Dancing in the Street, Martha and the Vandellas
Happiness is contagious.
He stared at the bumper sticker on the van in front of him and wondered if he'd somehow been cursed. There was nothing happy about the bumper-to-bumper traffic or the driver to his right who seemed intent on using two lanes instead of one to while away his time on the beltline.
But his partner, who saw the same bumper sticker holding on tenaciously to the wreck of a vehicle in front of them, had a different take on it altogether. "Scientists have determined that certain pheromones are released into the air. . . ."
He half-listened to the explanation from his partner, something about how things were in the air around happy people and that made more happy people and more happy people made more. . . .
"And pretty soon they'll be dancing in the street," he remarked, his voice definitely keen with sarcasm.
Her exasperated sigh told him he'd touched a nerve and he immediately wished he could lose his sour mood. She'd done nothing to deserve the snarkiness.
"I'm sorry," he offered, but the look in her eyes told him he'd trespassed too far.
But she remained silent and in that silence the inside of the SUV grew gloomier.
He figured the silence would definitely follow them inside to her apartment, and he knew he should apologize further, but he couldn't think of what to say.
They were past the point in which she would simply suggest that he go his way for the evening and she go hers. She'd put up with his moodiness all week and he'd put up with her silent looks and pointed comments. Neither of them could figure out a way out of the funk that seemed to be suffocating them. And neither one of them was willing to go it alone for an evening.
It was the curse of being a couple that pissy moods came with the territory. His was the worst, really, fueled by all the loose ends in the damned fraud case. The biggest loose end of all, Tracy Lord or whatever the hell her name was at the moment, was dangling in the wind taunting him.
And all the "I'm sorries" in the world wouldn't make it right.
All cops have them.
That file folder at the bottom drawer of the desk with his copies of the file. His notes. Notes on his notes. Lists of suspects. Possibilities scrawled on torn napkins or scraps of paper. Doodles with graphic maps tying names to crimes to more connections to question marks.
The question marks were what kept a cop up at night, sifting and re-sifting through the evidence in his mind with the hope that the hundredth trip through the information would bring up something.
He thought he had had his case. Young, gifted singer left to molder in some evidence cold storage locker while her killer walked free.
He'd been desperate, unwilling to let her go. In that unwillingness was an epiphany of sorts. So he'd let go of his pride, his desire to go it alone, and taken a chance on a forensic anthropologist with the unlikeliest of names, Dr. Temperance Brennan.
Oh, he'd done some research, read the article about how she had solved some 3,000-year-old crime. He'd skimmed other articles, some with her name on them, some with a mention of the work she did, and while he didn't claim to understand more than every other word in some of the articles, he understood that she had an ability to make the bones give up their secrets.
He was prepared and unprepared at the same time. He'd expected some dried up woman with the personality of chalk carrying around a name like Temperance.
What he got instead was a woman who wrote her name onto his own bones, became part of who he was and who he would become and had changed him right down to the marrow.
Dr. Temperance Brennan.
He'd wanted her to help him solve the mystery of the case and he'd wanted to unlock the mystery of her and somehow, through stops and starts and miscues and mistakes they'd formed a partnership that had deepened and grown and become something more. Greater.
So it shouldn't have come to him as some sort of shock that family bore his regret in a case. That family bore the guilt at being unable to solve the puzzle. That family couldn't sleep anymore than he could while a murderer went free.
Because every cop had a case like that.
And even family was drawn in by the vacuum surrounding the truth.
He had felt the bed shift and groan and knew that she'd made her way to the bathroom with the click of the door and the sliver of light by the floor.
Half drowsy, he'd heard the faint clicks and footfalls disappear into the inky blackness and he'd simply turned back to sleep.
He'd swum in and out of consciousness for a while until finally, his own mind, restless and unwilling to succumb to sleep, had slowly nudged him awake. He'd immediately sensed she wasn't lying next to him, the emptiness of the bed all-too-disquieting.
So he'd tracked her to the kitchen where her laptop sat open, the screen saver making lazy sweeps of colors across the black expanse. She seemed lost in thought, a coffee mug cupped in her hands resting on the table.
"Earth to Bones."
