A cold March wind blew the rain in sheets off the Sound under clouds so low and dark you couldn't see the blue ramparts of the Cascades. Low and gray and dreary and fitting for the occasion as the almost-ice forced its way past the collar of my uniform shirt to dribble down my back.
It was the third time that I'd done this; stand here in my dress uniform complete with white gloves and freshly polished leather. Three times in six years on the Force. The first two times it had been for old men, long retired. It was fitting that we were here for them. The Job had surely killed them, no less so than if some whacked out junkie had dropped the hammer on them in a dark, littered alley. One had gone from a heart attack. (Incidence of heart disease among law enforcement officers is three times the national average.) And one night the other had been too alone with memories of the tawdriness . . . the sense of futility and powerlessness . . . and one last time he'd held the Smith & Wesson Model 10 that had been his only defense for all those years . . .
Job related . . .
And so I stood here, in the pouring rain . . . and I saluted as the honor guard fired the rifles twenty one times. And the water streamed down my face.
And I said goodbye.
The last two times Lisa had been standing to my left and Carol had been standing to my right. They organized the formations that way; by year of graduation and class standing out of the Academy. But today, Joe Manardi was on my right and Pete Willet was on my left.
Carol was in Harborview, fighting for her life.
And it was to Lisa that I was saying goodbye.
Why do you become a cop?
On the front fender of the blue and whites it says "To Serve and Protect".
That's a noble sentiment. I'm sure it's one of the reasons. To do what a policeman does, to risk his life for the privilege of dealing with humanity at its most base, there must be some nobility of purpose.
I remember one night, in the fourth week of Academy. Carol and Lisa and I were burning the midnight oil wrestling with the Byzantine rules of Probable Cause when the twisted trail of Supreme Court decisions became too hard for three burned out minds to follow. We'd pushed the textbooks away and gotten another cup of coffee and another slice of long cold pizza and we'd each asked the other the question; "Why"?
Carol, always the most pragmatic and worldly of us had said that it sure beat raising a couple of screaming kids, washing somebody else's socks and wondering why the bathroom scales kept adding another ten pounds every time you climbed on. And besides, it was Civil Service. You couldn't get fired just because you turned down the bosses' latest grope.
I offered some kind of macho bullshit about adventure and excitement. I wasn't even a rookie yet. I'd never had the "adventure" of running up to the family mini-van that had just been broad-sided by the six time D.U.I. Of hearing the screams of the van's driver pinned behind the steering wheel, a woman with a bloody face who just a moment ago had two lovely children . . . and now had none.
And Lisa . . . she'd looked down at the table and smiled that shy smile of hers, and in that gentle voice she'd said; "Because it matters."
Carol and I had snickered and pounced on her. She was fun to bait and tease . . . and we both already loved her so much. We just didn't know it yet.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean? 'It matters.' What fortune cookie did you read that in?"
Lisa looked up, and for the first time I saw that flash of blue fire in her eyes and she'd murmured, "Someday it's going to be me that takes down the school yard pusher . . . that catches the rapist . . . that rescues the abused child . . . that matters."
It was natural that Lisa and Carol and I become inseparable. We were that classes' three "oddballs", the three minority hires . . . two women, (one black) and one Asian-American. You get nicknames almost the moment you walk through the Academy gate. A "chink" with a name like Anthony Chan was bound to get hung with "Charlie". I was expecting it. I was expecting the hazing. I just smiled and tried to look inscrutable. Because we had gravitated to each other as the three misfits, the girls soon earned the names "Number One Son" (Carol) and "Number Two Son" (Lisa).
We'd studied, and sweated on the PT course, and put up with the abuse.
And three months after walking in through the gates ordinary civilians, we walked back out Probationary Patrol Officers of the Seattle Police Department.
The Job is a job . . . like many others in many ways. You go to work. You come home. You watch TV. You go out drinking with your buddies. You live your life.
And in many ways, it's like nothing that you can comprehend if you've never done it.
The bonds of friendship you make with your fellow officers are based in part on the knowledge that your life depends on them, and theirs depends on you . . . and not just in some abstract way. The mutual dependency becomes very real when you're rolling around on some crack house floor with a crazed animal that was once a human being before the chemicals . . . desperately trying to keep one hand over your gun so the junkie doesn't get it and blow your brains out with the bullets you paid for . . . screaming for your partner . . . praying that he's there.
But more than that, after a while "the civilians" just don't understand and a gulf starts to form between you and people you've known for years. Then you need to be able to sit quietly with someone who's "been there". Who can lay a hand on your arm and nod and without speaking tell you that they've seen The Darkness too. . . that you're not alone.
Carol and Lisa and I.
You start out in patrol with a seasoned veteran. They show you the ropes. They teach you the things that they don't teach in the Academy. The things that help you survive. Physically. Mentally.
My first beat was Metro graveyard with a grizzled old street warrior named Ducane. He taught me right and I grew up fast, learned quickly. You had to. We were playing "for keeps". I became hard and macho. Street tough. Street wise.
Cynical and thick skinned.
Or so I believed.
Carol and Lisa both worked two years in patrol, then they moved on to Metro Vice. They got to know very well that part of town down by the Financial District that we on The Job called the "Erogenous Zone". It was dark and dirty and they stood for hours on the street corner next to the desperation that I just cruised by every half-hour or so . . . aloof in my blue and white.
One night after shift, when I was working the four to mid, Joey Poleski and I put on the nerdiest clothes we could find and went down to the corner where we knew Carol and Lisa were working a prostitute sting. It was against department guidelines . . . to be anywhere near an ongoing undercover operation. But Joey and I were in a particularly macho phase at that time.
We found Carol and Lisa standing on a corner at the heart of the "Zone". Joey and I whistled and hooted and generally drew as much attention to ourselves as we could. Pretty soon all of the "street people" hanging out in the neighborhood at that hour were watching the show. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sergeant Vale sitting in the "backup van" across the street . . . laughing and giving me a thumbs up.
Joey leaned against the telephone pole next to Carol. She shrieked with laughter at his "dork costume" then went into her "sales pitch". She shimmed and wiggled for him in an outrageously skimpy red mini-dress, which did nothing to conceal the matching red panties that glowed against her coffee colored skin. I sauntered over to Lisa and leered at her as she flicked the hair of her long blonde wig over her shoulder. Then she undulated up next to me, rubbed her hot pants clad pelvis against mine, pressed her halter top covered breasts against my chest, gently stroked my face, and with seductively smiling flame red lips whispered, "I'll get you for this you bastard."
We slept together for the first time three days later.
Why do you fall in love?
We could talk with each other . . . we could understand. She was more woman than I perhaps deserved. She saw the hopelessness and the hate . . . she waded through the degradation and misery . . . she fought an impossible battle against an overwhelming enemy that seemed to only get stronger every day . . .
And still she curled up Saturday mornings in ragged cutoffs and a sweatshirt three sizes too big, giggling at Road Runner cartoons . . . she cried over silly, sappy movies . . . and she lay beside me in the darkness and told me the most beautiful dreams.
We were together for almost a year.
Then one day I took her on a picnic out on the Olympic peninsula. We sat on the rocky beach at Neah Bay. While the waves crashed against the shore, I took out the ring and told her I loved her and asked her to marry me. And she cried . . . and she held me . . .
And she said "No."
Maybe someday. But not now. There was still too much darkness . . . still too much to do. Still too many places where she needed to matter . . . and she couldn't do it and be fair to me. She loved me . . . and wanted me . . . and someday we'd be together . . .
They called him "The K-Bar Kid" after the heavy bladed combat knife Forensics believed he used.
They had four deaths that they thought they could lay at his feet. Four prostitutes so visciously savaged that the first officer on the scene of the first attack . . . a veteran who'd seen so much carnage in his eleven years that he thought nothing could phase him . . . spent the next year at weekend counseling sessions before he could get a full night's sleep without the nightmares waking him in a cold sweat.
The press hadn't gotten wind of it yet. Kill the wife of a prominent doctor and it's front-page news. Kill a prostitute . . . it might be a note on page four of the Metro section. After death number two, they quietly formed a task force composed of members of Vice and Violent Crime.
Lisa and I still saw each other . . . were still as close as two people could be.
But for the first time, her optimism couldn't stretch far enough to carry her over the horror. She became distant and short with me . . . with Carol . . . with everyone. Somehow she believed that it was her fault that the clues weren't coming in fast enough . . . that another victim had appeared . . . then another . . . she wasn't trying hard enough . . . wasn't good enough . . .
It became an obsession.
They had teams out in the Zone every night. Carol and Lisa and Sergeant Vale and his four man backup unit made one of the teams. They worked all the usual haunts. They tried to get close to the "regular girls" but they were too scared to trust anyone. A killer was stalking prostitutes and for them suddenly everyone was the enemy. A john was badly cut by a prostitute with a knife when the fear had over-ridden professional detachment and suddenly she had imagined herself alone in a motel room with Death.
Lisa examined then re-examined every shred of evidence . . . every lead . . . every clue. K-Bar was clever. The few witnesses who would come forward could never point to anything out of the ordinary . . . anything suspicious. People from outside . . . the customers . . . the johns . . . none of them ever fit the profile or could be tied to the right place at the right time.
And Lisa started sleeping less . . . and poorly when she could finally get her eyes shut. And the blue fire burned more and more fiercely in her eyes. Carol told me that Lisa had always had an easy time with the tricks because she had such an innocent, friendly demeanor. Often they simply didn't believe her when she finally pulled out the badge and signaled for the arrest team. But now she was becoming more and more aggressive. She used to just giggle and lean over from the waist, hands between her knees, letting the johns sitting in their cars get a good look down her halter. Now she was in their faces, searching for some clue . . . some hint . . . as she smiled a smile that never reached her eyes.
Then victim number five appeared.
Lisa was frantic. She called Carol one night and told her to meet at the corner of Olympic and 28th SW. Lisa had a snitch that might have some info. She wouldn't name her source, and she didn't want a lot of backup. Carol and she could handle it.
They thought that something had disturbed the attacker, who was almost certainly K-Bar, before he could finish Carol off. She'd come close to being disemboweled . . . her left breast . . .
Somehow she'd managed to crawl out of the alley far enough to be noticed by a passerby who in a rare display of willingness to get involved had called 911 . . . anonymously.
And Lisa . . .
They never let me see the body.
Carol was in surgery for a total of 23 hours spread over five days. The doctors were all very calm, very professional . . . very noncommittal. I sat on the couch in the family lounge. Sometimes I dozed off, but I always woke with a start, expecting a hand on my shoulder and a face, practiced at looking sympathetic, there to bring me the bad news. Carol was in a coma. They kept saying that it was just impossible to tell when she'd wake up. But after the third day, you could see. . . it was becoming a question not of "when" . . . but "if".
Then on the fifth day, a little after two P.M., I'd just dozed off when I felt the hand on my shoulder. A nurse with a blank face peered down at me. "Officer Chan? Come with me."
Carol had always been larger than life. Bawdy and brash and indomitable. Indestructible.
Now the bed was all starched white sheets, and quietly beeping machines . . . tubes and wires . . .
. . . and a small ashen gray face that looked so fragile the smallest breath of wind would blow it away forever.
Then her eyes opened, and turned toward me . . . and her hand moved slightly on the covers.
I didn't cry or do anything dramatic. I don't know why. I think there were so many emotions at the moment that they just cancelled out and I felt nothing at all. I sat by her bed and took her hand in mine. She looked at me for a long moment. Her voice, that always sounded like she was grinning at you, was a soft, breathy whisper. "Tony."
"Hey. Number One Son."
Her eyes closed and her brow furrowed. "I can't remember anything. I was going to meet Lisa. Then I was here."
I squeezed her hand. How did I tell her?
But she already knew. She returned the squeeze. A six month old baby had more grip strength.
"I know. They already told me."
And the tears started to flow down her cheeks. "Oh Tony . . . What if I made some kind of mistake? What if it's my fault?"
Captain Formahaut was a thirty-year veteran. Starting out in patrol, he'd been one of the youngest men ever to get his gold detective's shield. He'd worked both Vice and Homicide. He was tough as week-old pizza and just about as cold, a perfect choice to command the K-Bar Task Force.
"I knew you'd be coming Chan, and you know what my answer is going to be before you ask. You're too close to the case. It's too personal."
"Still . . . I've got to be a part of it."
"No. I've talked to your boss and he agrees. We're giving you a direct order. You have six weeks of vacation and sick leave. Take them. Stay away from the station. Stay away from the investigation. Go somewhere. Go to the mountains. Go walk on the beach. I'm telling you to do this as a friend. I'm ordering you to do it as a superior officer. That will be all."
I knew he'd say "no". Like everything else about him, his answer had been by the book. I walked out of the station got in my car and headed for home. I was on my own, just as I knew I'd be. It was for the best.
