TITLE: The One Constant

AUTHOR: Minn

DISCLAIMER: Wells/Chulack/Bernero et al are the rightful owners of Third Watch - God Bless You! I am merely borrowing and intend no disrespect or harm. None of us do. This is fun. No character was actually harmed in the typing of this nonsense. Nothing I say or do will probably ever make a blind bit of difference to what happens on the screen - dammit!

I'M FOREIGN! If you don't understand anything, it'll be 'cos I'm using a uniquely Kiwi expression, something I do try to avoid, but hell, t'ain't easy!

MY HUMBLEST THANX TO the folks who took the time to review part 31:

TwandSVUfan: sorry you had to wait even longer for this one!

Junglegirl: Ah, my Kiwi-ism spotter! What was that about a wedding?

Angie: aww, glad you've hung in there for so long babe...

Mauriceboscorelli: I'm gonna miss this story when it's done!

Patty: It's been my pleasure to bring this to yaz...

Lynn15: You're welcome!

AnnadelAmico: ah, another of my long time regulars *doffs hat* cheers babe! How's fluffy kitty?

Helena: I think maybe tears of delight might be order of the day this time!

Jess, SSS, Amonary, and Martina: It's FINALLY here!

Cheers All!

-----

THE ONE CONSTANT

PART 32

"You'll no doubt be delighted to hear," Lt Swerskey announced, "that Mitch Rattray is being released from hospital this afternoon."

A small murmur of approval rippled through role call.

"His wife Donna wanted me to extend to you her warmest thanks for all your support."

Swerskey paused as the murmuring gathered momentum.

"I can't believe that rat bastard has a wife," he heard someone in the front row mutter.

"I can't believe it ain't Harris," smirked another.

Lieu's eyes roamed the gathering as he let the laughter subside.

"Boscorelli, Yokas!" he barked as his eyes alighted upon The Odd Couple, the precinct's fond appellation for that most unlikely pairing. "How's your little girl doing?"

From his vantage-point of the rostrum at the front of the room he saw them exchange a look brightly lit with smiles of delight.

"Gracie's doin' great Lieu," Bosco replied grinning widely. "Really great."

"Glad to hear it," the Lt replied, nodding with approval. "By the way, those were a couple of nice collars yesterday. Good work."

Behind them Sully snorted. "Back a week and already scoring medals. What's the secret?"

Bosco turned to smirk at him. "Sleep with your partner," he chuckled.

Ty's face was a picture as he shuffled his chair a little further away from Sully.

"Relax Davis, you're not my type," Sully growled.

"Aww," Faith teased. "You'd have such pretty babies."

Sully and Ty stared at her, appalled, while Bosco grinned warmly at his partner.

"God you're beautiful when you're taking the piss outta someone," he said admiringly.

"Thank you honey," Faith answered in her best bimbo voice. Her efforts were rewarded with sounds of protest and gagging noises from their colleagues.

"You're all just jealous," Bosco dismissed them.

"Don't pay them any attention sweetie," Faith said soothingly, running her hand lovingly down the back of his head and neck.

Sully protested grimly. "You two are doing this on purpose," he grouched.

The pair turned and grinned at him mischievously.

"When you two have quite finished helping the rest of us lose our lunches..." Lieu intoned, quickly returning to the business at hand.

Ty did his best to keep his mind on what the Lt was saying but found his attention lingering on Faith and Bosco. The Odd Couple, otherwise known as The Boscorellis despite the lack of any formalisation of the arrangement, had often been the topic of conversation over a few beers after the shift. So much so it had prompted Sully to complain they were all 'turning into a bunch of gossiping old women'. Ty had noticed, however, that Sul' was not above adding his two cents worth to a discussion about the pairing.

While to all intents and purposes they behaved just like the Faith and Bosco of old, even the most cynical among them had noticed a mellowing in Bosco, a softening matched somewhat disturbingly many thought by Faith's growing propensity to smile more. The fact that things seemed to be working between them had all but silenced those who had predicted a speedy meltdown in relations.

Ty did his best to suppress a small grin. Faith's smiling ways had given rise to speculation that she was actually happy, and the logical conclusion being drawn was that Bosco was the one doing the happy-making. Who would have thought?