It took her a half second to register his presence on his second attempt to get her attention and he half wondered if that was some sort of record.
"Booth?" She let go of the coffee cup and seemed almost startled. "What time is it?"
"It's still early," he said, suppressing a yawn. "Too early." He covered her hand with his and squeezed gently. "Working on your novel?"
Normally he expected her full attention even when she was deeply engrossed in something, but she still seemed far, far away.
"Mission Control calling." He paused, looking at her profile, waiting for some sign of life. "Bones? You okay?"
This time she flushed and dipped her head away from him. "I find that I cannot sleep."
He snorted as he chortled. "That's pretty obvious, Bones. Why can't you sleep? The book?"
He knew the novels came secondary to everything else in her life. And these days that life had been pretty full, even with Caroline Julian still enmeshed in administrative review along with everyone connected to the Justice Department or the FBI that had anything to do with them, the Jeffersonian or that damnable fraud case. They'd caught one case, a nervous junior prosecutor and mountains of paperwork. She'd managed to help solve the case while pumping out a research article, notes on a 100-page dissertation, and some kind of scholarly article debate that proved something about some bones that someone else had not thought possible.
All the while negotiating the quagmires he seemed to be digging every time he'd opened his mouth.
All in all it had been a pretty miserable two weeks—courtesy of the vanishing act Tracy Lord had managed to pull off.
"There has to be a way to find Tracy Lord," she said.
That was his line—practically a mantra running non-stop in his head. He'd tried to banish it more than once, but it had made him more than a little cranky when he succeeded and more than a little snippy when he didn't.
Yeah, it was a pretty miserable couple of weeks.
"Look, Bones," he tried to catch her eyes, "this is one of those that we're just going to have to let go."
He expected a protest, an argument about how could they let someone go who had murdered at least two people, was responsible for the deaths of others, probably had something to do with him being shot. . . the list went on. Tracy Lord had left a wave of destruction in her wake and they were no closer to finding her then they were to traveling to lowly Pluto for a weekend getaway.
He expected a protest, but there was none.
"You're right," she acceded as she closed her laptop. "We'll just have to let this one go."
It was anything but a happy ending.
Caroline Julian, newly cleared of all wrongdoing and "more peeved than a long-spined porcupine at a knitting needle factory" had let it slip that "maybe Tracy Lord is smarter than all you eggheads here at the Jeffersonian."
Cam had tried to put out the brush fires, but they seemed to fizzle and die quickly enough—Hodgins had become indignant, but Bones had been more analytical. "There is nothing in the profile that Sweets had provided based on Booth's observations of Tracy Lord's behavior to suggest her level of intelligence is any greater than my own."
But when Caroline was peeved, they all were.
"Maybe we just got beaten on this one, Seeley," Cam had said one evening at the Founding Fathers after they had finished the latest case and sent their junior prosecutor practically galloping toward court when they were done. Cam was chasing her beer with whiskey shots and her voice was resigned and tired. Herding cats had apparently been particularly trying that week.
It was only when she was into her third chaser that he saw how even she didn't like to lose. "I tell you Seeley," she had said leaning into the confidence with a conspiratorial whisper, "there are just some people who shouldn't get away with it. Because from my end," she said, her voice clear and true despite the liquor, "it's pretty hard to live with."
Living with it—well, that's all they really had. The fallout had been messy. Investigators seemed entrenched in Fletcher's office and more than once a week someone investigating the whole sordid mess would come down to his office to announce another resignation, another firing, another indictment.
Another life wasted because of greed.
He'd managed an entire weekend with his two favorite people despite a looming deadline for Bones and a tingling in his gut that was either the fish he'd downed at lunch the day before or something he'd left unfinished.
Despite it all he had taken Parker to the park to toss around a Frisbee—partly to tire out his son, and partly to give Bones a chance to finish the chapter without a Booth to break her concentration.
Since the night he'd woken to find her gone from his bed, they had been kinder, gentler with each other, the anger stowed away and reserved for the people who deserved it. Brennan had hung in and hung out with them most of the weekend, but he had given her the break, partly because she hadn't asked for it and partly because he could tell she needed it.