What I intended to do to K-Bar, when I caught him, wasn't something a police officer could do.
And then the attacks stopped.
The papers had finally gotten hold of the story. Prostitutes were one thing, but one police officer dead and another horribly mutilated . . . well . . . that sold papers.
They'd found a note under the windshield wiper of a blue and white parked down in the Zone while the officers were in a bar trying to break up a fight. It was printed in letters cut out of that morning's Post-Intelligencer. It said, "Whores Die. I'm only starting." Nobody on the street had seen anyone near the cruiser . . . had seen anything . . . had wanted to talk.
The Task Force kept trying to find a break, but none came.
I stayed away from The Job, just like I'd been ordered to do. But as I've said, law enforcement is a small, tight community. I'd be out at one of the cop bars and people would make it a point to be discussing the latest developments in the case, just near enough to me and just loud enough so I'd be sure to overhear. Long ago Carol and Lisa had paid their dues, had been accepted as part of the family. Now it was personal . . . for all of us.
I think there were quite a few cops who hoped it would be me to catch up with K-Bar first.
But none of us could find him.
They let Carol come home ten days after the attack.
I'd had a long talk with her doctor when I went down to the hospital to get her. Reconstructive surgery could repair the scars, could give her a prosthetic that would look and feel just like the breast she had lost . . . at least to everyone else. He told me that she would recover, given time.
But she would never have those two screaming kids.
She was quiet . . . distant . . . nothing like the Carol I knew. She would be in a wheel chair for at least another week while the tendons and muscles healed. Worst of all, she wouldn't smile . . . or cry. She just looked out the window and rebuffed all my attempts at conversation.
Finally I knelt at the foot of her chair and took her hands and begged her to open up. And she'd looked into my eyes for a moment, then back out the window, and she'd said; "I don't know what I'm more afraid of; never getting the memory back . . . or remembering everything. It's my fault Tony."
"You don't know that!"
"And you don't know it isn't." Then she wouldn't talk about it any more.
The doctors saw Carol as an outpatient just about every day. Physical therapy. I went with her. She gritted her teeth, and struggled till the sweat covered her forehead. It must have been agonizing. Except for an occasional gasp or soft whimper, she never made a sound.
I spent a lot of time at her house, cooking for her (as best I could), cleaning . . . helping her into and out of bed . . . helping her in the bathroom. We were too close by this point for it to be embarrassing or uncomfortable. At least that's what I hoped for her.
Then one night, sixteen days after the attack . . . sixteen days since the last victim, I came into the kitchen of Carol's house and she was sitting at the table, sipping a cup of tea. She glanced up at me and then patted the chair next to hers. I got a cup of tea for myself and sat down.
She took a sip, then nodded once, to her self. "Okay Tony. Tell me everything that's been going on with the investigation."
I was strangely reluctant. "Hell Carol. You know they've cut me out of the loop."
She looked into my face, and there was a faint hint of that cocky grin, the smallest glimmer of life returning to her eyes. "Hey, it's me; Number One Son."
I sat and told her all the bits and pieces I'd managed to gather. She listened, she asked questions. Slowly the topic started spreading wider and wider. Around midnight, we'd come too close to the center, the loss was too near.
Suddenly, for the first time since it had happened, Carol was sobbing against my shoulder . . . I was sobbing against hers. Lisa was gone but the memory stayed, and it hurt, and we were so maimed without her.
But it was time to start moving on.
Carol had a spare bedroom that she'd turned into a home office. (The thought of her having a "sewing room" was so improbable that I don't think it would have ever even occurred to her.) We'd gotten one of those cork bulletin boards on which we'd tacked up all the news paper articles and our notes and a street map of the area encompassing The Zone.
I'd come to take her down to the hospital for her next session of therapy when I found her in the office, staring at the board.
"Tony, has anybody ever established a pattern for K-Bar?"
I joined her at the board. "Not that I know of. They're thinking that, with the exception of you and . . . that he's pretty much just grabbing victims of opportunity."
She kept gazing at the map with the six colored pins stuck into it, a far away expression on her face. "Olympic and 28th SW . . . "
"He wanted to meet us at Olympic and 28th SW . . . why?"
I thought about it, but could see no particular relevance in the question. "Why not? It's within the Zone . . . maybe a bit far to the west side, but still inside it. Is there something special about that area, that intersection?"
"No. Not that I know of."
"Then why's it important?"
"I don't know. But there was a reason why it was that corner and not another."
She shrugged and kept looking at the bulletin board. "I don't know. It was near his home . . . or near the phone he was using to make the call . . . or . . . something . . . there was a reason why it was that corner."
I stared at the map for a while, but I couldn't see or think of anything helpful.
Carol went on in that distracted voice, still staring at the map. "We . . . Lisa and I and Vale's team had been working the west side. Sandoval's team had been working the east side. We were usually on station, somewhere within the zone by six PM. But we were on 'stand down' that night. Only Sandoval's team was out. Lisa got the call setting up the meet a little after 10 PM."
I suddenly understood.
"It's somebody who knew that the west side was safer than the east side for the meet. That the cops were on the other side of the Zone."
Carol nodded and finally looked at me. "That means somebody who knew the street. Who knew Sandoval was out, but we weren't . . . who knew who Lisa was and who either knew or figured out that she was home."
I didn't like where this was starting to go. "That has to mean one of the old hand street people . . . one of the senior pimps . . . a dealer who's been around for a while . . . "
Carol turned back to the map and her voice was suddenly quietly cold. " . . . or a cop."
Eighteen days after the last attack.
Carol was out of the wheel chair . . . was slowly getting stronger . . .was finally getting around some by herself. She'd gone, alone, to the hospital for another session. I'd gone home to do some laundry of my own and take a shower. My phone started ringing when I stepped out of the tub.
"Hey, Charlie Chan. Get over here. We need to talk."
Carol was in the office when I walked in. She looked at me for a while, an expectant little smile on her face. I couldn't understand what she wanted me to realize or notice. Then I finally saw it.
Ever since the attack, she'd been wearing a thick, heavy layer of bandages under her top . . . a painful parody of her former elegant bust. I suddenly realized that the lumpy, over-large curve to her upper torso was gone. In its place was a normal appearing bosom . . . a bra-less one . . . beneath the loose knit top she was wearing.
But that wasn't possible!
Seeing I'd finally figured it out, she favored me with the closest approximation of the old Carol that I'd yet seen. "From those bug eyes, I guess I can assume I've still got it!" The wicked grin faded back to a tired smile. "Well, don't get too excited cowboy. They aren't mine. They're only 'on loan'." She unbuttoned her blouse. Beneath was a pair of artificial breasts in a shade of cafe-au-latte that perfectly matched Carol's own natural hue, but with no aureole or variation of skin tint for the nipples. "It's actually a bandage, if you can believe that. They fitted me with it today. They said the scar tissue was finally able to support the pressure. The right one is hollow, just a bra, though a really comfy one. The left one . . . well . . . it's supposed to help me maintain muscle tone. It goes all the way up my neck to distribute the weight, just like nature." She invited my inspection. "Can't tell though, can you?"
"It's pretty high tech. There's this aerospace company that's big into plastics and stuff . . . Nu-Gen it's called. They make stuff like this for accident victims. Like I say, it's mostly just a bandage, but they made it realistic enough to give you back a little . . . you know . . ." She re-buttoned the blouse.
"That's not going to take the place of the surgery is it?"
"Oh no. But that's at least six months down the road. Maybe a year. Till then . . . Am I being vain, Tony?"
I shook my head. "It's not vanity, it's simple dignity. You're entitled to that and I'm all for it."
With a little effort, she managed to raise her arm and lay her hand against my cheek. Then she limped slowly over to the desk and sat down. "I've been thinking about what we were talking about yesterday Tony; that it has to be someone from the street."
I nodded. "That's probably the reason that nobody's ever seen anything out of place . . . anything strange. There wasn't anything. K-Bar was a natural part of the scenery."
"And that means that he's going to be very difficult to catch. If the street people can't spot him, as attuned to what's going on as they are, if they can't figure out who he is; we . . . the cops . . . we'll never spot him either."
"You and Lisa . . . you guys used to be pretty close to the street. Maybe one of Sandoval's team . . . or one of the guys from Vice or Narc . . ."
Carol shook her head. "No Tony. You know that we were part of the scene because cops are supposed to be. Just another player in the game. But it's still 'them versus us'."
I shrugged. "You're talking about a deep cover operation. I suppose that is something to consider. Yeah. I'll mention that to the grapevine the next time . . . "
"Time! That's the problem Tony. We're running out of time. It's been nineteen days. You and I both know that K-Bar is going to strike again. And every day that passes makes it that much more certain that tomorrow is going to be the day."
"What's the answer? You know what's involved in an undercover op like that. We've got to get a new face that the street people won't recognize as a cop, which means we'd have to borrow somebody from Portland or Spokane . . . that right there will take a week or two."
Carol was shaking her head. "No! Time, Tony! Time!"
"Well, then what?"
Carol smiled an enigmatic smile. "What kind of street people are always coming and going?"
I thought about the question. "Well, drifters . . . obviously . . . some of the hookers seem to move around a lot . . . "
"And what kind of person does this always keep coming back to?"
"Hookers. Okay, it wouldn't be all that noticeable for a new girl to show up. But we still need to get that girl from somewhere, and that means borrowing from another agency and that means . . . "
"But what if we didn't need to borrow anybody? What if we could just use someone from around here?"
I was starting to get exasperated. "We just agreed that the street people know all the faces from around here."
Carol turned to the old IBM PS-1 that she'd picked up at a yard sale and started hammering on the keys. "That's what I'm saying Tony. None of the old faces will work. So we get a new face . . . and a new body to go with."
"Now you've lost me."
She'd finished loading her 'web browser' and had sent it off to some Internet site. While it was working she turned in the chair and faced me. "The gave me a whole bunch of instructions and literature for this . . . " She gently laid a hand against her faux breast. "I was reading through it and something caught my eye. This company; Nu-Gen, apparently has several divisions. The stuff I got was from the medical supply group. But I noticed another division . . . it was the name that caught my eye. I was trying to figure out just what . . . ah, here we go."
The "page" that she'd been aiming for had finally loaded. The banner title proclaimed something called "Nu-Gen Transgender Appliances". There was an artsy photo of five stunningly beautiful women in scanty Grecian costumes posed seductively around this big, classical fountain. I looked at the screen for a minute.
"What's 'transgender' mean?"
Carol giggled. (God, that sounded so good, to hear that giggle again.) "That's what caught my eye on the literature I got. I'd never heard the word before either. I saw the URL for this page and I thought I find out." She studied something on the screen. "Good, it's finished pre-loading." She hit the 'Enter' key and the screen immediately changed to a second view.
Same fountain, but this time there were five average looking guys in common street clothes, sitting in more or less the same positions the women had occupied.
"I . . . well . . . I don't get it. You're trying to show me something, but I don't see . . ."
And then it hit me.
I looked more closely at the men, who were sitting there with smug grins on their faces.
"Go back . . . can you go back to the first page?"
Carol just smiled and hit the 'Shift' and 'Enter' keys at the same time. The women reappeared. I looked closer this time. Gorgeous, sexy, scantily clad girls . . . and yet . . .
"It can't be . . . "
Carol smiled and unbuttoned the top three buttons of her blouse displaying the deep curve of two beautiful breasts.
"But why me?"
Carol kept paging through the Nu-Gen web site. "Who else do we get Tony?"
"Easy! You get Jo Shavley, or Elizabeth Peets or . . . what's her name? . . . works day watch out of Queen Anne. You get a real girl."
Carol stopped playing with the keys and just looked down at the keyboard. "The Department has all the women out with the Taskforce teams right now. You know that."
"So what? Just pull one of them in, fit her out with one of these gizmos, and viola!"
"And what about the 'us versus them' theory Tony? What if it isn't one of the street people? What if it's a cop?"
"Well . . . it can't be one of the girls. It . . . they . . ."
"Tony. You've been on the street long enough to know how out of kilter that thinking is. Besides, let's say it can't be one of the girls. Okay. But how do you keep a scheme like this secret? I mean, her commander is going to know, the Taskforce teams are going to know . . . and once one cop gets hold of a secret, it's only a matter of time before every cop does."
"Okay. Granted. So that leaves you and me. You can barely walk from the door to the desk. And I . . . Carol, I can't do something like that."
She turned on me and her voice was like a slap on the face. "All right, cut the bullshit right now! We just don't have time for this macho posturing! You can do it! You will do it! I'll teach you everything you have to know. It's not hard. Christ Tony, I know of three "girls" down on Ballard right now who could have your tongue dragging on the sidewalk if they wanted to . . . and they've got exactly the same 'plumbing' as you have."
"Carol . . . you don't understand. It's not that I don't want to . . . it's . . . I . . . "
She glared at me and in a vicious hiss she whispered, "She didn't really mean anything to you, did she?"
