Conquistador

By SassyJ

A New York assignment turns the boys' lives upside down.

**Dedicated to Kacey, our resident "Ice" fan, with love.**

Chapter One

Chrissy and the boys turned out of the hotel and started the short walk to the apartment. The boys were chipper, a definite spring in their step; Chrissy watched Charlie out of the corner of her eye. Sometimes she wondered if their tentative relationship had foundered because he was a New Yorker and she too LA for him. Watching him now, he fit right in; the pace was different here, the air different, even the light was different and she felt all out of sync.

Ice and Alphonse fit in too. Both men were subtly different, Ice cooler and more laid back than ever, Alphonse seemed to draw on the very air he breathed, more alive than ever. Suddenly he spun on his heel, arms held wide, "Chrissy?"

"Yes." She eyed the open invitation and tried to come up with her usual brush off, but she needed the reassurance and just this once, she wasn't going to fight it. Alphonse's arms closed round her almost reflexively and she could feel his surprise, and then he returned her hug enthusiastically. Then she stepped back and recovered her composure.

In some ways he's changed, a couple of years ago, he would have taken advantage. Chrissy looked up, met his surprised and sympathetic gaze, she patted his hand awkwardly and turned to cross the street before anyone could make any smart remarks.

Ice and Charlie exchanged glances, but Alphonse refused to be drawn. The Latin watched Chrissy closely, sensing that all was not right with her.

The apartment was smart, gracious and uptown. From the very moment of entry things started to change. O'Connor was waiting for them, grim expression on his face.

"We're too late. Miss Laura Neill was found at 7.00 am by her housekeeper. Shotgun right in the face. So the enquiry is now a murder enquiry. You can start by going through this place with a fine tooth comb." He waved his hand at their elegant surroundings.

Grumbling under their breath, they started the search.

Ice looked around him, noting the exquisite touches, the gracious layout of her home. A woman of style and taste. He picked through the letters and papers on her desk, casually opening drawers, in the right hand top drawer he found a journal, picking it up, he opened and began to read.

Laura Neill had been a busy woman, he eased himself into a chair enthralled by the writing. Her wry observations on her lifestyle piqued his interest.

Charlie appeared in the doorway behind him. "Ice......searching for clues.....remember." Ice ignored him, Charlie shrugged and glanced up at the painting over the fireplace. Stuart Jacoby..........worth some. He checked it over. O'Connor stepped up behind him.

"O'Bannon, get on with it."

"Who's the dame?"

"The dame..." O'Connor's tone was pointed, "is the owner, the late Miss Laura Neill."

Ice glanced up swiftly and checked out the painting. His eye flowed over her beauty lovingly, appreciating the artist's touch. The eyes transfixed him, as he gazed deeply into the portrait he made her a silent promise. Laura, we're gonna find out who did this to you.

Charlie made a few calculations in his head, a Stuart Jacoby, painting of the late owner, murdered in mysterious circumstances…….jack the price up a couple of 0's.

Alphonse moved slowly through the bedroom. From the instant he'd stepped into the apartment a cold feeling had passed over him. He'd gone through the motions, but a nameless dread clawed at his spine. Nothing in here. Good. This place gives me the creeps.

He went to find the others.

The moment he stepped through the door into the lounge he knew there was something very wrong, Alphonse saw the painting with different eyes. The feeling of dread swept its icy fingers over him again, instinctively he crossed himself, then the thumb and forefinger of his right hand sought out the small gold cross on the chain round his neck.

Charlie saw the involuntary movement and was startled. Alphonse was catholic like himself, but he'd always pegged the Latin as a non-believer, he'd never seen him do anything like that before.

"People, can we get back to what we are doing?" O'Connor's acerbic tones broke the spell. "A young woman has been murdered!"

Several hours later and they were no nearer finding out anything than they had been at the start. They headed back to their hotel. As he was leaving Ice slipped the diary into his jacket pocket. Who knows, may be find a clue. He closed his mind to the other thought that swept through it.

Charlie was even more upbeat as he headed back to the hotel. Corky was in town, and they had a nice evening planned. He turned to his partners, both of them seemed in a different world. Ice had his hand in his jacket pocket and a faraway look on his face. Charlie flicked a glance at Alphonse, the Latin seemed preoccupied, then a look of sheer terror swept across his face. The computer expert was stunned, then the look vanished as though it had never been.

Charlie shrugged, they'd both been acting weird since they'd arrived at the apartment. He kept his thoughts to himself, Corky. A huge grin plastered itself across his sharp features. Now that was a nice thought.

Eight pm and it was raining outside. Ice had withdrawn to his room, not wanting the presence of his partners to distract him, the journal burning a hole in his pocket. He eased down into a chair and began to read again.

Laura talked about her life, her company, her boyfriend. Ice dismissed Carlton Jennings as weak and insignificant. Laura had been about to give him the brush off anyway. Maybe he couldn't handle rejection, so he came and blew her away so no one else could have her. Something in Laura's smooth self assurance and way with words appealed to the artist in Ice's soul. He could picture the scenes in his head, exactly as she'd written them.

With a start he realised it was ten-thirty. He was restless, the journal was drawing him in. The painting on the wall, the Jacoby one, was calling to him. Ice got to his feet, and walked over to the window. The rain was relentless, but he knew he was going back to the apartment.

It was ten-forty-five as he opened the door, stepping gracefully round the marking on the floor, as though not to disturb her rest. He re-entered the living room, sinking down into the easy chair, he gazed at the painting, Laura, I wish you could talk to me. He slid bonelessly down onto his spine, he was dead tired.

Some half hour later, there was a scratching at the door. A key turned in the lock. A figure stepped over the threshold, shaking out a raincoat and hanging it on the hook in the darkened hallway. The figure moved towards the living room, placing a case on the floor outside the door, pausing in disbelief in the doorway.

Ice woke with a jerk, not sure of what had woken him, his eyes flew open and he gazed up into the face of the living, breathing original of the painting.

"Who are you? What are you doing here?" she turned to the phone on the desk. "I'm going to call the police."

"Er. I am the police." Ice's brain was trying to play catch up with his eyes. He delved into his pocket for his badge, thanking his lucky stars that finally they had badges and official status. "But…..but you're dead."

The girl looked at him torn between humour at his startled look and bewilderment, "But you see, I'm quite alive."

Ice pulled himself together. "Last night a young woman of about your height and build, wearing your robe was murdered in this apartment. We thought it was you."

The young woman reeled slightly, the humour wiped instantly from her face. "How horrible, but I lent my apartment to my gallery assistant last night, as I was going out of town. She's about my height, light brown hair, blue-grey eyes. Her name's Diane Allen."

Ice swallowed, he suddenly felt sick. Diane's wet through, it rained last night, so she borrowed her employer's robe, she runs to answer the door and BAM! Mr X lets her have it with both barrels.

Laura was shivering. Ice stepped closer, sliding his arm around her. Taking the liberty. She didn't pull away, instead she leaned into him. He could smell her perfume, light and delicate, a surprise, he'd expected the heavy dusky scent so beloved of uptown women. Instead of the aroma of the casbah, it was country fresh, dew drops on meadow flowers. He leaned a little closer.