I’m having fun putting up these chapter drafts as I roll through them. These are not ready for prime-time but the simple act of posting them, warts and all, is encouraging me to move ever forward. By the time I get to the end (again), I may be ready to go through them (again).
Oh, and it’s time for some blood orange mimosa to celebrate another installment.
She rolled into the lot and nudged aside the makeshift barricade with the front wheel of her ride. The cop on-scene pulled the wooden horse the rest of the way over and touched his hat in greeting as she—seemingly oblivious to his presence— passed. Not so much oblivious, though. She’d seen him, measured him up, and decided to buy him a beer at the bar later, in exchange for a little mojo. Kid looked like he had stamina.
She pulled onto the cement walk in the shade of the awning, encouraging those had gathered like confused sheep to step quickly aside. Some covered their ears against the assault of sound. The engine of her steed was powerful enough to rattle the thick windows and, if left unchecked, reduce them to powder in their panes. She allowed the looks of concern from those nearby to build before she kicked the stand into place and killed his engine.
Inhaling the belch of exhaust that rose from his pipe—the heady scent of french fries only exacerbating her hunger—she remained seated until the lingering vibration left her thighs. She’d been called to the scene before her breakfast order had been fulfilled and her mood was foul; some might say this was a step up from the usual but they would not say this in her presence.
She removed her M1 and hooked it over the right ape-hanger while she glanced around, pleased to note that her bootless partner’s black Charger was nowhere to be seen. She flexed her fingers in satisfaction. She wouldn’t be the one typing up the reports tonight. Swinging her leg free of the beast, she caught her reflection in the glass of the dealership and looked quickly away. Her reflection was a tricky thing and she wasn’t in the mood to parse madness from reality.
An officious red-haired woman, tall enough to annoy, pushed by several people and squared off in front of the new arrival.
“Excuse me?” the ginger snapped. She looked between the beast and the woman several times as though determining the more sentient of the two.
“Yeah, no problem,” the rider replied, her voice low and husky. “I need to talk to whoever’s in charge here.”
“And you would be?”
“Reed.” She sniffed and wiped her nose with the pad of her thumb. “You in charge?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.” The glare was not friendly. “This is my establishment.”
“Yeah, well, I need to get in and take a look at the body.”
“Oh, ho, ho.” The woman laughed, her merriment disingenuous. “I don’t think so. This is a police matter, not some- some Hell’s Angel turf war. You can just move along before I call an officer over here.”
Reed’s eyes obediently followed the direction of the woman’s finger. “Yeah, okay.” She shrugged. “Call him over.”
“Well, I certainly will do that.” The woman bristled and glared for a moment before turning away and waving. “Excuse me, officer! Officer!”
While the flat-foot made his way to the shade, Reed glanced at her wristwatch and then rescanned the area for her partner. Satisfaction turned to annoyance. Smith was good with people, she’d give him that, and she wanted him here to run interference. Losing their usual bet was expected but this tardiness bordered on insubordination.
When the cop answered the summons, rivulets of sweat streaming from under his hat and down his tanned cheeks, the woman requested that “this- this hooligan” be removed from area immediately.
The officer turned his look of confusion towards Reed. “Ma’am?”
“What’s your name again, Officer?” Reed inquired.
“Larry,” he replied and then quickly corrected himself. “Officer Croft. Ma’am.”
“Officer Croft, who is this woman?” She indicated the angry one with a jerk of her chin.
“Uh.” He pulled the notepad from his breast pocket and flipped back the cover. “Abby Gale. She owns the place.”
“Excuse me,” said Abby Gale. “I don’t think answering her questions takes priority in this situation.”
Reed ignored the interruption. “Is Abby Gale a suspect in this matter?”
He shook his head. “No.“
“She is now,” Reed said. “Cuff her. Put her someplace out of earshot.”
Reed squinted and stared across the street, her eyes focusing about a three-quarters of the way down the block.
“Detective Reed.” The officer’s tone was a wee bit more strident. “She’s really not a suspect. She wasn’t even here when it went down.”
Reed squinted harder. Are you kidding me? What might be Smith’s Charger was cooling its wheels in a blue zone. She frowned. Was the square already here?
The second voice drew her attention back to the issue at hand. “Yes?”
“You’re a police officer?” The tone was laced with disgust.
“Yes.” Reed nodded. “And you’re a suspect. Don’t worry. It’s just because I don’t like you.” She looked at the other officer. “Is Smith here?”
The guy nodded. “Inside.”
“Fuck.” Before she made to go inside, Reed pointed to his cuffs and then the auburn annoyance. “I wasn’t kidding, Officer. Cuff her.”
