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Lily moonlight definitely needs to be thanked for the re-emergence of this, since she's been poking me for months to get back to fanfic. And she beta read this. Thank you!
Massive thanks to everyone who's reviewed this so far, and especially to people who stumbled across a dead story and poked me about it. I really do appreciate it!
Mac's face was blank, stunned. His breaths were coming fast and shallow.
Flack glanced from him to the mocking smile on Perry's face and made a decision. This had to be stopped. He gripped Mac's upper arm, pulling him out of his seat and out of the room with a speed and pressure which he knew was probably painful, but it was the lesser of two evils. He didn't look back, knowing that Perry had won this round, not wanting to see confirmation.
It was a short walk to the break room, and Mac didn't resist as he was led along. Two cops were skulking by the water-cooler but they didn't need to be told to leave – clearly Flack's expression was enough. "Sit down," he told Mac firmly, and emphasised the command by pushing him down onto a chair. He reached for a paper cup, and filled it. "Drink this."
Mac complied. His face held next to no colour. We definitely shouldn't have let him leave the hospital. He took a couple of sips of water, and spoke with some difficulty. "Don, do you think – "
"No." Flack could hear the defiance in his voice. It felt as if his whole body was blazing with fury. "Don't you dare believe that bastard, Mac. Don't you dare."
Mac's voice, in contrast, was dead. "I don't remember. I don't remember what happened. The evidence doesn't contradict his story."
Defeated. Flack had seen many of Mac's moods, but he had never before seen him look so defeated. Because, of course, it wasn't just people like Sean Perry, people who radiated evil, who committed murder. They both knew that, only too well.
But not Mac. Never Mac.
"Listen to me," Flack said urgently. "Can you think of a situation, any at all, in which you would hurt Stella?"
A slight shake of the head, but nothing spoken. Flack groaned inside, barely containing his frustration. He hadn't seen Mac shut down like this since the Dobson fiasco, and then it had only been Stella who had managed to bring him out. Mac wasn't used to doubting himself. It was an emotion which he never wore well.
"Look. I refuse to believe that you attacked Stella. I don't want to believe that she's dead. This is still a missing person investigation, not a murder one, and unless incontrovertible evidence turns up you aren't a suspect. She needs you to find her. The main suspect in her disappearance is sitting in that room, spinning a pack of lies to try and confuse the case. You listen to him, start to doubt yourself, and he's won, you hear me?"
Mac leaned forwards, burying his face into his hands. "We have no leads. We don't know what happened."
"We do have a lead." Mac looked up at something in his voice. "We have a lead sitting in that room, at that table. He knows exactly what happened, and he knows exactly where Stella is now. He's playing a game with us, but sooner or later he's going to start talking. If it's the last thing I do, I'll make sure of that."
He meant it.
"Danny, calm down."
"Why the fuck should I calm down? This creep knows damn well where Stella is, and he isn't telling. I don't see what you're doing being so calm, Monroe!"
Lindsay turned to face him, arms akimbo. "Look, Messer, I get that you're angry. So'm I. I'm furious. But until that creep starts talking, we're all that Stella's got. So please, help me."
The mutiny slowly dwindled from Danny's face as the logic of her words reached him, and he nodded curtly. Rightly recognising that this was, for now, meant as acknowledgement and apology in one, she turned back to what she was doing, which was scanning the contents of the documentation on Sean Perry's desk and sorting it into piles. She had started out by allocating floor space for three; things that would be helpful in finding what had happened to Stella, things that might be helpful, and things that weren't. So far, nearly everything that she had glanced over and had been dropped straight on to the third pile. The second pile contained a couple of documents, put there more from hope than anything more concrete, and the first pile was still on empty space on the too-soft carpet, on which Danny was carelessly treading footprints of dirty rain water. She looked at them and felt a flash of misplaced guilt on his behalf.
Danny's search was less methodical. He was looking for anywhere that Perry might have stashed anything that he didn't want to be found. So far he had ripped books from bookcases, rifling through the pages, pulled picture frames from walls and disembowelled them; glass fronts, reproduction prints of Monet and Van Gough, and cardboard backings lying in untidy heaps; and shoved furniture away from walls to see what they might be concealing. So far, his search had left him empty-handed and dust-smudged.
She half-watched him as he knelt down by the wall and pulled at the edge of the carpet. It reminded firmly in place. Both of them shared the unspoken certainly that the only thing which Perry had judged too important to let them find was the heap of ashes in the sink. But saying it would make it final. They also weren't speaking about the neatly packed bags of supplies in the bedroom, but for quite a different reason; they were a source of hope. Hope as fragile as a soap bubble, but hope nonetheless. Hope that Stella might still be alive. That the supplies were for her.