A copy of a profile of someone wanted by the ACU began circulating in the room. Ty raised his eyebrows as he accepted his copy and his eyes glanced the Boscorellis way.

"That's the guy Cruz was shaking down the day Mitch and Gracie got shot," he murmured to Sully.

They both saw Gracie's parents exchange a look.

"Marlon Tait," Ty murmured.

"Marlon..." Sully muttered sarcastically.

"Tait?" they heard Faith say quietly.

"Marlon Tait is Maverick Tait's last surviving son. They've both been keeping a low profile of late but Sgt Cruz is sure they're still in the area and is keen to have words with Marlon especially. You know the drill, people," Swerskey was saying.

Bosco turned to his partner to query the frown she wore on her face. "What's up?"

"I'll tell you later," Faith murmured.

Bosco nodded, but watched her for some moments until he received from her a small smile of reassurance.

Still the same old Faith and Bosco, Ty thought. And yet not.

They weren't given to public displays of affection, at least not around the House and especially not once the uniform went on, but that had not stopped certain others alluding to snatched moments of passion in the back of the squad. Ty didn't believe that Faith would stand for any nonsense on duty but he noticed she had taken to responding to such suggestions by turning to her partner and saying: "There's this spot I know..." To which Bosco would grin and reply: "We'll check it out."

Noting the look on Faith's face now, however, Ty knew the shift would be all business.

----

"I was processing him," Faith explained as they sat awaiting calls. "And he kept beggin' me to cut him a break, that some crazy-assed Sgt was tryna settle a score for somethin' he and his Daddy hadn't done."

"Did you believe him?" Bosco asked quietly.

Faith gazed silently into the distance a while. "I wasn't really payin' that much attention to be honest," she murmured. "At the time I was seven months pregnant with a baby that wasn't my husband's and the real father was being made out to look like a no-good bad-ass." She let her eyes meet his. "I kinda wasn't interested in anythin' some little punk had to say."

Bosco nodded. "Now you're thinkin' maybe there was somethin' to what he was saying?"

Faith nodded. "He kept sayin' that 'she' was after 'the wrong brother.'"

"You think he meant Cruz?"

"The more I think about it, the more I'm sure of it," Faith replied.

"What were you booking him for?" Bosco asked.

"I can't remember," she answered slowly. "It wasn't anything major, that's all I recall...like I said, I had other stuff on my mind..."

A gentle silence hung between them a moment.

"He started crying."

Bosco watched his partner carefully, noting the distant look of concern that stroked her face.

"So what happened to him?"

"Charges were dropped - turned out he was actually where he said he was all along."

Bosco nodded and let a small, comfortable silence settle over them before speaking again.

"Did I tell you?" he murmured. "The other day I walked in on Cruz and one of her boys having a bit of a 'discussion' about something and the minute they saw me it's like 'yeah, well, nice weather ain't it?'" He tapped thoughtfully at the steering wheel. "That slapper's up to something, I know it."

"I got a real bad feeling about this, Bos," Faith said softly.

Bosco let his gaze rest softly upon her. He had long since learned to trust his partner's good instincts. "So what's the plan?"

Faith considered the question for a moment.

"We need to find the Taits before Cruz does, that's for sure" she said firmly. "Wasn't Nelson Parker tight with Maverick? Maybe we could corrupt something outta his little brother Tubby again."

"Do I need to remind you that Lieu told us we weren't to take our clothes off while interrogating possible informants?" Bosco smirked.

Faith grinned. "Tubby's probably a bit too wise to that now anyway."

"That's too bad," Bosco murmured.

"Ain't it?" she smiled.

----

The look of thorough consternation on Tubby's face when he saw them pull up spoke volumes.

"What the hell do you want?" he demanded as they approached.

"Don't be like that," Bosco crooned, drawing a photograph from his pocket. "We just thought you'd like to see a picture of our little girl..."

The gangly boy stared at him. "You what? Are you outta yo' mind?"

Bosco turned to Faith, an overworked expression of hurt decorating his face.

"Honey, did he just call me crazy?"

"I think he did sweetie," she responded cutely.

"I ain't fallin' for that again!" Tubby snapped. "Got me my own action happnin'..."

