Reed planned to skip out quick while her partner wrapped up the scene. He was better with the nitty-gritty stuff and more well equipped to handle humanity in general. She swung her leg over the saddle and settled onto the beast but before she started the engine, Croft stepped up and touched the brim of his hat in greeting. She frowned. He was blocking her exit.
“Detective Reed,” he said. “I’ve got the, er, suspect cuffed in the back of my squad car. Do I have your authorization to release her now?”
Reed looked up and caught her reflection in his mirrored sunglasses. Snakes wreathed her head and shadows swarmed. “Take off your fucking glasses when you talk to me, officer.”
“Sorry, ma’am.” He snatched the official BooBlockers™ off and tucked them into his shirt pocket. “Real sorry about that,” he said, again, as though he should have known better.
She regarded his face. Her back was to the sun and she liked the way the light shaped the contours. His jaw was so clean-shaven that he looked like a teenager. He squinted against the light, his baby blues too sensitive on their own. She thought she heard a trace of an accent in his voice. She liked it.
“Where you from, Croft? Originally.”
He grinned and drawled, “Texas, ma’am. Can’t quite shake the accent.”
“Why on earth would you?” Shivers licked her nipples. “You ever go to Barnaby’s?”
“Sure,” he said. “Once in a while.”
“What’s a while, officer? Once a day? Once a week?”
“Three or four times a week.” He chuckled at the admission. “It’s right between Hell and home. A cold beer is nice after a shift, ’specially in this blazin’ hot weather.”
Her eyes scanned the width of his shoulders and then dropped down to size up his waist. “Blazin’ hot,” she agreed as she absently licked her lips. She narrowed her eyes and lifted them back to his face.
“Officer Croft,” she said, consciously slipping a slightly Southern drawl into her tone. “I sure do appreciate your help on the scene this morning You did a fine job keeping it clear for me. I’ll be sure to let Bright know just how well you performed.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Then, like a puppy, he cocked his head to the side and regarded the unremarkably subtle hint of innuendo on that last word. After a moment, he continued on in a deeper and more professional tone. “That’s be real nice, ma’am. Now, about the suspect in the back of my squad car. Since she’s been cleared-”
“You know what, Croft? I’d like to buy you a beer if you’re up for it,” she said. “Barnaby’s. ‘Round seven.”
“Oh, well.” He shuffled his feet and scratched the back of his head, tipping his hat forward to shadow his eyes. “I don’t- uh, I don’t know if tonight’s real good.”
“Relax, man.” She smiled as she slipped the key into the ignition. “It’s just a beer.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure but it’s just- I’ve got this thing with my girlfriend. At her parents’ house. You know how it is.”
“Come by after.” Siobhan turned the key and the engine roared to life. “I’ll be at the pool tables ’til midnight.”
The officer responded to her directive but it was difficult to hear his words over the startled muffler. Especially when she poured on the fuel. Reed cupped her ear with one hand while she repeatedly cranked the accelerator with the other. “What? Did you say something?”
He spoke again and she might have heard the words “innocent” and “handcuffs” but it didn’t really matter.
“Great!” She flashed her teeth in a predator’s smile. “See you tonight!”
She rolled by on his left and then kicked the bike into gear. He shouted something as she roared away. Something that sounded something like, ‘Detective Reed, what about the woman in the back of my squad car? Do I have authorization to release her?” but she couldn’t be sure.
She swung by the diner to order her breakfast over again and while she sat at the counter drinking shitty but free-to-cops coffee, the pay-phone on the wall by the front door began to ring in an annoyingly officious manner. She ignored the summons and pulled a Pall Mall from the battered pack tucked inside her helmet. She leaned over to grab an ash tray and slid it into place next to the mug of joe. A disheveled man rose from a nearby booth and muttered by her, intent on leaving an establishment that now obviously housed the authorities. He didn’t even give Reed a first glance as he passed, let alone a second. His hot glare was reserved for the phone. In a ridiculous display of petty bravery, he reached out and lifted the receiver from its cradle but instead of answering the call, he let it drop back down. After plunging his grimy fingers into the coin slot, he scooted out of the diner.
