Fresh Starts

The characters are property of CBS & others, and no infringement of copyright is intended.  The sole purpose of this story is for the entertainment of the reader.

Rated:  PG

Setting:  About 9 months after the Russian mob comes to "The District."

A Fresh Start

Nancy was busily typing a report the Chief had requested earlier that day when Danny sauntered by her desk and smiled.  He gave all the signals that he really wanted to patch things up with her.  Meanwhile, Nancy was content to keep him at arms' distance.  She still cared for him, but she was not sure she could trust him with her most important possession, her heart.  She also wasn't sure she could ever understand that standoffish manner he'd brought with him from Ireland.  It seemed no matter how much love she lavished on Danny, the darkness still remained.  That troubled her even more than all the other stuff that lay between them.  Before she was able to greet him, the phone rang.  With a smile directed to Danny, she picked it up.  He knew it was time to head back to his desk.  He and Temple had one more report to write before hitting the streets again.

"Chief Mannion's office, may I help you?" was her standard cheery greeting.  She paused,  "Certainly, sir.  Please hold the line."  She shifted to the intercom, "Chief?  Inspector Harold Smythe-Johns of the London Police Department is on line three for you, sir."

"Got it.  Thanks, Nancy," was Mannion's typical terse reply.

Jack Mannion was sitting at the table, across from his desk, rearranging folders when he picked up the phone call.  With a broad grin, "Harry, how the hell are you?!"  He leaned back in the chair, shoving the folders aside for the moment.

With the distinct Oxfordian accent, Smythe-Johns replied, "Jack, you never change do you?  You're still loud and brash!" 

Jack chuckled on the other end of the phone. 

Smythe-Johns paused then continued, "Say, old man, we've got a bit of a sticky wicket here, and I think, no, I know that you can help us out."

Mannion leaned further back in the chair.  "Well, out with then, old boy," he mocked a British accent.

"I'm not sure you have got the word on our department.  And, well, quite frankly, it's monumentally embarrassing, but we can't seem to catch criminals.  And to top it off, our officers are ending up on the short side of the assaults.  It seems our criminals here are watching too much tele – American tele, I'm afraid!  They've gotten quite a bit more violent over the last few years," Smythe-Johns lamented.

"So what do you want from your poor relations across the big pond?" Mannion returned to his normal voice.

"I hear you have a really superb computerized system to catch the blackguards.  Is it true, Jack?"

"Oh, you must have heard about COMSTAT," Mannion was delighted to ask.

"Yes, whatever you call it, can you bring it over?  Parliament is about to do away with 400 years of history with the stroke of a pen.  And, Jack, you know I'm hardly the one to be soft on crime or criminals, but I don't want the Magna Carta to simply become an historical icon in some museum."

"How soon do you need us?" Mannion wanted to know.

"How soon can you get here?  And how many people will you be bringing with you?  I can have the tickets at the counter for you.  Just name the time and date."

"There will be two or maybe three of us.  Ella Farmer will be the other main person.  Her son, Ricky may fly over with us, but I'll be paying for his ticket.  Ella's the 'brains' that makes the computer run.  I couldn't make it happen without her.  As to timing, let me check with her and get back to you."

"Very good, old chap.  I'll wait for your call," Smythe-Johns sounded relieved.

Mannion hung up the phone with a look of satisfaction.  He sat there a moment more before getting up and heading into Ella's adjoining office.  He popped the door open with a flourish.  He stood there a moment just smiling at her, leaning in the doorway.

"Okay, Jack, what's the grin about?" Ella inquired.  She knew this man all too well.  He was easy to read at times, or at least around her.  Still she'd seen him "play poker" with others, defying them to figure out what was going on in his mind.  Yet, he never did that with her.  He always did his dead level best to be gentle and open with her.  They had a unique and special relationship.

"Ella," he began as he walked over in front of her desk, "When was the last time you went to England?"

"England?" she repeated as she spun her chair around to face him.  She cradled her chin in her hands as she did so often.

He moved behind her desk and knelt down to her eye level.  Mannion carefully turned the chair around to face him.  "I'm taking you to London with me.  An old friend, Harry Smythe-Johns needs us to show them how COMSTAT works.  You know I can't do that without you!  So how about it?  Got your passport?"

