Ray looked up as someone gasped in the hallway, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of the new problem. Usually it was his new wife who caused such noise. This time, it was a young-looking him. He blinked at him a few times, then frowned. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, leaning back.
"I needed some paternal-like advice," the mini-Ray said with a different, smoother accent. "Since you did such a good job, I thought I'd come bug you for a few days," he admitted sheepishly.
"In the office," Ray ordered, standing up. "This could cause me no end of problems, Junior."
"I know and I'm sorry, but I need some advice and you know my mom." He waved at the stunned man behind the desk. "Hey, how ya doin'?" he asked with a small grin.
Ray shut the door. "He's not mine. This is Armando's son, Junior."
Lieutenant Welsh cleared his throat. "Wonderful. Why is he here?"
"Because I need paternal advice and mine was for shit," Junior told him. He shrugged. "I knew Ray wasn't my pop, he listened to me. Mine never did that. He even put up with my mother's whoring and money-grubbing nastiness."
"Junior," Ray warned. "She's still your mother."
"Sorry." He even looked it for a moment. Then he looked at the Lieutenant again. "I'll only be in town for a few days," he offered. "I need a dad sort of person though and he's the best I've got. I need someone ta talk to about the important things, like college and girls."
Welsh grimaced. "Fine. Vecchio, I'll allow it this time. Next time I want warning." Ray nodded quickly. "And remember to call home."
"Does this mean I get to meet your Ma?" Junior asked Ray, grinning. "I heard a lota good stuff 'bout her."
"Yeah, I guess," he admitted with a small sigh. "Don't tell her before I can," Ray instructed. "This is going to take some delicate handling."
"You'd be surprised," Welsh said dryly. "She'll take it better'n you think. Go, leave. Do paperwork tonight and forward it to me."
Ray nodded and walked the boy outside, only stopping to pick up his sunglasses and jacket. It was cloudy so his sunglasses went into his pocket with his cellphone, which got slammed in the door when he got into his car. He groaned and shook his head, opening the door to free them then closed it again. "Okay. First, let's go to a park and talk. Got it?" Junior nodded. "Buckle up."
"How did you find out my name?"
Junior beamed at him. "My Godfather has one of the Feds dirty now. He told him everything in exchange for his latest bribe and he told me when I asked him if he knew anything about you. He knew I'd come looking for you to get advice and he was right."
"He usually was," Ray said dryly, heading away from the precinct, toward the nearest park. He got them seated out by the lake, watching the ducks cavort in the warm summer sun. "So. College?"
"Yeah, I wanna take Accounting, but one of the few with my emphasis is here," he admitted.
"The Forensic Accounting track," he said blandly. Junior nodded. "Why?"
"Because the Don could use a good one," he admitted. "He won't let me join until I'm outta college, he's said so many times. He wants us to all be ready to settle down when we come work for him."
"It's a good idea," Ray admitted. "And?"
"It's here or Duke and I *like* you, Ray. I didn't want to cause any problems for you."
"Oh, you have," he said dryly, but he was smiling. "But I think they're manageable this time. Just remember not to tease my Ma with hopes of me having a real one of you."
"Deal, dude," Junior agreed with a wicked grin. "Not that you wouldn't do great at it, but still. I get that part." He slumped a little. "I need ta talk about that stuff too, Ray."
"What? Girls or having kids? It'd better just be about girls."
"It is," he assured him, "but I'm really jammed up with them. The only girl I really like in my school is a novitiate and they're not allowed out into the general populace. Ma won't let me date anyway because she's worried I'll start up with a woman like her. I'm miserable!"
"So switch schools."
"I'm at a boarding school, the only Catholic one in six counties and Mother won't let me switch. She wants me close but under her thumb and control."
"Yeah, I got that feeling from your mother when we met," he said dryly. "Switch to a non- Catholic boarding academy for your last two years. Tell her it'll be better to get into college with." His face lit up. "Threaten to become a cop if she doesn't let you. Tell her that's why you came here. She does know you came here, right?"
"No, but I doubt she'll miss me for a few weeks. We're not due for a shoe shopping trip until then," he said bitterly. "She might miss her credit card, but I doubt it."
Ray groaned and pulled out his obviously broken cell phone. "Come on, you can call from Ma's. That way she won't report you missing and cut the card on you." He got the boy moving back to the car. "Are you sure you wanna join the Family business?"
"Well, mostly," he admitted. "I know this is why Uncle Bruno said I have ta wait, but I like forensic accounting and he really could use a good one. I couldn't be the IRS, they're evil and bad guys the world over."
Ray snorted. "It's not just the IRS and the families who use them. The cops use them. We've got two here in Chicago. Maybe you should talk to the teachers up at the college when you go visit and see where else you can get hired." He got the boy back into the car and glanced around before climbing in. He saw one of the Feds he'd spooked in the past watching and groaned. "The Feds are here."
"Fucking yay," Junior said bitterly. Ray smacked him on the side of the head. "Sorry, Ray."
"Yes, Ray." He grinned at him. "See, you're much more like my Dad than my actual one was. He taught me to swear."
"I'm not really surprised," Ray complained as he started the car and backed out of the spot. "Buckle up."
"You're a cop, they won't ticket you."
"Yes, they will. Half of the patrol guys are scared of me and my partner and the other half hate us." He pulled onto the street, watching as a familiar car zipped past. "Besides, there's always the chance of a high speed chase," he said dryly. She had Benny with her, he didn't have to worry. He went in the other direction, taking the long way home. As soon as he pulled onto his mother's street, he knew something was wrong. "Were you followed?"
"No. Why?" Ray pointed at the limo parked in his mother's driveway. "Local plate and not a rental." Junior slid out and headed up to the front door, ringing the bell. "Hey," he said happily, walking inside when the woman gasped. "I'm not Ray's," he promised, kissing her on the cheek. "I'm Armando Lagostini Junior." She gave him a hug. "Where's the schmucks?"
"In the kitchen," she said, leading him back that way. "See, he's fine!" she snapped. "Leave my house."
"I agree," Junior told the enforcers and the local bigwig. He nodded at him. "Hey. I didn't know I had ta check in while I came looking at the local U."
"You should, I wanted to meet you and your father," he admitted, holding out a hand. Junior snorted. "You're not educated in etiquette?" he asked snidely.
"Don Bruno won't let me join until I'm out of college. He said I don't have ta kiss rings until then." He crossed his arms. "Now then, you're buggin' Ray's Ma and that's not right. He's gonna be pissed."
"Too late," Ray said as he walked in, his usual partners behind him. "Arrest them for breaking and entering. Ma, you all right?"
"Fine, Caro," she said, giving him a smile. Then she smiled at her other adopted children and her daughter-in-law. "We'll have dinner here tonight I think," she said, heading for the cupboards.
The woman stopped and looked at the kid, then at Ray. "Clone?" she asked finally.
Junior chuckled. "Not even. Shey, nice ta see ya again." Her mouth fell open. "You probably don't remember, I was only six."
"Good point," she admitted, giving him a hug. "Lago.... oh, shit," she said, looking at Ray.
"Yeah, he's Armando's. He needed some fatherly advice and I'm apparently good enough," he said with a shrug. "That okay with you, Cath?"
"Fine," she agreed, nodding. Then she hauled off and backhanded the local Don. "How dare you come into this house, where I protect, and bother my mother-in-law! Do you *really* want to see me get crankier?" He blanched and stood up to back away from her. "Stand your ground like a man, bastard, before I cap you in the nuts and then make you beg for a six-person cell full of tops." His eyes widened and he put his hands on his head, getting to his knees. "Fucker!" She cuffed him and pushed him onto the floor, glaring at the one giving Stanley a hard time. "Oh, let me do him too," she said. The guy quit fighting the cuffs and gave him quietly. The others followed their boss's example.
"Catherine, Midol?" Stanley suggested dryly.
"Not for another two weeks," she told him airily, grinning at him. "They interrupted my chase of a punk tagger."
Ray chuckled. "Again?" She nodded. "Stupid of them, I agree." He gave her a kiss, making her lean into his body. "Hi. Missed you at lunch."
"Hmm, lunch," she purred. "Late lunch?"
"Later. Dinner," he said with a wink. She nodded, beaming at him.
"You married Shey?" Junior asked, looking stunned. "She's the one Uncle Bruno said his daughters'll never turn out like because she's such a tough bitch!"
Ray laughed. "Gee, I wonder why?" he asked dryly, looking at his wife.
"The undercover I got the blown ankle during," she admitted sheepishly. She walked over and tipped Junior's face up. "You okay?"
"Fine. I knew Ray wasn't dad when he didn't pay my allowance and didn't hand it over when I faced him down about it. He actually showed an interest in my life and my dad never did."
"I did what a normal dad should do," Ray defended.
"Exactly," Junior told him. "Not at all like my parents."
"Speaking of, go call your mother. I'll cover the charges," he told his mother, giving her a short hug. "You sure you're okay? I can have Catherine hit 'em again," he offered.
Ma laughed and hugged him, then hugged Catherine. "A little scared, nothing more," she promised. She watched as the boy slipped out and headed to the phone in the hall. "What is going on?"
"He needed some fatherly advice about girls and college," Ray told her. "So the local Godfather turned one of the Feds I was under and he told 'em who I was so Junior out there looked me up." She gave him a look. "It's fine, Ma. Most of them went ta jail. We couldn't get Bruno but that's nothing major. He's mostly retired now." He gave her a little squeeze while he watched his wife sit down with a wobble. "Blood sugar?"
"No, I've been dizzy all day," she admitted. She grimaced. "I've got that stupid flu starting around." Ray raised an eyebrow. "I went and got the medicine for it, it hasn't worked fully yet. I'm off tomorrow anyway."
"Good. I'd hate ta handcuff you to the bed for Ray," Stanley told her firmly, giving her a look. One of the guards moaned. "Shut up."
"Perhaps we should call for someone to pick them up," Fraser suggested.
Ray smirked at the constable. "Not used to having crooks in the kitchen, Benny?"
He shook his head. "It's not very safe. What happens if one gets free?"
"I kick his ass," Catherine and Stanley said at the same time, then they frowned at each other.
"She's my mother-in-law, it's my duty," she reminded him.
"She adopted me, it's more direct," Stanley teased. Ma frowned at them both.
"Sorry, Ma," they said in unison.
"And yet again the world goes strange," Junior said dryly as he came in. "Ma did notice her card was missing. One of the guards told her." He sat down next to Catherine. "So, you're the kinda step-ma?"
"Somehow, that seems right," she said dryly. She shook her head. "Don't worry about it. Call me Auntie Catherine if you have to, 'kay, kid?"
"Sure." He beamed at Ray. "I like her. You chose well. She's *much* nicer than my mother ever was probably."
"Your mother's a money-grubbing whore," Ray said under his breath. Junior heard and nodded, cackling. Catherine gave him a look. "Armando divorced her for her money- grubbing ways. She's a former showgirl who only wanted to marry rich."
Catherine smiled. "Wonderful," she said dryly. "I bet she had all the best nannies and the boy's in a boarding school?"
"The only Catholic boarding school in six counties," Ray corrected, smirking at her. "Close enough she can pop around when the mood strikes her but too far to drive down each day."
"Not really. The house is only forty minutes by the main road," Junior corrected. "Kids get bussed farther in our county." He grinned at Ray. "Can you help me look at the other schools?"
"I liked the looks of Pearlman," Ray admitted. "It had a nice campus during the meet I went to there. It apparently had a kick-ass college prep program, and it's coed."
"They've got a test," Junior noted.
"So? Take the test. What's the worst that can happen? They say no."
"No, I think the worst would be for his mother to buy him a place in there," Catherine told him.
Junior shuddered. "That's why I'm where I'm at." He looked at her. "Why can't my mother be more like you? She just called me selfish because I'm taking away from her shoe shopping budget."
Catherine gave him a look. Then she smiled sweetly at Ray. "Can I go kick *her* ass?"
"No, Catherine," Ray said patiently, giving her a short kiss. "Let Bruno do it. It's his turf." He straightened up as the patrol officers came through the front door. "Watch out for the cats!" he called.
"They're locked in the bedroom," Ma said gently, giving him a look. "They made me put them up there, they're allergic."
Catherine shrugged out of her jacket and tossed it over the local Don's head. "Sorry, I'm a bit warm," she told the officers with a grin. "So, Ma. How's the catnip growing?"
"Very well," she said happily. "The cats adore it. They've nibbled on it many times. That and the oat grass." Catherine smiled at her. "Do yours need some?"
"We planted some in new window box." She patted Junior on the hand as the Fed walked in. "Look, Ray, it's a *Fed*," she said with a small laugh.
Ray snickered, shaking his head. "You are so bad," he chided. "I should give you a footrub for that later."
Junior looked at the Fed, then grimaced. "Do they really clone you guys or is that just a rumor?"
"We're all individuals," the Fed said bitterly. "What are *you* doing here?" he asked Ray.
"It's my mother's house. What do you think?" he asked.
"Fine. Did they give up already?"
"With some encouragement," Catherine said smugly. One of them sneezed. "Get anything on my jacket, lick it off," she warned. The man moaned and sneezed into the floor instead. Ma made an outraged noise and he cleaned it up. "Thank you." She looked at Junior again. "So, college *and* girls?"
"College and girls," he sighed, putting his head down. "My life sucks."
"It beats the alternative," Stanley told him. He looked at Ray. "Who is he?"
"Lagostini's son, Junior."
"Ah," Benny said, smiling at him. "Good day. Were you planning on going to college nearby?"
"I was actually," he admitted. "You're Canadian, aren't you?" Benny smiled and nodded. "Cool. Got a horse?"
"Not here," he admitted. He sat down, getting out of the way. "What did you want to do?"
"Forensic Accounting, but Ray says there's other things I can do with it besides being a nasty, dirty Fed or joining the Family business."
"True. Cops use them. Most states have auditors who do the same thing," Catherine told him. "Plus, not all Feds are dirty. They make them wash sometimes." Junior snickered at that. "Or you could go into business in a law firm. A lot of them use accountants and some keep them on retainer."
"I hadn't thought about that," Junior admitted. "Thank you, step-mom." The Fed choked and glared at them. "What? She's nicer than mine and Ray was a better father while he was there! Get over it and unstarch the thong, dude. It's cutting off blood supply to your brain." He looked at Benny. "Are your Feds that bad?"
"No, ours are generally nicer and more thorough," Benny told him. He looked over then took Catherine's jacket off a coughing head, handing it back to her. "Here you are."
"Thank you." She examined it, then glared at the man on the floor. "I should make you lick it clean." He moaned and nodded.
"Let me send it to the cleaners," Ray soothed, taking it from her to put into the laundry. He liked that jacket on her. He noticed the Fed glaring at her. "Eyes off my wife," he warned. The Fed gave him a horrified look then led his prisoners out with the help of the patrol cops. "What? You think she's too good for me?" he called.
The Fed, not being very wise, stopped to look at him. "No, I'm surprised anyone's got the balls to marry her," he snorted. "She's an evil and mean bitch."
Catherine looked at him. "Only to those I don't like. Ray's managed to not only keep me calm, sane, and nice, but I let him pick out my clothes and tend to my every whim. You on the other hand...." He ran out. She growled as she stood up, wanting to finish telling him off. Stanley tried to stop her but she gave him a shove and stomped out anyway. "Yo! Asshole!" He paused to look at her. "Let's go have a talk in front of your boss." He went pale and she grabbed him, putting him onto the ground and cuffing him. She hauled him up with a grunt of annoyance and over to her car, getting inside. "Boys, he'll be down at the Federal building. Those go to the 27th. They're *ours*, not the Fed's." They nodded, knowing that she had it well in hand. She drove the idiot off, going to have a long talk with his boss. She was even nice enough to lead him inside still in the cuffs, past all the other workers in the Federal building. "He tried to verbally assault a cop," she explained at the worried looks in the elevator. "We're going to have a ...talk with his boss." She drug him off at the right floor, having been here a few times, and up to the highest office that usually had an occupant, ignoring the secretary trying to stop her. She kicked the door in calmly then drug him in and planted him in a chair, making him whimper. "We need ta talk about your boy and his attitude problem," she said coldly. She planted her hands on the desk and leaned closer. "Not only did he try to muscle in on some prisoners we caught in a cop's mother's house, he decided to insult *me* while he did so." The head agent hung up his phone and nodded, leaning back to give her some more room. She growled so he sat up again. Then she stood up and crossed her arms. "Not only did he insult me in my own mother-in-law's house, he did so in front of my husband, one of my partners, and my husband's present charge. You'd better teach your boys better manners. I won't have it and I will find something to arrest him on officially."
"What happened? From the top please," the head agent said, pulling out a complaint form.
"What happened? Let's see. First was he following Don Crisco of the Bad Hair?" The head agent's eyes widened and he nodded. "Then he let him walk into a house and take hostages, including an older woman and at least one child since she's not old enough to go to school yet." She shifted her stance some. "Then, when my husband went to his mother's house with his new charge and found Don Greasy Hair in his mother's house, the Fed let us deal with it. Which we did. Then he strolls in with the patrol officers to take charge, take our prisoners, and to insult me."
"First, he gave me dirty looks. My husband, Detective Vecchio, noticed it." The agent swallowed. "Then he called me names when Ray snapped at him to quit. He *suggested* that my husband was demented for marrying me and called me a bitch."
"I said I was surprised anyone had the balls to marry you because you were an evil and mean bitch," the agent said grimly. "It's true, she is."
"Enough," his boss told him. "Detective Demoranth nearly had your job and she turned us down." The agent gaped at him. "She is more than qualified to deal with you and all the other problems in Chicago. You had no reason to insult her, or to allow Don Simpson to take hostages. That is not the FBI way." The agent slumped some. He smiled at Catherine. "I will be talking to him about this."
"Good. Have him transferred too. If I see him again, I may be tempted to shoot him next time." His mouth opened to protest. "I don't care if he doesn't like me. Doing the job means doing it without bringing your personal feelings into it as much as possible. He hasn't mastered that. Send him to Alaska or somewhere equally useful to learn that topic. Otherwise, he constitutes a threat to this city's smooth running and welfare. If he allows such people to take hostages of little old women and children, what's next?"
"Detective, I *assure* you, you won't run into him again. Please give Detective Vecchio and his mother my deepest apologies for this unfortunate incident."
She leaned down again. "I'm going to give him the address of *your* funeral if he bothers me again. This is the second time I've run into him and he was a slimy being then. This time, he's turned dangerous. Next time, I deal with him instead of you. Send someone else to bother us, someone with a lick of sense and ability. No more kids. No more posers. No more assholes like this one to endanger our lives. He left the scene after noticing Mrs. Vecchio and her granddaughter had been taken hostage. He wasn't in his car when we got there, nor was he looking around the house. We checked for anyone else when we saw his car with the *prominent* parking sticker for your garage in the window. That makes him either dirty, a threat, or an idiot. Deal with him before we have to deal with him *during* a crisis. I won't allow him to ruin my husband's good mood, get someone killed, or to make me lose my temper. So help him, before I have to." She stood up again. "Keep the cuffs. The lock's broken anyway." She turned and stomped out.
The head agent looked at his underling. "You are in such deep shit if that's right. Did you leave your car?"
"I went to call it in," he defended.
"Fine. Great even. That's against protocol. Where's your cellphone?"
"The battery died."
"You were a boy scout and you let your cell battery die!" he shouted. The man flinched. "You're going above my head this time. I can't ignore that complaint. She'll already be calling Washington. I know her, I'm the one who tried to recruit her."
"It's a good thing you didn't," he said bitterly.
"She would have made one hell of an agent. She decided she liked working Vice and occult cases more." The agent swallowed. "You're in deep, I'd feel lucky if you make it to Iowa instead of Alaska." He made the call, wincing when his superior started to scream at him. "Sorry about hanging up on you, sir. I had to take a complaint from an irrate local detective. It seems one of my men allowed a dangerous situation near her mother-in-law and very young niece." He winced. "Yes, sir, that's her. Has she already called?" His wince got worse. "Oh, her husband called. Yes, sir, I'm not surprised. Would you care to fax me the details so I can have an investigation started?" he asked hopefully. He looked at the agent and shook his head, making him whimper and give him a pleading look. "I see. Of course, sir. As soon as we get him out of the handcuffs. No, sir, Detective Demoranth- Vecchio put him into some. Yes, sir, apparently he was following Mr. Simpson and allowed him to take hostages at Detective Vecchio's house without calling it in. He was also not in his car when the detectives pulled up for a totally different reason. No, sir, I don't know." He covered the receiver. "How long did that go on before they got there?"
"Since noon," he said bitterly. "Nearly five hours."
The head agent shook his head and went back to talking, removing his hand. "Three hours, sir." The agent looked hopeful. "No, sir. Apparently they couldn't see his position." He winced. "Yes, sir, of course, sir. Thank you, sir. I'll have him sent upstairs right away. I'm sure your secretary can undo the handcuffs." He hung up. "I'm only going to cover a little for you," he said calmly. "The rest you'll have to talk your way out of. Go up to the director's office, he's in this week. Go." The man nodded and heaved himself up unsteadily, heading up the stairs. He sighed and tore up the complaint. It wouldn't be needed now.
Upstairs, the director unplugged his listening device and gave the incoming agent a dirty look as he rewound the tape. "Let me tell you what I've heard today," he said, starting the playback. The agent winced and fell to his knees, already groveling. "Good idea."
Catherine made it back to Ma's house in time for dinner and was much happier now. The local Director had owed her majorly. She had nearly arrested him for using a pro's services but they agreed to scratch each other's backs. She took her usual seat, smiling at Junior. "So," she said happily. "How are you liking Chicago?"
He chuckled. "It's more hectic than I had imagined. I thought New York was bad when I went to visit my Uncle Munch."
She burst out in giggles. "I like him! He's one of my favorite counterparts!" Junior grinned at her.
"Who?" Ray asked.
"The guy in the picture on the dresser. The one in the hat."
"Oh, him," he said, nodding. Now he got it. He was her counterpart in New York, only he worked Sex Crimes instead. "How are you related to him?"
"Technically he's my mother's godfather," Junior admitted. "He hasn't even tried to talk me out of the life."
"Yeah, well, he probably sees it as preordained," Catherine suggested. "What else has been going on since I went to threaten someone?"
"Nothin' much," Stanley told her. "Welsh, of course, wants more paperwork to look through for his reading pleasure."
"Fine with me," she agreed happily.
"You're the only cop I know who does all the paperwork right away," Stanley said dryly.
"With my memory I'd forget to do it at all, then we'd have to rebust the guy and all that happy ...." She coughed. "Sorry, Ma."
"That's all right, I believe we can all finish that catchphrase for ourselves, Caro." She smiled at her. "How are your cats?"
Ray snorted, shaking his head. "They're pampered little beasts, Ma. Don't let her tell you otherwise. They're horrible most of the time. I woke up this morning to find Blair between us and he gave me this look when I complained like it was only natural for him to get the spot next to her and I was an idiot for suggesting otherwise."
"They're like three-year-olds," Catherine reminded him. "To Blair and the others it's probably perfectly logical." She shrugged and grinned at him. "At least Blair doesn't come up and try to help anymore."
"No, thankfully not," he agreed dryly. "Hey, Benny, how's Chocolate?"
"Doing quite well. Dief and she have managed to find an agreeable compromise for her taking his sleeping spot. She lays down and he curls around her with his chin next to her head so he can snore in her ear."
"I warned you Chocolate was my princess," Catherine pointed out.
He smiled. "Yes, she is. Fortunately she listens to me sometimes."
"How many cats do you have?" Junior asked.
"Four now," Ray told him.
"Somehow I never pictured you as a cat guy," Junior noted, looking at Ray.
"They're hers. I inherited them when I married her." He grinned at Catherine. "We won't be picking up any more though, will we?"
"Not unless they need me," she agreed firmly. She burped and sighed. "'Scuse me, Ma. It's not your food. It's this stupid flu."
"There's no bout of flu," Stanley said, looking confused.
"Yes, there is. My doc said there was," she said firmly.
Ma gave her a look. "Maybe you should see him again. You haven't seen him since last week."
"I called and got the medicine on the run, Ma. Really. I'm not pregnant."
"Hopefully not," Ray admitted. She looked at him. "On the plane? After the Penya bust?" he reminded her. She blushed so he leaned closer. "We have forgotten to use anything," he whispered in her ear.
"Ray, I'm still not able," she whispered back. "I had the guy check. It's not happening."
He kissed her on the cheek. "If it does, it does," he said firmly. "Though I'm hoping for not at the moment."
"Last time I knew within two weeks."
"You have other kids?" Junior asked.
She grimaced. "No, actually the person who was torturing me at the time made me miscarry," she said firmly.
"Oh. Sorry." He blushed a little. "I didn't mean ta hurt ya."
"Not a big, I'm used to people asking me nosy questions. Stan does it all the time," she said with a small smile. He relaxed and grinned back. "So, how is Vegas now? Do you get bugged by Brass a lot?"
"We live in one of the upper counties. I've met Detective Brass once, on a school trip. He showed up to remind all of us boarding school kids to behave after four of the girls got picked up for solicitation." He smirked at her. "He's a gruff little sweetheart with a spongy center."
"He is," she agreed dryly. "I'll tell him you said that." Junior snickered. "So, outside of needing Ray's advice as an older man, why else are you in town?"
"To look at the local college, try to find a decent woman. One who my mother wouldn't approve of because she wasn't trying to screw me over, and maybe to have a little fun since I can't at the boarding Catholic school."
"That's gotta suck. Don't you guys have dances and nights in town?"
"No. The nuns get pissed if we leave the campus," he said bitterly. "The school Ray suggested we go to dances at twice a year. The nuns don't approve hardly at all though so we just have o deal with it." Ray shuddered. "Ever seen the movie Footloose?" Everyone at the table nodded. "That about describes our headmistress very well. Sister Agony...I mean, Agatha," he said with a small smirk, "doesn't believe in any form of youthful exuberance. We're not even allowed to tell clean jokes." Ma sighed and shook her head. "So I came ta ask the only reasonably upstanding male adult I know. Ray suggested I change to a nearby school but they've got a hard test to get in and I don't want in on my Ma's say-so or pocketbook."
"So don't," Catherine suggested. "If you're smart enough to get into college, an entrance exam shouldn't be too hard. I've got some GRE prep books laying around our apartment, you can borrow some to do the trial tests. They're harder than the actual GRE and I doubt the entrance exam is that hard."
"Since when?" Ray asked.
She sighed. "Since I sprained my ankle two weeks ago, Ray. I'm tired of chasing idiots through the streets and getting dirty looks for it." He nodded, giving her an understanding look. "It's gotten to the point where I'd almost rather go to the Academy and teach."
"Eww," Stanley said with a shudder.
"You could investigate the opportunity for liaising," Benny suggested. "I know we've got a position open for an American to come up and switch off for six months."
"No way in hell!" Ray said firmly. "I'm not letting her out of my sight for six months! Are you insane!"
"It's only just across the border, Ray," Benny said, frowning at him. "It's not like phones don't work and it's only a four-hour drive."
"Maybe you could take some of the vacation they were nagging you about and go too," Stan suggested dryly.
"Sure, and leave you and Huey to partner?" she asked. Stanley looked shocked. "Yeah. Thought so. You do know Welsh knows, right?" He nodded, taking a bite of dinner. "Good. 'Cause he told me to not leave you two alone on the job, just in case you two start to fight again. Something about a punch in the nose....?"
Stanley shuddered. "It was nothin'. We fixed it good," he defended. He quickly stuffed his mouth again.
"It would be an excellent opportunity," Benny suggested lightly. "Getting out of the city might make you appreciate your present job more."
"With her luck, she'd like it and then Ray'd have to transfer in," Stanley pointed out between bites."
"Suggest Huey go," she told Benny. "He's been looking really stressed and we all know I can do this job partnerless most of the time." His face lit up. "Besides, that way he can relax and do something besides the drudgery of endless robberies. The guy shoulda been switched to Robbery a long time ago."
"The 27th is his home precinct," Ray defended.
"I know. Which is what makes it so pitiful. He *glared* at an older woman the other day because she didn't believe he was a cop. He's a little wound at the minute. Let him go do the liaising, see if he comes back energized. It'll be like a vacation with many different cases."
"You don't like working robberies?" Junior asked her.
"I like 'em fine. Most of the time," she admitted. "But after a while of only having that, it gets tiring. It's like eating the same food every day. How do you know that time is moving forward?"
"I hadn't thought of that," Ray admitted. "Stan and I get lots of stuff, including minor homicides. You get some of their bleedover and some of ours too. Huey only does robberies?"
"He said he prefers them. I respect that, he's great with them, but he's feeling stale too. He actually had a fence see him and sigh the other day in defeat. It's like me and the drug warrants. I may have liked a lot of things about Vice, but I hated drug cases. I did so many of them that they were like plodding along blindly. I could solve one in my sleep. I probably did solve a few of them in my sleep," she admitted. "Like any good diet, you need some variety."
"I'll approach him tomorrow," Benny told her, giving her a pat on the arm. "That is a good suggestion."
"Thanks. I'm full of 'em. Just ask Welsh." She grinned at him. "We've still got to get that little, minor pimp."
"Minor as in only has a small stable or minor as in underage?" Ray asked.
"Little and minor. He's a dwarf and he's fifteen." She grimaced when Junior's mouth fell open. "Yeah, out of his school," she told him. "The principal called me directly instead of Vice. We've got the evidence, we only need the arrest. I tried to get Huey to go with me, but he pleaded out on another robbery case."
"Maybe he's comfortable with robberies and doesn't like to leave his comfy spot," Stanley suggested.
"I'd thought of that, but he hates them. He's been swearing at them under his breath now for nearly a month." She shrugged. "Even if it makes him uncomfortable, it's frustrating him. I don't want to see him have a blood pressure problem or a heart attack. I like Huey. He's a standup guy. He's even a really nice guy who doesn't *always* stare at my tits." Ma gave her a look. "Sorry, Ma, but they're very good at making crooks spill things they hadn't meant to say. They have the power to make some men stupid."
Ma laughed. "That seems to be a problem the world over. Maria had the same problem before she married. Men used to stare at her all the time. It irritated her."