Reed shook her head at his audacity as she lit her smoke. Fucking waste of skin, she thought. I could give you a fucking ticket right now, asshole. Intentionally intercepting and then disconnecting an official Call of the Law could put your scrawny ass away for the weekend. She considered following him out and teaching him a little lesson in a nearby alley but then she glanced at the length of her smoke and decided against it. As well, the guy looked like a ghouler coming down off some bad ecto’ and she wasn’t in the mood to get his stink on her knuckled before breakfast.
The phone began to ring again. It was immediately answered by a well-dressed woman who had just exited the restroom. She looked positively thrilled to be answering a Call of the Law. While some folks liked to think of the law enforcement resource as the Narc Nock or the Rat Ring or the Fuzz Buzz, this one probably thought she was going to be a hero
“Hello, yes, hello. I’m here,” she said, rather breathlessly. “Yes, of course. One moment, please.” She spun around on her cork wedges and scanned the diner’s length of counter. Her eyes jumped over Reed to search deeper into the establishment.
“Is there a Detective Reed present?” She enunciated every word and emphasized the ’t’s with glee. “A Detective Reed?”
Reed inhaled the smoke and slowly spun her stool to face the woman. She leaned back against the counter and exhaled a long plume of smoke before she spoke. “Who wants to know?”
“Ha,” the woman scoffed. “I don’t think that’s any of your concern. This is official police business.”
My official boot up your ass is police business, Reed thought, amused beyond measure.
The woman craned her head down the line of stools at the counter and called to an octogenarian with an oxygen tank slurping eggs from a spoon. “Excuse me, are you Detective Reed? Is there a Detective Reed here?”
When she received no satisfactory reply, she turned her attention back to the phone. “I’m sorry but I don’t think the detective is here.”
She sounded so disappointed that she couldn’t help. Reed hoped she might start to cry. “Oh no, there’s nobody else except…” She whispered dramatically into the mouth of the phone, “some rude woman… oh. Are you sure?” She snuck a quick peek back over her shoulder, taking Reed in as she whispered the description. “Dark hair, filthy clothes, a combat helmet, and absolutely crazy black eyes.” Her back stiffened and she turned away from Reed. “Oh. Well. Oh, I- I- okay.”
She carefully set the receiver down on the shelf below the phone. “It’s for you,” she said, without looking back at Reed. She left the diner so fast that Reed’s ears popped.
Dispatch was annoyed. “Were you otherwise engaged?”
“Hey, Marianne.” Reed smiled and leaned against the wall, tucking the phone between her shoulder and ear while she lit another smoke from the ember of the first. “How they hanging?”
“To my navel,” Marianne snapped. “Did you hang up on me?”
“Nah, that was some hippie-dippie freak.” She flipped the dead smoke towards the ashtray on the counter. “I was just about to chase him down when you called back.”
“Lucky for the both of us, you chose to finish your cigarette first.”
“I didn’t want to get my hands dirty.”
“Why do you flirt with me, Mare? It’s cruel. You know our love can never be.”
“My husband will be so relieved. Listen. Watson from Missing Persons needs your help on a case. She’s-“
“I’m homicide,” Reed reminded her. “Call me when they find the body.”
“If you hang up on me, I will write you up. I swear.”
“Again with the flirting.”
“I swear I’ll do it this time, Reed. Listen. Some muckity-muck in the Fabulous Forties is missing their trust fund baby and they’re kicking up some serious stink. Watson hasn’t been able to get a clear bead on the kid for months but she just found a guy who might have some information and Bright authorized the use of your talent to crack him open.”
“Aw, come on.”
“She needs you. Now. Right now. Go straight to this address from wherever you are.” Marianne rattled off the street’s name and number. “Now say it back to me,” she demanded.
“Three-four-five-six Something with a B Boulevard.”
“Oh, sweet mother of all the gods, Reed. Do you have it or not?”
“I’ve got it.”
“You’re such a pain in the ass.”
“Stop,” Reed crooned. “You’re embarrassing yourself.”