And Then There Were None.
The squad was quiet. Tom and Marty were out re-canvassing in the hope of picking up something new on their case. The Lieutenant was in his office, and Jim was in the locker room. Karen worked on her latest report.
A small, neat man in a grey suit and pale pink tie walked up to the gate that led to the squad. He stood leaning over it and looking over the few cops at the desks near interview one. Then he turned and looked down the corridor.
"You looking for someone?" she asked.
"Yes. Detective Dunbar." The man pulled at his tie and shifted his feet nervously. "Ah, he's not expecting me."
"He should be back in a minute. Wait on the bench."
Karen stepped into the locker room, "Jim?'
"Over here." She followed his voice to his locker where he was replacing a bottle of aspirin on the top shelf. He turned to her with a smile. "Missing me already?"
"Like a pimple on my ass, Dunbar," she teased back. "Actually I was doing you a favor. There's a guy here looking for you, says you're not expecting him."
Jim cocked his head, "Okay…?"
"Civilian, about 30, expensive suit, pale pink tie." Karen pulled a face, that about summed the guy up. "He's waiting on the bench."
Jim leaned on the door while Karen poured herself a coffee.
"He say what he wanted?"
"No and he looks sneaky." She poured in sugar and stirred, "You're not being sued or anything are you?"
"Not that I know of." Jim looked perplexed more than anything. "You think it might be more on Bobby's estate?"
"He's not the same guy, but …" Karen left it hanging.
"I'll see him." Jim sculled the rest of his coffee.
As he walked by the copier, the man at the bench cleared his throat and shuffled his feet.
"You looking for me?" Jim asked.
"Ah, yes, ah, Detective Dunbar?" The man stepped forward and held out his hand.
"And you are?" Jim waited.
The suit pulled his hand back and looked around uncomfortably. "Oh, Wayne, Wayne Kerr. I'm Mrs. Dunbar's personal assistant and she asked me to bring you some things."
"Some papers for you to read." The man dropped his voice.
"They in Braille?" Jim asked, "or are you supposed to read them to me?"
"Um, well, yes, I have Braille copies but Mrs. Dunbar said …" He trailed off, unwilling to go further.
Jim sighed, Christie would have said he had to take Braille but not expect him to be able to read them. Fuck she was a cow.
"Why don't you leave them with me and I'll call you when I've read them."
"No, no, she said I was to stay with you and bring them back immediately. To L.A. on the very next flight. Said it was urgent."
Jim nodded. May as well get this over and done with.
"Follow me." Jim headed for interview two.
"Okay, explain." Jim pulled open the door and stepped in.
The small man pushed a large heavy envelope into Jim's hand. "The paperwork will explain."
Jim felt for the lip but it was sealed. Near the centre across the edge, someone had initialed it, pressing heavily into the paper and leaving a deep "CD".
Jim pursed his lips. After a moment he found the edge and ripped the end off the package. A thick wad of oversized sheets emerged. They were held at the top by a heavy bulldog clip. The first page had several lines of Braille dots.
Jim laid the sheets on the table and ran both index fingers slowly along the first line. A bitter smile twisted his lip for a moment before disappearing into his impassive mask.
"Mr. Kerr. You can leave this with me for an hour."
"Oh, no sir, I was told to wait while you read it, answer any questions." Despite his weasily voice, Kerr managed to sound patronizing, "I was told you might have trouble reading it. That's why I brought the printed version…"
Jim held his hand out and Kerr placed the second envelope in it. "Why would I trust your translation?" Jim asked mildly and opened the door, ushering the little man out.
Karen smiled, she didn't know what Jim had said but Kerr looked like he would inflate, his eyes bulged, color rose up his neck and he started to splutter.
As soon as the man had left the squad, Jim closed the door again.
She knocked and poked her head in the door. "Jim, the blinds are up in here," Karen informed him, "you want some privacy?"
He sat with his back to her, both hands on the large document in front of him. She watched as he shook his head. Despite the ramrod straight back, she saw a great sadness. Part of her burned to know what could cause this, part of her wanted to respect his need for privacy.
"You got a few minutes?"
"Sure." She put her coffee down and dropped the blinds. "What's up?"