"What about Ricky?  And, no, I don't have a passport."

"Ricky can come with us, I'll buy the ticket, or we can get Joe to take him for the few days we'll be gone.  And you can do a walkthrough for the passports at the State Department."

Ella sighed and shook her head.  "You've got it all worked out, don't you?"

Mannion stood, "Don't I usually?  I'll get Nicky to grease the skids on the passports.  One or two?"

Ella closed her eyes a moment then said, "Two.  And I'll buy the ticket.  You remember what happened the last time you bought Ricky and me something big!"

They laughed.  Mannion's eyebrows rose with delight and recollection.  He started back to his side of the door, "Have it your way.  I'm going to call Harry back and tell him that we'll fly out on Friday and meet with them first thing Monday.  It'll give us time to prowl the museums and recover from jet lag.  I can hardly wait to show Ricky the sights!"

He clapped his hands together with obvious pleasure.  Mannion took one more look at Ella who was grinning ear to ear at the thought of London.  She knew that gruff as he could be, Jack Mannion had a big heart.  He adored her Ricky who adored Jack more than anyone else in Ella's life.  Jack had always been there for Ricky and for her even when his life was crumbling around him.  He was there for her on this last round of cancer treatment.

Ella rose, grabbed her purse, and took her coat off the rack and headed out the door for the section of the State Department that issued passports.  She picked Ricky up at school only to discover her son was not the least bit interested in going to London.  He had a big project at school and a soccer game that simply were more important.  Ella made no pretense to understand the nine-year-old's priorities.  She just knew it was not worth insisting he come along.  Maybe there would be another time, maybe not.  But Ricky had the right to decide for himself.  Ella called Joe's wife and made the arrangements for Ricky to stay at the Nolans' even as Mannion was negotiating with Nancy to take Cujo for the duration of the trip.

Mannion's car came by early Friday morning and picked Ella up.  True to form, his driver was riding shotgun until Ella's bags were tucked into the trunk next to his own.  Joe's wife had already picked up Ricky the night before.  It was just easier that plucking him up from a dead sleep at four in the morning and hauling him off to the Nolan's.  Mannion tossed the keys to the driver and tucked his frame in the back next to Ella.  He began going down the list with her.  "Yes," was her every response to the litany of things not to have forgotten.  Mannion settled back for the rest of the drive up to BWI.  As he closed his eyes for a moment and drew a deep breath, he thought he must be incredibly lucky to have such an able as well as beautiful assistant.  He opened his eyes and smiled at Ella.

The plane was on time and they were seated comfortably in Business Class.  Mannion had insisted on it.  At 6'4" and mostly legs at that, he hardly fit in the Coach section.  The flight attendant took their coats and his jacket, giving them each a pillow and blanket in exchange.  Mannion undid his cuff links and put them in his vest pocket.  Next he pulled his tie away and unbuttoned the collar of his starched white shirt.  Finally he stretched himself out as best he could without crimping Ella's side.  She had made herself equally comfortable, slipping into soft shoes for the flight.  They both decided to flip the armrest that was between them up and out of the way.  Once in the air, Mannion pulled out files, and Ella pulled out a laptop and got to work putting the finishing touches on the presentation.  Once it was completed, Ella tucked the computer back under the seat, yawned, and leaned against the bulkhead to nap.  The early morning and excitement was beginning to get the best of her.  It had not been that long since her last chemo treatment.

Mannion took note of it and put away his files.  He took both blankets, put them together, stood up in the aisle, and shook them so that the corners met.  Then he took Ella in his arms and tucked her head against his chest, and wrapped both of them up in the blankets.  Ella made a mental note of his aftershave as most pleasant.  He rested his head back and closed his eyes, having successfully resisted the temptation to give her a gentle kiss on the forehead.  They slept until the flight attendants went through the cabin in preparation for landing.

Smythe-Johns was at British Customs waiting for them to arrive.  Mannion greeted him with a big handshake and slap on the back.  His friend was a small wiry man with a full head of thick, unruly black hair and thin moustache, which he kept neatly trimmed.  The hair and moustache seemed to belong to two different men.

"Ella, I want you to meet one of the nicest Brits you'll ever know!" Mannion began.

