Okay, here we go – this is the final chapter for this one. Thanks so much again to everyone who read and reviewed so far (and to those who might do this in future), I really appreciate that :-) !!!
Yeah, Danny is a little kid in his mind ;-)) And yes, the verses in italics are a song – I mentioned that somewhere, guess in chapter 5 (?) – it's Never Gonna Be The Same Again by Bob Dylan.
One last time for this one – please read and review! I have another one ready (that will be posted later), one is currently being tested by my guinea pig (um, test reader g) and will be started next week, it's gonna be a Christmas story. Watch out for that ;-)
"You can shower first, today it's my turn to make breakfast," Stella gave him a quick kiss on his lips before she made her way to the kitchen. Mac leaned back with his eyes closed for a moment and took a deep breath. Apparently he didn't dream last night - this was really happening…
He shook his head and got up.
"There is something wrong about this case… We are missing something, it's right in front of us and I can't get it," Stella brooded over her coffee mug while Mac was watching the morning news on TV.
"What is it?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't say we are missing it… I don't know, there is evidence for the woman in the hotel room, yet Browning still denies presence of another person. Maybe he… THAT'S IT!" Mac looked up in surprise.
"I need to go back to the hotel and talk to the hotel manager again! Um, once we get out of here," she said, remembering that they were still trapped.
The doorbell interrupted them.
"I'll get it!" Stella jumped up and went to the door. "Hello?" she asked after a look through the spy hole.
"Yeah, in here…" she returned.
"Mick Foster, Accurate Securities. We are here about the broken security system in your door – may I open it now?"
"That would be highly appreciated," Stella laughed.
"Hey, Mac!" Lindsay greeted him when he stepped out of the elevator.
Danny couldn't help a broad grin. "How was your weekend? Did you see Stella today?"
Mac's eyes slightly narrowed. He knew what Danny was alluding to, but he decided not to play along for the moment.
"She's talking to the hotel manager again, we'll meet at the DA's office later," he replied noncommittally and turned around to continue his way to his office.
"Mac?" Danny called after him.
"You still got some paint in your hair…" Danny chuckled.
Mac's eyes slightly widened. Damn it, why wasn't Stella here now? He knew she could handle such situations way better than him. Too late for backing out and since they had suspected a trace the others most likely knew he was at the apartment the whole time anyway. What should he do now? Try to explain? At least to protect Stella's reputation, right? Not to compromise her when the others thought that …
"Nothing happened. It's just that … and besides, I don't think this is any of your business," he tried to defend himself by playing the boss card.
"Don't bother, Mac," Lindsay jumped in. "Stella renovated her apartment, you offered to help her and then you both got locked up and you had to stay overnight. Nothing wrong with that, can just happen, right? Murphy…"
Mac thankfully glanced over to her. "Yeah, like that…" he mumbled.
Although not everything went wrong…
When Stella entered the break room later in the afternoon, she found Danny and Lindsay involved in an excited discussion.
"Stella, what do you think about getting a tattoo?" Danny turned to her, not seriously expecting an honest answer.
"Who says I would have to think about it?" she replied spontaneously.
"Get out!!" he exclaimed, totally surprised. "You HAVE one?!? What kind? And where??"
In that moment, Mac entered the room. "Where what?"
"Stella has a tattoo!"
"So..." Mac replied, trying to sound as neutral and noninvolved as possible while he turned to the coffee machine.
"And I just asked her where…" Danny added.
Mac focused on putting fresh coffee powder into the filter crumb by crumb.
"Well, if she wanted everyone to see it, it would be at a visible place, right?" Danny gave him a suspicious look, then his eyes widened.
"You KNOW where?!? It's obviously not visible for everyone even with low-cut clothes, that means … Nothing happened, huh?" he smirked.
"Watch your mouth, Messer!" Stella interjected with a warning tone in her voice while she approached him, trying to help Mac.
"Hmm… Something smells like coconut in here," Danny immediately changed the topic. He was working with Stella long enough to know when it was time to stop.
"Coconut?" Mac wondered, momentarily confused about the previous discussion and the sudden change.
"Yeah, that would be me – coconut shampoo… Like it?" Stella gave him a playful smile which he returned with a little grin. Always good for a little surprise.
"Coconut? That's cool..." Lindsay said.
"Yeah, I like these natural scents. I have hair shampoo with coconut, shower foam with milk and honey and body lotion with maple syrup scent," Stella explained.
"That would explain why Mac's always lookin' at ya with those hungry eyes..." Danny philosophized.
"Messer, you are a smurf!" Lindsay exclaimed while Mac slightly blushed. Stella narrowed her eyes.
"If you choke a smurf, what color does it turn?"
"Hmm... don't know... wanna try it?" Lindsay asked, expectantly looking over to Danny, who quickly hurried out of the door, mumbling a barely audible "That was more than Murphy…".
Stella turned to Mac again.
"Anyway, good that you're here, Mac. I did some research on the West Point Academy and its statutes. It is okay for a cadet to have a relationship and as far as I know, it doesn't forbid any contact between different races or religions or anything and we know the victim wasn't married, so he wouldn't have violated any rule there. We know though that Browning's grandfather who raised him is a man of principle and wouldn't have accepted this relationship since she was a former junkie. Browning knew that, so he kept it a secret to avoid disappointing his grandfather and met her in hotels. That's why he lied about her being there," Stella explained. "He didn't want his grandpa to find out. What we missed was that it was that his room was a single room and THAT would have been a violation of the West Point Honor System!"
"What?" Mac was still confused.
"A cadet shall never steal, cheat or lie," she replied patiently.
"Yeah, I know about that, but how…"
"He rented a single room, he had company there. Sleeping with two people in a room that's only rented for one would be like stealing. When I talked to the hotel manager, he told me that Browning had reserved a double room but due to a booking mistake, they only had a single room free when he arrived. Browning accepted, but insisted on paying the price for the room he had reserved. He paid for two people, even though he stayed in a single room, this way he could secretly smuggle his girlfriend in so that nobody would notice, but still wouldn't violate any rules," Stella triumphantly finished her conclusions.
"So he didn't keep it a secret because he killed her or had anything to do with the drugs you found, he just wanted to keep it a secret from his grandfather and would have gone rather to prison than to disappoint him or the Academy…" Mac stated.
"A real soldier," Stella agreed. "And we know also, that the girl died from an OD, so: Case closed! Hungry?"
He nodded with a playful smile. "U-huh…"
She rolled her eyes in desperation and sighed. "I was talking about dinner…"
Stella snuggled up to Mac on the couch when they started watching TV after dinner. He gently put his left arm around her shoulders and let her put her head against his chest.
When the movie was coming to its end, Mac's heart started beating faster. He wasn't sure what to do next, all he knew was he didn't really want to leave yet. He carefully turned his head to check if Stella was sleeping since she hadn't moved at all the whole time.
Stella yawned and stretched in his arms and gave him a soft smile. "Would you… I mean, you wanna stay? You know … I mean, without being forced to?"
Mac briefly hesitated. "You sure that Arkadios doesn't mind sharing the bed … and you?"
"Well, he didn't complain the last two nights… I would say he's getting used to you…" she smiled.
"Um… yeah, but …"
"You're jealous of a teddy bear! Now this is cute…" Stella chuckled. "You know what? I'm sure he won't mind sleeping on the couch tonight, if you feel better that way?"
"I'm not jealous! But maybe I feel … observed?" Mac grinned back. Stella just gave him a smile while taking his hand.
"You really have a tattoo?" he suddenly asked while following her to the bedroom.
Stella turned around and gave him a suggestive look.
"Why don't you find out yourself?"