"I told him to come back in an hour, but I'm not going to be able to get through this that fast. Not on my own. And I'd like to verify that the printed copy is accurate." He indicated the two documents. "Could you read it for me?"
Karen sat, this time taking Kerr's chair so she could face her partner. She slid her finger under the lip and it opened easily, she tugged the papers out.
Divorce: James Christopher Dunbar and Christine Amelia Dunbar.
"Oh, Jim, I'm so sorry." Karen was shocked, Jim rarely spoke of his marriage. It seemed only months ago when the whole squad had backed him up in saving her from that bastard Devries, and then he'd had to take time off when she'd spent time in hospital and needed nursing at home.
She looked up at him. Had he known this was coming? Was he expecting it? "Why would she send this to you at work? Not just bring them home?"
"She's in LA – and Nevada it seems."
"So, you knew this was coming?"
He shrugged, "Sort of, well, I guess it's a shock anyhow. I assume there is signature page at the back of yours?"
Karen flipped to the back. Yes a signature page, complete with little sticky tabs 'sign here'. "Yes."
"She signed it?"
"Okay," he nodded to himself and took a deep breath, "Let's get through it, make sure there're no surprises."
"You want to check the back of your copy?"
"No, that's what she'll need to file, this stays here."
"Alright, you want me to read it out?"
"Mrs. James Dunbar formerly of …." Karen read each page. Sometimes Jim would wave her on, once she started on a clause, there were not that many pages and she finished in under twenty minutes.
"Then there's a space for you to sign."
"Can I …?" Jim held out his hand, and Karen put the open document in it. Jim's fingers found Christie's signature, a big drawl, easy to read and pressed firmly into the paper making sufficient dent for Jim to trace it. She'd always written like that. A stray image floated into his mind. Christie with her tongue out signing her name on the marriage register. "Got a pen?" he asked with a big indrawn breath.
"You sure you want to sign this?" Karen felt it was all going too fast. Half an hour ago he was married and now he was asking for a pen to finalize a divorce?
"Yes," Jim nodded, clearly uncomfortable. In the silence, Karen waited for more. "After the kidnapping and then with getting sick, she didn't feel safe with me anymore. And I can't argue with that."
"She's doing this because you're blind?" Karen quelled the outrage she felt on his behalf.
Jim put his hand on hers, "No, Karen, it's not like that." He sought for words. "She's been in LA for several months now, she wants to stay for her job and I'm not willing to leave mine. So it's mutual."
"But this feeling safe… what's that got to do with jobs?"
Jim tilted his head and rubbed absently at his chin. "I'm a cop and she's always had trouble with that, not knowing if I'm coming home. Me getting shot, I guess it really drove it home. And then the kidnapping, all that followed. She says she feels safe in LA, happy." He held out his hand for the pen. Clearly his mind was made up. "And I want her to be happy."
Karen handed the pen over and then guided his hand to the line, "Here, let me score it." She ran the back of her pen deeply into the black line so he could feel it himself and watched as he signed away six years or so of marriage.
He checked his watch. "I'll take these down to the desk. Kerr can pick them up there. You want to grab some lunch?"
Karen pulled her chair closer; put her hand on his forearm and held him still. She spoke quietly, gently, but firmly. "Jim, no matter what you tell me, I can see on your face that this is a shock to you."
He licked his lips but didn't try to deny it.
"I am going to leave this alone for a few days, maybe I'll even give you a week, but you have to know; I am going to be bringing up the fact that your wife left you, and if I hadn't been needed to read the paperwork, I probably wouldn't have known you were getting divorced. This makes me very concerned for our partnership."
Jim nodded. "Okay."
She knew demanding this now when he was vulnerable was taking advantage, but she was not going to be put off. "I want a promise from you that when I do bring this up, you'll be 100 honest with me."
Jim didn't hesitate, "Okay, Karen." He sounded defeated, beaten down on all sides.
At the door, he put hishand on her back for a moment, "I'll be telling Fisk when I'm ready. The others, when I can." It wasn't a request for her silence but a demand.
"Okay. Let's eat at the bar. I don't know about you, but I need a stiff drink."
"You haven't heard of me before, and you probably won't again, but, you might like to know what happened one night in May 2006. It might clear a few things up, like why Detective Dunbar signed those divorce papers without any hesitation, and why Christie Dunbar was suspicious of her husband's relationship with any woman.
