Best Foot Forward

Karen tried to make herself as inconspicuous as possible as she loitered outside of the Chief's closed door, but she had a feeling she was failing miserably. Every cop -- plainclothes or uniformed -- who passed by flicked their eyes in her direction, trying to take her measure with their trained eyes. Even though it made her feel like an insects under glass, she understood.

She was a cop, too, after all.

A detective, actually, she silently reminded herself as she smoothed a nervous hand across the hem of her jacket. She was starting as a Detective with the Santa Barbara PD -- or would be, if she ever had a chance to speak to her new boss, Chief McGraw.

She shifted her weight again, crossing her arms as she gave into the temptation to rest her back against the wall. Karen could hear the memory of her father's admonishment for the breach in protocol in her mind, bringing a glint of a smile to her mouth. Instead of acquiescing to those years of training, she remained relaxed against the paneled wood that lined the walls around the Chief's office, glancing down over the paperwork she carried one last time.

"Something I can do for you?"

Karen looked up at the sound of the voice to find a man watching her with the familiar hawk-eyed intensity she'd come to associate with the seasoned detectives like the ones she'd recently trained under. "No, thank you," she told him. "I'm waiting for Chief McGraw."

He pulled his eyes from her to the closed door. "I noticed," he said. She watched as he settled against the free wall opposite her. "Got some business with him myself."

Karen raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything else. She tried to concentrate on the documents in her hands but she could feel him watching her, a tingling she couldn't quite shake. "What?" she finally asked, looking over to catch his eyes on her.

"Nothing, just..." He gestured vaguely back toward the busy bullpen. She noticed that he had paperwork of his own tucked up underneath his arm. "You sure I can't help you out? I hate for you to wait around when I could probably take care of it for you."

"Are you Chief McGraw?" she asked him.

"No," he answered. "Lieutenant Henry Spencer."

"Well, Lieutenant Spencer," she told him, straightening a little. "Since you aren't Chief McGraw and he's who my appointment is with? I very much doubt you can."

His face seemed torn between surprise and amusement at her answer. His eyebrows rose even as one corner of his mouth jerked upward. "Well, I stand corrected," he said.

"Thank you, though," she said insincerely, her own amusement threatening to make itself known.

"No problem at all, Miss...?"

Karen could tell that he was waiting on her to supply her name; she was still debating on whether she would or not when a second detective headed approached. "Henry," he called out. "You have a chance to talk to the Chief yet?"

"Not yet," he told him, gesturing toward the closed door.

The second detective frowned. "He's still in with Donaldson?"

Spencer shrugged and Karen tried to pretend she wasn't shamelessly eavesdropping. "Looks that way." Then he nodded toward Karen. "And the line forms at the rear."

Since both of the detectives had their eyes on her, Karen decided that their silence begged her to comment. "The Chief is obviously a very busy man."

"Obviously," Spencer intoned.

"Yeah, obviously," the other detective grinned. "Henry, will you let me know what he says about those findings from the Mason case? I've got to drop by the coroner's office."

Spencer agreed and the second detective headed off; he then immediately turned his attention back to Karen. "So?" he prompted.

"So?" she echoed.

"You were about to tell me your name," he said, nodding a little in her direction.

She feigned ignorance. "I was?"

Spencer slanted another look at her -- one she couldn't quite read -- but the moment ended when the Chief's door finally creaked open. A uniformed officer hustled past while an older, scowling man in his shirtsleeves paused just on the other side of the now-opened door, studying both of them.

"Spencer," he said, glancing from Karen to the lieutenant. "What do you want?"

"Something's come up with the Mason case," he explained, holding out the folder he carried.

"That'll have to wait a minute," McGraw told him, pointing toward Karen. "Frazier's got an appointment."

"Understood," he said. "I'll come by later?"

"Actually," McGraw told him, "some of this pertains to you. Come on in here, both of you."

Karen and Spencer exchanged identical looks of surprise but followed McGraw back into the office. The Chief slammed the door behind them and pointed for Karen to take a seat. Spencer, she noticed, chose to remain standing.

"Frazier," McGraw began without preamble. "This is Henry Spencer, one of the best damn detectives under my command." He jerked a thumb in Spencer's direction.

"Only one of the best?" he asked.

"Don't push it," McGraw ordered, though Karen could tell there was humor in his gruff voice. "Henry, this is Karen Frazier. Starting next week, she'll be joining our ranks as our newest detective."

"Oh, really?" Spencer shot her another one of those unreadable glances which she tried to return calmly.

"Didn't I just say so?" McGraw asked. He paused, watching them both carefully. Karen had a feeling there was something else coming.

The Chief focused on Spencer. "She'll be your new partner."

Karen had no time to think about her own feelings on the matter because Spencer was much too entertaining in his disbelief.

"With all due respect, Chief..."

"If we're going to keep all that respect that's due, you'd probably better stop right there," McGraw advised.

"Is there a problem, Lieutenant?" Karen couldn't help but ask, knowing the challenge absent from her words shone out in her voice, in her eyes.

"It's nothing personal, Frazier," Spencer told her hastily. "It's just that I thought..."

"That I'd let you keep going without a new partner?" McGraw shook his head. "Doesn't work that way around here."

"I figured I'd at least get a say," he protested.

"You've confused this with a democracy again, Henry," McGraw said. "It doesn't work that way here."

"So I'm learning." Spencer returned.

Karen decided she was tired of being talked around. She cleared her throat as she rose to her feet. "Chief McGraw, if there's going to be a problem..."

"No problem, Frazier," he cut in. "Didn't you hear what I just said? This isn't a democracy. Personally, I think you'll learn a lot from each other."

"And what you think is all that matters," Spencer snorted.

"Damn right." McGraw grinned. "See? You're learning already." Spencer glared and Karen hid her amusement by checking the time on her wrist watch.

The Chief continued. "Frazier, just take all your papers over to Personnel and they'll get you fixed up and I'll see you bright and early Monday."

"Yes, sir," she nodded.

McGraw followed her cue and checked his own watch. "I've got a meeting with the mayor," he revealed sourly, rising to his feet. "Spencer, your first duty as partner is to take Frazier here over to Personnel so Rita can start on her paperwork."

"Yes, sir," he said. "We still need to talk about --"

"The Mason case, yeah, I know," the Chief nodded as he brushed past them on his way out of the office. "It'll have to wait, Henry. I'm just too damn popular today."

With that, he barreled out of the office, yelling out for someone named Connor as he went.

Karen glanced over at her soon-to-be partner. "Is this going to be a problem?" she asked again.

The hard lines of his face softened a fraction. "Like I said, it's nothing personal, Frazier." Spencer let his eyes drift over her, from her toes to her face and back again. There was something devilish in his eyes when he met her gaze again. "Gotta admit, though, I can't wait to see you have to chase down some criminal." He lowered his eyes again, pointedly letting them linger on her high heels, then up her stocking-clad knees to the hem of her skirt.

"Don't worry, Lieutenant. I'm more than up to the task," she assured him, haughtily.

"In that get-up?" he asked.

Karen smiled at him, her own mischief rising to meet his. "You'd be amazed at what I can do in a skirt."

Spencer paused, as if deliberating on his answer. Finally, he just grinned at her, the kind of charming smile she'd have never guessed was hiding in the stern lines of his sharp face. He held out his hand. "I think it may end up being a pleasure to work with you, Detective Frazier."

"Likewise, Lieutenant." Karen shook the offered hand. "Likewise."

END.