DISCLAIMER: Still don't own Twilight or any of its characters
A/N: Thanks again to NorEli, and special thanks to RL friend Melyssa. I know it seems like I'm dead, but I've just fallen off the grid. I hope this appeases.
They were together when we walked in, Edward and Rosalie. Edward looked up with an expression of bitterness and hope, Rose's eyes just glittered.
I recognized that look: Do your best, Swan.
It was the same look she'd challenged me with several times before in our Debate class. She was ready for battle; I took note of that and briefly gave thanks to the Powers-That-Be that I've been given that much forewarning. She's good enough to keep her feelings under wraps, but letting me see that she's itching for a fight just lets me know that this information is volatile. Rose had always only truly cared about the nitty gritty...just like me...
"So what've you decided to share with the class?" Jake greeted in a snarky tone the instant we got close enough to talk. I barely refrained from jamming my elbow into his side.
Hale's eyes narrowed but she didn't react beyond that. "Due to the rather classified subject of my client's work and certain contracts he's not legally allowed to discuss, it's more than difficult to be able for my client to disclose certain information," she began. "However he does wish to aid you in your investigation as much as he can."
Jake scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest. "Really? Cause all we've seen from your client is obstruction of justice and a bunch of circumstances that always seem to lead back to him."
I knew a shouting match that was sure to follow if I let those two continue on in that vein, so I stepped in, to move on. "What can you tell us, then?"
"We believe Mr. Cullen is being framed," Rose replied, after glancing carefully at her client. "By former colleagues of his. In an effort to obtain certain information pertaining to a...past project."
I stared levelly at Cullen. "Why do you think you're being framed?" I asked him.
He didn't even glance at his lawyer for approval before he answered for himself. "Greed and resentment," he sighed, as if he was a disappointed parent. "The very nature of the project was becoming abhorrent to me, to the point I could no longer be a participant in the venture. I was able to pull out, but that left those who wished to continue at an impasse, because..." he paused, his eyes darted from side to side, giving the impression of a normal person weighting their words in their head, while staying remarkably still. "...my work was...completely destroyed. It prevented moving forward to complete the project."
"So, you just peaced out and took your toys home with you?" Jake reiterated dubiously, trying to get a more detailed answer out of the other man.
"Don't answer that," Hale instructed her client, tossing a brief glare my partner's way. It was returned.
"When was your last involvement with the project?" I asked, instead.
"I can't say," Cullen offered apologetically.
I thought for a moment at the wording, then tried again. "Can you say around the time when you no longer worked with the project?"
He glanced at Rose, who reviewed several files in front of her for a long moment, before nodding to him. With a slight smile he turned back to me. "Eight years ago in the early Spring."
My breath caught for just a second, startled, I blinked, but exhaled evenly. Not everything that happened during that time was related to my mother's murder and step-father's suicide, I reminded myself. And even if it did seem like the whole world revolved around it, it was surely because it was the center of my world. Not even a decade of time had changed that.
"Why now?" I heard Jake ask. "Eight years is a long time to wait to serve up a cold dish of revenge." He paused with a frown. "That's almost like gross, back-of-the-fridge-science-project cold dish..."
To my everlasting surprise, Rose snorted delicately and Cullen, of all people, offered a wry smile. "You aren't entirely wrong, Detective," he agreed.
Jake's eyes widened for just a second. I didn't blame him. That had be the first time Cullen and he didn't completely butt heads.
Edward continued. "As for your question: the only reason I can presume they waited this long, is that thus far, those involved have had either some degree of success in working around the problem presented when I left, until now, or were able to explore other avenues that did not require my contributions, again, until now. Now, they are actively engaged in this...current pursuit."
We let that sink in. After I slow breath, I leaned forward. "So it's not what you've got, it's what they think you've got," I surmised. "Which is why Angela and Eric and Ben were murdered. Whoever the suspect is, thinks they've seen the information you have." I tilted my head. "Though you said your work was completely destroyed..."
Jake looked over at me, thoughtfully. "Copies?" he guessed.
"Illegal," Rose tossed out. "My client was not allowed to keep any copies of his work, as explicitly stated in the contract."
"They aren't copies," I agreed. "But you have a strong memory, don't you? Notes written from scratch at a later date, far enough removed from your pull out date that you can't be accused of making copies."