"Lisa. She didn't really mean anything to you. If she did, you wouldn't be worried about feeling silly or embarrassed or . . . or whatever bullshit reason you think you have. If she meant something you'd be willing to do anything to get the bastard . . . "
It must have been written on my face. Carol's face immediately softened and again, with effort, she raised her arm and laid her hand on my cheek.
"Tony, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I know she was everything to you. But we don't have time and I had to get beyond . . . "
I looked past her at the screen.
"What do we do? To get started . . . what do we do?"
The prostitutes of The Zone had closed ranks. It was almost instinctive, like herd animals naturally gravitating into a circle and then facing outward when they smelled predators on the wind. New girls quickly found out about K- Bar from the older "hands". The community formed not out of a sense of solicitous concern for it's members . . . The Trade was too competitive for that. The motivation was more basic.
Simple survival. "You turn your tricks, I'll turn mine . . . you watch my back, I'll watch yours."
Two new girls arrived one night. One was a skinny blonde with a bad attitude who called herself Rachael and who claimed twenty two years . . . though everyone knew she had not yet seen her nineteenth winter.
The other was a china doll with waist-length satin black hair, huge almond eyes and a figure that a lot of the other girls believed proved she had once made some money somewhere . . . at least enough to have "improvements" made.
She called herself Toni.
I tapped my acrylic nails on the cracked Formica of the countertop in Speedie's Cafe and watched as the heavy, cold rain come down.
At least I guessed they were acrylic. My nails I mean. Some kind of plastic anyway. I watched them for a moment as they clicked against the counter. I watched as my breasts rose and fell beneath the imitation silk of my body- hugging dress.
Lots of plastic in here tonight.
Man, it was really coming down out there. It probably would for the rest of the night.
At least I'd gotten my one 'obligatory trick' in before the rain started.
In the seven days I'd been working, I always made it a point to turn at least one trick when some of the other girls were around to see it. You had to keep up appearances. If a poor working girl like me didn't spend a few hours on her back each night, well . . . that would mark her as different. And different got you cut out of the loop pretty fast. If you didn't turn tricks then you weren't really one of the girls. Maybe you were an undercover cop. Maybe you were some woman with an odd need to pretend to be a hooker. Not crazy enough to ever go through with letting some guy hump you, just bent enough to get a thrill out of dressing the part. Either way it didn't matter. You weren't one of us.
And to find things out, you had to be one of us.
I have to admit, the first time wasn't as bad as I'd thought it would be.
I'd been so intent on remembering Carol's careful coaching, I'd been trying so hard to simultaneously remember the next detail while trying to get the current 'bit' right, that I'd kind of lost track of what was actually going on. Well, I hadn't really been thinking about the implications, if you know what I mean.
Of course, after a while it became easier, I had the beginnings of an automatic routine. 'Vary your rhythm for a second once you get going . . . moan here . . . pretend to be gasping for breath when you figure it's time to start going into your climax.' And once it got easier, I had the opportunity to think about what was going on . . . to think about the implications.
I just kept telling myself, "It doesn't touch me." Maybe I repeated that little mantra so much I started to believe it again. Hell, maybe it was even true after a while.
As far as the solicitation went . . . that was actually a snap. You developed a 'schtick'. Every girl had her own method. Denni was positively Betty Boop. A mincing little wiggle, hands behind her butt, large soulful eyes. Angel was so cold and aloof that lots of guys just had to have her just to see if they were man enough to get behind that facade. Rachael . . . poor girl. She didn't even try to develop a sales pitch. With her it was pretty much a surly "You got fifty bucks and I got a pussy. Wanna work somethin' out?"
Well, my sales ploy had come about rather by accident that first night. Needless to say, I'd pretty much hung back in the shadows. I was hoping that nobody would notice that Toni wasn't out there hustling all that hard. That they would just accept surface appearances and accept me as a whore because I looked the part. Of course, there were men out there who liked 'the shy ones'. Just my luck, not even one hour into my first 'shift', I found one. Or rather he'd found me. The more I stumbled and stuttered, the more turned on he got.
So what the hell? In the end, one routine was as good as another. It worked so I kept it.
See Mister? See the little china doll huddling back against the wall? She's not out front hustling is she? I wonder why not? Go ask her. 'Oh, hi Mister. Uh . . . you lookin' for a good time? I . . . I like to party. Would you . . . do you want to . . .' Aww, poor little thing. She looks so embarrassed and more than a little frightened. 'Please Mister. I know I'm new to this and I don't know all the tricks but . . . I really need the money. What do you say? Please?' What man can resist being begged for sex? If I'd gauged him right he'd nod and smile. I'd return the smile in my own demure fashion. 'Okay. Uh, it's seventy-five for one straight plus twenty for the motel room. That's not too much . . . is it?" I'd gaze down at my toes daring the john to make this harder on poor little me by dickering over the price. None of them had yet. When they'd agreed to the 'fare', I'd look back into their faces, my shy smile even wider, my face a study in dewy-eyed gratitude. At this point I'd learned I could pretty much dictate the rest of my terms. "Okay. Uh . . . No fifty-fifty. No blow-jobs so please don't ask. Light play's okay, but you have to let me say when enough's enough." Then one last, embarrassed glance at my toes. "And no bareback. You use one of my rubbers and it's an extra five, but either way I'll help you put it on if you want."
Like selling any other product. Just not that big a deal.
Still, it was nice to be able to knock off early tonight and gossip with the girls. That was how I was going to get my leads after all, from unguarded moments with the girls.
That's not to say we weren't still open for business. Every time a male walked in to Speedie's there'd be the rustle of clothing. Suddenly a lot of stockings would need adjusting. A lot of kinks in a lot of female backs would need to be stretched out. A little rain outside didn't bring The Trade to a complete stand still. Fucking was an indoor sport after all. (Well, usually.) It was just getting the two teams together that required an outdoor arena.
So I sat, clicking fake nails on a fake wood-grain counter top, a pair of sleek, fake legs crossed just loosely enough to allow anybody interested a glimpse up the tight, imitation oriental silk dress I wore. To get a glimpse of the white lace that molded itself against my fake pussy before narrowing into the white thong that nestled in the crack of my firm, fake ass.
My mind was drifting. I was remembering back . . . ten days now, to that night when we'd 'gone shopping' for 'Toni'.
Carol had had some pretty specific ideas as to what she wanted my feminine disguise to look like so she took care of placing our order with Nu-Gen. At first she'd tried to get my input into the 'specifications'. "Do you want to be blonde or brunette?" "Oh, hey, how about Oriental? They've got some new 'specialty' designs. With those big brown eyes of yours. . ." I was strangely reluctant to get involved. I really didn't want to think about it. At that point, I think I was still in denial about the whole scheme. Thinking about what I'd look like would make me have to think about what I was going to do with those looks, and that was somewhere I just didn't want to go. At least not on a conscious level. Carol finally took the hint and made all of the decisions on her own.
When we finally tallied up the cost of all the 'details' she wanted, the price pretty much emptied out both our bank accounts. It's funny, but I don't think either of us gave the expense a second thought. For some reason neither did we ever have any doubts as to the legitimacy of Nu-Gen's claims. Of course, part of our confidence stemmed from Carol's incredible prosthesis. But on another level . . . well, I guess we just had faith that 'the suit' would allow us to achieve the deception we had planned. I think we were so convinced that we were doing the right thing, that our 'cause was just', we just assumed that fate would bend to our campaign.
So much for both of our claims to deep-rooted cynicism.
Carol had logged off the computer as soon as our order had been confirmed and the receipt of our money order had been acknowledged. Then she'd looked at the clock and sighed.
"I'm too burned out to do anything else tonight. There are some blankets in the . . . hell, you know where they are. I'll see you in the morning Tony."
I was a bit surprised. "You want me to sleep here tonight?"
"Well, it'll make it that much easier to get an early start tomorrow."
" 'Start'? Start on what?"
She'd already limped as far as the door to her office. She turned and eyed me, her expression neutral. "You don't think it's as easy as just putting on some costume do you? Clothes ain't gonna make the woman kiddo. You got a LOT to learn in a very short time. We're gonna start the lessons first thing tomorrow."
I spent the night tossing and turning on Carol's lumpy sofa.
I was the first one up the next morning. I had the teapot just beginning to whistle when Carol came into the kitchen. We sat at the table for a few minutes, chatting about anything other than what we were about to do. Then she'd glanced at the clock and said, "Well, we're wasting daylight."
We went into the office. She brought me a pair of high-heeled shoes, a pair of pantyhose (brand new, still in the wrapping) and a short brown skirt. There was little point in arguing. Besides, as I've said, Carol and I had become pretty 'close' over the last few days. I just slid out of my shoes, my socks and my jeans without a word. Carol turned her back till I'd snugged the panty hose up around my waist, had my skirt zipped up and had the heels on my feet
I teetered, I stumbled. Twice I couldn't catch myself quickly enough and fell flat on my ass. On both occasions Carol only told me to try and keep my legs together and my skirt around my thighs. "A peak at the merchandise is fine, but make sure it's intentional, okay Tony?" It took several hours but eventually I could walk in heels. I could even swing my hips to Carol's satisfaction. By then the nylon was also itching like crazy and my ankles were on fire.
We worked on deportment. Feminine gesture and mannerism. When I'd objected that I was going to be a whore, not a lady, Carol reminded me that whores were women. They might exaggerate but they exaggerated natural female traits. Learn the basics then learn to embellish. Beside, even working hookers didn't constantly wiggle and tease. Sometimes they just sat in bars and gossiped with the other girls.
I couldn't learn everything in just two days. Carol didn't try to teach it all to me. I perfected enough 'bits' that I could 'pass'. We were counting on the magic of the suit to carry the bulk of the load.
And just like clockwork, two days after we'd placed the order, the suit arrived on Carol's doorstep.
It wasn't much to look at, just a featureless slab of flesh-colored plastic with a wiry looking brush of coal black fur at one end. I looked over her shoulder while Carol read the instructions from cover to cover.
Heat and water activated.
We filled the tub and then Carol gave me a moment's privacy to make the change.
I did it all by rote. There was no sense of anticipation, no sense of wonder. It was about as moving as putting on a pair of coveralls. I sat for a few moments, waiting for the 'eyelids' and the 'lips' to adhere to my own as the manual said they would. I waited for the suit to cool down enough to activate the memory threads. The pressure was a bit surprising at first, but the novelty quickly passed.
The mirror in Carol's bathroom was fogged over with steam from the bath. For the briefest of moments I considered wiping the mist away and getting a look at myself. Instead, I turned away and padded back to the bedroom.
My new breasts . . . man, I could see that they were . . . well, not enormous . . . but I was sure as hell 'stacked' . . . they bobbed and swayed with each step. That brush of wiry black fur had become a long flowing ribbon of shining ebony silk. It constantly pulled my head back with it's weight as it swished against my newly-rounded butt in counterpoint to each pace.
Carol was sitting on her bed when I walked in to her bedroom. She looked up from her re-reading of the manual and her jaw dropped in disbelief.
"Tony . . . oh my God! You're . . . you're gorgeous!"
There was a full-length mirror in her bedroom.
I finally saw myself in my new persona.
Staring back at me from the mirror was a very real woman. It just stopped me dead in my tracks.
I had expected the disguise to be convincing. 'Convincing' suggests that deep down you knew it was all a fake. But it was such a good fake you chose to suspend your disbelief and accept. Like watching a really good stage magician make an elephant disappear. You knew there was a trick to it, a two-ton mammal didn't just vanish into thin air. Still, it was just so artfully done you 'ooh-ed and aah-ed' and applauded, and winked to yourself at how well you played along.
But that comfortable security of 'playing along' wasn't available to me gazing at this stranger in the mirror. I couldn't suspend my disbelief because there wasn't any disbelief to suspend.
I finally had to face the reality of just what it was I was about to do.
I was going to pretend to be a woman that made her sex available to men for a price. I was going to allow total strangers to . . .
My mind shied away, but only for a moment. I forced the image into my head.
Some man I didn't know lying on top of me, his hips banging against mine, his panting breath in my face as I counterfeited groans and whimpers of passion, hugged him tighter . . . mimicked a resonant rhythm with pelvic thrusts of my own.
All my life I'd been the little runt. Always the shortest kid on the block. Always the scrawniest. There were only two ways to deal with that. Either you resigned yourself to being the target of every bully, resigned yourself to living with the taunts and the scorn . . .
Or you over-compensated. You made sure that everyone knew you could beat up the bigger, tougher kids. You always strutted and postured. You met even the beginnings of a taunt with a fist in the nose. Pound for pound, you became the most macho kid in the neighborhood, in the school, in your life.
Was I now going to have to pawn that precious masculinity?