"I figured out long ago that it's a handy weapon when questioning someone," Catherine said dryly. "Men don't expect most women to be that smart anyway and according to a great lot of them, cup size is inversely proportional to IQ."
Stanley gave her a look. "That's because guys expect girls with big sets ta use 'em ta get things."
"Yeah, and I do, but that's giving them what they expect. It makes things go smoother sometimes. I've had pimps admit to murder before they knew what they were doing, things we had never *dreamed* they had done." Benny looked impressed. "All because they stared down my shirt and got lost thinking about them. Even if I covered them and wore turtlenecks it wouldn't help so why not use them as a lethal weapon?"
"They're not that deadly," Ray told her dryly, giving her a look. "I saw you the day you had to wear the high-necked shirt. You did crappy that day."
"Yeah, but that was more irritation at the world in general. I can be smooth and seducing at times. It helps, trust me." He nodded, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek. She smiled at him. "Thanks, Ray."
"Hey, only I get to see the majority of them."
"True, I haven't had an undercover or another ho stroll where anyone got to see them in years."
"Excuse me?" he asked.
"Oops." She ducked her head. "Not my idea, Ray. Really not my idea. Did I never show you my picture when I was younger?"
"No, you haven't," he said dryly. She pulled out her wallet and let him flip through it. He stopped at a picture of her in a rookie uniform, then looked at her. "That's why they moved you to Vice?"
"Yeah. I was pretty and young, plus pretty easy to get along with back then," she admitted sheepishly. "My very first assignment was to go to an open pole night at a local club to inform them which girls were selling and which were using out of the dancers." Ray shuddered and handed it back. She put it back into her pocket. "I helped catch three dealers and sixteen users that night," she told him. "And all I had to do was shake what I had naturally and look awkward as hell on a pole in heels."
"Now you're not Vice," he said firmly.
She smiled at him. "No, I'm not and I haven't been since you met me," she reminded him. He relaxed some and the jealous glint in his eyes eased. "I haven't been able to do that recently anyway. I'm not that thin anymore. I hadn't been able to do street level ho stroll in eleven years. Once I became a detective I gained a little weight so I went on high-class ho stroll." He grimaced again. "It was useful. As the Penya bust showed."
"You busted Dominick?" Junior asked.
"Me and one of the new Vice detectives. Ray acted as our backup," she told him. "You heard about that?"
"Yeah. Uncle Bruno laughed long and hard about that." He grinned at her. "He said he knew that Dominick's fascination and obsession with breasts would be his downfall."
She leaned closer. "It was so bad. He was staring so hard we got him into the police station and cuffed, and he still followed them up the stairs. He didn't care as long as he could stare down my shirt."
Junior giggled. "I'll have to tell Uncle Bruno about that. He'll have a good laugh the next time he comes into town."
"He's out?" Ray asked.
"He escaped Federal custody," Catherine said bitterly. "I just got a letter about it today. He's back in Columbia and expected back into the States next month. They're going after him then."
"Knew I should have capped him in the knees," Ray muttered, cutting into his meat viciously. She laid a hand on his and he looked at her. "I know, he won't be coming back here." She shook her head. "It'll be fine."
"It will. He doesn't have a clue who any of us are. You're in the most danger. He probably remembered your face."
"You twisted his nuts ta get him outta the cell," Stanley reminded her. Ma cleared her throat. "Sorry, Ma, but she did."
"I'm still fine and so is Ray," Catherine said firmly. "He'd be a stupid idiot if he came back to Chicago. His whole chain of people was broken last month by Bronski. He's got no help and no people left here in the city. It'd be dumb for him to come back." Ray nodded again and relaxed further. She grinned. "If he does, then we'll make a wonderful bust again and make him feel really pitiful when he realizes who got him the second time too. I call up-high and Benny. You can take the ground and Stan."
Ray chuckled. "Sure. We'll herd him into an alley and then get him." He flipped his hand over, taking hers to hold. She got her hand free and went to the bathroom. "Catherine, are you all right?" he called, getting up to follow her.
Ma sighed in happiness, looking at Junior. "Maybe this one will look like you. You look so much like my Raymondo."
"Ma," Junior said, looking embarrassed. "My dad could'a been his twin."
"Your nose is smaller and your eyes are more blue-green than true green," Benny told him. Ma frowned at him. "I noticed it earlier. Otherwise, he does look exactly like Ray."
Ma nodded. "He does. It gives me great hope."
"I'm still not pregnant," Catherine called from the hallway. Then the front door closed, then reopened a few minutes later as she came back from her car with her toothbrush. She let Ray lead her back to her seat. "My doctor said it was the flu and he did do a test, Ma. Sorry."
"It will happen some day," she said confidently.
Ray gave her a look. "Ma, have you been making wine?" he asked. She laughed and threw her napkin at him. "Ma, think about it. A baby in our lives? It'd be in constant danger."
"You could send it here," Ma reminded him.
"Which would put you, Maria, Tony, and their kids in danger," Catherine pointed out. "We don't want that for any of you. Maybe when things slow down or if I go back to school. Not yet. We've only been married four months."
"True," Ma agreed. "Maybe in a few years."
"True, maybe in a few years," Catherine agreed, silently praying for early menopause to hit. Ray gave her a stroke down the arm. "So, Ray, if I do go back to school, do you think you'd do okay being married to a graduate student?" she teased. "All the textbooks lying around. The college stuff. The papers I'd have to write."
He smiled at her. "I'd worry less if you were a graduate student. They don't need vests." She blew a kiss and dug back into her dinner. He looked at his mother and frowned. "Ma, she's thirty-six."
"All the more reason not to wait," Ma said firmly. "Even though there were women in Israel who had one in their sixties."
"With medical intervention," Ray reminded her. "Not naturally."
"Still, she has a few good years left. There could be two or three."
Catherine gave her a look. "Which means I'd have to quit my job and raise the kids full time, which also means we'd be poorer than dirt on only his salary and we'd be in constant danger from others. If there's a child, it will be an only child," she vowed. "One child can be handed off easier than four or five."
"True," Ma agreed. "That is reasonable."
"And I've still got scar tissue and it'd still take an act of an interfering God of some sort."
"Agreed," Ma said, smiling now. "Though I believe you are."
"The doctor's test said I'm not and it can tell within two weeks."
"Besides, think of the mood swings," Stanley said, looking disgusted. "We'd never get anything done."
She snorted. "Most likely I'd clean your desk off for you," she reminded him. "I couldn't go into the field if I was. Welsh wouldn't let me."
"No, he wouldn't," Ray agreed. That was a positive in his book. He'd never worry about her again.
"That means you'd get twice the cases," she said smugly, nearly reading his mind. He grimaced and shuddered. "Or they'd give us rookie detectives to train."
Ray whimpered. "Please, not rookies," he pleaded.
"If I went that way, would I get to carry a gun?" Junior asked.
"Yup. You'd be part of Corporate Crimes so you'd get a crappy gun, but you'd still have one."
He snorted. "I'd have to go find my own. I'd never use a bad one." He ate another bite of dinner. "Would I have to do street work?"
"Most of the time, they hire experts and send them through a mini course at the academy," Benny told him. "You'd have to do that to make sure you were proficient in many weapons and the law, then you'd be formally hired on as a Forensic Accountant." Junior grinned at him. "Though I believe Chicago does have a policy about you buying your own gun if you want."
"Yeah, we do," Catherine sighed. "Speaking of, mine's shot. It jammed during my range session. Not even the guy down there could get it unstuck." Ray winced. "So I'm back to my backup until I can find one I like. Want to visit pawn shops with me tomorrow, dear?"
"Sure," he agreed, giving her a smile. "At least you do have the spare."
"I have another spare too but it's my old service nine and it's grimy. I haven't been able to soak it clean in years. It's in the closet too. I'd have to buy special bullets for it."
"As long as it didn't jam," Stanley told her.
"It might," she admitted. "You remember the old blue thing?" Stanley grimaced. "Yeah, that old thing."
"It's nasty, Ray. It got dropped into some motor oil once," Stanley admitted.
"It was knocked from my hand, I didn't drop it," she defended warmly.
"Sorry," he said with a nasty grin. "It was knocked from your hand by a teenage perp who had a baseball."
"I can still hit you," she reminded him.
"Enough," Ray told her. "We'll have that one checked out and professionally cleaned," he decided. "Then, if it won't work, we'll find you a temporary piece from the Supply Closet until you can find your new one." He stroked her arm. "What sort do you want?"
"I *want* a Sig," she admitted. "I can't use a Sig, it hurts my wrist. I need something lighter."
"Then we'll look at the good and decent pawn shops," Ray told her firmly. "Nothing on the illegals list." She nodded, digging back into her dinner now that her stomach was settled again. "Or we could buy the magazine and see if anything in there strikes you," he offered.
"I saw a wonderful one at the conference," she told him hopefully. "It's a new one."
"I saw that one too," Stanley told her. "It pulls to the right."
"Which is compensatable," she pointed out gently. "Or I could have to use something more drastic. At least this isn't the days of the forty-five."
"I doubt you could pull a magnum," Stanley teased.
"I did at first," she told him. "Vice wanted me packing something more serious than the rookie thirty-eight. They gave me a forty-five. It's damn hard to draw quickly," she admitted. "But it stood me very well until we all went automatic."
"You don't look that old," Junior told her. "Didn't you guys switch back in the seventies?"
"I'm almost an eighteen-year veteran of the force, kid. Thank you," she said with a smug grin. "Only Ray gives me such nice compliments."
"You don't look thirty-six," Ray agreed, smiling at her. "You only look twenty-eight."
"Considering how badly I lived the last sixteen years, I'm surprised." He laughed and kissed her on the cheek again. She smirked at him. "Whose turn is it to buy lunch tomorrow?"
"Yours," he said gruffly, knowing what she had in mind. "And I may not be able to be there." He nodded at Junior. She sighed and slumped a little. "I'll try."
"Hey, I'm not gonna interrupt anyone's nookie," Junior said seriously. He held up a hand. "For all that I don't get much, I'm not gonna make anyone else suffer."
"I like you, kid," Catherine decided. "You're neat."
Ray groaned. "Don't encourage her. She'll tease me."
"She'll do it anyway, Ray," Benny reminded him. "Or else she'll come in wearing pajamas again."
"She'd better not," Ray said firmly, glaring at his wife. "The kitten ones were bad enough but the purple ones with polka dots nearly drove Welsh over the edge to commit suicide."
"I didn't know that the white dots would show clear," she defended. "Fitting rooms never have flourescent light."
"Yeah, but I doubted he wanted ta see that much of you," Ray said firmly. "They were really short."
"Sorry. The grey puppy ones next time?" she suggested.
"No! No more pajamas at work," he said firmly. "The SWAT guys take too much pleasure from them."
"Sorry, Ray. Fine, I won't wear jammies in any more on my days off. I'll wear my workout stuff instead."
He gave her a look and noticed Stanley's alarmed look. "You'd better let me see them later."
"Sure," she said lightly, waving a hand around. "They're in that stuff in the trunk at the bottom of the closet."
"I'm going through your closet tonight and putting your shirts into the dresser," he warned. "That way you can organize that mess."
"I can find what I want within minutes," she defended.
He gave her a look. "This way I can also see what other naughty stuff you have down there." She blushed. "Really?"
"Um, yeah. You might want to let me in there first," she admitted. "My clubbing clothes from when I was thinner are down there. There's some serious mementoes down there. Not even I know all the shit I saved but I can tell you about each piece once I see it."
"That's fine, we'll go through them together. That way Oz can hide up on the shelf again and Xander can help by jumping inside the boxes and trunk."
"Not the boxes," she said firmly. He raised an eyebrow. "Those aren't clothes."
"Okay." He gave her a faint smile. "We'll deal when we do." She nodded, going back to her dinner. "Hey, Junior, which hotel are you staying at?"
"It's on my way back," Stanley told him. Everyone looked at him. "Thatcher said they're havin' an inspection next week. Benny said he had ta go iron drapes tonight."
"You know, they have these wonderful people at dry cleaners who do that for you," Catherine told him.
"The Inspector never allotted for that in the cleaning budget," Benny told her. She groaned. "I know, it's a pain, but it needs to be done." Someone rang the doorbell. "I'll go," he offered, standing up, but Ray beat him to the door.
"Yeah?" he asked the man in the suit at the front door. Dark, short hair and a pair of dark eyes matched the impersonal nature of the tailored suit very well.
"I'm here to pick up Junior," he said firmly, looking down at Ray. His accent was slightly tinged with Maine and a little bit of Southern California.
"He's not ready ta go home yet," Ray told him, blocking the doorway. "He's got a college visit and stuff still."
"I'm not removing him from the city, simply from you so he doesn't get you into trouble, detective." He straightened up as someone else came up the hall. "Shey?" he breathed.
"Morning." She leaned on Ray's shoulder. "Sweetheart, is Ricky giving you probs?"
"No. He wants to remove Junior."
She looked at him. "My hubby seems to think you're the bad influence, not Junior."
"Yeah, well, his mother thinks he's gone soft and wants to have him sold to the highest marriage bidder," Ricky said bitterly. "Is he still here?"
"At the table. Junior?"
"Yeah?" He came out and stopped, then crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm fine."
"I'm sure you are, but you could cause some people to look at Detective Vecchio, like Internal Affairs, kid. He doesn't need that." He looked at Catherine. "I knew you were undercover but I thought you were a Fed."
"Nope, a simple Vice cop," she admitted. "We'll bring Junior back to his hotel tonight. IAD owes Ray big for him not letting me sue them." Ricky gave her a look. "A stalker," she said simply. Ricky's eyes narrowed.
"It's handled," Ray said smoothly. "Junior, we'll take ya back, then I'll come get you tomorrow. He can follow you around."
"Thanks, Ray." He gave him a pat on the back. "I'm fine with him, Ricky."
"Not the point, kid. Your mother's suggested to Don Bruno that you be married off."
"I'm sixteen!" he said.
"You are," he agreed. "Old enough if your mother says so."
"Fuck her if she tries," Junior said coldly. "I can easily be an orphan. I nearly am now."
Ricky smiled. "I know you are. That's why Don Bruno sent me to watch over you. Besides, he figured he liked Detective Vecchio. He proved his worth with his wisdom." He nodded at him. "A direct quote." He looked at Catherine. "I'll tell him the good news," he promised. "Come along, Junior."
"I'm still eating, Ricky. Later." He turned and walked away again.
"Let the poor kid eat," Ray told him. "We'll be fine. She's right, the whole city owes me." He closed the door and leaned Catherine against it, kissing her hard. "How did you know him?"
"He babied me while my ankle was out," she panted, kissing him again. "He's really nice for being a sociopath." He pulled back to look at her. "He's got almost no moral code, Ray. He's fine. He adores Junior. He was brought in to watch the kid." She kissed him again. "He was very nice to me. Very polite, never checked me out. Nothing." Ray relaxed. "He didn't this time either."
"He'd better not."
She smiled. "I like it when you're jealous," she teased, tugging on his shirt button. "Let's hurry up and eat. I want *dessert*."
He moaned. "After we settle Junior into his room," he promised. "Then I'll give you all the sweetness you need." She beamed and gave him another deep, moan-inducing kiss. "Not in my mother's house," he complained.
"Okay. Hurry up and eat. We can go back to the park."
He chuckled. "Horny little creature," he taunted. She nodded. "I'll make it extra-special good tonight," he promised. Her phone went off. "Damn it."
She grabbed it out of her pocket. "Yeah?" She listened to their third tenant complain about his constantly running toilet. "I had the plumber in today. He'll be back to fix it Thursday. It's not like you pay the water bill," she sighed. "I know, but that's the first time he's not busy, Philip. It's only two more days."
Ray took the phone. "Philip. Quit. The guy said he'd fix it Thursday. By the time you get home it'll be done." He listened to the complaints of them never being there. "Philip, we do have other jobs, things that are more important than listening to people gripe about their toilet running. Then turn off the water between." He smirked. "No, I didn't think you had thought of that," he agreed. "That's two more days and it's costing you nothing."
She took the phone back. "Philip, if it's bothering you that much, shut the door." He went silent. "Didn't think of that either, huh?" She hung up and put her phone back. "I don't like being a landlord."
"Stan and Benny are model tenants," he pointed out. "They don't whine, they pay on time, and they fix their own problems for the most part. Philip isn't like that, that's what's driving you nuts." He led her back into the dining room. "Sorry. Philip's toilet is running constantly."
"That leak?" Benny asked. She nodded sitting herself down again. "It's easily fixed."
"The plumber said it'd be about a half-hour of work and gave us a nice deal," she assured him. "He's the owner's brother-in-law," she told him at his grimace. "It'd hurt his feelings if we didn't call."
"At least he's not the like general handyman who was a crook," Stanley admitted.
"True," she said with a small smirk. "And the owner was not happy with him when he found out either." Ray snorted, shaking his head. "The plumber will be in on Thursday. It's only a few minutes of work for him." Their other tenants nodded. "Anything in yours we need to deal with?"
"We need the exterminator back," Stanley told her. "I saw ants."
"I'll call tomorrow," she promised. "That'll give us all enough time to move the cats and dogs and Dief to the vet's for the night." They nodded and Ray smiled at her. "I know. I handle the small crises very well."
"I think you're a wonderful landlord," Ray told her. "I only handle the irrate people."
"You're calmer, I'd yell back," she pointed out. Her pager went off and she frowned when she dug it out of her pocket. "That was the alarm company." Ray wiped his mouth and took her hand, leading her out to the cars so they could check on what was just broken into. "If it's another stalker, I'm moving into a fortress," she warned.
"If it's another stalker, I'll help install the security system myself," he promised. He let Stanley deal with her car, his wasn't anywhere in sight, so he drove them both home. They walked in the front door and found their door kicked in and water running in the sink. He shut it off, then had to get under the sink to turn off the valves. She walked around the house, frowning at things that were knocked over. "The cats?" he called.
"All under the bed." She checked and counted eyes. "Xander?" She opened her eyes. "You guys all here?" Blair meowed and came out to get petted. "Nessa, Oz, Xander?" They came out too, coming to get attention and reassurance. "They're all here, Ray."
"Good." He slammed the door, then went to get some tape and some fingerprinting powder from her stuff. For some reason she kept a fairly extensive kit of odds and ends in the study. He came out and printed the doorknob, finding six or seven, one of them very clear. He took his own, then went to get hers from her 'just in case I'm ever missing' card. That left three people's prints that could legitimately be there. Four if you counted the owner and he was in Bermuda. They had one of those on Stan and Benny too so it was easy enough to compare with a magnifying glass. It matched none of them. He frowned and looked around. "Catherine, did we fingerprint Philip when he moved in?"
"Yeah." She got his lease and handed it over, watching as Ray checked it. "No?"
"No." He shook his head. "It doesn't match."
"Fine. Call someone." She calmly walked off to get sick again, taking the cats with her.
Ray picked up the phone, then when he didn't hear a dial tone, her cellphone, calling in the break-in. Dispatch was not happy with him, but that was usual lately.
Huey looked around at the slight mess, not that he understood how anyone could live in an organized mess anyway. "Is anything missing?"
"I'm still looking," Catherine admitted. She came up with a frown. "Nothing in my jewelry box. None of my pictures. None of the cats, Ray's things, or any of the equipment. That means it was either an annoyance, like an 'I'm here', or they were after one of my files." She walked into the study. "Bingo!" He walked that way to join her and she pointed at the cabinet. "That's supposed to be locked."
"Stan got in it earlier but he knows to lock it up," Ray said as he walked in. "He said he couldn't find the file he was looking for, apparently it had been misfiled under another name besides the last." Catherine gave him a look. "Repeating," he said calmly, giving her a small pat. "Can you tell what's missing?"
"I've got an index printed," she offered, holding up the clipboard. She checked the cabinet number. "Okay, this one is K-P. Top is K-M." She looked at it, frowning as she cross- checked the names. "Mackenzie. Murdock. Mrydych. Hmm. Fentzer?" She opened it. "Oh, um, birth name." She put it aside and Ray took it, it had apparently been the one Stan had been looking for. "Here we go. I'm missing all my Mr's except Mrydych. That's ten files, all robberies." She handed over the list, pointing it out for him. "Unless I've greatly misfiled."
Huey looked at the list, frowning. "I know half of these. They're fairly recent." He looked at her. "Yours?"
"All mine in one form or another. There's more on the computer's database." She flipped on her laptop, then looked at her charging cradle. "My main Palm's gone," she announced. "Unless it's in the car?"
"Didn't you have it earlier?" Ray asked.
"That one is only for in the station," she said glumly. "This is my new one."
"I'll look," Ray promised, going to do a search for it. He thought he had seen it. "Ah-ha! Why was it in the bathroom?"
"It shouldn't have been. It's only been on the charger so far," she told him. "Check it. It should be exactly the same as the one on my desk. Plus three files, all three are in the missing." She hummed as her laptop loaded to a 'reactivate desktop' screen. "Someone was playing," she sighed. She opened her database file and found it was sorted. She glared and undid it, finding the files. "Here we go. All of them I was consultants on. They were all robberies falling under 'things of a mystical or odd nature'. Some were holy relics that weren't Christian. A few were supposed artifacts with magical natures. Ooh, one was a crystal staff supposed to have been charged with the guy's personal power. The detectives decided they didn't want to know so they let me deal with him directly. All but one of the relics were found and all but one other has been returned. When I did my update last, it was still in Evidence." She printed off those records for him, handing them over. "Here you go." She took back the clipboard. "Let me go look at the palm." She got up and headed that way, taking it from Ray's hand to look at. "It's been wiped," she announced.
Huey looked at the papers in his hand, then grimaced and went back for the clipboard. "Catherine, these were printed today as well," he noted, handing it over. "It date stamps."
"Fuck!" she said, looking at the date. "It was." She checked the next page, noticing something. "It's two or three lines shorter. They erased that many records." She suddenly smiled. "But I do have a backup that they shouldn't be able to find." She headed back to her bedroom, coming out with an envelope. Inside was a CD and she ran it, finding the backup of the file quickly. She compared the two files, finding the three records and printing them off as well. "Also robberies, also things of the odd and unusual. This time memorabilia. Serial killer memorabilia." Huey shuddered. "Here." She handed them over, then went to her 'study' bookshelf, pulling down a book she had been meaning to read. "What were the artifacts?"
"A box, the crystal staff, a few shrines," Huey said, summarizing as he read. "Some hair, some wood. Someone's silver Madonna without the child." He frowned when he came to the new three. "Hair, tissue, and clothing." He looked up. "Why?"
She handed over the book, open to the correct page. "Resurrection ritual." He shuddered but read it.
"Why target you?" Ray asked.
"Because I keep notes on all my cases. Anyone who's ever worked with me knows that. Most of the cops know I use my Palm for notes too. Not only would these have some things, like worth and specific pictures of the relics and artifacts, but they'd have other things in there as well. Including personal notes on the persons who owned them formerly. We need to check around, see if any of these people are missing their artifacts again."
"Or if they're alive," Huey pointed out, holding up one. "This one's dead. It was on the news this morning." Catherine frowned. "Why not erase all of them?" he asked her.
"Because half of the files are locked but not all of them. I've been slowly going and locking them once I make sure I've got everything backed up. I'm only to the Hr's for that. Anything new is done immediately so those three weren't new?" He shook his head. "Then that's why. The newer robberies were locked. I had it password protected but apparently they know me well enough to know my cats names. I used two together to do the password so far."
"So it's someone with enough knowledge of you to know your habits, your pets' names, and that you'd be gone tonight. Besides us, Stan, and Fraser, who would?"
"Welsh. Blount. A few of my former Vice coworkers. Most of them would know about Oz and Xander, they're older. Nessa's the youngest of my brood but I only used Xander's and Oz's name on this one." She bit her lip as she thought, letting Ray sit her down. "I might have mentioned them while I was whining in the hospital."
"I told the nurses they were your cats. You mentioned Oz and Blair I think." She gave him a grateful look. "Huey, repeater?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "They've gathered what they needed from you. Was anything else touched?"
"The water in the kitchen sink was on and jammed open," Ray admitted. "No idea why."
"Time is like a river," she said in a sing-song voice. Both men looked at her. "It's a song I heard a few years back at a club. Something pretty depressing too. It was an Indie thing."
Huey wrote that down too. "Anything else you can remember?"
"Not yet," she admitted. "If I find anything else, I'll gladly tell you tomorrow. Or actually I'll have Ray tell you tomorrow." He nodded, leaving them there. "Ray, fingerprints?"
"Huey!" he called, bringing the detective back. "I fingerprinted the door thinking it was the tenant upstairs. He's been complaining about his toilet and we've got a plumber coming later this week. The water made me think it," he said with a point at the tape. "I checked it against all of ours, except yours of course, and his. No match under a magnifying glass."
"Thanks." He looked at the slide. "Why did you have this laying around?"
"I always have some laying around. With my stalker problem I've had to prove it a few times," she said bitterly.
"Oh. Sorry, Catherine. I'll see you Thursday." She nodded and he left again, taking that with him. He had enough to start cross-referencing some things: similar cops on the cases, similar artifacts, anything that could join them together.
Ray looked at Catherine, pulling her closer to hold. "I still adore you," he assured her.
"I'm glad, but that doesn't make this any less weird." She looked at him. "I've got the weirdest feeling that Blount knows who it is and I don't know why."
"No, just a feeling," she admitted. "A really odd feeling." She sat up suddenly. "The online backup." She got up and headed for the study.
"The phone line's dead," he called after her.
"Cable modem," she reminded him. He groaned. "Ten minutes, promise," she vowed, logging on and getting to the sight that had her online backup. Sure enough, four of the files were in there. She emailed the whole things to Huey, hoping it'd help him. Then she took off most of her clothes and snuck back out to the couch to cuddle. "I found four of them and emailed them to him." She slid into his lap, giving him a kiss and making him smile. "Can we move into a fortress now?"
He patted her on the back. "If we can afford one, we will," he promised. He gave her another kiss, taking her mind off this. Her mind would keep going even though she wasn't consciously thinking about it. It was how she worked best.
Ray walked into the precinct the next morning. "Huey, do your mail. She found four of the files online." He nodded, logging on to check it, something he hardly ever did. Ray walked into the office once he saw Welsh staring at him. "Morning. Something vile you needed me for?"
"No, just to go down to IAD and explain yourself," he said patiently. "Mafia kids. Housing issues. Things of that nature," he said dryly.
"Yeah. Housing issues." He shrugged. "I don't know, they didn't say anything else about it." He waved a hand in a shooing motion. "Go, yell."
"Thanks. If Junior comes in, tell him to wait for me at my apartment. He wanted ta talk about girls and college."
"He wants to be a forensic accountant, but he's not sure if he wants to be family or not." He smirked. "And he plans on going here." He pulled out and headed out to his car, going down to the main headquarters - where the little weasels lived. "What?" he demanded as he walked in. "You had to ruin my good mood for everyone?"
The Internal Affairs person waiting in there nodded. "Definitely," he said dryly. "We enjoy it, hadn't you heard?"
"No, but I figured that much out a few years back." He crossed his arms. "Housing issues?"
"What do you know about the owner of your building?"
"Ah." He smirked. "I thought as much. Catherine should have recognized his name."
"We send all checks to a PO Box in the name of Harold Grimnt."
"AKA Harry the Loon." Ray winced. "Yeah. Didn't recognize him when you met him?"
"I only saw him that once and he was wearing a suit, no hat, and no fur jacket." He pulled a chair over and sat down. "I know he's got a crook for a handyman, which we no longer use, and a plumber that's a brother-in-law. His brothers helped us move. We never see the guy."
"Here, read his file," he said, sliding it across the desk. "It's enlightening." He leaned back in his chair. "Also, there's this nasty rumor that says we owe you, Detective?"
"You guys let the person who stalked my wife nearly get away and tried to have her arrested for being a victim," he said absently as he read. He glanced up in time to see the end of the pale wince. "Yeah. I kept her from suing you. You owe me. Since that was the third one, she'd have a massive suit against the city." He flipped the page. "This is the guy we saw," he said, handing it back. "He came in and said he was the owner."
"Harry's second, Leroy. Good job." He smirked at him. "She never would have won."
"Really? You so sure of that? She had some lawyers begging her." The agent winced again. "Something about hostile action to cover your own incompetence and dirty natures? Something about ...." He thought back. "Oh, yeah, false prosecution and persecution based on her gender and religious preferences, not to mention her former orientation. Plus there was the whole 'dirty' thing that came up many times with each of the lawyers. I believe the statue of limitations doesn't run out on that for another five years."
"We were never against her, Detective."
"Really? Is that why you 'mislaid' her report, tried to have her arrested as an accomplis by telling Scott a lie about what had gone on, and had her suspended by Judge Webster while you combed her latest cases?" He shuddered. "Either you had it in for her or you're getting bad orders from higher up. Which was it?"
"Do not tell her, but there are people who want her off the job."
"Yeah, half the dealers in the city. As she pointed out, she was a Vice cop, what did you expect?"
"There are some who believe that her stevedoring makes the rest of us look bad," he said quietly. "That's all that was."
"Yet, you guys didn't fund Vice well enough at that time to give her a partner or backup. It's amazing, we manage it at the 27th."
"Yes, you manage it because one of the people doing this decided it was better to keep her than to send her away," he said dryly. "He changed his mind when a lot of others decided to protest upon hearing what was going on." Ray's mouth opened but he held up a hand. "No one else knows. Yes, the Chief of Detectives wants her gone. He thinks she makes the department look bad. He thinks anyone who can do it on their own, without backup, makes us look bad."
"So he made us look really bad by letting you guys go bad and not making you do your jobs," Ray said bitterly.
"He told us to ignore the complaint. He couldn't once she was shot, that's all that was."
Ray nodded. "Then I'll tell her and encourage her to sue the city after all." He went pale again and stayed pale. "This is why the good cops leave the force. Not only the politics and the intrigue, but the other annoying shit like being undermined by command." He stood up. "Anything else?"
"Are you planning on moving?"
"We'll be discussing that later tonight," he promised. "We've finally got settled into the dual roles. We might not have to either." He walked out, taking the folder and the tape recorder he'd had in his pocket with him. She would never believe him without it.