Reed stepped from the heat to the relative coolness of the showroom floor and scanned the interior for Smith. She spotted him across the tiled expanse and suppressed a smile. The detective appreciated glimpses of her partner from afar. The man was pretty, the kind of pretty you could spot from a mile away. His distant silhouette alone was enough to inspire. Up close, he was devastating. His good looks were the only reason she kept him around. Anyone else as useless as Smith but not as pretty would have been dumped in a day.
Not that she’d serve herself a piece of him. There was something off about Smith. Way off. Men that handsome shouldn’t reek of loneliness and desperation and she knew that his need would far outweigh her span of attention. Aside from considering his good looks to be a perk of the job, she kept him around because he didn’t get in the way and she liked that. He was a buffer that allowed her to work without interference. She’d been through three far more talented partners in the two years since her mentor’s death and the little shits were always underfoot like inbred chihuahuas— all bug-eyed bark, bluster, and bullshit.
Reed’s mean. Reed’s rude. Reed doesn’t follow the rules. Reed scares me.
Please. She shook her head and refocused her eyes on the man. He looked up from the short blonde woman who’d been melting within the heat of his attention and met Reed’s gaze. He winked, then turned back to the woman, who had gleaned the source of interruption and was assessing the competition. Reed realized that she’d come up short by the way she was quickly dismissed with a flounce of fair hair. Reed smiled. She did not refrain from rubbing her hands together in glee before striding towards the pair.
“Witness?” Reed inquired hopefully as she approached.
Smith closed his notebook and tucked the pencil behind his ear. His dark hair and pale forehead still bore the faint imprint of the ridiculous hat he wore while on duty.
“Nice of you to join us,” he said.
“You’ve been itching to use that line that for months, I’ll bet.”
“Yes,” he admitted. “But I’d been hoping to have a hat to tip in your direction when I did.”
“Feel free to put it back on. Only you can make a fedora look good. Not cool, though. Nobody can do that.” Reed turned her attention to the blonde. “Hel-lo.”
The woman raised her eyebrows but did not respond. Oh no, thought Reed, amusing herownself with inner sarcasm. She doesn’t like me. I’m devastated.
“Beverly,” Smith said. “This is my partner Detective Reed. Reed, this is Beverly Whitemore. She was the last person to speak with the victim before he died.”
“Hello again, Beverly,” Reed said, extending her gloved hand in greeting.
“Detective,” the woman replied. The word was disbelief cloaked in statement. She ignored the physical portion of the exchange.
Reed looked at her own hand and then the woman’s face. “I don’t bite.”
Smith snorted but did not comment.
The eyes of the witness travelled up Reed’s lithe form. She took in the shit kickers under the black leather chaps over jeans and a sweat-stained sleeveless tee with a clear handprint in motor oil cupping the right breast. A long thick braid, black as midnight, swung forward over her shoulder like a pet boa that might, at any moment, express displeasure on the behalf of its mistress.
“Are you undercover or something?” The witness asked, incredulous.
“Not at the moment,” said Reed. “But sometime after midnight I’m gonna be under somebody’s covers, if you know what I mean.”
The woman’s upper lip curled. “I do not.”
Smith cleared his throat. “I’ve already taken Beverly’s statement. I don’t think further questioning is necessary.”
His tone held a note of warning and Reed’s back stiffened in response.
“I’m sorry,” she drawled, slowly dragging her eyes back to her partner’s face, giving him time to realize his mistake. “I did not realize that you had taken lead on this case. Are you sure that you are ready for the responsibility?”
“That’s not where I was going, Reed.” His pale blue eyes met her brown ones and his gaze did not waver. “I simply don’t think that your more intensive methods are reasonable in this situation.”
The boy had huevos, she’d give him that. “And just what is the situation?”
He pointed towards the back of the showroom where a strip of police tape crossed an open doorway. “Body’s that way if you wanna take a look.”
She considered him for a moment. The silent partner gig had been nice while it lasted but now it seemed the kid was starting to yap-yap-yap. She didn’t like that one bit. Play nice, she thoughtfully reminded herself. You can put in the request for his transfer during lunch.
“Ooh, a body,” she said. “You sure know how to show a girl a good time, Smith.”
“A boy’s gotta pay the bills.”
She sucked her lips into her mouth to keep from smiling. After a brief struggle, she replied, “I hope you’re a cheap date.”
“My rates are reasonable.”
“May I go now?” Beverly asked. Her interest in Smith seemed to have waned after witnessing the partners’ interaction.
“No,” Reed snapped. “Take a load off. We’ll be back.”