My name is Claudia Connex. I'm a divorce attorney, and I do a lot of work for a company called Kinshaw Holdings. Kinshaw Holdings owns the media company that includes the magazine Christie Dunbar works so hard for, and whose corporate ladder she is desperately scaling. Now, Kinshaw recognize and value those employees who are willing to put in extra hours and pour all their creativity into their job. Christie is all of these things and more. In fact she is as much a workaholic as her dear husband, who, I promise, will be uncovered in this story shortly.
Back to Mrs. Dunbar. Christie had been placed on the top of a list of possible editors for a new project that was a favorite of one of the directors of Kinshaw. There was only one problem, the position required her to abide in LA and she abided in NY. When asked why she wouldn't move, she stated what was obvious to her if not to the directors. "My husband is a New York Cop, we can't move." That's exactly how she said it, with a capital C for cop. The directors saw no reason why a NYPD detective couldn't become an LAPD detective. But apparently there was a problem.
So, a little PI work was done and the happy news came back, the marriage was in trouble anyhow, the husband had managed to get himself shot and despite his philandering, she had stayed with him because apparently he was now a hero and blind, although somehow still on the job. The directors didn't really care. If he hadn't stayed on the job, the marriage wouldn't have been a problem, but he did, somehow. Decisions were made, short term once in a lifetime projects were lined up, photo shoot with Naomi Campbell, interview with the new lead designer at Givenchy, exclusive viewing of Chanel's new range… all positioned in LA, all spaced close enough together that it was ridiculous to return to the East Coast in between.
The husband was offered the chance to come with her. The directors even chatted with their buddies at the club, the LAPD would consider looking for a desk job for the guy. Apparently he had been a hot shot detective, a teaching position wasn't out of the question and the salary would be an incentive. He only had to make the inquiry and he'd be given a welcome and shown opportunities.
He was on a case and couldn't take a break. He never called the LAPD.
A week after she had arrived in LA, I met Christie casually in a bar. We continued to meet coincidentally over the next weeks. We became fast friends over shots and char dies and told each other our life stories. Mine came out of a novel I am reading at the moment, with a few home truths thrown in. Really, she's a nice girl when you get down to it, and I hate to lie to nice people. Her life story included all the angst about her marriage, how he just didn't do it for her since the shooting, and all her suspicions about his fidelity. Women, they really don't understand men. With one hand, she's sending him out of the marriage bed saying he's no longer so attractive to her, and with the other she's hanging on to his lapel begging to know why he's looking at other women. Well figuratively anyhow. I guess it must be different for him now. I wonder how he manages to chase skirt he can't see.
Anyway, must take my mind off the blonde and finish telling you about the brunette and I becoming fast friends. I began talking about work, the wonderful couples I had helped part amicably, the way people seemed to be able to breathe again when they were no longer tied to people who smothered them with neediness. I agreed that some men just didn't understand intimacy and would always shut out those they said they loved. Bingo! She asked for my help. After being unsure for a while, I agreed to help her out without charge as she was such a close friend. The company was paying me enough for a deposit on another condo for this job already. I went to powder my nose where I did not pump my arm and yell yes!
It took a few weeks of being best friends but inevitably we got to the point the directors needed. She'd give up her marriage before she gave up her career. The directors wanted a nice clean quick divorce. She was going to be making enough money now that the usual battle over alimony wasn't going to be an issue, and really there were only two little things to tie up. She needed to be mad at him and, well, we needed to know if he'd put up a fight.
I headed to the Big Apple.
I had already drawn up papers detailing the Christie's reasons for demanding divorce. I had them transcribed for him into Braille and also on an audio disc in case she was right and he hadn't managed to pick up that particular second language. I air kissed Christie goodbye, and promised to tell her everything.
In New York, I headed straight for the dingy precinct where Detective James Dunbar worked. I was met by a beautiful detective who informed me Detective Dunbar was out on case somewhere but would be back soon. "Would you like to wait or shall I pass on a message?" The deep voice washed over me like sugared coffee. I checked out his ring finger. I hoped my perfume would be as attractive to Detective Dunbar as my cleavage was to Detective Selway.
Half an hour or so later, a beautiful Latino girl stepped out of the elevator. Behind her, came a guide dog, and then Detective Dunbar.