Edward stilled, eyes darting briefly at his council.
"But apparently it's gotta be something that's gonna get you in real trouble if it gets out that you still have some kind of records," Black added. "Either way, by looking like you're involved in the murders or that you have these notes, you go down." He huffed. "As far as framing goes, I'm a little impressed. That's a hell of a way to cover your tracks with a plan B." He ignored the flat glares we all gave him. "Though, now you've pulled my partner in this," he continued, looking angrily at Cullen. "And now she's got a souped up murderer stalking her, probably waiting to make her his next victim."
"Which we all have a vested interest in preventing, Detective," my former roommate ground out.
"So tell us who you think is trying to frame you," my partner directed the demand towards Edward.
"I...I can't tell you that," Edward apologized, looking sorrowfully at me, begging me to understand.
Jake stood abruptly, nearly knocking his chair over. "Then what's the-"
I put a hand out to stop him. Thankfully, he shut up immediately . I glanced at Rose who was giving me a prompting look. "I understand," I replied soothingly. I peered up at Jacob who was staring at me like I was crazy.
I nodded and indicated for him to take his seat again before returning my attention to our companions. "Yes, we do."
Approval shone through Hale's eyes, so I knew she knew I got the gist. Cullen couldn't legally talk, but we could speculate in front of him, and with the interrogation training we'd had, doubtless we'd pick up something from his bearings that would give us a clue from the CEO.
"You're not allowed to say, but you've got an inkling about who's behind this," I began, grinning inwardly at Rose's gaze flying to me. After we started getting along, we started a sick game of ACT/SAT words. Being able to use a word correctly, undetected, got a point, calling out a word from the other one got a point. I was an English major, she was pre-Law; we were both on the Debate team and had high GPAs...it got pretty brutal for us. I cut my eyes over to her, just to confirm I knew what I was doing before refocusing. I turned to Jake, keeping Cullen in careful peripheral. "You think the murder might be in on all this?" I posed casually.
There was no mistaking the quickly intake of breath from our suspect, though none of us batted an eye in his direction.
"Prob'ly," my partner allowed over casually. "Killing in search of some files to complete a project that's been stonewalled? The bodies we found were definitely brutally murdered-like some kind of animal might've gotten to 'em." He leaned back in his chair angling his body to me, as if ignoring Cullen. I didn't doubt he'd seen the other man wince at the way he described our victims. "It would make sense if someone was desperate enough to get their hands on extra notes."
He tilted his chin to face the other pair across the table. "You work as the CEO of one of the leading Pharm companies in the country, you people do testing on hundreds of products on thousands of people daily. What's so abhorrent about this project you've quit and incited the wrath of these crazies on the innocents of Seattle?"
Rose scowled. Edward took a deep breath. I spoke up.
All three heads jerked up at my answer. I could see Hale's gaze slide to her client; feel my partner's attention on me, but kept my focus on Cullen entirely, watching his face for any micro expression I could.
"Detective Black is right: you work for a Pharmaceutical company that does testing for several different products, all of which have a variety of side-effects, something you know...something you'd have to be used to..."
His beautiful face sat nearly blank save for the slight stirring of emotion in his eyes. Regret, defiance, abashed, I wasn't sure, but it hinted at something deeper I felt I was close to striking. I leaned forward. "You're in this field because you want to save people, don't you? You care about others, like your father or your mother?"
"Detective..." Hale warned.
I diverted from that line. "The things that you do in your labs, the people and doctors that participate in your drug trials, you're all working together to make something good, something for the greater good. But the project you worked on, that wasn't about the greater good was it? It wasn't good for anyone..."
Edward's face crumpled in self recrimination. "A monster," he choked out. "I was creating...a monster."
"This monster have a name?" Jake interrupted.
"It's classified," Hale stated flatly.
And back on the merry-go-round we went.
Before anyone could say anything else, my phone rang softly, breaking the tension in the room. I stared at the display for a second before taking a peek at Rose, who was scrutinizing me, no doubt having caught my surprise and hesitation. The perils of someone knowing your tells. I gently rose from my seat and excused myself. "I need to take this." I lengthened my stride to get myself out of hearing distance before my phone went to voicemail. Mercifully, I caught Jazz before my voicemail did. "What've you got for me, Jazz?"
"Swan," his smooth came through a little more stiff than usual. The tone set me on edge.