Smythe-Johns interrupted, "Inspector Harold Smythe-Johns," he said with a polite little head nod to her.  "Customs is this way, Jack." He paused, looked behind Mannion and Ella, and then continued, "I thought you were bringing a child with you?"

"Ricky decided soccer was more important," Ella replied. 

Mannion just raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders.

"Some other time, then," Smythe-Johns continued as they headed toward the Customs Inspectors.  Clearing Customs took less than an hour, and Smythe-Johns dropped them off at the hotel in short order.

Mannion had arranged for a suite with two bedrooms.  Ella was greeted with a large comfortable sitting room with a small wet bar at one end.  It was a concession to American tourists.  "Wow!" she exclaimed.

Mannion smiled.  "Like it?"  He wished Ricky had come with them.  He knew the child would have marveled at it all.  He would have enjoyed seeing the wide-open eyes of Ricky's amazement.

Ella looked around it and said, "I wish Ricky had come with us…"

Mannion came up from behind her and rubbed her arms, "So do I.  Now why don't we get changed and go to dinner.  I'm not sure what time it is here in London, but my stomach is saying, 'It's dinner time back home!'"

Ella nodded firmly, "Sounds good to me."

Mannion retreated to his side and pushed the door behind him.  Ella closed her side gently and got ready for dinner.  She was not sure which felt better brushing her teeth or taking a shower.  When she opened her door, she found Mannion ready to go.  He offered his arm with an approving smile, "Never seen you look lovelier."  His eyes always began his smile.

Ella blushed and grinned, "Why thank you, Jack," as she took his arm.

After a light dinner, Jack and Ella danced the rest of the evening away.  Ella was surprised by his ease and rhythm.  She was used to hearing Danny make fun of him – behind his back, of course.  She never dreamed that a white man could flow with the music.  Then she caught herself.  Mannion noticed something had changed.

"What's wrong, Ella?  Are you tired?  We can go back to the hotel, you just say the word," Mannion's face betrayed his deep concern for his friend.

He knew that cancer and chemo had taken its toll on Ella.  But she never gave in to the disease.  He admired that in her; he knew her raw courage had been part of her cure together with her unswerving faith.  And during all that, she had been there for him in his many hours of need.  His reputation had nearly been destroyed.  His life had been threatened.  His beloved Sherry had been murdered by the Russian mob.  Even when she had been sickest, Ella had been there for him to cry on and tell no one.  He had always loved this woman, and her giving spirit had served to deepen his affections for her.

"Jet lag," Ella replied weakly.

Just that fast, Mannion had her coat around her shoulders, paid the bill, and was hailing a cab.  Protectively, he tucked her next to himself.  He looked down and smiled gently.  Ella took a deep breath and laid her head on his shoulder.  She felt utterly at peace and yet there was something stirring inside her heart.

The presentation went flawlessly for three days running.  Being mindful of Ella's potential weakness, they squeezed in all the cultural events they could get to during the two-hour lunch breaks.  Mannion secretly knew why the British Bobbies were not catching criminals – they weren't at work long enough!  In the evenings, Mannion took her to a different spot and they enjoyed the gentler side of the London night scene, a cruise down the Thames, ballroom dancing without the edge of competition that Mannion had always enjoyed with Sherry.

At the end of the three-day mini-COMSTAT seminar, the Inspector took Mannion and Ella back to Heathrow.  He offered them profuse thanks.  This time there was a one-hour flight delay.  Ella took that time to pick up a few more souvenirs for everyone back at the office.  Mannion had purchased only one earlier in the day – one for Ricky.  It was one of those big blue Bobbie hats and a large brass badge.  He had the hat shipped to protect it from being crushed in the luggage.  The badge, he tucked in his carry-on.  Mannion simply watched Ella shop and marveled at how that woman worked.  He would never have thought of it himself.  Ella looked like she was having a great deal of fun picking and choosing just the right gifts.  Mannion produced a credit card to pay for it all.  His hand reached out, gently moving Ella's wallet back to her purse.

With his hand in the small of her back, "Please, let me.  You've had all the fun of picking them out, at least let me in on some of it!" he protested.

