "Good girl." He covered the casserole and put it into the fridge, then went to finish cleaning up the kitchen. Not that she'd use much of it but it was a nice gesture.
Ray woke up to someone pounding and groaned, sliding off the bed. He looked down, giving it a confused look, but shook his head and went to find out who it was. "Yeah?" he asked the landlord. He shooed all the cats back so the person with him could come in. "Hey, Stella. What's wrong now?" He did a nose count and shut the door as soon as the landlord was gone. "What's wrong?"
"I need to depose her," Stella Kowalski, Stanley's ex-wife, said firmly. "Is she not here?"
He nodded, holding up a finger. "She was asleep on the bed." He went to wake her up, getting a sleepy complaint. "Stella's here to depose you," he said gently. She opened an eye, glaring at him. "I know, it's early, but this is Stella we're talking about," he said, giving her a small smile. She nodded, getting up and heading into the bathroom. "Don't forget to wrap your shoulder," he called. He sat down and grabbed his phone, noticing he had messages. He called Stanley. "Yeah, I'm up." He popped his neck. "No, I made sure she ate and slept last night. I'm still here. So's Stella." He snorted. "Sure, Stanley. It's not like we don't have work." He listened to the rant. "Really? Why?" He grunted. "Fine. Tell Welsh I'll be in later this afternoon. We can serve those ones who were working tonight if you want." He smirked. "Great. Yeah, go ahead and tell him. How many more to go?" He groaned. "You've only gotten one?" He grunted. "Never mind. We'll do it tonight. We won't need Benny for most of it. Yeah, around dinner. Later." He hung up and turned around when she came out of the bathroom in a towel. "Closet?" he suggested, pointing at it. She dropped the towel as she trudged over there, putting on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt without any underwear. He was blushing as she left him in there. Damn, she was one odd woman!
Catherine trudged out, grunting at her coffeemaker as she made some. "Stella."
"I know I'm interrupting your glorious morning performance, but I need to depose you. Judge Barrett wants the openings today." Catherine nodded. "Once you've cured your caffeine addiction, we'll start. I know you and Stanley are both caffeine whores."
She glared at the other woman. "Stan only goes on his back for chocolate, Stella. You'd think you'd know something like that, having been married to the guy for a few years. Or didn't he make his special coffee around you?" She shuddered and grimaced. "I see. It doesn't fit your little Starbucks world." She added artificial sweetener to her cup while she waited. "Is my last one not thorough enough?"
"It's a formality and I need more details." Stella looked over as Ray came out of the bedroom. "You stayed last night?"
"Yes, Ray is a very sweet guy. He knew I'd have nightmares and stayed to keep me from traumatizing my cats with them." She pulled down a second mug, handing it to him. "I'm sure you know where the sugar is," she said, giving him a look. She leaned closer. "Why were you on my bed?" He shrugged. "Fine, it was probably a nightmare," she decided. "Thank you, Ray." She gave him a little nudge, then winced. "Ow." She took a few deep breaths. "Definitely need the pharmacy soon." She poured herself some coffee, then handed him the pot. "Forage for food if you're hungry," she told him with a grin. "I don't usually eat breakfast, it turns my stomach." He nodded, watching as she went to the table. She sat down across from the stiff woman. "Let's get this done with before Stanley finds out where you are and I have to help him make a voodoo doll." She took a sip.
"I see it's going to be another winning morning," Stella said dryly. "I'm surprised Mara's not here with you."
"Why would I want the cheating bitch here?" she asked. "I don't need degraded about the job. I get enough of that from the other cops who think I've gone soft." Stella gave her a shocked look. "That's right, like some *other* women, Mara cheated on me for her career. She wanted to be a professional party girl and she slept her way into her position." Stella was pale now and she knew Ray was watching them. "By the way, he knows. He's the one who told me, Stella." The other woman swallowed. "Do you want my case notes?"
"Please," she agreed, swallowing again. "He knows?" Catherine nodded as she got up to find them in her new study. "Since when?"
"Since he saw you," she said smartly as she came back. "Hey, Ray, did I hear you talking to Welsh?"
"To Stanley," he admitted. "He's only caught one guy so far today. We're going to go hunting tonight for the people who were supposedly at work. You're going to be resting." They shared a look. "I can make Stanley knock you out," he pointed out.
"I'm up to it, as long as the pain killers don't knock my ass out," she promised. "I won't try to drive or anything but I can help hunt. And if I pass out, I'll nap on Dief in the back of the Riv." He nodded, agreeing to that. "Are you worried we won't get all ours?"
"Stanley said they found three more boxes worth," he said bitterly. "The judge gave us an extra week."
"Oh, how kind," she said dryly. "Can we whack him?" Ray smiled and shook his head. "Shit. Too bad." She looked at Stella again as the woman looked over her notes. "I might have another coffee cup," she said patiently.
"If I have to drink your coffee, I'll get sick," Stella told her. "You make it strong enough to peel paint. That's why I don't drink Stanley's either." She looked up. "All right, it's the same marks. Did you ever decode it?"
"Not really. It bears a superficial resemblance to some ancient symbols, but if that's what it's supposed to be he's got the world's worst handwriting with an exacto blade."
"Are you sure he used one?"
"According to the coroner." She took a bigger sip. "A penknife would have been deeper and we did find all those bloody exacto blades in his dresser." Stella checked her forms, looking at her. "It was logged in."
"I don't have it on my list," she noted. Catherine grabbed the forms, looking at it. "Is anything else missing?"
"The next two pages of inventory," she said, sliding it back. "Next question? You're keeping me from pain killers." Stella gave her a look. "I was shot, you stupid...." Ray put a hand over her mouth.
"She was shot yesterday in the parking lot of the precinct by her stalker, a patrol officer. IA has it." Stella nodded so he let her mouth go. "I heard the GTO pull up. He still needs new brakes." He went back to the kitchen, knowing Catherine could use some more coffee and Stanley was always hungry. He brought the pot out and a few more packets of sweetener, catching her eye. "Hurry up. I want to make sure we look better than Huey." He walked over to open the door, making sure all the cats had scrambled when Stanley knocked. "Coffee?" he asked, stopping a cat with his foot.
Stanley bent and picked it up, nuzzling her. "Escaping makes me want to pet you," he told her, putting her down. She walked off in a huff. "Thanks." He took the pot, going to get himself some Liquid God. "Stella. Morning, Kate." She growled at him. He smirked. "We've even managed to clear a desk off for you already."
"Cool. Now all I need is to go clean off the other one and hopefully beg and plead my way into bringing my other computer back since you guys don't have one and I doubt anyone's going to be handling the other strange cases," she said dryly. "And don't call me Kate!" Ray chuckled as he walked past her so she reached over and pinched him. "You either. I hate that name." She noticed Stella had relaxed some with Stanley getting there and sneered at her. "What's wrong, Stella? Afraid I'm going to jump you and make you like woman lovin'?" Stella glared at her. "Don't worry about. Even if you were God's gift to oral sex fiends, I wouldn't touch you. You're Stanley's." Stella shifted nervously and Stanley cleared his throat. "I'm staying polite," she defended. "Just putting her at ease, Stan."
He gave her a look and came over to whisper something in her ear, making her cackle and hug him. "Okay?" She nodded. "Thanks." He went back into the kitchen to help Ray. "I got the little creatures some food. I figure by now they're about to break into the fridge. It's down in the car."
"Thanks, Stan. I was going to bring some back after the shopping trip." He grinned back at her.
"They'll love you and Ma forever and ever," Ray said dryly. He glanced back, then gave Stanley a pointed look. "What is that?"
Stanley leaned closer. "Polite. I asked Catherine not to snipe at her anymore because of our thing and she agreed. This was really polite for first thing in the morning and it being Stella." He went back to cracking eggs. "We are havin' scrambled, right?" Vecchio shrugged and nodded. "Cool. Welsh liked your idea. He gave us the go ahead for tonight. Said she might even be helpful by then."
"We need to get her drugs filled," Ray said. "Then she needs to go do a little bit of shopping." He took the mixed eggs, pouring some into the pan he had been preheating. "Catherine, won't you need to eat with your pain killers?" he called.
"Later," she promised. "I can't eat first thing in the morning. Put me some in the fridge." He nodded, so she paid attention while Stella got the other pages of inventory from the storage cops.
Stella hung up her phone, then looked at her. "They've found them. I'll get them later." Catherine nodded. "How did you know it was him?"
"I was unlucky enough to see one of his people dump one of the bodies and decided to follow him while I called help to the girl's mutilated body. She was the next-to-last. The very last was while we were waiting on a warrant. We're pretty sure someone tipped him off, that's why she was hurt so much worse." Stella made a note of that. "I've tracked other serial people, Stella. This guy was classic without the escalation. He still had some self-control. He made himself wait for his next fix. Otherwise, we'd be up to a triple digit body count." She finished her coffee and started to stand up but she braced with her injured arm and her vision swam. "Ow." She sat down again, breathing hard. "Can we continue this after I find a pharmacy? Do you really need this for your opening?"
"I do need some facts," Stella admitted. "How many bodies?"
"Sixty-four. We think there's another three but we can't find them or prove it." Stella nodded, making a note. "He was doing one a week for over a year. No one seemed to give a shit. Homicide sent it to me because they were working girls and they had those markings on them. We couldn't get much cooperation from the other girls, they were scared shitless because they didn't have a clue who was picking up and who wasn't. Some of them thought he might be a cop, that's why it had went on so long. Homicide got four bodies and I found the others after they sent me the file. That was three bodies before he was caught. Four before he was arrested. No one noted anything because they were prostitutes," she sighed. "And the other cops think it's dumb to charge him with it." Stella looked at her. "Seriously. Ask Ray. I nearly slapped someone the other day."
Ray nodded, bringing her a plate with toast. "She did. The day she went apartment hunting and was temporarily suspended. Try that." She gave him a look. "Trust me. Eat the toast." He went back into the kitchen. "It helped Maria when she had morning sickness. I added a little salt to them."
She nibbled, then groaned and got up to get some soda. "Too much salt, but maybe," she agreed. She gave him a one-armed hug. "You're gonna make someone a great husband some day. Hopefully she'll appreciate you." He looked stunned but she had already turned away and trudged back to the table. She sat down and opened her own version of God, taking a long drink before eating more of the toast.
Stella looked at her. "Are you sure you're not pregnant?"
"I haven't been able to eat anything first thing in the morning for nearly twenty years, Stella. I've never heard of a pregnancy that lasted that long. You?" Stella ducked her head. "Besides, I'm quite sure I haven't slept with anyone capable of making me pregnant in over a decade." She winced and covered it up with more soda. "What else did you need to know right now?"
"I think I should have enough," Stella admitted, gathering everything up. "Bring a phone with you."
"I'll be getting a new one today," she told her. "I'll need a day's warning before I have to testify. I'm working with those two on the great warrant hunt." Stella looked at her. "Even before I was yanked from Vice to join them full time. We've got another two weeks with about a hundred warrants."
"Sixty," Stanley corrected. "The new boxes had thick files in them." He sipped his coffee, staring at his exwife to make her leave faster. "What are you doing after the pharmacy?"
"Bank, pharmacy, shopping," she told him. "New bed, maybe a daybed for the office or spare room. Some clothes since I doubt my outfits are going to be that suitable. I'd hate to have to smack Huey for looking down my shirt." Stanley chuckled, shaking his head. "He did when I walked in."
"Your top was kinda low," Ray told her. "Men stare at beautiful women with low-cut tops." He looked at her. "If you're going shopping with me, you'll have to change." She gave him an incredulous look. "Seriously." He smirked at her. "That way I can look at your shoulder."
She sighed and nodded. "Yes, dad."
"Thank you, Catherine. If you're good, I'll even let you treat me to a real lunch."
"Most of that is going into my retirement account. That way I can quit when the next stalker happens," she told him. He smiled at her. "Seriously. Three I can ignore, four will freak me out and I'm going to quit and go somewhere warm." She looked at Stella, who looked stunned. "What? They're two of the very few men in the world I can stand. You know Stan's like a little brother to me." She nodded, gathering up her things and leaving. "Bitch," she said once the door was closed. "Hey, Stan, can't I *please* send her a robot for her birthday this year? Maybe she'll realize how stiff she is."
