Title: Ain't Life Grand

Chapter 1: Speed Parade

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: The wait is over. Here's the third story in my mystery/romance series. I hope you're as excited to read it as I am to be writing it. If you're just now tuning in, welcome. The first two stories were Contraband and Libertad. Happy reading!

Boldness is ever blind, for it sees not dangers and inconveniences whence it is bad in council though good in execution. –Sir Francis Bacon

Speed Parade

Rory Gilmore was walking through the newsroom at the New York Daily News late one morning, when she paused at the conference room. A small group of her male colleagues had assembled in the room and their attention was fixed on a television screen.

Rory poked her head in. "What's going on?"

"A high speed chase," her editor, James West, answered.

"Oh," she replied. She was less excited than her co-workers. Maybe high speed chases were a guy thing, she thought, as she glanced at the television. A helicopter was providing an aerial view.

"Yeah, the guy robbed a bank over in Jersey City," Kyle, one of her youngest colleagues, explained. "He's working his way across Manhattan now."

"Super." Rory watched for a few minutes. "There's our cavalry," she commented, noting the addition of more police cruisers—the New York Police Department providing assistance.

When the car leading the pursuit made it across the Manhattan Bridge, Rory decided she'd seen enough. She headed back out to the newsroom. She got about two steps out the door when she heard James.

"Holy crap. Here's a new development. Is that the police? It came out of nowhere," he said. And a second later, "Oh, it's the police. They must have gone over the Brooklyn Bridge."

"What is that?" Kyle asked. "A Dodge Charger—or a Camaro maybe?"

Rory stopped in her tracks before turning back.

"I can't tell from this view," another co-worker answered.

"What just happened?" she asked the others.

"Another car just met up with the chase," James answered, turning his head a little in her direction, but not taking his eyes from the action. "Possibly a sports car, from the looks of it. It's really fast."

"What color is it?" she asked.

"What?"

"What color is the fast sports car?"

"Black."

"In that case, I'm going to make a wild guess that it's a Camaro."

"How do you know?"

Rory looked at the screen with narrowed eyes. "Because I've been in it."

"Ah, so it must be the detective then," James said with a grin.

"Who's the detective?" someone from Sports inquired.

"You don't know?" Kyle asked eagerly. "Rory's boyfriend is a detective for the NYPD."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. He carries a gun and everything," Kyle said enthusiastically.

"Law enforcement officials tend to do that," Rory said dryly.

"That's the coolest thing ever if it's him."

She looked back to the TV. "Is he kidding me?" She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and hit the speed dial. "He'd better pick up," she said. However, he did not.

"Let the man do his job," James said, clearly entertained by the chase.

"This is not his job," Rory said hotly, pointing to the TV. "His job is to ask people questions and find evidence. Today his job was to testify in court."

"This is way more exciting than sitting in the witness stand."

A few more staff writers walked in to see what was going on. Marie, Rory's fellow crime reporter, was included.

"What's all this?" she asked Rory, turning her attention to the television. "Oh. High speed chase. Fun."

"It is not fun."

"Why are you being such a Debbie Downer today?" Marie asked.

"Because detectives do not get into high speed chases."

Marie looked from the TV to Rory, who still had her cell phone in hand. "Oh," Marie said with a small laugh.

"How fast are they going?" Rory asked.

"Uh, originally, they were going down Interstate 78 at around a hundred and ten miles an hour," James supplied. "I think they might be going faster now."

"That is so awesome," Kyle said. Rory glared at him. "There's no way that Toyota is going to outrun that Camaro."

She looked back at the flat screen. The black car easily gained on the foreign car. The other police cruisers were a couple car lengths behind. The civilian drivers pulled over to the side of the road as the law enforcement vehicles flew by at breakneck speed.

The suspect tried to lose the police by turning onto Belt Parkway, according to the anchorman providing the play by play. But the Camaro was having none of it, as it stayed on the blue Toyota's tail. As the cars sped toward Jamaica Bay, Rory watched with horror as a drawbridge started to open for a boat. She covered her eyes and turned away. "I can't watch," she exclaimed.