"What is it?" I prodded.
He blew out a breath. "I had a contact of mine explain your little science project to me. It ain't pretty."
"No, it's not," I agreed. "Which is why I need your help."
"Think I've got someone that fits that description. Word is there's a monster running around looks like ex-military? White male, shaved head, real built, acts like a coked out animal mostly. Been terrorizing the local homeless. Couple of murders."
That matched what sounded like our suspect. And that was the second time in as many minutes I'd heard the M-word dropped. "Any news were our monster hangs out?"
"No one knows, and if they do, they aren't talkin'," he admitted regretfully. "Someone thinks he might be kept somewhere by a pushy red headed woman. Claims they saw the two together arguing near one of the squatters' buildings down in the South End."
Instead of his usual half amused "Pleasure doing business," my blond informant usually ended a call with, he said seriously, "Take care, Swan." Then he hung up.
I did too, chewing on my lip as the cogs turned. Something about that last description seemed familiar. I turned it over in my mind as I made my way back to the group.
A pushy red headed woman...it niggled at the back of my brain as I turned the knob to our interrogation room, the sounds of Rose's sharp retorts making themselves heard through the door.
It reminded me of a conversation I'd heard recently.
"It's about time! Don't you know it's rude to keep your guests waiting?"
Ah! The pushy red head I'd seen as we left Cullen's office the first time. Given the uncanny amount of coincidences that all led back to Cullen, I was very sure this was the same woman. Victoria. But the man she'd been with at the office didn't match what Jazz had just told me.
I snapped back to myself to see three pairs of eyes on me as I stood in the doorway staring at Cullen. Mentally giving myself a little shake, I closed the door behind me. "Mr. Cullen, I need you to tell us who Victoria is, how she's connected to you and who James is."
I smiled grimly at his sharp intake of breath, knowing I'd just hit the nail on the head.
"I'm guessing you've worked with Victoria, before, judging by the familiarity you two treated each other with when we saw her in your office."
Black looked quizzical. "The redhead in the waiting room after we interviewed Cullen...the first time."
Understanding lit in his eyes and he nodded. "Or maybe she's an ex," Jake tossed out lazily. "Didn't seem to be any lost love between you," he directed at the other man.
"We weren't together like that, ever," our suspect insisted with more emotion than he'd previously displayed.
"No," I agreed. "Affairs don't usually end up in public spectacles at the office. But you two obviously disagreed over something. Was it James?"
He sucked in another sharp breath. "James is a-" he cut himself off.
"A monster?" I prodded.
He stared back warily at me.
"I just got off the phone with an informant of mine that places a woman matching Victoria's description with a man that matches the profile of our murderer. Called him a monster. Do you think that monster is James?"
"It's..." he began painfully.
"I swear to God, if you say 'classified'," Jake growled.
Rose shuffled frantically through her files before leaning over to whisper in her client's ear.
"It's possible," he told us, sounding like he was repeating something, yet his tone carried a note of relief and confidence that it had previously lacked.
My mind whirled. I could work with this. I allowed myself a small smile and turned to my partner. "Will you see if you can get a sketch artist on the line?" I turned to the others. "I'm gonna see if I can find our eye-witness to make a positive id."
We broke to get our respective people and allowed Rose and Edward to get some fresh air, warning them not to go very far. Edward had looked so incredibly grateful and hopeful that his beautiful face caused my heart to twinge, difficult as he was being, even if he couldn't legally help it.
I was waiting to hear back from Jazz to see if he could convince his contact to agree to talk to an artist, when a steaming cup was set in front of me. I could smell the wafts of peppermint tea I kept in the break room. I glanced up and smiled at Quil in thanks as he leaned against his desk.
"How's it going?"
"I think we've finally got a break, but we need to get a positive id on our murderer first."
"Cullen's sure been giving you the run-around," he commented. "I'm surprised you and Black haven't busted him with obstruction charges, yet."
I sighed. "It's complicated."
"Speaking of complicated..." he glanced over before assuring no one was paying attention to us. "You and Jacob, over there-" he began before I interrupted.
"Jacob?" I repeated, cocking my head with a small smile. "Since when do you call him that?" Unless he played the hardass in the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine, or had to make an official report to our Captain, Quil was pretty informal.
"You call him that," Quil defended, looking a little sheepish.
