A/N: And this concludes my little Halloween tale. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing. The end to Ice next.
"So, Grabowski?" His voice cracked and he coughed to clear his throat, took a sip from the straw puncturing the plastic cup sitting on the table in front of him and sank back into the pillows supporting his back. His throat still felt like a column of fire and he was parched, endlessly parched, but it felt good to open his eyes and see light.
"Grabowski's goin' down." Colby was sounding a little gravelly himself. "Caught red handed."
"How did he get that black eye, anyway?" He didn't want to sound ungrateful, but if Colby had gone out of control he at least needed to talk to him about it.
David cleared his throat. "Looks like he fell." He nodded solemnly. "Ground looked pretty scuffed up. Evidence points to falling."
Don eyed him suspiciously, opened his mouth to speak, but Nikki jumped in.
"Or maybe he tripped over the shovel." Her face was almost angelic in its ingenuousness. "It was pretty dark out there."
"Can't say I disagree." Robin's voice was her cool prosecutor's voice, but she hadn't loosened her grip on his left hand for a minute since he'd opened his eyes. He couldn't actually feel much through his bandaged fingers, but it was oddly reassuring anyway. "I saw the crime scene. Could happen to anybody in the dark. Around all that wet dirt."
Don narrowed his eyes and studied them, one after another. Nobody so much as flinched. He sighed. So, it was going to be like that, was it? He didn't remember the ground as especially damp himself, but he knew when he was outnumbered. He closed his eyes. Everything was still a little blurry.
"Give it up, Donnie." His father's voice was light, despite his haggard, haunted face. "Does it matter anyway? You know the guy is guilty."
Yeah. He winced, rubbing absently at his aching throat. Maybe that's good enough.
"Okay. So, what about the girl? Anybody know where she went?
Colby shook his head ruefully. "Sorry. Once she showed me where you were, she ran off. I had to act fast to get you out - couldn't take the time to pursue. Grabowski swears he didn't know her. Slime bag almost sounds like he's telling the truth."
Don sighed again, winced at the sting it provoked in his throat. "Maybe just some college student anyway. Be nice to at least clear her for real. And thank her."
"What did she look like?"
Don glanced over to where Amita was leaning against Charlie, under the single, night-darkened window. Hard to believe it had been almost twenty-four hours ago that he had been underground, fighting for his life. The memory still made him shiver, so he set the thought firmly aside and focused on the small crowd in his hospital room instead.
He was supposed to be released tomorrow, no permanent harm done. It was a good thing, too, because as far as he knew, people weren't allowed this many visitors at one time. He smiled faintly at the thought, winced again as the motion pulled on the stitches in his left cheek. He was lucky to still have all his teeth.
Robin ran the back of her free hand lightly over his bandaged cheek and caught his eye questioningly. He tried to smile again and ease her mind.
"Red hair in braids. About twenty or so. Five foot five, slight." Colby shook his head. "That's all I could see."
"Red hair in braids." Nikki made a face. "Seriously?"
"That's what I saw." Don closed his eyes again, just for a second. "But like Colby says, it was dark, with just some security lighting. Hard to say for sure."
"Wait a minute." Nikki fished through the files on her lap, selected one and flipped through it. She plucked a photo free and tossed it on the rolling table in front of Don. "That her?"
Don tilted his head at it, then lifted it for a better look.
Colby sank back in his chair. "Sure looks like her."
Don nodded. "Yeah. She was even wearing those boots and jeans. She got a rap sheet? What's she done?"
An odd expression twisted Nikki's face. She pursed her lips and flushed a little. "Nothing. She was a victim."
"Victim?" Don wrinkled his forehead. "Of…?"
Nikki glanced uncertainly at the file again, then shrugged. "Murder."
The room was silent.
"Oh, come on - " Colby's voice was a little higher than normal. "That's crazy - " he maneuvered so he could take another look at the photo Don was still gripping. "It LOOKS like her. But it was dark. That could describe a dozen different girls."
Don swallowed slowly, a faint chill pricking at his skin. "Same boots and jeans, Colb. I recognize them."
Charlie leaned forward so he could snatch the photo out of Don's hand and stared at it himself. "I see dozens of college students every day in jeans and boots like those. It's just a coincidence."
Don massaged his sore ribs with the heel of a taped hand, the chill on his skin intensifying. "What does the file say, Nikki?"