There was a collective gasp from her cohorts.

"Whoa!"

"Are they all in the water?" Rory asked.

"Holy shit," someone said.

"That was amazing."

"You can look again," Marie told her. "Everybody made it over the bridge."

That wasn't entirely true, Rory saw, as she took her hand away from her face. Only two cars made it. The other police cruisers had to wait for the boat to pass and the draw bridge to go back down.

Everyone in the conference room continued to watch as a gun was pointed out of the Camaro's passenger side window to shoot out one of the back tires of the small blue car. The muscle car then effortlessly swooped across two lanes to the left so both drivers' side tires could be shot out. After that, the Toyota was at a definite disadvantage. It began to slow down. The Camaro pulled in front of the rogue car as a couple police cruisers caught up and surrounded it on the other sides.

Seeing the chase nearing its end, Rory went to grab her purse from her desk and returned to the conference room a minute later. She was just in time to see the suspect being arrested by the driver of the Camaro.

"Don't take this the wrong way," Marie told Rory. "But that was pretty impressive. That guy deserves to get laid tonight."

"Don't look at me when you say that."

"Are you loaning him out? I wouldn't mind a knight and shining armor."

"I think he prefers to be likened to the dark knight."

Marie nodded. "That fits too."

"Where are they, Jimmy?" Rory asked her editor, she jerked her head toward the TV.

"South Brooklyn," he answered. "Mill Basin they said."

Rory started to make her leave of the newsroom.

"Are you on a mission to hail the conquering hero?"

"No. In fact, you should probably send someone out in about ten minutes to cover the homicide."

"What homicide?"

"The one that's about to happen. Because as soon as I get there, I'm going to kill him." She continued to head for the lobby.

"At least get his statement first!"

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

A short time later, Rory was amongst a large crowd in Brooklyn. There were police cars and personnel all around. Since the chase crossed state lines, the local FBI agents were involved. Other media outlets were there to get the scoop, as well. A couple helicopters were still hovering above.

She worked her way through the uniformed officers, even finding the first responders from New Jersey. There wasn't any crime scene tape, so she was able to make her way to the inner circle unhindered, albeit slowly—recording statements took time. But she finally approached two detectives standing next to the Camaro that she and her colleagues had watched on TV. The tall blonde detective smiled slowly when he saw his girlfriend march up to them. She looked less happy to see him.

"Fancy you dropping by, Mary," Detective Tristan DuGrey said pleasantly. He took off his Aviators and hooked them on his light blue shirt. "You're looking as pretty as the day is long."

"And the days are still long in August, so that's saying something," his partner, Detective Mark Stevenson said.

Tristan nodded in agreement.

"You can wipe the smile off your face," Rory said crossly. "What happened to the rest of your clothes?" she asked with knit brows, distracted from her original objective. She was sure he'd been wearing a tie when he left for work that morning, as well as a light grey suit jacket to match his pants.

"He started stripping as soon as we stepped out of the court house," Mark answered for his partner.

"It's hot out," Tristan said in defense. "But that can't be why you're mad. Am I in trouble because I used your razor this morning?"

"What?" Mark and Rory said at the same time.

Tristan shrugged at his partner. "I wanted to see what it was like."

"And?"

He thoughtfully rubbed his face with his hand. "I didn't hate it."

Rory shook her head. "Get your own!"

"So that isn't why you're here?" he asked.

"No."

"Oh, I see. You must want the exclusive interview before anyone else."

"As a matter of fact, I do," she said, slowly turning the pages in her notebook to find a blank sheet. "Everyone in the newsroom was watching with rapt attention. They were especially impressed when that black Camaro showed up out of nowhere." She shifted her eyes toward the car as she said it. "Some people even applauded when the arrest was made." That was a fib—she hoped.

"Really?"