"No," he said, coming over to hug her, being very careful of her shoulder. "You make an interesting big sister." He heard Vecchio clear his throat and looked back at him. "She's like my sister. I could never put up with her in the bedroom."
"Hey!" she complained. "I'm nice in there."
"Yeah, but you're playful and bouncy. Plus, you're more submissive than I am," he taunted. "We'd need someone with a firm hand to join us."
She cackled, swatting at him. "Bad you. Just for that, I should bring you to Torment with me." He shook his head, going back to the safety of the kitchen. One of her cats meowed so she looked at her. "I'll feed you in a while, sweetheart. Go back to staring at the birds out the window." The cat rubbed against her leg, making her reach down to pet her. "I know. Soon, Xander." Stanley went out, going to get them something to eat. He came back and all the cats were waiting on him. They could smell cat food. She stood up with a grunt, heading into her bedroom to put on some real clothes. Ray knocked then walked in. "Didn't like my commando morning?"
"Not really. Especially if you're going underwear shopping." He sat her down, moving her t-shirt sleeve out of the way so he could look at her shoulder. "Ma was right, the guy who did this was dumb." He walked into the bathroom, grabbing the neosporin he had unpacked the day before, coming back to put some on the wound. "That should help it some," he said. She smiled at him. He could feel a strange sensation in his stomach and stepped back. "Get dressed in something decent and I'll play chauffeur today as long as you let me put you into something classy." She nodded, grinning at him. "Good." He left her there to redress and bandage that. She came out a few minutes later in a man's t-shirt and knit pants, holding a button up shirt in her hand and two bandages. "Need help?" She nodded, sitting down so he could do that for her. He smoothed the bandages over the injured spots, then taped the hell out of them. "There." He watched as she slid into the button up shirt, helping by smoothing out the back for her. "That's a nice look on you."
"Thanks. This is court clothes." She did up the shirt to show half of her cleavage then sat down, running her good hand through her hair. "Did we find my sling?"
"Nope, sorry," Stanley told her. "Any idea where it was?" She shook her head. "We should get you one."
"I hated it the last time," she reminded him. "I'd rather have some movement than none and my shoulder and arm uncomfortable. I'll live." She finished her coffee and stood up, going over to find her sandals next to the door. Obviously a Benny touch. "Check?" Ray found it and handed it over, letting her check it. "We nearly ready or just me?"
"No, I'm ready," Ray admitted. "I need to swing by the house and change." She nodded, following him outside. "I figure I can do that while you're in the pharmacy."
"Or in Walmart if we wanted to go out that way. My favorite bed place is out there." He nodded, liking that idea. "Plus, the bank is on the way."
"Second National." He nodded, pulling the Riv around to head that way. "Thanks for this, Ray. You are either the world's most sweet guy or you're some sort of saint."
"Eh. I like you," he noted. "After this, you can take care of my next injury." She nodded, giving him a squeeze to his arm. "What was that about 'your thing'?" he asked. "Were you and Stanley dating?"
She snorted. "Hell no. Stanley and I would cancel each other out and be limp rags of misery. His and her thing. She came into Vice one day and started to throw major hissy fits about Stanley working with me. Considering she had slept with her boss the night before and Stanley had caught her, she was being a bit hypocritical." His mouth fell open. "He seduced her according to her. According to Stanley, she was enjoying it like she had on their honeymoon. He was fucking destroyed, Ray. Absolutely morbid. I was thinking about taking his gun from him sort of morbid. Then she came in and accused him of sleeping with me in front of the whole unit. During shift change. He started to yell back but I stepped between them and got into her face about it. She stomped off once she knew I liked gentler people and didn't believe him in the least. Then another assignment came up and you know how the rest went." He nodded, staying silent. "Bank," she said as they passed it. He groaned and turned, heading back to it. "Thanks. Want to come in or sit out here and think of a way to make Stan's next birthday better?" she asked.
"On his birthday?"
"The day after. She cheated on his birthday. They were going to celebrate it that next night. So instead I took him and got him drunk. We shared a lot of confidences that night and that's why he's like my little brother." She slid out of the car, taking her check inside. She signed in so she could talk to one of the retirement account people. She had one but she wasn't sure how she added to them.
Catherine looked around the bedding store, instantly drawn to a heavy wooden set. She walked over, touching it. It was sanded smooth, it was nice. She looked at Ray, who was giving her a tolerant look. "You don't like it?"
"I do, but I thought you'd go for something more fanciful."
She nodded, pointing at the iron four-poster in the corner. "I want that, but I wouldn't do it justice. And I don't want the top part, just the spires and the side rails."
A salesman walked up to her. "We have a very pretty one in cherry," he offered. She looked unsure. "It also comes in a lighter wood, oak I believe. We can go look at it." She nodded, letting him lead her that way. He smiled at Ray as they walked. "Were you also looking for a new mattress?"
"Yeah, I am," she admitted. "It's got to be good for my back, but I also need one that has a *really* good waterproof cover because I have a problem cat." He nodded. "My current one is getting ripped to shreds with how many times I've had to clean and flip it."
"I understand. In that case you probably won't want a pillow top. You can't flip them over." He led her to the nice bed he had been wanting to see. "How about this?"
She looked up, then wiggled it. "Two things. It's *way* too high for my ceiling, and it's also kinda flimsy. I need something sturdy. I've got five cats and I'm an active sleeper. My ceilings are only about seven feet high."
He looked thoughtful, taking her to the back room. "How about this?" he asked, showing her a more square version of the same bed. More Shaker style than the English one she had been looking at.
"I like that," Ray admitted. He tested it and it didn't move. "It's solid."
She ran her hands over the edges, wincing. "They're sharp." She tested the wood. "It's unfinished?" The salesman nodded. "What sort of wood is it?"
"Maple." He watched as she took the few steps up to sit on the edge of it. "It's a queen or a full. What do you have right now?"
"Full. I'm willing to go up to a queen if I have to," she admitted. "Most of my present sheets should fit. I use t-shirt cotton because I sweat so much." She wiggled on the test mattress and noticed that the bed didn't move at all. "Done," she agreed. "Dresser and all that?" He nodded, showing her the set. "Okay, and I need a daybed that will go with some mismatched Walmart oak finished dressers." He nodded, looking excited as he made out the tags for her. "A good sander and some stain should help that," she agreed.
"For a small fee we can do that for you," he offered. "We do offer that service."
"Define small fee," she said.
"Fifty for the entire set?"
She considered it, she had the money. "Sure. It'll save me dying of paint fumes or my cats coming in to help." He chuckled and she pointed at a metal daybed. "That. Does it pull out?"
"That one doesn't," he said. "This one does." He showed her another one.
Ray nudged her and pointed at a nice wooden one. "That one'll match and it looks like it pulls out too."
She walked over, testing it. "Okay I like this," she admitted. She looked at Ray. "Am I decorating my house for you?" He looked embarrassed. "Not that I mind, it keeps me from having to make design decisions, but I wanted to know just in case. Should we turn that spare room into yours?"
He gave her a look. "I have a room."
"True. And you're damn comfortable to nap on," she assured him, giving him a smile. "Sure, we'll take this one too." The salesman handed over a book. "For what?"
"For your bedroom suite," he told her.
She waved Ray over. "Come help. You know my tastes as well as I do. Something that goes well with blues, greens, purples, grays, blacks, and some reds." He sat down next to her, testing out the daybed. "Does it come with this mattress?" she asked.
"No, the mattress is separate," he admitted. "I was going to start writing up your order. Are we delivering?"
"You'll have to. I'm healing from a gunshot wound." She tapped the cherry one. "I like it, but it's too dark."
He looked at it, then nodded and changed the page, pointing out one lighter one. "How about that? That should go with all your sheets."
She considered it, tipping it back and forth in the light. "Are you sure?"
"I am." He pointed at another one. "Unless you wanted to paint it."
"No, not really. Do these stains usually come out darker or lighter?"
"Darker. Which one were you considering?"
"I liked the cherry but it's too dark for my tastes. He likes this one," she said, pointing at it. "But I tend to decorate in blues and greens. Water colors."
"Ah." He took the book, flipping to the back. "How about those?" he asked.
They looked at it and pointed at the same stain. It was a more translucent cherry color. "That one," she agreed. He nodded and marked it down on their order. "That leaves us with mattresses. For obvious reasons," she said, tapping Ray's badge, "we'll need something good on our backs."
"Are you an officer too?" he asked.
"Detective first class," she told him with a small smirk. "He's my buddy." Ray gave her a nudge and a look. "What? You are. You're one of probably ten men I can stand to spend time around on a daily basis. Get used to it, I'm clingy to those I like." She heaved herself up and headed after him to test out mattresses.
Ray watched her, shaking his head. She was definitely an odd woman, but she was fun and lively. Very different from their first meeting. She was bouncing and laughing. "No waterbeds," he called, following them. "Not with the cats."
"This one's got a gel additive," the salesman told him. "Perfectly safe for animals and their nails. Plus, it's already waterproof."
Ray helped her up, shaking his head. "That'll kill your back." He pointed at one he liked. "If it wasn't for that one cat, you'd like that one. Ma got one of those and I had to help her shop too." She walked over and tested it, then moaned. "See?"
"I can close the bedroom door, as long as you have a really good waterproof cover for this. Nothing thinner than a half-inch." The salesman nodded happily, marking it down. "Okay, Ray, where are you fixing in my life next?"
He smirked. "Your wardrobe. You can't live in knit pants and t-shirts all the time."
"I can. I only wear stretchy clothes," she told him, letting him help her up. "Test that, it's very nice. Just hard enough."
"Just this side of a rock yet with the extra softness," he agreed, walking her over to watch her pay for things. "How long before it's delivered?"
"The daybed mattress," she groaned. "It's got to be waterproof too." The salesman nodded, putting on the standard one. "Thanks." She gave Ray a hug. "You're really neat and useful. That makes you next to the Goddess for me." The salesman smiled at them. "We're not dating," she told him. He laughed and shrugged, taking the cash, minus their discount for cops.
She looked around her usual shop but he was dragging her away to somewhere else. "I don't usually shop in there," she complained.
"I know, it shows." He led her inside and right to a rack of decent clothes. "Look in there."
"But I heard they don't last that well," she said quietly.
"Nah, Maria shops here all the time. Look before I pick it out for you." She sighed and looked at the rack, making him roll his eyes. "Then I'll let you drag me to Victoria's Secret."
"They have nothing in there that fits me," she said bitterly. "Viccy's is only for little toothpick women with no tits. Which I am not." She pulled out a few things to try on, moving around the store. He followed her, taking a few shirts from her. "Hey, over black."
"Not in those colors. It'll wash you out."
"I'll have you know I'm occasionally a redhead." She took them back but he gave her a look. "Every woman needs at least one ugly shirt in her closet, Ray. It's for the days when we look horrible so no one will notice the big zits on the ends of our noses." He laughed, letting her do it. She continued around the store pulling out what she wanted. She stopped in front of the pajama racks, pulling down ones in her size that she liked the feeling of. Ray came over and put two back. "Meanie."
"Get a real pair," he told her. "Humor me."
"They don't stretch," she told him. She found one set in cotton and held it up. "Better?" He swallowed. She looked at it, then at him. "It's a nightie," she told him. "If I wanted that sort of reaction, I'd pull out this," she said, handing him something. She went to try things on, finding a lot of things she liked out of the group. She came out with the smaller group, letting the salesgirl take the rest. "Okay," she said, noticing he was still staring at it. She cleared her throat, and when that didn't work, she walked over to tip his face up. "Ray." He shook his head and looked at her. "Unfamiliar mental territory?" she teased with a small grin. He put it back and nodded, following her out. "You were right, one of those shirts was too hideous to be believed."
He gave her a smug look. "Where to next?" he asked.
"The other place. They've got the bras and panties I wear." She paid for that stack, taking the bags from the girl. She even kept them when Ray tried to help. "I've got it. You can get the one from the book and tape store." He gave her a look and she grinned. "Yes, me, book whore. Not just a caffeine whore." The salesgirl handed her the change and she smiled. "Thanks." She wandered out, heading back to the other store. Then she went back and bought the shirt and nightie she liked, adding them to her bag. She trotted to catch up to Ray. "Want a pretzel after this?"
"Not running low yet?" he teased.