Now, people call me a bitch sometimes and I don't really mind because I'm a dog lover and I have to tell you, Hank is a beautiful specimen. I dragged my eyes from him and up to his handler. Christie was an idiot. Eye candy value alone, this guy was primo. Six foot, broad shoulders and he walked… how can I put it? With a swagger that suggested a reserve of strength anyone would be fool to mess with. His suit was charcoal dark, he was dressed immaculately, and as he turned to go through the little gate I had been told to wait behind, his head turned toward me and lifted. I swear he knew I was there just by scent alone. My heart rate started to rise - perhaps my perfume was going to be a hit. I kept silent and they continued past me. As he entered the gate, he dropped the harness and patted the dog who trotted off to a waiting rug. Dunbar stopped at his partner's desk before turning to his own. Head down he asked her something in a whisper. Her eyes darted up to me and I smiled, caught but wanting to appear open. She answered and her hand rose as if she were about to pat his arm but she held back. Mm, well, there was an affair waiting to happen. Believe me, I know these things.
The female detective, must be that Karen Christie was so suspicious of, sauntered over with a swagger she must have learned from her partner. My mark dropped his dark glasses on the desk and headed down a corridor to my right. With some exercise of self-discipline, I kept my eyes on her and held out my hand. "Claudia Connex, I'm here to see Detective Dunbar, I left a message?" Of course I hadn't.
"Oh? Well, he'll be back soon." She'd kept that tone in a fridge and brought it out whenever someone turned an appreciative eye on him. Christie girl, she is after your boy. I chuckled inside. Watching the suspicion in her eye, so similar to the look Christie got when thinking about her husband and other women, I also gauged Detective Bettancourt as someone who would act to protect what she saw as her own.
Apparently finished icing me, said detective wandered down the same hallway, and I'm sure she briefed him. I wish I could have heard, "A gorgeous redhead in a thousand dollar suit is here to see you, shall I send her away?" or "Some West Coast airhead says you're expecting her?" I'd know as soon as he returned.
"Courtney Connex?" He'd caught me by surprise somehow, coming quietly up the corridor. If I'd been a lesser woman, I would have felt intimidated by the voice, a cop asking me what I thought I was doing.
"Yes. You're Detective Dunbar?" I covered my faux pas quickly, after all how many blind detectives are there in the whole world, let alone in the 8th Precinct of the NYPD? "Christie asked me to come talk to you."
"Oh?" His attitude changed immediately, he went from all cop to worried husband in an instant and suddenly I was unsure, did we have this pegged wrong did he still love her?
"Is she alright?"
"Yes, yes, she's fine, I didn't mean to imply anything, but she has asked me to come and speak with you …" I trailed, the next step was his, did he want to do this in his workplace or would he take me out somewhere more private?
The curiosity would have broken another man. Dunbar nodded and "I finish my tour at eight. We can talk then."
"Will I meet you here?" I asked, putting enough uncertainty into my voice that he could read it as innocent if that suited me later.
"That would be fine." He turned and I had no choice but to leave. I must admit to you though, I would have preferred to stay the couple of hours and watch him. I was curious as to how he operated in this environment. Even then, I wasn't as cynical about the possibility of him being competent as the directors at Kinshaw.
As it turned out, he was waiting at the steps of the station house when I returned. "Do you have somewhere in mind?" he asked after I had identified myself.
I did, but I thought it a little early to mention sheets. "I could use a drink but a bar is a bit loud for this conversation."
"You're staying at the Tribeca Grande?" he asked.
I was surprised, how would he know that? "Yes."
"Their bar has a section with alcoves. That will probably cover all needs."
It was only a short distance and we walked in silence. I found it fascinating to watch him with the dog.
"So, Jimmy, how did you know I was staying here?" I asked, tracing the curve of muscles under his skin on his chest.
He smiled indulgently and I felt a twinge of excitement again. This man was so beautiful!
"The company mostly use the The Pennisula when they send their consultants out," His smile twisted at the irony, "but, there was a chance you were here on assignment to see me specifically. So… then it had to be close to either the precinct or my apartment. Since you showed up at the precinct, it had to be here."
I began nibbling at the edges of his chin where his evening beard was coming through. "But there's got to be a dozen hotels within walking distance of your station house?"