"How old are you now?" Bosco snorted. "Ten goin' on 28?"

"You don't scare me Bozorelli!"

"BOZOrelli?" Bosco said stiffly, leaning forward to pluck Tubby off the steps upon which he sat. "You wouldn't be trying to make fun of my name now would you?"

"What if I was?" the boy snapped, attempting to shake himself free.

Bosco turned to his partner once more. "Now he's tryna hurt my feelings! What d'ya think we should do about that?"

"How's about we sling his sorry ass in the back of the squad and take him for a drive through the neighbourhood."

"But Faith," Bosco said in mock horror, "the good citizens of the area might think our friend Tubby here is some kind of...informant."

Tubby squirmed some more. "I ain't!" he protested, casting hurried glances around in case someone he knew was watching.

"But we had so much fun the last time we were all in the car together," Faith crooned.

"What the hell do you want?" Tubby whined.

"Where do we find Mav Tait?" Bosco demanded.

After a moment's hesitation Tubby's response was a curt: "Who?"

"Isn't that some of your little friends over there?" Faith inquired, casting her gaze in the direction of a gaggle of pre-teens loitering near the corner.

Tubby's expression darkened further.

"Wouldn't it be a real shame if they all happened to hear you've been your usual real helpful self?" Bosco mused.

"You don't scare me," Tubby grumbled.

"No? Tell me somethin' - did your big brother Nelson ever figure out who ratted him out that time? Hmm?"

Faith noted a telling glint of fear flash briefly in the boy's eyes. A small sense of guilt nudged her.

"What would he do if he ever found out it was you?" she asked gently.

Tubby grimaced and stared at the ground for some time.

"They hang out at Baron's," he muttered, finally shrugging himself free of Bosco's hold.

"You're a good kid Tubby," Faith said warmly.

He looked up and expression on his face chilled them both. "You promise Nelson don't ever hear it was me," he said, his voice small and almost frail.

"We promise," Bosco said quietly. "And if you ever need us, you call, OK?"

Tubby stared at them for a while, a kaleidoscope of expressions dancing across his thin face. Then in sullen silence he finally turned and stalked angrily away.

----

"Well waddya know," Bosco murmured.

Faith queried her partner with a look as she crouched, gun drawn, amid the shelves of the small store they'd been called to.

"What?"

"Maverick Tait," he replied quietly, indicating the back of the store which he could see from where he was positioned.

"You're kidding?"

The Taits had proven an elusive quarry for nearly two weeks. Their lack of profile had, to Faith and Bosco's delight, caused Cruz obvious disquiet. It had only served to confirm in their minds at least that there was more to all this than the Sgt was willing to reveal.

"She says she gonna bury me!" they heard a thin voice wail.

Bosco and Faith exchanged glances and remained quietly where they were.

From his vantage-point near the till the storeowner gesticulated wildly, clearly frustrated at their inaction.

Faith shook her head vigorously and put one finger to her lips. "Let us handle this, sir," she hissed irritably.

The storeowner rolled his eyes and clapped his hands either side of his head in a frank display of consternation.

"What the hell's she got on you this time?" Tait roared.

They strained to hear but the answer was muffled and indistinct.

"You KNOW what she is you dumb ass!"

"I didn't know what else to do!" protested the other. "She's a cop for chrissake!"

"She's your goddamn supplier you mean!" Tait snapped. The other cried out in pain.

Bosco nodded to Faith.

"Police!" Bosco bellowed. "Put your weapon on the ground, hands where I can see them!"

"I don't have no goddamn weapon, asshole!" came the sassy reply.

"What the hell did you hit me with?" complained the voice at Mav Tait's feet.

"A carton of milk!" Tait snapped.

"Whatever the hell you've got in your hands, drop it and back the hell away!" Bosco yelled, exasperated.

"Ow! Hey!" wailed the voice.

"How's about we shoot your sorry ass?" Faith growled as she and Bosco ranged closer.

"Lady, he told me to drop what was in my hands and I did."

"He didn't mean ON the victim," Faith said stiffly.

Tait eyed her contemptuously. "My mistake," he drawled.

Maverick Tait didn't seem to be in the least bit concerned to be faced down by two police officers with guns trained upon him. He stood and watched them with an air of tired disinterest.

