"Hunter, get in here."
Tori glanced at Lieutenant Malone, then tossed the file she had been scanning onto her desk. She ignored the curious stares of the other detectives as she walked calmly into his office.
"Shut the door," he said.
She did and sat down quietly in front of him, waiting. His bald head glistened under the fluorescent lights and she silently watched him as he rubbed his bare forehead. Finally, he looked up from a thick file, locking glances with her. She looked down and realized that the file he had been looking at was her own.
"You've been with me seven years, Tori."
He took his glasses off and tossed them on top of the file, then leaned back in his chair.
"You've had six partners."
She sighed and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. Not this again.
"Wasn't it only a few months ago that we went over this?" she asked.
"Yes. And at that time, you'd only had five partners."
"You cannot possibly blame me for dickhead's two broken legs," she exclaimed.
"Detective Kaplan will most likely be on desk duty the rest of his career." Then he sighed. "Dickhead?"
"You didn't have to work with him everyday," she said dryly. "He was a prick."
"If witnesses hadn't verified that you'd jumped out first, I'd be the first to think you'd pushed him out of the goddamn window."
"Oh, please. If I'd wanted to get rid of him that badly, I'd have just shot him."
He let a ghost of a smile cross his face, laughing outright when he met her eyes.
"Tori, you know I let you get away with more shit than anyone else in this squad. You're my best detective and you know it. Hell, everyone knows it. But this thing with partners, it's got to stop."
"Stan, is it my fault they get injured?"
"Injured?" He grabbed her file and flipped through the pages. "Two were killed in the line of duty, Hunter. One is on permanent disability. Two quit the force. And now Kaplan. Desk duty because he'll walk with a limp the rest of his life."
She looked away. She wanted to feel remorse. She really did. But she'd not had a relationship with any of them. They had not liked her and she had not liked them. They never clicked, never formed the bond necessary to be partners. They had not trusted each other. And that makes for the worst of partners.
"You can't blame me for this. I tried to tell you with every one of them that it wasn't working. None of them could get past the fact that I was a woman," she said.
"I know you did, and I know they weren't right for you. But I don't always get to make the decisions. You're too much of a maverick, Hunter. You don't follow rules. I find it amazing that it hasn't caught up with you yet."
She glared at him. She'd heard this speech numerous times before. It always preceded his announcement that she would be getting a new partner.
"So who is he this time? Some burnout from Central?"
Lieutenant Malone shuffled through papers on his desk and put his glasses back on.
"Detective Kennedy. From Assault."
"And she's been assigned to us."
"She?" Tori sat up straight in her chair. "A woman? You're pairing me with a woman?" She leaned her elbows on his desk. "Stan? A goddamn woman?"
"What's wrong with that? You're a woman."
She rose quickly, pacing across his office. A woman? Some bimbo from Assault? Jesus!
"She won't last a day," Tori threatened. "And you know it."
"She will last a day, Tori." Malone stood, too, and pointed his finger at her. "Because if she doesn't, they'll ship you out to foot patrol in Central. Or they'll put you behind a desk in CIU. Hell, Hunter, even the Chief called me."
"The Chief? Christ, I didn't think he knew my name."
"I mean it, Hunter. Make this work. I don't want to lose you, but I can't protect you forever. In case you haven't noticed, no one wants to work with you."
Tori shoved her hands in her pockets, her dark eyes piercing his. A woman. Well, this ought to be fun.
"Take her under your wing, Tori. Show her the ropes. It might do you good to have a female partner. You'll be the only one shooting off testosterone that way."
Samantha Kennedy smoothed her blazer over neatly pressed slacks one more time before entering the squad room. Walking confidently to the sergeant's desk, she stood patiently as he finished typing a report. Finally, he looked up.
"I'm Detective Kennedy. Lieutenant Malone is expecting me," she said.
"Through there," he pointed. "Name's on the door."
"Thank you," she said politely, but he had gone back to his typing, dismissing her.
She walked into the large room, easily sidestepping two uniformed officers who nearly bumped into her. She glanced around, noticing that most of the desks were empty. A phone rang insistently and she wondered why no one picked it up. Her eyes finally landed on a handsome young man with blue eyes who flashed her a grin. She nodded at him and continued on, her eyes scanning the offices for Lieutenant Malone's name.
"Need some help?"
She turned. The blue-eyed man was standing, his eyes traveling up her body and resting on her breasts. God, could he be less subtle?
"Hey, eyes are up here," she said slowly, pointing to her face. When he finally looked up, she asked, "I'm looking for Lieutenant Malone."
"Two doors down. Right there," he said, pointing with one well-manicured hand. Then he walked over. "I'm Detective Sikes. John. Is there something I can help you with?"
Samantha looked him over, much as he had done her. Then she smiled.
She knocked once on the lieutenant's door, then entered.
Tori hung up the phone and looked up as Sikes intercepted the young woman walking through. He flashed his most seductive smile and she shook her head. Any woman was fair game as far as Sikes was concerned. She was about to turn away when the woman walked purposefully to the lieutenant's office.
Surely to God this was not her new partner. She leaned back in her chair and studied the woman. She would have called the blonde woman petite, but she was a bit too tall for that. She looked almost slight in the blazer that hung loosely from her shoulders. She watched until the woman walked into the lieutenant's office, then slid her eyes to Sikes.
"Back off, Hunter. She's out of your league," Sikes said from across the room with a laugh.
Tori gave him a humorless smile. "She looks like she might have a brain cell or two. I think she's obviously out of your league, Sikes."
The other detectives laughed and John Sikes took his seat.
"Good one, Hunter."
Tori looked up and caught the laughing eyes of Tony Ramirez. He was really her only friend on the squad, if she would even call him that. She often wondered why Malone didn't partner her up with him. They got along well and on the few occasions they had worked together, he had never once treated her as anything other than his equal.
She looked around the room at the other detectives. Matthew Donaldson had come up with her in the Academy. He probably knew her better than anyone here, but he avoided her like the plague. She was the only woman and he was the only African-American. He knew all about discrimination. Apparently he thought it only involved skin color, not gender.
Then there was Richard Adams. A fifty-two-year-old who was strictly old school. Women had no place on the force, and they certainly had no place among the detectives. He took every opportunity to belittle her. But what he and the others didn't understand was that she simply didn't care whether they liked her or not. She did her job.
She finally glanced at John Sikes. Even she had to admit he was handsome. Blonde and blue-eyed, he used his looks to get witnesses to talk time and again. Unfortunately, that was his best quality as a detective. He, most of all, despised Tori. Not because she was a woman. Sikes was probably the only one here who could work with a woman. No, he disliked her because she was gay.
She shrugged, then went back to her files. None of it mattered. She had the best conviction rate among them all and she never rested until her cases were solved. Night after night, they would all go home to their lives and their families and she would stay, poring over reports again and again. But then, it wasn't like she had someone to go home to.
"Yes, come in. You must be Kennedy."
Stan observed the woman who walked into his office and took a seat in front of his desk. He hadn't known what to expect, but he assumed it would be someone older, more seasoned. Not the young blonde sitting before him now. She was attractive. Her blonde hair reached just to the collar of her blazer, and she nervously brushed it away from her face. Oh, Hunter would eat her alive. He gave it two days before the woman came running scared to him, asking for a new partner. Then green eyes met his own and he smiled. She returned the smile and his old heart did a flip flop. She was beautiful.
He cleared his throat and picked up the file he'd been given yesterday. He'd barely glanced through it.
"I understand you requested this move," he started. "Your lieutenant said they had you earmarked for CIU."
"CIU doesn't really appeal to me," Samantha said. "More desk work than anything."
"A stepping stone to the FBI," Malone countered. "We've lost some good men that way."
She smiled. "Yes, but I'm a woman."
Stan felt his face flush. "Figure of speech."
"So, you've been with the Assault Division four years. You have a good record, your lieutenant spoke highly of you. Why the change?"
"Every lieutenant and captain I've met comes from Homicide. Not Assault."
He smiled. "So, you have higher aspirations than just a lowly detective, huh?"
"I spent three years on the East Side , three in Central. I was honored when they requested me at Assault. But after four years, I watched men come and go, moving on to Homicide, CIU, Tactical. They skipped right over me. Please don't take this the wrong way, but as a woman, I understand if you want to move up higher in the chain, you have to do things twice as well as the men. Where better than Homicide?"
