"I am only my memories now and so even my regrets are precious."
Cat's Paw, Joan D. Vinge
"Is this the..." Bailey hesitated, uncomfortable about finding himself in an unfamiliar situation, "...the girlfriend?" he finished awkwardly. Ah, the nineties, always good for making a hard job harder.
"She wasn't my girlfriend," the young woman managed to say. "We were just seeing each other. We were friends. Cherry and I were friends." Her voice sounded hoarse from crying.
Bailey sat down next to her, putting an arm around her shaking shoulders. "Friend. Ah...I'm sorry." He could feel the woman shrug and again he mentally kicked himself. "I'm Agent Malone, Ms., Ms.," oh wonderful, now he was remembering that no one had mentioned this woman's name. Great impression they were giving. This all must be very comforting.
"Malcolm. My name is Deb Malcolm. You... you found Cherry, didn't you?"
"Yes. You have my deepest sympathies." Bailey knew from experience that details about her friend weren't going to help this woman any; she looked near enough to losing it as it was. "If you could answer a few questions for us?"
There was a palpable feel of the woman pulling herself together. "Yeah, whatever I can do to help... to help Cherry." Again, there was another moment of her needing to collect herself, after the stress of having to say the name.
"How long had she been missing?"
"About three weeks. I called the police, they tried to help, but , when I said we had fought, they, they..."
Deb dissolved into a fresh round of tears and Bailey waited, trying to remember what few details were in the first police report. Deb and Cherry had been fighting the last night the younger woman had been seen alive. Something about Cherry meeting someone new, and being too tired to out to see a band that night.
According to Deb, she and Cherry had always had a volatile relationship, and Cherry was prone to storming out and spending the night somewhere else until she calmed down. This night, though, she never returned. When the mandatory twenty four hours had passed, Deb called it in, only to have the police dismiss it as a lover's spat, and one they weren't real interested in getting involved with anyway. Three weeks later, the VCTF had been called in. Cheryl "Cherry" Hudson had been found; the fifth victim of a serial rapist and killer who was stalking their university campus.
"Had she been having problems with anybody lately, getting any unwanted attention?"
Deb looked up at him, an incredulous look on her face. "Cherry was beautiful. Everybody loved her. Of course she was getting unwanted attention."
Bailey raised his eyes helplessly, trying to catch Sam's eye. He felt about a million years too old for this, beyond any understanding of the life of a college girl. "Could you please clarify that, Ms. Malcolm?"
The young woman took a deep breath, tried to steady herself. "Everybody loved Cherry. She was beautiful. All the guys we knew wanted to be with her. It was driving her nuts, it was like an epidemic of people falling for her. Some days, seemed like the only thing out of anybody's mouth was 'I love you.'" She scavenged around for a tissue, finding only the shredded, wet bits of already used ones. Bailey reached behind him and grabbed the box, handing it to her. She nodded her thanks and pushed her black and blond streaked hair out of her face carefully. Her eyes were red, puffy from tears. Her lip and chin trembled with her effort not to cry. "You wanna know the funny thing? I mean, we all loved her and all, but..."
"But?" Bailey prompted when the young woman trailed off into silence. Sounded like something promising.
"Well, I mean, we loved her and all, but, well, Cherry could be pretty inconsiderate. I mean, like, you would make plans with her, and she would call and give you this long reason for why she couldn't make it. One time it was that she met this new girl at a strip club and they wanted to see each other more. Anyway, it would all be lies. It was like she couldn't just say, 'hey, I'm tired, let's do this another time.' And you'd be so pissed off at her, but you weren't really, cause you knew it was just her. And then she would do some totally over the top, ridiculous thing to make up for it. She brought me a dress once, a bridesmaid's dress, if you can believe it. To say sorry for lying to me. I...I... loved her so much, but she could be such a bitch sometimes." That was it for Deb, she dissolved back into tears and all Bailey could do was keep his arm around her and hope that whatever friend the college dean called would be there soon to pick up the pieces.
"Well, "said Sam later. "There's our correlation. All the women are reported as being...inconsiderate."
John quirked an eyebrow at her. "Inconsiderate? You call them inconsiderate? Look at these women! All of them are manipulative, playing the field and taking no prisoners. Everybody we interviewed in relation to Cherry was in love with her. Or lust. Hell, even the woman, what's her name, Deb? But she just kept playing them along. I mean, they all knew she was a liar and none of them cared."