She'd been patient with Parker, gamely answering questions that seemed as rapid fire as machine gun blasts. She'd been patient with him, putting aside her novel and notes to help entertain his son.
Hank was right—she was a keeper.
He'd known that once they had crossed that damned line and swept away all the crap standing in their way that something kind of magical would take place. Oh, not that Bones believed in magic, but he did.
What they had was magic.
Parker was standing at the water fountain, filling the underside of the Frisbee with water. "Watch."
His son never ceased to amaze him. Parker balanced the Frisbee between his hands and bent to the ground presenting the makeshift bowl to a small dog dragging a leash.
The dog ignored Parker and went straight to the water while his son pointed and smiled at the ball of fur.
Booth looked around the park, trying to match owner to dog when he saw her.
She was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, her hair was darker, but it looked like her. She was the right height, she had the right moves as she bent forward to look at something in the flower bed near the walkway. Something in the way she held herself, in the way she thrust out her hip as she moved away from him.
He could have sworn it was her.
But he knew it wasn't.
"Dad?" called Parker. "Are you looking?"
Even though the file folder was at the bottom of the drawer of his desk, miles away at the Hoover, yeah, he was looking.
Some cases linger because of the lives broken apart. Some linger because of loose ends.
Some linger because of the what ifs. The maybes. The if onlys.
That was Tracy Lord.
And it pissed him off that she had outsmarted him. Them.
He knew he was a good cop, but he was a better cop because of them. He had a gang of geniuses who could find answers in slime and bone and blood and he felt somehow that Tracy Lord was thumbing her nose at them, taunting them from the sidelines.
It was that kind of a case.
Sweets would come into his office with a profile on someone else and their conversation would invariably steer back to Tracy Lord. While he was grateful he wasn't fending off questions about his relationship with Brennan, he took no pleasure in the diversion.
She'd beaten them, plain and simple.
"She played you all like a one-string banjo," Caroline reminded him one afternoon as he walked into the Jeffersonian, the prosecutor at his side. "Maybe it's a good thing your geniuses got a taste of the real world and lost this one," she said.
Before he could ask why or take back control of the conversation, Hodgins came up to them, grinning like a Cheshire cat. "You got a moment?"
He gave in, gave up and followed the entomologist toward his bug lair, half-listening as the man rambled on about re-visiting evidence.
"And I got to thinking that since we didn't supervise the retrieval of the remains. . . ."
"You want to hit fast forward, Hodgins?" He knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't resist trying to move the glacially slow process along. "Just hit the highlights."
Hodgins stopped and gave him another of those grins.
"I know where we might be able to find Tracy Lord."
"You've been working on this case for the last month and half and that's what you know? Where Tracy Lord, Alicia Demming, Olivia Kumquat or whatever the hell her name is was? Six weeks ago?"
Caroline was pulling no punches.
"And you expect us to use the finest resources of the FBI to go out there," she waved a finger toward the map they had displayed on the computer monitor, "to see if maybe she might have stuck around so that we could catch up with her? You expect her to have a Welcome Wagon waiting for us?"
Booth cast a look around the room. The gathering of squints was meant to be a pep talk and last minute instructions for the Whitmore trial, but it had turned into, well, he wasn't sure of what it had turned into.
This was their case, too. The one that prodded them awake at midnight and made the early morning hours miserable with recriminations and regrets.
"It fits, Booth." Max Keenan jabbed a finger toward the map. "You said she picked the victim through an ad, right?"
"Yeah, Alicia McAllister." The name and the face haunted him in the moments between wakefulness and the oblivion of sleep. "And it dead-ended at a PO box. Fake name and ID used to rent it. No security cameras or witnesses to show who picked it up."
"Frankie Mathison," Max said. "He picked up that girl's response. Delivered it to Tracy Lord."
Booth leaned back against the wall in Angela's office and folded his arms in front of his chest. "How the hell do you know that?"
"Will I have to testify?" Max asked Caroline.
"Or sit in a pretty jail cell if you don't," she countered gruffly. "Orange is not your best color."
Max cast a look toward Brennan and seemed resigned to a life of serving justice if only to placate his daughter. "I made some inquiries about whether anyone in that area might have picked up a package, done someone a favor."