"Yeah, but he's my partner," I pointed out. I was wondering if maybe my old partner might have a bit of a man crush on my current one.
"Someone call me?" Jacob asked as he looked up from getting off the phone.
"Quil and I were just discussing names," I assured him easily.
Sensing an opportunity, Atera turned to the other man and pointed. "Jacob or Jake?" he quizzed.
My partner shrugged. "Jake's fine. I answer to both."
Quil turned back to me. "See? He answers to both." He was so childish sometimes.
At Black's questioning expression, I rolled my eyes. "Quil's got a thing about nicknames."
Suddenly he was all ears. "Don't you have a nickname?"
"No," I replied, truthfully. Bella was just a shortened version of my full name, and therefore not something I felt was actually a nickname.
From his desk, Embry snorted. "Not for lack of trying on Quil's part," he said. "Nothing ever stuck."
I barely suppressed a groan as I recalled Atera's failed attempts to get me to respond to 'Swannee', 'Swami' and 'BS'.
"There was 'Bells'," Embry offered thoughtfully.
I nearly glared at him. I opened my mouth to retort, but Jake was already looking contemplative.
" Bells?" He grinned wickedly and raised an eyebrow at me as I flushed recalling the last time I'd heard that come out of his mouth. We'd be on the dance floor at Trinity. "Hmm...'Jake and Bells'." The words flowed easily, causing a little thrill to jolt through me. "It has a nice ring to it."
Great. I just knew it had stuck.
We waited and waited, but while Jake had gotten hold of an artist, I still hadn't heard back from Jasper. While the waiting wasn't unusual, I was extra anxious due to the secret I was sitting on like a time bomb. With both Hale twins in the same city and working on the same case, it was only a matter of time before everything blew to H-E-double hockey sticks. I was fidgety and distracted enough that it caught the attention of all of my partners, former and current and Jake finally decided that enough was enough and it was time for me to go home.
I fired off a text to Rose to let her know we were in a holding pattern for the night before I left. In reply I got a reminder that Alice was due in shortly and an offer to pick her up and meet me at the apartment. I sighed. I really wasn't in the mood for company and hadn't been since we'd been assigned this case, no matter how much I loved my friends. But there wasn't any backing out now they were already here.
My pain must have showed because even my new partner commented on it. "Headache?"
"Trying to figure out tonight's dinner," I admitted. On top of everything else.
Jake laughed. "Seriously, Swan!?"
"Yes, seriously!" I replied, irritably.
"Whoa, hey! Calm down," he entreated, leaning back as if he expected a hit (secretly, I couldn't say I blamed him, I might've have, if I really had the effort to). "You've got a girls' night in, right? How about salads?"
Could he sound any more sexist?
At my dark look, he tried again. "Chinese, then? Pizza and beer?"
"Lasagna," I decided, ignoring the way Quil and Embry's heads swiveled like meerkats at the word. I'd have to cheat and use canned sauce instead of making it, and I'd need to sub the ricotta for something else, but I was sure I had enough cheese and a bottle of red that could stand up to the dish. I would need to swing by the store, though. I had no bread to speak of.
"Great. It's decided, let's go."
Tetchy as I was, I was halfway tempted to get a different ride, but the sharp look Jake tossed me, stopped me from saying anything before I'd even opened my mouth. How he could go from one mood to the other so fast still baffled me, especially when it came to how he behaved around me, but I let it go. I had enough to worry about for now.
Per my directions, we stopped at the closest market to my place and I experienced the unique feeling of having a bodyguard trail me while I did my shopping as Jake refused to even wait in the car for ten minutes. He was silent and watchful the entire time and given his size I can't exactly fault the intimidated looks we got from the other customers and staff in the store. I found myself annoyed at how small and protected his hovering made me feel. I was cop for goodness sake, but there was just something about the situation that brought out something completely feminine in me. I tried to squash it with thoughts of my night with the girls.
We pulled up to my building to see Rose and Alice emerge from Rose's rental no doubt due to Alice's excellent timing skills. After thanking him for the ride and seeing my partner pull off with a parting snark to Rose, the three of us turned to my door, only to hear "Swan..."
I paused, recognizing Jazz's voice as he stepped around the corner of my building.
Rosalie stopped, too. "Jasper," she whispered, looking like she'd seen a ghost...