Sam stared at the pictures from the scene. Cherry wasn't so beautiful anymore. Someone cared.
Bailey knocked hard on the door to Deb's college room. Too hard, he probably sounded rude. Deb lived on the eleventh floor of a dorm that looked like pretty much any other highrise apartment, but sounded like no where else on earth. How did these people get any studying done? Deb opened the door after a minute or so, and three more knocks. Bailey guessed she was hoping whoever it was would go away. For her sake, he wished he could.
If anything, she looked even worse than the last time he saw her. Her black and blond hair was tangled into knots, her eyes were still red and her clothes looked like she had dragged them off the floor that morning. Or maybe slept in them. The loose black dress she wore was oversized and tattered, worn to pieces. Comfort clothes, he guessed.
"Could I talk to you some more about that last day, Ms. Malcolm? Please."
She nodded, and stepped back from the door. She lived in a single, the only furniture college owned and traditional. Single bed, dresser, desk, bookshelf, chair. She had tried to personalize it: Christmas tree lights around the window, posters of rock bands and beautiful girls on the wall. She liked redheads, he noticed. Cherry had been a redhead.
"Um," she muttered, pushing some clothes off the only chair. "Uh, try to make yourself comfortable. You, ah, you'd probably prefer the chair, huh?" She gestured vaguely, apparently offering him a choice between the chair and the bed. He nodded, feeling grateful she didn't expect him to join her as she curled up in the corner of the latter. "So, what do you want to know?"
"Just what sort of mood she was in. How the day went. Any details you can remember. Sometimes even the smallest detail can break a case."
She seemed to think about that. Bailey thought she had lost weight since he first met her and he wondered suddenly if she was eating, if anyone was taking care of her. From the looks of the room, the answering machine with no messages, he guessed no.
"It was a busy day... she began. Registration. It's always a nightmare. I saw her in the bookstore, reminded her we were supposed to go see that band, um, the Unbreakables, if it matters, that night at the college bar. She got this look in her face, you know, kinda like she forgot. But she said she would be there. We had to make it a little later, this friend of mine was having a birthday party, I promised I'd show for a little bit. So, anyway, I leave the party early, cause Cherry and I have this date. And I'd been drinking at the party. Do you need to know that? God, I can't believe I told you that; I'm not twenty-one."
"I'm not interested in that, Ms. Malcolm," Bailey said gently, trying to calm her down. "Just tell me what happened."
"Anyway, it's about ten when she comes over. I'm all dressed up; we've seen this group before, we go every time they play at the bar. We always dress up. Anyway, Cherry looks awful, she's not dressed up at all. Just ratty jeans and an old t-shirt. And she's saying she can't go, she's really busy, she's sorry. For once, there's no story. She's just busy... she had a new tattoo. She showed it to me. She said the guy who did it was great, a really great guy."
Bailey remembered the fresh ink work on the girl's forearm, a dragon and a lion. Very medieval, only moderately well done. The other girls had been tattooed too.
Deb continued with the story. Her voice was flat now, mechanical. "I remember wondering if she had met someone. There was kinda this look in her eye, you know. That she wasn't really tired. What could I do? I told her fine, big deal, no skin off my back. I was angry, though, I mean really angry, and she could tell. So she got all upset and I got all upset and the next thing I know, she's storming away and I'm feeling like an idiot."
"I have to ask, Ms. Malcolm, where were you the rest of that night?"
Deb got a strange, bitter look on her face. "Where was I? I went to the show, got drunk, and took home the band's guitarist. His name was Rick. Didn't get a last name, didn't care."
It was, quite probably, the last answer Bailey expected to that question.
"She was meeting someone." Bailey told the team later. "Or at least the girlfriend says she was. Cherry didn't say on way or another, but Deb seemed pretty convinced. She's thinking the tattoo artist, it was the most recent new person Cherry had met."
"Well, the other girls were all tattooed, too. That could be important," commented Marcus.
"But Cherry's work was the most recent," Grace interjected. "Very fresh, just done that day."
"We know anything about that guy? Could be promising," was John's comment.
"Deb didn't get an a name, didn't ask. Apparently she was pretty angry. But you're right, there could be something with the tattoos."