"On the floor..." Bosco ordered.

Tait just looked at him. "No."

Faith watched a look of surprise flick across her partner's face.

"What?" said Bosco.

"I ain't done nothin' wrong," Tait said coolly.

"You're ARGUING with us?"

"I ain't arguin'," Tait said casually. "I'm just tellin' you - I ain't done nothin' wrong."

Faith looked meaningfully at Bosco. "I say we shoot him..."

"Works for me," Bosco replied.

"Go ahead," Tait shrugged. "I'm a dead man anyways - thanks to this no good piece of shit and his little cop girlfriend."

"She ain't my girlfriend," the man protested, hunkering down by the freezers with his hands in the air.

"Yo' supplier then," Tait corrected, his tone heavy with sarcasm.

Faith looked around. There was no visible damage to the store or the merchandise in it. She could sense the store owner was hovering meaningfully in the background, despite having been told to stay put where he was.

"You wantin' to press charges?" she asked the man who cowered on the floor in front of Tait.

"You're kidding right?" came the reply.

She turned to the storeowner. "What about you?"

"I just want them both outta here," he snapped. "I don't want you bringing your arguments in here, Tait! Keep 'em outside - or go elsewhere!"



Tait held out a some money to the agitated little man. "For the milk," he muttered, retrieving the surprisingly still intact carton. "Keep the change."

Bosco looked at his partner. "What about charging him with bein' a mouthy smart ass?"

Faith returned her gun to its holster and gazed steadily at Tait. "Or perhaps Mr Tait could help us with our inquiries instead," she murmured.

----

"Cruz ain't no better than the people she puts away," Tait grumbled, "'cept she gets to hide behind a badge."

Faith's eyes met Bosco's and lingered.

"So what's her beef with you and your boy?" Bosco asked.

Tait exhaled heavily. "That crazy ass bitch swore to my face she was gonna make the whole family pay for what my other son Tyrone did to her sister."

"Which was?"

Another weighty exhalation escaped him. "He decided he was gonna be her first," Tait growled, a clear note of shame hanging heavily in his tone. "Trouble was, he didn't bother to ask her if that was something she wanted..."

Faith shook her head. "How old was she at the time?"

A sullen silence engulfed the shadows in the back of the squad. "Young," came the stiff reply. "Real young."

Faith glanced Bosco's way.

"I promised their mama I'd bring the boys up right but this place," Tait indicated the neighbourhood beyond the RMP, "this place is like quicksand..."

"Sure, it's society's fault," Bosco grumbled.

"Tyrone made bad choices, Boscorelli, I ain't denyin' that," Tait snapped.

"He do time?" Faith asked.

"The sister never laid no complaint," Tait muttered. "But Maritsa found out when Letty started to go off the rails. She told me to my face that she'd make us all pay for what Tyrone did, no matter how long it took her."

"So Buford and Ribero aren't the only ones she blames for what happened to her sister," Bosco muttered.

"She's gonna get revenge on everyone that ever did her sister down," Tait said sourly.

Bosco could see Faith was frowning.

"What happened to Tyrone?" she asked quietly.

"She gave him somethin' she knew would kill him," he replied sourly. "And then she just stood by and watched..."

"Who did?" Bosco demanded.

"Cruz. She got a hold of some of that bad crap that was goin' round at the time...she knew Tyrone had a habit, she knew what she was doin'..."

"How d'you know all this? Were you there?"

"I weren't there Boscorelli," Tait spat. "Luis was. That's how Cruz controls him - she's threatened to lay the rap for what happened to Tyrone on him if he doesn't do exactly what she says."

"Who the hell's Luis?" Bosco asked, a note of agitation creeping into his tone.

"He was that no-good loser I was 'talking' to back there," Tait answered tetchily, referring to the altercation back at the store.

"Are you saying Cruz murdered your son?" Faith asked.

"I'm sayin' she supplied him with what killed him and didn't get no medical attention when he needed it. That's how come he died."

They heard Tait shift around in the back of the RMP. His face appeared out of the shadows as he leaned forward and fixed his gaze into the distance ahead of him.

"Cruz told me that as far as she's concerned the only good Tait is a dead one. She's tryna hang the blame for that kid who was killed during that convenience store robbery not so long ago on Marlon and his friends but they weren't nowhere near the place."