The agent shook his head. "That poor man. If she goes, he'll have to go too. He doesn't understand that yet." He made notes for his own memory jogging later then went to get some coffee. While he was gone, a dark-haired man walked into the office silently and stole the notes for his own purposes.
Catherine walked up to where Junior was sitting at the outdoor restaurant and sat across from him. "Okay, you called on my day off. What's wrong?"
He slid over the file. "You'll want that. Ricky said so." He shoveled another bite of food into his mouth. "Ray's coming too, you're early."
She glanced around. "And not a sniper in sight. It's amazing." He snickered. "The last time I was early, I got hit in the shoulder." She felt a hand brush the back of her neck. "Unless you're my husband, I'd quit," she warned.
"Sorry. I was getting the leaf off your shoulder," Ray told her, giving her a smile. She grinned at him and waved the folder. "Yeah, I saw it earlier. That's our landlord."
"Wonderful." She shrugged. "What are we doing about this?"
"I don't know yet, but we've got some bigger problems," he noted, putting the recorder on the table and turning it on.
She listened, then shifted and sighed. "Of course I'm a bad influence. It's not like I haven't trained ten rookie detectives, nine of whom are still around and excellent. I can't believe Philip would turn on me like that."
"I can, he's a political asshole now."
"Yeah, but we were friends until five years ago." She gave him a look. "Welsh?"
"Heard. Was not impressed either. Why did he get you the raise?"
"To keep me happy and away from his budget for lawsuits." She shifted again, shaking her head. "This'll take some careful planning, Ray. Otherwise, I'm going to walk up to him and punch him in the nose."
"Let me tell the other two."
"Ray, the more people we tell, the more people get into senseless trouble. I *know* Philip doesn't like Stan. I doubt he likes Benny because he's an outsider to him." Ray nodded and sighed at that wisdom. She put a hand on his arm. "We can easily tell them but we can't involve them." He gave her a sideways look. "I'm serious. We can't. Stan's first instinct will be the same as mine."
"I know. What first?"
"First, we get Huey out of the line of fire. He's a damn good cop and he doesn't deserve this." She pulled out her phone and called her partner. "Hey, Huey, I heard something last night that might interest you. I know you've gotten frustrated and tired recently." She snorted. "It was kinda obvious the way you've been hitting the Hershey bars, dear. No, Benny's people are looking for a liaising detective. Think about it. Six months across the border? With mostly polite people." She laughed. "Seriously, ask the man. I'd go but I can't leave Ray with the cats that long, they'd go insane and try to kill him. But you, you're younger, smart, handsome, need a vacation, and only have that one pet. You'd be the perfect candidate. No, I told Benny to approach you but I think you should. Think about how little Benny does in relation to your caseload?" She snickered again. "No, not Ray's caseload, yours. He lets himself get sucked in. Sure. Yeah, I'm pretty sure he's at the consulate. Maybe on guard duty, but he's there." She grinned. "Yeah, there is but I can't tell you. No, probably not related to the break in last night. No, I just heard a rumor that someone wants me off the force. No, Huey, you're a good cop and I want you safe. Safe meaning far away from my fat ass this time. It's all political." He sighed and she rolled her eyes. "Besides, the rest'll do you good. Talk to him about it? Please? Think about what would happen if Stan went." She laughed, shaking her head. "You are so bad, Huey. Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow. Laters." She hung up. "He figured out that I was pushing too hard and wanted to know why. He did say he'd talk to Benny about it."
"Good. I agree, Stan'd make the friendly neighbor agreements blow up," Ray said dryly. "The cats wouldn't attack me."
"Yes, they would. Remember my last overnight stakeout?" He winced. "Think about that for six months."
"Fine." He kissed her on the cheek. "I like your idea. Now what?"
"I want a damn outsider to do a case review, just in case I'm going to run into another stumbling block." She looked at him. "You might need one too," she admitted.
"They're all fine," he reassured, stroking up her arm and giving her a real kiss. "It'll be okay. They can't take that away from us. You've got eighteen years in today. I've got fourteen. They can't just take us out."
"Ray, IA has framed people before and had them removed," she reminded him.
"If they try, do you really think Stan won't stick up for us?" he countered.
"What makes you think they won't stop him too?" she pointed out. "He's as much a lone wolf as I am sometimes." Her phone rang so she sighed. "Yeah?" she answered. She grimaced. "Hey, Stan, where did you put the bug this time?" She rolled her eyes. "Sorry, but the truth."
"He could join us," Junior pointed out.
"We can get in trouble just by being around you," Ray told him.
"They can fire you for having lunch with me?" Ray nodded. "And for living in an apartment building owned by a crook?" Ray nodded again. "That's not real fair."
"They want to keep everything looking proper, no matter how many dirty cops there are in the city," Ray said bitterly. "It sucks sometimes." He squeezed her hand. "So, what are you doing this afternoon?"
"Campus tour. I'm scheduled to go at two and to talk to my future teachers tomorrow afternoon. That way Ricky doesn't have to get up before noon. He hates early mornings, they make him grumpy."
She paused then looked at him. "Don't let Ricky handle this, Junior."
"I wouldn't even suggest it. I'm sure you can kick his ass quite well, Catherine," he said with a grin and all the confidence a teenager could muster.
She nodded and went back to listening to Stan rant about being more than capable of handling this mess. "Stan." He kept on. "Stanley!" He kept going. "Stanley Raymond Kowalski, shut up!" He stopped ranting. "Thank you!" She sighed. "Stan, we're going to protect you. Got it? You were one of my trainees, you're being protected. That way you can protect Benny and keep going in case something happens to us and they get us off the force. The job will still need good and dedicated detectives and you're one of the last the academy graduated. So get over it and protect what's yours." She hung up. "He's not happy."
"He won't be," Ray pointed out. "I thought he just filled in."
"He did but I still trained him. He hadn't gotten much training from his actual one so I took him in hand so-to-speak. Gods, this is bad." He gave her arm a little squeeze. "Ray, do you realize they can get me off the force due to my health?"
"Yeah," he said quietly. "I do, but you're doing so much better."
"I know." He gave her a faint smile. "Next we've gotta tell Ma."
"Your mother will kill him."
"My mother may," he agreed dryly, smirking at her. "Or Maria."
"How is her incipient morning sickness?"
"Just about like normal. Ma's over the moon and giving me long hints." Catherine gave him a desperate look. "Really."
"You'd make a great mother, Catherine," Junior told her. She gave him a look. "You will. You give a damn, you're overprotective, you're fierce and honest. You'd make a great mother. If you could cook, it'd be perfect but I guess no one'd starve with Ray being around."
"Thanks, Junior," she said with a faint blush.
Ray beamed at the kid and winked. "Thanks, Junior." He smirked at them. "Hurry up and eat."
"I've got to go to the college anyway," she told him. "I'll take him up."
"Why?" Ray asked.
"To get information on the Masters programs. This is making me not want to be a cop even more."
"Fine," Ray agreed. "I'll support that idea. Just tell me before you sign up for anything like a class." She nodded, giving him a look. "I know." He gave her a hug. "It'll be fine, Cath. I promise it will. No one will hurt us. They've got us somewhere we're useful and the only thing they can do is back us into a corner, which means we'll get to fight. We're both too damn useful and know way too many secrets to have this happen." She nodded, relaxing again. "Now, take Junior up there, and make sure you eat something good for you. No chocolate or toffee for lunch." She chuckled and kissed him hard. "Good girl. I'm gonna go back to the precinct. Welsh's blood pressure should be back to normal by now. He almost went and killed the guy himself." He stood up, nodding at Junior. "Protect her like I would, kid." Junior beamed at him. "No letting the little frat boys pick on her or hit on her." He walked away, leaving them alone.
"I doubt they will," she said dryly.
"If they don't they're blind," Junior told her. "You're a beautiful woman who's not only intelligent but also kind, super, and a great cop. That's why Ricky had a crush on you when you came in undercover." She raised an eyebrow. "He did. I can tell. He stared at you the whole time last night." He scraped his plate. "Eat something?"
"I'll grab something later. I just got up." She stood up, putting her phone back into her purse. "Come on. Let's head up there. It's nearly one and traffic on that side of town will be hellish." He nodded, following her to her car.
Ray walked in and went right to Welsh's office when he saw Huey's look at him. "What happened now?" he asked.
"We've got a problem, Detective, and it's not making many people happy." Ray nodded. "Someone just shot at the Chief of Detectives. Someone in a black mercedes. Someone in a black mercedes from the local families. Would you know anything about that?"
"No," Ray said, frowning as he lounged in the doorway. "Not a thing, sir. I was just getting an itinerary from Junior with my wife. She's doing the college tour with him because she's thinking about going back for a Masters." Welsh looked startled. "She's still considering all the alternatives." He shrugged. "Do we know who?"
"By the plates, Zucko's right hand. By the gun, it was Peter. It was too large to be what's- his-name."
Welsh nodded. "Exactly. And this was *after* she found out."
"She didn't find out until I joined her for lunch. I played the tape for her when I got there. That was about a half-hour ago."
"Really?" He leaned back and looked at the clock. "They were shot about an hour ago, right after you got done."
"I didn't call for a hit, sir."
"I know you didn't, but I know you see the problem."
"I see many problems, all of them being laid at my feet," he said bitterly.
"No, I doubt it'll happen that way," Welsh said firmly. His phone rang so he answered it. "What?" He listened. "Really? Well, I don't know, Philip. My two best detectives can't work together because they're married and one's off today looking at the college as an alternative to our stressful lifestyle."
Ray smirked. "Tell him she's been having the flu too, sir. Let him make the same jump in illogic my mother did."
Welsh smirked at him. "Yes, sir, also Detective Vecchio has said she's been feeling ill recently. She thinks it's the flu." He burst out in silent laughter. "I'm sure, sir. Wouldn't someone in Homicide be better equipped for someone shooting at you? After all, I do know how much you hate cops who have to work on their own on cases." He smirked. "No, sir, just a rumor I'd heard. Of course, sir." He hung up. "He's not impressed." He got comfortable again. "Where is Kowalski?"
"He's got a listening device on her," Ray admitted. "He was listening to us chat over lunch."
"His birthday's coming up, I'm supposing he wanted to test it out to find out about his present."
"She's already ordered it, sir." He walked in and closed the door. "He wanted her?"
"Yup. He wanted her." He gave him a mean look. "I'm sure this'll be solved later today. I like having her here, she gets things done quickly."
"She clears like Kowalski and does paperwork like Benny," Ray sighed.
"Exactly. Have her help you with some of yours tomorrow. I want you where I can see you or know where you are at all times, Detective Vecchio. I don't want to be out of touch at all. With either of you."
"Good. Dismissed to that warren you're calling your desk." Ray nodded and went to do that. "Huey!" Huey walked in. "Their break in?"
"I'm not sure yet, sir. There's not many similarities so far. I've cross-checked all the variables." Welsh groaned. "So I'm guessing it's someone who knew her and her ways."
"She had a feeling about Blount but couldn't explain it," Ray said helpfully as he went to get some coffee before he got down to work.
"One never knows," Welsh told him. "Go back to it. I'd like it solved. They've got enough problems at the moment."
Huey nodded and turned around, running into Ray. "Is she?"
"No, the doctor said she's got the flu. Which is how we'd like it to stay," he said firmly.
Huey smirked at him. "You know people are going to give her some bad gifts with as many as she's handed out over the years."
Ray snorted. "Just wait until you hear about what she got for Stan." He went back to his desk and sat down with a disgruntled sigh to do some of his paperwork until something new came in.
Catherine walked into the precinct the next morning feeling worse than usual. "It's only the flu," she told Huey when he gave her a sideways look. "The doctor's test said I'm not pregnant, I simply get it very badly when I get it." She sat down and put her head down. "Why did I come in this morning?"
"Because you're Superwoman," Huey said dryly. "Blount was nowhere to be found when I went to check on him," he informed her casually.
Her head snapped up. "He's got a cabin up by the border. It's not time for his annual trip though." He smirked at her. "Found that out already?"
"Yeah and I arrested him with your files last night. It's actually just over the border according to the Mounties. Fraser went with me." He tossed over the file. "You'll like that."
She looked inside, grimacing. "Wonderful. An obsession and trying to bring him back." She slowly looked up. "Oh, shit, we don't have another profiler," she said bitterly. He shook his head. "Welsh?" she called miserably. He came out of his office. "Please tell me someone's already gotten us a temp profiler?"
"Not yet," he told her. "Homicide knows where you are, right?"
"Homicide, Sex Crimes, and Vice," she said miserably. She handed Huey back his file. "Why me?"
"Because they like you. No one's called yet this morning though." He looked her over. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Bad flu." He gave her a look. "You want me to go take another pregnancy test? The doc's said I wasn't."
"No, that's fine. If you are, I want told second. Before Kowalski and Fraser. Huey, you got faxed some stuff downstairs about liaising?"
"The Canadians want one of us to go up there," Catherine told him. "I suggested Huey to Fraser."
"He's a good choice," he agreed, giving her a look so she knew he had seen through the flimsy reason. Her phone rang. "Have fun."
She picked it up with a groan. "Yeah, Demoranth-Vecchio?" She winced. "Already?" She put a hand over her eyes. "Okay. You do know I'm not an official profiler? No, I'm an Anthro person. I did it before Blount." She smirked. "That might be better, yeah. Or even someone up at the university?" she suggested. She laughed. "Thank you. If not, yell again. Yeah, I'm fine. The doctor said I got my nephew's case of the flu. Thanks. Have fun. Later." She hung up. "One averted," she told Huey.
"Maybe you should get your Masters in that," Huey offered.
"I hate psychology. I like my Anthro and my Soc stuff. I'd die in psychology classes."
"Still, it'd be an alternative," he offered. "It pays well too if you go into practice."
"So does being a minister in some faiths but I'm not going there either," she pointed out. "Though, I have been told I'd make a stunning cult leader." Huey gave her a look like she was demented. "Ask Welsh, he heard it. He said it."
"She would," Welsh called. "She's someone they'd follow and do anything for." His head came up and he called Homicide, talking quietly. Then he hung up. "Catherine?" She walked in and sat across from him. "Do you remember Steven?"
"Um, no. Not ringing any bells." She got comfortable. "I've had a few guys who wanted my attention in Vice."
"This one was the one who sent you notes and bagged some dealers for you," he told her.
"Oh, him!" she said, nodding and smirking. "What about him?"
"He's been out on parole for two weeks. Philip was shot at right after we found out."
"How would he have known?" she asked.
"A good point, but I'm not ruling it out."
"Okay. I still can't investigate."
"True. I'll assign Stanley." He looked out his door as IA operatives walked in. "We're in here," he called. "Talking about her past stalkers, the guys who did things so she wouldn't have to get hurt."
The head of Internal Affairs walked in and looked at Catherine. "We've matched ballistics and we need to see your gun."
"My main one's jammed. The range supervisor had it and turned it in for destruction," she said, pulling her spare and letting him see it. "That one's on file with Bethes. He had to clear a shootout about four months ago." She grimaced. "Which gun?"
"We have a Smith and Wesson."
She looked confused. "I've never used one of those. I prefer a Browning because of the weight." She thought back, then pulled her palm pilot out, doing a quick search. "Here, check these," she said, holing it up. "They're from a few years ago, that was my main weapon at the time. That was the only one I used that wasn't a Browning and it was lost during that damn July 4th ruckus."
He made note of it, then closed the door. "We need to talk, seriously, detective."
"And I'm still sitting down," she assured him. "Is this about what happened to Philip?" He nodded. "I was at home, asleep. The mailman woke my butt up to sign for something." He made note of that as well. "For that matter, I didn't get to hear about his little plot to eliminate myself or my husband until just after noon."
"During your lunch with the mafioso?" he asked.
"Junior's not family yet. His local Don won't let him join until he finishes college, Bruno's like that. Junior is Lagostini's son and he figured out who Ray was. He came in to get paternal advice from someone who gives a damn."
"I see." He glanced at Welsh, who nodded. Then he slumped. "I like you, detective. You're honest. You're fair. You do the job without much complaint."
"But politics are coming your way," he warned, standing up. "I'll have this back within an hour."
"Like I said, Bethes has that one's bullet print from that shootout." He smiled at her. "I like you guys, but I'm not dying for the job and I'm certainly not dying for politics. You can ask any of the kids I've trained over the years. If I was bad, why would I still be here after eighteen years?"
"I know, but he wants us to look more civilized than we are," he told her.
She snorted. "He's the one who caused the problems in Vice by cutting our budget. He's the reason I learned to never use backup!" she said, sounding a touch hysterical now. "If he hadn't wanted me to turn out this way, he shouldn't have started on the problem in the first goddamn place! I did what I had to do for eighteen fucking years and I'm not going to let some punk ass bitch I beat up in the academy try to ruin it now. If he wants me off the force, tell him to come fire my ass personally." He nodded, backing away from her and out of the squad room. "And you give him that message verbatim, kid. If he wants my ass off this police force, he'd better be prepared to drag it all the way down those damn stairs and outside and he'd better have a big damn club!"
"Thank you, Detective," he called, rushing off.
"Catherine, calm down," Welsh said calmly. "We need you to stay calm. Getting upset won't help anything and you'll only feel sicker."
"I'm not pregnant!" she said angrily. "Get off my fucking ass about it, Harding." She stood up, heading back to her desk, but decided she'd rather be in the gym at that moment. At least then she could pick up something and hit the heavy bag until it broke. One of the rookies saw her and handed over his nightstick. "Thanks. Sorry in advance if I break it." She walked into the gym and up to the heavy bag, taking a good swing at it. Over and over again. The others ran out, searching for a safe place.
When Ray came in, the desk sergeant waved him over. "Detective, the political bullshit tried to come down on top of her today in Lieutenant Welsh's office. Your wife has been batting at the heavy bag with one of my guy's sticks for over an hour now. We locked her in there." He passed over the key. "She's not a happy camper but we're not going near her."
"Thanks," he said grimly, heading that way. He knocked, then unlocked the door and let himself in, locking it behind him. He found her curled up under the window and walked over to sit beside her. "You okay?"
"They took my weapon for ballistics tests," she said bitterly. He pulled her closer, letting her head rest on his shoulder. "If I didn't want to kill him before, I do now," she said quietly. "I'm not controlling it very well."
"You're not the only one. We had to drug Stanley after a phone call during breakfast." He stroked over her hair. "You calmer now?"
"No." She pulled back to look at him. "They haven't come after you?"
"They can't come after me for that. I was in IA when it happened." She grimaced and put her head back down again. "It'll be fine. Evidence doesn't lie. Not with Bethes in charge."
"He hates me."
"He might, but he'll stick up for the right thing this time. I know he will. I told him what was going on and he's pissed too. Said you only give him lip but you answer questions and ask when you don't know something. He likes you for that much alone." He gave her a gentle squeeze. "Come on, let's head back upstairs so you can threaten someone."
"I don't want to," she said honestly. "If I do, I'm certainly not going anywhere I might need backup."
"The beat cops know, Catherine. It's made the gossip rounds."
"Yeah. So we'll be fine. We'll do what we can and stop the majority of it before it gets too bad." He stood up with a moan of pain. "We need a real vacation."
"If we take one, it'll definitely look like we're bad."
"I know." He helped her up, holding her tightly. "Has this ever happened to you before?"
"No," she said miserably. "Usually other cops either respect me or fear me." He gave her another squeeze. "I hate this, Ray. I'm tired of this shit. I don't want to be a cop if this keeps up."
"Then you retire and we'll figure out what you want to go to school for," he promised. "Maybe I'll join you or just stay home and we'll live off our pensions." She nodded, sniffling a little. "Hey, none of that," he said, pulling her closer. He knew she hated to cry, she wasn't that sort of woman. "I won't let them hurt you. They can't do it without manufacturing a lot of evidence."
"Ray, I was in Vice. We all had to do things for the job that weren't wholly legal."
"I know. I did some of the same," he reminded her. "Undercovers are like that too." He relaxed, which calmed her down. "We'll handle it." She nodded, wiping her face off. "Come on, I'll drop you off at the bathroom. We'll take the back stairs." He walked her over, unlocking the door and leaving the key in the lock, but taking the back stairs so she could duck into the bathroom while he went in to check in. "I'm back," he announced. Huey gave him a look. "She'll be back in a minute. Everything going as usual?"
"I guess," he said with a shrug. "What was with IA this morning?"
Ray moved to get closer to him. "Someone on high doesn't like detectives that can act on their own without having to have their thoughts fed to them. That's why you *really* want to do that liaising shit." Then he went in to see his boss. "And?"
"She's fine. They've already sent it back with a note saying they pulled the wrong file for ballistics. Her name's on it but someone said they're not hers."
She walked in and closed the door. "Which case?"
"I served the warrant, that was Morgan's." She picked up the phone and dialed down to the idiot's. "It's Demoranth. The Merand case was Morgan's. I only served the warrant after he was suspended for that shooting." She hung up. "I'm tired of this. I'm tired enough of this to move to a new city and go through their departments. Somewhere I'm wanted." She turned and walked out, heading back to her desk to do something constructive. She noticed Benny coming in. "Hey, Benny, think Canada would like me?"
"I think a great many departments would love to have someone with your experience," he said happily. "I know Montreal would."
"I can't speak French, I suck at languages," she admitted.
"Ottawa probably could too," he assured her. "So could most of the major cities. Or if you felt like something more rural, Nova Scotia is very pretty most of the year."
"No," Ray said as he came out of the office. "Ma said she's not moving somewhere colder." He gave his wife a look. "If we move, she'll feel she'll have to. She said so." She snickered, shaking her head. "So pick a warmer spot."
"I hate heat."
"Sorry." He grinned. "New York?"
"Only if we go upstate. Albany?"
"Is still cold," he pointed out.
"I hate heat," she repeated dryly. "I loathe summer."
"So I guess Vegas and Texas are out," he taunted.
"If we move to Vegas, Brass would shoot my fat ass," she told him, giving him a small smirk. "He said he can't work with me at all. He refused to when someone busted into the convention that year."
Ray laughed, shaking his head. "I'm sure he'll change his mind. We'll figure it out, Cath."
"Yes, dear," she sighed, pulling open her first case. "Huey, why do I have one of yours?"
"Because it needs your signature too," he said, going back to his paperwork. "Even Albany has heat in the summer."
"Yeah, but it's not oppressive the way Vegas would be. Maybe San Francisco?"
"I'm not moving somewhere so you can pick up a new girlfriend," Ray said firmly. "I'd get jealous and have ta kill her."
"Fine, be that way then," she said with mock-hurt. "You could pick up a cute little boy if I did."
"Catherine!" Ray said, glaring at her. "I'm not like that." She smirked at him. "You naughty beast! No more teasing or no sex tonight."
"Yes, Ray," she said with her best impersonation of pitiful. "I'll be good. I won't even suggest that you might like it if you tried it."
"Guys," Huey complained. "You're enough to drive me to Canada."
"I think a plane would be more comfortable," she quipped, grinning at him.
He shook his head. "Pain in my butt," he told her.
She beamed. "Thank you. I like being a pain in the butt. It beats being a boil on the butt." Huey and Ray both laughed at that. A cop from downstairs brought her gun back. "Thanks, kid." She took it out, checking it. "They didn't even do a test fire," she said, putting it away. "Ray, the spring's broken on this one now. We definitely need to get me a new one tonight."
"You're staying inside then," he said firmly.
"I know I am," she agreed. She looked at Huey. "That good with you?"
"Fine with me. It's supposed to rain this afternoon." He looked at the beat cop. "What?"
"Sir, our sergeant was wondering what was going on. We've heard rumors and we wanted to know the truth."
Catherine cleared her throat. "There's a thought that the person who shot the Chief of Detectives was out to get my attention. Nothing more," she told him. "He's been known to appreciate me in past." The beat cop nodded, looking very earnest at that moment. "They wanted to rule me out. It's all political. Never play politics in the department, it only causes problems."
"Thank you, detective. I hope you catch the person." He jogged back down the stairs.
"Haven't you had one of those?" Huey asked.
"Yes, and he's been out on parole for the last two weeks," she said bitterly.
"He was shot last night," Ray told her. "I got a call about it from Homicide wanting to know if you were okay." He looked at her. "The bullet that had been in him seems to have already went missing."
"I'm having an X-File moment," she told him.
"With what you deal with, I'm not surprised," Huey told her, going back to his own paperwork. He winced when he heard the Lieutenant's phone ring. "We're up," he told her.
"Then I need to stop by supply." He waved her in there. "Yeah?" He handed over the phone. "Yeah?" She listened. "That's pretty classical. Taunt him about wetting the bed yet?" She smirked. "Yeah, that's fine. No, I'm without my main weapon so it'll be about an hour. You probably can. Your instincts have already led you right. Ask if he's a premature ejaculator too. See if he likes to torture animals." She laughed. "Fine. As soon as I can hit the supply guys." She hung up. "My spring's broken," she said at the confused look.
"Don't go through supply. Go buy a new one, anything will do as long as it's clean. This guy's been doing kids at a daycare."
She nodded. "On it. Should I bring Ray or Huey?"
"Bring Fraser. See if he can help. We don't have much for him to do today." He went back to his paperwork. "Then do the bust from last week. I don't have the forms. "
"I sent them that day," she complained. "Did the system eat them?"
He looked at her. "It's very possible."
"I'll print 'em and hand them to you personally," she told him, going to gather Benny. "Hey. I've got to gun shop quickly then go do a nagging pedophile in Sex Crimes. Wanna help, Benny?"
"If you'd like. I have this afternoon free," he offered, following her out the door with Ray's wallet. "Why didn't you take your own?"
"He keeps the debit card," she said dryly. "He's afraid my book and pajama habit will make us broke again." She started the car and drove off, heading for the nearest pawn shop not on the stolen goods list of Huey's. She walked in and waved at the guy. "I need to replace my service piece," she told him. "I like Brownings for the weight. I like Sigs for the power but I can't use it with my wrists."
He smiled. "I have something that you might like," he offered, opening a bottom cabinet and pulling it up. "It is very nice, been cleaned recently."
She looked at it, then frowned. "It's not that clean." She took his jeweler's eyepiece to look at the grip. "Oh, shit." She put it down. "That has blood on it," she told him. He winced. "So I'm gonna get someone in here to confiscate this one, just in case. It'll be fine. You're not on our lists. As far as I know." She called Huey, then CSU, looking at the others while they waited. CSU congratulated her, they'd been looking for this gun.
Catherine dragged herself into their apartment that night and flopped down onto the couch face first. "Not hungry," she said when Ray came closer. "Shoot me?"
"No, I like you too much to shoot you," he pointed out, sitting next to her head. "You okay?"
She looked up at him. "There is not an honest pawn shop in this city. Not a one. I had to go retail and they're Bradying me at the moment." He winced. "I told Welsh. He told me to take some time off and do the profiling thing."
"He told me the same thing," he soothed, stroking her shoulders. "Want a backrub?"
"You're a God, Ray," she moaned. "Please?"
He helped her up and into the bedroom, then out of her clothes and onto the bed. He grabbed some of his favorite oil and came back to work on her tense back. "You can get me later," he promised, making her smile and nod. "Just relax and let me do my job as your husband."
"I'm sorry you got dragged into this," she said quietly. He pinched her. "If we were only dating, he wouldn't be coming after you too. You'd be immune, or only looked at funny."
"He doesn't like me either," he promised. Their doorbell rang. "You wait here, let me get that." He wiped his hands off as he went to answer the door, using the hand towel to work the knob. "Junior, bad timing," he said honestly.
"Someone shot at me," he said, slipping inside. "Ricky headed after them." He gave Ray a look. "They were in a cop car." Ray groaned. "It was outside my hotel room. Can I crash on the couch?"
"Sure. Watch out for the cats." He went back to the bedroom and found his wife pulling on a pajama set he liked. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"He needs us and we're cops," she reminded him, giving him a smile and a kiss. "I'll still do your lower back," she promised, going out to hug the poor guy. "You okay?"
"A minor graze," he admitted, taking off his jacket to let her see. "Nothing too bad. It only stings like a skating accident."
She went to get stuff to clean it for him. "We're pretty used to those around here. Ray and I got together because I got hit in the shoulder for the second time." He looked impressed. "Okay, I admit, I was there for a few days before that. I nearly ran him over and everything," she said cheerfully. Junior laughed, letting her take care of him. "There's a small daybed in the back room, you can sleep on it tonight," she promised. "Ricky should be able to find you here. Did you call it in or anything?"
"Yeah. The cops who answered dropped me off. Said his name was Scott, that you'd understand."
He shook his head. "His first name. His badge said Orinico."
"Oh, shit," she said, grabbing the phone and dialing the dispatch. "Dispatch, this is Demoranth. There was a shooting earlier outside the Ambassador hotel. One of the attending officers was not an officer. Yes, I'm quite sure. His badge said Orinico. Said his first name was Scott. You need to pass that on to whomever's in charge there. No, he dropped the kid at my place but we're good. He won't hurt me. He will hurt any and all beat cops, his brother did before he died eleven years ago." She sighed. "Thanks. Yeah, just pass it up the chain. If they don't understand, tell them to talk to Steve in SWAT. He busted him. Have a happier night." She hung up and looked at him. "That was very helpful," she said with a small grin. "Scott Orinico's brother was the guy who shot a bunch of beat cops a few years back. None of his family were cops outside his father, who he hated for being a beat cop. I don't remember a Scott though."
Ray came out of her study with the folder. "Younger brother. He was ten then. That means he's barely legal now. He's not a cop. I already called IA to warn them." He looked at the small graze. "You okay?" Junior nodded. "Don't be afraid to be in pain. She has that problem sometimes."
"Can you two adopt me?" Junior asked.
"Only if you become a cop," she told him, giving him a look. Someone pounded on the door so she took the folder with her when she went to answer it, handing it over. "Morning. Think he was the one who hit the bank this morning?"
Steve, the Captain over SWAT, frowned. "Probably. Which one was Scott?"
"The youngest." He nodded, walking away as he read it. "Be careful, he'd hold a grudge against you and I'd miss you, Steve." He smiled at her and waved as he left. She checked the hall then closed the door before the inquisitive kitty could come see who had come over. "Morning, Blair. Are you a happy kitty today?" she cooed, bending down to pet him. He meowed and let her scratch him all she wanted.