Sam had that far away, thoughtful look in her eyes. "He marks them," she replied in a thoughtful, drawn out voice. "The tattoos, they're his marks."
"Are we assuming they were all done by the same man? Or is it just that they're all tattooed?"
Sam shook her head, "I don't know. But there's something there, something with the tattoos. Bailey, you seem to be getting along best with this girl. Maybe you could talk to her again, find out anything more she knows about the tattoo artist, or where Cherry was that day. If the artist was the killer, well, then he's escalating quickly. None of the other women had recent work done."
"Oh, it's you again."
Looking at Deb, it seemed like she hadn't washed her hair or slept since Bailey saw her last. She looked like a train wreck and he wondered again where her friends were, why no one was taking care of her. Hell, he wondered why she was still at college. The last, he just had to ask. "Ms. Malcolm, and forgive me is this is none of my business, it has no real bearing on the case, but have you considered taking some time off? Maybe going home to your family?"
"What am I supposed to tell my family, Agent Malone? That I need some time off because the woman I was in love with was killed? That's going to go over real well."
"You couldn't just say friend?" he asked, thinking back to her earlier insistence that Cherry was her friend and not her lover.
She grimaced. "I dunno, it just seems... it seems like now that she's dead, now that I'll never be able to make things right between us, it seems like the final indignity, to lie about her."
"She was your girlfriend?"
"No. Never. She tried, but I... oh, hell, I turned her down. She was drunk, every damn time she hit on me and I always turned her down. I wanted to wait till she was sober, I wanted to know that she meant it, that it wasn't the alcohol talking. I was an idiot."
"That's not idiotic. A lot of people feel that way."
"And I was scared. Scared she didn't mean it. Scared she did. I wanted to say something, I really did, only I didn't want to be like everyone else in her life, you know? All the people who were totally obsessed with her. I wanted to be her friend, not just another problem in her life. I loved her and I never told her and now I'm never going to have the chance."
The words hit a painful chord in Bailey. Well, there was a similarity that he never expected to find. He felt sick all of a sudden because it wasn't a similarity between the victims but a one between him and this grieving woman. I loved her and I never told her, she had said. Deb's excuses for staying silent abruptly sounded suspiciously like his own reasons for never talking to Sam. It wasn't the right time. I didn't want to be another problem in her life. What good would it do to say anything? He stared into Deb's grief ravaged face and suddenly it was like looking in a mirror. Would he feel like this one day, would he lose Sam before he ever had a chance to tell her, well, anything?
"I should have told her, the woman was repeating, I just should have told her and now I'll never have the chance."
The words to comfort grieving family members were frozen in Bailey's throat, despite his years of practice with them. All he could do was pat her helplessly on the back. Later, he took her out to get some food, and a change of scene. It wasn't sure of it helped but he couldn't just leave her in that dark, empty room, all alone with her thoughts. He told her about Frannie, only cheerful stuff. He thought she almost smiled.
"She still doesn't remember anything about the tattoo artist but she did give me a list of Cherry's other friends. Maybe one of them will know."
Bailey opened the briefing with this bit of news. There was very little else. Grace reported the killer's MO followed that of the campus stalker, not that there was any surprise there. Sam had been showing pictures of all the victims' tattoos around at local shops, hoping someone could recognize well, anything about them. Several artists had been able to go so far as to say that each of the women had a tattoo that looked a little less than professional and that seemed to have been done by the same guy, but no one knew who that would be. In fact, several of the artists had seemed insulted by the suggestion that they would know anyone whose work was clearly so unprofessional. John had been looking for similar incidents at earlier times, trying to find out if this was someone just out of jail. All in all, the day was kinda looking like a bust. The most Bailey could do was to give each member of his team part of Deb's list, and see if any of Cherry's other friends knew anything. With a disgusted sigh about their lack of progress, Bailey dismissed his team.
"Bailey?" It was Sam; she had stayed behind when the rest of the group had left. "You okay? You're taking this case kind of rough."
He dragged a hand over his face, trying to feel more alert and with-it. "I'm fine. It's just this kid, this Deb. She's breaking my heart. Every time I go over there, she looks worse and worse. I don't think that she has anyone she can talk to about loosing Cherry; she seems to feel that no one would understand, either because it's another woman that she's in love with, or because it's Cherry that she's in love with. Most of her friends thought Cherry was big time trouble. None of them are what you would call surprised that she's died. She's Frannie's age, you know. Deb is." Looking at Sam, he heard again Deb's piteous voice, repeating over and over again how she had lost her chance to tell Cherry the truth. "That's pretty young to be going through this."