Nikki looked uncomfortable, but at a sharp gaze from Don forced out, "She - um - was murdered a few days ago. No real suspects, not much evidence, but there were enough similarities with the murder we liked Grabowski for that LAPD caught it and sent the file over this morning. About the same age as his victim, similar size and location, similar MO. It was pretty loose, but…" she trailed off.
The room was painfully silent.
Don released his breath in a rush.
Alan breathed something that sounded like a prayer.
Charlie swallowed audibly, then shook himself. "All right, it's an interesting coincidence, even uncanny, but - "
Don sucked in air and interrupted. "Can somebody look into the connection?"
Charlie rested a hand on Don's leg to get his attention. "Don, you can't be thinking - "
"I'm following the evidence, Charlie." His throat felt unexpectedly tight.
"There is one thing more." Nikki squirmed a little. "She - um - she was scheduled to be buried this morning."
David held up his hands. "Don't say it."
She nodded. "Same cemetery where it happened. For all we know…"
Charlie gave a nervous laugh and unconsciously pulled Amita a little closer. "You - you can't all really be thinking…" he trailed off.
Amita moved deeper into his embrace.
Colby shifted uncomfortably.
David coughed uneasily into his fist.
Nikki pulled her jacket a little tighter.
Robin held out a hand for the file. "I'll look into it." Her face was surprisingly soft. "Sounds like it could be the least I owe her."
Alan eyed the file in Robin's hand. "I'd like her name too, if that's all right."
"Of course." Robin gazed at the file, then at Don, her eyes narrowing shrewdly. "And then I think we should call it a night. Don looks worn out."
"You're right." Alan stood and, despite the crowd, kissed Don resoundingly on top of the head. "Sleep tight, Donnie. I'll be by in the morning."
Don looked surprisingly unperturbed by this public display of affection, offering his father a troubled smile.
Charlie lumbered to his feet, bringing Amita up with him. "Yeah, see you tomorrow, bro. Try to stay out of trouble until then, huh?"
Don felt Robin squeeze his hand. "Yeah, funny. See you tomorrow."
"We should go, too." David picked up the briefcase of case files and mug shots and gave a brief salute. "Hurry back to work, huh? It's almost time for the monthly expense reports."
Colby tried to grin. "Yeah, hurry back. David's a tyrant when he's in charge."
Don chuckled, then sobered. "Yeah. Hey, Colb, in case I didn't get a chance to say it earlier - thanks."
Colby shrugged. "Let's just say we're even. And having evened the score, let's not do this any more, okay?"
Don huffed a laugh. "Deal."
"That would certainly work for me," chimed in Alan dryly. "Charlie, you have the keys?"
"Yes, because I'm driving."
Amita reached over and snagged the keys neatly. "Oh, no - no more of this from you two. It's late and it's been a hard day. I'm driving."
Nikki gave her a nod of approval. "I like that. So in that spirit - choose your seats, boys, because I'm driving us back to the office. Take care, Boss. Feel better."
"Yeah, Don. Take it easy. Oh, and Don?" Colby hesitated on the threshold. "If you ever get the urge to do a stakeout in a cemetery on Halloween again? Do me a favor - take one of these two along."
Nikki and David looked at each other.
"Take Liz," David suggested brightly.
"Yeah." Nikki nodded. "Liz loves night ops. Take her. So - you two coming, or you walking?"
She jingled the car keys over her head and exited, a protesting David and Colby hot on her heels.
Don and Robin exchanged a smile at their retreating backs.
"So." Robin ran a fingertip down his damaged cheek. "I'm going to get going too. You look exhausted. Anything you need before I go?"
He shook his head, glanced at the file in her hand.
She smiled knowingly. "I'll look more into this tomorrow and let you know what I find. Get some rest?"
"Nothing else to do in here."
"Right." She leaned forward and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. "And - no more close calls for a while, okay?"
He smiled into her eyes. "I'll do my best."
"Hm." She rolled her eyes in return. "Guess that's the best I'm going to get. I'll see you tomorrow." Her voice dropped. "I'll miss you."
"Yeah. Me too."
She gave his hand one last squeeze and he watched her move toward the door. His eyes roamed over the file she held one more time and he bit his lip.
"Hm?" She paused with a hand on the door.
He forced an embarrassed smile.
"Um. Leave the light on?"