She nodded. "Oh yeah. You two are the beloved protagonists of the day."

"I love it when you use literary terms," Tristan said.

"But not everyone at the Daily News thought it was 'so cool'," she said using air quotes.

"No?"

She shook her head with pursed lips. "One person in particular thought it was really stupid and dangerous."

"She shouldn't have worried. I was wearing my seat belt. It's safety first with me."

"Whose idea was it to join the pursuit?"

"What's that now?"

"Whose idea was it?" she asked slowly.

Tristan looked to his partner for help.

"Oh, uh, mine. It was my idea," Mark said.

"Walk me through it," Rory started, all business, ready to take notes. "You were downtown this morning to testify in court."

"Right. When we were finished, we were going to head back to the precinct, but we heard about a hot pursuit on the radio. So I suggested that we assist—since we were in a good position to catch up."

"You know, taking the Brooklyn Bridge to meet up with the suspect in the next borough was a stroke of genius. The suspect probably didn't even know you guys were the police, at first. Even I thought that bit was good," Rory said in a complimentary tone. She was giving all of her attention to the dark haired detective.

"Yeah, well, element of surprise and all," he said.

Tristan frowned at the account. He was feeling neglected.

Rory went on, "One of the guys in the newsroom called the whole thing awesome. And the phrase, 'that guy should get laid tonight' was tossed around. So be sure to tell Han—"

"It was my idea," Tristan quickly interrupted.

Rory flashed angry eyes to him. "Of course it was your idea! This has your name written all over it." She glared back at Mark. "Don't lie for him."

He shook his head at Tristan's need to take credit. "I hope you're at least aware that you walked directly into her trap."

"Wait, does this mean no one said I should get laid tonight?"

"Don't worry about it," she said.

He grinned. "So someone did say it. I just want to know what people are saying about me. Call me curious."

"Focus here! Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Rory asked Tristan.

"No."

"Then why did you get involved in a high speed chase?"

He shrugged his broad shoulders. "We were in the area."

"You were in court."

"Relax. We had probable cause."

"Someone in New Jersey had probable cause. Do you even know why they were after the guy?"

"I'll read about it in the paper tomorrow." He nodded toward her notebook. "We just thought we'd give the Jersey boys a hand." He leaned in closer to her. "See, I'm a helper."

"You were going a hundred and ten miles an hour! That's reckless."

"We were going faster than that," Mark said.

"Shut up," Tristan told him through gritted teeth. "Stupid helicopters." He glanced up at the sky and then shook his head. "I had the situation under control."

"You went over a draw bridge that was going up! You could have ended up in the bay!"

"I had plenty of time. I wasn't going to let a bridge stop me."

"What do you think you are? Some kind of cowboy, out roping cattle at a rodeo? You aren't John Wayne."

"That metaphor would work better if I drove a Mustang," Tristan mused. "But I'll take it. After all, you know what they say about cowboys,"

"No," Rory said. "I don't."

"Save a horse . . ."

She raised a brown, still not following.

"Ride a cowboy," Mark supplied. "Save a horse, ride a cowboy."

She shook her head at Tristan. "What is wrong with you?"

"The full list is probably lengthy. But today?" he asked. "I was cooped up in court for three hours."

"So?"

"So when I was set free I needed a shot of adrenaline—and I was all out of hypodermic needles."

"And a high speed chase was the only way to compensate?"

"It was the opportunity that presented itself, so yeah. Some people use drugs to get high, I just like to drive fast."

"You could have gotten seriously hurt."

"Wait a minute. You were the one in the newsroom that thought it was dangerous, weren't you?" He waved a finger at her as he said it. "Were you worried about my safety?" he asked with interest. He was wearing a satisfied grin. He was enjoying this way too much for her liking.

She silently considered him for a moment.

Tristan smirked and tiled his head toward his partner without taking his eyes away from Rory. "Now she's between a rock and a hard place. She'll have to admit—in public, with witnesses—that she likes me and wants me around. And she'd rather not do that."