Sam grimaced. "There's no good age to go through something like this."
That's the truth. Bailey shuffled some papers, trying to think of anything else to say. He couldn't have this conversation now, couldn't have any conversation with her when all he could think about all of a sudden was how he would feel if Jack finally got to Sam. He afraid to even look at her, afraid his feelings would show in his face and that Sam, always alert, would somehow guess what was in his heart of hearts.
Luckily Sam got the hint pretty quickly, and wished him a good night before vanishing down the hall. He watched with relief as she left him to go home.
Bailey heard again in his mind Deb's whispered voice. I didn't want to be like everybody else...totally obsessed with her...I wanted to be her friend, not just another problem in her life.
This would never happen to him, because Jack would never get Sam. This would never happen to him, because he and Sam were just friends. They were just friends.
Yeah, right, just like Cherry and Deb were just friends. Oh, hell, he needed a drink.
The door cracked open at his knock and a bloodshot eye peered out. "Oh, hell, it's you again."
The door swung open wider, revealing Deb dressed in ripped jeans, black bra and a see-through shirt. Okay, she had at least found some new, well, he supposed he could call them clothes, to wear. That had to be a step in the right direction. She was glaring at him, which he figured was good, too. Wasn't anger a stage in the grieving process?
"What can I do for you, Agent Malone?" she asked in a too-loud, patently fake happy voice. "Any new painful and horrible information that you'd like to wring out of me in the name of this investigation? How about the fact that I don't think Cherry loved me? Will that help? She didn't love me! Happy yet? Need anything more?"
Bailey looked at her critically. "You're drunk," he stated, stepping inside. "Here, I brought you food. Thought you might be hungry."
She caught the tossed bag badly, reflexes going. "Points to the FBI for picking up on the glaringly obvious." She paused, stared at the bag suspiciously. "What's with the food? Isn't this kinda going above and beyond the call of duty here?"
He shrugged. "Every time I see you, you look worse and worse, figured I'd bring you some food. Make you eat it. That type of a thing."
There was a long pause while she thought about that. "No questions tonight, no prying? What, is there bad news?"
"There's no news, just like last time. No, I just, well, I was worried about you."
She watched him, a funny look on her face. "Here's a disgusting thought, but this isn't cause you think I'm cute, right? Cause you're, like, old enough to be my dad and then some and that's just gross."
He grimaced; oh, good, he hadn't even thought of that. Just what his always under fire department needed, the reputation that he was into college coeds. "You're right, that is a horrible thought. No, it's like I said, you remind me of my kid."
She glanced over at the mirror, took in her outfit, and her drunken state. "I think that means I ought to offer you condolences or something. Seriously, and don't give me that crap, I'm drunk but I'm not stupid. This isn't about your kid. Why are you here?"
"Because, he said in a carefully patient voice, "I am sincerely worried about you and tonight's drunken frenzy isn't helping any."
She sat down on the bed and opened the McDonald's bag. "Okay, I still think you're not telling me something but I'll take it at face value. Thanks for the food. You staying to watch me eat?"
"I really don't think I'm going to be able to watch you eat fast food on top of, is that vodka and cherry juice?" She nodded and he shuddered. "As I was saying, I'm too old to even be in the same room as vodka and cherry juice, so I'll be going." He walked to the door, stopped again. "Hey, kid? Drink a glass of water for every drink you've had. Might save you some pain tomorrow morning."
She nodded and watched him leave. The look in her eyes was thoughtful. It made Bailey wonder what she was like when she wasn't grieving. Smart, he guessed. Very smart and no little perceptive. Time to go.
He was down the hall when he heard her call out, "Hey, Malone!" Startled, he turned, jogged back to her.
She was still on the bed, still watching the door. "I'm gonna figure it out, you know. Who I remind you of. Cause it's not your kid."
He gave her a half-hearted grin, knowing he ought to be glad she had something, anything else to think about besides Cherry. But his guess was right, she was perceptive and he better leave her alone before she figured out that the person she reminded him of was himself.
It was after midnight on the following Friday when Bailey's cell phone rang. More resigned than surprised, he answered it, fully expecting that the VCTF had been handed another case to deal with; certainly the campus stalker case was going nowhere.