Stan Malone grinned, then laughed. Well, looks like he'd just found Tori Hunter the perfect partner. A woman with ambition.
She raised her eyebrows. "Funny?"
"No, no. I'm laughing at myself, not at you." He patted the thick file on his desk. "I take it you don't know anything about your new partner?"
"No sir. But please don't tell me he's some old-timer who can't stand to work with women."
"Oh, no. Detective Hunter. He's a she."
"Heard of her?"
Samantha had heard the stories. She was a nutcase, by most accounts. Great. Just great.
"I've heard some," she said. "Didn't her partner get killed a few years ago?"
"She's my best detective. Somewhat of a rogue. It's hard to keep her on a tight leash. But you can learn a lot from her. If she'll let you."
"If she'll let me?"
"She likes to work alone. Damn near lives here. Her partners go home, she stays here, cleans up the case. They come back the next day, it's all done. Most men can't take that. She rarely listens to advice from her partners, just does her own thing. They either follow her or get lost in the chase. Two have been killed in the line of duty. Everyone wanted to blame Hunter. But in both instances, they decided not to follow her lead. She came out unscathed and got her man. They ended up dead by simply making the wrong decision.
"Two actually quit the force after working with her. Another was injured when a car ran over him. Permanent disability. And Kaplan, your predecessor, jumped out of a two-story window and broke both legs."
"Why in the world did he jump?"
"He was following her."
Samantha's eyebrows shot up. "She jumped out of a two-story window?"
"Yes." Then he grinned. "Just like the movies. Jumped to the fire escape, swung down the railing, bounced off the trash dumpster and caught the perp."
"Great," she murmured. Definitely a nutcase.
He stood, motioning her to do the same.
"Let me introduce you around. A couple of things, but you'll find out soon enough yourself, Adams is old-school. You're a woman and he won't give you the time of day. And Sikes, he fancies himself a lady's man. He will give you the time of day. Every day. But there's no love lost between them and Hunter. In fact, Ramirez is the only one that gets on well with Hunter. A mild case of hero worship or a crush or something." He stopped before opening his door. "Don't you dare tell either of them I said that."
He motioned her out the door, then followed, stopping in the middle of the squad room.
"Listen up, people."
All heads popped up except Tori's. She continued with her phone conversation, ignoring the lieutenant and the young woman.
"Detective Kennedy's been assigned to us from Assault. She'll be replacing Kaplan."
He pointed around the room and Samantha followed his introductions.
"Richard Adams and Matthew Donaldson. John Sikes and Tony Ramirez over there. Sergeant Fisk out front there. And Tori Hunter. That's our team."
Samantha nodded at them, murmuring hellos, her eyes finally landing on the woman who would be her new partner, landing on her profile anyway. The woman had yet to look her way.
"Make her feel at home." Then, to Samantha, "Come on. I'll introduce you personally."
Tori hung up the phone just as Malone walked over.
"Hunter, this is Detective Kennedy. She's been assigned to you. Try to play nice," he said with just a hint of a threat.
Tori looked over the blonde woman in front of her, with her pressed slacks and neat jacket. No jewelry, save the watch and earrings. Hesitant green eyes peered back at her, then the woman offered her hand.
"Nice to meet you, Detective Hunter," she said pleasantly.
"Yeah. A real pleasure," she said dryly. The woman looked like an attorney, not a cop. She wondered if she'd ever done field work or just sat behind a desk. "That's yours," she said, pointing to the desk butting up against her own. At least the woman would be nicer to look at than Kaplan's old sour puss.
Samantha looked quickly at Lieutenant Malone, who smiled apologetically and squeezed her shoulder.
"You'll be fine," he said quietly, then left them alone.
Samantha looked back to the other woman, who had already picked up the phone again. Great. Just great. She hates me already, she thought.
She stared at the woman who had the phone cradled against her shoulder and took the file she handed her. She sat, her eyes still on the dark-haired woman.
"Yeah, this is Hunter. I need the lab results." A pause. "You said it would be this morning." Another pause. "It's goddamn nine o'clock ! That is morning."
Samantha raised her eyebrows.
"Fine. If you meant noon , then say noon ." Tori slammed the phone down. "Idiots," she murmured.
Samantha watched, her apprehension growing with each passing second. She should have stayed in Assault. She should have requested CIU.
"Teenage girl found in a trash dumpster on the East Side . Jane Doe," Tori said, pointing to the file she'd handed Kennedy. "Hooker, most likely. Consensus is a John killed her. But I don't think so."
"If a John killed her, why would he go to all the trouble of dumping her body? Why not leave it?"
Tori looked up, startled. That was her theory as well.
"Maybe if he left her at the scene, there would be too much evidence that would point to him," Tori said.
"Motels that rent by the hour? Come on. You could get hundreds of prints."
"Okay. Her pimp?"
"That would be logical, but we can't find anyone who recognizes her."
"Then maybe she's not from East Dallas ," Samantha said. "Downtown?"
"Probably. There's a small area on the West End and Little Mexico. That's about it."
"She was black. I doubt she worked Little Mexico," Samantha said.
Tori leaned back and studied the other woman. She looked young.
"How long have you been a detective?"
"Five years. Why?"
"You barely look thirty," Tori said.
"Thirty-four, but does it matter?"
"Of course it matters. No one takes a woman seriously, especially when she looks like she's fresh out of college."
"Why, thank you. I know there was a compliment in there somewhere," Samantha said sarcastically.
Tori Hunter stood and grabbed her coffee cup and walked away. Samantha stared after her. She was taller than Samantha, but only by a few inches. Short dark hair, dark eyes. She wouldn't call her boyish, she was too attractive for that. Definitely moody. Why the sudden change? Did she answer one of the questions wrong?
"Don't worry about her, honey. She's just being her usual bitchy self," John Sikes told her as he walked over.
"Hunter," he explained.
"No. Honey? Were you talking to me?"
He flashed her a charming smile and sat on the corner of her desk.
"Sorry. No offense." He stuck out his hand. "John Sikes, at your service," he said.
She took his hand, then dropped it quickly as he squeezed.
"No offense, John, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't call me honey. I'll try to refrain from calling you names as well."
He laughed and she smiled at him. He really was attractive, she had to admit.
"So, you're stuck with Hunter. Sorry about that. I wish you luck."
"I'm sure I'll be fine," she said.
"Well, if you need anything . . . anything at all, you just let me know."
"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."
Tori came back with two steaming cups of coffee and sat one on Samantha's desk. She flicked her eyes to Sikes.
"Don't you have work to do?"
"Just introducing myself, Hunter. Don't get excited."
"Trust me, you don't excite me."
He laughed again, then pulled himself off of Samantha's desk, ignoring Tori. "So, Samantha, you want to maybe get dinner some night? I can fill you in on all the local gossip," he offered.
"No thanks. I'm involved with someone. I doubt he'd appreciate that," she said.
He shrugged. "You never know. Offer is always open," he said as he walked away.
"Stay away from him," Tori said. "He's a jerk."
Samantha smiled. Yes, she agreed.
"Does anyone here like you?" she asked.
"I don't bullshit, I don't play games."
"That doesn't mean you can't be friends with the people you work with," Samantha said.
"Friends? With those guys?" Tori leaned forward. " Adams hates me because I'm a woman. He could care less about my job performance. I'm just a woman. Donaldson, his partner, follows his lead, even though Adams barely tolerates him because he's black. Ramirez is the only one who shows me even the slightest consideration and because of that, he has to listen to ridicule from the others, especially Sikes, his partner."
"That can't all be because you're a woman."
"No, not just because I'm a woman. Because I'm a woman and I'm better at the job then they are."
"Oh. Well, it's good to know you're not in the least conceited," Samantha said with a smile.
"Why are you here?"
"Did they ask you or did you volunteer?"
"I requested a transfer months ago. I don't know what you're talking about."
Tori nodded and sipped from her coffee. "So, you have a boyfriend?"
Tori shrugged. "It'll make it easier on you. Sikes will only hit on you every other day. Adams will at least think there's hope you'll get married and pregnant and get out of his territory."
"You paint a very bleak picture of this office, Hunter. I've worked around men my whole career. I've never had a problem with them. I doubt I will here, either. I do a good job."