Ray looked at Junior. "He sheds. It'll stick to your fingers," he warned. He headed for the kitchen. "Catherine, dinner?"
"Still not hungry."
"Bet me," he snorted.
"I'm not. I've been sick all day." He closed the freezer door to look at her. "I'm fine, Ray," she sighed. "Really."
"You'd better be. Ma would throw fits if I went to one of your friends and had them bring you back."
She walked over and kissed him as hard as she could, making his knees weak. "You say the most astonishing and sweet things," she purred, dragging him off. "Junior, microwave stuff," she ordered. He chuckled as she closed and locked the door, pushing him onto the bed. She took his shirt off him as fast as she could, then stripped herself so she could plaster their bodies together. "You are fucking amazing, Ray," she vowed between kisses, moving down his body. "There is no one who's ever said stuff like that to me before; no one who loved me enough to even have that thought." He moaned and pulled her back up, kissing her. "No, let me," she pleaded, moving back down him again. "I want to. You deserve every pleasure you could ever have. You deserve so much more than I can give."
"All I want is you," he promised, pulling her back up so he could roll them over and do the work for her. "You do so deserve me." He kissed her a few times until she lost her shocked look. "You deserve all the stuff I can give you, so quit. I'm not a saint." She nodded. "No, I'm not. A saint couldn't touch you like I do." He stroked her stomach, making her wiggle. "Would you like more?" She nodded, grinning at him. "No more offers of being my body slave?" She stretched under him, pulling him down for more kisses. "That wasn't an answer, Catherine."
She smiled and played with his hair. "You inspire me when you say stuff like that, Ray. You deserve it."
"No, I deserve *you*," he retorted. "All of you, especially the naughty parts." She wiggled again and he let her this time. "You're more than worth it to me."
She pulled him back down for another kiss. "Ray, quit talking, more lovin'," she requested. "You can be mushy later."
He snorted. "It happens rarely, enjoy it."
"I do," she promised, looking into his eyes. "Every moment of it. Each time you say stuff like that you overwhelm me and make me mushy in return. Besides, you do deserve it."
He growled and nipped her on the lips. "Quit. You're makin' me hot."
"So?" She forced him onto his back and went back to what she had been doing. No matter what he said, she knew he deserved her best efforts tonight. Especially if he protested, that just meant he deserved her more than ever. She briefly tasted his chest, teasing and playing with the tense flesh there. He bucked up when she bit him, then growled when she licked and sucked on the spot. She beamed at him and went back to teasing his nipples. He tried to move her but she was being stubborn, he deserved to be pleasured for even thinking that thought. She moved further back, gifting him with one of her rare attempts at a blowjob. He arched up into her mouth and swore in Italian, making her chuckle as she licked him up and down. He finally forced her up to kiss her again, rolling them onto their sides so he could tease her while she felt him. "I love you, Ray," she whispered, going back down on him again. He moaned and went limp, letting her do whatever she wanted. She was sure now, Fate had given her the right man, one who could appreciate her in all her many moods.
Ray watched her as she went down on him, hands fisted in the covers. She hadn't done this for him before and he knew why. She wasn't the greatest but she was more than enough to drive him insane. She went down further and his eyes closed, letting him enjoy it to the fullest. This was a precious gift from her. He was losing his mind. He could hear himself talking to her in Italian, calling her a witch, a cat, his beloved, everything he could think of to make her go on. He heard her laugh at one of them and repeated it, realizing he was calling her his kitten because she was licking him again. He growled and pulled her up, taking that mouth for his mouth's pleasure instead. His lower half found hers and entered her without his conscious thought. He rolled her underneath him, pinning her down while he went to town pleasing her. She needed to be as mindless as he was. He needed her to be that far gone this time, bad nerves and all. He did everything he could think of, and she finally rewarded him by going off around him. He let himself go then, satisfied that his woman, his kitten, was as pleased as he was. She was clawing up his back and he was enjoying it this time. He felt her shiver around him and kept going, hoping she'd give him some sign that she really did want this this way. She arched up and started to plead for him to finish, making him growl in her ear. She nipped him and tilted her head back, giving him access to her throat. He nipped and sucked on there as he worked himself in and out of her, getting closer and closer with each thrust. Finally, he came with a howl into his throat. She whimpered and he crushed her to him, holding her tightly. "Shh. It's all right."
"Ray," she pleaded, sounding worn out. "Are you okay now?" He nodded, still not letting her go. "You were possessed or something."
"It was all you, kitten." She pushed his head up, kissing him. "Hmm. A very pretty kitten. Mine."
"Yours," she promised. "Only yours. No one else has ever felt like this about me, Ray."
He smirked at her. "I knew I was special." She nodded, giving him the most adoring look, and he knew then that she had meant what she had said. She had never told him she loved him before but he knew she had meant it, it wasn't just said in the heat of passion. He curled up on her chest again, holding her tightly. She snuggled into his body, letting herself be held and adored for now. She didn't even move when one of the cats meowed at the door. "Go get the kid to pet you," he called. "She's my cat for now."
She laughed. "Am I?"
He lifted his head, looking down at her. "If I turn to your faith, could I get you as a familiar?" She chuckled and shook her head. "Pity." He gave her a tired smile. "Nap with me?"
"Of course I'm gonna nap with you. You wore my butt out." He laughed and nodded, giving her a smug look. "Fine. We'll nap. Let the rest of everyone worry about everything else."
"That's right," he agreed, rolling them back onto their sides so he could hold her. He liked holding her, no matter how often she protested that she was too heavy to lay on top of him. This time she simply snuggled in and it made him very happy.
Junior looked down at the cats who came running at the beep of the microwave. "Hey," he said, nodding at them. "I thought she was kidding when she said she had four cats." He took his plate back to the couch, where he tossed down little bits of meat to the begging creatures. "Where's the other one?" It meowed at the door again. "Don't do that. Your parents need their rest. They were just very busy pleasing each other. I hope Ray likes to give oral sex. She seems like the sort who'd enjoy it a lot." That cat gave him a funny look and came over to allow herself to be petted. "Hi. Which one are you?" Someone knocked on the door and he flinched. "Go away!" he shouted, hoping he sounded like Ray.
"Let me in," Stan called, pounding again. "Now, Junior."
He sighed and went to open the door. "They're busy bein' noisy."
"Good. It keeps them out of trouble." Stanley walked in, stopping Nessa from leaving. "You, inside," he told her, shooing her away. He shut the door behind him. "You okay?"
"Small graze," he admitted, holding up his arm. "The step-mom wrapped it up for me." He went back to his dinner, shooing the cat's nose out of his plate. "Hey, you can wait until I toss some down for you," he complained. It ran off to stare at him again. "Which one is that one?"
"That one's Nessa. She'll beg silently but any plates you put down are fair game to her." He sat next to the kid, listening for other noises. "Are they done already?"
Junior nodded. "He said something about having to bring her back to life if she died from not being hungry. She got this really mushy look on her face and jumped him."
Stanley grinned at him. "Good, they deserve each other. He treats her as good as I would, that's what I like about him." He bent down to scratch Xander's head when she rubbed against his leg and chattered at him. "Hey, you." He picked her up to hold her, petting her gently. "You're sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. What else happened?"
"Ricky ran off after someone and no one's seen him since," he admitted. "You sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," he promised, digging in again. He heard a moan and grinned. "It sounds like Ray's more of a stud than my dad ever was. Dad could only get it up once a week."
Stanley snorted, shaking his head. "No, I've heard Ray get it up twice in an hour for her. It's amazing for a guy his age." They shared a grin. "So, you wanna be an accountant?"
"Yeah. I don't like killing things. It's nasty and blood never comes out of silk pants." He took another bite. "I'm not sure about that whole cop thing though. I know they could use some good guys, but then I'd have to watch what I do. I mean, they were getting in trouble because I talked to them and stuff."
"That's only because they're being watched. If it was like usual, no one'd care. Ray's got connections too." He shrugged. "I'm not sure what Catherine's got. She did Vice for a damn long time so I assume she's got friends if not contacts on the street. I know she did a ton of ho-strolls in her younger days, and a lot of them weren't what you'd call proper procedure because they were understaffed. I assume some of the older girls on the strip still remember her as one of the cops who made their lives both easier and harder." Junior looked at him. "The way I heard it, she used ta bust the bad johns and leave the others mostly alone. Let her hear of a guy out there busting the girls up and she was there to get him. Just going out to pick up the regular johns didn't get nearly as much effort. The same as the club thing. She got some of the biggest dealers, but the kids who got sucked into it and were doing it to eat and have a place to live she mostly left alone."
"That makes sense. If you bust the bigger guys, it's harder for people to fill in. If you bust a street dealer, there's probably at least thirty kids waiting to move into his or her place. The same with some of the working girls. There's always going to be runaways. They're easy prey for pimps. So you go after the worst johns and you try to get the younger ones, the ones who can still make a life elsewhere, out of the life." Stanley looked impressed. "It makes sense in an organized way. Especially if you've got to do a triage thing and just pick the worst. You go after the higher end pimps and the ones who hurt their girls. You go after the higher drug lords. You go after the gun runners, the smugglers, and the people who do the worst because that gives the others a chance to get free and might take out some of the bigger problems by cutting supply lines."
"Good thoughts," Stanley praised. "Plus, they had others who did the street level and the others. You'd make an impressive cop."
Junior shrugged. "I'm not sure yet. I mean, it's an honorable profession but my mother would disown me."
"With the life she lives, are you sure she'll be alive then?" Stanley noted. "You're sixteen, it's time for you to start thinking about your own life and quit worryin' about hers. If she lives long enough to see your twenty-first, I'd be surprised. Then what'll you do?"
"Uncle Bruno said I could come live with him," he said quietly, considering it. "Is being a cop that much different than being in the Family? I mean, similar structure. Similar goals of getting the other illegal people off the street. Plus I wouldn't have to watch what I do and say. I doubt anyone would give me the leeway she gets."
"No, she earned hers. You'd still have to kiss ass for a bit," Stanley noted. "The only real difference is the reason behind the bureaucracy. In one it's ta make money and the other it's ta stop the first and people like them from making money." Junior chuckled at that, shaking his head. "True, right?" Junior nodded, smiling at him. "So all you've got left are reasons behind the actions and methodology. Will your uncle live long enough ta see you graduate?"
"I hope so."
"Yeah, but life is dangerous in that business. Plenty of offspring in the Families don't live ta be your age. Living to be Ray's age, or even my age, isn't something they can count on. At least as a cop you'd have someone at your back ta help in situations like that. Even accountants in the mob get offed now and then."
Junior nodded, curling up a little as he put his plate down. "I get that. It's a hard life and there's no guarantees that I'll live to see my own kids. If I became a cop it'd be better and easier, but I'd also have to worry about people trying to off me because of my pop."
"True," Stanley admitted. "Not as many as you think, but definitely some. For that matter, they're out there now."
"Oh, I know," he said bitterly. "That's why Ricky stayed."
Stanley nodded. "I know. It comes down to methodology and the way you get things done. Would you rather be able ta find someone doin' wrong all the time or have ta do the books for someone who doesn't have a clue how brilliant you can be?"
Junior gave him a look. "It's tempting. I'm not dismissing it. I'm simply not sure I could handle being a *cop*. I like to think of myself as a good guy most of the time. I don't hurt people on purpose. I don't like to see people miserable. I do what I can to help when I do and there's stuff I can do about it. I don't know if I can do that for a living though."
"Then ask the people in Corporate Crimes if you can come in and talk to them. Give 'em the truth, you're torn between what your dad would want and what you feel like. That you've got another role model and he's a good guy."
Junior snorted. "My dad would shit if I became an accountant. He thought they were all wooses."
"Maybe, but money guys make the world go round and buy the assassins their weapons." He ruffled the boy's hair. "You want a ride back tonight?"
"They said I could have the daybed."
"Yeah, it might be safer," Stanley admitted.
"Do you think she'll ever give in and let him have a little Ray?"
Stanley nodded. "Maybe. She'd like the idea but she's terrified of it. A little Ray or a little Catherine would always be in trouble. Between their natures to seek out trouble and their job, the kid'd never be safe, even if she quit."
"That's another thing I'm not sure about. I've never seen such backstabbing, even in a family at war with itself," Junior admitted.
Stanley sighed. "You're seeing the worst the system can do to fuck another of us over, without manufacturing evidence. Sure, there's dirty cops. There's even some in Internal Affairs now and then. Most of the time it's not like this." He shifted a little, getting closer. "Don't tell Ray this, he doesn't know, but she's gone through this shit twice before. Others have wanted her out because she's too good at what she does. They were worried about what she might find out. She weathered them and she'll weather this one, it's just that she's disgusted with the system. Cops are still people and they can get tempted by easy money just as much as the lower kids do when they have pipe dreams about the mob. In this case, I don't know why he's worried. He's the one who made her into the woman she is today by taking away her backup with constant budget cuts."
"So, either he's dirty or he's suddenly realized and has decided that she points to a failure of his," Junior said. Stanley nodded. "What about Ray?"
"If they were still dating, he'd be safer. Since they're married, you've gotta take 'em both out. They're tight. Like Benny and I are. Like Benny and Ray are. They're partners. It can be a bond tighter than blood for some. Catherine had it once. Then she lost it to a bullet. Ray's had it a few times. Benny and I would both die for him and so will she. I think she's realizing that he'll do the same for her."
Junior considered it. "I think he's scared." Stanley tipped his head to the side. "Not that he's dirty, but that he knows what's going on and he's worried that she'll expose something bigger than he's prepared to handle. If he was dirty, he'd have tried something harsher. Ricky and I listened and watched him earlier at a speech," he admitted. "He's still got that street toughness to him." Stanley nodded for him to go on. "So I don't think it's him, but I think he knows that certain people realize how bad the system can be underneath and that she'll manage to unravel a bit and expose it."
"It could be," Stanley admitted. "She's as tenacious as one of those little lap yapper dogs." Junior laughed at that. "She is. Ray's the same way. So are me and Benny, but if they take any of us out, they'll be without their top detectives. Their top people aren't specialists, well she used ta be but she's not anymore. Their top homicide person clears what Huey does, forty percent. Ray and I both clear at least sixty. She clears at least seventy. Robbery usually only clears thirty, and that's really good for robbery. Sex Crimes clears more but they've got serial cases. You bust one, you bust a lot of 'em. The same in Vice, where she used ta work. You bust one, you've got leads out the ass." Junior shifted some to look at him. "I saw this year's rankings. The four of us rank up there in the top ten percent. She's in the fourth spot now. Ray's in the twentieth or so. I'm below him by about fifteen. Benny's not listed but his name is in with ours because he helps. If the 27th loses us, they might as well shut down. Huey and the night guys aren't that great. Things'll start goin' ta hell."
"What was Welsh?"
"He was a pretty average cop from what I heard. Didn't want ta specialize but he was a lot like Huey. Good at robberies, had a soft touch for victims. As a beat cop I heard he took on some of the Irish neighborhoods during the bad years of street activity. He saw his fair share of action. Then, in his class, two of the best come in. One's the asshole. He cleared eighty percent most years in homicide using some pretty unfair methods. She went to Vice and became their best person for seventeen years." Junior gaped. "She went in during her rookie year, transferred in against her will from homicide. She's got a good touch with them too. Maybe Philip feels threatened by her now. She should have been forced up the chain of command but she's trained instead. She's got fifteen rookie detectives trained, ten of the best, nine still active. Only one went bad and she turned her in." He shrugged. "Maybe you're right, he's scared of her. She's a powerful woman. Welsh apparently said she'd make a great cult leader at one point in time." Junior giggled at that, swatting at him. "I don't want to see her in command, she's a nag when she is, but she's a good encourager. She's a great teacher of things. She'll be a great mother if Ray can get past her medical problems."
"The miscarriage?" he asked quietly.
"That, the torture that caused it, the diabetes." He shrugged and grinned. "It happens. Being a woman cop is hard. Much harder than being a guy cop. Or even a gay cop. Since she was both...."
"She really gave up women for Ray?"
Stanley nodded. "She really gave up women for Vecchio. She loves him more than even her cats. It shows in how she teases him now and again." He winked. "Now, you need ta get ta bed. In the morning, call Corporate Crimes, let them do their own recruiting. Then someone will take you up to the college for your meetings up there." Junior nodded, standing up. "The waterproof bandages are under the sink. Put one on that before you shower in the morning. It'll throb otherwise."
"Yes, Stanley. Thank you."
"You're welcome, kid. I'm goin' upstairs. Benny and I live on the right as you go up the stairs. Feel free to come knock if something happens." He stood up and let himself out, making sure the kid locked the door before heading up for some comfort. He let Benny hold him for a second. "Ray said he'd get someone to try and bring her back," he said with a small smirk.
"He loves her," Benny agreed. "It showed in how he planned and gave in to her for the wedding. Otherwise it would have been here and his mother would have bullied the priest into talking her into a church wedding." Stanley laughed and gave him a kiss. "Are you tired?"
"Nah, but I'd love ta go ta bed," he said smugly.
"That would be most agreeable," Benny agreed, walking him that way. They shooed the animals off the bed, noticing that Chocolate had been very good. Diefenbaker had been very helpful in controlling her behavior. He turned and helped Ray out of his holster and shirt, taking his time. He liked Ray's smaller chest. It was a fascinating place for him to play with.
Stanley giggled and got free of his hands. "Benny!" He pushed him onto the bed, helping him out of his boots first, then the rest of the stiff uniform until he finally got to the man under the wool. His favorite treat was waiting for him and his man never teased him about how much he liked to play with it. Even if that's all they'd be doing that night, Benny never mind his oral fixation.
Catherine woke up warm and comfortable. "Ray?" she asked sleepily. He hummed, giving her a squeeze. "What was that noise?"
"Junior!" he called.
"Yeah, Ray?" he called from the bathroom.
"I think it was the kid."
"Oh, okay. Good." She closed her eyes again, putting her head back on his shoulder. "When did we have kids?"
Ray chuckled. "Junior? The clone?"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry." She pushed her hair off her forehead as the door opened a bit. "Sorry, didn't remember you being here."
"That's okay. I guess the cats can't quite take a shower," he admitted with a grin. "I'm gonna take a cab down to Corporate Crimes. Stan suggested I call and set up to talk to them today. They want me there at ten, then I'll be at the college after one." He waved, then made a desperate grab for his towel. "Have a nice nap. You two deserve it. Stan said you were both very sweet and cute." He hurried back to get redressed so he could go get his bags and really change.
Catherine smiled and put her head back down. "That was nice of him." Ray murmured something, nearly asleep again. Someone pounded on the door. "That's SWAT," she said in confusion, getting up to answer it. It was kicked in just before she got there. "Guys, why are you breaking into my apartment?" she asked, hands on her hips. A few of them squeaked and turned around. The captain walked in and looked down at her, frowning. "What! I was asleep, asshole; you interrupted my wonderful morning wakeup!"
"Sorry, detective. Philip Banks?"
"Upstairs on the *left*," she said. "He's got a small terrier sort of dog. Send it to Stan and Benny. And close the fucking door before my cats get out." She trudged back to her bedroom, climbing up Ray to lay on top of him and kiss him awake. "We'll have to fix the door," she told him when he blinked at her. "SWAT can't tell apartment numbers." She was halfway down his neck when the door opened again and Ray pulled his weapon. "Out!" she snapped.
"Sorry, detective. Do you have keys?" the captain asked, blushing bright red. They were like that?!? "I didn't mean to intrude on your sex life," he squeaked, going back to the living room. "They're in the middle of having sex," he said. The other guys all looked at him like he was insane. "Really. I lie not! She was on top of him and he pulled his gun on me for interrupting."
Stanley strolled in, giving them a bland look. "Philip?" They all nodded. "Need the keys?"
"Please. They're having sex."
Stanley snorted. "They were probably just playing. It's way too early in the morning for real, energetic, sweaty sex. Trust me, I've walked in on them before. Junior, hurry up and I'll drop you off," he called as he headed into the bedroom. He ignored Ray's complaints into her lips as he took his gun. "Keys?" Catherine swatted him. "The strike team could come watch," he offered.
"Dresser," Ray said, finally getting use of his mouth again. "Put my gun back on the bedside table." He moved his hands down to squeeze her butt. "Then leave. I'm having fun."
"Sure," Stanley agreed with a grin. "We like it when you're in a good mood."
"You're ruining it," she said firmly, moving down to lick at Ray's cock for him.
Stanley chuckled and found the keys, putting Ray's gun back in his holster before leaving. The keys went to the captain, Junior joined him. "Next time, call me first, guys. Really. She's gonna be really pissed later." They scrambled out the door, nearly getting stuck as they tried to get out at the same time. "Ready?" he asked Junior, taking him with him and closing the door as best he could. "One of you had better fix that," he called up the stairs. "She can't pound a nail in straight." He paused. "Though, if Ray does it, he'll get sweaty and she seems to like him sweaty," he said thoughtfully. "That or dressed up." He shrugged at Junior. "She's odd, she's got a thing for dress shirts." He led the boy out to his car, letting him get in the back with the wolf.
Upstairs, Ray was chuckling but enjoying his wife's early morning version of a long, hard suck very much. He'd have to get Stanley back for that later.
Catherine walked into the Chief's office with a grimace of distaste. "You're interrupting my sex life," she announced. "What was that important that you had to call me in on our first day off together since our honeymoon?" She crossed her arms, staring at the man who wanted her off the force.
"Catherine, sit," he said with a politician's smile.
"No thanks, I don't want the slime on my clothes." He gave her a hurt look. "You're the politician, Philip, not me. I never wanted scales or fangs. My fangs are courtesy of you cutting the Vice budget over and over until I was nearly all they had." She shifted her stance. "Now, you've got ten minutes. Then I'm going to have to take a shower to wash off your stench. I might even get my husband to scrub my back."
"Catherine, don't be that way," he cajoled.
"Do I look like one of your mindless bimbos or exes?" she asked dryly. He grimaced. "Then don't talk down to me like I was one. I'm not. You're a slimy asshole who's trying to ruin me because I'm a damn good cop and because I had to work alone for way too damn long. You'll be happy to know my husband is the only backup I appreciate most days. Him, his partner, and his partner's partner." His mouth fell open. "Huey's great but we don't often work on the same cases these days." She shifted again. "You've got five minutes left, you're making me ill."
"Catherine, I want you to know it's nothing personal."
"I'm sure it's not. The same as I'm sure it was nothing personal when you cut the Vice budget and one of my commanding officers suggested that the female officers go out and expand the budget on ho stroll." He blanched. "The same as I'm sure it was nothing personal when you sent the rapist in to lord over us once we finally got rid of the guy who thought we should all be whores for the department. The same as I'm sure you'll be doing it to Vice again sometime soon if you possibly can. Thankfully, they're all young kids and they've got that grant money still." He slumped a little. "Your version of nothing personal has fucked up my life so many times, Philip. Though I should thank you. I wouldn't be as strong as I am now without you having done all that shit to my department, nor would my trainees. Since nine of them comprise some of your top-ranking detectives, I'm very happy with them and the job I've done." She stepped closer. "On the other hand, you get my badge over my dead, bleeding, mutilated corpse," she said coldly. "And I dare you to try, asshole. I'm more than waiting on it." He rolled his chair back from her. "Now, you can either retire, or I can start telling people about what you're probably wanting me to keep hidden. It came to Stanley last night that Ray and I are two of the best you've managed to keep. That means we have the ability to find some of the most rotten and fix them, including IAD. Including the beat cops going rogue and selling drugs out of their squads. Including the small 'hostessing committee' you've formed out of pretty officers for the upper echelon."
"Jealous you weren't asked?" he asked dryly.
"Fuck no. Disgusted at you. You had a lot of promise when you were a real cop," she told him. "Being a politician suits you more though. Like I said, you get my badge over my dead, cold, mutilated corpse and I'd like to see you try. You've got a minute left, then I'm off for a wire brush to get rid of your taint."
"Catherine, has it occurred to you that you were a bitch before I had to cut the Vice budget?"
"All female officers have to be now and then. I had been a normal officer before you cut our budget, got us substandard vests, and then left us out to dry." He gave her the most horrified look. "Yeah, I do blame you for that too, Philip," she said bitterly. "It's another thing that forged me into the detective you see today. And you wonder why I don't wear a regulation vest? After what some of the ones you chose let us down?" She shrugged. "You're slime, Philip. You've been slime since you took your first command and you let your first officer die without backup. You're slimier now because now you've got more power and more strings to pull. *Every* female officer will some day be like me while you're in office because we have to be to survive. Even though I should thank you for forging me into the detective you see before you, I really don't feel that grateful for you eliminating my desire to have human emotions, my ability to get close to my fellow officers because I'm a bit out of practice, or for lacking the emotional control to deal with victims anymore. After all, normal detectives, ones who don't have to pull the weight of seven or eight of us, get to be normal. I pulled the weight of five with a broken collar bone and a gunshot wound. I pulled weight of five while I miscarried and was recovering from torture. I was pulling the weight of three of us pulling the weight of five each when I was transferred over because you decided to repave a parking lot instead of paying our salaries. Thankfully I only have to pull my own weight now. It's amazing, I know what sleeping comfortably is like again," she said snidely. "Don't do it to the 27th. You won't like it if you do. I like Harding, but he won't stop me and Ray won't know before or after." She turned and left him there.
"Catherine, you're up for a promotion," he called after her.
"I won't take it. I'm not lording over some other cops. I'm a detective, nothing else." She slammed his door. She paused to look at his secretary. "Watch out for him. He's got very grabby hands. He has since the academy." She walked out, going back to her desk to finish her paperwork. Then she went to have a sundae. She needed the fake comfort. Halfway through Ray sat across from her with his own spoon. "Hey."
"Hey." He gave her a long look. "You had a partner die?" She nodded, eating a large bite. "When?"
"My second year." She licked off her spoon. "Those nifty ceramic vests." He winced. 'It was his own girlfriend and he never seemed to give a damn then." She shrugged. "She was the last partner I actually had. After that, we didn't have the funds to double up. We had too many cases, not enough people, and were too desperate for people who could work alone."
"Were you hurt?"
"Destroyed," she told him, looking into his eyes. "No, I wasn't physically hurt. I got to sit there and hold her as she died." She put down her spoon. "I shouldn't have that. Finish it?"
He nodded. "I could use it." He gave her a look before glancing down at the sundae. "Does he know that?"
"If he didn't before, he does now. Why? He call Harding?"
"Yup. Said you needed therapy."
"I probably do. Up until I switched I was overworked, underpaid, and emotionally bereft because it's really hard to get to know your fellow detectives when you're too tired to eat on a daily basis." He nodded, using the spoon to play with the ice cream. "Eat it, Ray, don't play with the sugary goodness I'm not supposed to have."
He gave her a smile. "Sometimes you have ta have it, it's the only thing that soothes the ache." She nodded, picking up her spoon to dig in again. "Is that why you won't wear a vest?"
"They're ineffective," she pointed out. "Most of the crooks will try for a head shot. You can't wear them when you're working the harder club and street cases. They're too bulky to wear all the time. They're pretty useless unless you're in a shootout, a hostage situation, or a strike offensive. The other times it gets in my way and rubs me wrong. I've gotten blisters in the past." He nodded, eating a bite. "Who bugged the office?"
"Stella. She brought me the tape." He gave her a one-sided shrug. "She thought I should know how damaged you are."
"Was," she corrected. "It's amazing. I didn't cry for three years before I met you." He gave her a long look. "Truth." He nodded, going back to staring at the sundae. "It's amazing when you find someone you can not only trust, but someone who understands," she said gently. She stood up. "I'm gonna go home and read. I'm feeling an urge for angst so I guess I'm headed for the Lackey collection." He snorted and pulled her closer to hold her. "I love you, Ray."
"I know. I love you too," he whispered back. "You be careful. You're bursting his delusions of doing good for the city."
"Is that what it is?" she asked bitterly. She shook her head. "It's not worth the headache." She headed out to her car, getting in and heading home.
Ray took a big bite of the sundae, then pulled out his phone to call his mother. He needed good advice. All he could think to do was to buy flowers.
Catherine woke up a week later to a splitting headache. She clutched her head and groaned, putting it back down. "Ow." Ray rolled over and held her gently. "Head hurts."
"I'll call you off," he promised.
"Can't. It'll look bad."
"He hasn't done anything since you told him off," Ray pointed out. "You can be sick."
"I can take something." She let him help her into a sitting position. "Let me get some aspirin or something. I'll be fine." She stood up and swayed so he caught her and tucked her back in before going for her glucometer. She grimaced but let him do it. Even she winced at the high number. "Shit."
"Doctor's," Ray said slowly and clearly. "You didn't eat anything yesterday because you weren't feeling right. Today you've got this headache and the high blood sugar. I want you to see someone."
"Fine," she agreed. "The number's in my phone." He got it for her and let her see it before he hit the 'send' button to dial it. "Thanks, Ray." She scooted back down, getting comfortable again.
"Hi, this is Ray Vecchio, Catherine Demoranth-Vecchio's husband. She needs to see someone today. No, her sugar's up over two hundred and she's got a bad headache. She's been off now for a few days." He grimaced. "Then what should we do?" He listened to the advice. "She's not that badly off. I don't know what's wrong. It's a headache this morning. Yeah, one of those. Please?" He hummed as she checked with the doctor. "Hey. Yeah, it's me," he sighed, looking at her. "Her blood sugar's up, her head's aching, she's felt off for a few days now. Please," he said in relief. "When?" He checked the clock. "I can't, I've got court, but I can send someone with her that I trust," he promised. "Yeah. Thank you. Sure thing." He hung up. "You are to stay in bed. I'll send Benny to take you over in a cab so he doesn't have ta drive." He gave her a light kiss on the forehead, making her smile. "The doc said don't eat, only drink water, and to rest until ten. He'll be seeing you during lunch." She nodded. "Let me go tell Benny. You hunker back down in there." He stood up, heading out of their apartment and up the stairs. Benny opened the door before he could knock. "Catherine's got an emergency appointment with her doc today at noon. I'm gonna be in court."
"Me too," Stanley called.
"I can go with her," Benny agreed solemnly. "Is there anything I should be careful of?"