"Malone?" asked a wavery, whispery voice on the other end of the line, almost inaudible as a result of background noise. Was that music? If it was, it was bad music.
"Who is this?"
"It's Deb, Deb Malcolm. You remember?" And now that she had said her name, the voice was familiar. It was just the sheer oddness of Deb calling him for anything that had thrown off his recognition. He had given her his card the first time they met but he had never expected her to actually use it. She just never seemed that happy to talk to him.
"What can I do for you?"
"I uh, kinda need your help. I'm at this bar, and well, I can't get home, and the guys here are kinda frisky and is there anyway you can come and get me?"
Maybe she had more in common with Frances that he had originally thought. Although, really, phone calls about Frannie in trouble were more likely to come from the police than from his daughter. Still, this sounded like the sort of thing she would do. He sighed audibly, reflecting on how the FBI wasn't a taxi service and then decided that Deb wouldn't have called unless she really wanted him to come. "All right, tell me the name of the bar and I'll be there as quickly as I can."
She rattled of the name of a bar in one of the lousiest areas of town and he sighed again. What an excellent choice. Promising again that he would be there as fast as he could, and adding to himself that is would be even faster now that he knew where she was, he broke the connection and headed out to his car.
The bar was in a poorly lit neighborhood; most of the streetlights had been broken, and there was graffiti everywhere. The music from the bar could be heard nearly a block away but it didn't seem like the place had neighbors that would complain. It was a warm night and the crowd from the bar had spilled out to the sidewalk, adding to the noise. Bailey parked his car as near as he could get, and climbed out, scanning the crowd for Deb. He couldn't imagine that she would wait inside, not as frightened as she sounded, but it didn't look like the outside was all that much safer. Damn, he couldn't see her anywhere. He pushed through people, thankful that Deb had such distinctive hair. Making his way slowly to the bar, he caught the bartender's attention and flashed his badge. The man stiffened, looked resigned and asked dully, "Yeah, man, what can I do for you?"
"A girl, too young to drink but I bet you served her anyway, blond and black hair to the middle of her back, about five and a half feet tall. You seen her?"
"Yeah, man, she was here, but she want outside a bit ago, said she was gonna wait for her old man. Guess that would be you, huh?"
Bailey ignored that as irrelevant. "How long ago did she head outside?" Deb hadn't called that long ago. A chill went down his spine. This was a bad area for a girl to be alone.
The man shrugged, "I dunno, five, ten minutes. Look out there again, girl stands out in a crowd." He laughed, a harsh, leering sound, "Everybody saw how good she looked."
Bailey glared, "I suggest you edit your comments unless you want me to find out exactly how many under-aged people you've served tonight."
The man stopped laughing abruptly and looked ugly. "Check outside, man. Girl said she was waiting for you."
Bailey turned and worked his way back through the crowd to the outside. There was an alley to left of the bar. He headed that way, grimly determined to find Deb and get her out of here as soon as possible.
As soon as he turned the corner of the alley, he heard the sounds. A man's laughter, female voice protesting.
He pushed himself into a run, moving towards the sounds. Pulling his gun, he called, "FBI! Freeze!"
The larger of the two shapes swore, straightened his hands above his head. "We're cool," he said in a rough voice.
The smaller shape pushed away from the wall, launched herself at Bailey. "Daddy!" she cried as she wrapped her arms around him, surprisingly careful not to jar his gun hand.
"Daddy?" What brought that on? "You alright, Deb?" he asked, deciding not to blow her story. "You wanna press charges?"
She shook her head against her chest. "No, I just wanna go home."
Bailey put his gun away slowly. "Okay, guy, you got a break. Get out of here."
The man, large, bald and good looking in a mean sort of a way, nodded quickly, and took off down the other end of the alley.
Deb pushed herself away from Bailey slowly. "Thanks, Malone. I owe you." He could smell the alcohol on her breath when she spoke and sighed. Drunk again.
Bailey took a good look at her, now that his eyes were adjusting to the dark. She was dressed in fishnet stockings, a very short red plaid skirt, reminiscent of a Catholic school uniform, and skimpy, black leather top that laced up the front and showed a lot of Deb. Under that, she wore a bright red satin bra. The outfit was topped off by high black boots, with thick soles, like high heeled combat boots. Her hair was pulled up in two pony tails, like a school girl's. The bartender's lewd laughter made considerably more sense now that he had seen her. Bailey shook his head. "You went out in this outfit?"