"No, just starving. This eating routinely thing is going to become addictive." She walked into her store, waving with her injured arm. "Need some help," she admitted. One of the girls followed her so she told her about her arm and got a nod in response, getting help looking for the right size and new pajamas over here. She stopped at something, looking at it. "What would I do with it?" she asked the salesgirl.
"I wear them under jackets," she told her. "Especially in the heat of summer." She showed off the one she was wearing. "They're not as uncomfortable as everyone thinks."
She shook her head. "The last one I tried on got sucked under my tits." She went back to browsing the lingerie, coming up with a large basket of things. "Okay, these, and let me look at the clothes." Ray handed her a pile. "Damn, you're good." She looked at them, then at him. "But you're a lousy judge of sizes, Ray. I'm a 3X, not a 1X."
"Try it on," he said patiently. He turned her around and made her go into the dressing room. "The bigger one is in there too," he promised. "Try on the 1X. The other looks really baggy." He looked at the salesgirl. "What was she complaining about?"
"A gold bustier," she told him. He blinked a few times. "They're very handy under jackets," she told him. He continued to stare. "Sorry." She went back to the racks, then brought something into the changing area. "We do have a strapless in your size," she offered.
"I need it in black," she called, coming out in the outfit Ray had insisted she try on. "I think it's tight."
"It is," she agreed. "A 2X would probably be perfect." Catherine went back into the dressing room to change, coming out in the larger one. "I like that one better," she admitted. She frowned and touched the lump of bandage. "I think you're bleeding." She groaned and shook her head, going in to sort through the clothes. "Sorry."
"That's okay. I should have expected it," she admitted, coming out with all of those. She handed over the first outfit. "I checked, nothing was on it." The salesgirl nodded, helping her check out. "Ray, I need to find some new bandages too," she told him quietly. "I think I had another pop."
He frowned and looked at her shoulder. "You did bleed through that one," he agreed. "Let's go put these into the trunk and then we'll find a bandage. I'll change it for you."
"There's no pharmacy here," the salesgirl told him. "It went out of business a year ago. The nearest one is back at Walmart."
"I thought I got some but I don't remember it," Catherine admitted. She pulled out the receipt to look at it, letting him chase the bill that fell. He grunted as he handed it back. "Sorry. I didn't."
"That's fine, we can do that," he agreed. "Did we need anything else up here?"
"I do need to hit a decent shoe store, but not really," she admitted. "There's that shopping center on the other side of Walmart. It has a full pharmacy and a good shoe store. Then I am done! Unless you really want to go grocery shopping too."
"Online," she said with a small shrug. "Plus they deliver." She let him take the bags, checking her watch. "We're gonna be late to meet Stan. I can do shoes later."
"Fat chance," he told her. "You need something to run after us with."
"Fine." She grinned at the salesgirl, but followed him out to her romantic sigh. "I think she thinks you're very strong willed." He grinned back at her. "She was giving your back coweyes."
"She was?" He glanced back and she waved at him. "Oh, damn." He hurried her out. "I don't need little girls chasing me. Sorry about that." She laughed. "Don't laugh. This is just as bad as yours." She nodded, grinning at him. "I should spank you."
"You'd have to be a lot faster to land one on me," she taunted, skipping ahead. She turned and looked back at him. "You would. See?" She walked out.
He shook his head, clearing the funny mental images again. "I've got to stop doing that," he told himself. "Not that Ma won't be thrilled, but still. She likes women." He found her being kissed by someone and cleared his throat. Catherine pulled back and patted the girl on the cheek before walking off, apparently not interested. He followed her out to the car. "An ex?"
"The sister of an ex who wants me. I keep telling her no," she said dryly. "She likes me and wants me to pop her woman cherry." She shrugged and winced. "Ow. I shouldn't do that." He nodded, popping the trunk for her. "Thank you for doing this for me."
"You're welcome. I like you. You're less annoying than Frannie and more fun than Stanley." He let her inside the car, stopping to check her shoulder. "I think it's going to need cleaned too," he told her, closing the door and walking around to get in. "You sure you're good to go tonight?"
"Sure. Let me eat something and drink down a pill and I'll be fine." She leaned her head back, getting comfortable as he took off. "What did I forget?"
"Oh, yeah. Money?" He patted his jacket pocket. "Thanks."
"It's safer. You've dropped it twice." He pulled out onto the main road, heading down to the other shopping center. "Isn't there a phone place in there?"
"Yeah, but I was going through Sprint. They're not very friendly so I canceled my contract in the middle."
"I go through Cingular and they're pretty decent," he told her. She shifted to look at him. "Rest until we can get that changed. The last graze I got was horrible."
"This is my fourth gunshot, I'm okay with them now," she told him.
"Listen, Catherine, I know women have to be tougher and all that on the job, but outside it you can admit that you're in pain. Really. None of us will make fun of you for it."
"I'm not. They gave me this nice gel to put around the edges and it works well," she told him. He glanced at her as they stopped at a red light. "Green," she said in the silence, closing her eyes as the car moved again. She yawned. "It's definitely time for dinner."
He gave her a smile as he continued to drive and she dozed off. He stopped to get her bandages and came back to change it, waking her up. "Shh. We can go get dinner." She nodded. "Is this the pain killer wearing out?" She nodded. "I'll remember that." He checked his watch. "Six hours, I'm impressed."
"It's an eight-hour pill," she said dryly. "The gel is in my bag." He nodded, getting it from between her feet. She reached over, straightening out his hair. "It was messy," she said when he looked up at her. She grinned. "You're too nicely dressed to have messy hair. Unless you're ready to yank it out because of Benny being clueless."
He laughed, nodding. "I've almost done that." He carefully smoothed the gel around her staples, wincing when more blood came out. "You're bleeding again," he said quietly.
"If I go back, they'll have to yank all those." He nodded, putting the bandage back on. "I'll live, trust me." She leaned down and kissed him on the nose. "Thank you, Ray."
"You say that a lot," he teased, messing up her hair. "You need to let that mop grow out."
"I hate having hair. Hair sucks. I'd rather be bald." She let her eyes drift shut. "Dinner? I'll treat."
"Sure, kid." He got in, driving her to his favorite place to have dinner. His mother would unstubborn her pretty damn fast, and Stan would be waiting on them there. He got out and put a finger to his lips, letting Stan help her out of the seat. They got her inside and onto the couch before his mother found him. "Where's everyone else?"
"Maria took the children out to dinner," she told him, kissing him on the cheek. "Clean up, it'll only take me a minute or two."
"She's nappin' on the couch," Stanley told her, giving her a strong hug. "I'm guessin' the pain pill wore off again." Ray nodded. "Did she get everything?"
"But the new phone, shoes, books, and tapes," he told them. "We were clothes shopping when she passed out again. Ma, she's bleeding. We need to keep an eye on her."
"Of course you do. She should still be in the hospital but I understand. Women such as her cannot appear weak or people don't trust them to do their jobs. It is often that way when women work these days." Ray looked stunned. "She likes you enough to fall asleep near you. It is a great compliment." She went into the kitchen, making them some sandwiches. "Clean up, Raymondo."
"Yes, Ma." He went to do that, considering it. He came out to help her. "I told her she didn't have to. She's relaxed a lot around me. She hasn't sworn at me since that first morning."
"She likes you, Caro," she told him, giving him a bright smile. "She is a good girl."
"Ma, she rides a motorcycle and goes to leather bars," he told her. She laughed and nodded. "That doesn't bother you?"
"Why should it? She obviously has some sort of friend there. She is not the sort."
"Ma, I'm not sure you'd know the type," he told her.
"Bah. I do know. I know the sort very well, son. Trust your mother." She patted him on the cheek. "Did you help her?"
"A lot. She even let me bully her into clothes I thought were more appropriate than her t- shirts." She sighed happily. "Ma, not like that," he told her. "She likes girls."
Ma Vecchio laughed. "She told you last night she likes certain types of people. You need to settle yourself down." She went to find the other two boys, dragging them back to the table and the young woman since she was awake again. "Eat," she encouraged. Catherine excused herself to wash her hands, then came back to eat. "How is your shoulder?"
"Fine. It's sore but I'll live," she said. "I can't wait until they pull that mess of staples." Ma clucked her tongue and gave her a gentle hug. "Thanks, Ma."
"You're welcome. Remember to bring many pairs of handcuffs tonight."
"We should probably empty the trunk," Stanley agreed. "Did you get everything you wanted?"
"Pretty muchly," she agreed. "I need some new shoes soon. I can do that tomorrow night if we've got time." She winced and held her shoulder, putting down the food. She took a few deep breaths. "That's the worst part of a shoulder or a hip injury, the shooting pains." Ray reached over to touch her arm, making her flinch. "Don't. Not yet." She calmed herself again, making the pain retreat. Then she picked up her sandwich and ate another bite. "How long has it been since I took my pill?"
"Seven hours," Ray told her.
"Then I could probably take another one. By the time it dissolves it should be nearly eight." She stood up. "I'll be right back." She took Ray's keys, going out to find her pills. She saw someone standing on the front yard and sneered at him. "And you are?"
"Are you Vecchio's new girlfriend?" he asked.
"No, I'm the new detective in his precinct. I just came over from Vice and he's helping me get used to normal hours again." The man sneered. "And again I ask, who are you? Next time I ask, I'll be filling out forms with your name on them."
He smirked. "Zucko."
"Fuck." She pulled her gun, wincing at the pain in her shoulder. "Leave. Now. Ray, it's an old friend," she called. He came out the door. "Isn't he supposed to be in jail?"
"He is," Ray agreed, glaring at his childhood friend. "How'd you get out, Frankie?"
"Parole," he said smugly. "Just wanted to check in with you, Detective."
"Yay. You did. Leave."
"Fine. Cute woman. Hiding behind her?"
She shot between his feet. "No. She's a little bit irrational because she needs pain killers. Leave. Now. Before I break out my bitch act."
"Leave him alone," Ray ordered. "He's a schmuck." He glared at Frankie until he left. "Catherine," he said. "Put it away." She put it up, eyes squeezing shut in pain. "Go sit. I'll get your medicines."
"I can do it," she told him, going to do that. She came back, waving the bag. "See?" She walked past him, going to take one. "Guess who I just got to meet," she said dryly.
"Who?" Benny asked.
"Frankie Zucko." He dropped his fork and wiped his mouth, excusing himself with a nod to Ma. She sat down, looking at the bottle. "They would give me a childproof one," she said dryly, trying to open it. Stanley took it and popped it open. "Thanks. Oh, Ma, I popped a bullet into the lawn." She smiled at her. "Between his feet. He accused me of being Ray's girl."
"You two act like it sometimes," Stanley told her. She gave him a look. "Really. You smile at him. You usually only do that to me."
"Jealous?" She noticed an extra pill had fallen out and onto the floor. "Dief, no, do not lick that," she ordered, picking it up and putting it onto her plate. "No drugs for you. You sniff them out, not take them." She put down her bottle and swallowed the pills quickly, looking up as Ray came back. "Sorry about the new hole in the lawn."
"Eh, it's fine. It's not the first. Fortunately, the neighbors are all at church." His mother grunted. "Ma, something wrong?"
"Just that the boy is out," she said firmly. "His poor mother must be very upset with him."
"Let's hope she can kick his butt," Catherine said, saluting her with her glass. "All mothers are scary women." She smiled at her.
"Take the other one," Ray told her.
"I dropped that one and saved Dief from being stoned for the night," she shared. Stanley took the bottle and recapped it, putting it into his pocket. "Gee, thanks, little brother." Stanley grinned at her. "Is he gonna be a problem?"
"Not yet," Ray told her. "Give him a few weeks before we go check on him." She nodded, eating some more. "I'm checking your bandages after dinner," he ordered. "Then we'll go and you can cheerlead from the back." She gave him a small glare. "If you're bleeding, I should drop you off at home." She sighed and nodded, accepting that. "Thank you. Welsh would be proud of you, you can follow orders." She kicked him under the table, making him laugh. "Why did you fire at him when he taunted me?"
"Because people like him only understand strength. If he thought you or I were weak then it'd give him a target. I learned that from the Columbians that run the club dealers. They like to come up and do the same thing. I nearly had six cats there for a while." She took a deep breath, then sipped her water.