Tori shrugged again. She was probably right. She was straight and attractive. She was no threat to them. Unlike herself.
"I'm going to go down to Central and show our girl's picture around. Maybe she's been hauled in before. Want to come?"
"As opposed to staying here and being leered at by Sikes?"
It was after six when Samantha walked into her apartment and collapsed on her sofa. It had been a mentally trying day and she was exhausted. She glanced over at the phone. Three messages. Kicking off her shoes, she stretched out, hitting her voice mail as she lay down.
"It's me, sweetheart. I wanted to see if you were up to dinner. Can't wait to hear about your first day. Call me when you get in."
She nodded, waiting for the beep.
"It's me. So how did it go? If you can sneak away from Robert one night, why don't we get dinner. It's been awhile."
She nodded again, mentally making a note to call Amy later.
"Sorry, Samantha, can't do dinner tonight after all. I've got a late meeting. I'll call you when I'm done. Maybe I can swing by."
She shook her head. She was too tired. She was actually thankful Robert had a meeting. She pushed off the sofa, taking her clothes off as she headed to the bathroom. A long, hot shower helped revive her somewhat. Unfortunately, her refrigerator didn't miraculously contain dinner. Sorting through the frozen meals in her freezer, she grabbed one and popped it in the microwave. Her refrigerator did, however, contain a bottle of wine.
She took a glass and the entire bottle into the living room, settling into her recliner.
"Ahh," she murmured as she put her feet up. She grabbed the phone, and with her thumb, punched out Amy's number.
"It's me," she said when her best friend answered.
"Well, hello, Detective. How'd it go?"
Samantha smiled and sipped from her wine.
"I survived . . . barely," she said. "I'm afraid it's dangerously close to a mental ward, but I survived."
"That bad, huh?"
"I've never in my life seen so many egos and that much testosterone in one place before."
Amy laughed. "I told you to stay put. The boys in Homicide don't mess around with little girls."
"My partner's a woman," Samantha said.
"You're kidding? What? They lump you both together so you won't get in the way?"
"You may have heard of her. Tori Hunter."
"Jesus Christ! She's the nut that jumped out of the two-story building. We're defending the guy she nabbed," Amy said.
"Yes, that's her. So, you got the case?"
"No, Michaels does. It's a dead end, though. He's going to plea."
"She's supposedly very good at her job," Samantha said. "She doesn't exactly fare too well with partners, though. I'm not sure we're going to get along."
"Oh, you'll do fine. Everyone likes you."
"Yes. But not everyone likes her. It's going to be difficult. She's moody as hell and she resents me being assigned to her."
"I'm sure you'll win her over. Where's Robert?"
"Meeting. Thankfully. I was too tired for dinner. In fact, I'm too tired for company, period."
"So how are things going with you guys?"
"Okay? You've been seeing him for two years. When are you going to talk marriage?"
"Marriage? I don't think we're at that stage, Amy." In fact, she knew she wasn't. Robert had hinted of them moving in together, but she'd balked. She liked her privacy and her time alone. He didn't really understand but he didn't push. Not much, anyway.
"He's a good guy, Samantha. You could do a lot worse."
"Yes, I know. He's a sweetheart. I'm just not ready to get married."
"You think it'll interfere with your career?"
"Well, there's that," she said. "He hates it now when I'm out nights. Can you imagine if we were married?"
"And working Homicide, you'll be out nights more often," Amy said.
"Most likely. So, how are you doing? Still seeing Eric?" Samantha asked, thankful to change the subject.
"Yes. I wish I could say I'm in love with him, but I'm not. He's just so damn attractive. I keep thinking it'll come," she said with a laugh.
Samantha shook her head. Amy had always been swayed by a pretty face. In that, Samantha was lucky. Robert was handsome and she was . . . well, she loved him. Was she in love with him? Maybe. At least she thought she should be.
They really had a great relationship. They rarely argued. When they did, it was usually over cases. He was a defense attorney. Thankfully, they had never worked the same case.
She was asleep on the sofa when he called later that evening. He wanted to come over.
"Robert, I'm really exhausted. Can we hook up tomorrow?" she asked.
"Of course. How did it go today?"
"It went . . . okay," she said. "It'll be different, that's for sure," she said around a yawn. "I'm sorry," she murmured.
"That's okay. Go back to sleep. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
She wanted to burrow deeper into the sofa, but she made herself get up and into bed.
Samantha felt refreshed when her alarm went off at six. She showered quickly, deciding to grab coffee on the way. She wanted to be early. For some reason, she felt the need to beat Tori Hunter to work.
It was a sunny morning and warm for March. Of course, that was relative. March in Dallas was either hinting at summer or hanging onto winter. Spring lasted but a few weeks.
She was early enough to beat traffic and she stopped at a coffeehouse on the corner of Commerce and Oakland . She eyed the pastries before deciding on a croissant. Ham and cheese filled, but still better than a pastry, she reasoned. She ate while she drove the two blocks to the station. She was early. The lot was only half-full.
But her good mood vanished when she saw Tori Hunter sitting at her desk, phone already tucked on her shoulder. The same as it was when she'd left last evening. Damn, did the woman even go home?
"Morning," she said.
"Uh-huh." Tori glanced up briefly, then away. "It's Hunter. I want to go over the lab reports. I'll be down in a half-hour." A pause. "Yes, I know what time it is. Do you?" She hung up. "Idiots."
"Well, off to another fine start," Samantha murmured. She pulled out her chair and sat looking at her new partner, wondering what was on the agenda today. The lab reports, obviously. She'd left after five and they hadn't received them yet. Apparently, Tori had gotten her hands on them somehow.
"Seems our girl was busy before she died. Four different semen types," Tori said.
"When did you get the report?"
"Last night," she said absently. "You want to come or do you want to stay here and settle in?"
Samantha waited until Tori Hunter looked up.
"Are you always this difficult to work with?"
"No wonder Kaplan jumped. He was probably wishing it was four stories instead of two."
"Very funny. Are you coming?"
"Yes, Hunter, I'm coming. Christ, did you even go home?"
"Did you sleep?"
Tori turned and faced Samantha.
"Whether I slept or not and where is none of your business." She turned and left without another word.
"Lovely. I've landed in hell."
The trip to the lab was made in silence and Samantha kept her hands locked together in her lap, staring straight ahead as they crept along in traffic. Couldn't wait a half-hour and let the traffic die, no. Had to leave right then. Had to have us stuck together in this goddamn car.
"So, do your friends call you Sam?"
"Excuse me?" It was the first words they had spoken since they left the squad room.
"Sam? Do they call you that?"
"Not if they expect me to answer them," Samantha said.
Tori nodded. "Sam it is, then."
"No. I detest that name."
"Sorry. Samantha is just too . . . formal."
"Formal? It's my name."
"I like Sam better," Tori said.
"Well I don't. I forbid you to call me Sam."
"Forbid?" Tori laughed. "You're not serious, are you?"
I hate her.
It seemed like hours later before they walked into the lab. Samantha noticed that no one greeted them. In fact, they avoided them. Great. I'm partnered with a psycho who no one can stand. She thought it amazing that Hunter got any cooperation at all in the department.
" Jackson . Good morning," Tori said, walking up to an older man and touching hands with him briefly. "This is Sam Kennedy, my new partner," she said, motioning to Samantha.
"It's Samantha," she said through clinched teeth as she shook the man's hand.
"Nice to meet you, Detective. I'm Doctor Jackson." He took a stick of gum from his lab coat and folded it into thirds before sticking it in his mouth. "My staff tells me you've been badgering them, Hunter. What's the problem?"
"No problem. Just six hours late on lab reports," she said. "I got impatient."
He laughed. "You get impatient when we're an hour late. I can't imagine your attitude after six." He walked down the hall and they followed. "Your Jane Doe was a popular gal, Detective. I'm guessing she's sixteen, maybe seventeen. Hard to tell. Life on the street ages you quickly."
"Her street name was Lorraine ," Tori said. "She's fairly new on the streets, they tell me."
Samantha stared, wondering how in the world Tori had gotten this information. And why the hell hadn't she told her.
"I'm going to guess she's from New Orleans ," Dr. Jackson said. "She has a tattoo on her right arm. Mardi Gras type of thing. We traced it. Some sort of gang symbol down there. Sara's running a report for you."