She shrugged, took a couple of unsteady steps. He moved towards her, put an arm around her shoulder and helped her get her balance. "All right, the car is this way. Let's get you out of here." She nodded, quiet. He could see tear tracks on her face, smudged, heavy makeup. She looked awful.
Once in the car, she curled up in the passenger seat, facing away from him. He turned on the stereo and sounds of his favorite opera filled the car. He was quiet as he drove, waiting for Deb to say something, anything, but she remained quiet. Finally, the reached the street by her dorm, and he stopped the car. She struggled with the door, and he sighed again. She was in no shape to get up to her room in one piece. Coming around her side of the car, he opened her door, helped her out. She was no more steady then when she got into the car and he realized that if he wanted her to get home safely, he was going to have to take her there himself. He supposed it was only the decent thing to do, to make sure she made it to her room without finding anymore trouble. Although she really did seem to be a magnet for it.
When they reached her door, he took her keys from her, and opened it for her. Her room was near the floor's lounge and it wasn't so late that he wasn't getting some strange glances from some of the people sitting there. He dug out his badge, flashed it, and helped Deb into her room.
She sat down on the bed heavily and dragged a hand over her face. "Thanks, Malone. Like I said, I owe you."
"And you're about to make up for that. What were you doing there tonight?"
She snarled at him, the expression making her look much younger. "None of your business, she responded sullenly."
"That's the wrong answer. I think you made it my business when you called me to get you out of a bad situation. What were you looking for there, Deb? Salvation? The same ugly death that Cherry had? What were you thinking?"
She was silent for so long that he was sure that she wouldn't answer. Eventually, however, he heard her whisper, "I wanted to forget."
All the anger went out of him, almost instantly. Carefully, he sat next to her on the messy bed and put an arm around her shoulders. With a snuffle, she laid her head against his shoulder. "What did you want to forget, Deb? Cherry? This isn't the way to do it. Like it or not, you loved her. Why would you want to erase that?"
He could feel warm tears leak into his shirt. "It's more than that, Malone. I had this, this, epiphany today. About why Cherry was always drunk when she hit on me. It was cause she was scared, scared to make the first move. But I wasn't doing anything, so she had to. And how did I respond, each and every time? I pushed her away, I said no, I hurt her, Bailey, every time she asked and I said no, I hurt her. I loved her and all I did was hurt her. That's what I was trying to forget."
He was quiet, taking in her words. He had to admit, they sounded like they could be right. He tried to imagine any situation where he told the truth of his feelings to Sam and every time he pictured it, yeah, he had some help with alcohol. Still... "Deb, sleeping with the first stranger you find is not going to make you feel better about turning down Cherry. You did what you thought was right, stop punishing yourself for it."
She shifted against him, moved closer. Her arms went around him and he stilled. The situation had changed suddenly, and he felt uncomfortable. "You're not a stranger," she whispered, moving her face closer to his.
Oh, hell. This he needed. He pulled carefully away. "Let me take this chance to remind you that not half an hour ago, you called me daddy. And to add that you are still my daughter's age. This is not going to happen, Ms. Malcolm."
She tried to pull him closer. "I just need the pain to go away," she said desperately.
He stood up, needing to go. "Take some Tylenol, drink some water and go to bed, Ms. Malcolm. Believe me when I say that you'll feel better in the morning." He walked towards the door quickly. As he was opening it, he heard her speak.
"You're in love with somebody else, aren't you? And you're in the same mess I am. That's why you said no."
Too perceptive by half. How did a drunk nineteen year old figure out in twenty seconds what Sam still hadn't realized? He paused by the door. "No, Ms. Malcolm, I said no because you are nineteen, you are intoxicated and because my only relationship with you is that of the agent investigating your girlfriend's death. Go to sleep, Ms. Malcolm. Someone from my office will be in touch if there's any news."
He closed the door solidly behind him. He didn't think he would be coming back.