"More pain?" Benny asked solicitously. She shook her head. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she told him. "It was a long time ago." He nodded. "Anyway, not only did he accuse you of hiding behind me, he accused us of dating and Stanley seems to agree with him."
Ray looked at him. "She likes girls."
"So?" Stanley asked. "She likes you. You make her relaxed. It's a miracle," he said dryly. "People in Vice are gonna bow at your feet for doin' it." He stuffed his mouth before he went too far.
"Friends can do that," she reminded him. "You make me relaxed sometimes, unless you're vibrating in anger, angst, or lack of chocolate." He grinned at her, giving her a look. "Really. You do."
"Enough, children," Ma requested. "It will be fine. Frankie will not bother you and tonight will be a big success." They all smiled at her and nodded. "Do we have extra handcuffs?"
"We can pop around and get mine," Catherine offered. "That means Ray can play with my clothes some more." Ma looked shocked. "He made me buy stuff he liked, Ma. He even took stuff out of my hand."
"He's the dress code monitor," Stanley told her. "He nags me all the time too. What about the new bed?"
"Tomorrow," she told him. "They're being very nice, they're even staining it for me." Ray nodded. "The cats will love it. It'll be like a big playground for Oz. Somewhere else to jump up onto. She loves her way up high spots."
"She'll probably love that then," Ray agreed. "Remember to close the door."
"That's why I got the waterproof covers too," she told him. "Just in case." He smirked at her. "Plus now I'll have a daybed in the spare bedroom for anyone who needs to crash." She looked at Benny. "Dief and the rest got along, right?" He nodded. "Good." She finished her sandwich and got up to get some more water. The next thing she knew she woke up on the couch with a cool cloth on her head. "What happened? Was I shot again?"
"Nope," Stanley told her. "You're still bleedin'. Benny pulled one of the staples to check and you're all but gushing. Ray's throwing a fit in his room about you being so stubborn. So we're gonna take you back to the ER and come pick you up later." She shook her head. "Ray said I could handcuff your ass if you didn't agree," he warned. "We can even tell 'em you're a perp."
"Fine," she sighed. "I'll go. Then I'll go home and be in the office bright and early." He shook his head. "Yes, Stanley. You know me better than that."
He grinned his most irritating grin. "Vecchio called Welsh at home. If you show up tomorrow, he's gonna dock your pay and send you home in a squad car in handcuffs." He helped her up, earning a moan. "Now, you ready?"
"Sure, why not," she said dryly. "Anything else you three have decided for me?"
"Yeah, wear the green outfit your first day back," Ray said from the doorway. "It'll be more comfortable." He came over to take charge of her. "We'll drop your stuff later tonight, after we've gotten a few more on our list."
"You could just drop all of us off at home," she offered. He shook his head, smiling. "Fine. I had to try."
"I know." He led her out to the car, settling her in the front. "Come on. We'll make the nice doctors take care of you this time," he promised.
"Unless you're staying, you can't guarantee you won't be done before I'm seen," she pointed out.
"Yes, I can," Stanley told her. "I used to see one of the nurses. She's waiting on you." He reached up and hugged her around the throat. "Once you're done, go home and play with the kitties."
"Ray has all my cash," she told him.
"I'll give you some of it," he promised. "That way you can't lose it in there. The rest is in my room." She sighed and nodded, and he glanced at her. "Trust us, it's not because you're a woman. I'd do the same to Benny or Stanley."
"I'd be whining in bed," Stanley snorted. "Don't you mean just for Benny?"
Ray laughed. "Yeah, probably." He turned the corner, wincing when he saw the accident. "Do we have to stop?"
"Considering there's a patrol involved?" Catherine told him. Ray swore and pulled over, heading to help. She was firmly not let out of her seat by Dief, who came up to sit on her lap. "Oh, come on. I'm good at medical stuff," she tried. She grabbed the radio. "Dispatch, this is Detective Demoranth. There's an accident that looks to involve a patrol car on...." She looked up. "An alley between sixth and fifth on Market."
"Do you need medical attention?"
"Not sure," she admitted. "I'm locked in the car. Detectives Vecchio and Kowalski went to check it." She winced. "That was a gunshot. Send backup and an ambulance. Someone will need one." She dropped the radio and moved the wolf off her, heading out to help. She found someone holding Ray against the wall and walked up behind him, pressing her gun against his head. "Morning," she said dryly. "On your knees. I'm not the most stable at the moment." He sneered at someone behind her. She ducked and kicked at him, making the guy coming up behind her fall, then she got the other one again. "Now!" she ordered in her favorite bitch voice. He dropped his gun and slowly got to his knees, hands behind his head. "Now stay there!" She looked at Ray. "Handcuffs? For that matter, Stanley and the Mountie?"
Ray nodded down the alley. "Chasing." He came over to handcuff both suspects. "Did you call it in?" She nodded. He smiled. "See, you do help even when injured." She nodded and he sat her down on the hood of one of the cars. "Stay." He went to get the wolf, he would watch her for him. "Dief, watch her. She's dizzy again." He picked up the radio as the wolf trotted off. Someone in the alley screamed. "Shut up!" He turned back to the radio. "Dispatch, this is Vecchio. Kowalski and Fraser are on a foot chase of two suspects down the alley. We've got two suspects in custody. The officer in the patrol car is nowhere in sight. Please send the local commander for car..." He looked back. "Car B- 82."
"On their way, Detective. Do you need medical?"
"Well," he said, looking back. "There are people who are dead from the accident. We could probably use a paramedic." He dropped the radio when he saw Benny coming back and he was actually dirty. "Did he swim in the sewer?"
"Fertilizer," he said bitterly. "Did we call it in?" He looked at where his wolf was laying being petted by the detective. "Is she all right?"
"She should be fine," he said dryly. "He's keeping her there." Stanley came back with one suspect. "The other?"
"Fuck if I know," Stanley admitted. "Fraser had him."
"He shoved me into the fertilizer and I lost him," Constable Fraser admitted. "I did get a good look at him."
"Good. That's helpful," Catherine offered. "Is he one of the warrants?" Benton shook his head. "You sure?"
"Very. He was not any of the pictures I've seen in the past three weeks." He came over, moving his wolf. "He's already spoiled."
"My cats help me think," she told him, letting him help her sit back up. "Okay, so was this staged or not?" she asked. Ray frowned at him. "The car, wasn't that the one that was stolen last month?" He groaned and shook his head. "Was it staged?"
"If it was, I want out of this alley," he admitted. He came over, stepping around a body, forcing himself to ignore how small it was. He and Benny dragged the perps with them, noticing they were unconscious. "What did you do to them?" he asked.
"I kicked the one sneering at me in the head and the other fell over," she told him. "I don't know from what. I didn't hear a shot."
Ray checked that one, then shrugged. "No blood, no hole." He found a pulse. "He's living." Other cops started to arrive so he handed the perps over to Welsh. "One got away from Fraser, sir. We have no idea where the officer is. He's never reappeared. Demoranth thinks that was the car that was stolen last month."
"We thought we had gotten it back," he agreed, heading in there to look. "Vecchio, what did you touch?"
"I was in there, laying on the hood of the dark blue car," Demoranth admitted. "Dief was holding me down so I couldn't help, Lieutenant." He gave her a look and she shrugged, then wobbled. "Sorry."
"She's still bleeding," Ray told him. "We were heading to have her treated." One of the paramedics came over and took her, making him look at the guy. "I don't know him."
"I do," Catherine noted, backhanding him with her good hand. Then she took the cuffs off a stunned officer. "Ashley Bougen. Drug dealer for the Columbians at Club Tangent." She kicked him over and cuffed him one handed, then kicked him on the side. "Idiot. Think I haven't seen you in there?" She walked back to Vecchio's side. "I told you I was fine."
"Catherine," he said quietly. "You're going to get treated. Then you're going to go home. We will see you tomorrow. If you argue with me, I'm going to kick your ass then have you treated. Capice?" She groaned and nodded, letting the real paramedic take her to look at her shoulder. He leaned against the side of his car, catching his temper. He found Stanley grinning at him. "Keep it up," he warned.
Stanley stepped closer. "You like her," he taunted. Ray's eyes narrowed. "It's obvious. On both sides. She's been burnt worse than I have so treat her nice or else." He walked over to Welsh to give a verbal report.
Vecchio looked at Fraser. "You're not getting in my car covered in shit. Yo," he said, waving at one of the patrol officers. "Take him back to the consulate so he can hose off and change clothes. We'll meet him back at the station." He nodded, leading him off. The paramedic looked up and waved him over. "Yeah?" he asked tiredly.
"Detective, we'll need to take her in. Which hospital did the sloppy job?"
"Thank you. They should be able to fix it in the same-day unit. They only need to take out the staples and reclose her I think. Are you following?" He shook his head. "Are you sure?" Ray nodded. "Does she have her wallet on her?"
Ray went and grabbed it from the car, making sure it had money in it. "Here it is. She's got a medic alert around her neck too. They should have her drugs on record. She's been bleeding on and off all afternoon but she's stubborn."
"Of course she is, sir, she's a female detective." He got into the back, letting him close the doors. She was the one who needed them, everyone else needed a coroner. "Detective, stay calm, please," he said when she tried to sit up. "I promise, we've called ahead and there's a competent surgeon waiting on you." She nodded, covering her eyes. "Are you still feeling faint?"
"Are you pregnant?"
"Kid, I haven't been pregnant since I was forced to miscarry ten years ago," she told him bitterly. "I haven't had sex in six years. Unless it was an act of a laughing God, then it's not possible."
"That's fine, detective. I had to ask. May I please have your medic alert so I can run the number?" She pulled it out and held it up. "Anything else I should know?" he asked as he wrote down the number.
"I'm diabetic and for some reason I'm running low recently."
"Congratulations, detective. That's a good thing." He gave her a gentle pat on the arm. "It'll be fine," he promised. She nodded, closing her eyes. "I'm sure he'll understand eventually."
"Ray and I aren't together, kid. Really," she told him. She felt something stick her. "I've already got an IV," she told him.
"That's some more pain killer."
"I just took some," she told him. "I'm on demerol."
"It's all right, I know what I'm doing, Catherine. Just lay there and float for a few minutes," he promised. "Everything will be fine." She shook her head, looking over at him and he smiled. "Trust me, I'm very good at what I do. I was very pleasant the last time I treated you."
"Oh, fuck, you're him," she said. He stroked her forehead. "Don't kill me. I don't have a will for where to put my cats or my books."
"I have no intention of it," he promised. "You have a higher purpose then you'll be treated and released." She groaned and patted herself down. "Detective Vecchio took your gun, Catherine."
"Remind me to hit him, 'kay?" she slurred.
He nodded. "Of course. I'm sure you'll black his eye impressively. After all, you are quite impressive in your own right. Someone simply wants to know why."
"I'm a fucking female detective," she said, forcing herself not to slur. "What did you expect?"
"Nothing less," he assured her. "Just relax. I won't be killing you and neither will my current employer. I'll fix your shoulder after we're done talking."
"I don't know anything."
"You'd be surprised," he said with a faint smile. He continued to stroke her hair, helping her into the land of sleep.
Ray knocked, then let himself into Catherine's apartment. He was already scowling, but he found her on the couch with a clean bandage on her shoulder. He bent to look at it. "How did that happen?" he muttered. "She didn't make it to the hospital." He straightened up as Stanley and Benny walked in. "Her shoulder was fixed." Stanley scowled. "What?" he asked.
"Old case." He walked into her study, digging around in her filing cabinet until he found it. He brought it out, handing it over. He looked at an older picture. "Yeah, it's the same stitch pattern." He pulled her up, taking off her shirt and tank top. "We've got a few bruises and a few needle marks," he announced. She swatted at him. "Kate, get up." She took a swing at him. "Hey! It's me."
She looked up at him. "Go away," she told him. "Now." He shook his head. She nodded. "Now, Kowalski." He frowned and helped her lay back down again. "Seriously, out."
"No." He squatted beside her. "Who fixed your shoulder?" She pointed a shaking finger at the letter on the table. "Who?" he asked. She looked into his eyes, then blew a kiss and flipped onto her uninjured side. "Fuck." He picked up the envelope, noticing it wasn't sealed. He checked for wires, then pulled out the single piece of paper inside by the corner. "Good job," he told her. "Again?" She kicked him. "Hey!"