Ella looked up at him.  His face meant what he was saying.  She made only the slightest sound of a protest.  The girl behind the counter smiled at the tourists as she wrapped up the purchases.  After they were out of hearing, she spoke to the other counter girl.  "Yanks.  I wonder how long they've been together?  I wonder if the Black – White ting works o'er there."

The other girl looked up and grunted.

"No, seriously.  But did you see how they moved together?  They look like a couple that's been together a while.  He anticipated her every move."

"I dunno, ya could be right."

Carefully, Ella put the bag of treats in the bin overhead as Mannion stowed the computer under the front of her seat.  He slid the armrest up and acquired pillows and blankets as he got rid of their coats.  They had this routine down to a science.  Ella scooted into the window seat, and Mannion shook out the blankets for after the take-off.  He folded them neatly, tucking them between himself and the outer armrest.  After take-off, the flight attendants passed out sodas and snacks.  Once consumed, Mannion signaled for the attendant.  Ella leaned back in her seat as the cabin lights dimmed.

Mannion pushed his seat back to match hers, "Nap time?"

She nodded.  He slipped the blankets out and eased them around her.  He slid his left arm around her and tucked her in with his right hand.  Ella's head rested on his chest as he got the rest of the blanket up around his own right shoulder this time.  He discovered that leaving one arm outside of the blanket, like the last time, left him with a chill.  He took a deep breath and let it out and leaned back.  This time sleep eluded him.  His mind wandered all over the place, from all the things they had seen and experienced, the ecstatic experience of teaching the Brits about COMSTAT, discipling he called it, to dancing with Ella.  That was where his mind got stuck.  He could feel her warm body next to his own, and that fact was beginning to work on him.  He could smell the scent of her hair and perfume.  It got stuck in his mind as well.  He could feel his face flush.  He could also sense that she was not sleeping peacefully like before either.

After half an hour of this, he could not take it anymore.  "You awake?" he whispered.

"Yeah," was her soft reply.  Ella did not stir.

"Can't sleep."

"Me either," she said.

"Why can't you sleep?" he inquired, knowing why he couldn't.

"You first," she looked up at him.

"You really want to know?" he looked into her eyes.  He could feel the anticipation rising.

"Yes," was Ella's firm response.  She delighted in the feeling of anticipation.

Her cheek was soft like a rose petal, he thought, as his fingertips reached up from under the cover.

Ella found Jack's hand to be smooth and gentle as he caressed her face, and it smelled like his aftershave mixed with her own hand lotion he'd borrowed earlier that morning.  Then he moved hesitantly to brush her lips with his own.  Ella felt arousal as never before.  She had loved this man deeply but until now, had never thought of him sexually.  She brushed her lips against his.

"I'm falling in love with you," he spoke softly as they kissed.  Jack's mouth opened as he gently searched Ella's mouth with his tongue.  Hers reached out to meet him.  Their breathing increased rapidly as they embraced and kissed.  Jack pulled Ella even closer to himself as she ran her hands through his hair then across his back.  A very hushed murmur came from the lovers.

"Jack, I love you," she whispered back in his ear.

He caressed her neck with his nose and began to kiss her ever more passionately.  His free hand stroked her face and neck and back as he kissed her.  Her free hand found its way to his waist then to his thigh where it stayed.  She instinctively knew he liked being touched there.

"I'm going to have to talk to Ricky about sharing you with me when we get back," he said as he nibbled on her ear.

Ella giggled softly.  "Jack…" she whispered.

He pulled up for a moment and looked in her face.  Ella opened her eyes and smiled at him.

"I meant it.  I love you," he insisted.  "I want you more and more in my life.  And I don't care how long it takes," he paused, Well, maybe I do."

Ella's fingers moved across his face.  Her eyes spoke volumes to him.  It would not take forever.  Even as she had learned to read him, he had learned to read her.  Jack pulled her close to his chest.  He wrapped his hand around her and fiddled with her hair and the back of her neck.  With his thumb, he stroked the lower part of her cheek.  Both closed their eyes.  Breathing returned somewhat to normal.

"I think I can sleep now," he said softly.

"Me, too.  It's knowing how we feel about each other."

"Mmm."

With one last deep breath, they slept tucked tightly against one another until the flight was on final approach.