"Thanks. Now, what about the semen?"
Dr. Jackson held the door open to his office and they preceded him, each taking a seat in front of his desk.
"Four types. You'd think they'd be smart enough to use condoms." He flipped open a file on his desk. "Two were from semen in the rectum. The only sign of violence was strangulation. No recent bruises. There were two old fractures. Wrist and tibia. That's it."
"You run the semen through? No DNA matches?"
"Not much to go on, Doc."
"No. There's not."
Samantha sat and listened to their exchange, still seething because Tori apparently had been working last night while she was sleeping peacefully in her bed.
Tori's cell phone interrupted her thoughts. She watched as Tori pulled it off the clip on her jeans.
"Got another hooker. Dumpster over in Central."
Samantha saw the frown, the tightening of lips.
"Great. Thanks Fisk." Tori looked briefly at Samantha, then folded her cell phone. "Got another body, Jackson." She stood, then turned back. "I'm looking for a semen match."
Samantha hurried after Tori as she nearly ran down the hallway. She hated not knowing what the hell was going on. When they were on the road again, Samantha turned to her.
"They found another body."
"Yes. I heard. Thank you. But I want to know what's going on," she said.
Tori shrugged. "You know as much as I do."
"Bullshit! How do you know her street name was Lorraine ?"
"You asked who?"
"Goddamn it, Hunter! I'm supposed to be your partner. Not some puppy dog that just follows you around during daylight hours and goes home. If you were going out last night, why didn't you tell me? I could have gone with you."
"You'd already put in nine hours, Detective. You were tired. You have a boyfriend waiting. There was no reason for you to hang around the back alleys at midnight asking about a dead hooker."
"What the hell does that have to do with anything? If you're working, I should be working. You could have at least asked me," she said.
"I work at odd hours. I doubt you'd be able to keep up," Tori said lightly.
"Try me," Samantha challenged. "You're not going to run me off, Hunter. So unless you shoot me or push me out of a two-story building, I'm going to be here. I want to be here." God, did I just say that?
"Why do you think I'm trying to run you off?"
Samantha stared at her. "You've hardly been friendly. Hell, you've barely been tolerable. You don't share shit with me. You go off on your own like some cowboy. Do you even know what the word partner means?"
"Look, this is my case. I've been on my own for two months since Kaplan . . . fell." She nearly laughed. She could still picture him dangling from the railing, yelling for her to wait.
"Well, this is our case now and why the hell are you smiling?"
"Sorry. Thinking about Kaplan," Tori said.
"He fell out of a two-story window. That makes you smile?"
"He was twenty pounds overweight. I told him to go down and take the stairs," she said. "But he couldn't let me win. Couldn't let me catch the guy without him."
"So he jumped?"
"Jumped? No, he tried to hang himself from the fire escape," she said. "He was up there doing chin-ups, trying to climb back up."
Samantha didn't know Kaplan, but the visual she got made her smile.
"So, where are we going?"
"Central. Why don't you call Fisk and get the address."
Twenty minutes later, they were in the downtown warehouse district. Samantha recognized one of the uniformed men from her days at Central. Paul Stanton. He'd asked her out nearly once a week for the first year.
"Hey Paul, how's it going?"
"Samantha? What are you doing here? I thought you were with Assault."
"I'm with Homicide now. Did you find her?"
"No. Someone called it in. By the time we got here, there was already a crowd. Got a woman over there that can identify her," he said, pointing to an elderly lady talking to another officer.
Tori watched the exchange silently, noting the friendly smile Samantha gave Stanton . Well, they definitely had different methods. She nodded as Sam headed off. She went in the opposite direction, to the dumpster.
"What do we have?" she asked as she peered inside.
"What you see is what you get, Hunter."
Tori glanced up quickly, then took a step forward. "I see what I see. I asked what you had?" she said quietly, her piercing stare pinning him in place.
"Working girl, most likely. Teenager. Dumped last night, probably. The guy in the bookstore found her when he was taking out trash."
"Why do you think she was dumped last night?"
"Who's here from the medical examiner?"
"Where is she?"
"Back in the van," he said.
Tori walked over to the van and knocked once on the outside panel. The back door swung open and Rita Spencer stepped out. Their eyes met and there was an uncomfortable silence. There was always an uncomfortable silence, ever since the one night they'd spent together nearly a year ago. Tori shoved her hands in her pockets and waited for Rita to speak.
"Figured this was your case, Hunter. Sara said you'd been raising hell at the lab yesterday over the other one."
Tori nodded. "How are you?"
"Wonderful," Tori said dryly. "What you got?"
"Appears to be the same MO. The only bruising I can see is around the neck. We'll have to wait until we open her up, of course. But I'd say you've got a serial."
Rita motioned with her head to Samantha as she walked towards them. "Who's your partner?"
Tori waited just a second until Samantha joined them. "Sam Kennedy. Rita Spencer," she said.
"It's Samantha," she said, shaking hands with the other woman. "Same as before?"
Samantha nodded then looked at Tori. "Mrs. Perez says her name is Crystal . Says she comes into the bakery every morning when they open. Seven," she said in response to Tori's raised eyebrows. "She doesn't know where she lives. She walks north when she leaves."
Tori nodded. They had nothing. Well, except the fact that the girl wasn't dumped last night. Tori had seen her at one. She turned without a word and walked away.
Tori drove through the city, all four windows of her Explorer down. The air was cool. Once the sun had set, the spring-like temperatures had disappeared. She didn't care. She was too damn tired. She bypassed her small apartment in South Dallas and headed to Fort Worth . She needed to rest. She'd only had a few hours sleep each night for the past week. Taking the Loop , she headed west, out of town, towards Eagle Mountain Lake . She hadn't been to her boat in three weeks, since the first murder. But tonight, she needed the peace and quiet that the lake offered.
The marina was deserted by the time she got there. She punched in her code and walked through the gate, her footsteps quiet as the water rippled silently around the piers. She walked to the end, where her boat was docked, pausing to stare up at the twinkling stars before boarding. Flipping on the pier light, she slid open the glass door, leaving it cracked to let in fresh air. She grabbed a beer, drinking nearly half before heading to the tiny shower. She stood under the slow stream of hot water and closing her eyes, she tried to relax.
Later, she pulled a lawn chair out on the deck and sat, watching the stars overhead and listening as the water splashed gently against her boat. She reached for the bottle of wine that sat next to her chair and she refilled her glass, setting it back down without looking.
Two dead girls. No clues. She tipped her head back. Probably going to be more dead girls. Hell of a way for her new partner to get her feet wet.
She lifted one corner of her mouth in a smile. Samantha Kennedy. Well, she was definitely the prettiest partner she'd ever had. And after two days, Tori knew she wasn't going to run her off. Probably just as well. She'd had a lot worse. At least the woman was willing to follow her lead and not buck her at every turn. Again she grinned. Well, it wasn't like she'd given her a choice. She did, however, suspect that Samantha Kennedy had a temper. That could be fun.
"I'm just tired, Robert. I'm sorry," Samantha murmured as she rolled onto her side. She just didn't have the energy to make love. She'd barely made it through dinner.
"It's okay, sweetheart. It's just that we haven't seen much of each other this week. I miss you."
"Me, too. We'll have the weekend, Robert."
She felt him nod, and she closed her eyes. Sleep claimed her immediately.
Tori sipped her coffee and watched as Sam made her way through the squad room. Pressed navy pants today, she noted. Matching blazer. It made her green eyes look blue.
"Exactly what time do you get to work?" Samantha asked. She tossed her purse on her desk and grabbed her coffee cup.
"It's seven-thirty," she said as she walked away.
"Earlier than that," Tori murmured.
Samantha came back and pulled out her chair, grimacing at the taste of the coffee. She should have stopped on the way.
"Please tell me you didn't drive around the streets again last night," Samantha said.
"No. I was tired," Tori said. She snatched up the phone. "It's Hunter. Jackson in yet?" She stared at Sam, then nodded. "We'll be over at nine."
"They already have lab results?"
"Are you thinking serial?"
"Yes. This girl, Crystal , I spoke with her the night she died," Tori said quietly.
"I saw her on the street. It was nearly two. I showed her our Jane Doe. She knew her as Lorraine ."