Two weeks had passed. There had been no breaks in the case. The school had held a memorial for Cherry. Bailey and the rest of the VCTF went, hoping that the perp would show, to see what he had done. Bailey was surprised that Deb didn't speak. He saw her as she was leaving, offered his condolences, again. He hadn't seen her since the night she had called from the bar. Impressions were everything and he didn't want to give the wrong one to anyone, most especially Deb herself. He knew how it would look to him, if he were a stranger watching from the outside. Deb looked surprisingly well, clean and properly dressed and even looking like she had eaten in the last week. It was a relief. She shook his hand, thanked him for all his help. There was no awkwardness; she acted like she couldn't even remember the last time they had spoken and for that, he was thankful. He still couldn't help but be worried that she was in this alone, but she really seemed much better. It was a weight off his mind; maybe it was possible to survive what Deb was going through.
Three days later and Bailey's phone rang at 3:45 in the morning. When he answered with a gruff, "Malone," he found he was talking to Campus Security.
There's been another rape. Only this time, she got away.
A survivor. A witness. Bailey was on the phone to the rest of his team before he was even fully awake. Maybe this was what they needed to break the case wide open. Maybe he could finally go to Deb's room and give her good news for a change.
They found victim number six in the hospital. She was badly hurt but would recover. Better yet, she actually had a description of the guy and his address. Bailey loved the days like this; he had been at this long enough to know that the smart ones only got caught when they made a stupid mistake. Picking Jenny Caudrey, brown belt in judo, was a stupid mistake. She had managed to fight him off long enough to get away, and hurt him enough that he hadn't been able to get far away when he left. There was enough forensic evidence to hold him. The nightmare would be over. Bailey could barely wait to see Deb and tell her they had caught that guy she killed her one true love. Maybe then she could finally begin putting all this behind her and moving on. Maybe he could finally get her words out of her mind, her pain. I didn't want to be like everyone else... obsessed with her. He could see Deb's point, the futility of telling someone you loved them when all it could be was another burden on them. Where did love end and obsession begin? He looked at Sam as she turned away from the perp and walked out the door and thought he was starting to get closer to that line.
He pounded on Deb's door for ten minutes without an answer. Finally he went to the door marked Resident Assistant and pounded there. A tall, dark skinned young woman, older than Deb and much more conservative, answered his knock. He flashed his badge and asked her if she had seen Deb lately.
The young lady frowned. "She hasn't left her room in at least a day. Hasn't gone to classes in about forever. Since Cherry was found. Why?"
A very bad feeling was growing in the pit of Bailey's stomach. He dialed campus security from the RA's phone and requested they come with keys to Deb's room. He thought for a moment, remembered Deb, drunk and desperate to do anything that would make the pain stop, and the memory tickled a bad spot in him. Thinking quickly, he dialed the paramedics and asked them to meet him at her room. He had a bad hunch about why Deb wasn't answering her door.
Security came fast, keys in hand. The opened to the door to the sight that Bailey had been dreading. Deb lay, neatly dressed, on the bed. Next to her was a bottle of aspirin and an empty bottle of vodka. A note was on the bedside table.
Bailey cursed, and ran towards her. There was a pulse, but barely, and he could still hear her breathing faintly. Maybe it wouldn't kill her. Maybe the damage wouldn't be permanent. Maybe he could still tell her that they caught Cherry's killer.
Shaking, he picked up the note and read it silently. "There's nothing without her. I couldn't tell her while she was alive. Maybe I can tell her now."
Bailey didn't cry but he couldn't remember having wanted to more in a long, long time. When the ambulance came, he went with her to the hospital.
"She's able to see you today, Agent Malone." Bailey smiled his thanks at the nurse in the psych ward, where Deb had been taken after ICU. Her parents had arrived the day before and he had spoken to them very little, only telling them in knew Deb in regards to a case he had just closed. All the other details, he thought, were best left to her.
When he got to the room, her parents were there. They were sitting nervously at the side of the bed. Deb herself looked awful. Huge circles under her eyes, skin pale and waxy. But she didn't look like she hated him for calling the ambulance and for that he was thankful.
"Hey, Malone," she greeted him and her parents looked startled at how casually she spoke to him. "Hear I have you to thank for this."
"That's right," he agreed.
She nodded, a sober look on her face. "Thank you. Really. Thank you. I don't know what I was thinking."
He felt awkward, unsure of what to say. "You heard, we caught the guy?"
"Yeah. Guess I have a lot to thank you for, huh, Malone?"
"I think by this point you can call me Bailey. Saving your life ought to put us on a first name basis, don't you think?"