"You believe that?" Bosco asked.

"Yeah I do," Tait said earnestly. "Marlon's nothing like his brother. Hell, he ain't nothin' like half the kids round here. He's different."

"The Sgt says a witness has come forward claiming he saw Marlon in the vacinity," Faith said.

"Have a guess who that 'witness' is," Tait snarled.

"Luis," Bosco murmured, shaking his head.

"You got it genius," Tait growled. "Now, forgive me if I have trouble believin' Marlon had a damn thing to do with that kid dyin'."

A strained quiet ensued.

"Who's the picture of?" Tait asked after a while, referring to the photograph stuck to the dashboard between them.

"That's our daughter Gracie," Bosco replied, the pride in his voice evident.

"You two have a kid together?" Tait mused.

"As amazin' as that seems, yeah," Faith said, a gentle grin brushing her lips.

"Then you get how it is," Tait murmured. "You get how much your kids mean, how much you'd do anythin' to protect them..."

There was a moments pause, and when he resumed speaking the emotion in Tait's voice was unmistakable.

"Marlon's one good kid - he's the reason I got clean. Been clean three years now," Tait said softly. "I finally figured it out that a kid like Marlon deserves the best kind o' father, you know?"

"Yeah I do," Bosco murmured

"Marlon, he got potential, you know? He's getting good grades in school and he's bright, real bright. He could do anythin' he wanted to, go places. He don't wanna end up like his brother or the rest of the family." There was a tortured silence for some time. "Me and Marlon? We're the last and I don't wanna bury no more family. I ain't got nobody else and I ain't lettin' no bent out of shape bitch take my boy away from me. What would you do if it was your little girl?"

Faith and Bosco exchanged a lingering look.

"We're gonna help," she said softly.

"How you gonna help?" Tait sneered.

Faith looked expectantly at her partner.

"We'll think of something," Bosco said with a knowing smile. "Where's Marlon now?"

"Somewhere safe," came the non-committal reply.

"Good. Keep him there."

----

Lt Swerskey had seemed less than surprised by what they told him. He listened to Faith and Bosco quietly, jotting notes on the pad in front of him.

"These are serious allegations," he murmured. "Are you sure of your source?"

"We believe him, if that's what you're asking," Faith said.

Swerskey eyed her carefully. "You both have a bit of history with the Sgt - that's not having any bearing on this is it?"

Faith returned the Lt's gaze steadily. "Cruz doesn't care who she hurts just as long as she gets her way - we both know that first hand."

The Lt let his eyes travel slowly from one to the other and saw the look of quiet expectancy on their faces. "Leave it with me," he murmured.

----

Cruz's tone was calm and smooth but the hard look in her eyes betrayed her irritation.

"You two must think you're pretty clever."

Bosco turned to Faith and gazed at her fondly. "I've always thought you were above average, honey."

"Aw, ain't he sweet?" Faith crooned.

Cruz nailed her with a sharp glare. "Enough with the cutesy bullshit," she snapped. Her voice seemed to reverberate endlessly around the empty locker room. "There's a rumour you two had words with Maverick Tait the other week - that true?"

"Did we?" Faith asked Bosco.

"Apparently," he shrugged.

Cruz glowered at them venomously. "Don't mess with me," she said stiffly.

"Are we messing with the Sgt Bos?"

"Now why would we do a thing like that?" he replied.

They watched as Cruz paced forward, her face set grimly. "There's also been certain departmental types snoopin' round askin' all sorts of interesting questions...like they think they might know somethin'." She glared at them accusingly. "Don't suppose you two know anything about that?"

"Why would we?" Faith said rigidly.

"Is there somethin' you wanna say to us Sgt?" Bosco asked tersely. "'cos if you don't mind, we wanna get home to our little girl."

Cruz noted how they had drifted closer and now stood shoulder to shoulder facing her, a united front.

"Mr and Mrs Boscorelli," she purred, noting with some satisfaction how Faith tensed. She knew how much it pissed Faith off to be called that. "You're gonna regret this."

The malevolence in Cruz's tone was unequivocal.

"Regret what?" Faith asked loudly.