"And how much did that favor cost?" Caroline was almost in full prosecutorial mode.
"Oh, no," he said, throwing his hands in the air. "I didn't pay for the information. Frankie got paid in one of those VISA gift cards. I think it was $250 to pick up the information and deliver it."
Booth felt a sliver of hope unfolding. "And Frankie knows where he delivered that information?"
"This is where I come in," said Hodgins as he took the remote pad from Angela. "The area that Mathison delivered the ad responses to is near this area," the screen changed to a close-up of the map which included photos of the area. Booth looked at Max who only shrugged. "The soil samples from the victim in the area under the bank are a match." He smiled, warming to his evidence. "The soil samples also match those found on the scene of Fletcher's death."
"So you've placed whoever killed Lord's look-alike and Fletcher to that area near the post office." Booth saw Caroline's mental gears grinding away. "Any chance your Mathison got a good look at that woman he delivered them to?"
Angela smiled. "We've got the card he received as well as a description of the woman."
She took the hand-off of the remote and with a few taps the card and the likeness were superimposed on the middle monitor.
"It fits the profile we have on Tracy Lord." Sweets was taking in all of the evidence presented. "She's a narcissistic personality who thinks she's smarter than all of you." He looked around the room. "Us. She's going to go to ground in the place she best knows because she doesn't think she can be traced there. She's Tracy Lord selling those cards and using Fletcher to protect her, but in her own backyard, she's someone else entirely. She thinks her disguise makes the real her invisible to the rest of the world."
Cam's eyes were dancing. "We know that the neuro-paralytic used on the victims was distilled from a plant not far from where the post office is."
"In fact," Hodgins pointed toward the third monitor. The image of a plant sprang to life on the screen including its Latin name. Hodgins recited the information and looked positively smug. "In small quantities, it can render a person paralyzed for a matter of seconds or minutes depending on the concentration."
"Giving our Mati Hari here the means and motive." Even Caroline was looking a bit pleased with herself.
"But that doesn't mean she's still in the area or that any fingerprints you found on the card match hers." Booth was still the cop, the one who had to connect the dots and deliver the killer to justice. "For all we know, she's long gone."
Brennan exchanged looks with her father and looked hopefully at Booth. "She's taken on a new name," she said, "although it's not Mata Hari," she added pointedly. "And she's changed her appearance, but I'm fairly certain it's her."
The image of Tracy Lord, scrubbed clean of tattoos and makeup and wearing more modest clothes than Booth remembered, sprang onto the monitor.
It was her.
"Then if you know all that," Caroline offered, "why aren't you off to arrest her, Booth?"
When he first got to the Bureau, he was put to work with an agent who, he later learned, had been chasing the ghost of a killer on a case almost 20 years old.
The man was a good agent, solid if not too slow-footed for the man Booth was then. He'd told him the story one night in his office between too many cups of coffee and too many what ifs.
Booth had listened, vowed not to get old on the job, and tried to put it out of his mind. But each case in which he hit a dead-end, first the one in which he knew that Judge Ames was the killer, and the other, the Cleo Eller case, in each of those cases he wondered if he had his ghost case.
And in each of those cases, the squints, led by the squintiest squint of all of them, had bailed him out.
Booth reminded himself of that time as he pulled the van into the parkway and allowed the vehicle to roll to a stop before easing on the brake and shutting off the engine.
"Angela and Hodgins are here already," Brennan said, her right hand drawing his attention to the couple already settled into the picnic table closest to the water.
He leaned in and squinted through her window, giving her a poke with his finger. "Better get a move on, Granny. At your age, it takes you a long time to get out of the car."
She gave him a playful slap, her blue eyes unmistakable. They hadn't aged at all, they couldn't really, but the rest of her—well, she still looked damn fine with the 25 years added onto her face. Her eyes crinkled when she smiled and he felt still drawn in by the expression there.
"It's just a few pounds, Booth," she said as she twisted in the seat.
They were both carrying a few more pounds, a few more years, but the couple down the way hadn't aged at all. Hodgins sketched a wave in their direction.
"I really think I'll age a bit better than this," Booth said as he checked his face in the rearview mirror. "I don't much like the beard."