"Nah, I'll give ya some money for a cab. Go down and make sure she's up by about ten- thirty, don't let her have anything but regular water. They'll wanna do a finger stick." He nodded so Ray nodded at his door. "I'll leave some money on the table." Chocolate, the cat they had gotten from them, came to the door, sniffed at him, then snorted and walked away. "Morning to you too, brat." He looked at Benny. "Should I call Thatcher?"
"No, I'll do so in a moment," he promised. "Go get ready for the day." Ray nodded and left after giving him a smile. He closed the door and looked at the cat. "You really should be nicer to Ray. He's the one who talked her into letting you live with us." He looked at Stanley, who held out the phone for him. "Thank you, Stan." He listened to the other end as it rang, smiling as Turnbull answered. "Turnbull, it's Fraser. I'm afraid I'll have to call off today. No, Detective Vecchio's wife is rather ill, he's got court, as does Detective Kowalski, and she won't go to the doctor unless escorted. Especially not with people who want her dead again. No, she's got one at noon. You can tell the Inspector that I'll have my phone with me if I'm not here in the apartment and I'll be in bright and early tomorrow. Yes, that's fine, Turnbull. Thank you kindly." He hung up. "There, that's settled. The Inspector won't be happy but surely she'll understand." Stanley snorted and continued to drink his coffee. "Where's your vest?"
"The car," he said between gulps, coming over to give him a gentle kiss. "You behave and try ta not let her get inta trouble. Come in as soon as you're done." Benny nodded, smiling as Stanley grabbed his shirt and coat before heading down to his car. He came back for his keys, which Benny held out for him, like usual. "Thanks." He blew another kiss and went back to his trek to work.
Benny shook his head and worked on the dishes. Stanley hadn't wanted to deal with them last night so he had ran the water and let them soak overnight. At least nothing was dried on now.
Catherine looked at Benny at around four. "Where's that cabin again?" she asked quietly. He gave her a look. "I need some time to think and that specialist is up that way," she offered. "Ray won't mind."
"I'm sure he won't. He does know where it is." He considered it, then agreed and drew her a map, handing it over. "Here. Follow it exactly. If you get lost, ask anyone in the village."
She kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks, Benny. Tell Ray I'll be back this weekend. Let him tell Welsh what's going on." She tapped the cabbie on the shoulder. "Drop me off at the next corner, okay?" He nodded and let her out, leaving Benny with the cash. She had her debit card again, and there was an ATM right there. This higher pay was really nice for things like sudden trips out of town.
Ray looked up as Benny walked into the apartment without his charge. "Where did she stop?"
"She said she wanted to talk to a specialist," he said, sitting down across from him. "She's not terribly ill, but her blood sugar is a little out of hand according to her doctor. He said it's reasonable for the first trimester. He suggested a number of specialists, which we saw one of already. She seemed to have a ...violent reaction to him to say the least."
Ray scratched his forehead, staring at him. Then he finally licked his lips. "Go slower," he suggested.
"Your wife is pregnant, under a month along. The test barely registered. It's causing her blood sugar to climb alarmingly. He changed her medicines. She's went to my father's cabin to see a specialist up there and to think."
"You let my wife run off to Canada alone?" he asked.
"She'll be perfectly safe, Ray."
"Benny, think," he said, not moving from his spot. He didn't want to hit him but he would, he knew he would, if he moved any closer. "If this was your wife, what would you be doing?"
"Probably yelling," he admitted, standing up again. "Shall I go call the village's outpost? Have them check on her?"
"Yeah, you do that," Ray agreed, nodding. "Come down and feed and water the cats and all that good stuff. We'll be back this weekend." He went to pack a bag, stopping to leave a message on Welsh's voicemail. Someone could help him check it again. Then he petted all the cats. "Your mother and I will be back in four days. Benny'll come and feed and pet you guys. You guys behave for him and I'll bring her back." He walked out, only stopping to grab his cellphone and his wallet.
Lieutenant Welsh came out of his office, frowning at the clock. "Did either Vecchio tell anyone that they wouldn't be in today?" he asked. Huey looked at him and shook his head. "Not at all?" Huey shook his head again but Kowalski was silent. He discovered why when he nudged him and he woke up. "Where's your partner and your big sister?"
"Canada," he yawned. Then he stood up and faced him down. "She had ta go see someone special about her blood sugar. She went ta Benny's cabin ta think until her appointment. I'm guessin' he's not too happy since she didn't call him first. Benny said he left a message on your voice mail."
"Voice mail," Welsh said flatly.
"That thing on the phone like the answering machine," Huey told him. He picked up his own phone and dialed into it. "What's your badge number?" Welsh came over and punched it in and Huey let him have the phone. He looked at Stanley. "What sort of specialist will she need up there?"
"Someone nicer than the ones in the city," Stanley pointed out. "She hates doctors. That's why Benny took off yesterday to go with her, so she'd go."
Welsh hung up, then picked up a coffee mug and threw it. He looked at Stanley. "Did Constable Fraser forget to mention she's pregnant?" Stan's mouth opened and his eyes widened. "I'm guessing Vecchio's going to be throwing a fit. That means you're both on your own for the next week or so while she heals." Huey frowned. "Diabetics aren't encouraged to have children, Detective. It's dangerous. They can die." He went back into his office and slammed the door. He was upset for her, she didn't need this in her life.
Huey flopped down in his desk chair, looking at Stanley. "Sit," he suggested. Stan sat down on his desk. "You didn't know?"
"No! She should have told me!"
"Stan, if what he thinks is going on, I doubt she wanted anyone to know."
"No, she won't," Stanley said, shaking his head. "I know she won't. She's got squishy maternal feelings that the cats aren't meeting. That's why she's seeing someone special up there. It's another sort of OB, probably some sort of native healer." He found his way into his desk chair. "Shit, Ray's gotta be freaking out."
"Hopefully he won't yell too much," Huey said dryly.
"Nah, he won't. He handles her really well," Stanley promised. "They'll argue like decent folk." He got up and went into the office. "She won't terminate. I know her. She won't." Welsh gave him a look. "That's probably what they'll be fighting about this morning when he makes it up there."
"If you say so. Her health will still be in danger."
"Maybe but she wants one so bad. She woulda had the one eleven years ago." He shrugged and went back to his desk to worry in peace.
Ray walked in the front door, looking at his wife where she was curled up in front of the fireplace with a book. He slammed the door, making her flinch but not look at him. "Do you know what it's like to be told your wife's health is in danger by your best friend?"
"No, not really." She held up a hand. "Come cuddle?"
"I don't think I wanna do that yet," he admitted. "I'm still pretty angry that you ran away."
She flipped over to look at him. "I came up here to think, Ray. Not to run away. If I had wanted to run away you wouldn't have known where I went." She curled up facing him this time, her book on the floor. "We've got a major problem."
"Really?" he asked dryly. "What would that be?"
"The doctor said my life is in danger." He dropped his bag and moved closer, sitting across from her. "He thinks my blood sugar could get dangerously high and ruin my liver or something." He slumped a little. "He told this to Benny, not saying anything at all to me." He gave her a look. "There's a specialist in the next town I've already arranged to see on Saturday. He's a very good OB with an emphasis in diabetic pregnancies. Like most native peoples, the Inuit have a high rate of diabetes."
"How did you hear about him?" he asked gently.
"I had Cris do a web search for specialists," she admitted, sniffling a little, looking down at her hands. "I just want to be okay."
He hugged her. "I want you to be okay too. I don't want your life in danger."
He pulled back, giving her a stunned look. "No, not if your life's in danger. There's no way."
"It won't be, not that much," she promised. "I'll have to control it and stuff. More diet monitoring, maybe back on the medicines. Stuff like that. He should know who to see in the city." She shifted closer, silently asking to be held and he pulled her into his lap to hold her. "We won't be able to do this much longer," she said miserably.
"We'll just need a pillow," Ray assured her. "You're not gonna get huge like Maria did last time." He squeezed her. "You're sure?"
"Very." She sniffled again, putting her face against his chest. "I want this."
"That's fine. I won't argue unless this doctor says you're in a real dangerous time. Then we can argue."
"If you try, I'll run away for real until my second trimester starts," she warned. "I won't. I want him or her."
He gave her a squeeze. "I'd rather have you than the baby," he pointed out gently. "I'm not losing you because of this. If it's possible then fine. If it's not then we can work on getting your weight down so your blood sugar stays down and then try again." She pulled back to look at him and he caressed her cheek. "You know I'd love to have a kid, but I want you healthy more than anything. If we have to, we can try again later."
"Each year adds more risk, Ray."
"So? Some of the risk'll go down if you lose some of the weight and your blood sugar drops. Don't they say even a five percent decrease could make all the difference in the world?" She nodded, putting her head back down. "That's about twenty pounds. We can do that much. Maybe even more. That'll only be a year, not much more risk to you, which I'd hate." She nodded, relaxing again. "I'm sorry, Catherine."
He laughed. "Of course you're not. We'll have ta not tell Ma until we know one way or another."
"I'm sure she'll gush and go all gooey."
"Probably," he agreed, starting to smile. "Got any funky names you *have* ta have?"
"I don't really want a junior so I'm good."
"Good." She wrapped her arms around him and held on. "Did you tell Welsh?"
"I left a message on his voice mail. Said we'd call him Monday with an update if we weren't in. After all, we both got letters saying we're losing a lot of vacation days soon." She nodded, stroking his chest with one of her hands. "Did you want to do more than cuddle?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "I'm still feeling kind of nasty actually." He laughed and gave her a hard squeeze. "Ow." He let go immediately. "Sore ribs," she reminded him.
"Sorry, I forgot." He gave her a gentler squeeze, making her purr against his chest. "My kitten."
"Your familiar?" she teased.
"Yeah, I guess you would be. You're magical to me." He kissed her on the forehead. "What was the headache?"
"My blood sugar being too high."
"Ah. We'll have to fix that." He glanced around, noticing the box of supplies. "Food?"
"Canned. Veggies I like. Some soup. Nothing too taxing in case the nasty sickness comes early again this time." She looked up at him. "Did you want a boy?"
"I'd like one but if it's a girl, I'll be happy enough," he promised. "We'll make her husband take her name so there'll be more Vecchios." She laughed and kissed him. "Saturday?"
"Saturday," she agreed with an impish grin. "I brought books."
"I bet you did. All the way from the airport?"
"Train station. It had the better bookstore and I hate little planes."
"There's a train station nearby?"
"About thirty miles away. It's a platform, nothing more. I called ahead and had a rental jeep waiting on me."
"So I saw. Very ingenious. Let's hope the baby has your brains."
She pinched him on the nose. "Let's hope we make it through the mood swings," she suggested.
He nodded quickly. "Yeah, I do hope that too," he agreed, grinning at her. "I can't imagine what those'll be like." She laughed and swatted at him, making him tickle her, which evolved into them rolling around on the floor and eventually comfort of the oldest sort.
Catherine looked up at her lounging husband. "I should hit you."
"Yup." He turned the page, holding in his smile. "You probably should."
"You did promise we'd use protection."
"Okay, you said we would when we remembered," she admitted. She gave him a little pinch to the chest.
"We did. We simply forgot too often. It was all those lunches." He grinned down at her. "Or don't you remember luring me home for lunch?"
"Oh, I do," she agreed, stretching up to kiss him. "I still should hit you."
"Mmhmm. Don't bruise me. Ma'll complain." She laughed and stretched across his body, covering him to kiss him again. "Is this part of the whole 'celebrating the pregnancy' horniness the book talked about?"
"No, that happens soon. This is my usual horniness for you."
"Bed," he groaned when he realized her hand was already down his pants.
"Too late," she teased, moving down to suck on his neck. He swatted her but she nipped him and he had to let it go this time. "We should send out announcements soon with a picture of us lounging in bed."
"Tasteful," he whined as she continued to make him mindless. "Catherine, I don't want a handjob."
"Who said I was giving you one?" She gave him a little squeeze. "I'm simply enjoying your form before I make you do a lot more work." She stopped and looked around. "That damn ghost!"
He groaned and kissed he. "He's with Benny. I promise he's with Benny. He's not watching us," he assured her, taking her mind off any ghost she might be sensing. His sister had said she saw him during her last one so it was probably linked with hormones or something. He'd have to ask Benny when they got back to the city.
Robert Fraser shook his head and went back to his son's side to complain about his friends using their cabin. "Son, who are those two?" he asked.
Benny looked around, then cleared his throat. "Dad." Robert gave him a look. So he went into the broom closet to talk to him, walking into his cabin. "Dad, they're my best friends. She needed some time alone to think and her husband chased after her."
"Good," he said firmly. "At least they're married. Otherwise I'd have to complain about what they're doing in front of the fireplace." His son blushed a bright red and he laughed. "They're very cute together. Isn't he the Yank you started out helping?" Benny coughed and nodded. "Good. He needed a good woman."
"She's one of the city's better detectives in her own right," he said calmly. "She had been in Vice. She'd make an excellent Mountie."
"Hmm. Better and better. See if you can't get her to move up here, son. She'd like it better. The babies would have room to play."
"Babies?" Benton squeaked. "She's having more than one?"
"I've always know that the first brings others."
"Dad, she'll have problems with this one. She's sick right now."
"Bah." He waved a hand. "She'll live. I can see her line. There'll be more some year." He smiled at him. "Now if only we could get you hitched, son."
"Dad, I like Stanley."
Robert gave him a long look. "Really?" Benton nodded. "Then I should probably talk with him."
"Dad, you're dead, he can't see you."
"Sure he can, if I want him to. We'll chat tonight. I will expect grandchildren."
"Fine, Dad. If it happens, we'll go for a surrogate."
"That's the spirit, son. Did I ever tell you about the trio we had up in the Yukon?" Someone knocked on the door and he looked at it, then smirked. "Come in, Stanley." Stanley walked in and stopped, looking stunned. "Morning, son-in-law."
"Fuck," Stanley said simply, shaking his head and walking away. He went into the office. "Sir, do we have any psychologists currently working for us?"
"Yeah, why?" Welsh asked without looking up.
"You know how Benny's always talkin' ta his Dad, who's dead?" Welsh nodded. "I went looking for him and ended up inside our broom closet, inside Benny's Dad's cabin in Canada." Welsh gave him a look. "He was playing some funny music and all that. I'm going insane."
"No, you're not. He probably likes you." He looked past him as the constable walked up behind him. "Constable Fraser, is there a passageway to Canada in our closet?"
"No, sir, I believe it's to the Other Side and it works in nearly any closet when my father wants to see me."
"Constable, I don't want to know," Welsh pointed out. "Take your man and go talk to your father back at the Consulate. I'm sure we can help you with something over there." He went back to his paperwork.
Benny dragged Stanley with him. "I'm sorry about him. He was nagging me for grandchildren again. He suggested that Catherine and Ray might be having twins."
"Cat and Ray with twins? Two little Cats or Rays?" Stanley asked, starting to look hysterical.
"Shh. It'll be fine soon enough," Benny soothed, leading him outside so they could walk to the consulate. The fresh air would do him good. Inspector Thatcher gave them a look as he led him in the front door. "His boss suggested that he could come help me today, Ma'am."
"Very well. Don't do anything indiscrete in your office. I still need the paperwork for the audit of our books, the copies of the inspection and review, and the guest list for the next reception. Also, don't forget to leave that one woman off. I didn't like her."
"Who?" Stanley asked.
"The one your other side married," she said, giving him a hearty frown. "She was brash and loud from what little I remember of our first run in."
"She was a Vice officer, Ma'am. She did her job for seventeen years without a partner."
"Oh." She looked slightly impressed at that, either that or she was constipated, one really couldn't tell it was so uncommon an expression. "Then I guess she's fine. Nothing official though. I don't want her at the official engagements."
"Of course, Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am." She nodded and walked off. Benny gave Stanley a look before taking him to his office. "You sit there, it won't take me long. I've got most of it already done," he promised, sitting down to work on everything.
"Yeah, sure. Why is there that funny, old-time music coming from your closet?"
"Music is a distraction during the quiet winter nights," Benny told him honestly. "Dad spent a lot of time alone."
"Ah." Stanley nodded. "I don't wanna know this stuff, Benny."
"Sorry, Ray. If you want to talk to him, go ahead. He did say he wanted to talk to you. Expect a small talk about future grandchildren however. He's very firm on the subject."
"Benny, you're strange. I'm never walking in a closet with you again," he said firmly. "I don't care which closet, I'm never going in one with you again. We can find somewhere else to hold our special talks."
"Of course, Stanley. I'm sorry he upset you."
"That's what happens when you're alone too often. You forget how ta be nice ta people. Fortunately we got you soon enough." He grinned at him. "Where should we hold all our special talks?"
"I don't know. The men's room seems to be in use for other oral pursuits whenever I go in there. I'm sure we'll find somewhere or I'll make him leave you alone."
"Cool. Thanks. It was kinda freaky to have him call me there like that."
"I understand. I've had many talks with him about his doing that to me as well."
Outside the door, Inspector Thatcher decided she didn't want to know, she *really* didn't want to know. What her officer did at the American's station was none of her business. As long as he didn't do it on Canadian soil she couldn't say a thing to him. Though, now she had mental pictures she didn't need about those two and their ... special talks. "Why would two men do that to each other?" she muttered as she walked off. She stopped at Turnbull's desk, then turned and looked at him, making him jump up and stand at attention. "Turnbull, Fraser has been totally appropriate with you, correct?" He nodded. "Always? He's never harassed you, never flaunted his lifestyle, none of it?"
"No, Ma'am," he said earnestly. "Constable Fraser has been nothing but courteous and polite to me off duty and on duty he is always a proper Mountie and intermediate officer, ma'am. I didn't even know he was gay until a few weeks ago."
"Good. Carry on." She went to her office to find something to take the images out of her head. She couldn't get around the image of the brash little detective smirking at her constable as he forced himself on him. "Perhaps I should talk to him, remind him that he does not have to give in to all the desires of his chosen partner. Yes, that's what I'll do, I'll find those pamphlets on partner rape for him, just in case, and have an earnest and careful heart-to-heart with him to make sure he knows he can trust us if that slimy little man tries to force himself onto him."
Turnbull quit listening at the door and went to share this gossip with the housekeeper for the Consulate. He could never tell Constable Fraser himself, but she could.
Ray's mother danced around her kitchen, smiling as her daughters walked in together. "It's happened," she said happily.
"Oh, no," Maria sighed, sitting down with a small moan of pain. "Ma, this is not good news." Her mother glared at her. "Ma, diabetics shouldn't get pregnant according to my doctor." Her mother sat down across from her. "I asked him, described Catherine. He said he would suggest she terminate if she did."
"She's perfectly healthy!"
"She's diabetic, Ma, that's a bad thing to be when you're pregnant. It can kill your kidneys or your liver." Her mother's face fell. "It's a bad thing. He said most doctors wouldn't encourage her to have it this late in life. She'll need special help if she is." Her mother nodded. "Are you sure?" She nodded again. "Damn."
"What's so bad? So her blood sugar goes a bit funny," Frannie said bitterly. "So?"
"Frannie, diabetes is the main cause of blindness, kidney disease, and limb amputation in the US."
"How would you know?"
"Because my doc said I might be getting it and he made me read some stuff," she said coolly. Her mother gasped. "So I was gonna suggest you invite them over tonight so Catherine can show me how to use the little sugar checky machine."
"She's in Canada seeing a specialist," Ma told her.
"Kowalski would know," Frannie told her. "He helped her when she was hurt all the time so he's gotta know."
"Thank you," Ma told her, getting up to call him. "Stanley," she said, sounding mostly happy. "No, not a problem, but we need to see you tonight. Maria needs some help from you. Please. No, don't take off work, it's not that important, it can wait until tonight." She grimaced. "Are you sure he won't mind with Ray and Catherine both out of town?" She smiled. "Yes, I heard." She nodded. "If it's fine with him, if not it can wait and you can come over for dinner. We'll see you soon." She hung up and came back to the table. "He said they're getting nothing done today."
"With a third of their people gone I'm not surprised," Maria noted. "Anyway, I'm fine for right now, Ma. I've gotta keep a watch on it and I've gotta check my sugar twice a week right now." Ma nodded. "Also, he told me to eat some of that Atkins stuff that you bought that Catherine can't eat."
"Why not?" Frannie asked.
"It's got soy in it and she's allergic," Maria reminded her. "She's gone to the hospital for it recently from a lunch." She looked at her mother again. "I've got a diet sheet upstairs. He said more meat, less pasta. I can have a little but not too much. Basically what we're supposed ta be feeding Catherine. If it's a problem, I can cook my own stuff and eat with everyone else though. I'm supposed ta bake things anyway."
"It's not a problem," Ma said firmly. "It won't hurt the rest of us to go on a good diet. We'll cut the pasta back to half portions." Maria relaxed. "Are you all right?"
"So far. He said it looks like I'm developing it but I don't have it yet. He did say this would have to be the last, one way or another. If I do get it and get pregnant again, it could become permanent, like Cath's. If I don't get pregnant again there's every chance it'll fade off after the birth." She shrugged. "No one really knows yet. I've got all sorts of stuff upstairs. Oh, he told me the natural food store in town has stuff that's okay for diabetics, doesn't have soy, or beans, and it's okay tasting. Even granola bars."
Ma patted her on the hand. "Get me those things so I can read them too," she ordered. "We'll work out dinner starting tomorrow night."
Maria nodded, looking down the hall as the front door slammed. "We're back here, Stan." He walked in and gave them all a smile and a hug for Ma. "Stan, did you help Catherine check her sugar?"
"Yeah. A number of times, why?" He sat down next to her, then grimaced. "The baby? Gestational?" She nodded. "For sure?"
"Maybe. He thinks it's coming. He wants me ta check it twice a week."
"It's not that bad," he promised. "It's that finger stick. I know that some people have to switch fingers to keep from getting sore, but some don't. Catherine always does her left middle one on the side kinda because she said it's got less feeling now. The strips are expensive. Did they give you a kit?" She nodded, pulling it out of her purse. "Yeah, this is a good brand," he promised, pulling everything out and laying it out. "Okay, these are the lancets, the finger sticky things. They go in here," he said, showing them how to insert them and take off the protective bulb over the tip. "You'll need ta get a sharps container. They're cheap and at all the drug stores," he told her. "Or Walmart. Cheaper still on strips too." Maria nodded, watching as he opened the box and took out the code key. "This tells it which strip you're usin', what it's like, and all that good stuff. You get a new one with each box." She nodded again so he inserted it. "You can leave it in there until your next box. Now you take out a strip," he said, opening that box and taking out the round, film-like bottle. "Shake just one out." He did so and inserted it. "Now watch, it'll come up with the code and all that good gunk. Finger?" She held out her hand. "Most everyone uses alcohol, some don't. Your preference." He stuck her on the right third of the tip of her right middle finger, making her wince. "That's one of the less ouchy spots," he said with a grin. "Catherine's great at it by now." He helped her smear the blood onto the strip, then they watched it count down. Then he showed them the results. "It's a little high, not too bad. 137 isn't that bad so far," he told Ma, who looked really worried. He picked up the journal and pulled out a pen, writing it down for her and noting the date and time. "There you go. Now the strip, the lancet, which is shot out by the button at the end, and the wrapper go into the trash. The lancet and the strip should go into a container for medical waste. They're ugly and orange. In a pinch, you can use a metal can so no one can get stuck."
Ma took them and put them inside a can from lunch, tossing them away with a napkin stuffed down inside so they couldn't fall out. "There. The first one's done," she said, looking at her daughter. "Stanley, how bad can this be?"
His face fell and he shook his head. "She's stubborn. It's not good for her to be stuffed up. Benny said the doctor didn't even look at her, just told Benny to have her terminate it. That's why she went to see someone else. They'll be back Monday."
"Poor Ray," Frannie sighed.
Stanley looked at her, then shook his head. "Frannie, you have no idea." She looked hurt. "Yeah, Ray wanted one some day. Catherine was forced to miscarry about eleven years ago. She found out she was pregnant a few weeks before she was shot in the shoulder. They barely managed to save it then. Then she was kidnaped, tortured repeatedly, and forced to miscarry. The guy who put the bomb into her shoulder stopped that one and handed her back to the guy who was torturing her so he could do it again."
"How do you know?" Ma asked.
"I'm the detective who found her. I was her trainee at the time, helping her with the gunshot wound." Ma shuddered. "So, I know she wants this one more than Ray does and I doubt Ray could even talk her into protecting herself in this case. So I'm seriously worried at the moment." He stood up, running his hands through his hair. "Frannie, so help me God, if you use this against her I'm kicking your ass. Got it?" She nodded, staring up at him. "I mean it. She took a damn long time to heal from that. This changes everything and I will protect her. Not even Ma's gonna stop me if you go after her again."
"I won't," Frannie promised. "Ma made me see how dumb I was."
"Good. I'd hate to see Ray grieve for ya." He looked at Ma. "Dinner?" he pleaded.
She smiled. "Of course. Maria, I need that diet sheet."
"Sure, Ma." She got up with a small moan of complaint. "I hate this part of being pregnant," she complained as she walked out of the room.
Stanley looked at Ma. "Don't push," he pleaded. "If there's a way, she'll find it. If not, she'll be devastated."
"I won't, Stanley. She's a good girl and she'll do what she has to do to protect her own health. It's more important that Ray not lose her." He nodded, giving her a hug, which she returned. "It will be fine. Ray can make her see sense," she whispered. "If there's any way he will."
"I know, but she can out stubborn a mule sometimes." Ma laughed and gave him a little swat. "Thanks, Ma."
"It's not a problem, Caro." She took the stuff from Maria. "All this?"
"One's a diet thing. One's information. Some of that's from various organizations. All sorts of neat stuff. And I've got another appointment in two weeks." She tacked the card to the board so someone could remind her. "There. I'm done for the day. Tony can get the kids into bed."
Ma helped her back into the most comfortable chair, making sure she was cozy before reading the suggested menu. "What's this tofu?"
"The nasty, tasteless stuff they make fake meat out of," Stanley said with a shudder.
"I had one of those meatless burgers, it was bad," Ma agreed, reading on. It wasn't too bad. No pasta, but she could improvise some here and there for some of the starchy vegetables.
Ray drug a sleepy Catherine back into the squad room, holding up a hand. "She needs a nap," he said firmly. Welsh came out of his office so Ray led her in there and left her on the couch, stepping back into the squad room. "This new guy said she'd be fine with some more stringent diet and different medicine. He gave us the name of someone in town. She's not to have candy, sugar, ice cream, or anything like that," he said firmly. Everyone nodded. "Stanley, no more chocolate around her."
"Sure, Ray. Is she all right?"
"She'll be fine. Yes, she is. She's exactly sixteen days along." He looked at Stanley, who counted backwards, then laughed. "He thinks she'll be okay with some lighter duties. No more chasing perps. No more doing the work of five detectives without rest. No more all nighters." Welsh nodded. "He did say that as long as her blood pressure held down he had no problem with her staying on the job until she couldn't move from the chair. Her blood sugar went back down while we were up there and he's very impressed with her, of course."
Welsh nodded, looking much happier. "For now, what needs to be done?"
"For now, more diet and stuff. Careful walks around the park if she wants. Making sure her medicine doesn't make her sick. That sort of thing. She'll be fine until she hits morning sickness, then it'll start going funny again. Right now, according to him, her body is reacting like the baby's an allergy. It doesn't like this new invader and it's making her go odd. In about two more months, she'll start to get sick. When that happens, we'll have to watch her diet a bit more carefully, making sure that she eats at all. There will be no more days where she can't eat. None. That's what drove up her blood sugar that day according to him."
"But she's got a doctor here in town?" Welsh asked. Ray nodded. "When does she start seeing him?"
"They telephoned yesterday. He'll be seeing her in two weeks. Each and every two weeks since she's considered a high risk pregnancy. She'll be fine as long as her blood pressure doesn't climb, her blood sugar stays relatively close to normal, and she doesn't kill us all for trying to pamper and protect her." Stanley snickered at that. "So let's not make it obvious or she'll start to have mood swings early."
Huey winced. "I can't wait until those start."
"There's every chance she'll be on part time by then," Ray told him. "There's also a chance she'll be stuck in bed at home from the end of morning sickness on. All depending on her blood pressure." He looked at Welsh. "That means we'll need some help with the Chief. She'll kill him."
"Oh, she won't be the only one," Welsh said smugly. "He had a sudden, deadly car crash Friday." Ray opened his mouth. "No one knows."
"Shit. The next guy in line wanted to institute a mandatory obstacle course run. No exceptions."
"Yes, he did," Stanley told him, handing over his copy of the memo. "And you'll want to call now and tell him about this since we're first."
Ray picked up the nearest phone, dialing the number on it. "Hey, this is Vecchio. Yeah, I gotta problem. My wife's pregnant. No, under orders not to be too stressed physically. Her blood sugar's out of control at the moment. Not yet, we've got an appointment. Sure, we can put it off for a year," he agreed. "That'll give her enough time to recover after the birth. Yeah, but this isn't the fields nor are we natives or slaves. She's not giving birth on the side of a field and then going back to work an hour later. And if you try, I'm gonna have her come down there and mood swing on you." He smiled. "Thank you. Yeah, ten might be enough. If not, I'll let her doctor tell you. Thank you." He hung up before the guy could say anything else. "Idiot." He put it onto her desk. "I'll tell her."
"Tell me what?" she asked with a yawn from the doorway.
"Philip had a crash Friday."
"Shit," she said, glaring at him.
Welsh nodded. "Yup. He already instituted it."
"You've got ten months to make it over the course," Ray told her. "I got you a slight exemption."
She blew a kiss. "Thanks, dear." She looked at Welsh again. "Let's get this straight now. I'm pregnant, not handicapped, not mentally deficient, not incapable of doing things. Pregnant. I can still do field work, even if I'm not allowed to run. I can still solve cases, even though I'm not allowed to run. Trying to protect me from my job will get you hit, hard." Everyone nodded. "Thank you. I apologize in advance because the next few months will be like that first day all over again." She smiled at them. "With that said, I need to finish my nap. The train kept me up. May I, please?" she begged.
"You've got nothing on your desk," Welsh told her. "And no new homicides. Go nap. Not so fast, Vecchio. You've got six cases to finish the paperwork on and another to solve."
"She's got her computer at home," Ray pointed out. "I can easily do that from there and call around, sir."