He stretched so I could continue my nibbling path around the back of his neck, along his hair line. "I've known women who wear Chanel who will drop to four star but never further than that."
Well, the perfume had done its job, and then it had turned around like a double agent and fed him information.
"Wow." The directors had been very wrong about this guy. He was not someone to be toyed with.
By then "business" had been over for hours. I'd explained that Christie found it hard to tell him she didn't feel safe with him, not because he was blind, she'd made me promise to stress that, but because he was a cop and his work always came first. Truth was, when she'd been kidnapped in an attempt to pressure him on a case last year, she'd lost it. She'd realized that she'd never be safe married to him. And that she couldn't live with the fear. She kept telling me how she loved him and how much it hurt to leave, but I got the idea she hadn't enjoyed making love to the man since he'd been shot.
Weird I know, but well, I am a bit weird I guess, but his questing hands, his unfocussed blue gaze, they turned me on quicker than any man in recent history.
Getting him into bed had been part of the brief by the directors, insurance in case Christie began to change her mind before the divorce came through, but I would have done it anyhow. He was hot and I would have paid to get past those dark glasses, that Burberry, and the neatly buttoned suit.
As it was, his defenses were down, he'd just found out his wife was serious about divorce, she'd been gone for weeks and well, let's just say, I think Christie was right to be suspicious, the man liked sex and he liked women. Saying no just wasn't in his vocabulary. And she had been right, he wasn't great at picking up second or third languages.
He wouldn't stay the night, he wouldn't sign the documents I had brought. "How long did your bosses give you?" he asked, as if he had known all along, the entire landscape that Christie hadn't seen and would never see.
"I could stretch it a couple of days."
"Good, I'll see you back at my place tomorrow night then. To discuss the details."
He'd dressed, called the dog, and headed out the door. Somehow I got the feeling I hadn't pulled any wool over his eyes, but if he had done so to me, I didn't mind at all. I called Christie and told her he just felt there was no way he could get a job in the LAPD. That he said he'd think about moving but I didn't believe him.
"Did he turn away from you as he said that?" she asked.
"Yes." I gave her the answer she wanted.
"He always does that when he's evading! He'll never leave the NYPD unless they kick him out." I didn't mention the directors had discussed arranging just that in order to get him to move but had decided she was a better asset without him.
"I'll call you tomorrow."
"Thanks Claudia. I really appreciate you doing this for me. I wish I could tell him myself but…he never listens to me."
"I understand exactly. And I know what you mean about that Karen. She's very protective of him."
I slept like a baby and dreamed of soft hands, urgent tongues, and hard muscles all night.
Christie tossed the keys on her foyer table and kicked off her shoes at the door. Ooh that felt good. These long days were tiring and she had forgotten to take a second pair of shoes in today. That hadn't mean she didn't change half way through the day, just that a small break had been required to pop down to that gorgeous shoe store where she had spotted those Via Spiga sandels. And they look so good! She giggled at the frivolity and poured herself a glass of that chardonnay her new boss had given her. She picked up the shoes and was about to walk to her bedroom to put them away so Jim wouldn't trip when she stopped midway.
Sadness, some shock and maybe some relief, washed over her. She didn't need to be so careful now. No one was going to be coming through that door, tripping and cursing. There wasn't going to be wet dog smell. No one to cuddle up with on the couch either.
Christie took her wine to the window and looked out over the sparkling lights of her new home town. It would have been wasted on Jim in more ways than one. Many years ago, before they had married he commented how some people were just New Yorkers in their bones and no other city would do. She'd nodded, keeping their eyes locked, not wanting to spoil the moment with an argument.
She sighed, she missed him. After all they'd been married six years, it was only right. If only he'd been willing to move, surely LA needed homicide detectives too?
The phone rang. "Christie Dunbar," she answered automatically.
"Hi Christie, Nathan Richardson here."
She chatted with this especially handsome new associate for a while but still felt a moment of surprise when he asked her if she'd like to go night clubbing with him. Automatically her refusal began framing itself, but she held it back. No, if she was going to build a new life, well, she should start now.
"Nathan, I'd love that…. Yes, you can pick me up here. An hour? … Great see you."
Christie put away her little bit of sadness, there was time enough for grieving later, tonight she wanted some fun.