"I wouldn't want to admit that out loud," Mark said. His cell phone buzzed and he stepped away to answer.

"Listen here, little lady," Tristan told Rory firmly. He shoved his thumbs in his belt loops and took a step closer to her. "I'm the sheriff in this town. Let this be a lesson to all. If you run, one way or another, I'm going to get you," he said, his eyes glittering in the bright sun. "And you can quote me on that."

"I am not quoting you. You just ripped off Blondie."

"Suit yourself."

"Can't you at least act embarrassed that I'm here yelling at you in front of all your colleagues and the feds?"

"I don't really know those Jersey guys. And the feds are just going to act like they did all the work, so I definitely don't care what they think."

"What about the NYPD? They know you."

"Yeah, and some of them know you too. You think I'm embarrassed that you came all the way here in the middle of your work day just because you don't want harm to befall me?" he asked. "Sorry Doll Face, but I'm only flattered by your concern." He smiled at her.

Rory just crossed her arms and scowled.

"Besides, you're on fire today. Why would I want to put you out?"

Mark returned then. "Speaking of fire, we have to go to one. Fifty-second hundred block of Sixth Avenue."

"Fifty-second?" Tristan asked with furrowed brows.

"Yeah, Midtown."

"That could be your building," Rory said.

Tristan nodded and looked back at her. "I'd stay to continue this conversation—I'm loving the topic—but duty calls. Busy day," he said as he backed toward his car and put his sunglasses back on. "We should definitely meet up later though. Maybe we can make some bad decisions together. That is, unless you have to close the library tonight. Was your hair like that this morning?" he asked, checking out her up do.

"It was hot. I put it up," she answered evenly.

He nodded and grinned some more. "It looks good."

"Come on, Captain America, let's get a move on," Mark said.

Tristan turned to him. "You know that's not the super hero I like to compare myself to." He turned back to Rory. "Later."

She watched him get into his car and drive away. Then she looked around to see what was left of the scene. She had as much information as she cared to get. She rolled her eyes at the nagging desire to go check out the fire. She took her phone out.

"Jimmy, I got the story. I'm heading to a homicide in Midtown."

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

Twenty minutes later, Rory walked down the sidewalk of a familiar neighborhood. There were fire trucks, a few ambulances, and several police vehicles crowding Sixth Avenue. From what she could tell, the apartment building across the street from Tristan's had caught fire. The fire had been put out, but smoke clung to the already hot air.

Rory recognized some of the officials surveying the scene. She wasn't sure how close they would let her get, though. She was contemplating this when a familiar face caught her attention.

"What are you doing here?" Kyle asked as he approached her. "Did Jimmy assign both of us? I thought I was covering the fire on my own," he said anxiously.

"Don't worry, I'm not here for the fire," she answered. "Well, not really. There was a homicide."

"Oh. That makes sense. I thought I saw your boyfriend go in a little while ago. Was it really him in the high speed chase?" Kyle asked.

"Yup," she answered flatly.

"Man, he's so cocksure. You're really lucky."

Rory raised a brow at that.

"I mean because you get to hang out with him—and he's just so self-assured. You know, a real tough guy," Kyle said quickly. "I don't like guys."

"Sure."

"I don't!"

"Okay, Kyle. I believe you. Really. Have you talked to anyone yet?"

"Yeah. I got a few statements from some of the people who live in the building. They said it was an apartment on the sixteenth floor that caught fire."

"Do they know who the apartment belongs to?"

He shook his head. "No. But there's a list of residents next to the door. If I could get closer I might be able to find out."

Rory craned her neck and shielded her eyes as she looked up at the tall building. She looked across the street to the other building and got an idea.

"You stay here and wait for some of the firemen to finish up." She started to walk away.

"Where are you going?" Kyle asked.

"To try to get a better view."

Rory hid her press credentials in her light burgundy blouse and headed for the apartment building across from the crime scene. She got about ten feet away when a uniformed officer she didn't know stopped her.