"Nice try. If you type fast, I'll let you go home at lunch." Ray nodded. "You too, Kowalski." Stanley trudged over to Ray's desk to talk to him. "Thank you." He went back into his office, carrying out the piece of clothing that had been laying on his couch on the end of a pencil. "I don't believe this is mine. I don't want to know."
"It was bothering her, sir," he said, taking it and stuffing it into his jacket pocket. "Thank you." Welsh went back to his office and Ray looked up. "What, Stanley?"
Stanley sat down in Benny's usual chair. "Ray, stay calm."
"Maria's got the *beginning* symptoms of gestational diabetes," he said quietly. "The doctor's not sure if she's gonna have it fully or not. He's already got her checking her sugar twice a week. Ma's changed the diet around the house and Tony's sleeping on the couch because he complained." Ray's jaw started to tick. "She wanted you told here so you couldn't yell at the house and scare the kids. She's fine. I showed her how ta use the machine and all that good stuff. He caught the small beginning fluctuations and he *thinks* it can be controlled with her diet. She'll be fine."
"Are we sure of that?"
Stanley nodded. "We are. I had ta help explain it ta Ma. She also said her doctor knows of a brand of healthy stuff that doesn't have soy. Maria's got the name and store where it's at in her purse. She asked about Catherine's stuff while she was in there."
Ray slumped. "So they know?" He looked at Huey, who did look embarrassed. "I knew you were feeding Ma information. You get too many cookies for it to be anything else," he said dryly. "She knows?"
"She knows and she's not gonna say anything if she has ta terminate," Stanley said quietly. "I told Ma what happened with the first one." Ray grimaced. "She hasn't?"
"I gave her that option and she hasn't yet," he noted. "I'm thinking she will soon." He glanced around. "How bad?" he asked finally.
Stanley went to his desk and pulled something out, something he had taken from the house last week. He walked it back and handed it over. "Her official hospital report." Ray looked at it, then up at him. "I snitched it to copy it." Ray put it down carefully, then weighted it down with his coffee cup. Stanley was already heading for the broom closet so he followed along to tell him everything, including the stuff he hadn't told Ma.
Ray looked up about two weeks later when someone coughed from the doorway. "Yeah?" he asked tiredly. He hoped it wasn't from his wife, he had been worn out last night by her.
"Detective Vecchio?" he asked, walking over the small package. "We were told to deliver this to your house but she wasn't home." He let him sign for it, taking the small tip. "Thank you, sir. Have a nice day." He left.
Ray opened the package, looking at the tape and the note. Then he got up to go watch it in the evidence room. Hopefully it wasn't a ransom demand. The note said 'watch what happens to the witch'. So he watched the dubbed copy of the witch's downfall from the Wizard of Oz, only this time it was a giant shoe that hit her instead of a house. He looked at the note again, bursting out laughing. "Junior," he said, getting it now. He ejected the tape, shaking his head as he walked out. Welsh gave him a long look. "Junior sent word. Apparently his mother was killed by her shoe addiction," he admitted.
Welsh shuddered. "I don't want to know, detective. Why didn't he send it to your house?"
"The delivery guy said he tried but she wasn't home. I'm guessing she's grocery shopping with Maria and Ma. They were supposed to go this afternoon."
"Good. She'll be back tomorrow?"
"As far as I know," Ray said, frowning. "Why?"
Welsh gave him a look. "Because I just got a call from the Federal building. It seems they'd like some of your time tomorrow, detective. I figure she'll be keeping you calm about that time."
"Sir, with any luck, she'll jump me for lunch and I won't be awake when they get here," Ray said dryly, going back to his desk. "I forwarded seven of the reports to you once I signed them."
"Thank you, detective." He went back into his office to look them over and either send them back to them or to sign them and push them up the chain. One was a message from higher up the chain of command asking for a file he knew he had seen and passed on a few weeks back. He picked up the phone and dialed Catherine's cellphone. "The Mercury case. Didn't I get paperwork on that?" He listened to her as she looked through her palm. "No, apparently someone higher didn't get it. How would the system eat files?" he asked at her disgruntled complaint. "That's fine. At least you keep backup copies. Give me one, printed out, when you come in tomorrow. We'll see what we can do to fix this mixup." He smiled. "Good. No, Junior sent something here, a tape of some sort. Your mate said something about a shoe addiction killing his mother?" He laughed. "Wonderful, I'll tell him. Have a good trip." He hung up. "Vecchio." He came in. "Just for your information, this system isn't infallible. They lost some of her paperwork the other day. Also, she said that a shoe organizer, whatever that is, fell on Junior's mother and crushed her skull. He apparently left a message on your machine earlier today."
Ray chuckled, shaking his head. "Good, she deserved it. Nosy bitch." He went back to his desk, leaving the shocked man sitting there.
Welsh answered his ringing phone, listening to the person on the other end ranting about one of his detectives. "Of course I'll talk to him, Mayor," he agreed calmly. "No, I'm not sure where he learned that move from," he lied. "Of course, Mayor. You have my word it won't happen again. Of course, sir. I'll have him write out a note of apology. Thank you for telling me, Mayor. Have a nice picnic with the unfortunate children of the city." He hung up and winced. "Someone find Kowalski and tell him I want to see him!" he yelled.
"He'll be back in a half-hour," Ray called. "He's at lunch."
"Not anymore he isn't."
"Yes, sir." Ray picked up his phone and dialed Stanley's cellphone. "What did you do?" he asked in greeting. "Because Welsh answered his phone, then started to yell for you." He smirked. "Really? I bet that was very pretty. Yup, sure will." He hung up and walked into the office with his latest file. "Sir, Stanley said it was a necessary dive through the hors d'oeuvres, that the mugger had a gun in his belt." He handed over his file with a small smirk. "He's presently baby gift shopping and said he's checking out now, he'll be back in about twenty minutes."
"Thank you, detective. Once again one of us has managed to upset the city. At least this time it wasn't you. Go do something else before I get a headache."
"Yes, sir. Sir, may I leave....." He trailed off at the look. "Sorry, sir, I need a nap. She's in that 'excited' stage."
"I remember that one very well. Enjoy it now, you won't get any during the last three months." Ray frowned but went back to his desk. "That's why you have a *half-hour* for lunch, detective. I'll want you back on time when it's your turn."
"Yes, sir," Ray called, happier with that news. It was more than enough time as long as his wife was home. Or could come in. He called her. "Hey, want lunch?" he asked gently. "We could. I got reminded how long we actually get for lunch. Or we could wait." He laughed. "Sure. That's a nice spot. Yeah, an hour." He hung up and checked the time. Maybe he could sneak in some extra time for travel.
When Stanley came in and dropped his bag onto his desk, Welsh came out of his and walked around him. "It's funny, I don't see where you've grown an extra-large set of tits, Detective Kowalski. I would have thought you had changed gender by your earlier performance."
Stanley couldn't hold it in, he smirked. "Well, she did train me, sir."
"Hmm. See that more of her lessons do not happen around the mayor's photo opportunities and luncheons again, detective. He was most irritated that he would have to change the clothes he had spent most of the morning picking out to look just right on camera. It was most discourteous of you to splash him with all manner of foods no one wanted to eat anyway. You'll need to write a note before he decides to come down here and help us with our work. Or worse, gets Cops in here again."
Huey handed over a badge he had made a few days earlier. "Here, you deserve it," he said smugly.
Stanley looked at the badge. "Aw, guys," he complained, shaking his head. "I'd look horrible in her favorite dress." He put on the pin, letting everyone see the 'Catherine for the day' message.
Ray shook his head. "You guys are so bad. I'll have to tell her about this one. Maybe someone caught it on camera?" Welsh nodded, going back to his office to laugh in peace. Ray held it in long enough to make it to the bathroom, then had to let it out.
Ray looked at the Federal Prosecutor with distaste. "Do you absolutely have to have me for the entire trial? I've got a pregnant wife who's sick."
"I'm sorry, detective, but we'll need you the whole trial in case we have to call you back. We definitely won't need you for at least a week. Can't you find anyone to watch her?"
Catherine tapped on the door and walked in, frowning at him. "Ray, didn't I pick up test strips?"
"Yeah, they're under the sink," he said, holding out his hand. "C'mere." She came closer. "This is a Federal Prosecutor. He needs me in Vegas to testify against Don Bruno."
She looked this man up and down. "At least he's not being malicious about it." He frowned. "We've had enough problems from the FBI to make everyone else cringe," she shared.
"I must say, you don't look that pregnant."
"That's because I'm early on. My blood sugar's only reaching about two-fifty most days." He winced. "Sorry, but I don't have another husband conveniently stored in the closet. How long do you need him for?"
"Up to three months."
"And we're supposed to do what for paychecks during that time?" she asked. He sighed and sat down, looking at her. "I know you don't have to be told how little detectives make, but really."
"You could temp out there," he suggested.
"That leaves this precinct with a third fewer detectives," she pointed out. "And I repeat," she said firmly when he opened his mouth, "I'm not well enough to be left by myself right now. I've had to go to the hospital twice in the last two weeks for new allergies I've never had before."
"I'm sorry, detective, but we do need him."
"Honestly, do you *have* to have him?"
"We do need his testimony and he'll have to be able to be recalled within an hour's notice," he told her. "The judge said so. The trial is a closed one, he'll be perfectly safe, and you do have friends here plus your partner." Her eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry, I wish it were different."
"And what happens if I get sick?" she asked. "At home, alone, with only my cats there to help me? Most of my allergies so far have been life threatening, as in my throat closes and I won't exactly be able to call for help. Are you going to be really sorry when he has to come back for my funeral?"
He sighed, shaking his head. "You could come out with him. I'm not sure how we'd work it out, but we'll have to provide him with a place to sleep as well."
She glared at him. "You're dangerously close to my shit point," she told him. "The bullshit meter is going off the scale." He stood up again, staring down at her. "Doesn't work on me, mister. I've scared Columbian drug lords so bad they needed to piss. You're a lawyer."
"You're trying to obstruct justice. I can always have you put in a cell, detective."
"And I can sue you for taking away the only person who actually lives with me when I'm ill enough to be under constant doctor's attention. He wants me in the hospital but they can't spare me. Now, you can have him for a week, but I'll be damned if you're keeping him for three fucking months. A week I could get someone to stay with me. A week he can afford to take off. Three months he can't."
"He could temp out there," he repeated. "As could you."
"And I'm sure my OB and my Endocrinologist will move too," she said bitterly. "A week to do the main testimony, then you can stall."
"I can't do that, detective, the judge ordered since it's a closed trial." He backed away when she growled.
"Catherine," Ray said calmly. "It'll be okay. I doubt it'll take that long." He pulled her closer, holding her against his side before she attacked him.
"You could always hire someone to look in on you," he offered. "Or some form of respite care."
Ray grabbed her hand before it made it to her gun. "That's for terminal patients," he said dryly. "Not for pregnant diabetics with massive allergies. Besides, since we won't have my paycheck for however long, that won't exactly be coverable with the electric bill." He swallowed. "I agree. I can go for a week. You can call me back, giving me a few hours warning and I can be there the next morning. I can't stay. I do have a job here, court cases here that have to be done in a timely manner, and all sorts of other things that are my duty."
"Your duty is to this case."
"No, my duty is to this city," Ray corrected. "To my wife and this city."
"You guys are fucked in the head," Catherine told him, not struggling yet. "No one can afford to take three months off to sit in a room and do nothing. Then have to come back and explain all this to the local courts. Ray's got court every day this week on six other cases. We clear twenty or more of them a month. There's no way in hell you can keep him that long."
"Detective, we don't have a choice."
"Then you'd better find one," she snapped.
"Watch your anger levels," Ray said soothingly.
"Fuck it, this'll be my blood pressure spike for the damn week!" she said angrily. "They can't have you for three fucking months or longer! I can barely pull my own damn weight right now, much less fill in for you!"
Welsh walked in and took her with him. "We'll be right back," he said, walking her out. "Catherine, you can't keep him from going," he said calmly.
"They're saying three months out there," she told him. "The full three months." He groaned. "That's three months with me popping up new and interesting allergies, three months of one of us doing his work, three months or more of court delays here because of this. There's no damn way, Harding."
"I know. If the judge orders, he can have him sequestered."
"Then he'd better be prepared to have a gunshot wound!"
"Calm down," he said, holding up a finger. "The last time you went in they said you'd have to go on medical leave."
"Three months without a paycheck," she reminded him.
"All the more reason to stay calm," he reminded her. "Now, if you're calmer, we can go back in there." She glared at him and stomped back in there, taking a swing at the lawyer. "Catherine!"
"Quit," Ray said, catching her and pulling her against him again. "He can't do that. He can't deprive us of our paycheck, he can't deprive you of your only live-in source of medical care."
"She could move in with someone for the duration," he suggested. She glared at him. "The file said you were very close to your mother, that you were living with her before."
"I was, and she lives about ten minutes away. Since Catherine needs calm and quiet, I doubt another pregnant woman, her husband, and their three children, not to mention my other sister, my mother, and her cats, which will fight with ours, will give her that. Do you?" He shook his head. "Then you'd better call the judge and tell him you've got a medical problem on your hands. She can't be without someone to watch over her. She's popped up two new allergies in the last week, both of which sent her to the hospital in an ambulance. Both of which nearly caused her to die. I'm not losing her so you can win a damn case against an old man."
"I'll try, detective, but you may have to spend longer out there."
"Hey, two weeks is possibly doable. I can have people popping in on her all the time. I can't have someone living with her full time however. Nor can I risk my present cases being released because I'm with you. I've got two serial cases going to trial in the next month, I don't want them out on the street."
"They'll have to give way," the lawyer said.
"No, they don't. There's no law that says a state case has less precedent for a witness than a federal case. The judge can easily throw them both out because they're friends of the family. We've seen it happen before."
"I'll do what I can," he offered. "As long as you're willing to compromise."
"If she gets worse, I'm gonna have to come back anyway," Ray pointed out. "There won't be any help for it." He sighed and nodded, taking his briefcase with him. "Catherine, we do not threaten those people. He could have had you arrested."
"Then I'd start a fucking prison riot," she said bitterly, stomping out to go sulk in peace.
"I knew that undercover was a bad idea," Ray said as he walked past their boss. "Catherine!" She flipped him off. "Fine. I'll be at my desk." He went back to his desk, noticing Stanley was staring at him. "The Feds are charging Don Bruno. The trial is expected to last at least three months," he shared. Stanley threw his pen down and held his head. "I'd be sequestered."
"Fuck," Huey muttered. He looked at him. "And she's had those allergies."
"At home, both times," Ray agreed. "That also means three or more months of you taking up the slack of me and her."
"I've got some of it," Stanley pointed out.
"You've got a desk full of cases," Welsh reminded him. "Ray, if that happens, I'll get her a new rookie to train. Either that or tell Junior to come back and sleep on the couch or something."
"He's involved. He's been on the sidelines. I have no doubt they'd call him too," Ray pointed out.
"We'll figure it out, Ray. Don't worry about it. We won't leave her to sulk alone," Huey promised. He nodded as the lawyer came back.
Ray looked at him. "And?"
"It's been delayed for another two weeks, detective, but he said you'd have to stay out there the whole time. You could, of course, rent a temporary place out there and sublet your current one. That's the best we can do. I'm sorry."
"That leaves them without a paycheck, her without most of her maternity leave, and the tenants who count on them for things like maintenance calls out cold," Welsh pointed out. "Not to mention trying to move four cats and her doctors. She's going every two weeks."
"Las Vegas has many good doctors," he offered.
"Any OBs who specialize in diabetics?" Ray asked bitterly.
"Not that I know of. Can't a regular one handle that?" Ray shook his head. "Oh. Why not?"
"Because diabetics are prone to extra infections, higher blood pressures, excessive weight gains, extremely high weight of the child at birth, comas, kidney disease, liver malfunctions, and the total cessation of all organs at the worst, commonly called death," Catherine said from behind him. He flinched. "I went and called our family attorney, you can't endanger my life or take Ray from cases here for your own. Not without a federal order to the city and state courts to push their cases back."
"I've got the District Attorney's permission," he told her.
"Not good enough. There are cases that he doesn't handle personally, ones already on the docket. He can't stop those that way. Not only that, he can't have them pushed back indefinitely without a damn good reason and Chicago's judges aren't that accommodating. That's not to mention the ones we have where there's more than one detective involved."
"I'm doing the best I can, detective."
"Which is a piss-poor job," Stanley told him. "She's right, you can't do that. We can then hold you, personally, as well as that judge, responsible for those people being let go if there's no testimony." He sat down, nodding. "Not only that, but then we'd have to do even more work because of your stupid ass case. Can't you plea him on something?"
"He won't take it."
She took a calming breath. "Do you want me to go talk to Bruno? He knows me. I was out there on another undercover a long time ago."
"I don't think it'd help, detective."
She picked up the phone and dialed a number taped to her desk. "Junior. It's me. We've got a bit of a problem. Are you being called in on your uncle's case?" She listened to him rant. "Quit, now. They're calling Ray as well. Can't you get him to plea? Because I don't feel like dying this month, that's why. Nor do I feel like having to recapture on new charges everyone who got let go because he couldn't testify." She listened to him, taking notes on what he said. "Thank you. Sure, if he's out there too long I'll have to. No, they're predicting months of you being out of school. Why?" She smirked and nodded. "Thanks, kid. Yeah, sure. I'll ask. Ray, did you like the tape?"
"It brightened my day," he said with a faint smile. "Tell him I sent him a card."
"Sure. He sent you a card, Junior. Yeah, soonish. Thanks. Sure, like you too, little guy." She grinned as she hung up. "He's willing to take a plea with these conditions, nothing more," she said, handing it over. The lawyer laughed. "That'll give him ten years, and he's already sixty. That means he's already outlived most of his contemporaries. Doing time during your old age isn't exactly fun or life prolonging either. Even if you got him on the conspiracy charges you're not looking at much more time."
"My boss won't accept this."
"It's your case," she reminded him. "Bring it to him, he might. Bruno will play hardball, he'll hem and haw over the details, but if you bring him this offer, he's going to accept it before the trial starts. Even if I have to go there personally and convince him if he gets balky."
"What sort of hold do you have over him, detective."
"Did you get to hear of a case with a cover called Shey?" He nodded, smirking at her. "That was me a long time ago. He still warns his children about me. Junior's guard still knew me by sight when he showed up to gather Junior."
"Lagostini junior," Ray told him, liking this idea better. "He came out for parental advice a while back. He's thinking about becoming a cop."
"You do realize this kid is dangerous?"
"He's sixteen," Catherine snorted. "He's not a shooter. He thinks killing is icky, a direct quote. What's he gonna do, pop music us to death?"
"Had the most major crush on me and now we have mutual respect for each other," she said firmly. "His mother's dead. You're taking away his only other uncle in the area. You're going to forcing him to stay out of school for the trial."
"We won't need him that long," he protested.
"You won't need the kid who had lunch with Bruno nearly every day until he was twelve, but you'll need the detective who only saw him fifteen times in a year?" She looked at Welsh. "Permission to use deadly force?"
"Denied, and you knew before asking," he said tolerantly. "I think she's right though."
"We can't get him to testify, he's his uncle and godfather!"
"And Bruno was my range buddy. So? You could try deposing Ray here, that would save you some energy. It's been four years, do you think his memory's that good?"
"It was an important, life threatening situation. I'd hope so," the lawyer told her.
"I'm a cop in some of the scummiest neighborhoods in Chicago. There's a difference?" Ray asked. The lawyer groaned. "We can try a deposition but you should have my full report log that I handed it when I got back. The Feds had it."
"They told me to write it out like a diary. I gave it to the Feds when I got out. That'll help you more than I will."
The lawyer shook his head as he stood up. "I know you're not trying to be difficult, detective, but you'll still have to come out for the trial." He looked at her. "You might too."
"Then the city'll be suing your boss and the judge," Welsh said. "There's six detectives in this unit. With two of them gone, that's not exactly gonna hold the crime back. Those two are our higher clearers."
"I'm sorry, but the judge demands."
"Then you'd better give him all the facts," Catherine said firmly. "Otherwise, something bad's gonna happen and it's gonna be on yours and his heads. Because I won't hold back, nor will Welsh, nor will Stella Kowalski if her cases get fucked up with him out of town."
He nodded. "I'll do my best to make it short." He left, going out to call his boss. "We've got a small problem with the Vegas case," he announced. "The lead detective's wife is ill. She's pregnant and diabetic." The man groaned. "She's apparently been rushed to the hospital a few times. They're two of only six detectives in this precinct and they can't live without their pay for that long. The judge said he has to be out there for the whole trial, no exceptions. Also, they're very familiar with Lagostini Junior. Yeah, him. She called him directly, teased him, all that good stuff. No, Catherine? She said she was in a case with the name 'Shey'?" He groaned. "Shit. This is not going to sit well." He nodded as he listened. "Fine. If it happens, it does. Thank you, sir. Of course I'll keep you informed, but she's already threatened my life if something happens to her. Yes, sir, she threatened that too but her husband kept her from drawing her weapon on me at one point. That was before she hit me." He laughed bitterly. "I don't like it either, I like cops who are eager to testify for me, not ones who aren't very cooperative. Can you get their local cases halted? Because they seem to think they won't be and that the local judges won't hold off the trials for ours. Thank you, sir. Yes, sir, I'll need his log. He said they told him to keep a diary." He smiled, finally something was going his way. "Thank you, sir. In the morning, after I drink myself senseless tonight. Good bye." He hung up and drove off, heading for the nearest decent looking bar. That woman was enough to make anyone want to drink.
Catherine looked up as two FBI agents walked in, growling at them as they got closer. "Go away," she snarled. It had been a month without Ray and *everyone* was staying far away from her but these two idiots.
"Catherine Demoranth?" one asked. She nodded, undoing the latch on her holster. "Ma'am, we're to take you to testify in Las Vegas."
"Fuck you," she said. "I've got court this afternoon on something more important. If that idiot wants me out there, he can fucking crawl his happy ass back here and wait while I help put this pedophile away for fucking good." They both took a step back. "And you can repeat that verbatim, boys. Welsh!" He came out of his office. "Now they're trying to drag me to Vegas too."
"Sorry, but she's got court this afternoon and we need her. You can't have her," Welsh told them. "You can tell them I said that too." He looked at her, then at Stanley, who had his broken foot propped up on his interviewee chair. "Don't you have court?"
"He pleaded and begged for mercy," Stanley said dryly. He looked at Catherine. "Did you eat yet?"
She threw a pen at his head. "If I could even think about food without getting sick it'd be different," she snapped.
"Fine, sorry. Call the prosecutor, maybe he can encourage them to give you this afternoon."
"I'm sorry, but she'll have to leave immediately," one of the agents noted.
"Excuse me? I've got pets at home. Not everyone has no life and can simply drop everything at the whim of a demented ego-maniacal asshole in a polyester robe."
"We're sorry, ma'am."
"Detective," she said slowly and clearly. "Not ma'am."
"Sorry, Detective. We have to follow orders," the second one noted. "Our orders are to get you on the first plane to Las Vegas, that's in two hours."
"You can't even make it to the airport in two hours with the way traffic is right now," Welsh said dryly.
"We've got a helicopter waiting at headquarters, sir."
"Again, he has a proper title," Catherine said, standing up. "It is Lieutenant." They nodded and backed up another step. "Stanley, if I get arrested for killing them, make sure you and Benny take over our apartment until Ray can get back." He nodded, smirking at her. "I'll be back in a few days. Or else I'm going to leave anyway. I'm not at the whim of some idiot with the IQ of a gerbil." She glared at them. "Two days. That's it."
"That's not for us to decide, Detective. That's for the judge."
"No, I have a doctor's appointment in two days to make sure my blood pressure and blood sugar haven't gotten out of hand. Speaking of, I left my glucometer at home today." They looked clueless. "I'm diabetic," she said slowly and clearly. "My checking machine and medicine are mostly at home."
"We can stop by there," one agent said firmly. "That way you can pack a small bag."
She glared at Welsh. "Go," he ordered gently. "Bring Ray back within a few days." She nodded, loading her laptop and Palm into her briefcase, then letting them lead her out. "Huey, you're in deep. See if you can't get Fraser here for a few days."
"Thatcher said he can't, sir," Stanley told him. "She's desiring his company."
"Tough. If I have to tell the Mayor, he's gonna be pissed." He went to call his boss, who ranted and raved but said they couldn't really help it any.
Catherine looked at the judge as she was led in. The court was empty so far. "What?" she demanded. "You're taking me away from my cases, my doctor's appointment, and my life."
"Detective, I've heard you can be a bit hostile."
"Asshole, you're endangering mine and my unborn child's life. You have been now for over a month. My doctor said so. Would you like to see his note?" He shook his head. "That's fine. You've got a day because Chicago isn't going to bow out of your way this time. Not our judges and not our prosecutors. They said so."
"We take precedent."
She pulled out a folder, handing it to him directly instead of to the bailiff. "According to Illinois state law and Federal law, you do not have precedent on a witness when there is no case in common. Because of you, I've had to do my husband's work as well and recatch a few murderers who have been let go because of you. Expect Chicago to file a suit next week." She glared at him. "Now, let's restart this bitch so I can get back to work."
"We'll start again tomorrow afternoon, ma'am."
"Detective," she said in a deadly calm voice. "I have a title, you will use it or I will slap you with a harassment suit like you wouldn't believe." He gave her a long look and she shrugged. "It is more than in my power to make your life permanently miserable." She turned and walked out, going past the agents escorting her. "Where is my husband?"
"Detective, you can't see the other witnesses."
She spun and grabbed him by the throat, knocking his feet out from under him at the same time, landing on her knees on his chest, squeezing his windpipe. "What was that?" she hissed. He gurgled. She squeezed tighter. "Where is my husband?"
"Ma'am, please let him go," a guard ordered.
"He's keeping my husband from me and my proper title is Detective, First Class Demoranth-Vecchio," she snapped back. "He's already endangering my life." She looked down again. "Where is my husband?"
"Station," he gurgled.
She let him go and stood up with the guard's help. "Thank you." She looked at him. "They wouldn't allow me to get my medicine." She walked away, undoing the cuff and tossing it over her shoulder. "I'm heading there anyway," she pointed out. "Save it for when I rip the judge a new one."
The guard swallowed. "What did you two do?" he asked.
"The judge over the mob case wanted her in," the standing agent said. "She's pregnant. She's ill. The judge has kept her husband here for over a month now for no reason." The guard winced. "If you know someone down there, call them. She's not a happy person."
"Yes, I do. Thanks." He went to call someone while his partner helped the guy off the floor.
Catherine walked into the police station. "I need to see Detective Brass," she said calmly. "Unless you can find Detective Vecchio in this mess?" The receptionist held up a finger and pressed a button on her phone, saying something quietly. Soon a balding man came out to look at her. "You apparently have my husband somewhere around here?" she asked bitterly.
"We do. Nice job with the agent, Catherine. He's in the break room. Come on." He handed her a visitor's badge.
"Thanks. They wouldn't let me grab my medicine because I couldn't find it immediately. I'm a bit irrational at the moment."
"You're pregnant, it's normal," he soothed.
Ray stood up and hugged her as tightly as he could. "Caro."
"Ray," she said, relaxing. "They fucked my pedophile case. They wouldn't let me testify. The judge said he'll be going free next week." He gave her a squeeze. "We need to get my meds too, they wouldn't let me do more than grab clothes and put down food." She sniffled.
"Shh, it's all right. We'll be going home soon." She shook her head. "No?"
"No. They said I'm here until this thing finishes." She pulled back and looked at Brass. "Is Bruno here?" He nodded. "Can I see him?"
"Sure. I'll still need you to register." She shrugged and handed Ray her gun. "Nice. Cute even. Not gonna work."
"No, but it'll keep me from capping an FBI agent," she said with a nod at the one who was following Ray around. She pointed down the hall and Brass pointed in a different direction. "Thanks." She walked that way, shoving the door into the agent's face. She walked into the holding cells, looking at the guard. "I need to see Bruno please," she ordered gently. "Just for four minutes, outside his cell or wherever is fine."
"Sign in please, Detective."
She smiled at him. "Thank you. You're the first one who's used my title today without me snapping at them for calling me ma'am." She signed in and the guard led her to his cell. "Bruno." He looked up and grinned at her, coming over to stand in front of her. "Do me a favor, take a plea before I die from complications of my pregnancy."
"You're pregnant?" he asked, his face lighting up. "Ray's?" She nodded. "But..." He looked her over. "You're sick?"
"I'm very sick. I'm diabetic, I've got allergies out the ass. Your case is keeping him away from me. I've nearly died because of your case. And now they've called me out here and didn't let me have my medicines."
He frowned. "I'll have Junior fix that for you, Shey."
"Catherine then," he said with a smile. "Do we know what yet?" She shook her head. "Ooh, you poor thing. I'll try to get my lawyer to hurry up. I respect Ray, he's one scary man and you've always impressed me with your strength." She smiled at him. "Go back and hold your man. He needs to be with you now. I'll try to make him hurry."
"Thank you. Tell Junior I said hi." She walked away with a small wave, heading back to sign out. "Which way is the shift commander's office?"
"That's usually Detective Brass, detective," the guard said respectfully.
"Okay. I know him," she said with a small smile. "Thanks." She retraced her steps, only getting lost once. When she finally got back there, she sat down and made out a list, writing down all her allergies for him. Then she handed it to him. "If I pass out, these are my allergies, and I'm pregnant and diabetic," she told him. He nodded. "I've had new ones pop up recently and no ability to tell usually since I'm one of those with a closing throat for most of them." She looked around and he pointed at the break room. "Still?"
"Yeah, still," he said. "You okay?"
"Diabetic, pregnant, allergic to a lot of shit. Of our remaining detectives one's on sick leave for cancer, one's got a broken ankle and foot, and the other's got too many cases already. I'm back to doing mine and Ray's work." He sighed. "And now they want to keep me too." She walked out, heading back to the break room, getting directions from a very nice guy when she got lost and nearly blundered into his lab. She sat next to Ray and put her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes. "I hate judges."
He stroked her back. "So do I," he promised, keeping her calm. "Welsh called your doctor, he's forwarded your records to someone out here he knows and called in your drugs." She nodded, smiling a little. "Did they check you in anywhere?"