"Why are you just now sharing this?" Samantha demanded.
"What difference does it make?"
Samantha slammed her fist on her desk, causing the papers to fly around her. "We're partners," she said slowly. "I know you don't know the definition of that word, Hunter. You can't just drop information like that in casual conversation. They think she was dumped during the night. You knew all along that wasn't true," she accused. "I spent half the day trying to find out who she was with before midnight !"
"I'm sure the ME will give a time of death. And it'll be after two."
Samantha stared at Tori with flashing green eyes.
Tori turned to Malone, away from the angry green eyes of her partner.
Samantha shoved her chair away, walking purposefully behind Lieutenant Malone, following him into his office.
"Kennedy? What's up?" he asked as he hung his jacket on the coat rack.
"She's impossible," Samantha said, slamming the door behind her. "Impossible!"
"Ah. Third day. You've done good. I expected you in here yesterday," he said. "Sit. What's the problem?"
"What's the problem? She's insane," she said. "Psychotic."
"She keeps things from me, she goes out at all hours of the night, she barely speaks to me."
He nodded again.
"She's impossible to work with. No wonder Kaplan jumped. I'd have jumped, too."
Malone laughed, then stifled it as angry green eyes shot his way.
"Please tell me it'll get better," Samantha said quietly. "It's almost as if she doesn't want anyone to like her, Lieutenant. She goes out of her way to antagonize people. And one minute she's nice, the next a total bitch. It's like we almost connect, then she goes off and does something to intentionally piss me off!"
"Calm down, Kennedy."
"I am calm!"
"Look, I told you she was . . . difficult. She has her own rules. But they are effective. Would I like six detectives like her? No, of course not. And if not for departmental rules, I'd let her work alone. She can handle herself out there. She knows the streets. I don't envy you, Detective. But like it or not, she's your partner."
"Why doesn't she want anyone to like her?" Samantha asked quietly.
Malone stared at her. Samantha Kennedy had been with Hunter two days and had already figured out what the others hadn't in years. Tori Hunter was abrasive. Not by nature, he knew. But by design. It had taken him four years to figure that out. And one night in a quiet downtown bar, Tori Hunter had bared her soul to him. He hadn't been able to look at her the same since.
Malone glanced out his windows, finding Tori's chair empty. It really wasn't his place to tell Samantha Kennedy about Tori's past, but he thought this time, maybe he'd found someone who could stick by Tori. Samantha Kennedy wasn't in competition with Tori, unlike other partners.
"What I'm about to tell you doesn't leave this room, Detective," he said.
"Tori's father was on the force. A detective, too. When she was twelve, one night at dinnertime, a man broke in. He tied them all to chairs in their dining room. Mother, father, two brothers and a sister. And her. One by one, he killed them. Tori was the last alive. He held the gun to her head but didn't shoot. He never spoke a word. He just left. Left her tied to her chair with her dead family all around her. The case was never solved."
"Oh my God," Samantha whispered.
"She has all the files, all the old data. She still works the case, I'm sure, although she won't admit to it. It eats at her. She doesn't have anyone in her life, Kennedy. No family, no friends that I know of. Just this job and old memories. And she's reckless beyond words because deep down, she doesn't care if she lives or dies. So she makes her own rules and lives by them."
"I'm sorry," she murmured.
"She's angry, Samantha. Angry at life. So if she takes it out on you, it's not personal."
Samantha nodded. Jesus, now what? How could she possibly be annoyed at the woman?
"If she ever finds out I told you that, it'll be hell to pay. No one knows. That was twenty-five years ago."
"How did she survive? I mean, mentally?"
Malone smiled. "Some would say she hasn't. She's a very strong woman. Apparently, she was a very strong girl. She lived with her aunt down in Houston after that. Came back up here after college. She's managed. She's a good cop. I think that's why she won't let a case rest until it's solved. I've seen her work twenty-four hours straight on numerous occasions. But then, I don't think she sleeps much, anyway. She said she still has nightmares."
"I can't believe she opened up that much to you. She barely speaks to me and then, only when I ask questions."
He nodded. "I got her drunk one night in a downtown dive. I think she was embarrassed by it. She wouldn't speak to me for a week afterwards."
"I won't ever bring it up, Lieutenant. But thank you for telling me. Her . . . attitude at least makes more sense now."
Samantha was still visibly shaken as she walked back to her desk. She couldn't even begin to comprehend the pain a twelve-year-old girl felt after seeing her family murdered. After nearly being a victim herself, only to be left behind, alone.
Tori Hunter's chair was empty and Samantha noticed the scribbled note on her own desk.
"Gone to lab."
"Great," she murmured.
"Good morning, Detective Kennedy."
Samantha turned as John Sikes made his way over to her. His light blue shirt accented his eyes and he flashed her a charming smile. For some reason, it did nothing for her.
"Where's your partner?"
"She went to the lab."
"Taking off without you already? Get used to it." He again sat on the corner of her desk and sipped from his coffee. "So, has she hit on you yet?" he asked casually.
"As pretty as you are, I figured she'd try the first day. Donaldson said she'd wait a week, at least."
"What are you talking about, Sikes?"
"Come on. She's a lesbo. A dyke." He bent closer to her. "I told her you were way out of her league, though. You have nothing to worry about."
Samantha leaned back, away from him. She didn't know what to say. Actually, the thought that Tori might be a lesbian had not even crossed her mind. She'd been too busy being angry with her to be curious about her personal life. But then, so much more made sense now. The guys didn't just hate her because she was a woman. It was because she was a gay woman. An attractive gay woman who wouldn't give them the time of day.
"Sikes, why do I get the feeling that you're the one hitting on me? I mean, I thought you were the one who was gay," she said with a smile.
He jumped off the desk, nearly spilling his coffee.
"What the hell? I'm not a goddamn fag! Where'd you get that?"
She smiled at him. "There's nothing wrong with it if you are," she said.
"Well I'm not!"
She shrugged. "It's just the way you dress, you know. So neat. Everything matching perfectly."
His retort died as Malone stuck his head out of his office.
"Sikes, Ramirez, got a domestic over near Fair Park . Murder-suicide. A detective from Family Violence is already on the scene."
"Yes, sir. Right on it," Ramirez said. "Come on, Sikes."
John looked back at Samantha. "We'll finish this later."
Samantha was left alone in the squad room with Donaldson and Adams. Neither of them looked her way. She noticed that theirs were the only two desks that didn't butt up against each other. Instead, they sat at an angle. Most likely, so they wouldn't have to stare at each other all day. She shook her head. Talk about a dysfunctional squad, this was it. She found it amazing they were as successful as they were. She had never heard rumors that there were problems in Homicide. In fact, she'd heard nothing but praise for the division and Lieutenant Malone. Of course, they probably kept everything in-house. Once they left the building, everyone put on happy faces and worked as a team. And wasn't that how it was with Hunter? Both days, out in public, she'd treated her as her partner. Well, sort of. At least she hadn't totally ignored her.
It was only a short time later that Hunter walked in, strode past their desks without speaking and went for coffee. Samantha sighed. She got up and followed Tori.
"No thanks. Did you find out anything?"
"Got a semen match. Of course, little good it does us. We already figured it was the same perp."
"So, we need to find out who Crystal worked for," Samantha said.
"She worked for Ramon Blackmon. I'll go out tonight and see if I can find some of his girls. See if I can find him," she said.
"We'll go out," Samantha corrected.
Tori stared at her and shrugged. "Suit yourself."
She moved to walk away, but Samantha grabbed her arm.
"Can we talk?"
Tori looked around, then motioned towards the ladies room. Samantha followed.
"What's up?" Tori asked when the door had shut.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what? That I was going to the lab? You were in with the Lieutenant. I figured you were requesting a new partner, anyway."
"No. Why didn't you tell me that you're gay," she said.
Tori smiled. "Why would I tell you? I don't recall you telling me you were straight," she said. "Besides, are you blind?" she asked, pointing to herself.
"It just never occurred to me. I wouldn't want to just assume . . . because you look . . ."
"I wasn't going to say that," Samantha murmured. She looked at Tori, really looked at her for the first time. She was attractive, in an androgynous sort of way. Her dark hair was short, neat. High cheekbones, smooth tan skin, full lips, long eyelashes that framed dark, intense eyes. Eyelashes that most women would envy. No, she would never use "butch" to describe this woman. But she was powerful. Tall, fit. No wonder the guys felt threatened by her.