Ray took the letter to look at, then at her. "Guys, I want Welsh," he ordered. "Now. Benny, go back to work." He nodded. "Stanley, go get Welsh." He nodded, glancing at her. "I don't think she's more hurt, but I don't think she'll talk about it," he said quietly. He handed over the letter, letting him take it with him. He came over, kneeling beside her. "Catherine."
"Fuck off, Ray. Go away."
"I'm not leaving. Frankie's my problem. It shouldn't have come near you." She looked back at him. "Seriously. Where are the cats?"
"He put 'em in the back bedroom." She closed her eyes and put her head down again. "Can't I go back to Vice? We have normal vendetta people around there."
"I'll check for you," he promised, stroking down her arm. "Are you still in pain?" She shook her head. "Did he put something in there?" She shrugged, then nodded. "Okay. We need to get you x-rayed."
"If we do, it's probably a bomb and will go off," she said tiredly.
"All the more reason to get it free," he told her. He forced her to sit up so he could look at both sides. "It's fixed on the front but not the back. Maybe we can take it out of the back." She shook her head. "No?"
"He's smarter than that," she told him. "There's probably a trigger. There's probably also a few trip wires. I can almost promise that as soon as something medical gets near it it'll speed up."
"What did they say?" he asked, noticing she was blinking hard. "Catherine," he said, giving her a little shake. "No spazing now. Later, then you can go out."
"Ray, table," she said, looking at him. "Will for the cats. Sorry." She passed back out, going limp in his arms.
He laid her back down and went to look at the letter, grimacing. "I'm sure Ma would love to take care of your cats," he told her, going to answer the door. The Bomb Squad commander was there. "We think he put a device in her shoulder. She's unconscious again. She thinks it'll react to any x-rays."
"I remember his first time," he admitted, coming in to look at her. He looked closely, taking out a magnifying glass. "Bastard wove trip wires into his stitching." He undid two of them, inserting a little camera, which made him wince. "We've got two trip wires in each direction. Woven into the stitching." He pulled back, looking at her back. "He didn't fix the staples back here. Those are really nasty."
"New doc who hadn't done it yet," Ray said, starting to look agitated. "Any idea why?"
"Oh, yeah, he always sends us a nice letter. We got the email this morning when we came in, we were only waiting to hear who. Why her?"
"He's working with Zucko."
The Captain looked at him. "As in Frankie?" He nodded, grimacing. "Damn, you two deserve each other. We caught one of her old cases coming this way with flowers a few minutes ago in your name." He winced. "Give it a week, Detective. I was around for her first week in Vice. It was about as bad and then it slowly faded again. This warrant thing must be driving you insane." He stepped back. "We're going to have to take her. Anything we need to know?"
"She was treated at St. Joe's," he told him. "I don't know what they gave her last night but she was on demerol for her shoulder. She's got a medic alert on her file. She should have it around her neck but it's not there." The Captain spotted it and held it up, letting him see the number. "Yeah, that's hers. She's also diabetic and she was just shaking."
"Fine. Bring her down so you can lock up." Ray nodded, coming around to pick her up. "Where are her cats?"
"In the back bedroom. They should be fine," he admitted. "I'll have the crime scene guys let them out and have Benny stay here for the day with them." The Captain nodded, leading the way out to the special van. There was a doctor waiting on him with her file coming out of the fax. "Can you?" he asked as he opened the doors.
"I can. It'll be tricky," he admitted. "Detective, put her on the bed. We'll be removing it right here." Ray nodded. "Now leave, Detective. You can wait outside if you must. I'm told this is blast shielded." Ray gave him a look. "Seriously. I've done this before. I did it the last two times this idiot caused this sort of problem. I'm the head of surgery at St. Vincent's in New York."
Ray nodded, backing out. He walked over to where Benny was waiting. "Take any crime scene guys who need to go up and bring them in. Catch that guy's cat while you're at it," he said, turning away. "Hers are in the back bedroom. She's expecting stuff to come from the bed store." He nodded, going to catch the cat nibbling on the grass and take her back upstairs. Ray looked at Stanley, who shrugged. "No Welsh?"
"He called the bomb squad," he admitted. "He's off taking a call from the mayor, who is not pleased. We gonna hit Zucko?"
"As soon as we can," Ray agreed coldly. "I want to have a talk with him." He looked over as Welsh joined them. "Sir? Orders?"
"Get Zucko." He gave him a look. "Have someone tell you about her first week in Vice, Vecchio. It's nearly as bad as your first case with Fraser." He looked around. "No Mountie?"
"Upstairs." Welsh nodded. "Do I have a warrant?"
"Not yet," he admitted. "CSU is on their way." They watched as the van's door opened and the captain came out with a small device. "Is it safe?" he asked.
"It is," he said with a smile. "He put a fake in her." He looked at Vecchio. "He still likes her."
"Huh?" Welsh asked.
"According to the file she had upstairs, she's run into him before," Ray told him.
"I'd like that," Welsh told him.
"I left it on her couch," he told him. Welsh headed up, making sure the bottom door was closed since there were cats in the hall. He looked at the Captain. "Is she all right?"
"Just fine. The doctor's pulling all those bad staples and redoing it with stitches to make sure she'll be fine. Then he said you can take her upstairs and sit with her." He looked at Kowalski. "Orders from higher up. Zucko is yours."
"No way in hell," Ray spat. "He's mine."
"He's not yours because you're emotional," the Captain said quietly. "If Kowalski says so you can go with him, but they'll be looking for any damage. Got it?" Ray glared at him. "Not my call. The Chief of Detectives said so. He's the same one who put her into your path." He walked away, going to tell the others that it was handled and the coast was clear.
Ray looked at Stanley. "Try and keep me away," he warned.
"I had no intention of it, Vecchio, but I still get to kick in the door this time. You can make him suffer after he's in our custody and before we move him." He walked away, going to check on the doctor's progress. "How is she?"
"She'll be fine, Detective. Do not worry about it." He finished his stitching and pulled back. "There, done. One of you carry her back upstairs and put her into bed. Give her no pain medicine for eight hours. Whatever they gave her is still working and it has a sedative in it. Since I don't know what it was, it could hurt her."
"What about the gel stuff they ordered for her?" Ray asked.
"That should be fine. Make sure you don't get any on the stitches," he said calmly. "Go ahead, she can go upstairs." They nodded, carrying her up to her apartment. He sighed and hung his head, letting his hands hang limply between his knees. "I hate this person."
Ray checked the bed, then laid Catherine down on her couch. Stanley could change the bed this time. What was wrong with that one cat?
Catherine woke up to a nice smelling house and a rumbling stomach. She sat up and yawned, remembering not to stretch when her arm twinged. She looked toward the kitchen but there wasn't anyone there. She frowned, seeing the note on the table. She got up and padded over to it, picking it up to squint at. "Stay put, be right back, Ray," she read, then shrugged and went to shower. She did a quick nose count, coming up missing one. She found out when she walked into her bedroom, finding the missing cat trying to cover up a spot on the bed. "Oh, no, you didn't," she said, picking her up and tossing her into the small extra room with the litter box in it. "You're staying in there." She got the bed stripped and sprayed down, then went into the bathroom to bathe. She felt really nasty. She stopped when the mirror showed her with stitches, making her wince and turn. Stitches on the back too. "Okay, was it a nightmare, or was it fixed?" She probed her shoulder and didn't feel anything off. "Hmm." She covered it and got in, turning on the water to warm it up while she tried to remember.
She wasn't having any luck by the time she got out and went to febreeze the bed and put on new sheets. "Damn Chocolate," she muttered. She made sure all the cats were out then closed her bedroom door. She found one outfit in front of the rest, a new pair of lounging pajamas, and laughed, putting them on like a good little girl, without the underwear of course. Then she walked out, shutting the bedroom door again. "No, Oz," she said sharply when she tried to get in. "Not for kitties. Not unless the mommy is in there." She picked her up, walking her out to the kitchen to rescue whatever was starting to burn. It was apparently a timer that had woken her. She pulled out the plate, sniffing it. "Mmm. Real food. See, Oz, he makes real people food. That's very nice of the Ray, huh?" She turned off the oven and grabbed a fork, taking her plate to the table to eat. She looked at the note again, trying to figure out what was going on. Someone knocked. "What?" she called.
"It's me," Benny called. She got up and checked the spyhole, then grabbed her gun. Something hadn't been quite right. She let Benny in, stopping all the cats from coming to pounce him as the second person walked in. "As you can see, we're having a bit of trouble."
"Yeah, you are," Catherine said, pointing her pistol at him. "Let him go so he can catch the cats." The guy let Benny go and he went to save all her cats from the outside. "Did you need something?" she asked while he was gone.
"You," he said, sneering at her. "You see, Mr. Zucko decided he should play with you some more."
"Yay. Frankie can lick all the cellblock's assholes for all I care." Her neighbor walked past the door. "Hi. Benny's doing a cat hunt."
"I came to see which one was crying?"
"The one in the small room next to the hall who peed on the bed. She knew better. She's got a litter box and water." He nodded, going back inside. She looked at the idiot again. "What makes you think Zucko has anything worth playing with?"
"He said so and I do what he says."
"I don't," she snorted, keeping one from running out. "Benny, are you lost?" she called.
"Coming." He came back up the stairs with two of her cats, doing a nose count. "Where is Chocolate?"
"In that small storage room being punished. From now on, the bedroom door is closed whenever you're not in it." He nodded, heading to take the cats out of danger. She obviously had it well in hand and had a gun, which he didn't.
She bent down and captured one of them, then closed the door before an inquisitive neighbor cat could come help them. "Sorry, Mistress Kitty," she called. "You can play with her later." She looked the idiot over. "Now it's just you, me, and the kitties," she said, letting that one go. "You're armed, I'm armed. I'm hungry and you interrupted my breakfast, not to mention the fact that my shoulder's going to start aching soon. Who do you think's going to shoot first?"
He lowered his weapon. "You won't kill me, you're a cop."
She thought about it, then cocked her gun. "Regrettable accident. You were holding another cop hostage." His mouth fell open. "Do you see anyone around here who keeps me calm?" He shook his head quickly. "Then it was really dumb to lure Vecchio away to come and get me, huh?" He nodded just as quickly. "Kneel. Ankles crossed. Gun on the couch." He did as she said and she grabbed her handcuffs, cuffing him to the table behind him. "If you move before someone sane gets back, I won't be held responsible."
"The other cop and your cats," he said.
"My cats make me calmer, not saner. You'd know that if you had any." She went back to her breakfast, eating heartily until Ray knocked and walked in. She used her fork to point. "He said Zucko wanted me."
"Considering Frankie's crying and pleading for his life, I doubt it," he told her. He shrugged and called it in. "Hey, Benny, weren't you supposed to watch her?"
"He's playing with the cats," she told him. "Door." He went to check and stole the one cat, then closed it. "Thanks. Remember to close the bedroom door from now on, 'kay? I hate changing beds." He grimaced and nodded. "Already fixed." She took her last bite and pushed the plate away. "One of you two cooks very well. Whichever one put that together, tell them I'm stuffed and sated. Thank you." He grinned at her. "Any more bad news?"
"Nope. Not yet. We're good so far today. Welsh went to ask the judge to give us an extra week because of this shit." He sat down across from her. "You really liked it? I made it extra strong."
"Which is what I liked most about it," she promised, smiling at him. The guy on the floor shifted with a groan. She licked off her fork and threw it at him. "Move again," she warned.
Ray gave her a look. "So, are you up to resting today? Then we can do the phone thing tomorrow and shoes?"
"You're on suspension?"
"Hell yes. Welsh said we were until the insanity died down. Huey's regretting his decision to pick on you too." She beamed at that. "You need to finish that."
"Fine, you can warm it back up later." He gave her a pat to the shoulder, heading into the kitchen. "I even poured you some soda."
"I didn't quite get that far yet," she admitted, taking it from him. "Thank you." She looked over as Benny came out with Chocolate. "Got tired of the pleading?"
"We've had a discussion. I believe she'll leave the bed alone from now on," he offered.