"No, but I nearly killed the agent who said I couldn't see you."
"That's my girl," he praised. Someone coughed from the doorway. "Sorry, they called her on this travesty of a case."
"Not a problem. The agent isn't pressing charges. He said she was irrational due to her blood sugar. Are you okay?"
"I'm pregnant and diabetic," she told her.
"I'm sorry. We've got a meter around here somewhere." She shook her head. "You're sure?"
"Yeah, I'll be okay for right now. I found my monitor, not my medicines, but Ray takes very good care of me. He got them switched out here."
"Good. If you need anything, let me know." The women shared a smile. "How about we have you sent back to his hotel room?"
"Please," Ray agreed. "Or don't we have more court this afternoon?"
"It's not like you're allowed in there," she pointed out. "I'll have a squad take you." She went to okay it with Brass and got them sent back to his hotel room. The female detective obviously needed some comforting. Brass looked up as she knocked. "I'm sending them back to his room. She's the one who nearly choked the agent for saying she couldn't see him."
"I figured as much. Have Gil tell you about the conference a few years back. Catherine Demoranth is not the nicest of all women, but she gets the job done."
"Right now she's resting her head on her husband's shoulder looking really pitiful."
"Yeah, I noticed that when they came in to get married before the last convention. Send 'em home."
"Thanks." She headed to get them a ride, then went back to work.
Catherine sat delicately in the witness' seat, looking at the lawyers. "What did you need to know?" she asked once she had settled herself. She noticed her hand was shaking and mentally stopped herself from staring at her hands.
"Detective, are you feeling all right?"
"I'm due for a dose of medicine in about half an hour. I've got it in my purse," she told him. "Anything else?"
He smiled. "I know you came out here undercover as well, correct?"
"Yup. I came out as Shey Talina. I was out here watching over an assassin for the Feds. It was one of my street identities when I was in Vice as a younger cop."
"Did you find anything out about my client?"
"Actually, I'm pretty sure he made me pretty fast. No one's ever claimed I was a good actress. He didn't do anything in front of me. The closest thing was some phone calls that were in partial code."
"Did he say he made you?"
"No, but he did hint. He treated me very carefully. From what I heard in the last year, he thought I was a Fed and was amused by it."
"Oh." He grimaced for a moment. "Did he ever threaten you?"
"No, he threatens his daughters not to become me though." Bruno laughed. "He never threatened me. Well, okay, once, but it was to stay in the car so I wouldn't go out and break up an arguing couple. He did that instead and thought women shouldn't be put into danger like that."
"I see." He smiled at her. "Detective, would you like your purse?"
"Please," she admitted, taking it from the lawyer's hand. She pulled out her timer and turned it off. "Can I please have some water?" she asked the bailiff. "I can't dry swallow." He handed some over and she took her medicine. "Thanks." She put everything back and closed her purse.
"Detective, was that your service revolver?"
"Yes, and right under it is my badge. Right below that is my medic alert, the chain broke this morning."
"I see. Are you all right?" She took an experimental breath, then nodded. "Are you sure?"
"I'm good," she reported. "For now. Can we please hurry this up? I've got morning sickness."
"Of course, detective. How long were you out here?"
"Six months. Six weeks of it on my butt with an injured ankle. He had one of his guards helping me around."
"So, in fact, he was very solicitous of you?"
"Yeah, he was. He was a nice guy who had some of the toughest assassins working for him. As far as I know he never did anything while I was in town."
"Thank you, detective. Are you sure you're all right? You're breaking out."
She looked down at her arms. "Shit. No, I'm not all right. They gave me the generic of the drug, I'm allergic to the coating. It's not life threatening though. Just hives." She looked at the other lawyer, then dug out her timer and turned it off again. "Sorry." She looked at him again.
"I can wait so she can get medical attention," the prosecutor offered. "We know Detective Demoranth-Vecchio is ill, your honor."
"She seems fine to me. Proceed."
"Detective," he said, moving closer. "You said six months?"
She nodded. "Twenty-five weeks."
"And in that time, you met with Bruno how many times?"
"He paid me a lot of attention, that's how I knew he made me. I saw him nearly every day, even when I was injured."
"Really? And in all that time he never threatened you outside of that once?"
She shook her head. "Not that I remember. He yelled at me a few times for moving around on a bum ankle but he never threatened me. I never felt my life was in danger. The man practically reads minds."
"I see." He watched her swallow. "Detective?" She blinked at him. "Sir, with all due respect, we're going to have her checked out. Get her an ambulance and tell her husband," he told the bailiff. He nodded and went to do that. He got her sitting on the floor. "You stay there, detective," he said calmly. "You'll be just fine." The paramedics rushed in. "She said she was allergic to one of the medicines she just took, a coating. Her alert necklace is in her purse under her service weapon. She protested being called out here for life threatening allergies and her diabetes."
"Pregnant too," she gasped. The paramedic smiled and nodded, getting her loaded onto the stretcher. "Ray!"
"He'll be along as soon as we can get him there," he promised, following her to the doors. "With all due respect, your honor, I'll call her back some other time, but I need a ten minute recess."
"Someone there will call her husband," he said imperiously.
"How? They don't know where he is," Bruno smarted off. He pulled out his attorney's cellphone and dialed it. "Junior. Me. Find Ray, send him to the hospital. She just had a drug reaction. Yeah, fine. Thanks, kid." He hung up and glared at the judge. "That's how a real man handles emergencies."
The judge glared at him, then banged his gavel. "That's a third charge of contempt."
Bruno pulled out his checkbook and wrote out the fine, handing it to the bailiff. "I doubled it, just in case."
Catherine swatted at the nurse, shaking her head behind her oxygen mask. "No!"
"Fine. It's nothing more than a sedative." She shook her head again. "Are you sure, Detective?" She nodded. "Fine. I'll wait until your husband gets here then. How far along are you?" Catherine held up nine fingers. "Nine weeks?" She nodded. "Morning sickness?" She groaned and nodded again so the nurse adjusted the mask. "You try to relax. The second dose of anti-allergy medicine is working wonderfully and it won't hurt the baby at all." Someone pushed open the curtain. "Yours?" Catherine flipped him off so she guessed not. "I'm sorry, sir, only family members are allowed in here. She's critically ill."
"I'm the Federal Prosecutor. I'm the one who got her here, the judge didn't want to send her." He looked her over. "Will she be able to testify again tomorrow?"
The nurse burst out laughing. "What? No! She'll be upstairs tomorrow and the next day, and probably for the day after that as well! Her blood sugar's through the fucking roof!" Someone pushed past the guy and came over, bending down to stroke her hair and whisper in her ear. "Yours?" she asked. Instead of getting an answer, he took off his shoes and climbed up behind her, fouling a few cords but those were mostly easily fixed. One got stuck in his pants' cuff, but so she removed it and reattached it while Catherine got comfortable against his chest. "You rest," she ordered, grabbing the lawyer and dragging him away. She stopped the other nurse on that section. "He husband's in there with her. She's curled up top of him. Leave them be. He," she said, nodding at the lawyer, "kept them apart for over a month." The nurse scowled at the lawyer. "Do a finger stick in another half-hour." She nodded, writing that down while the first nurse took him to the attending doctor. "He's the lawyer in the case she got called in on," she announced. "He wants her back tomorrow."
"No, the judge wants her back tomorrow or he'll charge her with contempt," the prosecutor noted. The doctor gave him a horrified look. "He's decided she did it on purpose."
"She only got her medicine filled this morning," Detective Brass told him as he joined them. "If he charges her with contempt, she can fight it. She can also sue him." He nodded at the doctors. "Which one?"
"Bay six, detective. Her husband's with her."
"That's where he should be," he said firmly. "I wouldn't try to move him. He's very overprotective of what's his and she's known in Chicago as The Bitch Queen of Death." He went that way, waving from the doorway. "You two okay?"
"Just my temper," Ray told him.
"Try to hold it in, Ray. It'll be fine soon." Ray nodded, going back to holding his wife. "She okay?"
"Fine. We've had a few of these." He looked at the cords. "Why do they have a monitor on her IV?"
"I don't know. Let me get a nurse."
"I want a private hospital," she said.
He smiled at her. "We'll do the best we can."
"The doctor wants me to terminate."
"Fuck him. Yours said you were fine." She nodded. "We'll deal with it, Cath. I promise. Let me deal with him." She nodded and closed her eyes again. He looked over as the temporary doctor came in. "Her doctor said these allergy attacks weren't unusual. What makes this one so different?"
"A woman in her condition shouldn't carry to term, Detective. It's a risk to her life."
"Her doctor said it was a manageable risk if her blood sugar and blood pressure stayed down."
"Which they haven't."
"She went nearly a day without her medicine. How high was it?"
He checked her chart. "One-ninety-four."
Ray snorted. "The day she found out she was pregnant it was two-fifty-seven." He gave him a shocked look. "It'll go back down by tonight. A day without her medicine does that. Is there a specialist out here who does these sort of pregnancies?"
"Not in the city," he said, clutching his chart. "I don't even know what set this one off."
"Generic," she mumbled.
"The covering on one of the generic drugs is something she's allergic to, has been for a while."
"Damn. I'm sorry, I didn't realize," he admitted. Someone pushed past him, making him move forcefully. "And you are?" he asked, looking from the young man to Ray and back. "Are you old enough to be in here, young man?"
"He's my kinda-kid. Leave him be," Ray told him. "He'll protect her when I can't. Junior?"
Junior frowned at him. "There's a specialist up near Reno, which is nearer to my house. She'll be coming back with me for now. He's rated higher than her guy back in Chicago. He's a native healer as well. Took special classes in holistic medicine." She waved a hand so he looked at her. "You'll like him. He's a sweet old guy who's half Native and half Mexican. He deals with lots of them, like the guy in Canada."
"I like that idea," Ray admitted. "That okay with you?" She nodded. "Okay. Go ahead and give the doc you shoved the name so he can forward her records. I want her up there as soon as possible."
"The trial," she moaned, shifting some. She waved the doctor over and pointed at the extra line into her IV. "Why?"
He frowned, checking her chart. Then he pulled it, helping her get comfortable. "It's not a problem, detective. Sir, you really can't be on the bed down here."
"Bet me I'm movin'," he snorted.
"Fine. Don't get in the nurse's way or they'll have to make you leave."
"Over their dead bodies," Catherine mumbled, closing her eyes again. She yawned. "Tired."
"Sleep, caro," he soothed, stroking her shoulder and arm. "Thank you, Junior."
"Yeah, well, if I wasn't me and I was my dad instead, the judge would be capped by now," he pointed out with a grin. "Besides, she's like my mom now that my own's gone. I gotta protect her." He and Ray shared a look. "I called Welsh ta tell him. He was not happy. Threw a fit over the phone, and not even at me." Ray chuckled. "He said Stanley's taking care of your pets since he hurt himself worse last night."
"Broken leg and ankle," Junior told him. "It's been her and that other guy, the dark one."
"Huey. He's probably backlogged too," he groaned. "Junior, do me a favor, do not do anything to the judge. I know a few DAs who'll want him worse. They'll make him miserable enough ta commit suicide. Give me my phone, it's in my jacket," he ordered, pointing at it. Junior found it and handed it over with a smirk. "That's right, you didn't get to meet Stan's ex, did you," he said with a cold smirk. Catherine chuckled. "Let me pull out the big guns, Cath. You sleep. You and the bambino need it." She nodded. He dialed the phone, calling Welsh first. "It's me. She'll be fine. They gave her the wrong medicine and she's allergic to the coating, an old one." He noticed the doctor slipping out. "Yeah, nothing major this time. They caught it early enough. Apparently the prosecutor decided to be human after all." He smiled at Junior. "So he said, sir. No, he's here right now. No, my next call is to Stella."
He laughed. "Good, put 'er on," he encouraged. "Stella, it's Ray." He listened to her rant. "We can't help that, Stella. The judge won't let us leave. He didn't want to let Catherine go to the hospital because she couldn't breathe from a drug allergy. He wants to put her in contempt." He winced at her swearing. "Yeah, so, we can't come back yet. We can't go forward. Send us her files and we'll work on 'em, or even have Huey email us and we'll help him as much as we can. Yeah, I heard she pointed that out to him. He didn't seem ta care. She had ta choke an agent yesterday to get near me. Yeah, they wanted to keep us apart. No, Stella, she's pregnant and diabetic now. She's in serious fucking shit if she's not treated very carefully. Yeah. How's Stan? What happened? I just heard. No, she's been keeping that from me," he said, looking down at his wife, who was shifting. "Really? How bad?" He sighed. "If you can get us out there. I've already testified and I've volunteered to come back. Just get us home. Please?" He smiled. "I knew you'd understand. Thanks, Stella. Yeah, thanks for the well wishes too. Hopefully we'll be back before it's born." He hung up and looked at Junior. "Stan's ex is one of the top DAs in the city. She's tougher than Catherine in her own areas. She's the wicked bitch of the courts."
Junior snickered. "I figured Stan would like someone uptight like that. His boyfriend seems really stiff too."
"Benny's not comfortable around people. His hometown had about a hundred people."
"Wow. My year at my new school has nearly that many and we're a small school."
"Yeah, so he's not real used ta people." Ray grinned at him. "Has Bruno said anything?"
"Just that he'd like to kill the judge. He's still running over the various people he could get ta do it," he admitted. "He's real not fond of him at the moment." He grinned as the local detective came in. "Hey, how are you today, detective?"
Brass looked at him, then at Ray. "Yours?" he asked hopefully.
"Lagostini Junior. He's mine by right of I give better advice than his old man did."
"Ah." He nodded. "No wonder. The judge is coming down to see for himself. He'll be here this afternoon."
"She'll be upstairs by then," Ray pointed out.
"Good!" He smirked. "Can we get her into ICU?"
"No," she said, blinking at him. "They won't let Ray cuddle."
"I'm sorry, just trying to help," he said with a smile. She waved him over, then gave him a gentle hug. "Thanks. What was that for?"
"For keeping my bullets this morning."
He laughed. "Not a problem, Catherine." He looked at Ray. "You need your gun held too?"
"No, I'm good," he noted. "It'll be fine." He looked at Junior. "You behave too."
"I'd never dream of killing anyone. You know I'm more the mental than the physical sort, Ray. I'd only run over him with Dad's Hummer."
Brass laughed, shaking his head. "Good luck. He's got one of those himself. Apparently he's under a few death threats."
"Gee, I wonder why," Junior said dryly. "Ray, as soon as she's out, I'm takin' her with me ta see that guy. Either that or I'll bring him down." Ray nodded. "Good. I'd better scram before someone figures out I should be in school."
"Why aren't you?" Ray asked.
"The stupid judge said I had to be within an hour's traveling time." Ray rolled his eyes and sighed. "I start my new school as soon as I get to go back home." He shrugged. "It's like an extended Spring Break without the bikinis and slutty women on Lake Mead." He grinned and waved, leaving them alone.
Ray looked at Brass. "He showed up one day at work needing advice on college and how to handle girls."
"I bet. His dad would have made him date women like his mother was."
"A shoe organizer fell on her," Ray told him.
Brass smirked. "I heard. One of our guys was whistling the witch song from the movie." He patted Catherine on the head. "You try to sleep. It'll make the time go faster." She nodded, giving him a long look. "Try not to upset the nurses by having sex in here. They'll get very upset." She laughed, swatting at him. "I'd better go back, I've got court myself today," he sighed, going to do that. He looked at the nurse, then handed over his card. "If *anything* happens, I want to know," he ordered. "She's an old friend." She nodded, tucking it into her chart. "Thank you. The kid's fine too. He's damn protective of her, found her a better doctor and everything." The nurse smiled so he left, going to do his own duty. Fortunately his was in front of a state judge.
The judge walked into Catherine's room, frowning at her. "You don't look that sick."
She moved her oxygen mask. "Get out," she croaked. Then she put it back. It was keeping her nausea at bay for the moment. She pushed the button, waving at him. "I want him out."
The nurse nodded. "You really can't upset her, sir. She needs quiet to rest. Her blood pressure is still very high and her blood sugar is rampant at the moment. She can't be disturbed."
"I'm a judge, a Federal judge, and she will be in my courtroom tomorrow," he said firmly.
She gave him a look. "Only if you're going to order the paramedics to wheel her in and keep watch on her monitors. She's not leaving that bed for another four days. Both her doctors agree on that."
"Four?" she asked miserably.
"Four," she said firmly. Catherine quieted down again, letting her handle it. She looked at the judge again. "Then, after she is out, I believe she's to be on bed rest for the next two weeks. That is also not your courtroom. If you try to force her to come in against doctor's orders, you are in danger of a lawsuit and attempted murder charges." She crossed her arms. "Now I believe you were requested to leave. Don't make me get security."
"We can fix her health problems very easily," he sneered.
Catherine started to move but the nurse had to hold her down. "Get out!" she screamed, picking up something to throw it at him. "Out!"
More nurses came running along with a guard. "What's going on?" the guard asked.
"This Federal Judge just suggested he was going to kill her child so she could appear in his courtroom to testify against someone. The detective is rightly hysterical. No, no straps," she ordered. "She'll hurt herself. Get him out!"
The guard grabbed him and drug him down to the front desk. "He's not allowed back. He just threatened a patient." The head guard nodded and called the cops to come get him. "That detective's wife, she's panicking. Where is he?"
The guard went running and Ray looked up at him. "Sir, the judge over your testimony just suggested and threatened to have your child aborted. Your wife's hysterical." Ray put up his food and followed him upstairs.
"Shh," he said, holding her tightly as soon as he got close to her. "He tries over my dead damn body." She started to cry, clinging to him. "Shh, kitten." He sat down next to her, holding her. "No drugs," he ordered. "We won't need any."
"Thank you, Detective," the nurse in charge of her said quietly. "We're putting a guard on her door."
Ray shook his head. "It's not necessary. He won't try. He'll die." She nodded, leaving them alone. Ray toed off his shoes and laid down beside her, holding her tightly. "Shh, little one. I'm here. He'll touch you over his dead body. No one's touching you." She nodded, clinging to him. He realized something. "Shit, I'm supposed ta meet Junior in an hour." She nodded, calming herself down. "He can wait," he promised. "I won't tell him."
"I don't want him to go bad," she told him.
"He won't. I'll make sure of it," he promised, trying to keep her calm. He looked over across the room. "You threw your book?" She nodded, wrapping her arms around him. "I'll get it in a minute, Catherine." She nodded again, burying her face against his chest.
Junior paced up and down beside his car, mentally swearing at himself. He knew what his father would do, and what Ray would do if he were free to do it. He had the balls to do it. He knew he'd be yelled at for it though. He finally shook his head and walked inside the office building, heading up to his uncle's non-criminal lawyer's office. "Hey," he said, walking in. "Is Marcus in?" The secretary buzzed him and he came right out. "We gotta talk. The judge just threatened her. Said he could fix all her health problems." The older man's eyes widened. "I need ta talk."
"Come into my office, Armando. I know you're not in the life." He led him inside. "Do you want me to order something?"
Junior sprawled out. "I don't know," he admitted, looking at him. "I'm really torn right now. I so much wanna cap him myself. Staring into his eyes sort while I pump him full of minor wounds then do a head shot. She's a sweetheart to me. Took over as a step-mom immediately the same way Ray did when he was in town. Then again, Ray would kill me if I did that."
Marcus smiled. "I know. I've heard he was trying to get you to become a cop."
"I want to be a forensic accountant. He's been pointing out how many other jobs I can do with that outside of the family."
Marcus laughed. "That's very true. It's no more than I would expect. Do you want to leave this in my hands?"
"Personally, I'm still torn and I don't have a clue. She's like a real mom, Marcus." He sighed and looked down. "Her kid's gonna be like my little brother or sister if I have my way. Even if I do join the family and have ta watch from a distance. But I want this guy ta pay and pay hard."
Marcus nodded. "Let me talk to Don Bruno. There's a possibility that he's put something in place. If not, then we'll discuss it. You're too young to have to make this decision yet."
Junior gave him a weak grin. "I know. Hell, Ray got me switched schools, let me talk to the guys in the Chicago cops who do the work I wanna do so I know what that side's like. She suggested I could work for a law firm."
"They sound like they're good to you, Armando. I'm happy you finally found good role models. Be like the detective. He's a nice guy from what I hear."
"Yeah, they're both nice detectives," he agreed, grinning at him. "I guess I needed an adult ta talk to. It's damn pitiful at my age."
"Even I need people to talk things out with. Don Bruno heard me out many times."
Junior grinned. "Ray calls me Junior."
Marcus smiled. "Good. It means he likes you for yourself. Keep him in your life." He stood up and shook the boy's hand. "Let me handle this for now. At the very least we can prepare a complaint against him for his bosses. The Justice Department won't like that." Junior nodded and gave him a hug before leaving. Marcus sat down, shaking his head. "That poor kid. The detectives are making him go soft. Don Bruno will have to be told." He picked up the phone, dialing his criminal counterpart. "It's Marcus," he said in greeting. "I just got a visit by Lagostini; a very confused and upset young man. The judge threatened Shey's unborn child. He wanted to do it personally but he knew he couldn't." He waited while the phone was handed over. "Good afternoon, Don Bruno. It's Marcus," he said respectfully. "You were right, the Detectives have been giving him options other than the family. He admitted they're like a real family to him. He also told me some very bad news. Apparently the judge threatened Shey's child today." He winced at the gasp, waiting patiently for the questions to start. "Yes, sir, in the hospital. Lagostini said he wanted to shoot him repeatedly but he was honest enough to know he couldn't do it." He paused when the Don uttered a word. "He said they've been very good to him. He said Detective Vecchio calls him Junior." He smirked at the happy noise. "I told him I would bring this to your attention, sir. It struck me as something you should know." He listened to the man's instructions, making mental notes so he wouldn't leave any paperwork. "Yes, sir, right away, Don Bruno. The boy?" He smiled. "Yes, sir. He drove over and paced for a good ten minutes before he came up here. Thank you, sir. Have a nice night, sir, as much as possible in there." He hung up and found his special phone book, dialing a number from it. "It's Marcus. Don Bruno wishes you to scare the judge. He threatened Shey's unborn child and it's making him angry. No, scaring only. That's fine, usual fee. Thank you." He hung up and calmed himself down. How could anyone be that stupid?
Ray looked up as Brass walked in, raising an eyebrow at the somber look. "What happened?"
"Someone shot at the judge." He pulled a chair over quietly, noticing she was asleep. "Sedative?" Ray nodded. "Good. Word on the street is that your near-son went to talk to Don Bruno's lawyer Marcus about what the judge did, more to complain than anything. He's still apparently torn about his future. You got him to think about being a cop?"
"He wants to be a forensic accountant," Ray shared with a small grin. "We got him thinking about things he could do other than the family. What happened?"
"Marcus called Don Bruno. Don Bruno said to scare him only. The judge got shot at an hour ago, blew out the tire on his Hummer and made it flip over." Ray rolled his eyes. "The kid's not in trouble. He didn't ask. The lawyer talked him down from his murderous rage. He wanted to do what his dad did and do it multiple times before a head shot. He admitted he's torn."
Ray sighed. "At least he didn't order it."
"No, he didn't order it. He said he needed to talk it out. He had to know something would get passed back up the chain, but he's sixteen."
"Don Bruno's told him he can't join the family business until he's out of college," Ray told him.
"I knew that," Brass admitted with a small smirk. "Smart of him. Young kids regret their choices. This'll give the kid a chance to run free and try other things. She okay?"
"She'll be fine," Ray promised. "She needs some more rest. He made her hysterical. Her blood pressure went through the roof."
"I'm not surprised. The wire said Junior said he threatened her."
"Said he could fix her medical problems quickly," Ray said bitterly.
Brass nodded. "Then I'm surprised Bruno held off that much. He's always admired her and Ricky's got a serious crush on her." He stood up. "How much longer?"
"Maybe another few days. Then Junior's offered to take her in for a few days. I've got ta go back to Chicago. They need me."
"The judge has issued a postponement under force of being fired. You've got a month, then you'll both be called back." Ray nodded. "So get her healthy. It's effective today." He stood up. "When you come back, give me some warning. She'll be having the mood swings then, right?"
Ray shuddered. "Yeah. She's ten weeks tomorrow."
Brass smirked at him. "Don't worry, you'll survive them. Remember, they make sugar free good ice cream. Dryers I think it's called. Gil recommended it, he remembered how much she liked ice cream. He said it's real ice cream, not fluff." He winked and left, leaving them alone.
Ray buzzed the nurse. "We got given an extension. How long before she can get out? We can have a month at home."
The nurse smiled. "Her second doctor just showed up. Let him come up and look at her, then they'll probably discuss back and forth." He nodded so she went to get him. "Sir, Detective Vecchio said they've been given permission to head home for a month so he wants you to come in now so you and her usual doctor can discuss things."
"Sure," he agreed with a smile. "I'll get her during the later months?"
"Apparently." She led him in there. "This is him, detective." Ray waved. "She's still asleep?" He shook his head. "Just resting?" she asked with a smile.
"Holding her nausea down again."
"Ah. I'll get her some juice," she said, going to do that.
The doctor came in. "Hi. Junior called me in. I heard she's diabetic?"
Ray handed over her file, he had been reading it earlier. "We just got handed a month's reprieve back in Chicago, then we'll be back for the rest of the trial. Starting today."
He smiled. "Being home is important. How are your pets?"
"We've had a friend taking care of them for us. They like him anyway." He got out of the way so the doctor could examine her. He liked this guy a lot. He exuded calm and peaceful feelings. "Is she okay?"
"She's doing much better than I could hope for," he promised, giving him a gentle pat on the arm. "I've seen much worse." He gave her a little nudge, making her look up at him. "I'm going to talk to your doctor now, then I'll be right back, Catherine. Is that all right?" She smiled and nodded. "Good girl. You get some more cuddles. They're apparently doing you very well." He went to talk to her doctor, consulting and setting up a strategy with him. Her main problem was her job, if they could cut some of the stress she'd be better. He came back an hour later, smiling at her. "Well, I've got some good news. We're changing your medicine again. This time it's pretty new and we've both had a lot of success with it in the past. It's perfectly safe and without most of the side effects. It's also a smaller pill." She smiled at that. "The bad news is that you can't go home for another day and a bit. You can fly, but we want you to go right home and lay in bed for a week, then go see him. When you come back out, he'll forward your records back to me and I'll see you out here." She nodded. "Other than that, everything looks very good. Your blood sugar's reacting wonderfully and we'll change you over tonight." She nodded, looking a lot happier. "Do you want your husband to stay?"
"Chicago needs me," he admitted. "Two days?"
"Most likely," the doctor agreed. "For right now, relax. I'm going to bring in a heartbeat monitor to check on the baby's heartbeat. Then we'll set up some other things." Ray beamed. "Ten more minutes?"
"Sure. I'll leave tomorrow and pick her up once she comes back."
"That'd be fine." He left and came back with the small monitor, using it on her stomach. The fast heartbeat was loud in the quiet room. He watched as the father beamed at the mother and she gave him a watery smile. It was a wonderful thing, he could see how in love they were.
Ray walked off the plane and Huey grabbed him, dragging him away. "Bags," he complained.
"We've got a patrol guy to grab them," he said as he dragged him out to his car. "Thank God you're back, Ray. It's been horrible. When is your wife coming back?"
"Two days. Then she's got a week in bed." Huey snorted. "Seriously. She's got a week in bed," he said firmly. "Both doctors said so."
"Even from bed, she's better than me." He got him into the car and got in to drive. "I've got him," he called into the radio. "Have Welsh meet us out front." He put up his radio and sped off with his siren on. "We need you, man. How much longer?"
"I've got a month," Ray told him. "Then we'll go back for a bit then come back hopefully within a few weeks."
"Hey, we can do that if we get the backlog out of the way. With Stan being down and unable to walk now it's been just me."
"Now you know how she felt in Vice," Ray said dryly.
"Yeah, I do, and I'm going to bow at her feet. There's no way I could do this all the time. I haven't had much sleep in a week!"
"Want me to drive?" Ray teased.
"No, I'm good for that. Then I'm heading home so you can get briefed, sent out, and Stan can do your paperwork for you."
"Okay," Ray agreed. "Car?"
"Hers is in the parking lot already. Yours is at your mother's house. Even Frannie's missed her."
"Now I know you need sleep," Ray quipped, relaxing. This proved he was needed. "How many open cases?"
"You're shitting me," he said flatly.
"I've handled fifteen this week alone. Stan's done six from his desk chair. Fraser's filled in and done twelve. We've got sixty left open. Plus anything new. That's with the two rookies we got sent to train."
"Stan's been working with them so far. He and Fraser do pretty good together still. You'd think that they'd be awkward in the field, being together and all, but they're not. Thankfully, he's been able to sit in the car and direct them. They're out on a case right now."
"The doctors said that if she was okay in a week she could come back for light duty."
"Thank you, God," he called out the window. Ray laughed. "She's got a homicide that's just started and they've been calling for her. Fraser went to help them. Blount's been declared insane. We're taking applications for a new profiler but haven't gotten anyone yet. This'll still probably be easier on her than not."
"A month, Huey. Remember that."
"Hey, clear the backlog, we can figure it out in three weeks, plus Stan's getting his cast off then. We'll have him mobile, if not real fast."
"What happened anyway?"
"Diefenbaker tripped him running for the grass outside. He had the runs. Stanley fell down the stairs, all of them. Broke his ankle and two toes. Then we had to put him into the field, mostly because he went without permission, and he killed his knee limping after someone. He'll be on crutches for another two weeks after he gets his cast off."
Ray groaned. "When did that happen?"
"The day she left he got his knee," Huey told him. "Things were going okay until she hit morning sickness, then she started to snarl and snap. Anytime Stanley brought in someone, he let her question him and they pleaded for a deal." He pulled up outside the precinct. "Here you go. I'm going to sleep until tomorrow morning. See you at the normal time?"
"Sure. Don't worry, they gave her something for the sickness too," he said with a cheeky grin as he got out. The patrol officers clapped. "A month, guys. The wife'll be back in a week or so if her doctor says so." That got louder clapping and some whistling.
"Hey!" Welsh yelled, scattering them. "Vecchio," he said with a smile. "Thank you for coming back as soon as you could." He led him to his office, giving him the short version of the open cases. It took nearly an hour. "Your wife?" he asked finally.