"Look, you're not a homophobe, are you? I've already worked with my quota," Tori said.
"I just think you could have told me so I didn't have to hear it from Sikes."
"It's not really your business, is it? I don't bring my personal life into the squad room. I would hope you'd do the same and not subject me to stories about you and your boyfriend."
"Don't you think we could work together better as partners if we shared a little about our lives and attempted to be friends?" Samantha asked, ignoring her comment.
"I'm not your friend. And you're not mine. We work together. After that, you go home to your boyfriend and you have another life. It's separate from this."
"Who do you go home to?" Samantha asked quietly.
"I don't go home."
They stared facing each other, dark eyes locked on green.
"Why is it so hard for you to talk to me? Why won't you even attempt to have a friendly relationship with me?"
"You ever think that maybe I don't like you? Maybe I don't want to have a friendly relationship with you. We work together. That's it. And when you go home at night, you'll be glad to be rid of me."
Tori turned and walked away, leaving a seething Samantha Kennedy staring after her.
"Yeah. I'm glad to be rid of you, all right," she said loudly as the door closed. "Bitch," she murmured through clinched teeth.
She looked at herself in the floor-length mirror, then raised her leg, executing the best sidekick she'd ever done.
Tori jumped at the sound of breaking glass. Even Donaldson and Adams stood up. She kept walking, ignoring Lieutenant Malone as he came out of his office.
"What the hell was that?"
Tori shrugged. "Apparently, she's got a temper."
They all stared as Samantha walked out of the ladies room and brushed past Tori. She sat down and picked up the file on their Jane Doe. Then she looked up, seeing all eyes on her.
They all shrugged and went back to their desks. Tori looked at Malone with raised eyebrows, and he shrugged, too.
"She's impossible, Amy," Samantha explained. She looked up as the waiter brought their drinks. "Thanks." Then she turned back to Amy. "Antagonistic, rude. I think she practices being a bitch, and she enjoys it."
"So you really broke the mirror?"
"God, I was so embarrassed. I don't know what came over me. Well, I do know. She just . . . drives me crazy! If I didn't think she'd hurt me, I'd have tackled her and beat the shit out of her."
Amy laughed. "I've never seen you this upset before. Why are you letting her get to you?"
"Because we have to work together. I've always been able to be friends with my partners. Maybe not always close friends. And it's not like we hung out after work or anything. We would always go home to our separate lives. But we talked. We shared things. Just normal conversation, you know. With her, it's all work and even then, it's like pulling teeth to get anything out of her."
"Why don't you go to her lieutenant?"
"I'm not going to run and tattle and complain that she's not playing nice. Besides, he knows how she is. Everyone knows how she is."
"You've been there a week. How are you going to make a month or even a year?"
"I can't. Not like this. I keep thinking, if I try to be nice to her, she'll come around. God, she calls me 'Sam'. Can you believe that?"
"And you let her?"
"I've asked her not to. She ignores me."
"Well, I don't envy you. What does Robert say about it?"
"I've not really told him. He just thinks it's the stress of a new job. We've seen each other only once this week."
Amy raised her eyebrows. "Everything okay?"
"Yes, fine. I'm just tired when I get home. We're going to spend the weekend together."
"Samantha, don't let this new position screw up your relationship with Robert."
"I'm not, Amy. Don't worry."
And truthfully, she wondered if subconsciously, she was thankful for her new position. She'd enjoyed being away from Robert this week.
Tori drove down the dark streets, her wipers keeping pace with the steady drizzle that had been falling all day. The Saturday night crowd was thin, no doubt the weather dampening many plans. She saw two girls huddled together on a corner and she pulled over, lowering her window as they approached.
"Evening, ladies," she said. She flashed her badge and they rolled their eyes.
"We ain't doing nothing wrong," one said. "Just standing here visiting."
"I'm not looking to bust you." She held up the two pictures of Lorraine and Crystal . "Know them?"
They looked at each other, then back at her.
"Know they're dead," the blonde said.
"Know who they work for?"
"No," they said quickly.
"Never heard of him."
Tori smiled. "Oh, come on. This is his area. I want to talk to him."
"Hey, man, he didn't do this."
"I don't think he did. I'm looking for Johns," she said.
"You know how it works, officer. We don't take names. Not like they give a real one, anyway."
Tori nodded. They were scared, she could tell that. But they weren't talking. She pulled out her card and handed it to the blonde.
"Call me if you hear something, okay? Streets aren't safe for you girls right now. You need to be careful who you pick up," she said.
"So what's new?"
Samantha was late. She'd spent the weekend at Robert's but had intended on going home Sunday. He'd talked her into staying. She'd barely had time to run home and shower, then she caught the morning traffic. Now, it was eight-fifteen and she hurried into the squad room, tossing a quick "good morning" to Sergeant Fisk as she passed by.
"Sorry I'm late," she said to Tori as she pulled out her chair.
"Did you have a good weekend?" she asked. She'd told herself she was going to attempt to get along with Hunter. And she was determined to draw her partner out. Whatever the consequences.
"It was lovely," Tori said dryly. "You?"
Samantha was startled by the question.
"Yes. Caught up on sleep," she offered.
"Is that why you're late? Slept in?"
Samantha smiled. "No. I was at Robert's. Had to swing by my apartment this morning."
Tori nodded. She would make an effort. She had spent all day Sunday on her boat. She had fished and relaxed. And she told herself that she was being too hard on Samantha. What would it hurt to open up a little?
"The boyfriend. Is it serious?"
Samantha stared. Tori was actually asking a personal question. Whatever in the world was wrong with her.
"Not marriage serious," she said, leaning forward. "What's wrong with you?"
Tori smiled. "Yes. Don't worry. They'll return my evil twin by afternoon."
"Hunter, Kennedy. In here."
They both looked up as Malone stuck his head out of his office. They looked back at each other and shrugged.
"What's up?" Tori asked as she took one of the chairs in front of his desk.
"How's your Jane Doe?"
"Dead end. No one's talking. Can't find Ramon Blackmon. As far as I know, he's just a name."
"And the girls?"
"No ID. No priors."
"Okay. CIU is requesting bodies. They got another terrorist alert. Oil and gas this time. There's an old gas pipeline company east of the city. It's spread over about twenty acres. It's one of three that aren't in use right now. They need a hand checking them out. I've sent Donaldson and Adams out to Mesquite . You guys run by there, make sure everything's quiet."
"It's not like we don't have a case, Lieutenant," Tori said. "Can't the local sheriff do it?"
"Your case is a dead end, Hunter. You said so yourself. Besides, Sikes and Ramirez are both out. It'll just take an hour to drive out there. Make sure nothing's going on, no vehicles, no activity. Report to CIU and head back. Simple."
"If it's so simple, why aren't they doing it?"
"Because they've got their hands full with the ones that are active, Hunter. That's obviously the most likely target. But we all know that the one's that are shut down still have tons of shit underground. It's not like they secure the area when they close up shop."
"Four thousand cops on the force and it falls to Homicide?"
"Give me a break, Hunter. I'm just following orders."
"Come on, Tori. It'll be fun. Give us a chance to talk," Samantha said.
"Fun? Talk?" She followed Samantha out the door. "Sam, just because we had a little chat this morning, doesn't really change anything. I'm still a bitch."
"Oh, I don't doubt that for a minute. And I'd hardly call that a chat."
Tori allowed a smile to touch her face, one she kept hidden from Samantha. She rapped her knuckles on the counter. "Fisk? Lieutenant's sending us to damn near Terrell. You got a Lexus or something gassed up and ready to go?"
"Sure, Hunter. Why don't you just take the Mercedes?" He grabbed keys off the rack and tossed them to her. "213. Bring it back in one piece."
Samantha watched this exchange with eyes wide. She'd never seen Tori tease with anyone before. And especially Fisk. If there was anyone in the office that intimidated her, it was this giant of a man.
The Mercedes ended up being a drab, beige Ford. Standard issue. No perks. Samantha didn't even suggest that she drive. She went obediently to the passenger's side.
Tori maneuvered them through downtown and to the interstate in silence. They were several miles away when the silence got to Samantha.