"Bailey then. Thanks."
He nodded again, and said quietly, "I just wanted to see that you were all right. I'll leave you in peace now."
"Bailey?" He stopped, turned to face her again.
She searched his face with her eyes. "I figured it out. Who I remind you of. Tell her, Bailey. Whoever you love, that you haven't said anything to, tell her. Life's too short to take a chance. Consider that my thank you gift to you; the chance to learn from my mistakes. Carpe diem and all that."
He was quiet for a moment, lost in shock. "I'll take it under advisement."
He called Sam later that night. "She's okay, he reported. She's gonna be just fine."
"That's good," she agreed, sounding sleepy. "I know you were worried."
"Yeah." He held the phone. Deb's gift, her last words to him, lingered in his mind. Life was short; trite but true. "Sam?"
And then he couldn't do it. For all the reasons that Deb had and even more of his own, he couldn't say it. Really, what would she do with the information? He couldn't believe that now, when she was being hunted by a madman, was the right time. "Nothing, Sam. Get some sleep."
When he was sure that all he was speaking to was the dial tone, he whispered, "It's just that I love you."
If it weren't for the hair, still streaked blond and black, Bailey wouldn't have recognized Deb standing in his office doorway. Dressed in black overalls over a red t-shirt, and with her hair pulled back neatly, she was looking healthier and happier than he had ever seen her.
"Hey, Bailey Malone."
"Hey yourself, kid."
She took a step towards him, stopped, took another step. "Can I hug you?" she asked him nervously.
In response, he opened his arms and she went into them, her own arms strong around him.
"I wanted to thank you for saving my life. I wanted to show you that I was okay."
"Well, you look great."
"I took some time off school, I'm seeing a therapist, and hey, sober. I told my parents about Cherry. They took it okay. I miss her, but life's... life's getting better. Thank you."
"You looking this good is the best thanks I could get."
She laughed, stepped back. "Well, I should go, but..."
"I wanted to know. Did you use my gift?"
Did he use her gift? Did he tell Sam that he loved her? Bailey looked into Deb's face, empty finally of that destructive grief that had been there before, and saw, not innocence, but the freedom of being young and being able to go on with your life past the pain. His eyes slid past her to Sam, in the center of their VCTF offices, talking to John. There was some of that same freedom in her face, although buried so deep he could only find it if he looked with eyes that had been watching her for years. Jill had killed Coop not so long ago. He wasn't sure, sometimes, how much more loss she could take. He was very sure that he didn't want to be the one to push it and find out.
Deb followed his eyes and he saw she could tell who it he was watching.
"Bailey? Did you use my gift?"
"I'm saving it, kid. I'm waiting for it to be the right time. And this is not it."
She narrowed her eyes at him and looked almost angry. Sighing, she perched herself on the edge of Bailey's desk and stared at him for what felt like a very long time. "Not the right time?" she eventually repeated, sounding incredulous. "Not the right time? Let me tell you about not the right time. Last week, I flew to Memphis, to see Cherry's grave. I brought some Midori, she loved that stuff, and her favorite flowers, those roses that are white on the outside and red on the inside, she called 'em fire and ice. I brought a dozen. I sat down by her tombstone, and I put the flowers down and I poured her a drink and I told her that I loved her. I told her I was sorry. For all the good it does me now. Not the right time? I can't think of a more wrong time than telling her I love her when she's cold in the grave." She shook her head. "Bailey, don't you know by now that you have to make your own right time?"
Bailey continued to watch Sam. She looked beautiful today; she always looked beautiful. He couldn't think of any response that he wanted to make to Deb. It wasn't like all the things she was suggesting hadn't occurred to him; they popped into his mind, in terrible, dark detail, more often then Deb would even want to know. But there was still nothing he wanted to say to her about it. Finally, Deb sighed again, came over to Bailey and kissed his cheek.
"Okay, I know, this is so none of my business. Sorry. And thank you, again. For giving me a second chance."
He hugged her again, quickly, and smiled. "I'd say anytime, but I don't want you to make a habit of doing things like that."
She grinned, a quick, wicked look, and he thought she was going to be all right in the end. Laughing, she strode out of his office and headed for the main door. Watching her disappear around the corner, he thought again about telling Sam before he somehow lost the chance. Then he turned his eyes back to his paperwork. When it was the right time.