"New meds, is fine, will be home in two days, will be on bed rest for a week, then the doctor may say she's fit for light duty."
"Thank you," Welsh said with a bright smile. He handed over a few more. "These are hers. Can she do them in bed? They're mostly reads and give opinions."
"It'll keep her from going insane," Ray pointed out dryly, heading to drop those off on her desk for later. He saw Stanley hopping up the stairs. He shook his head and smirked. "We leave you alone and this happens?"
"Yeah, yuck it up. They're yours and hers until you two leave again."
"I've never trained anybody in my life."
Stanley smirked. "Think of it as practice for fatherhood." He handed over his perp. "This guy is Vecchio. Do I look like him?" he demanded.
The crook babbled and begged for his life. "Please, I'll tell you everything I know!" he wailed.
"Good. Tell the nice rookie detectives. I've got sixty open cases to solve in a month and a pregnant wife." The man's eyes widened and he backed away, bowing. "Go. Shoo." The rookies took him away and Ray sat down with a sigh to do what he could. He did remember to call his mother. "Hey, Ma. I'm back, she'll be back in two days. No, I'm good. I'll be home tonight. Sometime. Yeah, sure. Come over this weekend, okay?" He smiled. "No, she'll be on bed rest for a week. She's fine. They solved the morning sickness and all of it. Nah, I'm doing the backlog right now. Sure. Saturday's probably fine. If not, she'll make it fine." He smiled. "Thanks, Ma. Love you too." He hung up and went back to his reading. He even sorted like she would. She had taught him bad habits.
Catherine came off the plane moving kind of slowly thanks to her dizziness.
"There she is!" someone called.
She looked up in alarm as three large patrol cops surrounded her and grabbed her. "Let me go!" she ordered, swatting at them. "Ray may have taken my gun but I will kill you!"
"Detective, we need you in court right now," one of them told her, taking her arm. "The judge was encouraged to wait but he's not being very patient."
"Guys, I'm not dressed or prepped," she complained. "And I can't move this fast!" They slowed down, making her feel better. "You guys, I'm dizzy, nauseous, and dressed in sweats."
"DA Kowalski is outside in the car with a female officer, ma'am, you can change on the way," the one breaking through the crowds told her. "She'll prep you on the way in." He got her outside. "Here she is," he announced.
"One of us will go get them, detective," the guys said, taking her tickets for her. "Have a nice night, ma'am."
"Catherine, get in," Stella said firmly. "You can change on the way. Thanks, guys." She got in and handed back a soda. "How's your blood sugar? Need food?"
"No, I'm okay on food. I had a snack before I got on the plane. Dinner will be necessary though."
"I'm buying you dinner, don't worry about it," Stella said firmly, pointing at the gym bag on the back seat. "Stanley got that out of your locker. Put it on."
"Sure. I take it you got the judge to not release the pedophile?"
"He called the Justice Department. They told him he couldn't do that. He's a bit pissed at the Feds right now."
"He can get in line behind me. The guy threatened to make me miscarry." Stella looked back at her. "Really. Go ahead and start the prep." She popped open the can of Diet Coke and drank some of it, then put it into the cup holder and pulled out the outfit. "I can't fit into this."
"Nope, I can't. I've gained ten pounds." She shoved it back into the bag. "That's fine, if he wants me that bad, he can deal with me in sweats and a t-shirt."
Stella nodded. "He won't say a word, Catherine. Do you remember how you caught him?"
"Browsed a chat room one of the victims said she had found him in, caught his attention with the help of a girl we had picked up for selling drugs. In exchange for a lighter sentence she agreed to help us, offered before we could approach her." She looked at the outfit again. "I remember when that was loose."
"It'll be looser again in a few months. Most overweight people report losing some weight after the birth." She turned back to look at her. "You got him through the chat room?"
"We got him through the chat room. I had to tell the room's monitor after he tried to bounce us. Yahoo has some of those now and then." Stella nodded. "Then we set up a meet using the girl and he showed up. She charmed him, he tried to talk her into his car, she shied away and used the code word, I rushed in and busted him."
"Never mind," Stella agreed. They pulled into the main city. "Then what happened in prison?"
"Somehow someone found out what he had done so he had some of the usual problems."
"You'll have to explain that," Stella warned.
"I know," Catherine said patiently. "If this stresses me out, I'm dead, you know that right? I'm supposed to be on bed rest."
"It hopefully won't," she promised, getting them out at the side door of the courthouse. She guarded her back all the way inside and up to the judge's courtroom. "We've got her, your honor," she announced.
"So I can see. Quite an unorthodox outfit, detective."
She sneered at him. "You try spending four days in the hospital, flying back, supposing to be on bed rest, and getting dragged here without warning. If I had known, I might have put on real clothes."
"Fine, swear her in," the judge demanded. He noticed her soda and raised an eyebrow. "You're allowed?"
"Yes," she said patiently. "I'd rather not have another reaction to water this week." She walked up there slowly, wincing now and then. "Sorry, hospital bed back." She put her soda down so she could swear in. Then the bailiff helped her into the seat. "Thanks. You obviously know what bed rest means." She looked at Stella. "Who's first?"
"I am," Stella said.
"I object, your honor. We haven't gotten a chance to talk to her yet."
Catherine looked at him. "Why would you?" He frowned. "Hey, take it up with the Federal judge in Vegas who said I have to go back in another month. This wasn't my choice."
"Well said," Stella told her. "Detective Demoranth."
"Demoranth-Vecchio," she corrected firmly. "I hyphenated after the wedding. It won't fit on forms."
"Sorry, Detective Demoranth-Vecchio," she said patiently. "You are the arresting officer in this case?"
"The only officer on this case?"
"Yes. Vice was critically underfunded when I was there, we didn't have backup most of the time."
"Thank you. How did you come to have this man's case?"
"Sex Crimes had three girls come in who were young teenagers. Two were thirteen and one fourteen if I remember right, or the other way around, one thirteen and two fourteen. They handed it over to me because they were overworked and one of the other Vice people had a similar report from a runaway working the streets saying he had roughed her up. He also handed over the case because he suddenly ill and had to leave the force."
"What sort of illness?" the judge asked.
She shrugged. "All I heard were rumors, sir. He never told me directly what his exact reasons were."
"Fine, go on."
Stella cleared her throat. "How did you come to capture him?"
"The night I got the cases dropped on me I had busted a minor street-dealer who could lead me back to her source directly, she was sleeping with him. She was about fifteen and overheard my Captain telling me about these new cases. She volunteered to help for a lighter sentence, pointing out that I couldn't pass for a teenager even in a chat room because I didn't have the lingo down. She fed me lines to use and we used her physical description. She was fifteen so we said she was almost thirteen. We set up a meeting and put her out there with me watching fifty feet away in a car. She led him on, he tried to get her to leave with him. He propositioned, and like I had told her to, she used the code phrase so I moved in for the arrest. Upon questioning, he admitted to hurting the other girls and six others we didn't know about. Five of those hadn't even told their parents."
"Thank you." She smiled. "Did you have many problems getting him to speak?"
"No, I found the biggest motorcycle cop I could and had him come in and pretend to be my partner. He's six-eight and about four hundred pounds of muscle. All he had to do was stand there." Stella smirked at her for that. "It's a tactic I've used in the past. Since we didn't have routine partnering it was easier to get some men to talk to other men or with another man threatening them."
"Thank you. I have nothing further."
The defense stood up. "Detective, how did the prison guards hear what he was charged with?"
She shrugged. "I didn't tell them and you're asking me about something I had no direct knowledge of. The street cop didn't as far as I know. Sometimes they find out anyway. It happens to rapists and child rapists. It also happens to arsonists, wife beaters, and murderers. The gossip network in prison is just as good as it is in the police department."
"You didn't tell them?"
"Did you take any action when you found out he had been savagely attacked?"
"I wanted to make sure he got to trial, dying would be too easy an off, so I suggested to the DA that they send him off for a psych evaluation."
"I see. Did they know why you made that suggestion?"
"Yup, they did. When I talk to lawyers, I make sure my words are unambiguous and clearly state my objective in advance. That way they can't be used against me."
The lawyer glared at her. "Detective, are you not under medical treatment yourself for a psychiatric illness?"
She burst out laughing. "No!" She continued to giggle for a few more minutes. "I'm pregnant, you moron. Pregnant, diabetic, and I have bad drug and food allergies. I'm resisting the doctors on the matter of putting me on something to help me sleep at night. Where did you get that story?"
"You called and had a long consultation with Dr. Peter Gravonis."
"About a group of kids who broke into a herbalist's shop and ate some of the herbs in there. Nothing further. Peter's an old friend. We deal with the same strange crap."
"Yes, you do deal with strange things, don't you?" he asked snidely.
"Yes, I do. Your client had nothing to do with that and it has nothing at all to do with this case. Does it?" she asked dryly, glaring at him. "Can you please hurry up? I've got to pee and you're bringing back my morning sickness." The judge coughed. "Sorry, sir, but I'm supposed to be in bed and I am ten weeks pregnant. Before I got dragged to Vegas, some of my coworkers were experiencing the joys of early mood swings." The lawyer stepped back. "Anything else?" she asked sweetly.
"No, I have nothing further," he admitted.
"You can go. Will you need a ride?" the judge asked.
"Please." She smiled at him. "Either home or to the precinct so my husband can put me into bed and make sure I stay there." She stood up with a small moan and a hand on her lower back. "I hate this part, Maria was right about that." She took her soda with her, stopping to whisper in Stella's ear about dinner. She nodded and wrote it down. "Thanks. See you later." She left.
"Are you two involved?" the judge asked.
"No, sir. Since she is diabetic and newly back, I told her I'd buy her dinner so she wouldn't have to get off the couch tonight in exchange for coming in directly from her flight and not going home to change." She looked up at him and shrugged. "Most pregnant women seem to be hungry."
He nodded; that was reasonable and hadn't wasted the court's time waiting on her to pick out an outfit that fit her growing form. "They are. Remember to go easy on the spices." He looked at the jury. "We'll do closing arguments tomorrow." Both lawyers nodded. Then the defense attorney sidled over as soon as he banged the gavel. He snorted. What a time to make a deal.
Catherine answered the door, letting Stella in. "Hey. Did he deal?"
"He pleaded guilty to four counts of sex with a minor with premeditation." She set the bag down on the table and looked around. "No cats?"
"They're napping on the bed." She smirked. "Along with Stanley. He stumbled in and fell down. He's got a headache."
"Poor guy." She went to check on him, she still cared for him even though she had messed up what they had. Then she waved as she headed for the door again. "Ray's busy right now, I called and got his order too. He said he'd be home about eight. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired. I hate hospital beds. They hurt my back and I never get any sleep."
"Then sleep, woman." She walked out, shaking her head.
Catherine pulled out her food, smiling at the good smells. Then her stomach lurched. "Not again," she complained, going to the bathroom to wait it out. At least someone had cleaned the toilet for her. There was nothing worse than getting sick into a dirty toilet, it made it last longer.
Ray looked over as Catherine snuck into the squad room two days later with an armful of files. "This isn't our bedroom," he said dryly. He smiled when she gave him a kiss. "Hi."
"Hi." She handed him half the stack. "With ideas." She winked and went into the office a bit more bravely. "The files you wanted, Harding. Can I steal Ray for lunch?"
"Not yet," he said, looking at her. "He can go early for your appointment." She sighed. "And I don't want you in here until you're cleared. It's dangerous."
"Fine, but I don't want to go deal with the person peeking in my windows either and my phone's dead again."
He stood up. "Vecchio!" He came in. "Someone's been peeking in your windows?"
"Really?" he asked, looking at his wife. She nodded. "Phones?"
"Dead. So's my cell. I stopped on the way over, they said someone called to cancel it."
"Then you go to Ma's for the day," Ray ordered. "I'll go look around the house with Fraser and then send him to guard you."
"One problem with that. I went to bring him lunch. Speaking of, yours is in the back seat. Sorry." She shrugged, then winced and held her back some more. "Thatcher is not a happy person. She was yelling at him when I dropped off the bag, heard me mention his name, and came out to demand to know who I was. So I told her so she would remember more than my guarding their consulate." She smirked. "The poor woman has a migraine and he's filling in."
Ray snorted. "Figures. Fine, just go ta Ma's and stay there until I come in tonight. Got it?" She nodded. "Good girl." He gave her a long, deep kiss, making her moan and his boss blush. "You behave and go lay on the couch. I'll be home early tonight. I've got most of the backlog clear thanks to the rookies and your suggestions." She beamed and gave his shirt a tug before walking out. "Let one of the patrol guys grab my lunch so you don't have to do the stairs again," he called after her. She waved a hand. He looked at Welsh, keeping himself from smirking at his blush. "Sir, for obvious reasons I'll need to go home early tonight."
"Go," he said, shooing him off. "Take files home, fill them out, bring them back tomorrow after you snuggle or whatever." Ray nodded, heading to do that. He put his head down with a moan of misery. "Why do I have to watch that?" he asked his desk. Fortunately it didn't answer this time either.
Ray walked into his mother's house, smiling at Tony, who looked really confused about why Catherine was stroking her stomach. "No one told you?"
"No, they did, but I don't know why she's so nice," he said, looking at him.
"She's had a lot of sleep recently," Ray shared, leaning down to kiss her. "I caught the peeper. He wanted to know if we had an open apartment since we had pets and he's got a great dane." She smiled up at him. "I told him we'd have one open next week, after I finished cleaning up the mess." She nodded, arching up to steal a kiss. "The phone bill forgot to be paid again," he told her. "I fixed that too."
"Thanks. Come cuddle?"
"Not on Ma's couch," he told her, grinning at her. "We'll go home and cuddle after dinner."
"'Kay." She snuggled down again. "Wake me for dinner."
"Sure. You nap," he agreed, smirking as she fell back asleep again. He looked at Tony, who was giving him a wondrous look. "What? She needs it." He shrugged and went to check on his mother. "Hey, Ma. Can we stay for dinner?"
"Of course," she said, tilting her cheek so he could kiss it. "Did you find the peeper?"
"I did," Ray agreed. "He wanted the open apartment. He's got a huge dog." He checked the pots. "No Maria?"
"She'll be late tonight," she said with a smile. "We'll be having pork chops too."
"Cool. Catherine's been craving pork recently. Especially the fat."
"I had the same thing with you," she said, giving him a fond pat. "Go cuddle her."
"She's nappin', Ma, and I'd never do that in your house."
She snorted. "I know. You're a good boy. Go sit with her then and rub her stomach."
"Yes, Ma." He went to do that. He loved doing that to her stomach. Tony gave him a look and a grin. "What? It's my first."
"I remember. I got kicked many times by our first son. Know what this one is yet?"
"Not yet. She'll have an ultrasound in another month or so."
"If they do an amnio, you'll need your cuffs." Ray shuddered. "It's helpful. We've got the baby name book upstairs too."
"Later," Ray told him. "When we're sure everything's okay and all that." Tony nodded, understanding that. He left them alone. Ray curled up behind her, shifting until she was laying on top of him so he could work on her back. She nuzzled his neck but let him do whatever he wanted.
"Ma, I'm home," Frannie called as she came in. She glanced in. "Oh, hey," she said. "She okay?"
"Maria did that for nearly a month this time." She went up to change from her dress.
Ray looked down at his wife, who was grinning at him. "Okay, so it's the second miracle," he noted. "The first was getting your diet straightened out." He gave her a kiss. "You can go back to sleep." She smiled and put her head back down, wiggling until she was comfortable. He had to shift some to get away from a knee but otherwise he was comfortable enough for now.
Catherine looked up from her grocery shopping, frowning at the feeling she had. She picked up her usual bag of cat food and headed for the check out. She had lived on her instincts for far too long to ignore that feeling. Something bad was going to happen and she needed to get out of that store. Or at least nearer to more people. She moved the cart around the end of the aisle when she felt the pin prick and then nothing before she could protest.
Ray looked up as his phone rang. "Vecchio?" He listened to the hysterical person on the other end. "What do you mean, Cris?" He listened to the clearly said words. "Why? Or better yet, when?" He sat up straighter. "You're sure? How?" He winced. "Okay. Let me call her and if I don't get her, I'll follow that. Thanks and tell the kid thanks too." He hung up and called her phone but a familiar male voice answered. "Frankie," he said bitterly. "Where's my wife?" He listened to the gloating. "Frankie, your shit is with me, not her. Not my kid. Me. Now give me back my wife and face me." The other end hung up and Ray stood up, whistling. Everyone, including the crooks, looked at him. "Catherine's been taken by Zucko. He's got her phone. Stan, I need you here. Fraser, I need you and Dief."
"Of course, Ray. We'll go get him immediately."
"Huey, I need you to find Welsh. I know he's in a meeting, I don't know where." He headed up the stairs, going up to SWAT. "Steve in?" he asked their Civilian Aid, Patricia. She nodded and pointed at the door. "Thanks. Catherine's been taken hostage and I don't know where." He walked in with the barest of knocks. "Zucko took her." Steve dropped his fork and wiped his mouth. "I don't know where yet. Someone else said they 'saw' something about a place we used ta play as kids. That means it's the old factory district. Do you have *any* plans?"
"Not really. Who saw?"
"Close the door." Ray closed the door. "Who?"
"Cris's daughter Alexia."
"Okay. She said what exactly?" Ray arched an eyebrow up. "Yes, I do know this stuff. I'm a member too."
"She said it was a place we used to play castles and fortresses. My fortress, the one Frankie used ta storm."
"Which place did you have as your hidden area? Your fortified ground where Frankie used to sneak up on you?"
"The old tire factory. It was shut down by then. But we also used ta hide inside the older gelatin place too."
"That narrows it down to two. Can you get Diefenbaker."
"Good. Have him hunt her. When you find which building, you *call* us and *wait*, Vecchio. We're better trained for this."
Ray nodded. "Thanks. It'll probably be a few more hours." He headed back down the stairs, taking his gun this time as he drug Benny with him.
Ray looked around the old shipping yard, frowning. "Dief, she's not here."
The wolf sniffed her shirt, then him, then took off running again.
Ray watched his path. "The old McKindrey place," he called, heading after him. Now he understood. "Call SWAT!"
"Of course," Benny said, using Ray's phone to do that as he followed. "Detective Vecchio...." He waited while the phone was handed over. "He said the McKindrey place. No, we're out by the gelatin and tire factories. Diefenbaker stopped here then headed through the woods. No, he's running. I'm following. Thank you kindly." He hung up and broke into a jog. "They'll be in shortly," he reported. He looked at the old house. "There probably shouldn't be electric in there, Ray."
"I know." He had hold of Diefenbaker's neck. "Keep him back. There's a bear trap ahead of here somewhere."
"Diefenbaker, sit," Benny ordered. The wolf laid down. "Good enough." He took the lead, moving through the uncut grass delicately. The other two followed his lead. He knew trappers and traps. He could find them in waist-high grass. He snapped one and moved on. Ray peeled off to go break into the electric meter and stop it. The lights went out as SWAT was pulling up. He ducked as someone fired out at them. "Ray, I believe they're in there," he called. He waved Diefenbaker on. "Go. Take that one out." The wolf leapt onto the old porch, taking out the shooter.
Ray came around the front. "The back door's jammed. Dief?"
"Shooter. SWAT's forming now."
"Good. They can back us up." He started to move but a hand hit his shoulder. "Hey!"
"Stay," a quiet voice told him. "You're not going in without us, Vecchio. Too many of us like her more than you." Ray glared at Steve. "I mean it." He gave the signal and everyone moved in. "How many levels?"
"The basement stairs are broken. Upstairs is open."
"We saw lights on all levels," Benton told him. "Including the basement."
"Fine. Another way down?"
"Cellar doors are on the other side."
"Good. We'll start there," Steve ordered. It was the least likely spot so it'd be the first place to rule out. It'd keep Vecchio out of trouble.
They found Frankie's men. They found Frankie hanging from the pipes in the basement. They found signs that she had been there with at least one other person and that person had carried her off, according to Benny, but no Catherine. Ray pulled out his phone, calling Cris. "Well, we found part of it," he said dryly. "Got any other ideas?" He listened. "Who?" He handed off the phone and walked outside to go kick at the SWAT van.
"Ray!" Benny called, following him. "What's wrong?"
"The Doctor was here," he said, looking at him. "The guy who patched her up the first time she miscarried. Then he handed her back to the person torturing her. He likes her." He kicked the van again.
"Then we'll have to find him." He searched the scene carefully, finding the tire tracks. "We've got a modern sedan, but fairly heavy. Generic tires however. No evidence of paint flecks." CSU came to shoo him away so he went back to Ray's side. "He probably took the sedan."
Ray opened the door, pulling out the radio. "Dispatch, this is Vecchio. Has anyone seen my wife's car?" He let go of the button, listening to her put out the call. Someone reported it moving. "Where?" he asked. It was relayed back. "No, it's either stolen or she's a hostage in it. Track it, I want updates." He put the radio back. "Come on." He headed for his car, it would be easier, he had the keys for it and it took him too long to hotwire vehicles. One of the SWAT guys watched him but he didn't care. This fucker was his. If his wife didn't get him first.
Stanley stopped the car by forcing it into an alley and pulling in behind it. He got out and stepped around with his gun drawn. "Out of the car!" he shouted. "Now!" The person in the front seat didn't move. "Right now! I have no patience!" The door opened and a body fell out. He hobbled forward, checking it. It was dead. In the back seat, Catherine was curled up, holding her stomach. "You okay?" he asked, getting the back door open so he could help her out as soon as his gun was up. She bit her lip and shook her head. "Come on, I'm takin' ya back ta my car. We'll get ya to the hospital. Ray's right behind me." Ray's car pulled in and he ran over, taking her from him. "She's in pain or somethin'. This one's dead."
"Good," Ray said, spitting at him. He led his wife off, taking her back to his car, it had a nicer seat for her to rest in. Benny was already calling for an ambulance. "Did they hurt you?"
"Frankie wanted to but the guy said he wouldn't help him," she said quietly. "He said he wouldn't hurt an innocent. Frankie hit and kicked me a few times. I know I've got a bruised rib at least and my wrist is really sore." She grabbed him and held on. "Can I quit now?"
"If you want," he promised. "Whatever you want, I'm there for," he assured her. "If you wanna quit, I'm good with that. I make good money and you can go back ta school," he soothed, stroking her back. She flinched. "Shh. It's just me. Frankie's dead. He's dead." She nodded, sniffling. "Shh, it's all right," he promised. "I'm right here. We're all here for you." The ambulance pulled up. "Easy," he ordered. "That guy had her. Frankie hit and kicked her a few times. She's still pregnant." The paramedic gave him a sympathetic look. "I'm going with her."
"Of course, detective. You can sit beside her head. Let me have her while you stand up." He took her to hold until Ray could stand up and pick her up. "Come on. Your Lieutenant is on his way here to handle this personally." He go them into the back and got her onto an IV and an oxygen mask. She was still very wild-eyed and her husband would keep her calm. "Is he dead?"
"He's dead, she got him," he told him. He looked at him. "You too?" The paramedic nodded. "Wow."
He grinned. "We're all around." He covered her up. "Hold her free hand, Detective. Let me check her blood pressure and sugar." The doors were closed and they took off. "CSU will meet us at the hospital I'm sure."
"They can weed us out," he said firmly. He went back to soothing her, making her stay calm. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what had been done to her but he wasn't going to leave her alone. Not even if they drugged him and dragged him off.
"She looks pretty healthy, detective. Much better than when she was shot." Ray nodded, not looking at him. "It'll be okay."
"It had better be," he said firmly. "Or else I'm gonna go mutilate the corpse." She snorted. "No?" he asked, giving her a look.
"He likes bombs," she reminded him.
He pulled out his phone, calling Steve's. "There might be a bomb," he announced. "She reminded me he likes bombs. No, he's dead. She got him as Stanley pulled them over. Yeah. Thanks." He hung up. "They found four of them and disarmed them. They're all fine too. We'll owe Cris and his daughter a really nice card. They told me before I knew anything was wrong."
"I was shopping for cat food."
"We'll pick some up on the way home tonight," he promised. "I doubt they'll keep you." She gave him a squeeze as the ambulance pulled into the hospital. "I'm very proud of you. You're not screaming."
"Sedative," she told him.
"Ah." He brushed some of her hair around. "Then you can yell at someone later," he promised, walking out with her. Someone tried to stop him so he glared at them. "My wife. She's got allergies. New ones not on her medic alert." They stopped him so he slugged one of them and walked in anyway, sitting behind her head, out of the way. "She's on..." He pulled out his wallet and handed over the copies of the prescriptions he always carried now. "She's now also allergic to some forms of hormones. Something about a mixer?" They nodded, cutting off her clothes. "CSU will want that probably, if IAD doesn't. She was the victim of kidnaping and possible torture. Again." One of the nurses looked at him. "Yes, she's my wife."
"Thank you, sir."
"Detective. Both of us."
"Ah. Detective Vecchio?" she asked. He nodded, giving her a long look. "We've heard, sir. Just stay there and keep her occupied." Catherine kicked at someone checking her stomach. "How far along is she?"
"Almost eleven weeks."
"That's a normal reaction then. Her doctor?"
"Todd, Philip, or Draken?"
"We'll call him, detective. Please stay calm and don't hit any more of us."
He nodded and went back to talking to her ear, making her relax again. "I'm here," he reminded her. "Frankie's dead. The guy hung him." She looked up at him. "Really." She relaxed further. He noticed a familiar person outside the door and scowled at him, so he left for now. "IAD is here," he told her.
"Fuck 'em," she hissed, swatting at the person pushing gently on her chest. "Ow!"
"Sorry, detective. I think it's only bruised. We'll do an x-ray as soon as possible. Are you having any cramping?" She shrugged. "You don't know?"
"It's not like my miscarriage. It's more like period cramping."
"They can happen up to your third month so we'll do an ultrasound too," she promised. They got the portable x-ray set up and covered her stomach with a lead blanket before taking one of her ribs. It was run off and they did one of her wrist as well. Then that machine was moved and someone came in with an ultrasound machine. A few of the nurses left and Ray shifted to see the screen. "Let us check for damage to her intestines first, detective, then we'll look at the baby." He nodded, watching anyway.
Ray walked out of her room, finding Stanley pacing and Benny leaning against the wall. "She'll be fine." Stanley relaxed and turned to look at him. "There's no real damage. Mostly some bone bruising." Stanley smiled at that. "IAD?"
"I told 'em off and sent 'em packing," Stanley told him. "They can't say anything about defending yourself. How's she doin' otherwise?" Ray groaned. "Mood swing?" He nodded. "Ray, next week's the anniversary. I'd be surprised if she wasn't crying."
"I remember." He gave him a pat on the arm. "Welsh?"
"Precinct. Huey nearly killed a perp." He shrugged. "He likes her too."
"Good." He went to make that call from the nearest payphone. "Hey." He smiled at the excited noises. "She's fine. A few bruises. The doctor told her she's got another four days in bed then she's allowed in for light duty. She kissed him for it." He grimaced. "I know, but she hates being inactive, sir." He listened. "Of course I can. She's not getting out of my sight anytime soon. IAD?" He listened to the satisfied report. "Good. Thank you, sir. No, we'll be home tonight. They said it'd be easier at home. Then we've got an ultrasound right before we're due to leave again. No, they said so. They think they caught sight of the scaring when they did the ultrasound and they want to look at the baby with a better machine. Of course. As soon as we get good pictures of the baby you can see one, sir. Thanks. Yeah, I will." He hung up. "She's allowed to go home now. You two are to go back in the morning. I'm gonna be at home with her. You two will be allowed to bring us stuff to work on. Then we'll both be back in four days." Stanley smiled at that news. "So you two get to be mostly alone for another four days. My car?"
"I drove it, Ray."
Ray winced. "Is it whole?"
"Yes, Ray," he said with a small smile. "Stan followed me."
"Good. Thanks. We'll be heading home. I'll stop and get cat food and dinner on the way." He went back into her room, helping her into the sweats he had found for her in the gift shop.
Ma squealed when she was let in, heading immediately for Catherine to hug her. "Are you all right, Caro?"
"Fine, Ma. Just bruised and sore." She gave her a long look. "I thought you disconnected the scanner."
"Bah. Not hardly with the way my children get into trouble." She gave Ray a hug as well then went into the kitchen. "What do you and the baby feel like tonight?"
"Food." She looked over at her. "Ray fed me gyros for dinner but we could use a snack. Something gooey and sweet, but a little salty?"
"I know just the thing." She checked the cabinets. It was better stocked than hers at home. "Very well done, Raymondo."
"Thanks, Ma. This way I can spoil her too." They shared a smile while he curled up next to her again, his head in her lap. She stroked through what was left of his hair. She had said so. He got to stroke her thigh, making her tug on his hair. He grinned up at her. "What?" he asked quietly.
"I just wanna make sure you're okay."
"Up." He sat up and she stood with some help, then she dragged him into the bedroom. "We'll be right back. He wants to kiss my booboos."
"Of course he does. The treat will take about an hour," she said, smiling at their backs. Young love was so beautiful. Her husband would have done the same thing before he started to drink. She shook off the bad memories and got to work spoiling her daughter-in- law. She needed it more than everyone else. Someone knocked on the door so she went to answer it, letting Stanley in with the cat food and litter. "Did they run out again?"
"Yeah, and Ray left his wallet in his desk," he said dryly, setting everything down. "Guys?" They came running as soon as he opened the bag, digging in. "You're welcome." He stroked each one. Then he hugged Ma. "We got her back."
"Yes, you did. You did very well." She kissed him on the cheek. "Where is Benton?"
"Upstairs changing and putting down food for Chocolate. Can I help?" She shook her head, shooing him to the study. Stanley paused when he heard the groan, snickering at the blatantly aroused tone to that noise. "We're here too, don't mind us," he called.
"Stanley!" Ma snapped.
"Stan, you can't join in. I've told you time and again you missed your chance," Ray called. "Go read."
"Yes, Ray." He grabbed a book with a wink for Ma and went to play with the cats as long as they let him.
Ma went back to the kitchen, marveling at her children. Finally the sane one came in and she let him help her. He was becoming quite the good cook.