Carol must have been able to read the thoughts that were crossing my mind because she moved closer to me and laid a hand on my shoulder. Before she could mouth whatever reassurance she had planned, I raised my own hand and cut her off.
He was out there . . . somewhere . . . the man that had taken Lisa from me. Taken her laughter. Taken her gentle caress in the night. Taken her life and my future. He'd go on taking until he was stopped.
This was how I was going to stop him. This clever illusion, this baited trap . . . this was a tool. Just like a hammer or a shovel . . .
Just like the H&K P7 that normally rode in my ankle holster as backup to my service automatic, but now would be concealed in the shoulder-bag purse I'd be carrying the night I finally caught up to him.
You could believe what your eyes showed you. I'd make it possible for you . . . easy for you to believe . . .
The black-haired china doll looked up, gazing at me from the mirror. With a flick of her head, the long silken tresses were now over her right shoulder, falling in an raven-black wave over and concealing one soft, full breast, revealing the other. She smiled at me, a sultry, inviting, teasing smile. The cold light in her eyes could very easily be mistaken for mercenary anticipation of another 'transaction'.
Her hands slid up her thighs . . . fondled her 'merchandise'. Her voice matched her smile.
"Hey baby. I've got just what you want. Wanna party?"
. . . And it wouldn't touch me. I wouldn't let it.
For a while, Carol and I inspected the 'illusion' trying to spot any flaws. Neither of us was too surprised when we finally had to admit there simply weren't any.
We found the bottle of "Crystal Soprano" voice altering chemical. It lived up to its name. My unremarkable baritone vanished. The illusion was complete.
I think Carol was a little put off by the sudden change in my demeanor. I think this strange predator that had suddenly appeared in her home . . . and just how easily I'd become it . . . frightened her.
Part of me understood her discomfort. But this was the game we'd set out on and we both knew it. This wasn't going to be a 'polite, by the rulebook' police investigation. Starting tonight there'd be two hunters moving through the darkness. One stalked women.
The other hunted the hunter.
Carol broke my reverie by announcing, "Okay. Let's get started on learning how to do this."
I looked at her over my shoulder. "What do you mean? 'Learning how to do what'? I can already walk and sit and . . ."
She had risen from her bed. She was standing there, supporting herself with one hand on the headboard. She just stared at me. No word, no encouragement. I walked over to the bed, the sway of my breasts a reminder of what this was all about.
Her voice was toneless. "Foreplay probably won't be a concern. If the john wants to . . . well, if his hands start wandering, just play along. When you think the time is right . . ."
Maybe I stiffened up, maybe my shoulders hunched a bit higher up my neck. Maybe there was one last shred of doubt. Carol just stood there silently for a moment. It passed, my shoulders relaxed. She continued.
"Let's start with you on the bottom. Uh . . . we need something . . ." She disappeared for a moment then came in carrying one of the cushions from the sofa. "It's not shaped right of course, but it will let you work on positioning your legs and what to do with your arms."
It didn't reach me. I didn't think about what it meant, only how to do it.
"No, really wrap your legs around it. Try and hook your ankles . . .yeah. Arch your back a bit more. Too much . . . Don't thrust your hips so hard. You're trying to get him deeper, not buck him off . . . Dig your fingernails in a little if you want. Might as well get what payback you can. . . You've got to start breathing more heavily . . .hell, you gotta start panting in here somewhere. Come on, this is hard work you know . . . More ragged. Try a moan . . . deeper at first . . . Build to . . . well, something like that. Try and sound more like this at the end though."
"Okay, start again."
It was getting on toward two AM. Speedies would be closing in just a little while. Several of the girls had already drifted back out into the night. Like fishermen at the end of the day, they'd troll their way back to the dock . . . or in this case, back to their cribs.
The door opened and the remaining girls looked up, ready to go into their routines just in case this was an opportunity at one last 'sale' for the evening.
We all relaxed when a half-drowned Rachael came striding through the door, her cocky strut not in the least diminished by her waterlogged state. The rest of the girls went back to their gossip as she plopped down on the counter stool beside me.
"What a fucking bitch of a night! I should have stayed in San Diego!"
I glanced over at her and smiled. "Rain is supposed to be one of Seattle's enduring charms."
That earned me a sour frown. "Shit. I've been standing out there in that 'enduring charm' for six hours now and all's I got was fucking soaked. I'm gonna go home without dime one in my purse for the whole fucking night."
One of the skills you learn on The Job is to be poker faced when it serves your purpose. It's considered bad form to burst out laughing at some civilian's hare-brained predicament when they (like everyone else you meet) believe your entire salary comes out of their wallet. So I managed to hide my smile at Rachael's ranting and just look down at my teacup. "Yeah, not much of a night."
I wish I could get to know Rachael better. I wish I could ask her story. But there was an unwritten rule among the girls of The Trade. You could talk all night about wildly intimate sexual encounters. You could discuss technique and bedroom strategies. You could chat in a very open and forthright manner about things that you could never discuss with a parent or sibling because you'd die of embarrassment . . . But you didn't ask about someone's past. That was taboo.
At first I'd taken the easy route with Rachael believing that her tough punk demeanor was as assumed as her spiky shock of carrot orange hair. I'd wanted to believe that beneath that brittle, armored exterior there lurked a frightened, vulnerable child. Maybe it was the 'white knight' in me that needed a damsel in distress to rescue.
But I soon realized that with Rachael, what you saw was what you got. Scratch her flint-hard shell and all you'd find was more rock. Deep down she really was just as tough and coarse as she appeared to be on the surface.
And in a way, that made me like her even more. There was something appealing about her indomitable spirit. My mental image of her changed from vulnerable little waif to scrappy little puppy, barking and growling at the whole world and ready to take on all comers.
We'd gotten off to a memorable beginning together.
On my second night working, Rachael and I had been sitting at the end of Speedie's counter farthest from the door. (There was a seniority system in place in Speedies. The more 'seniority' you had, the closer you sat to the door and therefore the sooner somebody walking in would spot you.) Angel had come strolling over and sat down next to us.
Angel was one of the 'senior girls'. She'd been a fixture of the Zone for as long as any of the other girls could remember. It was almost impossible to gauge her age. My cop's eye told me she had to be pushing (maybe even past) forty. But she was skillful with the makeup and she managed to keep her body in fighting tone. The word on the street was; over the long years Angel had finally turned enough tricks, had finally saved enough money to open a house of her own. Word was she was looking for some girls to populate her new establishment. To that end she sometimes arranged for 'contract work'. She'd find some gig she could assign girls to and then find out just how satisfied her customers had been. If you got a good report, you went on Angel's short list for future full-time employment. Angel was cold and aloof even with the other girls, but she'd "been there, done that" enough that everybody wanted a chance at one of her contracts. Everyone believed that Angel would have to make a sympathetic boss given her intimate understanding of the demands put on her employees.
She sat there for a while, coolly staring at Rachel and me. Rachael was beginning to bristle after just a few moments. I, on the other hand, just stared into my cup of tea. (I always drank tea, I guess it just went too well with my 'china doll' motif.)
Finally Angel nodded once, as if coming to some decision. "I don't think I recognize either of you girls."
Rachael met her eye to eye and growled. "Well, since I don't recognize you either, I guess that makes us even."
I was getting ready to intervene, to play peacemaker, (though why I thought I needed to play that role is anybody's guess), when Angel diffused the situation by giving Rachael a cold smile.
"Tough little bitch, aren't you? Well . . . that's all right. There's a market for tough as well as soft. How would you two 'ladies' like a chance to earn a little easy money?"
I have to hand it to Rachael. She didn't let her attitude get in the way of an opportunity. "What's the offer?"
Angel still regarded us with cold speculation but her tone was . . . well . . . no less than neutral. "There's a convention in town this weekend. Nothing big, just a few dozen salesmen from some little electronics company. But I've heard that they've got some free evenings. I'd bet a pair of clever girls could make some very nice returns from very little effort. Would either of you be interested?"
Both Rachael and I indicated that indeed we would.
Angel nodded and handed each of us a one of those "Hi, I'm (fill in your name here)" nametags with a company logo up in one corner. The kind of thing you pinned to the lapel of your suit when you mingled at conferences so as to spare everyone the need of struggling to remember your name.
Rachael raised an eyebrow. "What the fuck is this for?"
Angel just looked at her, that same aloof coolness positively palpable now. "The convention is being held at the Marriott. They do like to at least pay lip service to appearances. I hope you girls each own a respectable dress . . . or better yet, something that looks like a business suit. You're going to have to go under cover if you want to get past the front desk." She raised an eyebrow and waited for each of us to indicate we had appropriate camouflage. Then she nodded and told us to look for someone named Frank once we had made it inside. The convention was already underway. Frank would be looking for us no later than eight PM tomorrow night.
As soon as Angel had walked out of earshot, Rachael turned to me and growled, "Where the fuck am I gonna get a fucking business suit for Christ's sake?"
I gave her a genuine giggle that my disguise made suitably 'girlish'. "You don't own one either?"
For the first time I saw Rachael smile as she too giggled. "Shit no! Why would I own something like that? And I sure as hell ain't gonna blow a wad buying one. I don't care what the Ice Queen says, I don't think you and me are gonna get rich behind just one night." She paused and her tone became a little wistful. "Not like I got a wad to blow on clothes even if I did want to."
I thought for a moment, then came up with what I thought was a pretty clever answer. "Okay. Look, we don't have to be 'high fashion', we just have to get something that 'passes', right? So we just go down to Goodwill and do a little low-budget wardrobe building. I'm sure we can find something that will get us past the desk clerk."
And Rachael smiled and nodded. "Good idea . . . uh . . . you know, I don't think I ever heard your name."
I offered a feminine handshake. "I'm Toni."
Rachael took my hand in hers and gave me an ironically masculine grip. "'kay Toni. I'm Rachael. And this looks like it just might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
I hate to admit this, but that clothes shopping expedition with Rachael was actually fun.
I got some pointers from Carol at my morning 'briefing' on what kind of clothes to be looking for. Carol and I always met in the mornings to compare notes and discuss the progress of our investigation before I went to bed for the day.
I took a nap till eleven, ate a light lunch then slipped into 'Toni' and headed off to meet Rachael at Speedies. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Goodwill trying to perfect our businesswoman disguises. I wound up with a subdued navy blue skirt and jacket combination that I matched to a pale blue blouse. Rachael finally decided on a jacket/skirt combination in a black and white 'hound's tooth' pattern. I expected her to try to find a blouse to match, but she wanted to just wear the (rather revealing in my opinion) jacket without anything underneath. I tried to be 'constructive' (as opposed to 'catty') when I pointed out that the whole effect was a bit 'cheaper' than what I felt we were looking for. Rachael just smiled. She'd been off for a few minutes by herself while I was considering shoes. She said, "But you ain't seen the whole effect yet." With that she disappeared into the dressing room clutching a brown paper bag she'd been carrying since her separation from me. In a few minutes she came back out and I couldn't help it; I burst out laughing.
She'd found this shoulder length brown wig. I could tell that it was fairly high quality, but the style had to be right out of the mid-50's; a center part, long bangs in the front, and . . . what do you call it? . . . when the back 'flips' up in a kind of wave. To top it off, somewhere she'd also found a pair of woman's glasses with, I assume, non-prescription (or very light prescription) lenses.
She smiled at me and assumed a demure pose, her hands folded modestly against her skirt. Her normally tough growl melted into a light feminine lilt. "Hi. I'm Rachael and I'm going to be your new secretary. Do you want me to sit on your lap when you give me dictation or should I just kneel beside the desk?"
The hilarity continued for a few more minutes, then we each examined the other with a more critical eye.
And you know what? Once I got past the sudden transformation in Rachael I had to admit; it was a very workable disguise. Both of our outfits were. If you didn't know we were hookers you could easily believe we really were just another couple of businesswomen.
Rachael and I, in full "costume", arrived at the Marriot a little after 7:30. Evidently our disguises passed muster because the desk clerk paid us not the slightest attention as we both strolled casually by, our "Hi I'm Toni" and "Hi I'm Rachael" nametags prominently displayed.
We found "Frank" in the hall outside the conference room. The laughter and raucous buzz of conversation coming from inside indicated that the day's business had concluded.
Frank sized Rachel and me up and raised an eyebrow. "Who are you two?" Before Rachael could deliver whatever snide comment she was planning I quietly said, "Angel sent us. I believe we're expected?" Frank became at once very officious and businesslike. The tinge on his cheeks made it clear that he wasn't used to dealing with the 'entertainment'.
"Ah . . . fine, fine. Rooms 502 and 503 have been set up as the hospitality suite. We'll be expecting you to . . . uh . . . 'stay' . . . till two." Then he handed each of us an envelope and walked away, rather quickly I noticed, without another word. Rachael and I took the hint and headed for the elevators.
As we rode up to the fifth floor Rachael grumbled for a moment about being considered part of the 'hospitality' then took a look inside her envelope.
