Gail Peck was pissed off. It's not like that particular fact was surprising, nor was it a foreign emotion to her. Seriously, though, she had almost had him.
Officer Peck had chased the masked burglar after getting the report that he was in her area. Okay, so maybe Oliver had done all the driving. Whatever. But, when they spied him ducking into the woods, it was Gail who took off on the foot pursuit. She maneuvered and ducked and pivoted around the trees. She had hopped over a couple branches like a Heisman winner. She could have reached out and gotten a hold of the black hood that had fallen off his head. She was inches from the takedown.
Then she got taken down herself by a thin piece of rope that had marked off some fucking moss field by some sassy ass forest ranger.
What the hell that even mean?
"It's pretty self-explanatory," came the answer.
"Did I say that out loud?" Gail asked.
"Obviously," the woman barked. "And for the third time, I'm not a forest ranger."
Gail tried really hard to ignore all the feelings of anger that were bubbling throughout her body. She was doing a damn good job, but the woman was still there.
Some random woman who kept on talking about mosses and ecosystems and how Gail was muddying up her work area. She even tried to move the evidence as Gail called for back up. The officer had nearly had to restrain her. She'd been asked to leave a dozen times, but no. There she remained. Just hanging out among the parade of cops like she wasn't in the way.
"You're still in the middle of my crime scene," Gail pointed out. She literally pointed, too. She was deliberately being as accusatory as possible. Carrying a gun has its advantages. One of them is being bossy as hell.
The woman was having none of it, though. She tucked a dark strand of hair behind her ear and adjusted her glasses. "Your crime scene is in my field."
"Your field?" Gail looked around at the trees that surrounded them. "It's the woods, lady. It's hardly yours."
"Can you just, I don't know, hurry this along?"
"It's a crime scene," Gail said slowly. "We need to investigate. There's important evidence related to a series of crimes throughout the city."
"I saw your evidence," the lady stated, not at all impressed. "It's a bag of women's underwear."
"Yes," Gail nodded. "Discarded by the most prolific panty snatcher the city's ever seen."
"Well, your panty bag is crushing my tetraphis."
"Uh, that sounds pretty serious," Gail narrowed her eyes. "But, not as serious as criminal behavior."
"No, it's really not," Gail argued. "Your grass is not as important as my panties. So just settle down before I have you arrested for-"
"For what exactly?" she asked sarcastically. This woman was just begging for it. "Illegal forestry?"
"Obstruction of justice," Gail threw out. "Tampering with evidence, hindering a criminal investigation. Assaulting an officer."
"I did not assault you."
"You tripped me!"
"You tripped yourself!"
Oliver Shaw, Gail's partner and mentor, caught the outburst. "Do we have a problem here, Peck?"
It was a question addressed to her, but obviously in regard to the other woman. Gail was always amazed at all forthright Oliver could be when he was on the case. Officer Shaw was kind of goofy, but he was a great cop. When he commanded attention, it was immediate.
"No, sir," the woman said to him. "I've got no problem. Just waiting on your squad to finish up."
"Did Officer Peck, here, ask you a few questions?"
"Yes," Holly said. "I didn't see the masked man. I did, however, see Officer Peck here fall into my field with her face."
Gail did another swipe at her forehead where she had previously had a healthy amount of mud.
"What's your name again, ma'am?"
"Holly Stewart," she said. She stuck out her hand, which Oliver shook after a second.
"Okay, Holly Stewart. If we're all done with your interview, maybe you should wait elsewhere," Oliver suggested.
"If it's alright, I would like to keep an eye on my tetraphis."
Oliver looked confused by whatever the woman had just said. He was about to ask her to explain just what exactly she was keeping on eye on when Gail interrupted the thought.
"It's some horticulture thing," she offered. "Don't worry, I'll watch her."
As soon as Officer Shaw had moved along, Holly pinned Gail with a glare. "I'm a botanist."
Gail shrugged, "Okay, good for you."
"I'm a botanist," Holly repeated. "Not a horticulturalist. That's garden plants. We're not growing cucumbers, here. I'm not farming for squash. I'm a botanist. You know, plant science. The biology of plants. More to the point, plant reproductive systems. Right now, I'm studying the sexual reproduction of indigenous mosses and their dependence on the water supply. It's important work for the survival of the species. So, no, it's not grass. And I'm not doing some horticulture thing."
Gail stared at Holly's lips, trying to will them to stop. "Why are you saying all these words?"
Holly didn't respond. Whether it was the forcefulness of Gail's attitude or the fact that another cop was strolling up was lost on her.
"Who's this?" Chris asked with a jut of chin.
"Some herbalist," Gail answered.
Chris immediately reached for his cuffs, "Should we take her in?"
"Whoa!" Holly held up her hands. "Botanist!"
"Botanist," Gail clarified. She made a motion for Chris to stand down.
Chris looked at Gail sheepishly, "Does that have something to do with chemistry?"
"No," Gail said. "It's the opposite of chemistry. She's concerned about the grass under our panties."