"Are you threatening us?" Bosco demanded. "Cos that's not a smart move, Sgt."

Cruz watched them a moment, a small, unpleasant smile tracing her lips.

Bosco felt Faith slip her fingers into his hand. It was a look they had seen before and then, as now, it disturbed them.



Martisa Cruz turned away and left them to ponder her words. Nothing more needed to be said. The look she had given them spoke volumes.

----

Maverick Tait made plans to leave the city. He reasoned that it was best to take his sole surviving son away, start again somewhere where the past could not haunt them.

A sharp sense of urgency spurred him on. He knew it would only be a matter of time before Cruz made good her promise...

----

"Did you hear?" Ty asked, looming in the doorway of the room where Faith and Bosco sat writing reports.

Faith looked up, intrigued. "Hear what?"

"Marlon Tait was shot this afternoon. By one of Cruz's informants."

Bosco looked up sharply from what he was doing. "What?"

"Is he alright?" Faith asked.

Ty shook his head solemnly. "DOA," he murmured.

"Oh my god..." Faith murmured. Her eyes met Bosco's and lingered.

"Which informant?" Bosco asked eventually.

"Luis somebody," Ty replied.

"Has he been brought in yet?"

"Murder suicide, Bosco. Perp turned the gun on himself..."

Bosco saw Faith close her eyes. "Does Mav Tait know yet?"

"He was pretty shook up," Ty said quietly.

Bosco threw the pen he held onto the table in front of him. "Dammit," he hissed. "We shoulda..."

"Don't," Faith said quickly. "Just don't..."

----

He stood outside the precinct House, waiting.

He seemed calm enough but there was an air of purposefulness about him, like the calm before the storm. Standing straight and tall with his hands loosely folded in front of him, Maverick Tait was immaculate in a sharply tailored black suit. His flint hard gaze watched the comings and goings around him with an air of quiet detachment.

"Buried my boy this morning, Maritsa," he called as Cruz finally appeared in the doorway of the House.

The Sgt paused, seemingly surprised to see him standing there.

"Sorry to hear that Mav," she crooned, gazing down at him with the vaguest glint of undisguised triumph in her eyes.

Maverick Tait stared up at her, his face seemingly carved from stone.

"What lies did you fill Luis' head with Maritsa?" he asked after a moment.

Cruz feigned astonishment. "You sayin' I had somethin' to do with what Luis did to Marlon?"

A humourless smirk appeared briefly on Tait's face.

"It's always you, Maritsa," he said. "Somehow it always comes back to you."

"Sure it does, Mav," Cruz snorted, turning to go. "Now if you don't mind, I got work to do..."

"How many more Maritsa?" Tait called.

Cruz paused and turned slowly to face him again. "How many more WHAT?"

"How many more folks you got on your little list? How many's it gonna take before you're satisfied you got a bit of 'justice' for Letty?"

A hard look of anger settled upon her. "You sayin' I got some kinda vendetta goin'?"

"Yeah Cruz," Tait replied slowly. "That's exactly what I'm sayin'."

"You got proof, smart boy?" she demanded. "Huh?"

"Two dead sons are all the proof I need," Tait murmured, turning his back on her as if to walk away.

"You're full of shit, you know that Tait?" Cruz called.

She watched as Maverick Tait moved a few paces away...before turning to face her for one last time...

----

"Is that Tait?" Faith asked her partner as they pulled the RMP up in front of the House just a little way down the street from where the drama was beginning to unfold.

"What the hell's he playing at?" Bosco growled, exiting the car smartly as it halted.

As they approached they heard Cruz call out to Tait, saw him turn, having pulled a gun from under the smart tailored jacket of his suit.

"Tait, no!" Bosco yelled.

Maverick Tait fired two shots before other officers around fired back at him.

It would have only taken one of those bullets to kill Maritsa Cruz but both found their mark with chilling precision.

"She gone?" Tait asked them as Faith and Bosco loomed over him.

Their eyes travelled to where Cruz lay. One of her colleagues was searching for any sign of life but there was none. Maritsa Cruz was dead.

"She's gone," Bosco said quietly.

With great effort, Tait acknowledged him. "For my boys," he whispered.

Those were his final words.

----

TBC - Not too far to go now folks...