"Hopefully. I'm against putting animals down for behavior problems, but I'm starting to see the point." She glared at her cat, who made more pitiful noises. "Keep it up, Chocolate, we'll miss you." The cat was let down and came over to love her to show she was sorry now. "Thank you. You're not allowed in the lap at the table." She put her down, stroking her gently. "Better? Go play." Chocolate rubbed against her legs a few more times. "Did you talk to her about the couch too?" Benny nodded. "Thank you, Benny." She stood up and kissed him on the cheek. "How long does Welsh think this will last?"
"Longer than the case Stella started did," Ray told her. He stamped down that shot of jealousy that ran through him. "He pleaded to 3 counts of murder, torture, and rape in the first. He'll be a bitch by tonight and he'll be there until he dies. The judge said no parole." She grinned at him for that. "Stella was apparently very graphic. One of the jurors got sick while she made her opening. The judge called a recess and the defending lawyer came to her with a plea. She struck a hard bargain."
"Good. He deserves to be made someone's bitch and bed buddy." She curled up in the chair with her soda, sipping it slowly. "What else are we doing today?"
"The dreaded paperwork," Ray sighed, handing over a stack of forms from his jacket pocket. "Yours." She grunted and took them to look over. "What do you remember?"
"Jack shit," she told him. She shrugged at his amused look. "I don't. I kinda remember someone stitching my front. Who did the back?"
"The doctor who took out the explosive," Benny told her, sitting down to play with that cat. "Perhaps you should get down and play with her some more." She picked up the cat, cuddling her. "It should make her feel better."
"Yeah, but will it stop the problem? She does this each and every time she's put into a punishment situation and it doesn't seem to get through to her. Speaking of, I still need litter."
"And food," Benny told her. "Stanley only got a small box."
"Cool. Grocery shopping?" she asked Ray, who shrugged and nodded. "My money?"
"Is still back at Ma's," he admitted with a small grin. "Why didn't you put any into your usual checking account?"
"I don't have one," she admitted. "It sucks but I was dumb in my youth and they're still holding it against me. Even though I paid it off."
He grimaced. "That's fine. I think we can fix that too."
"True, the credit union has nothing against bad credit," Benny agreed. "As long as the debts have been paid off."
"As far as I know," she agreed. She shrugged, then winced. "Not as bad," she told him.
"Good." He took the cat from her, letting it go free. "Go play." It glared at him. "I mean it or I'm letting him bring Dief back." She scampered off. He looked at her, noticing her raised eyebrow. "She accepts him as a higher authority when she doesn't admit to human intelligence," he told her.
"Maybe I should pick her up by the back of the neck and carry her around then," she said, glaring at her cat. Chocolate wisely looked out the window. She looked at Ray. "How long are we off for?"
"At least the rest of the week," he said happily. "Do you like baseball?" She shuddered. "No?"
"I'm not a sports person, sorry. I tolerate it but I don't watch it."
"Let me guess, you're one of those kids who used to role play," he said smugly. She nodded, smirking back. "You probably still would be if anyone played by your rules." She nodded again. "Figures." He smirked at her. "Then I guess I can't take you out this afternoon. There's a Cubs game on the tube."
She groaned. "That's fine. I don't think any man likes to go shoe shopping."
"Welsh said you're not to leave your apartment without one of us," he told her smugly. "Not until all the insanity has died down." Her phone rang and he got up to get it. "Yeah?" He sighed. "What? Hell no. She's still injured." He grunted in annoyance. "Fine." He hung up. "That was our *beloved* Lieutenant and he thinks he's got just the case for you."
"More ritual murders?"
"No, an undercover," he said grimly. "Fortunately we won't have to move." He sat down again. "He's on his way over." He looked at the outfit. "I admit, you look cute in that."
"Thank you." She finished her soda and got up to get some more. "Benny, in case you hadn't noticed, I don't have manners. Serve yourself." He got up and came to get some water. "See, better," she told him. "Good job on the furniture too."
"Thank you." He looked out the window at the squeal of brakes. "I believe Stanley's here."
"Cool, the gang's all here. What assignment?" Ray shrugged. "Fuck, and on top of the warrants?"
"Welsh said earlier that he was going to get some of patrol officers to do it," Ray told her. "With just our unit, if they each get five we'll be fine." She smiled at that. "It made their Sergeant not at all happy so he spread it around some more. With any luck, we'll have it all done by the end of this week." He smiled at her as Stanley came in with a large bag. "What's that for?"
"The cats." He put things down and went back to his car, bringing up a large bucket of litter. "Here." He gave Benny a look and Ray paid him. "Thanks. Isn't Welsh here yet?" Ray shook his head. "Damn. How do you change a litter box?"
"You scoop the nasty shit into a bag and then toss more litter in there," she told him. "I can do it." He snorted and went to do that. "Stanley, I'm not incapable of doing that."
"Sit, it'll be the last peace you'll be getting soon."
Ray got up and stalked Stanley through the apartment, much like the cat who wanted the catnip he had. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It *means* this assignment is for both of you," Stanley told him. "That's all I know. That and you've got to pretend a little bit." He smirked. "Better you than me." He checked the bag for holes, then picked up the litter scoop, working on the dirtiest of the liter boxes. One of the cats came over to help as soon as he was done. "Gee, thanks." He looked at her. "You don't live here." He picked her up and took her back to her father. "She was visitin'," he explained. He accepted the other two from him. He shook his head, going back to her apartment. Then he went to catch the other escapee before she made it outside. Once he was done, he went back into the back bedroom and put together the cage he had bought for her. It was expandable but you could put cats in it for hours and they'd play. Supposedly. He'd like to play in it. It had toys and he put some catnip inside. He put the two biggest problems in there, letting them howl. "Yay."
Catherine walked back in to see what was wrong now. "Not him. Let Chocolate and Nessa or Chocolate and Oz stay in there. Blair's a big bully."
He grinned. "See, you can add onto it," he told her. "We can even put a litter box in there." He slid the now clean one in there and went to find Chocolate, putting her in there. Blair came out and went to hide from him. He chuckled. "Keep escaping. She'll have to get you your own."
She gave him a kiss on the cheek. "My cats are open for your sanity too," she promised, going back to the living area. "Stan bought them a play cage." She looked over as the open door opened further. "Cats?"
"Kitchen," Ray told her. "I put down some food and more water." He waved their boss in. "What horrible thing are you forcing us to do now, sir?"
Welsh looked around then closed the door, frowning when the long-haired cat entered. Then it wanted it out so he let it out and let the other one back inside. "Your cats are insane," he told her.
"The long-haired lives across the hall." She sipped the new soda Ray had poured her. "What assignment? I can't act worth a damn."
"I don't think you'll have to do much acting," he admitted. "You can even go in as cops. The only lie will be that you two are together." Both of them looked at him and he held up a hand. "It's a Federal case." He handed over the folder, sitting down on the couch. Then he stood up and looked at it. "I think someone had an accident."
"I was spraying Chocolate earlier," Ray told him. "It's water." The Lieutenant came over to sit at the table. "Why do they think this will work?"
"Because they're Feds," Catherine told him, taking the folder to look at. She gave the Lieutenant a look of disbelief. "I know I'm an occult expert for Chicago, but really. I know some of these people."
"Good. Ray, you can be split."
Ray snorted. "My mother's going to kill you."
"No one said you had to do anything freaky," the Lieutenant offered.
"The closest thing would be a sabbat, basically a party, Ray. Some dancing around a fire, some chanting. I'm not into that version of the world though." She looked at him. "Totally unacceptable." His mouth opened. "You wouldn't make Ray go into a monastery as a priest. This is the same thing to me. If we do this, then we do it on *my* terms."
"We couldn't find anyone local to help you," Welsh admitted.
"I know a few," she admitted. "They won't like this either."
"The problem is the cult that this one person has started," he told her. "He knows less. The leaders actually came to the Feds to have him stopped, knowing they were exposing their lives."
"And I'm the best who's not in the group," she told him. He nodded. She sighed and looked at Ray. "I can have you as a non-believing but supportive spouse." He nodded. "Or you could let Stanley go."
"Okay." She looked at him. "All I see is an email address for contact."
"That's all we have. They did ask that we not send some rampant bigots." He shrugged. "You're the best I could find. You know some."
She nodded. "Fine. Who's lead?"
"You. Vecchio backs you up this time." He opened his mouth. "She has knowledge you don't, Vecchio. Listen to her in this. You'll get into it. You can work this one even though you're working on other cases."
"It's going to last for how long?" he asked.
"Maybe a month," he admitted. "No one's sure. Like I said, you can be cops and all that."
"Has it escaped anyone's notice that Ray doesn't really live here?" Catherine asked. "Won't that be a bit of a tip off?"
"You have two bedrooms and a couch," Welsh said seriously. "Explain it to his mother, she'll keep Frannie in line." Ray shook his head. "No?"
"No, Frannie hates her and Ma adores her. She suggested the other night that I should date her."
"So tell your mother that this is a good chance to get to know her," Welsh said tiredly. "Work it out. You're all we've got. It's either you and her or her and Kowalski."
"No. Stan's had too many undercovers," Ray said firmly. Stan looked at him. "You have." Catherine nodded that she agreed. "Fine, I'll do it."
"Thank you. Anything outrageous you need, bill the department. The Chief was very happy that the Feds like us again. Try not to bust the Fed's balls over this one. They're desperate. All they know about this stuff is that it isn't the president's way." He stood up. "Can you handle this, Catherine?" She nodded. "Good. There's some sort of meeting tomorrow night." She nodded again. "You knew?"
"I keep track of the major holidays. Tomorrow's Beltane. It's late this year." He looked confused. "Major spring holiday, it was the one the Church stole and made Easter," she sighed. He nodded and left. "Ray, you don't have to."
"I do. This isn't the sort of thing one goes into alone." He looked at Stanley, who was pouting. "I like you, kid, but we don't want another trip to the Great White North, right?" Stanley glared at him. "Hey, truth. You got lost and had to escape. I did the same damn thing." She put her head down with a sigh. "It'll be fine."
"I'm imagining the look on your mother's face," she said into the table. One of the cats came up and rubbed against her leg. "Hi, Blair." She reached down, petting him briefly. "Go nuzzle someone else for a few, okay?" He wandered over to Benny, nuzzling him. "Thanks." She put her head up. "Ray, call your mother. We'd better tell her here. That way it won't involve your sisters and brother-in-law until we decide what to tell them. Frannie is the main source of gossip from what I hear." Ray gave her a look. "I mean it." He nodded, calling his mother. "Benny, Stanley, you guys are more than welcome to come over all the time. We'll have to fix the couch later but one of you can crash on it tonight if you're worried about Ray's virtue." Stanley snickered. "What? Everyone else seems to be." She stood up, going for the sugar free chocolate. Which she couldn't find. "Okay, that's it, we're going shopping now. Ray, have her come over in a few hours, after we're done. I want chocolate and there's no sugar free in the house." She went in to get changed, coming out in yesterday's sweat pants and t-shirt, with a tank top on underneath. "No nagging. The people at the store would freak if they saw me in underwear and no one can tell anyway." She walked past him but he caught her, turning her around and giving her a gentle push toward the bedroom. "This is a pretend assignment, Vecchio, I don't take those sort of orders," she said impatiently.
Stanley looked at her. "You've got a big hole in the seam," he told her. "It's obvious now." She sighed and went to change again so he looked at Ray. "That's the only time she'll allow that," he told him. "Good luck." He stood up. "They make sugar free chocolate?"
"Hell yes. It's nasty but it works well enough." She came out in a different pair of sweats and had some sort of underwear on. "There, better?" She grabbed her keys to the bike.
"Grocery shopping on that?" Benny asked.
"Guys, at my wit's end, you're adding to the stress," she warned. "I really can do some minor shopping on the bike. I've done it before."
"We can take the Riv," Ray said, hanging up. "Ma said she'd be over for dinner. She told me what I'm making." He stood up, following her out. "If we're supposed to be pretending, it'll only cause fewer problems," he pointed out. "Most married women don't run around without underwear on."
"I'm not most married women," she pointed out. "You'll soon find that I'm a clear and usual nudist." He shivered and she stopped to look at him. "We've got to talk about that, don't we?" He nodded. "Do you have a clue?"
He shook his head. "Play it by ear," he told her. "Stanley and Ma already think we're dating."
"True," she said thoughtfully. "Fine. Whatever. If it does, it does. If it doesn't then you know what you're getting into." She looked at them. "Shotgun. Ray, Oz." He turned and caught the clever thief, taking her back upstairs. Benny got in the back, giving her a pat on the shoulder. "Ray, money?"