"What?" he looked between the two women. He glanced down Gail's body quickly, "That's a little…uh…"
"No, jackass," Gail slugged his arm. "The plant underneath our evidence."
Chris craned his neck to see what exactly she was talking about. "Why?"
"It's tetraphis," Holly said completely annoyed by now. "Tetraphis pellucida?" When both of them continued to look at her with blank expressions, she explained further. "Four-tooth." Still nothing. "It's moss. Moss!"
"Like that shit that grows up my neighbor's trellis?" Chris asked.
"Not exactly the same, but sure." Holly rolled her eyes. "And biology is not exactly the opposite of chemistry."
"Don't care," Gail brushed that aside. "Can't you just find another patch of moss?"
"Oh, yeah, sure," Holly placed her hands on her hips. "It's just that I've been studying that particular plant and it's habitat for months now. But, yeah. I'll just move on along because a masked pervert happened to run this way and throw his stolen panties on my work."
"That would be great," Gail winked. "Thanks."
Gail was kind of relishing what kind of response she'd get. She was somehow enjoying this back and forth. No matter how crazy this woman was about plants, she sure was entertaining. She was looking forward to more verbal sparring, when Holly's attention was stolen away by an yet another approaching officer.
"What's the latest?" McNally asked when she arrived next to the little group.
"We've got units all over the place," Chris updated her. "Nobody's been able to locate the suspect."
"We've got the bag of stolen items, though," Gail said, trying to brush off the embarrassment of being so close to getting the bad guy. "He was wearing gloves, but we're hoping to find something."
McNally nodded along with the information before turning her attention to the civilian standing alongside her co-workers. "And you are?"
"Holly Stewart," the woman answered. She pointed to the area. It was still roped off by not only her rope, but also police tape. "That's my moss field."
"You work out here?"
"I'm doing a field study," Holly answered. "Indigenous mosses."
"That sounds interesting," McNally smiled at her.
Gail was suspicious because that most definitely was not interesting. She knew Andy McNally well. They had worked together for a couple years now. They had lived together for most of that time as well. McNally was not interested in moss. Nope, McNally was interested in the botanist. And for some unknown reason, it bothered the hell out of her.
It was probably because every time Andy McNally dated anybody, she'd be into it for just enough to sleep with the poor girl. Then, she'd roll out the next morning and leave Gail with frantic instructions to kick her latest conquest out of the shared apartment. It was downright filthy.
"Since when are you interested in moss science?" Gail asked McNally.
Andy shot her a look, "I'm expanding my horizons."
"Good for you," Oliver had arrived and caught just the last part of the conversation. He slapped McNally on the back. "Learn and grow, Rookie. Learn and grow." He motioned toward Gail, "Peck, we've got a lead. We're moving out."
Gail was stuck with momentarily hesitation. "Now?"
"Now," Oliver said sharply.
Gail had no idea why her feet were glued to the ground. Maybe it was the fact that she had been the first on scene, or she'd appointed herself the keeper of the evidence, or that she was charged with handling this witness. And now, the witness was probably in more danger because McNally had her girl-next-door smile out and her charm was slapping everyone in the face like wet hair. It's gross, but definitely leaves a mark.
"Peck!" Oliver was pretty forceful this time. "Now, c'mon."
"Let's go," Gail snapped out of the haze and went back to work.
"I absolutely think you should see her again," Gail told Oliver as they were riding along in their cruiser a couple weeks later. "You actually seem happy. It's a nice break from the last few months."
"I like her."
"Then call her," Gail encouraged.
"Really?" Oliver asked insecurely. "I mean…she's really great-"
"Call her. Invite her the wedding."
"-but a little kooky."
"So are you," Gail said.
Oliver laughed, "True."
"What's her name again?"
"Celery," Oliver replied. He slowly applied the brake and stopped at a stop sign. He chanced a glance to see Gail laughing. "What?"
"Were her parents hippies?"
"No," Oliver said. "She named herself Celery as a symbol of her holistic and organic way of being."
"Oh," Gail took that in. "Okay."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Is it inappropriate for me to ask about your personal life?" Oliver inquired.
"Has the inappropriateness ever stopped you from prying before?"
"I just think-"
"No," Gail stopped him cold. "We're not talking about me today."
"It's been a while since-"
"You need to-"
"You're so stubborn, Peck. I'm just trying to help."
"Don't need your help," Gail said as lightly as she could. "Thanks, though."
Oliver sighed. It was his fatherly sigh. The sigh that meant she should really, really listen to him. She'd heard it before many times. Truthfully, she knew he was right.
"You should talk it out with somebody," he snuck in.
"I have," Gail responded.
She really had. She had talked and talked until she was all talked out on that particular subject. She'd gotten over the trauma, but trusting was an issue. It had been before anyway, now it was practically impossible to get close to anyone.
"I don't want you to spend your life being distant," Oliver said.
"Alright, Dad," she said with a roll of eyes. "That's enough."
The static of the radio saved her from having to continue the conversation.
"We're a couple blocks away," Oliver told her. "Flip the siren."