"Holy shit! There must be . . . Toni! There's twenty hundreds in here!"
I missed the point. "What did you expect? A payroll check?"
"No! But I mean . . . Two fucking grand for six hours?!"
I suddenly realized; I didn't know if that was good or bad. From the way Rachael had first said 'Holy shit' I guessed that it was good.
"No wonder everybody wants to go to work for Angel if she ever gets her house going."
Rachael just smiled and nodded.
The next six hours were mostly unmemorable.
For the first hour or so, I just stood around and looked 'available'. I smiled at every leer. I giggled at every grope. Finally some white-haired exec-type got up the courage to take me into the bedroom. Once he'd set the example I had three other takers in quick succession. It would have gotten pretty tedious pretty quickly. But by now the booze was really flowing and by the third hour nobody would have noticed if it was me or a blow-up doll lying on the bed. It became so mechanical near the end that I was actually daydreaming.
At least I was perfecting my technique.
A little after two the last of the smashed businessmen had crawled off to their rooms. When the housekeeping staff showed up, Rachael and I split.
She looked a little tired, but she was also still grinning about her night's profits. "God damn! I gotta remember to stay on Angel's good side!"
We had made it out to the sidewalk. I nodded and matched her smile. "Amen sister. Say, let's grab a cab. My treat."
In just a moment we were in the backseat of a Yellow, heading in the general direction of Speedies. The tension (and there had been a little, I admit) over this big 'contract' eased and pretty soon we were swapping war stories from the evening as Rachael and I (following her example) began to stuff our 'wages' into our bras for safe keeping.
"So, how many did you do?"
I started to reply "Nine" (which was the correct number) when I realized that that might be a rather high number for a real woman. I mean . . . I didn't know, but nine men in six hours might not be . . . 'possible'. Instead I pulled the number "Three" out of mid-air.
That seemed to be an acceptable figure to Rachael because she just nodded, staring down the front of her hound's tooth jacket, trying to find space for a few more bills. "I would have done four but that third guy just about finished me off. I had to start doing b.j.'s instead."
I gazed up from my own 'depositary activities'. "What do you mean?"
Rachael gave me a wicked little grin. "Christ girl, he was hung like a freaking moose! I mean, my eyes were starting to bulge before he finally got 'all aboard'."
I started laughing . . . Rachael kept laughing.
After a moment, and with a smile still on her face, she tried to find room for the last two hundred-dollar bills. "Cripes. I either gotta get smaller tits or a bigger bra. Oh well . . . we'll just put these in the cookie jar." And with that, she very casually hiked up her skirt and began to stuff the money down the front of her panties.
I was about to make a comment about not having money to shove down her bra if she got smaller tits . . . the 'market' being what it was. When it happened.
Both Rachael and I had completely forgotten about the cabbie. Unfortunately, he hadn't forgotten about us. Apparently he'd been enjoying quite a show in his rear-view mirror. More unfortunately, when Rachael hiked up her skirt his attention had left the road entirely in favor of the view in the opposite direction.
There was a sudden blare of horns . . . a heavy thump . . . I slammed into the passenger door and Rachael slammed into me. There was that moment of disorientation that always follows something like a traffic accident. Then I managed to get my door open and stagger out.
A hurried inventory proved to me that I had no serious injuries. There was a sharp ache in my side where I'd apparently collided with the window crank. I also suspected that there'd be a nice bruise on my left elbow. But that seemed to be it.
Rachael was out the door behind me. We'd been "t-boned" when our driver had failed to notice the light at the intersection he was approaching had changed to red. Fortunately, the car that hit us had just gotten rolling and the impact hadn't been that great. However, Rachael's door had absorbed the impact and it was jammed shut. By the time she'd managed to crawl across the seat and out my door, her face was already a mask of blood.
My training took over. "Whoa girl. Sit down and let me take a look at that."
She shrugged off the hand I'd laid on her arm, but did as I instructed and sat down beside the rear wheel of the cab. I checked her out and quickly determined she had only a minor scalp wound (probably from a shard of flying glass from a shattered side window). The cabbie and the driver of the car that hit us were already fully engaged in a typical big-city shouting match as to whose fault it all was. I was starting to relax. The post-shock jitters were starting to set in. Rachael was demonstrating a really amazing vocabulary of vulgar curses. (In the whole ten-minute period I don't think she repeated herself once.) Then the flash of blue lights drew my attention to the cruiser that had pulled up to the curb behind us.
The door of the blue and white opened and out stepped my old partner in mischief, Joey Poleski.
For an instant I started to panic at being discovered. Then I realized; Joey won't recognize me. As far as he would know, I was just some young businesswoman unfortunate enough to get caught in a late-night minor traffic accident.
I couldn't resist. I hissed "Cool it, cops" to Rachael and then stood and hugged my arms beneath my bosom and tried to look helpless and distressed and really in need of comfort and reassurance.
Joey strode up, all macho poise, and sized up the situation. "Is everyone all right here?"
I unfolded my arms, wrung my hands and shifted my feet in a panicky little dance. "Oh . . . thank God you're here Officer! We were in an accident! My friend's hurt!" I let my voice rise to a panicky wail. "She's bleeding!"
Joey bent down and examined Rachael. "Well, it's a scalp wound and they bleed pretty freely." He shone his flashlight into her eyes, which brought a typical growl from her. "Your pupils are equal and reactive though, so I don't think you have a concussion. Are you dizzy? Nauseous?"
She glared up at him. "No. Are you?"
Joey didn't see the little kick I gave her and my threatening glare as I mouthed "Cool it!" She yelped when the pointed toe of my shoe connected with the ball of her ankle.
Joey tried to be solicitous again. "Are you in pain? Does it hurt somewhere else?"
Rachael finally got the point I was trying to make. She shook her head and managed a very convincing 'little girl whimper'. "Just my head."
Joey straightened. "Well, the best thing is probably to just sit there for a minute and wait for the ambulance. They'll check you out and fix you right up." He straightened and turned to me. "I'll need some information . . . let me get a blank report form."
I nodded and tried to look ever so grateful for his quiet competence. "Of course Officer." He strode back to his car and leaned in the driver's side door. He rummaged for a moment in the briefcase that he always kept in the passenger's seat. While he had his head buried in his car Rachael snarled at me, "What the hell did you kick me for?"
I hissed back. "Quiet! I know this cop but I don't think he's recognized me. I'm gonna have a little fun with the jerk." Rachael immediately grinned then went back to playing "injured damsel", this time with a will.
Then Joey was back, clipboard in hand. "If I might have your name miss?"
"Of course. It's Susan . . . Susan Wong." And welcome to my world Officer Poleski. I knew that reference would fly right over Joey's head. If the movie didn't feature naked women, lots of guns and/or spaceships, Joey wasn't interested.
"Okay Miss Wong. And your address?"
I didn't even miss a beat. "2727 181st NE." Carol had told me to memorize a fake address. All the prostitutes had one. (I never did ask why.) Carol said it was considered a bit of a game to come up with a real address that made a clever joke. I thought giving the address for the Pacific Meat Wholesaler's warehouse was kind of cute.
Again, Joey just jotted the note down on his form. "And your telephone number?"
I giggled, then with a shy glance at my toes I gave him a Bremerton prefix then the number 7106. I'd have no trouble remembering that number if for some reason he had to ask again. It was the year and month of my birthday.
Joey looked up, made a note of the intersection and the date and approximate time of the incident. Then he came to the blanks on "Form 13-03A (WSP, Report of Traffic Accident, Non-fatality)" that I had been patiently waiting for.
"Okay Ms Wong. Do you have any injuries? Are you hurt anywhere?"
"Well, my elbow really hurts and . . . uh . . ." Then I think I did a very good job of faking embarrassment as I turned my head away.
"Well . . . I . . . I hit my . . . my 'chest' against the back of the seat. They really hurt too."
Joey cleared his throat and became suddenly interested in the report form he must have read a hundred times. No, no Joey . . . come on . . . I know that form too. It clearly says "Nature and extent of injuries. (Specific)".
Finally, he managed to stammer, "I see. Uh . . . do you . . . would you characterize the injury as . . . 'minor'? . . . 'moderate'? Do you think there was . . . er . . . 'disabling' injury to your . . . your . . . chest?"
Rachael was doing a good job of covering her snickers, but she almost lost it when I again looked down at my toes and then lifted what I hoped were a huge pair of 'waif-ish' eye to Joey and murmured, "Oh Officer . . . I really don't know. You see, I'm just starting my period and you know how tender that makes your breasts."
I was denied any further fun with the arrival of the ambulance and Joey's hasty retreat to do the interview of the two drivers.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Rachael and I both dissolved into helpless laughter. Finally Rachael managed to calm down enough to cup both her breasts in her hands and in that same little girl pout she whimpered, "Oh officer, I think I've hurt my poor little titties. Won't you please kiss them and make them all better?"
I was gasping for breath. "Did you see the look on his face?"
Rachael's grin was positively vicious now. "He should thank God we weren't riding bicycles. You'd have had him down on his knees checking to make sure your cherry was still in one piece."
Speedie himself came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a greasy towel.
"Okay 'ladies'. Two AM. Quitting time." He began shooing us out into the night and the rain. "Come on you whores. Tomorrow's another night."
As I followed Rachael out into the darkness, I had no idea that I'd just experienced my last "closing hour" at Speedies.
I awoke the next morning . . .
"Morning"? Hardly. I was keeping "Toni's" hours now. Her "mornings" usually began sometime around five PM.
Anyway, I awoke to a loud crash of thunder. Looking out the window showed me a bleak, lowering sky. It was going to be another typical late-spring night here in "The Emerald City".
After a hurried light breakfast I jumped in the car and headed over to Carol's for today's briefing.
She was waiting for me in her converted guest room/office.
"Hey Charlie Chan. Hurry up and get into Toni. I got a change of strategy to discuss with you."
It was becoming so mechanical . . . my conversion into my feminine alter-ego . . . that I could accomplish the whole thing by rote now. My mind even wandered. I was much more interested in what Carol had in mind than I was in my (still incredible when you thought about it) transformation.
In less than half an hour from when I walked into her front door as Tony, I was stepping quickly and lightly into her bedroom with a towel wrapped around 'Toni', vigorously rubbing that little-over-a-yard-long (we'd measured it one night just out of curiosity) ribbon of satin black hair.
Carol was engrossed in something at our cork board "strategic map" (as we'd come to think of our collection of bits and pieces, maps and clues.) I finished drying my hair to the point that it wasn't sodden and looked to see what Carol had chosen as Toni's working clothes for tonight.
Carol handled all the wardrobe matters. I have no flair for that kind of thing at all. Left to my own devices my wardrobe probably would have consisted of a few pairs of hot pants and a couple of tube tops. Carol pointed out (correctly I later learned) that one of the tricks of the trade was to make yourself stand out from the crowd by selecting noticeably different clothing.
However, "noticeable" was one thing but what was lying on Carol's bed tonight . . . I picked up what was obviously the major item and held it against the towel wrapped around my torso. "You're kidding, right?"
Carol just glanced up once from her consideration of our pin map, gave me a little smirk, and went back to her studies. "Not at all. Try it. It'll be sexier than you think."
I stared dubiously at the Washington State "Cougars" sweatshirt I was holding, then shrugged and slid it over my head. After a moment's struggle I had that (more trouble than it was worth sometimes) cascade of hair free. "Cripes. This damn thing is six sizes too big. What'd you do, mug one of the Cougars' varsity linemen or something?" The baggy sweatshirt was hanging down below mid-thigh and my hands were somewhere half way up the sleeves.
Carol didn't even look up. "Trust me."
I sighed and turned to see what else made up the ensemble. But the only other things I could immediately see on Carol's bed were a very lacy, satiny pair of briefs and some sandals. I slid the sleeves of the sweatshirt up to my elbows and then stepped into the briefs. I looked for the rest of the outfit.
But there was nothing else in evidence.
"Where's the skirt?"
"Okay . . . where are the pants then?"
"No pants. Just those shoes."
They were a pair of high-heeled, open-toed sandals in a dark crimson that very nicely matched the W.S.U. logo glowing against the sweatshirt's dove gray. I spent a few seconds buckling the ankle straps and then looked at the whole effect in the full-length mirror over in the corner.
"This is ridiculous! I look like a half-dressed woman in a baggy sweatshirt."
Still Carol ignored me. "Walk around a little. Do your sales routine."
I paused for a moment closing my eyes and letting my mind shift gears. When I opened my eyes "Toni" was gazing back at me from the mirror. I took a few of her quick, small steps forward . . .
And I began to see at least part of the idea behind this particular costume. The sweatshirt was baggy enough to minimize the effect of my (and remember, they were pretty impressive) breasts. Until I moved that is. Then the shirt was just tight enough that the forward curve of those little money-makers shifted and danced against the fabric. It was mesmerizing; the bounce and weave of those soft, rounded globes alternately revealed/concealed by the loose fabric.