Lindsay let out a sigh of sheer frustration. Danny stood up and walked over, standing in the empty patch directly to the right of the two piles of paper she had made. "Found anything?" he asked, pointlessly. The desk was bare, the drawers open and stripped even of their lining.
She said it anyway. "Nothing." She was tempted to tell him that he was standing in the floor space which was reserved for any important findings, but repressed it. It was, after all, just an empty piece of floor.
"How many garbage cans?"
"Just the one in his kitchen."
Danny went to look, and returned almost immediately. "It's empty. Not lined, either. Are you in the mood for some dumpster diving?"
She rose, eager for action. Which would make it easier to pretend that she was doing something useful. Danny was already most of the way to the elevator by the time she made it to Perry's front door, but she still paused to tell the officer outside the door where they were going, and that they would be back. Probably.
She joined Danny in the elevator. He was restless, pacing inside the tiny space of the metal box, catching his reflection in the mirror and running his hand through his hair, while she was still.
The doors finally slid open at the ground floor, and she followed Danny's hasty strides out of the building and around the side of it, to an alley where a dumpster was overflowing with bulging garbage bags. "We haven't brought jumpsuits – " she began, but Danny had already put one hand on the metal rim and vaulted over the side.
"You look in the bags on the ground," he instructed her, and she complied, undoing knots tied with varying degrees of efficiency, and trying to only breathe through her mouth as she was assaulted by the heavy scent of rotting garbage.
"I thought you were on an active case?" she asked, clinging to the reality offered by normal conversation.
"I was," he said. His voice sounded as if he, too, was trying to limit the frequency that he was forced to inhale. "Hit a dead end for now. John Doe, no ID, no missing person report. Got to wait 'til one turns up. This is more important."
She nodded, and fleetingly wondered what the friends and family of John Doe would say to that. But he was dead, and Stella could be, might be, alive…
Her heart leapt as the bag she had opened slumped over, spilling out paper. But closer inspection caused her lips, which had parted in a breath of sudden hope, to close again in disappointment. Printed web pages, nothing more. And nothing useful; they seemed to all be tour guides to different parts of Spain. Her tidy mind pointed out that they should have been recycled, but she scooped them back into the bag, retied it, moved onto the next.
"Hey! Linds!" She looked up, and was nearly hit by the black bag which Danny tossed down to her, and then jumped down himself, reckless enthusiasm driving his movements.
"You've found something?" Don't hope too much, not yet…
"Maybe." He grabbed the underneath of the bag, tipping the contents out onto the floor. Coffee grounds, fruit peel, tea bags, chip packets, mixed with a milk carton, an empty sugar bag, mincemeat wrapping…
But they both disregarded the household detritus. Danny pounced on the blood-soaked section of carpet, folded roughly in half and clamped shut with garden twine wrapped around it several times. "Just like Flack said we were looking for." Lindsay was bagging the metal butter knife which had clanged on the hard ground with one of the plastic evidence bags she made a habit of carrying in her pockets, along with sets of gloves. "If Stella's prints are on the handle, this'll confirm what we think happened."
She laid it down, and began to sort through the rest of the trash, avoiding getting the kitchen waste on her gloves. A manilla card folder, again folded in half, caught her eye, and she crouched down to retrieve it. "This is one of ours."
Danny stopped in the act of fishing in his pocket for his cell. "What d'ya mean?"
"It's one of our case files. From the lab." She was aware of him crouching just behind her, his breath on his neck as he peered at it over her shoulder. She opened it. It was a case unfamiliar to her, but she thought that she remembered Mac and Stella discussing it. Their names were both listed on the first page. She flicked to the back. Mac had signed it, but the space for Stella's signature was blank, waiting.
"This must be what Mac was doing at Stella's," she said. "He must have been bringing it for her to sign, but Perry was there. And then Perry took it, along with the carpet, for whatever reason." She paused. "Nice of him, to leave all of this evidence in the same bag. Do you think he meant us to find it?"
"We can ask him." Danny's voice was grimly satisfied.
She was rationing the water. She had no idea how long it was supposed to last her for, although if she dared she would have drunk half the bottle in one swing. For most of the time she was dozing; not asleep, certainly not fully awake. She kept her arm around the bottle, kept it clutched close to her side, so that – he – couldn't remove it without her knowing.
Still no food, not since that single tasteless sandwich. How long ago was that? She couldn't tell. Had no way of telling. The memory of the one that she hadn't eaten, that she had saved only for it to be removed while she slept plagued her, haunted her. Gnawed at her, gnawed away painfully inside her stomach. Three days without water, three weeks without food. Just ignore it.
Easy to say.
Her broken arm throbbed. Pain, all around her, all through her. Nothing to distract her from it. Only pain, a whole world of it.
All she could do was wait for the return of her gaoler. She was dependent on him, utterly, however much she hated the feeling.