A few minutes later, they had arrived on scene. To her complete surprise, it looked like the botanist from a couple of weeks ago was again involved in some kind of crime. At least that looked to be the case as McNally talked to her semi-casually on the sidewalk. At least Andy had the decency to have her notebook out.
"You've got to be kidding me?" Holly said as she saw Gail approach.
"Well, if it isn't Botanical Gardens." Gail smirked at the woman. "Interfering with another investigation?"
"She is fully cooperating," McNally informed her somewhat seriously.
"I'm sure she is," Gail shot back at her colleague.
"I was witness to a mugging, thank you very much."
"Batting a thousand," Gail commented.
"I'm really loving this new talent to attract scumbags," Holly remarked.
Gail instinctively looked at McNally, "Oh, yeah. You're doing a bang-up job of that."
Holly caught the look and furrowed her eyebrows. "Full of compliments, aren't you?"
"You got a pretty good description," McNally told Holly. "You could be a cop."
Gail guffawed at the thinly veiled flirting. The looks she got from the gathered crowd make her back away slowly. She rejoined Oliver while he was getting the lowdown from another officer. She tried to listen, but her eyes somehow kept getting drawn back to Holly. There was something really annoying about the way McNally was talking to her. She was touching Holly's forearm and talking in her "understanding" voice.
Finally, she had an urge to stop it. "McNally!" Gail yelled.
Andy immediately looked up with a questioning gaze. "Yeah?"
Gail had actually surprised herself and cleared her throat before saying, "I need you to have a look at this." Gail hooked her thumb over her shoulder.
"Something, over here," Gail said. She kept pointing to nothing, but this time with a bit more urgency. "Over here, McNally."
Andy walked over slowly, trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that she was being asked to check out.
"So, what to you think that is?" Gail asked. She was pointing to the sidewalk, well aware that there was absolutely nothing of importance there.
McNally looked at the ground, then up to Peck, then back down. "Concrete?"
"Well, no shit, McNally," Gail remarked. She then circled her finger, indicating a fairly wide space. "There!"
"Oh," McNally leaned down. She crouched down and looked back up to Gail, "It looks like a Starburst wrapper."
"Nah, fruit punch."
"We should bag it," Gail said.
"Bag it?" McNally stood to her full height. "What the hell for, Peck?"
"From a toddler?" Andy asked. "It's a Starburst wrapper. What's your deal?"
"Just being thorough," Gail said. "And professional."
Gail watched as Andy walked away, stopping briefly and exchanging a few chuckles with Holly before moving on to other witnesses.
She followed, "You okay?"
Holly looked stunned by the cop's concern. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"These things tend to shake you up."
"I guess," Holly shrugged. "Wasn't actually me, though. You should probably check on the lady that actually got her stuff stolen."
"I will," Gail said. She quickly fished one of her cards out of her vest pocket and held it out. "Here. This has all my contact info."
Holly glanced it at quickly before waving her hand. "That's okay," she said without too much concern.
"Just in case, you remember anything else." Gail pushed the card closer to her.
"I think I told Officer McNally everything," Holly said, still refusing. "Nothing more to remember."
"Might be something."
"Probably won't," Holly stated with assurance.
"Just take my damn card," Gail shouted.
"Fine, okay." Holly finally accepted it. She made a point of looking at it and her eyes returned to the officer. "Gail?"
"I wouldn't have pegged you for a Gail."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Holly dismissed the question. She caught Gail's eyes and stayed there for a moment, a longer moment than necessary. "Hm."
"It's a family name," Gail said. Which was more information that was actually needed. Holly Stewart didn't need to know that.
"A family of traditionalists?" Holly surmised. "Interesting."
"You have no idea."
Holly took a small step forward, propelled by something. She had no idea what exactly. "Did you catch the panty snatcher?"
"Not yet," Gail said through her teeth. The memory of being so close stung. "Have a few leads, but nothing that's panned out."
"That's too bad."
"Yeah." Gail looked around. She felt a sudden wave of nerves and shook them off. "How's your moss?"
"Beautiful," Holly said. There was a hint of a smile on her face. "Fully recovered by having been nearly trampled to death."
"I'm sorry," Gail apologized. Then she wondered why the hell she had. "It wasn't like I intentionally fell on your plant. I was working."
"Of course," Holly bit her laugh to keep from laughing at the lasting image of Gail Peck falling head first into the ground. "You're forgiven."
"I appreciate that."
They continued to look at each other in the eye. It was unnerving, but strangely okay. Gail normally had no patience for this kind of thing, but Holly Stewart obviously had some effect on her.
The trance was broken a few seconds later.
"You're still here?" McNally asked Holly as she appeared again. "You don't have to stick around any longer."
Gail nearly elbowed her fellow officer in the gut for that.
"Oh, okay." Holly was probably talking to Andy, but she was still looking at Gail. She opened her mouth to say something else, but quickly shut it. She shook her head and walked away backward. "Thanks again, Officers."
They both watched her walk away.
"She's hot," McNally said as soon as she was out of earshot.
"Don't," Gail warned.
Gail glared at her, "Just don't."