I managed to tear my eyes away from that show long enough to notice that the lower hem of the sweatshirt had also "ridden" up a good two inches in just those few steps. I wondered what would happen if . . .
Toni crossed her hands behind her butt and lowered her eyes in that shy "Oh, hello mister" pose that was her opening gambit. Sure enough, pulling my arms behind my back gathered enough of the material up around my shoulders that the hem of the sweatshirt had ridden-up another inch. Just enough for the tiniest peek at the delicate lace molding itself to my counterfeit feminine crotch.
Toni looked so flustered and embarrassed as she put her hands on her hips and "shimmied" the hem back down where it belonged . . . setting those breasts bouncing again in the process.
Carol's gentle chuckle drew me out of my fantasy.
"Sexy is where you find it, sometimes."
"No lie! Man . . . I'd pay $75 for a crack at this. And I know it ain't even real!"
Carol just chuckled again. I moved to the corner of the bed nearest "The Strategic Map" and sat down. (Trying to ignore the shift and slither of that wonderfully devious sweatshirt in the process.) "You mentioned a 'change in strategy'?"
Her smile faded. "Yeah. I think we need to try something a little different tonight."
I crossed my legs, tried to slide the hem down to a point where Toni could maintain at least a little modesty, and then gave it up as a lost cause. I was sure you could see right up what passed for my skirt, (the baggy hem of the sweatshirt.) Well . . . that was the idea, wasn't it? Make the johns think they were getting a free peek while that poor girl just sat there, oblivious to how badly her clothing was betraying her. (Yeah . . . 'betraying' indeed.)
"Okay. What's the plan 'mon general'?"
But Carol seemed distracted, unwilling to play along tonight. "After you meet with the girls at Speedies . . . find out if there's any new 'buzz' on the street . . . I want you to head out along through here."
I sat up straight enough to see over her shoulder at what she was pointing to on the map. "That's off the regular 'trade route'. Not many of the girls work that area."
Carol bit her lip and nodded. "I know."
Her agitation was starting to communicate itself to me even though I couldn't guess its source. "What's up?"
She sighed, started to say something . . . then shook her head and just went back to staring at the map.
"Carol . . .? Come on Number One Son. What's up? What are you thinking?"
Still looking at the map she finally replied. "We need to try another tack. We're just not getting the clues I thought we would. I think it's time we . . ."
There was a pregnant pause as I sat back, folding my hands in my lap. "You're tired of trying to get info. You want to go out and 'bait' him directly. Don't you?"
She nodded, finally meeting my gaze. "Look. We both knew it would come to this. I mean, we had to try to do it the easy way . . . to get clues and track K-Bar down that way. But we both knew if there were clues out there, somebody would have found them by now. We . . ." Then she looked away again. "You . . . you need to go out and . . ." Finally, one last time, she looked into my eyes. "It's been too long. He's going to strike again . . . Soon . . . Tonight." She clenched a fist and pressed it into her stomach. "I can feel it." I could sense her angst at what she was proposing; sending me into harms way without backup . . . staking me out like some kind of goat to draw the lion in.
But she was right. There was . . . a feeling . . . on the air tonight. Some sense of a looming "something". I could feel it too. I can't say it any better than that.
I stood and laid a hand on her shoulder. "It's 'we' kiddo. It's always been 'we'. If you could, I know you'd have been out there long ago handling this job while I was sitting in Speedies giggling with the girls. So . . . 'we' . . . never doubt that."
A glance at the clock and a quick peck on her cheek and I was out the door.
The sun was setting and the darkness of my last night as Toni was gathering as I climbed into my old Chevy and headed off toward Speedies.
The usual crowd had already begun to gather when I came strolling into the cafe. For the moment, the threatened storm seemed to have abated and there were even a few stars peeking through some breaks in the clouds.
I remember thinking, "It might not be such a bad night after all."
Denni and some redhead I didn't immediately recognize were on their way out to work as I came through the door. Denni caught sight of my sweatshirt outfit and giggled. "Oh Toni, that's so cute! I wish I'd thought of something like that."
I gave her a little shake of my shoulders and the torque of my top shifted to the dance of my breasts. "Effective too . . . at least I hope so."
She smiled and nodded. "Well, good luck. Let me know if it works. If it does, can I try it next week?"
I returned her smile. "Sure. I've always wanted to start a fashion." We shared another giggle and she and her companion headed out to begin their shift.
I got several nods and smiles from the other girls. I was becoming a recognized member of the community. As I've said, The Trade is competitive, but there is also camaraderie amongst the girls. While we competed on the street . . . in truth, we even competed in here when there was something to compete over . . . Speedies was kind of like a 'break room'. Here we could relax for a bit before getting back to the grind. (Or is that 'bump and grind?')
I had to pause once to tug that pesky sweatshirt down. (There was little point in flashing my underwear in here. With two notable exceptions . . . Speedie himself being the other . . . at the moment the room was solely populated with members of a gender who'd take scant interest in my under dress.) Working my way back to my niche, I spotted Angel and Rachael in quiet conversation. I greeted them, receiving a broad smile from Rachael and a cool nod from Angel. Speedie had noticed my entrance and even as I sat down he was placing my usual cup of tea in front of me.
As I settled and took my first sip, Rachael picked up the thread of the conversation that my arrival had interrupted. "So . . . what kind of a kink does this guy have anyway?"
Angel shrugged and took a sip of her coffee. "He pretty much just likes to watch. But he wants to see it rough. I guess that's why I thought of you."
I didn't even have to look at Rachael to know she was bristling and about to say something she might regret so I quickly intervened in an attempt to distract Angel and thus give Rachael a chance to 'count to ten'. "Do you have another job? I don't have any particular plans tonight."
The look that Angel gave me over her shoulder . . . I can only characterize it as a glare. "Don't get greedy Toni. I have plans for you too, but not right now. This is for Rachael, not you."
Looking beyond Angel, I could see that Rachael had gathered her composure. I shrugged and turned back to my tea. "Fine. Whatever. You know where to find me when you want me."
Angel delivered her reply in a return to her usual cool tone. "Yes. I do."
Rachael growled, "Okay. He likes to watch two chicks do each other rough. I can handle that."
Angel may have even cracked a small smile. "I thought you could. Some things to remember: I'm going to be the 'dom'. I like to make things look good so be prepared for a little pain. I promise; the pay is worth it. I set the pace and do most of the kink, but you can slap all you want. Do you know how to do a stage slap? Don't say 'yes' if you don't."
Rachael shook her head 'no'.
Angel's demonstration sounded like a gunshot in the closeness of Rachael's and my corner. A few of the girls looked up, mild curiosity on their faces. I'd almost choked on my tea in my surprise, but from the general lack of reaction among the others I could tell that Angel's demonstrations were not all that unusual.
Rachel barked a quick, small oath . . . more of shock than pain. But to her credit, she then only rubbed her jaw and glared at Angel. "Son of a bitch! That hurt!"
Angel matched her growl. "Don't be such a baby. It doesn't hurt that badly. Not if you do it right. Here, like this. Cup your hand and aim for the lower line of the jaw." Angel held Rachael's hand and demonstrated, slowly, what she was describing. Finally Rachael got to take a 'real' swing and the loud 'smack' was just as impressive as Angel's demonstration.
I tried to suppress my smile at Rachael's wicked grin at getting payback . . . till I noticed some emotion flicker across Angel's features. It was too quick to really get a read on what that emotion might have been. Then it was gone and Angel was back to her cool, aloof, Ice Queen persona.
"That will work. But if you foul it up, if you actually connect . . . be ready to take one right back. And if you claw me up . . . well, you'll really regret that. Understand?"
Again Rachael nodded.
"Good. Now, we should work out for . . . oh . . . let's say about ten minutes. The john likes to see some struggle at first but eventually you have to let me 'win'. Then some pleading and whimpering will get you a good tip after. Understand? He'll have some 'toys' there. He picks out the one I actually use. Don't be freaked out when you see some of the stuff hanging on the walls. He just likes to look at that stuff while . . . well, you know. The things we actually use are pretty tame. Do the fighting and the crying well and I might even make the toy good for you when we get there. Any questions?"
Rachael looked about as uncomfortable as I felt, but she shook her head.
Again Angel nodded. "Fine. I've got another appointment so I'll meet you there at ten." Then she rattled off an address of an upscale downtown condo complex and left.
I sipped my tea quietly for a minute while Rachael just stared at the nicked countertop.
"Are you sure you really want to go through with this?"
She looked up at me and I could see a little trace of fear in her eyes. Hard and tough she might really be, but the prospect of this job gave me, a veteran street cop, the willies. My admiration for her spirit aside, she was still just a . . . nineteen? . . . year old girl.
Then she shrugged, stood, and started to go. "Hell. I can't turn it down. Rachael says this guy really pays well. I mean, she makes it sound like this is gonna make that convention gig look like peanuts. And . . . Christ . . . I need the money. It'll be all right. I'll find you after and give you the whole story. I should be flush enough to even buy us both dinner." Then she cracked her familiar tough smile at my outfit. "That is, if we can find a place that doesn't mind serving half-dressed hookers."
I smiled in return. "Okay girlfriend. I'll be working over in the 'upper 30's' tonight. Look for me there."
I watched her walk out into the night then I finished my tea and headed out on my own rounds.
The fun of my sweatshirt costume had worn off after about the first half-hour of my trolling. If I just ignored it, after no more than a dozen steps the damn lower hem would be somewhere up around my waist and far more of those lacy panties would be showing than even the most jaded of hookers would have been comfortable with.
At first I played along with the gambit. Picture a poor, embarrassed, novice hooker who's worn a much too revealing outfit, struggling to maintain as much of her compromised modesty as she can, pausing every few feet to wrestle with her traitorous clothing.
But that got old pretty quick. Besides, surreptitious glances from beneath lowered lashes as I struggled with my outfit revealed precious few males stealing looks in my direction. After a bit of experimentation I learned that the simple expedient of pressing both my hands against the sides of my thighs as I walked served to keep my sweatshirt in place. Until I was ready for it to "betray" me that is.
I worked down 39th and then turned on Ballard. I wasn't the only working girl in the area, but as both Carol and I knew, this was not "prime hunting ground". I usually had each block I traversed to myself.
I'd just reached on 38th and was beginning to work my way back north when I felt the car nose into the curb behind me. It might just be some middle-aged woman with business in one of the surrounding buildings parking her car. Then again . . .
I was subtle about it, but I started placing one foot in front of the other with each petite step . . . get that little rounded ass wiggling. 'Hey John . . . come and get it.'
"You . . . in the sweatshirt. Just a minute."
A male voice. Preemptory.
I turned around, that shy, embarrassed smile beginning to form on my lips.
It was written all over him even though he was in plain clothes. The fact that he was standing beside the driver's door of a plain, dark blue, Ford Crown Victoria . . . with black side walls, three radio antennae and a very obvious light bar 'concealed' on the deck behind the rear window . . . didn't help his undercover posture any either. And as for his "plain clothes" . . . well . . . a cheap K-Mart suit going shiny at the elbows . . . you didn't get much 'plainer' than that.
He frowned. I guess I wasn't supposed to have made him that easily but a civilian could have spotted him. Since it was pretty obvious I was a hooker I saw no reason not to tag him. Even novice girls could tumble an undercover cop on a lot less clues than this guy was giving.
"Come over here."
No 'please'. No 'may I have a few words with you'. Just that preemptory tone of command again.
I wiggled over, completely forgetting to hold down the hem of my naughty shirt. (It immediately obliged. I could feel it slithering up my thighs. 'Oh dear! I'm positively flaunting my little pussy at you Officer! What must you think of me? Wanna fuck?') Again I offered a shy, "Yes Officer?"
He motioned at the rear door to what we on The Job called his "F (for Felony) Car". "Get in."
This was a bit too pushy even for a "whore roust". My professional (both of them) instincts were offended by this brusque behavior. "Hey! Just a second. What's this about?"
He continued to glower at me. I knew this guy from somewhere but I couldn't immediately place the face. He wasn't Seattle P.D., of that I was sure.
"Look. Let's not screw around okay? You know I'm a cop and I know you're a hooker. I've got some questions. You can come along nicely, we'll take care of business and then I might even bring you back here instead of just throwing you out the stationhouse door. Or, you can play all kind of games with me. I'll get more pissed off than I am. I'll hook you up, maybe give you a nice little pat-down search that you usually get $25 for and then we go downtown and you take care of business anyway. Then you walk home. Which will it be?"
I tugged the sweatshirt back down and frowned at him, all pretense at 'shy little hooker' forgotten. This guy was really pushing the macho cop bit too far. " 's matter Officer? Slow night? Nothing better to do than shake down a few working girls?"