"I'll run in and get some," he agreed patiently. "Which store are we going to?"
He looked at her. "No. Real store. One with good fruit and vegetables." She gave him a dirty look. "Fine. We'll go to the big chain place up by Ma's. It should have sugar free chocolate and stuff."
"Good. Hopefully it has a good frozen section?" He nodded patiently. "Excellent. It's a good midnight snack, or breakfast food."
"If you say so. I prefer real food." He glanced at her as Stanley came out of the apartment building, waving his own keys. "I'll still have to stop by the market by Ma's for some stuff for dinner."
"Sure. How are we splitting stuff up?" she asked as he drove off. He shrugged. "I mean, you cook, I barely cook. I can and will load and unload the dishwasher but I'm not the most cleaning of people."
"We use some spray stuff at home," Ray admitted. "It keeps the cleaning down to once a month or so." She nodded, relaxing. "We can't use anything in the toilet right?"
"Nope, Chocolate thinks she's a dog." Benny laughed. "She does," she defended. "I can put down water and she'll still drink out of the toilet. Speaking of, I'm a firm believer in the seat stays down to stop her. Both of them." Ray nodded, that made sense. "At least this place is clean. I hadn't cleaned the other place's tub for months."
"We noticed," Ray said, giving her a pat on the arm. "We'll figure it out. Hopefully it won't last that long." He sighed, turning the corner. "Ma's gonna throw a fit."
"Oh, yeah, I think that's putting it mildly," Catherine agreed. "So will a few of my exes. Including the judge," she said thoughtfully. "Why does he hate you?"
"Ah, one of those reasons. Got it." She looked back at Benny. "You can jump in anytime with suggestions."
"Could you split the cost of a maid service?" he asked. "They're supposed to be relatively easy to use."
"Plus, if we get some of the lesser known single house cleaners instead of a service, we can help support them and their families. I like that idea, Benny. Thank you. Know anyone?"
"I do," he admitted. "I know a woman who does it professionally. I believe she's relatively cheap and honest. I'll look up her address."
"Hell, that's something handy to have around anyway," Ray agreed. "Cheap is good too."
"I'm still trying to live on my usual paycheck," she reminded him. "Which is now cut because I used to get overtime."
"I make more than you," he pointed out.
"Which is sexist in the extreme considering I've been doing this longer," she reminded him. "But it still happens."
"I believe he was talking about the pay differential between regular detectives and those specialist ones," Benny offered. "Wouldn't Ray get paid more since Chicago underpays its specialists?"
"Not exactly. As top detective in Vice, I was making nearly forty grand a year."
Ray pulled out his phone and called Welsh. "We're arguing over finances," he said in greeting. "There's the snag of her paycheck. Why is a seventeen-year veteran only making forty?" He listened as Welsh put him on hold and called someone else. "He's checking." He pulled up in front of his mother's house, waiting. "Really?" He smiled. "Good. Thank you. Yeah, that'll work." He hung up and looked at her. "You're about to be paid like a Detective, First Class, instead of a Vice rookie. There's a suit against the city by your Captain. Huey and I both make about fifty-five a year, and that's standard for anyone over ten years." She hugged him with a little squeal. "Air," he said. She pulled back. "Sorry." He worked his neck a little. "So expect that. Maid service?" She nodded. "I'll cook, you do dishes. That means we can split the food bill?" She nodded. "Good. We'll figure out how to do that later." He got out. "Let me run inside, I'll be right back." He headed inside, giving his mother a kiss on the cheek. "You sure you want that for dinner, Ma?"
"I'm sure," she agreed, watching his back. "You could tell me now."
"Nope, not yet. We'd rather get you alone." He opened his door and walked in through the mess. "Maria, keep your kids out of my room!" he shouted.
"It wasn't him, it was Frannie," she called back. She walked in and handed over an envelope. "Frannie's concerned that you're on the take now."
"It's Catherine's. She just got backpaid for two years of hazard pay." Her mouth fell open. He smiled. "So I've been helping her spend it wisely. Listen, something's coming up. It's odd. Just give me a few days, okay?" She nodded. "Do not listen to Frannie. No matter what."
She smiled. "When have I?"
He laughed. "Good. Is it all here?"
"Unless she stole some. Then I'd like to see Catherine kick her ass." She walked out, careful not to step on any of his clothes.
Ray walked out of his room and shut the door. "Frannie, if you made that mess, I'd clean it up before I bring Ma back tonight," he called. "I'm not in a good mood." He headed down the stairs, kissing his mother on the cheek again. "I'll do my best, Ma. Expect it to be strong. Catherine's got weak tastebuds."
She nodded, waving at him. "Francesca!" she yelled. Her daughter came down the stairs, giving her a fearful look. "What is going on? Raymondo said an assignment?"
She snorted. "They're going undercover to stop a cultist. That's all I know so far. It's the both of them." She shrugged. "Do I have to clean his room?"
"Yes," her mother said patiently. "I have a feeling he will not be leaving the mess for long." She nodded, going back up to do that. Ma Vecchio picked up the phone and dialed the next best gossip. "Detective," she said fondly. "What is going on with my son?" She listened to the same story, her lips pursed. "Then why did he need to talk to me alone?" A little bit more information came to her. "I see. Thank you. Yes, of course. I'll send Ray in with some of the cookies you like," she promised. "Have a nice day." She hung up and went to bake. It would kill time.
Ray brought the last dish over, sitting across from his mother. "Ma, what did Frannie tell you?" he asked.
"All I have learned is that it is an undercover assignment and it has to deal with the occult?" She looked at Catherine. "Which seems to be your area?"
Catherine nodded. "It is," she admitted. "Both in my work and in my personal life." Ma nodded calmly, not giving her an evil look. "If I had to classify myself, I'd say somewhere between Buddhist and Celt, with that small problem of my temper." Ma smiled at that. "Anyway. Ray and I have been handed an assignment to help some people like me, only Wiccan."
"White witches," Catherine told her. "The ones King James was so afraid of he put that little verse in there, along with about sixty other pages of additions and about ten pages of subtractions of women." Ma looked impressed at that. "We have to know that, otherwise we end up at the mercy of the bigots."
"There's another side of this thing, Ma," Ray said, dishing her some food. "We're supposed to be pretending to be married. It's a couple's coven. Coven?" Catherine nodded. "These people went to the Feds to stop this guy, but they can't prove anything and they decided it wasn't their sort of case. That's why we've got it. That and we've probably got the cleanest desks in the city at the moment." Ma nodded again, slower this time. "It's been told to us that I won't have to do more than attend and be quiet and respectful. I'm not changing faiths."
She gave him a pat to his hand. "I know the problem now," she told him. She looked at Catherine. "You will have to act married in public?"
"To anyone who doesn't know, including the other detectives," she admitted. "That could cause Ray some more grief." She heard a pitiful whine and looked down. "There's no food, go back to your nap."
Ma laughed and fed the poor thing a bit of meat. "There, now go play."
"He'll only beg for more. He's worse than Dief," Catherine told her wryly. Ma laughed. "He is. The other stares." She pointed her out. "See? Later, Nessa. You can have some of the leftovers." The cat continued to stare. The other started to whine so she squirted him with the water bottle. "Out. Not while I'm at the table." They ran off. "Sorry about that."
"It is all right," she promised. She looked at her son. "You have more to add?"
"Not really," Ray admitted, looking away. He cleared his throat and looked at her again. "It won't take much acting most of the time, but I will have to stay here, Ma. I'll still come over as often as possible, and of course you can come here, but I'll have to move out."
"We can say it was a quick wedding," Ma agreed. "Base it on the injury, that he came to his senses and proposed. It was quietly done out of the city," Ma told them. They looked impressed. "Am I to expect that you will be sharing a bed?" Catherine shrugged. "Is there more than one?"
"There's a small daybed and the couch," Catherine admitted. "I personally don't care if he climbs in with me now and then for more room. He helped me during a nightmare after I was shot and he's got a very comfortable chest." Ma laughed at that. "We were more worried about what you're going to say about some of that stuff."
"Bah. You like Ray. He likes you. I can consider this some strange form of dating. It is done these days, though I do not approve." They nodded. "Will I have to change anything else at the house?"
"No, Ma, just remember to turn on the security system," Ray told her. "There's no telling who the news will get back to. We can't really hide it or it's pointless."
"Am I mistaken that there are others who are more qualified?" Ma asked Catherine.
She nodded. "There are but no one's open about it. Chicago is still a very Catholic city and no one wants to be persecuted; no matter what the laws are it still happens. I know a few I'll be going to for help and to ask them to help Ray understand some things that I can't explain. He won't have to take place in any of the festivities unless he wants to. As far as I know," she admitted. "We're setting him up as a tolerant husband who escorts me."
"Then you should come to church with him," Ma said.
She shook her head. "You can't chain me up and drag me into a Catholic church, Ma. Never again." The woman gave her a hurt look. "I did time in one and I hated it more than most. The fact that I was reviled because I was a smart woman was more than enough for me. My father did a tour through most of the Christian faiths and I refuse to go there again. I'm not someone's subservient person nor their slave the way most of the ministers made it out to be."
"Our priest is okay and mostly liberal," Ray told her. "He doesn't get too bad."
"Ray, I'm still bi, even if we started to date. How liberal is this guy?"
"Good point," Ma admitted. "He is not friendly toward them. You have no trouble with Ray going?"
"Hey, I'll even set the alarm for him," she promised. "I'll make sure he's got clean clothes and everything. I do not diss anyone's religion except where it relates to my personal experiences. I feel the same way about the Baptists too," she shared. "That whole 'a wife is a second class citizen to her husband' ideology kinda got me in the gut."
Ma nodded. "Then I can accept that." She ate a bite of dinner. "You did very good, Ray."
"Thanks, Ma." He looked at Catherine, giving her a 'we'll be talking later' look. She nodded, pointing at a place behind him on the bookshelf. He looked at his mother, noticing she was staring at him. "Have we forgotten something?"
"A few things," Ma admitted. "I will have to tell the others something about gifts."
"No gifts," Ray told her. "It's not real."
"Tell 'em you're not entirely happy with me," Catherine suggested. "That I'm not Catholic. It'd be the truth."
Ma smiled at her. "I am very happy with you, Catherine, even though you are not Catholic. How would any children be raised though?"
"Moderately both until they were old enough to make their own decisions," she responded calmly. Ma looked impressed. "For all I care, my kids, if any occur - which is unlikely - can be Hindu or Voodun."
"Voodoo?" Ray asked.
"Voodoo is the mystical aspect. Voodun is the religion. I work with a Voodun priest."
"Wow. Anyone else I should know?"
"I also work with a Santeria priestess, a few Modern Druids, one who's trying to bring back the older ways, and a few Buddhists. They said I'd make an excellent one if I could give up my anger." He smiled at that, sipping his wine. "It's true," she admitted. "I can't always live in the moment, I forget to pay the bills."
He chuckled. "I can help with that. We can figure out all the money stuff later." She nodded. "Ma, is this going to be a big, huge problem for you?"
"No," she assured him, giving them a smile. "It is much nicer than I had thought it would be. You are not leaving the city again. You will still be nearby if I need you. The children can see you all the time. You can come over at least once a week for dinner. You as well, Catherine. Francesca can learn to like you." She smiled at them. "How are you working out other things?"
"I'm cooking," Ray told her. "She's agreed to do the dishwasher stuff."
"And we're hiring a house cleaner once a week," Catherine added. "Because I don't clean most of the time until I get tired of the cat hair." Ma nodded. "We can do joint grocery shopping. He puts up with my stuff and I can live with what he cooks as long as he doesn't try to kill me."
"Your pendant's in Evidence," he told her quickly. She nodded. "You'll have to petition to get it free."
"I'll work on that tomorrow," she agreed. "It's a pain when you lose a medic alert. Whole files have to be switched over. I've lost an allergy due to that." Ma looked at her. "I have a few drug allergies as well as food allergies and one to most cleaners because of the chlorine in them. I used to love to swim," she sighed. "Now I have to swim in the lake and it's nasty."
"It is," Ray agreed. "We worked out most of that stuff earlier," he told her. "The cleaning stuff, the nighttime ritual stuff. She's even gonna let me use her computer." Ma smiled at that. "So I'll have to move a good portion of my stuff over here."