It seemed like a creature had curled up on his face, grey and white with hints of the dark brown he once knew well.
"You're the reason we're dressed like this," she said, adjusting the hem of the dress she and Angela had picked out. "We can't have Tracy Lord recognize you, but you're the only one who might recognize her."
He grimaced at himself in the mirror and arched his eyebrows. When they had first fitted him for them—fuzzy, long-haired caterpillars above his eyes—he had almost balked at the whole idea. But he had required a new nose, too, and peering at himself in the various mirrors he would happen by, he couldn't really see that much of himself as a 60-year-old. But Bones, well, that was a different story.
"You still look hot, babe," he said, squeezing her thigh just above the knee.
She gave him a look. "I look appropriately aged for someone who is a quarter century older than my current, actual age."
He grinned at her, the furry creature on his face moving around that semblance of a grin, and he opened the door.
Booth had no problem looking his age as he gingerly climbed out of the vehicle, his back tied up in knots by the van's seat and the length of the ride down.
Brennan moved a bit more freely, despite the padding and had already joined him on his side of the van. Her hand went immediately to his back. "I can massage that tonight," she offered.
He nodded, slowly tried to ease away one of the knots before taking her hand and making their way toward the Hodgins' group.
They'd done their homework. Angela had traced a block of those gift cards on one of those auction sites and another block on a site for reselling gift cards at a discount and they had used that information as well as other bits and pieces gleaned from the various crime sites to draw a line right to Tracy Lord.
Mark Fletcher had done her a favor by wiping clean her slate at the bureau, but he had missed some records, safely stowed away in boxes in dusty basements.
He'd gotten the bullpen to pitch in and within days, they'd discovered that Tracy Lord did still exist.
Not far from a post office where, on a small hill, wild plants grew that could be turned into a paralytic agent that could be used to render a man or a woman helpless while someone simply stood behind them and executed them.
And she went on living her life at the cost of the life of another. "Fletcher got what he deserved," he said. Booth felt the stain of a dishonest cop on the Bureau.
"But Alicia McAllister didn't," Brennan said. "All she wanted was a modeling job. And Tracy Lord is responsible for her death."
Something in the way Brennan she said those words stirred him and he reached for her hand.
"Twenty-five years from now, this is where I want to be," Booth said as he nodded to a younger man on the path who had stooped down to adjust the collar on his dog.
"Undercover at a park determining if Aimee Teasdale is our Tracy Lord?"
He laughed. "No, Bones." He held her hand up between them. "Like this. With you. Under cover or under the covers. It really doesn't matter."
He half-expected her to resist, the eternal scientist discounting the possibility that love might last, but she did not pull away, but looked at him. Beyond the makeup and the wrinkles, he could see her thinking.
"I would like to believe in that, too, Booth."
He wanted to grab her and kiss her right then, but that would have signaled the agents he had planted in the park to swoop in and he hadn't spotted their prey yet. He just squeezed her hand.
They took up their station at the picnic table with Hodgins and Angela and the newest little squint and he wondered how he thought he could have thought about giving up. He glanced at Brennan.
With grey hair and glasses perched on her nose, she still looked beautiful. She was playing her part, grandmother to the littlest Hodgins, her fingers dancing in the air above the child's head.
He knew would take 25 minutes or 25 years with a woman like her.
Then, he saw her.
Lean legs, that chiseled abdomen, Tracy Lord owned the pathway as she jogged just as she had seemed to own the bars he'd been in with her. Her hair was bouncing behind her in a dark ponytail, and from what he could see, the woman was without her distinctive tattoos, but it was her. Despite her altered appearance, he knew it was her.
He glanced around the park at the agents they'd scattered—the dog walker, the man scowling over his crossword puzzle on the park bench, the man and woman photographing the flowerbeds. They were all waiting for his signal.
"Bones," he said as he watched Lord's lazy progress around the track circling the park, "did you know that happiness is contagious?"
And with that, he kissed her.
Author's Note: Thank you for hanging on and reading this opus. I appreciate the feedback and the encouragement. I do know that I won't ever think, "Oh, a 40-song challenge in 40 days? I can do that."
A year later, maybe. But the way I write? Turtles are faster.