"Where do you live?"
Tori glanced at her then back at the road.
"Just curious. Just making conversation," she said.
"I have a tiny apartment on the south side of Dallas . Near Oak Cliff. Don't go there much, though. I have a boat, a cabin cruiser, on Eagle Mountain Lake . That's more home, but I don't make it out there too much, either."
"So, I was right. You don't sleep." Oak Cliff? Good Lord, why would a cop live near Oak Cliff?
"I didn't say that."
"Okay. You just don't sleep in your own bed. Nothing wrong with that."
"Like you didn't sleep in your own bed this weekend?"
"So, is there someone special?" Samantha asked, ignoring Tori's own question.
"You know, a girlfriend," Samantha prompted.
Tori laughed. "No girlfriend, no one special."
"One night stands? Every night?"
"If I had the energy," she murmured. "No, downstairs in the gym, there's a cot in the locker room."
"I see. No wonder you beat me to work each morning." Samantha glanced at her. "Does Malone know?"
"Of course. Who do you think put the cot down there?"
Samantha hesitated, then turned to Tori again. "Why don't you go home?"
Tori tightened her hands on the wheel. If this had been last week, she'd have told her to mind her own fucking business. But this was a new week and Tori was making an effort.
"You were right. I don't sleep much," Tori finally said. "I stay up here late. I usually go to the gym to work out anyway. I don't see the point of driving home when it's after midnight just to turn around and drive back."
Samantha wanted to ask more questions, but she dared not. She saw the grip Tori had on the wheel, saw the frown that creased her forehead. She thought she would change the subject.
"How will we know if anything is out of the ordinary? I mean, it's not like we know what a shut-down gas pipeline is supposed to look like. Do we?"
Tori shrugged. "Maybe there'll be all kinds of activity and we can call the boys at CIU to come to our rescue."
"Somehow, I can't see you doing that," Samantha said.
Malone had been right. It took them only an hour to reach the area. They had to stop at a convenience store for directions, and now they drove down the tiny country road, past hay meadows and crop fields. They saw the towers of the old plant from a mile away. Tori slowed her speed and they pulled to a stop at the locked gate. They got out and stood in front of the car, scanning the buildings for any activity, listening for noise.
"What do you see?" Tori asked.
"Look in front of the gate."
"There's nothing. No tracks."
"No. Not there. But look up ahead, about fifteen, twenty yards," she said, pointing.
There, in the dirt, looked like fresh tire tracks. But not by the gate. Then Samantha looked closer. The dirt looked almost as if it had been brushed, obscuring the tracks.
"Oh shit," she murmured.
Tori turned the car around, then parked on the side of the road.
"What are you doing?"
"We're going to have a look," Tori said.
"Shouldn't we just call it in?"
"Call what in? Tire tracks? So they can send in a SWAT team and find out there's nothing here? We would never hear the end of it."
Tori was already walking back down the road. Samantha jogged to catch up. She was afraid she was about to see Tori Hunter in action. And she wasn't sure she was prepared for it.
"How are we going to get in?"
"Climb the fence."
"There's barbed wire at the top," Samantha pointed out.
"Yes, there is."
Samantha kept her mouth shut. It was pointless to ask questions. She followed along silently, stopping when Tori did about twenty yards from the gate. She watched as Tori scanned the area, then followed her across the ditch to the fence.
"Take your jacket off," Tori instructed.
"We need something to wrap around the wire."
"My jacket? Do you know how much this jacket cost?"
Tori stood with her hands on her hips and stared at Samantha. She finally held out her hand.
Samantha took off the jacket. She watched as Tori climbed the ten-foot fence, dangling from the side with one arm as she wound the jacket around the barbed wire with the other. Then she swung her leg over, sitting across the wire.
"Damn," she hissed. Even with jeans, the barbs stuck her. She pulled her leg free then dropped to the ground on the other side.
Samantha stared at her. She looked down at her own slacks and loafers, then back at Tori's jeans and sneakers.
"Come on, Sam," Tori said impatiently.
"You seriously expect me to do that?"
"Climb up, swing your legs over, jump down. How hard is it?"
Samantha closed her mouth. She refused to complain. So she ripped her pants? So her jacket was ruined? By God, she was following Tori Hunter over the goddamn fence!
Easier said than done. She got to the top but didn't have the strength to pull herself over.
"Jesus Christ," Tori mumbled. She climbed back up and reached over, grabbing Samantha by the thigh and pulling one leg over.
"Ouch . . . damn, Hunter. You're ripping my leg off. Will you watch it?" She teetered on the top, her eyes squeezed closed as she felt her flesh ripping from the barbs. Tori moved along the fence, reaching over again to grab her other leg.
"Will you come on?"
"I hate you. You know that, don't you?"
Tori ignored her, instead pulling her leg free of the barbs and nearly pushing her to the ground. She landed on her ass. Tori dropped down beside her, a grin on her face.
"That was great."
"If you tell anyone what just happened, I'll shoot you," Samantha threatened.
Tori laughed, then reached out a hand and pulled Samantha to her feet. Jogging the rest of the way to the first building, they walked quietly along the side to the door. They paused and listened. Nothing. She tried the handle, but it was locked. They walked down to the windows and peered inside. It was dark, but they saw no movement.
"Come on. Let's go around back," Tori said quietly.
They rounded the corner then stopped, both pressing themselves against the side. Three trucks were parked in the back and several men stood around them.
"Now seems like a good time to call it in," Samantha whispered.
"Yeah, you're right." Tori grabbed her cell phone, never taking her eyes off the men. She punched out the number without looking. "Fisk? Tell Malone to send the troops. Yes." She looked behind them. "Oh shit!" She folded her cell phone as two men approached them from behind. She grabbed Samantha's hand and started running toward the towers. Shouts, then gunfire followed them.
They slipped behind one tower, pausing to get their bearings. It was at least two hundred yards to the woods and another fence. Between them and that lay ground wells.
"Come on, Sam. Run!"
"Don't call me Sam!"
Tori passed by two wells before stopping. At the third, she grabbed the metal ladder and lowered herself down.
"Come on," she yelled.
"Oh, shit," Samantha murmured. But she followed Tori down the hole. "Do I even want to know what's down here?"
They crawled down the ladder nearly thirty feet before the rungs ran out. Tori felt for a ledge and found one. A tiny one, barely a foot wide. She stepped gingerly onto it, guiding Samantha down beside her. They both pressed back against the damp wall. Up above, they heard shouts.
"They don't know which well we went into," Tori said quietly.
"Great. Is now a good time to tell you that I'm claustrophobic?"
"No." Tori turned, facing Samantha, then stepped around her, straddling her body with both legs as she struggled to stay on the tiny ledge.
"Do we really know each other well enough for this?" Samantha whispered as she felt Tori's body pressed up tight against her own.
"You wish," Tori chuckled, then reached around her to grab the ladder. She put her hand at Samantha's waist and pushed off, hanging onto the ladder with both hands.
"Like I'm going somewhere," Samantha whispered. She couldn't see a foot in front of her and she was afraid to look up, afraid she would see them looking back at her.
Tori grabbed the ladder tightly and went down, hanging by her arms until she hit water.
She lowered herself into the cold, rank water until she touched the bottom. The water was to her shoulders.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"There's always a tunnel. The water has to go somewhere."
"A tunnel? Are you out of your mind?"
"They're going to get lights. They're going to shine it down here and find us and then they are going to shoot us. So yes, I'm hoping there's a goddamn tunnel!"
Tori took a deep breath, then disappeared under the water. She felt along the side, finally finding the opening she was looking for. She swam into it, then up into the air pocket, breathing hard. She had no idea where the tunnel ended up, but it was better than being sitting ducks in the well. She took a breath, then went back the way she'd come, breaking water right at Samantha's feet.
"Come on. I found it," she said.
"No. I can't," Samantha insisted.
"Yes, you can. Now get in here."
The voices were louder. Soon, they would be caught.
"Sam, now," Tori hissed, grabbing Samantha's foot and nearly dragging her over the side.
They splashed together into the water, Samantha clutching Tori hard around the shoulders.
"I hate this. I really fucking hate this."
"It's not too bad from where I'm standing," Tori murmured as two frantic hands moved over her shoulders.