"Which means I'll need to find you closet space," Catherine agreed. "Or buy you a wardrobe since you filled my closet for me."
Ma chuckled. "You two already sound like newlyweds. It will be fine, children. I promise."
"Thanks, Ma. This'll be one of the hardest months of my life. I've never really lived with another person I wasn't related to."
She waved a hand. "It is the same, only without your sisters hogging the bathroom." She looked at Catherine. "I hesitate to ask, but what about protection? I know how things can happen sometime. If something were to happen, I would insist that he marry you."
"Well, I'm not on anything," she admitted. "I haven't dated in six years and I haven't touched a man in ten." Ray's eyebrow rose. "My promotion celebration," she admitted. "Drunk, fully admit it." She considered it. "I'm not a good candidate for the pill. The shot went screwy on me a few years back, when I was a rookie. We can go non-hormonal."
"We can," Ray admitted. "If it happens."
"True. I'm not planning on it either," she promised. "But she's right, things happen during undercover assignments."
"A month?" Ma asked.
"We hope," Catherine told her. "We hope we can get him doing something majorly against the law within a month. If not, it could be longer. If so, it could be shorter. We're not sure yet. No one is."
"That's fine. I'm sure my boy will make you look quite beautiful on his arm."
"Ma, she's Huey's partner," Ray told her. "I couldn't work with her on the job if this were real." She gave him a knowing look. "I know, but otherwise they can transfer her to Sex Crimes or something like that."
"Only if they want my badge," Catherine said bitterly. "I've seen more than enough of that, thank you." She looked over as her phone rang, getting up to get it. "Yeah?" She smiled. "Really? Cool. Be there soon." She hung up. "Want to go do the fun thing and get Stanley out of trouble with IA?"
"Sure," Ray agreed. "Now?" She shook her head. "Soon?"
"Within an hour. He knows Ma's here. He said he's singing a happy tune to make them leave him alone." She sat down again. "So, Ma, you're not going to be bothered by this?"
She shook her head. "Not in the least. Even though you are not who I would have chosen for my son, I cannot deny you are good for him. He is not so grumpy anymore. Neither are you." She gave her a smile. "If you do choose to make it official, then I might worry, but for right now it is fine."
"Ma, she is really nice, even though she's not Catholic," Ray defended.
"No, she's talking about other things," she said calmly. "She doesn't like my job, like all mothers don't. She worries that I'll ignore you for it. She wonders if I really want children. Things like that. Mothers do that." She looked at her. "Children are very doubtful from me. Even if he was as strong as Paul Bunyon I doubt it would happen. I miscarried a long time ago and they said it left some scarring."
Ma nodded. "I understand. If it does, then we shall have to sit down and have a very long discussion." She smiled at them. "Go save Stanley and bring him back. We can finish dinner then."
"Are you sure, Ma?" Ray asked. She nodded. "Okay. Remember to keep the door locked. We don't know that Frankie doesn't have other plans against her." Ma gave him another of those patient, motherly looks as they disappeared. "That went better than I expected," he admitted as he got in to drive.
"Me too," Catherine agreed. "Do you think I can bring my car home?"
"Not until your shoulder's better. Welsh said so," Ray said firmly, starting his engine. He pulled away from the curb. "I wonder if we'll have to feed Benny too."
"Why? This had to do with Zucko's condition when he showed up."
"Ah." He smirked. "It was pretty how he fell against the floor a few times while throwing a fit."
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you, Ray. You'll make a very good defensive husband."
He laughed, giving her a little shove away. "Keep that in mind when you wear a shirt that shows more of you than it covers. I don't want Huey to get any ideas." They pulled into the station and walked inside to grab Stanley and take him back. It only took them a half- hour to do so. By the time they got back to her place, Ma had added some more to dinner and Stanley tucked in like he was starved.
Catherine walked into the station, dreading this moment. She breezed in, putting her box down on her desk. Huey looked at her and she shrugged. "Like it's my fault they only wanted the young and pretty in Vice again." He snorted and ignored her. She set out everything, including her voodoo doll. She noticed it got a funny look. "It's one of Stanley," she said happily. "I'll be making one of Ray soon." Huey gave her a worried look. "What? I only use them as annoyance devices." She looked at her desk. "I'll be right back." She went to call her old Captain. "Hey, it's me. Is my desk still unclaimed? How about my computer? Because it's got all my passwords saved down," she admitted. "You know how much I hate surfing on my laptop." She grinned. "Great. Yeah, during lunch."
She hung up and walked back in, running into Welsh nearly literally. "Would it be okay if I went and claimed my old computer from Vice?" He nodded. "Thanks. It's got all my occult research on it and I hate surfing on my laptop." She put everything else out and sat down to rearrange her drawers. By the time she was done, Ray and Stanley were arguing as they came in. Ray tossed her a banana and she grinned at him. "Thanks." She sat down to nibble on it, fixing her pencils again. She looked over at Welsh, who had a stack of files. "Ooh, fun." She opened the first one and held up the package. "Aren't these rookie files?" she asked.
He came back, looking inside them. "They are," he agreed dryly. "Sorry about that." He took them and put them into that drawer. "Wrong stack." She beamed at him. "Did you need any more time today?"
"I need to pop over to Vice to gather my computer and the rest of the stuff that Stan and Ray didn't know to grab."
"Fine, go do that," he agreed, waving her out. "I'll have something for you to do by the time you get back."
She stood up, looking at Ray. "Keys?" He grunted as he tossed over a set. "Thanks." She hopped down the stairs, going back to her old desk to clean it out. By the time she got there, the computer tech person was waiting on her. "Hey." She gave him a happy smile. "She said I could take it to the 27th with me since all my research passwords are on here. Do you guys have a problem with that?"
"Not in the least," he admitted. "We were going to give them some of the older systems soon anyway. What's this one run?"
"98. I like it better," she admitted. "I'm also running Netscape, my own copy." He chuckled, shaking his head. "Can you disengage me without wiping me out?" He nodded, moving to do that. She sat down to clean out her drawers, pulling out her CD-RW's and diskette holders, then the rest of her things were drug up. Someone left her a box on a chair and she took it happily. She looked up as her Captain came out of the office. "I guess I'm nearly done."
She snorted. "Yeah, sure you are," she said, handing over two folders. "One's a homicide, one's your personnel folder." She stuck them into her box too. "Anything else you need?"
"I don't know, is there?" She shook her head. "Then I hope you have a lot of fun with the new kids and I wish them very much backup and many vests." The Captain snorted, shaking her head. She did a last check, finding her pens and pencils, and took them too. "Okay, I'm done. I'm the black sedan downstairs." He nodded, carrying down the old system with the Captain's help. "Will the 27th be wired for internet soon?"
"Tonight," he promised. He slid the monitor face down in the back seat, then took the stack and placed it on the floor. "Go easy. No bouncing," he warned. She nodded, getting in to drive. He waved at her. "I'll see you before quitting time." She nodded, waving back. He made sure the door was shut then she pulled off. "That is an ancient computer," he sighed. "How is she still running it?"
"It works for her," the Captain told him. "Unless you could take all of her stuff off that one I doubt it'd do her much good. She's got so many occult sites bookmarked and the passwords saved it's not funny. That's why I called you to wipe it."
"At least she won't be too far behind everyone else at the 27th," he relented. "They're not getting the laptops you guys are." He followed her back inside to hook up stuff for her. Her unit had gotten a great grant for all new computer software and new laptops for everyone. The 27th was getting the other's castoffs later that week.
Catherine carried her monitor in and set it on her desk, then looked at Huey. "Help me carry," she ordered, heading back out.
"I usually respond better to courtesy," he told her, following her.
"My shoulder still hurts," she told him.
"Sorry. I forgot."
She looked back at him. "It's going to really suck if I have to draw. That's my gun arm." She bounced down the stairs, going to pick up her box. The stack was way too heavy, she had already tried to move it. He got it easily and she locked up her car, heading up to set herself up again. "I'm back," she announced. Frannie gave her a dirty look. "And now I can do my own research without borrowing your computer." She set her box down. "Put it on that side of the desk," she suggested. "I'll put the monitor on this corner." He nodded and she got down to hook it up. "Fortunately, the rest of you are getting some of your own too." As soon as it was up and running she found the green data cable and plugged it in too. It barely reached. She shrugged and sat down to turn it on, tapping her fingers as it booted. She remembered the files and found her personnel one, walking it in. She exchanged it for another folder. "You guys are getting your own later this week," she told him.
"Good. I've heard that for a few months. What's your source?"
"The second-in-command in the computer geeks core." She grinned and walked out, going to check her bookmarks. "Travis," she said in disgust, eliminating all the porn sites.
"You shared a computer with Dale?" Huey asked. She nodded. He snickered. "Porn?"
"Tons of porn, and while I appreciate some of it, I'm more of a movie or a reading sort. His stills are odd." She found them and eliminated most of them too. "Oh, really?" she said dryly. "Travis is worse than I thought. Lieutenant, can I turn him in for abuse of the system?"
"No," he called back, coming out to look at the pictures she had found. He blinked a few times, letting her expand it. "Shut that down and erase it."
"Definitely." She did that, going through the rest of them, only keeping the things she liked. Ray came over so she found the next one, letting him see it. "Cartoon porn."
"Eww." He shook his head. "Nasty crap." He noticed there were a few pictures left and gave her a look. She waved a CD-RW and saved the ones she wanted down, then erased them, doing a full back up at the same time. "What's the other file?"
"I don't know yet," she admitted, looking at them. "Petty larceny and oooh, a homicide. Ritual, carvings. Just my thing," she said happily. She looked up at him, noticing he was green. "It's people who get it wrong." He nodded, going back to his seat to work on his own papers. "Have we heard anything about the warrant hunt?"
"They're missing three," Huey told her.
"The three we couldn't find," Stanley admitted.
"Did we check burial records?" Catherine asked, accessing her favorite symbol site. She had to turn down her speakers when they chimed. "Sorry. Um, Huey, does music bother you?" He shook his head. "I usually do some quiet music listening. I hate silence."
Ray came back over, watching as she did a search for the symbol. Something came up but it was listed as being upside down. "Doesn't that have a significance?" he asked quietly.
"Only if he's trying to catch the attention of the lower winds, the things that blow foul," she said. "According to this offshoot tradition the hook is to catch the upper winds, to take the prayer on. It was done on those who willingly sacrificed themselves in plea. It was a small French cult during the Renaissance." She looked up the others, they were all from this same cult. So she clicked on the link, reading up on it. She opened her briefcase and pulled out her palm pilot, downloading it quickly. "Okay, I'm good if they call." She looked at the other one, then called the number on it. "Hello, I was wondering what your hours were today?" she asked in a convincing British accent. She wrote them down on the folder. "Thank you." She hung up. "These guys stole their own stuff." She stuffed it into her briefcase, then stood up, grabbing her keys. She turned off her site and put her keyboard on top of monitor. "Feel free to check your email, but put any bookmarks under your own name," she ordered.
Ray gave her a pat. "Lunch?"
"Sure. Call. Shit, phone," she muttered, shaking her head. "Cash?" He grimaced and handed it over. "Thanks." She shoved it into her briefcase and headed out, only stopping in the office. "I'm off to check with homicide about the one that got forwarded to me. Ritual with carvings in an old cult pattern. That robbery is looking more like they did it themselves. They're fully open the day afterwards without any stock?" she asked at his confused look. He nodded. "I'm also on my way to pick up a new phone. I'll call you with the new number." She headed out, stopping to answer Frannie's phone since she wasn't there. "27th Precinct?" She listened. "Hold on. Let me transfer you." She put them on hold. "I don't know how to do that with these. Huey, it's your mom." She put the handset down and walked out.
Huey looked at Ray. "You married that?" he asked. Ray grimaced so he went to talk to his mother, transferring it back to his phone. "Hi, Mom. What's wrong?" he asked, getting comfortable. "Sure, I can do that," he agreed. "Not a problem." He winced when he heard a gunshot but Ray wasn't moving. He looked back at him. "Not yours?"
"Wrong side of the building," he said firmly, continuing with his paperwork. He got up to use Frannie's computer to check the John Doe database. Maybe she was right.
To Be Continued: