- Author's Note:
This story is a continuation of the characters and plot-lines first begun in "For Lisa" and later developed in "Sins of the Flesh". To get the full understanding of this story, those two stories, archived elsewhere on this site, should be read first.
I've taken the liberty of borrowing a new bit of technology for this story; "the Nu-Gen I-2020S". This marvelous gizmo will be more fully developed in the story "Perfect Wings" by its inventor Chilli TNG. I'd like to thank Chilli for this clever creation and for the marvelous inspiration and assistance I received on the creation of this story.
Finally, I'd like to thank Brandy and Jan for their invaluable support and inspiration as well. You folks are the greatest! I'd especially like to thank Brandy for making `the punchline' work so well. She knows what I'm talking about. ;)
There weren't a lot of attractive targets waiting at the bus stop this afternoon.
It was a pretty safe bet that the `zoned-out' bum sitting cross-legged on the corner holding the cardboard sign reading `Veit Nam Vet, Plez hep' didn't have anything worth stealing. Besides, once you got within ten feet of him the smell got too intense.
For three growing boys just reaching the height of their sexual passions, the bored hooker leaning against the wall was much nicer to look at. But mugging a hooker was a good way to get the pimps pissed off at you and that was never a good idea. Besides, though she had a lot more to offer visually . . . (a WHOLE lot more!) . . . than the dirty bum, in the two hours that the three of them had been casing the corner they hadn't seen her head out even once with a john. The little purse hanging from one bare shoulder was probably just for show at the moment.
So for the last ten minutes they'd concentrated their attention on the old woman. She was a Social Security case and it was just past the middle of the month so there was little chance she'd have a nice, juicy check in her bulky handbag. Still, she'd come downtown for something and there'd have to be a few bucks in there. At least enough to score one `rock' of Crack if everything went according to plan.
They'd just about settled on her as the target . . . were just starting to move in that direction . . .
When the pregnant chick showed up.
Here was a purse-snatch target just made to order. She was in her late 20's with a nice enough if unremarkable face and soft, curly brown hair pulled back in ponytail. She was wearing pink Nikes, dark blue stretch slacks and a light blue cotton top. Even though the top was almost tent-like in its bagginess, it did nothing to conceal the massive bulge of what was a very obviously advanced pregnancy.
Skeeter nudged Edge and grinned, one normally sexed teenaged male to another. "Man, scope out those tits! Knock `em up and they get really great tits!"
Edge sneered at his younger friend. "You're sick, you know that?"
Skeeter poked back. "Tell me you wouldn't like to get a handful of some of that."
Smash, the acknowledged leader hissed, "Shut up. Let's go."
The three of them moved away from the wall they'd been leaning against and casually sauntered in the direction of the bench where the old woman was just now moving a large department store bag to make space for the young woman. As they approached, they heard the old granny coo, "Oh honey. Is this your first?"
They had to try to get to her before she had a chance to sit down and set that big, heavy and hopefully nicely crammed purse down at her feet or down beside her on the bench where it would be harder to grab as they suddenly accelerated past. Obligingly, the younger woman didn't immediately sit down. Instead, she returned the old woman's smile and placing her hands in the small of her back tried to ease the ache of carrying all that additional weight around all day. She was just starting to thank granny for making a space for her to take the load off her feet when Smash decided he was close enough to make the grab.
Lowering his head and suddenly sprinting forward, he managed to shag the strap of the pregnant bitch's purse as he charged by. It slid right off her arm before she really realized what was happening. The three of them were already accelerating away, `pregger's' shriek of "Hey! My purse!" echoing in their ears . . . when suddenly, it all went wrong.
Smash saw the hooker use the foot she'd propped against the wall to launch herself in a flying tackle that took Skeeter right around the waist. Wrapped in the whore's arms the two of them sailed into a mailbox bolted to the sidewalk. With a painful "oof!" Skeeter took the brunt of the impact and, still wrapped in the blonde's arms, slid down to his knees, out of the fight.
Since Smash had been watching the spectacle of a hot pants and halter clad hooker take down one of his soldiers, he didn't see the danger or have a chance to warn Edge. Having dodged the attack of the whore, Edge had been looking over his shoulder as well, watching Skeeter's demise. Head turned he didn't see the bum's right arm fly out just at the level of his shins. When that arm connected, Edge's momentum sent him tumbling to land, face-first, on the hard concrete of the sidewalk. Before he could even begin to recover and regain his feet, the bum was all over him, sitting astride Edge's back, grinding his already abraded face a little deeper into the sidewalk.
The hooker's and the bum's almost simultaneous shouts of, "Police, freeze!" (followed by the fake hooker's additional snarl of "Quit squirming you little douche bag.") came as no surprise to Smash.
It had been a setup.
He didn't need any further clues. If he hung around, he'd be joining his two former associates down in Central Booking. Turning on his heel, he began speeding back in the direction he'd just come . . .
And just about slammed right into the pregnant woman who'd struggled into a standing position and now stood blocking his path of escape.
There was a really weird grin on her face as she pointed to the purse in his hands. "I believe you have something that belongs to me. Besides, it really doesn't go with that outfit. Tacky to mix brown and black leather you know."
Smash stuck out his right arm to shove her out of the way. He was about to tell her, in no uncertain terms, that no pregnant bitch was gonna screw things up anymore than they already were . . . when, still grinning, she shocked him by grabbing his arm as he passed. With one hand on his forearm and the fingers of the other interlaced with his, she suddenly bent his hand back the `wrong' way. An electric jolt of pain, more intense than anything he could have imagined, stopped him dead in his tracks and dropped him to his knees.
Letting go of his wrist while still using her other hand to maintain that incredible pain with an almost contemptuous ease, she used her now free hand to rummage in her purse. The badge that she pulled out was no surprise at this point. He'd been `had' and he knew it.
Fucking cops! They'd played him for a sucker. And using a pregnant woman as bait. That was so low! Even through the pain, his anger started to rise. They couldn't do this to him.
Maybe she saw it coming because for just an instant the pain in his abused wrist subsided. She had just enough time to hiss, "You wouldn't dare!" . . . before he punched her in her swollen gut with all his strength.
And it didn't even seem to phase her . . . producing no more than a small, unsatisfying grunt.
Now the grin was gone and there was a dangerous fire burning in her eyes. "You little shit." The pain came back as she dropped the badge and once again clamped a hand, now hard as a steel vice, down on his wrist. This time when she pushed against the fingers intertwined in hers, the pressure was almost enough to bend his wrist completely backwards.
His scream sounded embarrassingly panicked and girlish in his ears but he couldn't do anything about it. The pain . . .
"Tony! You're gonna break his wrist man!"
That was the final indignity; to be rescued from an enraged pregnant bitch by a hooker and a bum.
By the time we'd gotten the three purse-snatchers booked it was already late in the afternoon.
Maybe it was just some kind of hard-wired maternal thing, but Tony was looking pretty woebegone and delicate by the time we made it back to the office. I don't know. Is it a "survival of the species" kind of thing that makes us naturally solicitous of pregnant women?
Even fake pregnant women?
To get the distraction out of the way I didn't even let him plop down behind his desk before asking, "Hey Boss . . . how about knocking off early today? We got Max's retirement party tonight. Isn't that good enough reason to slack?"
If I'd been expecting the mention of his old training officer's retirement party to cheer him up I was in for a disappointment. If anything, he seemed to slip even deeper into the depression that had been bothering him of late.
But he nodded. "Sure Stef. I guess we've stemmed the tide of anarchy enough for a while. Go ahead and call it a day. And tell Grim to go hit the showers too."
I nodded and collected my purse. "You wanna share a ride to the party?"
The counterfeit little mommy-to-be was already heading in the direction of the Sergeant's locker room, her progress an unconscious, unintentional, and therefore very disconcerting sway-backed waddle. Tony shook his head and over his shoulder muttered. "Nah. I'm probably gonna leave early so we should each take a car. That way you can stay as long as you want."
I couldn't help but ask his retreating back, "But you are going to come, right?"
He'd disappeared around the corner before I got my answer.
Cop parties are rowdy.
I mean . . . when they get out of control who do you call to quiet things down? The National Guard?
Max had been a training officer for the last eleven years of his career so there were a lot of cops who were genuinely devoted to him. And even if you hadn't learned the ropes from him (as was my case), still, it was almost impossible not to like the old walrus.
Needless to say; the banquet room at the "Ten-Seven Lounge" was already rocking by eight PM when I arrived.
I'd noticed Tony's old Chevy parked out back and I took a quick scan of the crowded, noisy, smoky room.
Sure enough, I spotted him sitting alone over in a corner, nursing a beer and looking glum.
I want to set the record straight on something right now. Lots of folks think Tony's a real gloomy bastard. That's just not so. He has a wonderfully wicked sense of humor. (Why is it that nobody ever seems to remember the fun of his countless practical jokes, they only remember the embarrassment of being on the receiving end?) He's just shy and quiet by nature. He's really lots of fun to be around.
Well . . . usually.
Getting dressed tonight I'd finally put two and two together. (Don't let it be said that Stef Iaway is completely clueless!) I'd finally figured out why Tony had been in such a funk lately. Today was March 8th. Tonight Tony was losing one of his best friends on the force to retirement . . . a father figure who had taught Tony so much about The Job . . . and about life.
Add to that the fact that in five more days it would be March 13th. Three years ago Tony's future that should have been had vanished into a dark alley off 28th Street S.W.
In five days it would be the third anniversary of Lisa's death.
Who wouldn't be blue?
I was searching for some really meaningful insight that I could offer, some little bit of wisdom that would make it all alright for this sad, funny . . . lonely . . . wonderful man sitting here alone amidst the laughter. But everything I came up with sounded so trite and patronizing. In the end, the best I could manage was to reach down and gently stroke his arm.
It was enough. He glanced up and smiled into my eyes. "It's okay hon. I'm okay." He nodded in the direction of a large, boisterous crowd milling around on the dance floor. "Why don't you go save Jo Shavely from Grim before he mashes both feet even flatter than they already are?"
"Stef . . . I'm fine. Really. Go on. And save a dance for me, okay?"
He wanted to be alone and maybe for the moment that was best. Happiness can be infectious and Lord knows, there were more than a few people here tonight having fun. Besides, I certainly wasn't going to help him by standing there making sympathetic noises and falling into his sadness with him. `Misery does NOT love company' . . . Misery seeks rescue. "Okay boss, but I'm going to hold you to that dance!"
I shoved through the throng in the general direction of the dancers. I managed to catch the eye of a little brunette waitress dressed in one of those ridiculous and unnecessarily revealing little "french maid" serving costumes (complete with ruffled panties and torturously high heels) and managed to finally get her to understand my shouted "Rum and Coke." She gave me a harried little smile and a nod and started to bull her way toward the besieged bar.
As the night went on I occasionally swung back in Tony's direction. At the time I was pleased to see he seemed to be getting pretty loaded on the beers that, considering his increasingly stuporous expression, he must have been knocking back with some vigor. Hey, I've been there. A good `knee-walking, lamp-post-grabbing, commode-hugging' drunk can be very therapeutic and Tony seemed well on his way in that direction.
Truth to tell . . . I hadn't been too abstentious myself. I lost count somewhere around the fourth Rum and Coke. I remember getting pretty amorous with a motorcycle cop from Metro Traffic. I'm pretty sure his name was Dave. Gawd, he was gorgeous! `Just-right' muscular and with the most amazing ice-blue eyes. I hope I managed to come off as smart and sexy. (If what I actually managed was slobbery and stupid, I DON'T want to know about it!) I also remember finally `surrendering' and giving him my phone number along with a pretty passionate kiss. I'm positive that kiss was returned in like manner.
At least I think I'm positive.
My last memory of the party was of Grim and old Max himself pouring me into a cab. I managed to slur out "Wha' abou' Tony? `s he okay? He was gettin' pretty wasted."
Grim (that bastard, his body mass allows him to drink with impunity, or so it always seems) assured me that they'd performed the same service for him as they were performing for me, getting him into a cab several hours ago.
Eight days after the party found Tony and me in our best "Sunday-go-to-meeting" clothes. We were each scheduled to testify at Primo's arraignment that afternoon and we wanted to counter what we were sure would be part of the Defense's presentation by looking sharp and professional.
I think the worst was over for Tony and his ghosts.
We'd been completely trashed at work the day after the party. We had intended to go out on a "hooker sweep" that night, but the best we managed was sitting across from each other behind our respective desks looking like death would be a welcome relief.
My tongue kept sticking to the roof of my cottony mouth. For some reason my left eye wouldn't focus at the same range as my right eye. The front of my skull seemed to have fallen off somewhere along the line and the agony of having my brain exposed to the alternately cold then hot air was excruciating. And worst of all, some demon had gotten hold of God's stereo and had turned the universe's volume up to the max.
Tony looked like he felt even worse.
But I think my prediction had been correct. His bender had been therapeutic. Granted, when the actual day of the "anniversary" had rolled around, he was pretty glum. But the following day he'd started to bounce back. I think I can guess where he went that afternoon with the flowers and the picnic lunch.
I don't know. Do I ever want a man to love me that fiercely? That desperately?
And there was Primo Sanchez's case to occupy our minds.
What a weird night that had been . . . the night the grocery bag had burst and I'd made my most important felony bust to date.
At first, it had seemed like a real `drone job'.
The King County Sheriff's office had gotten a tip that "Gordo" Avilar had something big in the works. The aptly named Gordo (it's Spanish for "fat" and it fit the 480 pound blob better then most of his specially tailored shirts) was putting some kind of move on his chief rival for the Greater Seattle Metropolitan vice trade. Just what that move was, or what Gordo planned to do to Eddie "Two Fingers" (because of how he drank Scotch, not because of any disfigurement) Ryerson, still wasn't clear.
But it was a fairly good guess that Gordo's most trusted lieutenant; Primo Sanchez would figure somehow into the equation.
Primo had risen in Gordo's ranks for two reasons, neither of which had to do with intelligence. First; Primo, Gordo's first cousin on his mother's side, was presumably more trustworthy than non-family. Second; Primo was easily expendable. Or at least he'd started out that way. But then something kind of amazing started to happen. We never seemed to be able to get a conviction on Primo. Oh hell, we'd catch him often enough. He just wasn't bright enough to make a good criminal.
But the little bastard seemed to lead a charmed life.
Something always went wrong with the busts. Some technicality would get the arrest dismissed. Witnesses would disappear. (And I'm not talking about foul play. Since they were usually people of "variable domicile" they'd just come up unavailable when trial dates rolled around.) Or the juries just wouldn't convict the little shit. I've never seen anything like it.
Give Gordo credit; he knows a good thing when he sees it. As long as Primo's lucky streak held, Gordo had determined to make the best of it. Primo rapidly exceeded the "Peter Principle" ("Each man rises to the level of his incompetence."), becoming one of Gordo's most trusted lieutenants.
Of course, lucky streaks end . . . they always do.
It was my good fortune to be there when Primo's luck finally ran out.
Or so it seemed at the time.
As I say; the King County S.O. had had their eye on Gordo's operation for some time. Via a phone tap on his line, they'd learned that Primo was going to be delivering "the first batch" to somebody named Carl at the Mermaid Bar down on Pacific Street at ten thirty the evening of March 1st.
Technically, The Mermaid was out of the Seattle P.D.'s jurisdiction, being outside the city limits in Richmond. But it wasn't outside the King County Sheriff's office's. Two of the K.C.S.O.C.T.F's (that's alpha bet soup for "King County Sheriff's Organized Crime Task Force) detectives; Lane Tollofson and Greg Goldsworthy had drawn the job of finding out just what Primo was delivering.
And that posed a bit of a problem.
Lane and Greg were pretty clean-cut, white-collar cops. Neither of them had a whole lot of experience in undercover work. In the less than upper-middle-class waterfront environs of slum-side Richmond, those two white bread boys would stick out like sore thumbs.
So somebody in OCT had called our boss Lt. Kristov. Tony and I had been loaned out as a couple of pairs of eyes to keep watch on the Mermaid and to give Lane and Greg (who would be parked in a van just down the block) the high-sign as soon as Primo had made his meet with this Carl person.
At this time, Tony was still playing around with his new "suit".
If the three "girls" that I'd gotten used to dealing with were amazing, this new gizmo was nothing short of magic.
Simply put, Tony's new suit was "programmable". I don't pretend to understand all of the tech. I just know that, within some obvious limits, Tony can use his new I-2020S to "become" just about anybody!
Old, young . . . male, female . . . stunningly beautiful . . . just plain dirt-ugly . . . it doesn't matter.
As I say, we were still playing around with the capabilities of the new suit when the request for surveillance came down.
The night of the stakeout, I had been puttering around our growing stock of Goodwill-provided `costumes'. Just for the hell of it, I was going as a "bag lady" tonight. I had picked out several "layers" of wildly mismatched clothes . . . ratty, lime-green stretch slacks, a tattered blue sweater, a man's tee shirt with some faded, no longer readable logo, a cloth coat with a really bedraggled fur collar, knit watch cap to go over my gray fright-wig hairdo. I was just putting the finishing touches on my ensemble (which is to say; I was artfully grinding some mud from the parking lot into the many and varied fabrics) when Tony came bouncing into the room and I began howling with laughter.
He'd programmed the suit to add an apparent two hundred pounds to his slender frame. Female pounds, no less. A Kewpie Doll face beneath Shirley Temple ringlets floated above the rolly-polly body that jiggled and bounced beneath the skin-tight mini-dress.
I finally managed to curb my laughter long enough to gasp, "You gotta be kidding!"
Tony's latest incarnation gave me a simpering little grin. "Hey. Who notices a fat hooker?"
Still biting my lip I managed to giggle "Chubby chasers. And there are some you know."
Tony just shrugged. "Well, we'll just have to hope we don't run into any tonight cuz' I got other fish to fry."
Fortunately for my sanity, we didn't.
I was having a ball with my "bag lady" disguise.
It can be so liberating to be crazy. I had this shopping cart we'd "borrowed" from a local Safeway. Tony and I had spent several minutes filling it with "interesting" odds and ends from some dumpsters we'd found out behind the Mermaid. Then Tony had found a likely spot across the street from the bar's entrance and I'd begun aimlessly pushing "my" cart back and forth up and down the block. A little before eight PM, Tolofson and Goldsworthy's van had shown up and parked a discrete distance away from the site of our surveillance.
For the next hour or so I played my role to the hilt.
Anybody that passed got a grimy hand on their sleeve and a whiskey-voiced "Hey . . . gimme a `quaddah'." The occasional sidelong glances I sent in Tony's direction proved that I'd found a persona that broke him up for a change. Often I caught the fat little whore giggling helplessly at my antics.
God, this was fun!
Then Primo showed up carrying a heavy looking shopping bag bearing a (wonderfully apt, in my opinion) Target Stores logo.
I shouldn't have done it.
I should have just stuck to the plan and quietly watched him.
But . . . damn it . . . I was having so much fun with the role.
As he passed, I grabbed his arm.
"Hey . . . mister. Gimme' a quaddah! A quaddah! Gimme a quaddah ya bastid!"
Primo tried to shrug me off. "Ged de fock ouddah here, jo crazy puta!"
"GIMME A QUADDAH!"
The bag tore loose from its two paper handles spilling its contents across the sidewalk.
Four, large, clear plastic-wrapped "bricks" of an "Unknown White Powered Substance".
Maybe forty pounds all told.
Primo and I just stood there, staring at the bricks.
Then the spell broke. He made a mad grab for the spilled narcotics. I was thinking it had to be meth-amphetamine . . . You just didn't see the other drugs in that quantity, except for marijuana of course. Still, forty pounds of meth was a major drug bust. My training took over. As Primo grabbed for the drugs, I grabbed for Primo, managing to get a hold of the collar of his light jacket.
He spun on me, knocking my hand away. Then he gave me a shove that sent me flying backwards over my shopping cart.
I was struggling to regain my feet and resume the offensive when a little brunette bowling ball came charging in from the right, slamming into Primo and sending them both flying. Then I was up . . . Tolofson and Goldsworthy appeared out of nowhere. In a classic and highly scientific display of police work, the three of us "dog-piled" the Latino drug runner flailing beneath the blonde hooker.
Just before it all became too confused for me to get details, I distinctly remember Tony, in a very calm voice, informing Primo, "If that's a hard-on I feel pressing against my leg, you owe me $50!"
Twenty minutes later, we'd finally managed to get Primo stuffed into the back of a Sheriff's patrol car. Lane and Greg and Tony and I had finally managed to catch our breath enough to get out a Narc-a-Tell test kit to prove that we had indeed finally nabbed Primo `dead-bang' with forty pounds, more or less, of meth-amphetamine in his hot little hands.
Except, when we ran the test, it wasn't meth . . .
It was heroin.
Pure, UNCUT heroin . . . forty six POUNDS of it.
Street value . . . just a little over a quarter of a MILLION dollars!
The arraignment was scheduled to begin at ten. Tony and I made sure we were there a good twenty minutes early just in case the D.A. assigned had some last minute questions for us. But when he only paused long enough to make sure that we were in fact there and ready to go, it became pretty apparent that he, like us, thought this was all just routine.
Tollofson put in an appearance as well since technically this was a King County bust, not Seattle P.D. Since both Tony and I had reserve deputy sheriff commissions this was just a formality as well. All Seattle cops have those reserve commissions. It saves the hassle of establishing competency to arrest in situations just like this one. No, Lane didn't need to be here. This was my bust and that was the way it was going to be handled.
At seven minutes after ten, the Bailiff stuck his head out the courtroom door and called the docket number. The three of us stood. I straightened my blazer and smoothed the navy blue skirt I'd chosen today and whispered "My makeup okay?" to Tony. He smiled and nodded. "You look great Stef. Very professional. I can't wait to see the Defense shysters fall on their faces if they try to paint you like some kind of out-of-control bag-lady / cop."
If you get your image of criminal trials from television, you'd be very disappointed in the real thing. There's hardly ever any "high drama". Usually it's just a bunch of deadly-dull conversation while a bored judge scribbles notes and all the rest of the participants try to keep from dozing off.
Anyway . . . that's how it usually goes.
Primo was there, looking very dapper in a three-piece suit his defense team had probably just purchased for him. I really doubt he's got a closet of high-fashion men's wear waiting for him back at his "crib". They'd also gotten him a very conservative "businessman hair styling". Truth be known; he didn't look half bad once you got him cleaned up. If his lawyers could only get him to quit slouching in his chair he might have even been a little handsome.
There was a bunch of legal wrangling over some obscure procedural matter, which the judge finally disposed of in favor of the prosecution. There was a bunch of paper shuffling. The Court Clerk read the charges (one count of possession of a "Class `C' " controlled substance with intent to distribute and four counts of battery of a public servant.) According to Washington State law there has to be a minimum proof of the offenses charged at the arraignment stage and the prosecution finally got around to calling me to take the witness stand.
I took the oath, smoothed my skirt beneath me and gracefully lowered myself into the witnesses' chair.
The D.A., a young-ish fellow who looked a little like Tom Selleck, didn't even glance up from his notes while he asked all the "pro-forma" questions designed to establish jurisdiction over the offense charged and my authority as a police officer. I'd done this so many times I could have asked the questions from memory as well has he could.
The only `non-routine' part was where he offered me a chance to "tell the Court, in your own words, what occurred on the night in question."
I did my little story-time routine, making sure that it all sounded very professional and deadly serious. You know . . . lots of "I then proceeded to position myself in such a location that I could observe the alleged perpetrator's actions . . ." (Instead of "I stood near the door where I could see Primo.") The defense team seemed pretty uninterested in the whole affair. Several times I thought I saw a little smirk playing around Primo's lips. But since this time we had him cold, I couldn't figure out what he had to be smiling about. I put it down to my imagination. The only sign of interest from that side of the room came when the D.A. offered the four "bricks" of heroin into evidence. Usually, the defense makes some kind of challenge to the introduction. Usually, they don't even hope to win the argument. They just do it as a matter of course. This time however, when the D.A. paused from habit to let the defense lawyers yell "Objection!" there was only a moment's awkward silence. He turned and looked at them. They looked out the window, or at their notes, giving no indication that they had anything to say. The D.A. shrugged, checked his notes one last time to make sure we hadn't missed anything, then announced to the judge "I have no further questions of this witness." and sat back down.
I squirmed a little in the chair and waited for the defense lawyers to take their shot at me.
The lead counsel for the defense was a silver-haired old goat who looked a lot like Burl Ives playing that magical snowman in the animated Christmas special you still sometimes see on T.V. He was even wearing a plaid vest beneath his charcoal gray suit.
He stood, buttoned his jacket, took a quick gander at his own notes then sauntered over to me with a kindly, grandfatherly smile pasted on his puss.
"Officer Iaway . . . Good morning."
I nodded and gave him my best professional smile. "Good morning Counselor."
He leaned negligently on the railing of the witness box. "I really only have one matter I'd like to enquire into this morning so this shouldn't take too long." He turned to the Bailiff. "May I see one of those . . . packages . . . that the District Attorney had marked `Peoples Number One'?" The Bailiff looked at the Judge, who nodded permission, then handed the old shyster one of the "bricks". "Now, Miss Iaway . . . you've just testified that you took several such parcels from the possession of my client the night you arrested him, is that right?"
I nodded. "Yes. That's correct."
"I see. Now, have these items been in your possession since the time of the arrest?"
Oh ho . . . so that's where this was going, eh? He was going to try to play the old "chain of custody" card to try to get the evidence thrown out. Fine. Let him. We'd been VERY careful to dot all our "t"'s and cross all our "i"'s on this one. "No. Following standard procedure, once we had the suspect booked we surrendered the evidence into the custody of the Sheriff's Department Evidence Holding Facility."
"Oh. So you have no way of knowing that this parcel I'm holding in my hand is the same parcel that you surrendered to the evidence people, do you?"
I tried not to smile. Man, I hope Gordo wasn't paying this guy "big bucks" for this lame attempt at legal maneuvering. "Actually, I do. First, the evidence facility is a high security area. Only authorized personnel are allowed access, and even then only under tightly-controlled circumstances. It's therefore very unlikely that the evidence, once in custody, could be tampered with."
" `Very unlikely' . . . but not impossible, correct?"
"No, not impossible." Then I played the trump card that this guy, if he was any kind of criminal lawyer, should have known about. "Therefore, we insure against even the remote possibility by sealing the evidence in bags, such as you see there in your hand, and sign and date the seals."
The lawyer looked down at the parcel as though seeing it for the first time. "Oh . . . I see." He turned it in his hands until the seal was visible, then held it up to me. "And is this your signature?" I really didn't even spare it more than a passing glance. "Yes. It is."
"So there's no doubt in your mind that this is, in fact, the same item you took from my client on the night of his arrest?"
Again I nodded. "No sir. No doubt whatsoever."
I felt the first stirrings of a nagging little doubt when the old pettifogger grinned. "Very well." He turned to the counsel table and one of his associates pulled a small package out of a briefcase. "Now, Officer Iaway, you mentioned in your previous testimony that you identified the substance in these parcels as a `Class `C' Controlled Substance'. Could you explain again how that was accomplished?"
"Through the use of the standardized `Narc-a-Tell Field Test Kit."
He held up the little package he'd received. "Like this one?"
I looked at it for a moment then nodded. "Yes."
"I see." With the heroin brick still in his hand, he held the Narc-a-Tell up to the light and peered at it with a theatrically suspicious sneer. "Do you have much experience with these kits Officer?"
"I have been trained in their use, yes."
"What if you'd gotten a bad kit? Hmm? What if somebody had `monkeyed' with it before you used it? That's possible, isn't it?"
Strike two counselor. "No sir. As you can see, the kits are sealed. We would not use a kit if it appeared to have been tampered with."
"So, assuming that this kit I'm now holding in my hand hadn't been tampered with, it would produce the same results as the kit you used in the field the night you arrested Mr. Sanchez, is that correct?"
I didn't know where this was going, but I could only answer "Yes".
He handed me the Narc-a-Tell. "And has this kit been tampered with?" I examined the packaging and confirmed that it had not.
"Very good." He handed me the heroin brick. "Officer Iaway, would you please demonstrate for the Court the procedure you carried out that night?"
The D.A. was on his feet shouting "Objection" and there followed several minutes of legal wrangling during which I looked at Tony. His face must have echoed my worry, but he could only shrug. We both knew the defense was up to something, but we couldn't figure out what. The test would work again, just like it had that night. It had to.
Finally the Judge settled the matter by stating that the defense had laid a sufficient groundwork for the request. The D.A. glowered, but sat back down. Smiling at some victory that I still couldn't see, the defense lawyer pointed to the heroin and the Narc-a-Tell and grinned, "If you'd please proceed Officer?"
I shrugged, opened the kit, used one of my disappointingly short thumbnails to punch a little hole in the heroin brick, and performed the test.
As I was carefully nudging my little pile of heroin into the test tube, the old shyster asked, "Now, what's supposed to happen?"
Still concentrating on my work I muttered, "Once the sample of the drug is in with the reagent in the test tube, there'll be a color change . . . from clear to blue. The darker the color, the more concentrated the sample of the . . ."
Then I could only sit there and stare at the test tube in my hand.
On the night we'd arrested Primo, the heroin had been so pure that it had immediately turned the reagent a dark, almost black, mid-night blue.
But today . . . nothing happened.
There was no color change at all.
I was still babbling "I don't understand . . ." when the defense attorney turned to the Judge and made his motion to dismiss the charges based on the "State's bungling and grievous lack of evidence . . ."
At the D.A.'s request, (none too gently stated I might add), we'd been segregated in an interrogation room down at Headquarters. By "we" I mean Tony, myself, Lane Tollofson and Greg Goldsworthy. With the exception of Lt. MacMahon, the KCSOCT's boss, we were the only ones who'd had access to the drugs, both on the night of the arrest and presumably since then.
The four of us had been subjected to a long harangue, first by that `young-ish D.A.' (whom I now thought didn't look a thing like Tom Selleck) and then by his boss, the honest-to-goodness King County Prosecuting Attorney himself.
After taking a good look at each of the "bricks" I was pretty sure now that it wasn't my signature that appeared on the evidence seals. Pretty sure . . . but frankly, it was an awfully good forgery. It had to be a forgery, right? I mean, all four of us had stood there that night, looking at the test results of the Narc-a-Tell. And those kits were so simple. There just wasn't that much that could go wrong with them.
"Cop-proof", you know?
So I took a deep breath and tried to get out from under by arguing that somebody must have tampered with the evidence while it was in the Holding Facility. Couldn't we just explain that to the Judge and . . .
Boy, the lecture I got.
I was told, in no uncertain terms; it didn't make a damn bit of difference how or why the evidence was all fouled up. It was a case of "heads the defense wins, tails we loose." Either we had blown the test out on the street, in which case we could expect to spend the rest of our careers as crosswalk guards. Or somebody had gotten to the evidence and tampered with it. And if somebody could tamper with it once, then how would we ever convince a jury, (if we ever got to trial, which it now looked like was most certainly not going to happen,) that it was at all reliable this time? The bottom line was; the evidence was useless and since it was the basis of the case against Primo . . . well . . . you could hear the sound of a toilet flushing.
After about an hour of lots of yelling and finger-pointing while the four of us just sat there and took it. (What else could we do?) We were left alone in the interrogation room again while the "powers that be" went off to figure out what to do next.
Man, you could have cut the silence in the room with a knife. We all knew something had gone wrong, but none of us knew what. Who had fouled up?
Nobody wanted to be the first to ask that question and since that was all there was to talk about . . .
So we sat there . . . for a little over two hours . . . speaking in monosyllables when we spoke at all.
Then, two-and-a-half-hours after it had all fallen apart in the courtroom, the door opened and a whole procession of people entered. Leading the charge was the King County Prosecuting Attorney. Right behind him was our bosses' boss, Captain Millard. With them were Lt. MacMahon and a couple of supervisor-grade officers from both the Seattle P.D. and the King County Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs Bureaus.
Somebody's head was gonna roll.
And who's better to fit the chopping block than mine?
The whole procession came to a halt. Without a word they stared down at us seated around the table . . . we stared up at them.
MacMahon leered at me.
I waited for the axe to fall . . .
Then my heart really did stop beating when MacMahon whirled on Tony and with a sneer in his voice said, "Anthony Chan, stand up. You're under arrest for obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, grand larceny, conspiracy to commit grand larceny and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute."
I sat there, watching the videotape for the third time. I still couldn't believe what I saw.
Because it was a high security area, the control desk for the Sheriff's Evidence Locker had a video camera that covered anyone transacting business. The feed from the camera led to a VCR that ran twenty-fours a day, seven days a week.
During the two-and-a-half hours that we'd been sitting in the interrogation room, somebody had had the idea to review the tapes for the period between the time the drugs had been checked into evidence and today, the date of the trial-that-wasn't. Using "fast-forward search" who ever had been doing the check had quickly found a very interesting segment; the very segment I was now watching over and over.
The date/time stamp in the lower corner of the image proclaimed that it had been captured March 9th, the same night as Max's retirement party, at a little after two in the morning.
I watched again as the bored desk watch, a Deputy I vaguely remembered but whose name I couldn't recall, looked up from the paper he was reading at some noise.
And then, walking in from the left . . . ash blonde hair swinging, oversized breasts bouncing beneath a cotton tank-top I immediately recognized . . . "Toni BB" came strutting into the frame. There was no audio pickup to go with the video, but I could see the now-no-longer bored Deputy steal a quick, appreciative glance at the dance of Toni's fake boobs, her taut, bare midriff, and at the long, shapely legs amply revealed by her ultra cutoffs.
Toni preened for a moment as the Deputy tried not to stare. Then, in typical Tony fashion, the counterfeit blonde sex kitten set her brief case on the counter and reached into the hip pocket of her cutoffs, pulling out a badge/ID combination, which "she" presented to the Deputy.
You could see; first the disappointment, then the embarrassment at being so obviously taken in by the ruse dawn on the Deputy's face.
There was a few more minutes chat as the now revealed Tony teased the Deputy a bit more. Then the Deputy pressed the buzzer beneath the counter and "Toni BB" disappeared into the Locker. (A check of the log indicated that "Officer Chan of the Seattle P.D." had signed in to deposit an "Unlicensed, concealed weapon; Smith and Wesson, Model 27" seized that evening during the course of a routine arrest for solicitation of a prostitute.) The image showed the Deputy shaking his head and biting his lip in thoughtful contemplation. Then, after a little under three minutes, just about the time it would take to properly tag and deposit the weapon, the door opened and Toni BB came wiggling back out.
"She" chatted with the Deputy for a moment longer, flicking that wild blonde mane over her shoulder and thrusting those faux tits into the poor Desk Clerk's face one last time, then with a silent giggle, a wink and a blown kiss, she strode out of frame.
It wasn't Toni BB. It couldn't be.
I mean, Tony had been at Max's party till . . . well . . . Grim and Max had poured me into the cab a little after one. They said that Tony had left some time before that. Say . . . sometime between eleven and midnight. And that he'd been pretty much out cold.
So, at two AM on March 9th, Tony had been passed out at home in bed, sleeping off a drunk . . . right?
I used the remote control to back the tape up and froze it at a particularly good image of "Toni BB" while "she" was preening for the Deputy after first walking in.
The image wasn't the best so I had to stare at it for a long time before I was convinced. The hair, those massive boobs, the outfit . . . it was all so obviously Toni BB. But the face . . . it wasn't quite right. The cheekbones weren't quite high enough. The nose was just a little "off".
At least, I could convince myself that that was so.
But I couldn't convince any of the other observers in the room.
MacMahon appointed himself devil's advocate for my offer of proof that this wasn't Tony. Jabbing the cigarette he was using to pollute the small room's limited supply of oxygen at the screen he snarled. "Look Iaway, that's Chan. She . . . I mean he flashed Chan's ID. Deputy Hotchkiss took a real good look at it. After Chan had fucked with him that bad you can bet he did. And no, it wasn't a fake. Hotchkiss is sure of that."
I glared at MacMahon and stabbed a finger at the screen myself. "Like Hotchkiss is a real good judge of what's fake and what's not, right?"
The youngish D.A. took up the argument. "Okay, suppose for a minute it isn't Chan. Let's say that this person is using a really good forgery. How did he . . . or she for that matter . . ." (And here I got a meaningful glance) " . . . know where the drugs were in the locker? Look at the elapsed time between Chan goes in and when he comes back out. Are you going to tell me that somebody searched the whole locker room in under three minutes? Nobody but the four arresting officers and Lt. MacMahon knew which bin the drugs were in. And there are over two hundred bins in there. Do you want us to believe that this stranger just got really lucky and guessed right?"
I wasn't beaten yet. "Okay. But as you say; the five of us knew which bin. Why does it have to be Tony in that suit?"
I realized, belatedly, that I was piling wood around my own pyre, but at this point I didn't care.
MacMahon took up the argument again. "Yeah, but look at the screen. See how Hotchkiss is looking down at `BB's' face? He's five foot eight and he's looking down. Noticeably looking down. You're, what?"
I snarled "Five foot seven".
"Yeah, and I'm six one. Goldsworthy; you're what?"
Greg answered "Six foot even".
All eyes turned to the diminutive Tollofson. He just sat there for a moment, feeling all the eyes on him, then he mumbled something that none of us heard. MacMahon growled "What?" and Lane spoke louder this time.
"Five foot five."
There was a long silence as a lot of expressions became speculative. Lane quickly countered with; "But I've never even seen one of these . . . what-cha-may-call-it suits! I swear! Check with who ever it is that makes `em! Besides . . ." He made a helpless little gesture at the screen. "I mean . . . look at her. I mean him. Do you really think I could carry on like that? That a guy could . . . Look at her for God's sake!"
I pounced. "Tony can do it!" The point I was trying to make was that it was easily possible for a man to carry off the impersonation.
But my comment was promptly misconstrued. MacMahon immediately sneered, "Yeah, he can, can't he?"
I tried to argue back but it was starting to sound like I was pleading, not arguing. "Doesn't it seem really strange to anyone else that Tony would use a disguise that obvious? I mean, what kind of a disguise is it where everybody knows it's you? What's the point of that? Hell, for all the good the suit did him . . . if it was Tony, that is . . . he might as well just have gone as himself."
MacMahon waved a hand in dismissal. "You'd do it to cause just the kind of confusion you're trying to cause right now. I mean; `they know I'm not dumb enough to use this disguise, so I'll outsmart `em and use it anyway."
"That's ridiculous! `They know that I know that they know . . .' That's just a bad comedy routine!"
MacMahon and I glared at each other for a second then the D.A. blind-sided me with, "And how do you explain where we found the drugs?"
I shot back with, "See? That's what I mean! Tony wouldn't be that stupid! Come on!"
When Toni BB had come back out, per regulations, she'd opened her briefcase to show the Deputy (whose name I now knew was Hotchkiss) that it was empty, that she wasn't taking anything out of the locker without signing for it. So, even assuming that the brief case had contained the altered "bricks" on the way in, it hadn't contained the real drugs on the way out. Ergo, they still had to be in the evidence room somewhere.
A detailed search had proven that indeed they were.
They'd been found wrapped up in the original "Toni" suit, stored in the locker since Angel's trial.
The D.A. quickly replied, "That's the defense? That Chan's too clever a crook?"
I whimpered "You're twisting my words. That's not . . ." Then I remembered something else and I almost crowed, "Besides, Tony couldn't have done it! He was so far in the bag when he left the party it would have been a miracle if he could have made it from his bed to his front door, much less pull off that whole routine with Hotchkiss!"
Instead of stopping them in their tracks, MacMahon just grinned at me while the rest of them looked embarrassed. I glanced from face to face. Finally, Captain Millard murmured, "They checked the bar tab for everyone at Max's retirement party, Stef. Tony only had three beers." My jaw just dropped. "It's . . . it's a mistake! It has to be. I mean . . . Max and Grim said . . ." But the Captain was shaking his head. MacMahon smirked, "Now, why do you suppose Tony would be pretending to be drunk? What possible reason could there be for that?" I struggled for a moment, but I couldn't think of any reason . . . no reason at all. Besides, it was too late. They were all standing to go. Tony had been led out several minutes ago, after the first viewing of the tape, his jaw muscles working, a troubled frown on his face.
They were going down now to attend to the booking of a cop.
A cop that I was certain had been wrongly accused.
I was just certain!
They use a "fast track" procedure for arraigning cops. It cuts down on media exposure. I didn't even go home that evening. At eight o'clock that night, when the courthouse had sufficiently quieted down and all the court-beat reporters had gone home for the night, they quietly brought Tony up the back stairs and before Judge Sandstrom. I sat there in a dream-like state of denial as Tony pled "not guilty" to the charges and they set the bail at $50,000.00. The Union appointed attorney used a pledge of Tony's equity in his retirement fund to post the bail right there and Tony was released with instructions to appear the day after tomorrow for arraignment.
I tried to talk with him as he left the courtroom but he brushed past me as if he didn't even see me.
He'd been suspended from duty indefinitely and I'd landed a desk job "until this matter was concluded." He didn't answer his phone or his door when I tried to contact him.
When he didn't show up for his arraignment . . . when they went to his place and found both him and his "Toni V" suit and several changes of clothes (both male and female) gone . . . when they found his checking account had been cleaned out the day before . . .
They issued a warrant for his arrest and an B.O.L.O. went out to all U.S. police agencies.
Tony had taught me; when trying to solve a mystery you catalog what you know for certain, you make small, educated guesses as to what the clues mean, then you set out to try and confirm or disprove your guesses.
That sounds really logical and reasonable . . . until you factor emotion into the equation. The day after Tony had apparently gone on the run, I called in sick . . . nobody really seemed to care if I showed up for work or not . . . put on a pot of tea and just sat on the balcony watching the sail boats on Lake Washington.
For my very first "fact" I had no proof, just an unshakable certainty in the pit of my stomach. Tony hadn't done it. Put it down to what ever you want; a deep understanding of the man and his character, the way all the clues so obviously pointed to Tony as to make it all so "fishy" . . . woman's intuition . . .
It doesn't matter how I knew, I just knew.
Okay. If Tony hadn't done it, who had?
Here's what I knew about the perpetrator: He, (or she . . . don't forget that possibility!) was of slender build, about five foot four to five foot six in height. If it was a he, he had access to a Nu-Gen suit, perhaps one of the new I-2020S's. (Or; he had had one of the older, "fixed" models made to duplicate Toni BB . . . file that one away for future inquiry.) If it was a she, then she . . . hell, she was wearing a really padded bra and an ash-blonde wig for all I knew. Probably was . . . you had to figure that there'd be video surveillance of the evidence locker so you'd be wearing some kind of disguise.
And speaking of knowing about the video surveillance; this person knew a lot about police procedure. I mean; he or she knew they'd need ID to get in, that the facility was a controlled access point. They knew when coming out to just automatically open the brief case and show it to the desk watch.
And the real kicker; he or she knew right where the drugs were.
That was the one thing, more than anything else, that was damning Tony. MacMahon and the others had been right. You couldn't just walk into the evidence locker and guess which of the bins held the drugs. Considering the time the imposter Tony had been in there, he or she had known exactly where to go, which bin to look in.
There were only five people who knew which bin was the right one.
Okay, this was good. This limited my number of suspects right away.
I "knew" it wasn't Tony.
One off the list.
I knew it wasn't me.
Two off the list.
That left Tollofson, Goldsworthy and MacMahon.
As MacMahon had correctly pointed out and as I knew; the perpetrator had to be shorter than six feet.
MacMahon and Goldsworthy were both six feet or better.
Therefore Tollofson was the bad guy. QED.
Now . . . how to prove it?
I had intended to begin my investigation the very next day, but a preemptory summons from Captain Millard put those plans on hold. When your captain tells you to be in his office at nine o'clock sharp, you do what you're told.
My heart was in my mouth the entire trip from my apartment down to headquarters. Had something new come to light? Was it my turn to face an accusation?
There were several people waiting for me in the Captain's office when I arrived. The Captain was there as was MacMahon (boy, I was certainly getting to loathe that guy!) There were also three civilians I didn't recognize; two men and a woman. The men stood up when I entered.
The Captain carried out the introductions. "Officer Stephanie Iaway, this is Lindsay Smith (slender, good-looking in a dark featured way, forty-ish), Ranjar Mahr . . . Marha . . ."
The chubby and very ethinic little fellow stuck out a hand. "Ranjar Mahramaham. A pleasure."
I shook his hand and the Captain motioned to the seated woman. "Yes, and Nancy Hathon."
She accepted my handshake still seated (an affectation I really dislike) and quietly but forcefully amended "Doctor Nancy Hathon." Like the two men; she was late thirty, early forty-ish. She had well-styled, dark brown hair, dark brown eyes and an aristocratic face. The kind of face that could be elegantly beautiful. Could be . . . if she'd smile or put some effort into her appearance.
But the arrogance and coldness seemed to roll right off her. I'm good at first impressions and I had this woman down even before we'd exchanged a dozen words. Ice Queen . . . passionless bitch. She was the kind of woman who traded personality, (if she ever had one to begin with,) for profession. Having accepted my handshake she made a small show of crossing her legs and smoothing the skirt of her nicely tailored and very expensive looking business suit beneath her thighs. Body language for "keep your distance".
I was only too happy to comply.
Instead I glanced a question at the Captain.
He nodded and filled me in. "These folks are from Nu-Gen. They've asked for and received the Chief's permission to participate in an advisory capacity . . ." (This, accompanied by a meaningful glance from the Captain to the three civilians.) " . . . in the on-going investigation into the Chan matter."
Now I was looking appraisingly at them.
Mr. Smith . . . the dark, handsome fellow, had sat down after shaking my hand. Now he took up the explanation. "You see Officer Iaway, it's a matter of some concern to us."
I must have raised an eyebrow. "How so?"
He continued. "Let me explain. The whole Nu-Gen concept is my idea. I founded the division six years ago with my own personal resources. Before then I was a materials engineer for . . . well, for the aerospace firm that still owns a controlling interest in Nu-Gen."
I stood there for a minute, then to prod him to continue I offered a tentative, "I see." (The way I said it, it probably should have ended in a question mark.)
He gave me a dark, urbane smile that very easily could have gotten my motor running under the right circumstances and went on. "Let me guess what you're thinking. `How did a materials engineer come up with the idea for a gender-transforming appliance?'. It's pretty simple. The prototype suit was for my own use."
He studied my face closely, looking for a negative reaction. I'm pleased to report that he didn't see one. Maybe it's just the job I do but there simply wasn't that big a shock value to Mr. Smith's implied confession of transvestitism.
Apparently pleased with my response, he nodded, and smiled again. "Nu-Gen is very much my `baby' Ms Iaway. I have a lot of time and money invested in it. But more than that, I believe I've begun to offer everyone else a different perspective of folks like me." Then he waved a hand in self-deprecation. "Oh, I have no illusions. I don't think I will nor do I intend to try to `change the world'. But I do believe that my creation and I have served to do a little good along the way. As an example, I'd point to your partner Sergeant Chan and his efforts."
I felt a little glimmer of hope. "So you're here to try and . . ."
Hathon, the Ice Queen stuck a great big icicle into my nascent hopes. " . . . `clear Sergeant Chan'? Hardly. The evidence against him seems quite overwhelming."
I tried not to frown too deeply at her sitting there, a cold, superior little smile playing around her lips.
Smith spoke again, quietly but forcefully. "Make no mistake Ms Iaway. I fought hard and took great risks for the creation and continuation of Nu-Gen. I will not see my creation perverted into a means for criminals to defeat the law. I will stop at nothing to prevent that. Anyone who stands in my way . . ." Smith and Hathon exchanged a meaningful but obscure stare.
While that was going on the little Indian cleared his throat. When I glanced at him he offered me a friendly smile. "Mr. Smith tasked me with creating a way to prevent just that occurrence. The perversion of his creation, I mean. Let me explain. I am an electronics engineer by profession. It was I who offered a suggestion as to a means to thwart would-be evil doers contemplating the use of our newest creation, the I-2020S. Are you at all familiar with the `Lo-Jack Tracker System' Officer Iaway?"
I nodded. "Yeah. It's a small transmitter that you can hide on a car. Under certain circumstances it transmits a radio signal allowing the vehicle to be tracked and recovered by police."
The little fellow nodded, still smiling. "Just so. I have modified that concept for use in the I-2020S. You see, we have developed a micro-chip that can be incorporated into the suit, secreted in such a way as to be undiscoverable without the destruction of the suit itself. When this chip is brought into close proximity to a specially designed transceiver, it emits a pulse. That pulse signal carries a unique identifying code. Thus, a properly equipped investigator can `interrogate' even a crowd of people and identify the individual suit being worn by someone within that crowd."
Smith was nodding along with all this. "We can also carry the concept a bit farther. Let's say we were to put a transceiver in . . . oh . . . a bank for example. If you try to use one of our suits to rob that bank, the transceiver will get your ID pulse and you'll be identified no matter what you currently look like. Better than fingerprints because each ID is unambiguously unique."
I was getting so caught up in the discussion, for the first time in three days I forgot about Tony and his problems. "Do you intend to put a transceiver in each bank? How about in every 7-11? Every gas station? There are lots of places a person could use one of your suits to commit a crime Mr. Smith."
But he was still nodding. "The transceivers are fairly inexpensive to produce. But you're right, it would be impossible . . . at least initially . . . to put a transceiver in every possible location of a crime. So we're going to use the same uncertainty principle that makes the suits attractive as a crime tool against them."
I interrupted with "You're not going to tell people where the transceivers are . . . only that there are transceivers."
Hathon gave Smith a superior little smirk. "I told you she'd be quick on the uptake."
I turned on the woman. "Okay. I see what Mr. Smith and Mr . . ."
"Mahramaham." A smile. "But call me Ranjar, please."
I returned the smile. "I see what Mr. Smith and Ranjar are doing here. What's your function?"
Since all I got in reply was a cold smile, it was Captain Millard who answered. "Ms . . . Doctor Hathon is a psychologist. Mr. Smith has brought her along to help us figure out where Chan has gone to ground.
Smith's words were again quiet but carried utter conviction. "As soon as we get close enough, get enough clues, we're going to turn on our transceiver and the suit will lead us right to our target."
The long, red wig I'd chosen was hot and tight and pretty distracting, but it also did the most to chance the shape and character of my face. Together with the glasses and the two cotton balls I'd shoved next to my upper gum-line, I thought I looked sufficiently different from Stef Iaway that I could hang out in the same bar as Tollofson and not be recognized. Provided I didn't get too close or pay too much attention to him.
I was running out of time. The Nu-Gen team had set up shop in an upscale motel down by Pioneer Square and I'd been tasked as their Department liaison. But not before the Captain had made it clear that I was still "a person of interest" (read `They still had their eye on me too') in the on-going investigation. I could expect to be kept on a pretty short leash. The Nu-Gen folks were going to start a canvas of Tony's old haunts, their devious little transceiver in hand. I got to be the Judas goat who pointed out all those old haunts.
We were going to get our start first thing tomorrow morning.
That left me tonight to follow my own suspicions.
As it turns out, I got finally got a break.
Tollofson was my lead suspect and I'd followed him around all morning and afternoon. Around five PM he went home. From the rooftop of an apartment building across the street, and with the aid of a pair of high-powered binoculars I'd `borrowed' from the Equipment Room, I figured he was getting ready for a night on the town. I followed him as far as the Ten-Seven Lounge then I rushed home and changed as quickly as possible into the best disguise possible.
I'd managed to make the change and get back to the Ten-Seven in just a little under an hour. Luck was with me. I quickly spotted Tollofson sitting alone at a table on the edge of the dance floor. I quickly got my own booth across the room in a dark corner and spent the next hour watching him out of the corner of my eye. That, and dodging the occasional offer of a dance. With Tollofson sitting just a few feet away, I really didn't think this was a great night to be out there on the dance floor "shaking my booty". Besides, I was here on business tonight.
Lane seemed to be playing hard to get too. Was he waiting for someone?
I got my answer soon enough. A little brunette came through the door, scanned the crowd, then smiling, she made a beeline for Tollofson's table. He stood up when he noticed her and they shared a little hug before she sat down.
Lane had a girlfriend?
Since he was obviously preoccupied with this latest arrival, I risked getting caught in a stare and really looked at the both of them for a moment. She was moderately attractive though no stunning beauty with a slender, average enough figure and a pretty, though again, not-remarkable face.
And there was something familiar about her.
I couldn't place it.
I didn't think I recognized her. The face didn't set any bells ringing.
But there was something . . .
They obviously weren't going anywhere for a few minutes so I broke off my stare and went back to hiding behind the veil of red hair that naturally flowed off my shoulder when I lowered my head.
I knew her. Or did I?
Was she one of the prostitutes Tony and I worked?
That was possible.
Lots of the girls wore pretty heavy makeup and often wigs when they were working. If you took the makeup off of her . . . if you removed her professional disguise . . .
Professional disguise . . .
My head snapped back up and this time I didn't even think about getting caught in a stare.
Could it be?
Was that why she seemed familiar?
Had Tony put the same clues together in the same fashion I had?
Was my boss and my dear friend putting that remarkable Toni V suit of his to good use? Had he just walked in the door and sat down, conducting his own investigation of my principal suspect?
I felt my lips curling into an impish grin. It would be just like Tony, to hide in plain sight and do what he needed to do at the same time.
Then the smile froze into brittle ice.
If that was in fact Tony sitting there.
It could just be some woman that Tollofson had met. Maybe she struck me as familiar for some completely innocent reason. Maybe she didn't have anything at all to do with this whole affair.
Or maybe she did.
Maybe I'd been a little hasty in forming my original list of only five suspects.
What if Tollofson had had an accomplice?
Remember how you weren't going to forget that it could be a woman in a padded bra and a blonde wig who'd bluffed her way into the evidence room? Maybe this was that woman. Maybe Tollofson's claim that he'd never even seen one of those "what-cha-may-call-it suits" was true. Maybe the disguise had been of a different sort all together and I'd been too quick to assume an overly complicated scheme.
Or had I?
What if this "woman" sitting here across from Tollofson had a Nu-Gen programming unit of her own waiting for her back home? What if "she" just twisted a few knobs and pushed a few buttons (or what ever it was you did) and suddenly there was an over-developed blonde sex kitten standing there where this little brunette had previously stood? And who knew what had been standing there to begin with?
Was that my friend Tony sitting there?
Or was it my enemy?
Too many possibilities and no obvious way to solve the problem.
Then the little brunette stood, smiled at her date (was Tollfoson a date or something more sinister?) and headed for the ladies' room. I stood and followed staying as much out of Tollofson's line of sight as possible.
Once through the door of the rest room, the din of the nightclub faded and my footsteps sounded alarmingly loud. "She" must know she wasn't alone in here now. Was she on her guard?
In a restroom?
Come on Iaway. Let's not get carried away here. Caution is one thing, paranoia is another. I took a very quick glance under the partition and spotted only one pair of feet in the middle of three stalls. (White leather flats with a small gold buckle. What had she been wearing? Why hadn't I checked when I was sitting there gaping at her?)
I started to wash my hands, then realized if she was in there for a minute, it'd be pretty obvious that I was just covering my otherwise unwarranted presence in here by trying to look busy. Instead of turning on the faucet, I made my way to the first stall.
Of course, no sooner had I shut the door and sat down, (without even lowering my jeans,) then she promptly stood up and I heard the toilet flush. Oh, fine. Now, unless I again wanted to look suspicious, I had to sit here for at least a minute or two. In that time she might leave and this whole expedition to . . .
To do what?
Why had I come in here in the first place?
To get a closer look at her?
That might be part of it.
But I think, in the back of my mind, something was hoping this was Tony. I was worried for him. I was vicariously feeling some of the panic and "alone-ness" he must be feeling right now. I was hoping, more than anything else that I'd step out of the stall and the little brunette would be standing there at the mirror. I walk up to the sink and pretend to wash my hands. She'd glance side-long at me. After a second there'd be a little smile of recognition on that stranger's face. And then, even through the altered voice, I'd hear that impish grin. "Hi Stef."
But that wasn't going to happen with me sitting here like a lump. I stood and remembered to flush the toilet. Then I took a deep breath and stepped out.
The little brunette was standing there at the mirror, checking her makeup.
I stepped up beside her at the sinks and washed my hands.
She didn't even spare me a glance.
I couldn't help it. I turned to her and whispered "Tony?"
The word wasn't apparently loud enough for her to make it out. She only knew I'd said something because she glanced at me, her eyebrow raised in a question.
She looked at me. I looked at her.
Did I just imagine the little smile of recognition that almost tugged at the corners of her mouth?
In a perfectly innocent voice she murmured, "I beg your pardon?"
I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and make her tell me who she was. Make her confess everything, what ever it was I thought she had to confess.
Instead I just glanced away and cleared my throat.
This seemed to be an acceptable reply because she went back to examining herself in the mirror. She fussed with the line of her blouse for a moment, then reached down through her collar and into her bra, adjusting her breasts so as to more flatteringly display her cleavage.
It was such a feminine gesture. Too late I realized I was again gaping at her. Once again she was looking into my eyes, this time the smile on her lips was equal parts embarrassment and mild pique at being stared at. "I'm beginning to think that they call them `Wonder Bras' because you `wonder' how you were conned into wearing something so uncomfortable."
I managed a flustered "Yeah, really!"
She took one more glance into the mirror and satisfied with what she saw, she strode back out into the noise of the crowd without another glance at me.
And I hadn't learned anything! The only result of this little scene was an anxious knot in my stomach.
God! Had that been Tony?
Of all the people on earth, surely he knew he could trust me. Surely he knew I wouldn't turn him in, that I believed in his innocence.
Unless he wasn't innocent.
Had that been the reason he'd pretended not to recognize me? Was he afraid I'd found out . . . what ever there was to find out and now I was hunting him through his accomplice Tollofson?
If that had been Tony at all.
If . . . if . . . if!
Damn Lindsay Smith and his invention! Damn the confusion it caused!
Okay, I hadn't really learned anything, but that only meant that I had to keep trying. I belatedly remembered to dry my hands then strode out the door myself, this time with a purpose.
But when I quickly scanned the crowd for Tollofson and the mystery woman, they weren't there.
While I'd been agonizing in the can, they'd both apparently left.
And I didn't have a clue where they'd gone.
The next morning found me down in what we on The Job call "the Erogenous Zone." Tony's and my most frequent work site.
If last night's efforts had been frustratingly unrevealing, today was nothing less than rank amateurism. I gathered that the whole plan was simply to wander around Tony's known "haunts" in a random attempt to "gather clues and leads."
I guess, at some point, Tony was just supposed to come strolling by and we'd pounce on him.
Well, good luck to us.
At least I was fairly confident that if this was their plan, it wouldn't be the Nu-Gen folks getting to Tony before me.
To compound the problem, I'd been teamed with Doctor Hathon on "foot patrol" while Ranjar and Smith shadowed us in a nondescript Dodge Caravan, their high-tech transceiver all primed and ready to "lead us right to" Tony.
I'd worn tennis shoes, worn but serviceable black jeans and a dark maroon sweatshirt with a discrete University of Washington logo. Nothing noticeable, nothing that stood out. Good, "blend with the crowd" stuff.
With what she was wearing, Hathon might as well have been carrying a lighted sign reading "Outsider!" She had on an expensive pair of burgundy-colored suede flats, matching twill slacks, a white, broadcloth blouse and a bulky, cream-colored, cable knit sweater that looked like it cost at least $500.
Better yet, everywhere she went, her shoulders were hunched up around her ears and her arms were tightly folded beneath her breasts. I think if any of the "filth" had actually managed to rub off on her, she probably would have either fainted dead away or run screaming all the way back to Beverly Hills . . . or what ever posh suburb this posh bitch came from.
"The Street" shares this in common with the jungle; once you're "attuned" to it, you can "feel" when things are out of place . . . when "strangers" are in the vicinity. Hathon couldn't have been broadcasting her "strangeness" any louder if she'd been consciously trying. Needless to say; the street people saw us coming from a mile away. As "attuned" to the street as Tony had become, even if he was here, he'd be long gone before Hathon and I ever got near him.
So we just aimlessly wandered as I made it a point to take her into the most squalid and dirty areas I could think of.
Then we came across "Thunder Johnson" sitting amidst his stench and tattered clothing and I couldn't resist steering Hathon within his range.
Good old Thunder. He was such a fixture on the streets that it would have seemed strange not to see him. True to his nickname, and with his usual perfect timing, just as Hathon was trying to sidle past, the old derelict emitted an earth-shaking fart then thrust one grimy hand out, almost into Hathon's crotch. As two bleary eyes twinkled from the otherwise impenetrably obscuring grime and whiskers a whiskey fogged voice growled "Hey lady . . . spare a buck?"
She actually uttered a panicked little squeak and skittered away. It was all I could do to keep from laughing. I leaned down close enough for the old rummy's eyes to focus, (but not so close that I only had his stench to breathe) and in a loud voice said, "Hey, Thunder . . . It's me, Stef."
Those two dark eyes regarded me. After a moment, I saw recognition dawn. "Oh . . . hi Off'ish'ah Iaways. Whas' happin'in'?"
"You seen Tony lately?"
"Tony? . . . ya' mean `Sar'jun' Tony'? Nah . . . He hasn't been `roun'. There been some girls . . . but . . . Hey, Off'ish'ah Stephanie. I'm awful thirsty!"
"You're always thirsty Thunder. I'll tell you what. If you see Tony, you let me know about it. If I find him because of your tip, I'll buy you a steak dinner with all the trimmings. How'll that be?"
Thunder regarded me thoughtfully for a moment. I could swear I almost saw a moment's lucidity in them. "Can I have a glass `o wine wit' it?"
I chuckled. "Yeah, you can have a whole bottle."
"Oh! Tha'd be great! I'll look fer him . . . you bet I will!"
With some effort, he managed to lever himself into a more or less upright posture and went slouching off in the general direction of the docks.
As I watched him go, I again wondered about his story. How did a person wind up like that? Where had it gone wrong for him?
As a lookout, Thunder was almost worthless. Inside half an hour, he'd have forgotten why he was looking for `Ser'jun' Tony.' In another half-hour he'd have forgotten he was looking for anyone.
I wondered if he still remembered his story, if there was any anchor at all left to a life before now.
I sighed, then shrugged. Too many stories around here and only so much a person could do. I escorted the still panic-stricken Doctor Hathon two blocks over to the relative safety of Speedie's Cafe. At this time of the morning, there was little chance there'd be a lot of activity in there. It was the time of day when most of the hookers were using their beds to actually sleep. Thinking about Thunder had depressed me. I was tired of playing along with this fool's errand and I wanted a cup of Speedies' good, hot tea.
We got a booth by the window and Hathon and I sat down. She just stared out the window, a little frown of distaste on her lips while I pondered "things".
What had last night meant? Had I learned anything?
Well, yes. I'd learned two things. First: my initial certainty that, of the five suspects, Lane Tollofson was the only possible choice, was premature at best. If you considered that there was a possible sixth accomplice, then any of the other five . . . or more than one of them . . . could be the culprit.
Second: I learned that it was a really bad idea to try to pad your cheeks out with cotton. In the two hours I'd been using that trick, the cotton had somehow managed to rub the inside of my cheeks and my gums bleeding-raw. That's why I wanted a cup of Speedies' tea, to try and soothe the ache.
What a productive night it had been.
Still . . . I had, perhaps, learned something valuable. If I could decide why that little brunette had looked familiar.
"Hey Stef. Whatcha doin' down here at this hour? And who's your high-tone friend?"
Surprised, I glanced up into Bev's eyes.
Bev was an old war-horse of the streets who'd actually managed to survive "The Trade" long enough to retire. She'd been around when Speedie had first moved into the neighborhood and opened his cafe way back in the mid-70's. Over the years they'd become friends and now she made an honest wage working for him as waitress.
"Hey Bev." I nodded to Hathon who was glaring at Bev, a superior little sneer curling her lip. "This is . . . well . . . Doesn't matter. Say, have you seen Tony lately?"
Bev gave me a gravel-throated chuckle. "How the hell should I know? Christ, every time a new girl walks in the whole place goes quiet as a tomb while we try to figure out if it's your little stud partner or a real woman."
I shared her smile. "It's important that I get a hold of him. If you see him, let me know, okay?"
She nodded and fished out her order pad. "So, what'll you two ladies have?"
"Tea for me, please."
Hathon sniffed and in a condescending voice muttered. "Diet Coke . . . and you needn't bring a glass. I'll just drink it out of the can."
I didn't even hear Bev's retort. Like a thunderclap I suddenly knew why that little brunette from last night had looked familiar. I had seen her before.
When Hathon said "Coke", the penny dropped.
Rum and Coke.
And a little brunette in a french maid waitress outfit complete with ruffled panties and torturously high heels trying to bull her way through the crowds at Max's retirement party.
Her name was Sarah and she had an apartment in the Cedar Point Complex.
I'd intended to head directly from Speedies' back to Headquarters, find where Tollofson was and then grill him for the name of his new girlfriend.
Hathon had finally contributed something concrete after I gave her a precis of my sudden inspiration. But it took some doing to get the contribution out of her.
At first she just sat there with an expression that at best could be called studied indifference, at worst a sneer. "I fail to see what this Lane-person's girlfriend has to do with any of this. What possible connection can she have to anything?"
I'd had enough of "her majesty". "It's not important that you understand. It's only important that I understand. Come on."
I stood to go, but Hathon just sat there. Now the expression was definitely a sneer. "If I'm not to be informed of the reasons for this undertaking, I see no reason to allow it."
I snapped. Leaning down I put my nose just inches from hers and growled, "I don't need your permission to pursue my leads. I'll remind you that you and your associates are here as observers. If you want to tag along and observe, fine. If not . . . fine too."
Her nose twitched once, then she looked away. "Fine. Where are we going?"
"I want to find Tollofson and see what he has to say about his new `honey'."
That elicited a disgusted little snort from Hathon as she stared out the window. I was at the point that I wanted to grab her by the front of that expensive sweater and shake her till her teeth rattled. "Now what?"
She turned back to me, and in the same fashion you'd use to try to explain something to a particularly dense child she simpered, "Well, I know I'm only an observer and that my opinions don't count. But if I was trying to find out the details of a possible conspiracy, I doubt I'd be asking one of the suspects to tell me all about one of the other ones. That would tend to `tip your hand', don't you think?" Then she gave me a sweet, innocent, and completely insincere smile.
I want credit for my self-discipline. Not only did I not try and shove that smile right down her throat, I even forced myself to admit that she was right. "Who would you ask then?"
That smile got even more repugnant when Hathon added an "I told you so" element to it. "How about his partner? Greg Goldsworthy? Partners tell partners things. And if word gets back to this girlfriend-person before we can get to her, and especially if we get there before Goldsworthy has a chance to talk to Tollofson, then we'll know that Goldsworthy is in on it too because he'll have had to have called her, won't he?"
God . . . I was really starting to hate this smug little bitch.
And of course, her suggestion had paid off. Goldsworthy did indeed know Tollofson's girlfriend's name. He even knew her address. He supplied both. He asked what it was all about, but didn't press it when I refused to explain. I left him at his desk, thoughtfully tapping a pencil on his blotter and staring out the window. He was still sitting there after I stepped out into the corridor, counted to twenty, then quickly stuck my head back into the detective squad room. Okay . . . his first impulse, as soon as Hathon and I were out of sight, hadn't been to grab the phone and place a call to a certain Sarah.
The drive to Sarah's apartment took only fifteen minutes, but still I was anxious to get there as soon as possible. Hathon's point had been well taken. Before long, Tollofson would get to hear that we were looking at his new girl friend. I wanted to get there before he contacted her, even if the contact was purely innocent . . . at least on Tollofson's part.
Hathon was apparently excited enough in the chase by this point that she trotted right alongside me as we made our way from the parking lot to Sarah's apartment. As I knocked on the door, I turned to Hathon and said, "Now, let me do the talking."
The door opened and I turned my head back, expecting to see Sarah standing there.
But it wasn't Sarah.
It was Lt. MacMahon.
With his service automatic aimed right at my heart.
We just stood there, staring at the muzzle of MacMahon's gun. For her part, I was glad to see that Hathon was taking it better than I'd have perhaps thought she would. At least, she wasn't screaming or panicking or doing something equally foolish. In fact, she just stood there, staring coldly at MacMahon.
With the muzzle of the gun he made a little "flicking" motion at me. "Inside, both of you. If you try to scream or yell for help, it'll be the last sound you ever make. Believe it." Once inside he moved back, out of reach and again flicked the muzzle of that gun at me. "Thumb and index finger of your right hand only. Take out your weapon and drop it at your feet." Since there was nothing to be gained by refusing, I did as he said. Then he made me kick it about half-a-dozen feet away.
We went back to staring at each other.
Sarah's voice from another room broke the spell. I recognized it from that brief encounter in the ladies' room at the Ten-Seven.
"Eddie, who is it?"
Without taking his eyes or his gun off me, he snarled over his shoulder, "Get out here. We got trouble."
In a moment the slender brunette appeared at the doorway of what probably had to be a bedroom. I deduced that from her state of undress. I could catch a glimpse of her stocking-clad left leg, the left sides of a wholly impractical garter belt and lacy panties . . . and that was all beneath the sheet she used her left arm to press against her obviously nude torso. Add MacMahon's bare chest and bare feet and the fact it was the middle of the afternoon and it didn't require much deduction to guess what I'd just interrupted.
Before he could continue, Sarah beat him to the answer to her own question. Her eyes narrowed as she recognized me. "Iaway." A glance at my companion and a cold smile appeared on Sarah's lips. "Then this must be the good doctor; Hathon."
MacMahon growled, "Yeah. Chan's little bitch partner and the hired head-shrinker. Since they're here, it's pretty obvious they've figured it out."
It seemed rather pointless to try and convince them that I hadn't . . . `figured it out' that is. At least, no more than that Sarah had something to do with it all. That, and the added revelation that MacMahon was the "bad guy" in all of this. He continued to glare at me. "Now what do we do?"
Apparently she was the leader of this duo because Sarah's toneless "What do you think we do?" had the air of command to it.
Suddenly all my attention was focused on the muzzle of MacMahon's gun as he leveled it at my heart. "You mean . . . right now? Both of them?"
Again her words were spoken in a flat monotone. "Yes, right now."
Reflexively, my eyes slammed shut as I waited for . . . what ever it felt like to get shot in the heart. Therefore, I didn't see what happened next. I only heard and felt it.
There was a soft "plop" and something that felt like a wet scrap of cloth smacked me on the right cheek. I opened my eyes in surprise. This is what it felt like to get shot?
I saw it all in one glance.
No, this is what it felt like when a fragment of a person's cheek hits yours. MacMahon was falling face-first (at least what was left of his face) toward the carpet like a felled tree. Behind him, the little brunette had dropped the sheet she'd been using to shield her modesty revealing the silenced automatic she had been holding in her right hand.
She'd just used it to literally blow MacMahon's head off.
I should have been retching . . . or screaming . . . or retching AND screaming . . . but the only thought in my mind was `We've been rescued!'
That thought lasted about as long as it took to form.
Sarah promptly swung the pistol toward us.
The mind works in funny ways. I should have been screaming at having MacMahon's blood all over my face. I should have been making a break for the door, frantically praying that Sarah would somehow miss me and I'd make my escape. I should have been steely-eyed and commanding as, with lightning-quick reflexes I dove for my own pistol then bluffed her into dropping hers with my cool bravado. I should have been worrying about how I was going to get Hathon out of this predicament along with me.
I should have been doing anything except standing there thinking; `I must have missed a really big clue.'
My life was about to end. Doubtless Sarah was about to do for me what she'd just done for the late Lt. MacMahon . . . and all I could do was stand there mortified at fumbling this investigation.
She looked at us for a moment, her face still expressionless. Then, of all things, she gave me a little smile.
"I wondered if that was you last night, in the ladies' room. I'm embarrassed to admit it; but I'm so bad with faces. Besides, I was so sure it would be Tony who caught up to me first, frankly, I wasn't expecting you. If anyone, I'd been expecting Tony. And I wasn't expecting him for another day or two."
She nodded. "Sure. I mean, for all the clues I left, it was only a matter of time before he figured it out."
The tension must have been getting to me because I snarled . . . well, I meant it to be a snarl . . . it came out as more of a whimper . . . "WHAT clues? Figured WHAT out?"
Her grin got even wider. "Oh my God. You really don't know, do you?" She threw back her head and laughed. It was such a pleasant, friendly sound. "You're just here to ask me some questions or something." More laughter. "Oh, this is priceless! Poor Eddie! You don't know how disappointed he must be right now!"
My head was starting to spin with all the rapid sensations. Hathon snarled, "What do you mean? How can he be disappointed? HE'S DEAD! You just killed him!"
Her laughter had calmed to a quiet smirk. "Well, yes . . . but see . . . if you hadn't interrupted us . . . That was very rude. And such poor timing, at least for Eddie!"
Hathon seemed to be entering her element, which, given her training as a psychologist didn't seem all that unusual. "What are you babbling about?"
Sarah gave her shoulders a shake setting her breasts swaying. "Eddie and I were just about to get it on." Her expression became a fetching little pout. When she spoke, her tone was petulant. "And I'm so horny!" Then she was back to that knowing smirk. "Or at least I made Eddie think so." As she said this, she trailed the fingers of her left hand across the front of her panties. Panties that I noted were becoming damp. Oh god . . . she was `wet'. I could only pray that it was from the sexual foreplay I must have interrupted, not from what she'd just done with the pistol!
A pistol that was now pointing unerringly at the bridge of Hathon's nose.
I scrambled, trying to distract Sarah, trying to fit the pieces together. As long as she was talking, she wouldn't shoot us. "You and MacMahon . . . Eddie . . . you were lovers?"
That provoked more laughter. "Jesus, no! We were using him because of his connections, his knowledge of procedure, that's all. I let him fuck me occasionally to keep him under control . . . but lovers? That small-minded prick? Not hardly!" Then her grin became sly. "Besides, he's not my type. "
I don't know why I was thinking this way. I pointed at the panties that she was still stroking. "Apparently he wasn't all that bad . . . for a small-minded prick, that is."
She finally realized what I was alluding to and glanced down. "This? Oh hell, this is just for show. It's glycerin. I wanted the last one to be `magical' you know?"
"The last one?"
"Sure. We're pretty much done here. Frankly, we were done the day Primo's case got tossed out. But I just had to stay around for a while to see how Tony was going to get out of this one." She gave a negligent little flick of the pistol toward MacMahon's body. "That, and to clean up a few loose ends. See, I had the pistol under the pillow. Eddie wasn't much, but he did help us out so I figured I'd give him a grand exit. I was gonna pop him just as he came. Pretty cool, huh? What a way to go! "
Christ, she was grinning like she was sharing some joke with us . . . some amusing little woman-to-woman tidbit that we'd find so humorous.
Hathon spoke up. "You keep saying `we'. You're working for someone?"
That earned Hathon an exasperated little frown, as though Sarah was now genuinely disappointed in her. "Oh Doctor . . . come on. You gotta know by now what this is all about. Surely they've given you enough info to let you do that much."
I waved my hands, trying to forestall her pique. "Okay . . . I mean, we know it was all about getting into the evidence room and screwing up the case against Primo. So . . . I mean . . . yeah, we know you're working for Gordo. That's kind of obvious."
She nodded, prompting me to continue. She even gave a little, `encouraging' bounce with the muzzle of the pistol: `go on'.
"Okay . . . you . . . your part of it was to . . . I don't know . . . you did something to Tony the night of Max's party. That's why you're here. To play the waitress. Right? To get to Tony."
I could tell I wasn't making much headway. "Well, yes. That was certainly part of it. We had to make sure that Tony would be `out' when we broke in and stole his ID."
"But how? Did you fake the bar tab? Did he have more than those three beers?"
"No silly. He only had three. But the last two must have been just about two hundred proof. That's the wonderful thing about Everclear. Put it in with beer and you can't taste it. It's a wonder that after chugging that third round he wasn't out cold."
"So you doctored his beers. And once you'd made sure he'd gotten home, and was dead to the world, you broke in and swiped his ID and the Toni BB suit."
She just about scared me out of my wits when she loudly mimicked a game show buzzer. "EHH . . . wrong answer!"
I puzzled over that. "What do you mean `wrong answer'? I know you used his ID to get in." Sarah grinned and nodded. "So . . . what? You didn't swipe the suit?"
"Nope, didn't need to. I meant to find out, but I never had the chance to check. Has Tony seen these new I-2020S's?" With her free hand she made a little gesture to her naked and very feminine form and my heart must have skipped several beats. "They're really neat technology. If you guys haven't already, you need to look into getting one or two. I mean, all you need is a few photos to work with and you can duplicate just about any . . ."
It was feminine intuition that suddenly dropped all the pieces into place. It must have been. This time, it did come out as a snarl. "YOU! I know who you are!"
The person I now knew to be a disguised mass murderer . . . a MALE murderer nodded his transformed head and grinned with plastic lips. "I told him, `we really had to do this again some time.' I must say, I'm a little disappointed at his performance. Oh well . . . maybe he'll do better on the next outing."
Hathon's voice was strangely calm. "Did MacMahon know?"
That recaptured Sarah's . . . or should I say "Mary's" attention. Now her smile was impossible to see as anything but dark and evil. "Oh Lord no! If he'd known he was really boffing a guy, he'd have had a panic attack! No, as far as he knew, I was just some `hired gun' . . . a female hired gun . . . that Gordo had sent along." Then she shrugged and again those absolutely convincing breasts bounced and swayed just like real ones would. "In a way, I suppose you could say that's just what I was." She looked down at the ruined form lying on the floor between us. "Poor Eddie . . . he enjoyed fucking me so much. I guess it was kind of a power trip; to have a killer, helpless and whimpering underneath him."
Again I marveled at Hathon's calmness. "So he didn't know you were also the `Toni BB' clone?"
Mary gave that a little snort. "No, of course not. How did he ever make Lieutenant anyway?"
Hathon ignored the slur and asked, "And Tollofson? Was he involved?"
There was a note of impatience in Mary's voice. "Tollofson was just our `reality check', if you will. I got in with him so we'd have a way of knowing if the investigation ever started concentrating on any one of the four other suspects, particularly MacMahon. I mean, if Eddie suddenly became the chief suspect for some reason, he'd be the last one to know, wouldn't he? On the other hand, they might let Tollofson know he was off the hook. Since he was the next best suspect, if they suddenly relaxed the pressure on him . . ."
I didn't understand something and said so. "Why would Tollofson give you a clue as to where the investigation was going?"
Now that wicked grin was fastened on me. "Oh Stephanie. Who taught you about men? Turn off the lights, cuddle up a little closer, close enough to rub your tits on a guy's chest and it's amazing the stuff you can learn." She lowered her lashes and her voice became soft and tinged with such sincere-sounding concern. "Lane, honey. What's wrong? You're so preoccupied tonight. Is it the investigation? Please Lane, you know how much I care about you. I hate to see you so worried. Please tell me." Then, just as quickly as she had assumed it, the fake concern was gone. Again she shrugged. "That was fun too. While it lasted. But then, nothing lasts for ever." Her face relaxed into that emotionless mask . . . the same one she'd been wearing just before MacMahon drew his last breath. "Does it?"
With a cold, leaden weight in my gut, I could tell that this conversation was drawing to a close. I had to swallow twice before I could finally croak, "So now . . . what? You shoot us too?"
Hathon surprised both Mary and me by answering, "Now it ends." Her next words seemed to be a complete non sequitur. "I hope you got all that. Now would be a good time."
Mary's eyes suddenly came back into focus and she aimed a cold, hard stare at Hathon. "What are you . . ." Then her stare, though still cold, became calculating as well. For what seemed like an eternity they glared at each other; the cold, professional analyst and the sociopath counterfeit woman.
Then I saw some kind of light dawn in Mary's eyes. " `Hathon' . . . `Nancy Hathon'! Oh, very good! Very clever! But too clever for your own good."
Mary's pistol came up with absolute finality . . . Hathon was about to die.
I didn't even think about it. I made a lunge for my weapon lying on the floor beside MacMahon's rapidly cooling corpse.
Hathon screamed "NO!"
There was another of those soft "plops".
And then it all got so very strange.
It felt like somebody hit me in the head with a sledgehammer, except there was no pain, just the sensation of a terrific impact.
I was on the floor, looking up at the ceiling.
There was a thunderous "BANG" . . .then another.
I thought, `She's shooting me!'
Then I thought, `No stupid. She already shot you with a silenced pistol. That was the `plop'.'
Then I thought, `So what were those two bangs? Did the silencer fall off?'
Then I noticed that they'd used those little `sparkly things' in the plaster of the ceiling. I've always liked those. They were in my room growing up. I used to lie in the darkness with only my reading lamp turned on, pretending that I was looking up at stars. I even tried to create my own constellations.
Then, instead of stars, Hathon's face was peering down at me.
"Stephanie . . . can you hear me? I think it's just a graze. Can you . . . Are you all right?"
I heard my own voice, kind of sleepy and slurred. "What the hell are you asking me for? You're the doctor."
I felt a little twinge of pride when I saw I was right; Hathon did have one of those faces that was beautiful when she smiled.
Just before I passed out, I heard her say, "Sorry kiddo. I can't even put on a Band-Aid without help."
"It's me Stef . . ."
" . . . Tony . . ."
It was just a graze.
Later on, all the doctors took great delight in repeating, over and over; "Another inch to right, another inch lower . . ."
Anyway, I woke up in Harborview with a splitting headache and a mouth that seemed to be stuffed with cotton. I hoped it wouldn't rub my gums raw this time.
I looked up at the ceiling for a few minutes, trying to get the completely disjointed memories chivvied into some kind of marching order. No stars up there now, just acoustic tile. My efforts were interrupted by a soft snort from somewhere to my left. With effort, I managed to turn my head in that direction. This time I wondered if a piece of my skull really had fallen off somewhere along the line. It seemed like way too much effort to reach up and find out.
Tony, the original, masculine version, was dozing in a chair by the window. Sitting there in rumpled clothes that looked like he'd been sleeping in them for a week, his mouth hanging open, his head lolling on his shoulder as he slept . . .
He looked so comical, so klutzy . . .
. . . so human and vulnerable . . .
. . . so wonderful . . .
Just before I dozed off again, I answered my question as to whether or not I wanted a man to love me as fiercely as I knew he would love a woman.
"Hey . . . sleeping beauty. Wake up."
I blinked back to consciousness. Hours must have passed because night was showing through the window that just a moment ago was showing mid-morning sunlight.
At least I hoped it was hours. Maybe it was days.
My voice was a lovely, sensual frog's croak.
"What day is it?"
Tony smiled down at me from the side of my bed.
"Still Tuesday, hon. You've been napping for a whole day but the doctors want you to wake up now."
This time I did reach up. My fingers encountered what felt like an over-sized turban. My face must have mirrored my sudden fear because Tony reached down and gently pulled my hand away.
"Don't worry. It's not nearly as bad as that bandage makes it seem. The bullet fractured your skull and gave you a concussion, but there's no permanent damage. It didn't penetrate at all. And while there'll be a scar, it'll be under your hair. So . . . all things considered . . ."
I frowned and turned away. The memories had finally lined up to be inspected. I didn't like what I saw.
With my eyes fixed on the wall farthest from his face I whispered, "Why?"
I felt a gentle squeeze of the hand held in his. "It was all I had Stef. It was the only card left to play."
I still wouldn't meet his gaze. "You could have come to me."
"No. I couldn't. Think about it. They had me pegged as the bad guy. Anybody I went running to, anybody that helped me . . . especially another suspect . . . All that would have done was drag you down as well."
I turned my head back and read the truth of his concern for me in his eyes.
"So you went running to Nu-Gen? How did you know they'd help you?"
He shrugged. "I didn't. Like I say; it was the last card I had left to play. But it made sense. They had a lot to lose too. And I guessed that anybody in the business that they were in . . . well, they'd have to have a little of the risk taker in them. Turns out, I was right."
"Okay, so you got them to set you up with the Hathon suit. And that got you hooked up with me. Why didn't you tell me when we were away from everyone? Oh Tony, you must have known I wouldn't turn you in. That I'd help . . ."
He gave my hand another squeeze. "Stef, you don't know how much I wanted to. But that was part of the deal. They didn't know that I wasn't involved. They only had my word and what little proof I could offer. And . . ." He swallowed and broke eye contact with me. "They weren't absolutely convinced you were innocent either. So the deal was, follow you, play the role and just pray that somehow you'd put it together." Then he was smiling into my eyes and I felt a little thrill go skating down from my head to my heart. "And you did."
Now it was my turn to break eye contact. `Oh yeah. Some super-sleuth I turned out to be. I walked us right up to the door of somebody who wanted us dead and knocked."
But he wouldn't let me get away with it. He chuckled. "Let's not forget who was standing there right beside you with just as much of a clue as you had. Hell, not even nearly as much of a clue. Like I say; I was just along for the ride. I was out of ideas long before I called Nu-Gen. I still don't get how you knew it was `Sarah'. What was the tip-off?"
I read his face, trying to tell if he was just being "generous" by playing dumb. But since I quickly saw his question was genuine, I answered. "It was the bar tab that gave it away."
He shook his head, smiling that really distracting smile at me. "I still don't get it."
"Well, since the bar tab from Max's party listed you as only drinking three beers, and yet since I knew you hadn't done it . . . the evidence room break-in I mean . . . there was no reason for you to be faking your drunk. So it didn't make any sense. Unless somebody had done something to your drinks, that is. The only person who could have done it was either the bartender or the waitress who brought you the drinks. When it finally sank in who the woman I saw with Lane was, it just all kind of fell together."
He shook his head, still smiling . . . though now the smile was rueful. "Yeah, I wondered what you were talking about back there at `Sarah's'. I didn't catch that clue. About the three beers I mean. They must have led me out before that one came up." I nodded and he continued. "I don't remember much of that night past the second beer."
I managed a chuckle. "No wonder. You got a real glass jaw when it comes to the hard stuff boss."
He matched my chuckle, then we just looked at each other for a moment. But those memories were still standing there in line. Again I looked away. I tried to keep my tone neutral, but I could certainly hear the hurt when I spoke. "I still don't understand why, when we were finally alone out there on the street, you didn't tell me."
I heard the same pain echo back in his words. "Believe me, I wanted to Stef. But you see, we never were `alone'. That was the other part of the bargain. That suit they had me in? It was `wired for sound'. So long as Smith and Ranjar were within three miles of me, they heard everything I heard. And I had no way to shut the damn thing off. Add to that; there really is a `tracker chip' in the suits now. So not only could they hear me, they always knew right where I was. I couldn't ever get out of their `range' long enough to talk to you `in private.' I was just about at the point, there in Speedies', where I was going to write you a note, but then you had your brainstorm and I figured it was best just to continue as we were."
Something that hadn't made sense now clicked. "That's what you were saying, `I hope you got it all. Now would be a good time.' You were getting `Mary' to confess! You were getting all the rest of us off the hook, knowing that Smith and Ranjar were listening!"
He nodded. "Not only listening, taping it all as well. You'll be pleased to know, based on the evidence of that tape, not only have all of us been cleared, the D.A.'s filed new conspiracy charges against Gordo. And this time, conspiracy to commit murder is one of those charges. So . . . See? Not such bad detective work after all, eh?"
"Oh yeah, I'm a real Nancy Drew all right." He smiled at me smiling at him. This time I squeezed his hand. "I just wish you could have told me about `Hathon'. It would have been a little less scary there in `Sarah's' apartment if I'd have known you were there with me."
I got that impish grin I knew and loved so well. "But I did tell you Stef. I told you with my very first words to you out of Hathon's mouth."
I gaped at him. "Bull shit! You never told me! The first words out of your mouth were that fake name. `Doctor Nancy Hathon'."
But he wouldn't budge. He still grinned at me. "Think about `Doctor' and look at it again."
I bit my lip and tried to figure out what he was telling me.
`Look at it again'? Look at what? The name? It had meant something to `Mary' as well. I later found out that thanks to two rounds from the pistol `Nancy' had been concealing under that bulky sweater, that revelation, what ever it was, was the last one that the as yet unidentified male the coroner had peeled out of the `Sarah' suit would have.
But what the hell was the revelation?
`Think about `Doctor' and look at it again.'
`Doctor Nancy Hathon'. . .
`Doctor' Nancy Hathon . . .
`Doctor' . . . As in; `Manipulate'? . . . `Tinker with'? . . .
`Tinker with Nancy Hathon'?
Then I finally saw it and I wished I could have thrown the pillow I still needed to support my poor, abused head at my smirking boss . . .
Nancy Hathon . . .
Anthony Chan . . .
It all depended on how you looked at it.