"Is that supposed to be funny?" But Samantha didn't release her grip.
"Hold your breath," Tori instructed. "I'll guide you through. There's an air pocket in the tunnel. You'll be fine."
"If we make it out of here alive, I'll shoot you myself," Samantha said through clenched teeth.
They both took deep breaths, silently counting. Then Tori disappeared under water, pulling Samantha with her. Samantha thought for sure her lungs would burst, then Tori pushed her up and she banged her head on the top of the tunnel, gasping for breath.
"I hate you, have I told you that?" she gasped. "You damn near gave me a concussion."
"You did great."
"Uh-huh. Now what?"
"Now we see where the tunnel goes."
"See? I can't even see you," Samantha said.
"We'll feel our way. These ground wells have to empty somewhere. A holding tank or something."
"What are these things, anyway?"
"Probably where they dump the wastewater."
"Do I want to know?"
"No, you don't."
"You don't think there're like . . . rats or something in here, do you?"
"No. No rats. Maybe snakes," Tori said.
"Snakes?" Samantha hissed, again grabbing onto Tori, nearly climbing her back.
"I'm teasing. Come on."
They inched along the tunnel, keeping their heads above the water in the air pocket. Samantha held tightly to Tori's waist as Tori felt along the sides of the tunnel. They came to a junction with another tunnel and stopped. Closing her eyes, Tori tried to imagine the direction. The tunnel they entered would have been on the north side of the well. Most of the other wells were to the east. Logic would make the tunnel to the west the drain tunnel.
"What do you think?" Samantha asked.
"We go left," Tori said.
Samantha nodded. She wasn't going to argue. She never released her hold on Tori's waist. The water level lowered considerably as they walked on and she slipped down once, nearly pulling Tori with her.
"Hang on," Tori said. She turned around and gripped Sam's arms, pulling her up. "You okay?"
"Just peachy," Samantha murmured.
"You really should wear sensible shoes," Tori teased.
"These shoes are perfectly sensible for the city. Had I known we were going to go swimming this afternoon, I'd have dressed appropriately."
"Okay . . . I'm trying to picture you in a bikini."
"I haven't worn a bikini in ten years."
"Okay. A one-piece Speedo then," Tori said as they continued walking up the tunnel. The water was only at their waists now. "A dark green one. You know, your eyes."
Samantha grinned. One-piece Speedo? She hadn't been swimming in years, either.
"Hey, look," Tori said.
Samantha looked around Tori and laughed. Daylight!
"Oh, thank God," she said.
"Thank God? I'm the one that dragged you through this tunnel," Tori said.
"Yes. You're the one that dragged me into this tunnel."
"Better than getting shot."
The tunnel was level and Samantha finally released her hold on Tori as they made their way to the tunnel's entrance. But up ahead, a creature lurked and Samantha grabbed hold of Tori once again.
"What the hell is that?" she whispered.
"Too big for a rat. Maybe a nutria," Tori said.
"Nutria. A big, hairy water rat," Tori explained.
Samantha tried to climb on her back.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I will not."
"Then I will. Get out of my way."
"Sam, it lives here. This is his home. We're not going to shoot it. Besides, don't you think that would call attention to us?"
"I know you don't expect me to walk past it," she said.
Samantha looked behind her, envisioning hundreds of the hairy creatures coming at her from the tunnel. She shivered. Tori walked closer to the creature, clapping her hands as she went. It finally crawled out towards the entrance and disappeared.
"All clear," she called.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Now come on."
Samantha walked hesitantly towards Tori, her eyes never leaving the entrance, watching for the rat to reappear.
"It's okay, Sam. I doubt they attack."
"I'm not even going to ask how you knew what it was," she said.
"I lived down in the Houston area for awhile, on the bayou. They used to come out right before dark," she said.
Samantha stared. This was the first bit of personal information Tori had shared with her.
"I like to think they're more like a beaver than a rat," Tori continued.
"Well that makes all the difference," Samantha said. "Why didn't you say so to begin with?"
"And miss out on you climbing up my back?"
Samantha smiled. "I probably would have climbed up anyway."
They both stood at the entrance to the tunnel. Samantha rolled her eyes. They were thirty feet up. She wondered where the rat had gone.
"Damn. They dump this shit right into the creek," Tori said, pointing. "Can you believe that?"
"We'll play environmental cop later, Tori. How the hell do we get out of here?"
Tori gripped the sides of the tunnel, looking up. They were on the side of the creek bed. It was probably only ten feet up to the top, but there were no footholds. Concrete had been poured. She turned and looked down. A few tree roots protruded but not much else.
"Wonder how deep it is?"
"Deep? The creek? I know you're not suggesting we jump," Samantha said.
"Just in case we fall," Tori said. "Come on."
"Come on where?"
"We're going to try to climb down." She was already sitting on the tunnel floor, legs dangling over the sides.
"Are you insane?"
"It's been mentioned," she said lightly. "Sit down here," she said, pointing beside her.
"I'm not really crazy about heights," Samantha murmured. "Is now a good time to tell you that?"
"I'll go first. If you start to fall, I'll catch you."
"Oh, well that makes me feel better."
They sat side by side, both peering over the edge. Then they looked at each other and smiled, then laughed.
"Been a hell of a day, huh?"
"Oh, yeah," Samantha said. "And it ain't over yet."
"Creek beds are usually pretty soft. You know, mud and all."
"In case I fall?"
"I thought you were going to catch me?"
"In case I don't."
Samantha watched as Tori turned around and gripped the edge of the tunnel, lowering herself. She grabbed a root, then slipped as it pulled from the earth. She dropped five feet before stopping.
"You're not allergic to poison ivy, are you?" Tori called up.
"I don't know."
"Well, you'll know in a couple of days." Tori continued to climb down, finally looking back as Samantha still sat on the edge. "Come on, Sam. You can't stay up there."
"You could use your cell phone and call for help," she suggested.
"Well, besides the fact that it's been under water for awhile now, can you imagine what the guys would say about that? No way. I'd rather get shot."
"I'd rather get rescued by helicopter," Samantha murmured. Then she took a deep breath and attempted to follow Tori down. Unfortunately, the tree root didn't hold. She slid and bumped her way down the embankment, landing with a thud in the water, face first. It was waist deep.
Tori tried in vain to grab her as she slid past. Without thinking, she jumped the last twenty feet, landing just beyond Sam in deeper water. She grabbed for her.
"Are you okay?"
"As soon as I find my gun, I will be. I'm going to shoot you," Samantha hissed.
Tori laughed, then reached out and brushed at the mud covering Sam's face. She laughed harder.
Samantha stood up straight, then dove at Tori, tackling her and landing them both in the water again. They came up sputtering. They stood in waist-high water, staring at each other as mud and water ran down their faces. Tori grinned and Sam did the same. Then they laughed, hard laughs that shook them both.
"Wonder where the hell we are," Samantha finally said.
Tori looked at her watch. It had been two hours.
"Wonder where the calvary is?"
The words had barely left her mouth when gunfire was heard. They both looked up, listening.
"Come on," Tori said. She grabbed Sam's hand and pulled her out of the water.
They waded through the creek to the other side. Samantha only had one shoe. They took only a few steps before the gunfire stopped.
"That didn't take long," Tori said. She walked over to Sam, helping her along when the explosion hit. Tori took them to the ground, instinctively covering Sam's body with her own. The earth beneath them shook, then another smaller explosion sounded.
"Are you okay?"
Samantha considered the question. She was soaking wet and covered with mud and water. Her clothes were ruined and she'd lost a shoe. And now, the not unpleasant weight of another woman covered her body. Was she okay? Yes, she'd just had the time of her life.
"You weigh a ton," Samantha said and heard Tori chuckle, then felt her move away. They sat up, looking back to the tunnel they had come from. Smoke was seeping out.
Sam nodded, glancing once at Tori. They were sitting side by side, soaked head to toe. It was obvious Tori wore no bra . . . her shirt clung to her. For some unknown reason, Sam couldn't pull her eyes away. Then a shoulder nudged her own.
"Come on. They'll be looking for us."
Samantha blinked and looked up, meeting Tori's eyes. Then she smiled and reached out, brushing at the mud covering Tori's face.
"I don't think that's going to help." Tori stood and offered a hand to Sam, who took it willingly.