His eyes went positively cold. "In case you've haven't been getting off your back a lot lately I'll fill you in: There's somebody out there cutting you lovely 'ladies' up for ground beef. I got questions. You might have answers. Now, I'll ask nicely one last time; get in the car."
Suddenly it hit me. I recognized him now. He was a lieutenant with the King County Sheriff's Office. I couldn't quite remember his name. Malloy . . . MacCoy . . . something like that. I shrugged and climbed into the back seat. He shut the door behind me and for a while at least I was trapped. No door handles in the back of this car and a "Silent Partner" bulletproof shield between the front seat and the back made sure I would stay here till he deigned to open the door again from the outside.
He climbed into the front seat and pulled back out into traffic.
I noticed another violation of procedure as he headed south along 38th. He hadn't called in to dispatch with his beginning mileage and a time check. All male cops learned that one early on. You NEVER transported a female without telling dispatch your mileage and the time of the beginning and end of the transport. You never knew when some woman would take it into her head to start screaming 'rape!' Therefore you always made sure you could cover your ass with a little tangible proof of the fact that you never had the time or the opportunity.
Gee Lieutenant . . . what would the Professional Review Board do if I suddenly started screaming? You're a pretty sloppy cop, aren't you? How'd you ever make lieutenant? When all this is over I think a certain Seattle beat cop may just have to have a word with his boss. Let's see what rolls down hill and who's living in the valley when two cop bosses, yours and mine, compare notes.
I looked out the window at the passing night-scene. Then, almost simultaneously, I had two further insights. First; I remembered this guy's name now. It was MacMahon. Lieutenant MacMahon . . . and he ran one of the KCSO patrol shifts . . . day watch if I wasn't mistaken.
And second . . . we weren't heading for the King County Sheriff's Office. We weren't heading in the right direction for any police station.
I leaned forward and pounded on the Plexiglas of the shield. "Hey! What the hell are you doing? Where are we going?"
That earned me a snarled. "Shut the fuck up."
It turned out to be a short drive.
The Bayview Motel (eight miles to the nearest body of water, with a stunning view of a half a dozen other 'No-tell Motels' and not much else) was one of the more high class hooker havens. For your moderate hourly rate they piped in XXX Video to every room . . . not that they expected you to be watching much TV . . . not that the crummy picture on the battered old black and white set would distract too many folks anyway . . . Still, it made a nice 'value added' bit. Heck, the management even had the sheets changed after every guest . . . when they remembered to do it.
MacMahon got his key from the desk clerk then finally deigned to let me out of the back seat.
I was prepared to do my 'outraged hooker' bit, fueled in no small part by my very real disgust at this jerk's lack of professionalism. "What the hell do you think you're doing? You got no right . . ."
He just folded his arms. "How much?"
Of course I'd already figured out what this was all about, but I still had a role to play. I grinned slyly at him then shifted to a very obvious and over-done return to that wide-eyed innocence. "Why officer . . . what ever do you mean? 'How much' for what?"
He snarled, "Cut the crap. You know what I mean."
I batted my almond eyes at him and cooed, "Goodness! You don't think I'm a prostitute do you? Why . . . that's illegal. Surely a cop like you would know that. Why . . . I could be arrested!"
"Okay. You think you're such a street-wise little bitch, try this; I'll pay you $50 to perform a sexual act with me. There, see? No arrest possible now. The Supremes have said that from here on it'd all be entrapment because I said the magic words first. 'Sex for money'. Now . . . how about it?"
I couldn't say 'no' and still maintain my cover so I shrugged and nodded. "Why not? But it's $75, not $50. And you gotta give me a lift back to where you found me after. I ain't walking all that way in these heels."
He shook his head, snarled "Fine, whatever" and strode off to the room he'd gotten. I tagged along. I might as well give him his money's worth. This little roll in the hay was gonna cost him any chance at Captain's rank if I had anything to say about it.
Once into the room, I started looking for ways to make this as uncomfortable for the good lieutenant as I could. "Okay." I hooked a thumb over my shoulder. "Shower's in there. Make it quick."
He paused, his cheap suit coat half off. "What?!"
"Shower cowboy. I don't do nothin' without I know you're clean first."
His face darkened. "Why you cheap little slut! You think you can . . ."
But I'd slid off my sweatshirt and stood there, casually running a long, slender finger down the cleft of my breasts, a little smile on my lips for him. He stared for a moment, then finished stripping.
As he stalked off toward the bathroom I struggled and ultimately managed to restrain my comments about him 'packing a snub-nose.' Actually I hadn't noticed and didn't particularly care. This was already getting boring and unattractive. I slid out of my panties and then flipped back the (thankfully clean) sheets. As the shower ran I debated putting him through the embarrassment of donning a condom . . . or letting him 'ride bareback' and then finding some way to intimate I might have AIDS or something.
I hadn't decided which ploy I'd enjoy more when the water stopped running and he came striding back out of the bathroom as naked as the day he'd been born. I patted the space beside me in the bed. "Okay chief. I do straight missionary. No fifty/fifty. Light play's okay but you gotta . . ."
He interrupted my well-rehearsed 'rules speech' with a soft but steely "Get up."
I looked at him . . . his face in shadows in the room's poor, cheap lighting. "What?"
"Get out of the bed. We're not there yet."
Foreplay. And standing up too. Marvelous. With a sigh I threw back the sheets and stood.
"Come over here."
I obeyed. I had no inkling yet of the danger. I mean, I knew MacMahon was 'dirty'. But he was still a cop. I guess I still had a built-in trust for someone from 'The Job'
We stood there, more or less body-to-body, staring at each other.
He reached up toward my shoulders. At first, I thought I was going to get a hug or something. Instead he placed his hands on my shoulders and began doing the one thing I least expected in all the world.
He began giving me a massage.
It was wonderful. His thick, muscular fingers probed and kneaded. It almost hurt . . . and it was almost heaven.
All my carefully won cynicism, all my survivor's instincts I had paid so dearly to learn out there on the street . . . they all deserted me. I turned my back on him.
Again those strong fingers caressed . . . molded . . .
His voice was deep . . . guttural.
"Oriental whores are pretty rare. Did you know that? I do. I like Orientals. I was surprised to see you tonight. I keep an eye out for chink hookers."
I might have bristled at the ethnic slur, but his fingers were down around my shoulder blades now and the just-on-the-verge-of but not yet painful intensity of the backrub had me mesmerized.
"It's not like back in 'Nam. Then we had all the dink bitches we wanted. It was a dink that taught me to do this. It's called . . . shiatsu or something like that. Do you like it?"
I murmured a genuine sigh of pleasure.
"Yeah, thought so. Women get off on this crap. That little slope bitch was really good at it. Lots better than I am. She could make you come just by rubbing your back. I liked her. Turned out she was V.C. though. I had to shoot her dumb ass one day when she tried to bring a grenade into the hooch. Kind of a pity. I remember I really needed to get off that day."
His words finally penetrated my almost orgasmic bliss. I turned around and batted his hands away. "Look chief. If were gonna do this we better get . . ."
And he slapped me . . . hard.
"Shut up! You're not saying it right. You don't sound anything like a dink."
I was stunned. I could only rub my burning cheek and stare at him wide-eyed. "What the hell?"
And that earned me another slap. "Like a dink! Sound like a dink you stupid bitch."
I was getting ready to throw a punch of my own when he sidestepped to where his clothing was heaped on a chair. I still didn't see the danger until it was much too late. Before I could really react he'd pulled something out of one of the pockets of his jacket.
It was a wicked looking knife.
Not a K-Bar or a Randall . . . smaller . . . like a dagger. But it had a military look to it; dull, matte finished blade and a dark rubber or plastic hilt.
He stood there, his stance removing any doubt I had left concerning his past military service. He knew how to use that blade.
I swallowed and almost whispered. "I'm . . . I . . . I sorry. So sorry. I . . . I fuck long time. Number one type. Okay?"
He grinned. "Better." He motioned with the knife. "Come here."
On rubbery knees I obeyed. Again we were body to body.
In a parody of my earlier gesture he gently ran the tip of the blade down between my breasts. "Yeah. Just like old times. But no 'fucky', you savvie? I want 'number one blow job'. Bou coup dollars for 'sucky'. Understand?"
I started to object. "I don't do . . ." The little squeak of pain as the point of that knife bit in to my chest . . . my real chest . . . cut off my words.
His eyes bored into mine. This time his voice was a soft, evil purr. "Like a dink. I won't tell you again. Now . . . on your knees."
This time . . . it touched me.
It touched my soul.
It still colors the place where my nightmares come from.
I must have found a cab right beside the curb at the Bayview. I don't remember a lot of searching around for one.
I don't remember much of anything.
Carol must have been getting ready for bed. Her wide-eyed face peered around the corner of her bedroom door when I came crashing into her apartment. As soon as she saw it was me, she set her Smith and Wesson aside and took a moment to pull on a bathrobe before joining me in the kitchen.
"Tony? What is it? What's wrong?"
I tried to explain, to describe what had just happened.
When I'd seen Carol awaken in the hospital there had been so many emotions flooding through me that they'd canceled out. Now they crowded . . . clamored for attention . . . in such a rush and jam that I could only stare at her in anguish.
She took my hands in hers. "Tony? Please . . . you're scaring me."
Finally the words came . . . in a tumble.
"He picked me up on 38th. I didn't know. I knew he was a cop, but I didn't know . . . I though it was just a roust. The Bayview . . . he . . . then I thought he just wanted . . . that he would . . . but . . ."
Her eyes were huge now. "Tony! Stop it! Just stop . . . it's okay. You're okay."
Maybe her nearness was calming me. I managed to blurt "I know who K-Bar is. I know. It's him. It has to be."
Now her eyes narrowed and she leaned forward. "Who? Tony what are you talking about?"
I still stumbled, but I managed to describe how MacMahon had picked me up. About how he'd taken me to the Bayview. As the tale came out, Carol put the teapot on to boil. Perhaps she needed to be doing something. Perhaps she could feel a memory of her own, far more horrible than mine, lurking in the shadows . . . preparing to spring on her. Keeping busy with some trivial activity might hold it at bay a bit longer.
While the water heated I told her about the massage and MacMahon's fascination with Oriental women. I even managed to describe how he'd pulled the knife.
But when I came to what he'd forced me to do . . .
The kettle had heated to the point that Carol could pour me a cup of tea and then rejoin me at the table.
I took a sip of the tea, trying to gather my wits.
The warm fluid slid across my tongue . . . filled my mouth . . .
I made it to the sink before being violently, wrackingly ill.
Carol stood behind me, holding my forehead and gently rubbing my back. The nausea finally subsided. Her eyes were haunted as she quietly refilled the cup and helped me sit back down at the table.
"It's okay Tony. It's okay . . . it's over."
There was a long silence.
"So . . . you think MacMahon is K-Bar?"
I was incredulous. "How can he not be? He . . . my God Carol! The knife . . . what he was thinking . . . the dead Vietnamese woman . . ."
She was so quiet that I almost missed the words. "Then why are you still alive?"
Now her deep brown eyes bored into mine. "If MacMahon is K-Bar, why are you still alive?"
That was what it took for me to finally crash back to reality . . . to the here and now.
I should have died in that motel room.
But he had to be. I slammed my hand, open-palmed, against the table. He had to be. Someone . . . something that evil had to be the monster I was hunting.
But Carol was unimpressed.
"Too many pieces don't fit. If this MacMahon is K-Bar then they should have you on a table down at the Morgue by now. If he is K-Bar, why the change in weapons? And why one knife for another? You know that doesn't fit the profile. A larger weapon, maybe . . . but not a smaller one. And why did none of the street people remember seeing MacMahon before any of the other attacks. Street people notice cops. You know that. What about . . ."
"All right!" Now I held my hand up and just glared at the tabletop. I continued in a softer tone. "All right. There are pieces that don't fit. But we can't just let it slide. I mean, we have to tell someone. Even if MacMahon isn't K-Bar, he's dangerous and he's a bad cop. And I still think . . ."
Now Carol interrupted me. "Who do we tell? The cops, I presume. How are you going to tell them one of their own is a rotten apple?"
Why was Carol being so dense all of a sudden? "What do you mean? We call Captain Whalen. Or better yet, we go to Formahaut. He'd be the perfect choice. Can you imagine the axe he'd grind before lopping off MacMahon's head?"
"Who's going to go Tony?"
"Me. Who else?"
"You mean you; Tony, or you; 'Toni'?"
"Well, I suppose it has to be Toni, doesn't it?"
Carol nodded. "And when they start investigating? When they want to know a little more about their star witness, the one whose word they're going to take against a senior police officer . . .?"
Suddenly, the picture wasn't so clear. "I . . . Well, okay . . . then it has to be Tony. We just have to explain. Show them how it was done."
Still Carol's brown eyes bored into mine. "Remember, 'once one cop knows, every cop knows.' If we're right about K-Bar being a cop, but wrong about it being MacMahon, we've lost our only advantage. Toni's cover will be blown. We don't have the time or the money to get another 'girl'. Besides, word will get out. Pretty soon that trick won't work. K-Bar will just stay away from all the new girls. Everybody will."
My disguise made my next words a soft, desperate plea. "Please . . . Carol, please. We can't let him, we can't let MacMahon get away with it."
Her expression finally softened. "I know Charlie Chan. I know. But there's always more than one way to skin a cat. And more than one way to bring down a dirty cop."
I grasped at that straw. "What do you mean?"
She leaned back and smiled. It was a cold smile. "If Toni can't blow the whistle on MacMahon. We just find another girl he's worked his little kink on."
My hope for quick vengeance disintegrated. "Another investigation? Not only do we have to look for K-Bar . . . and I still believe it's . . . now we gotta find . . . that's gonna take days . . . maybe weeks. We don't have time to . . ."
Carol's smile was gone. But the cold remained. "No. We don't have time to find another victim. We don't even know if there is another victim. But there's always more than one way. We can't find a victim . . . so we create one. Someone not too squeamish about telling the cops a 'true story' . . . even if it isn't necessarily her story."
The penny finally dropped.
"Rachael. We just get Rachael to say it was her and not me that MacMahon pulled a knife on." But my enthusiasm died almost as it formed. "It won't work. They'll put this case under a microscope. Rachel's story will fall apart eventually."
Carol shrugged. "So what? You're right, this will go under a microscope. They'll find out MacMahon is dirty. And if he his K-Bar, well, they'll find that out too. We just need to give them someone to believe long enough to start them looking. Toni can't do that. Rachael can."
I was already on my feet looking for the keys to Carol's old Buick. She was right. Rachael could pull this off. Hell, she'd probably think it was fun. A quick glance at the clock told me it was just a little after ten-thirty. I knew just where to find her.
I think I knew what it was the instant I saw it.
The street was crowded with blue and whites, their emergency lights illuminating the scene with a jerky, disco-club effect. There was an ambulance parked in the midst of the chaos but the two paramedics were standing beside their vehicle calmly sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups. They were in no hurry and that meant only one thing: The person they'd been summoned to attend no longer needed medical assistance.
He or she only needed a ride.
To the Morgue.
There was a line of yellow "Police Line, Do Not Cross" tape strung completely across the street obstructing access to the whole block. It took me a moment to recognize him in the antic light from the rotary beacons atop the patrol cars.
Manning the barricade, sipping coffee from his own Styrofoam cup, was Joey Poleski
I shouldered my way through the press of spectators crowded against the tape. (It was always like this. It was eleven at night, every other street in the neighborhood was deserted, yet here was a crowd of several dozen people. Where did they come from?) I had to resort to some less than subtle pokes and jabs, but I finally made it to the tape. I leaned over as far as I dared in my spike heels, my augmented behind and those satiny panties fully revealed for all the world to see, and waved for attention.
At hearing his name, Joey turned and scanned the crowd. He quickly caught sight of me waving at him. He calmly strolled over and smiled at me in recognition.
"Oh. It's you."
"Hey man, what's happening? Is it another hooker?"
The smile faded from his lips. "I'm sorry. I can't talk about it. But it'll be in the papers tomorrow I'm sure. Just . . ."
I slapped at the tape in frustration. "Damn it. Don't give me that 'on- going investigation' crap. I need to know. Was it a hooker?"
Instead of answering, Joey had taken a step backward, had shifted into "crowd control impersonal". "Lady, leave the tape alone. Step back from the barrier."
I couldn't help the growl of frustration I gave him. "Damn it Poleski! What the hell's wrong with you? It's me!"
His hand was on the hilt of his PR-24 baton. "Lady, I remember you. I know who you are now and I'm telling you, keep your hands off the tape and step back from the line."
It wasn't until he had said "Lady" the second time that I realized why I was having so much trouble communicating with him. I was so rattled I did the worst possible thing I could have done. Instead of trying to stay "in character" and come up with some plausible reason to tell him of my suspicions about MacMahon, I began to just babble.
"No! You don't understand! I'm not a woman. It's me, Tony! Tony Chan! Listen to me. I know . . ."
But of course, I'd lost him already.
"How do you know Chan?"
"I don't 'know' Chan, I AM Chan! I know what I look like, but you have to believe me. I know who did this."
"What do you mean you're Chan." He took another step back, his face now furrowed in suspicion. "Lady, I don't know what you think you're playing at, but I'm warning you . . ."
"You stupid bastard! I'm Tony I tell you. This is just a costume! I just . . ." I was getting so frustrated that the words started to clog in my throat. "Look, it doesn't matter, I know who's doing this! It's a cop! It's King County S.O. lieutenant named . . ."
"A cop?! All right. I don't know what the hell you're 'on' or how the hell you know Chan. I'm gonna find out from him though, you can bet on that. Now, get the hell away from the tape. Get the hell out of here. Go home and sleep it off. If you don't, I'll run you in for hindering an investigation."
I could see that this was going nowhere. The damn 'suit' was too good, too convincing. Of course Joey was blowing me off. If some gorgeous woman had come rushing up to me, tits bouncing behind a skimpy little hooker's outfit, and in a light soprano voice had claimed to be Joey Poleski in a dress . . .
Then I realized. I didn't need to make Joey believe me. All I needed to do was run home and jump in the tub. Once I was out of the suit, then I could tell Poleski, I could tell everyone, what I knew.
I was just about to start elbowing my back out of the crowd when they brought the body down on the stretcher.
They'd covered her with a sheet.
Dead bodies don't bleed. They 'leak'. Inflict enough injury and they leak very quickly. The sheet must have soaked through almost immediately because they'd thrown a blanket over the sheet before bringing her down.
Neither sheet nor blanket fully covered the spiky shock of carrot- orange hair.
My throat went dry. Suddenly, in the disco strobes of the emergency lights, that hair wasn't spiky orange anymore . . .
. . . it was soft, silky brown . . .
. . . it was the hair I'd run through my fingers lying beside her in the darkness . . .
I stumbled backwards a step.
"Lisa . . ."
Joey leaned forward, confusion starting to appear on his face. "What? Wait a minute. Who are you?"
But I was already stumbling backwards . . . disappearing back into the crowd. I only knew I had to get away from here.
"Hey! You! Wait a minute! Come back here! I want to talk to you."
Joey's words were lost in the general mutter of the crowd. I was stumbling and flailing against strangers. Then I was free from the press of bodies and running down the street. I had no goal anymore, no plan or objective. I just needed to be away from there.
I don't know how far I ran, only a block or two. When I turned around and looked back I could still see the glow of the flashing lights above the buildings behind me. I couldn't run anymore. My heart was hammering against my chest and I couldn't seem to find my breath. The image of that sheet-shrouded body threatened to crowd back to the front of my thoughts.
I barked a shrill cry of pure terror when the hand touched me on the arm.
"Toni! I know who did it! I saw it happen!"
I shied away from her in wide-eyed panic.
Angel stood there, her own eyes huge.
"I saw it! Toni, I saw her die!"
"Angel? What are you doing here?"
She quickly glanced right then left, as though to make sure no one was sneaking up on us.
"I was with her! The 'duet'. I . . ."
Now it was my turn to grab her arm. "You saw it? You were there?"
She nodded and began to back into the alley she had been hiding in, again looking over both shoulders in apparent fear of discovery . . . or perhaps pursuit. Since my hand was on her arm, she took me with her into the deeper darkness between the buildings.
"Who was it? Angel, who was it? Was it your john? Was it MacMahon?"
It was an indication of how rattled I was; using the name of my principle suspect. Why I thought she would know his name or who he was . . .
But I wasn't thinking clearly. Too much had happened tonight.
If I had been thinking clearly I never would have followed her into the darkness.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion, to appear in crystal clarity. I knew it was going to happen before it did. But just like in a nightmare I couldn't prevent any of it.
Her eyes. That's what told me. Those huge eyes seemed to be glowing. They seemed to be the only thing alight in that dark place.
"No . . . Not MacMahon."
Then there was another gleam in the darkness.
The shimmer of moonlight on highly polished steel.
She lunged. The blade hissed past my face, missing me by less than the width of one finger. I dodged aside more by reflex than anything else. Her momentum carried her past me. But she was cat-quick. She twisted as she passed me and the blade swung around. I felt a tug at my arm and a sudden glare of white-hot pain as that razor sharp edge slid across my biceps.
I stumbled backward, deeper into the darkness.
Angel crouched in the mouth of the alley, silhouetted against the distant glare of late-night neon.
She no longer looked feminine . . . She no longer looked human. The hissed words were feral . . . cold and glittering in their madness.
"Whores die. I'm only just beginning."
I groped for it, but the flaming agony in my arm told me what had happened to my shoulder bag. The shoulder bag containing my H&K. The blade had not only connected with my arm; it had severed the strap of the purse. My bag was lying there on the ground about ten feet away.
Angel was between it and me.
I started to make a move for it, but Angel flicked the blade at me again. We stood there, poised on a heartbeat.
I saw it coming . . . again, in slow-motion clarity.
Angel reversed the blade, drew back and then swung it at me in a roundhouse arc aimed right at my heart. I began to dodge to the left, to try and slip past her . . .
And overbalanced on the still unsteady platform of my spike heels.
I fell sideways and backward, slamming my injured arm into the rough brick of the wall. There was a tug at my chest and another little star of pain. I floundered trying to recover my balance but ultimately failed. Two staggered steps carried me past Angel before I sprawled on flat on my ass.
I struggled into a half-prone, half-sitting position, wildly searching for Angel.
She was standing there, legs spread wide, that huge blade point- forward, ready to thrust into my guts.
Then, even in her madness, her eyes went wide with surprise.
I followed her gaze.
She'd connected with that roundhouse swing. The blade had run right across the line of my ersatz bosom.
The suit had served me one last time.
I was leaking some kind of bluish goo from a pair of ruined breasts. Plastic breasts that had absorbed the brunt of the blow.
Angel recoiled a step. "What the fuck are you?"
And that hesitation was all I needed. The purse was right there beside me, within easy reach.
She recovered and started to lunge forward, to finish me off, but I was quicker.
The click of the grip safety disengaging was unnaturally loud as I raised the pistol and aimed the front sight at the bridge of her nose.
Even the slow-motion action slammed to a halt.
Everything was frozen. It remained that way for a heart beat . . .
. . . a lifetime . . .
Angel hissed at me . . .
. . . her hand opened . . . the knife clattered to the ground.
I looked into the depth of the madness in her eyes.
Then I whispered, "For Lisa . . ."
It's a kind of a universal wisdom I guess; that it's always raining in Seattle.
But that's not really true.
When high summer rolls around, in late July and August, warm sunny days are the rule not the exception. Then the air is mild and the clouds float high and serene against the farthest limit of an endless blue sky.
Life has gone on. It always does.
Carol is making remarkable progress in her recovery. The first of her surgeries has been scheduled for early November. She's retired from the Force on a full medical disability. She's decided to go back to college and get a teaching credential. She wants to teach the little ones, the kindergarten or first grade classes. She'll be a phenomenal teacher; tough and funny . . . wise and loving. I think of her standing in front of a room full of screaming kids . . . her laughing, beautiful children . . . and I can't help but smile.
Angel's lawyers tried an insanity defense. Though the experts could all agree that she had serious "problems" they couldn't convince the jury that she could no longer distinguish right from wrong, that she was no longer in control of her actions. The jury found Angel guilty of all seven murders plus two counts of attempted murder of a police officer. But they wouldn't give her the death penalty. The judge sentenced her to seven consecutive life terms. He made it very clear to her that she would grow old and die in prison.
As I sat there in the courtroom, looking at her vacant, dead eyes, I found that I could accept that sentence. I no longer wanted her blood.
In my mind, I was lying there on the gritty pavement, the muzzle of my pistol pointing at Angel's face.
And then as real as anything I've ever heard . . . as real as any touch . . . Lisa's soft, gentle voice was in my ear.
"No. This is not who I was Tony. If you do this, you do it for yourself. Don't remember me this way."
So we just stayed like that . . . frozen in tableau . . . till Joey Poleski who had chased me all the way from the police barricade finally spotted us in the darkness of the alley and used his portable radio to bring the backup swarming.
Deep blue skies and high, soft clouds . . . floating . . . infinite.
I come here often. I sit beside her stone and I tell her little things, trivial things. How my day went. What all our friends are doing.
I bring her all the little triumphs and tragedies of The Job. I can tell her. She understands.
I tell her how much I love her.
She smiles. The soft warm breeze strokes my cheek, whispers in my ear the promise I know is true.
'Someday, my love . . . someday we'll be together again.'
I always bring her flowers. The card is always the same.
"My love forever . . .
. . . For Lisa."