"You can't come over here, ma'am."

"I live there," she answered, holding up a key that she produced from her purse.

"Oh. All right," he said, stepping out of her way.

Rory continued into the building and took the elevator to the twelfth floor. She let herself in and dropped her purse on the small dining room table before heading for the living room. She found the remote control on the coffee table and turned on Tristan's flat screen TV. She turned it to a local news station that had the breaking story. It was actually one of the channels that had provided a helicopter to broadcast the high speed chase an hour earlier.

She listened to the brief report before turning the television off and walking to the window. She could see over into some of the apartments across the street. She lifted her eyes until she saw a window with firemen passing by. Kyle was right, she counted and saw that the fire was on the sixteenth floor. She couldn't see too much, just people walking from room to room of the apartment, so she turned away from the window.

She heard her stomach growl and remembered that she hadn't eaten lunch yet. So she went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. She frowned at the contents. There wasn't much, for one thing. And for another, the little that was there had reached their expiration dates. She started taking things out and throwing them in the trash. When she was finished she was still hungry, but decided to get back outside. She didn't want Kyle to steal her story, after all.

When she was back out on the street, she took advantage of her location inside the barricade and tried to blend in. It would probably work better if she was wearing some kind of uniform or a shiny badge to appear more important. She watched as rescue personnel walked in and out of the building. After a little while, Tristan came out of the building. He looked around, squinting in the sunlight. When he caught sight of Rory he took a few steps closer to her.

"Have you seen the fire marshal?" he asked as he rolled up his sleeves.

She looked around and pointed to the man Tristan was looking for. He jogged off in the direction indicated and Rory was left alone again. That is, until Kyle walked over a moment later.

"How did you get over here?" she asked him.

"I'm stealthy."

"Ah."

"What about you?"

"I pretended to live there," she answered, nodding back at the building behind them.

"Weren't they suspicious when you couldn't get in?"

"Nope," Rory said, holding up the key.

"Oh."

Tristan walked back over then. "There're two of you," he observed, eyes moving from Kyle to Rory.

"Kyle is here for the fire. I'm here for the homicide."

"Okay. Go find a fireman to talk to," he said, tilting his head as a hint for the young reporter to go away.

"But don't you think we could both cover the homicide?" Kyle asked Rory. "Since it happened because of the fire?"

"Who told you that?" the detective asked suspiciously.

"Oh, well, no one. I just assumed—since there was a fire," Kyle stuttered.

"Terrific, you guys are writing about your assumptions now," Tristan said dryly. "Aren't you supposed to get the facts before you distort them?"

Rory nodded. "That's how Mark Twain put it."

"No, I just thought—and someone said it was arson. That's why you're here, right? But—"

"Why don't we wait until we get back to the newsroom and let Jimmy decide who'll cover what," Rory cut in. "There's the fire marshal now. See if you can get a statement from him. I'll get the police quotes."

"Fine," Kyle muttered, a bit crestfallen as he left the couple.

Rory's eyes followed her young colleague. "Yeah, I'm covering the homicide." She turned back to Tristan. "You probably shouldn't alienate your fan base though."

"It'll be all right. I still have you. That's all I need."

She raised a doubtful brow. "You think you have me? After that stunt you pulled earlier?"

"You're still on that?" he asked. "Your racing over immediately afterward leads me to believe that yes, I do have you."

She narrowed her eyes at him. He wasn't going to let her live that one down. "That doesn't mean I'm a fan."

He nodded. "I know, it's a paradox. I'm willing to make a deal with you though. I'll admit that I was stupid and thoughtless if you admit that you enjoy my presence in your life and want to keep me there."

She didn't say anything.

He stared at her evenly and then shrugged nonchalantly. "Fine. Later then. I can wait." He examined the opening of her shirt and pulled her credentials out from hiding. "Going undercover today?"

She shrugged. "I can be a pedestrian," she said, edginess fading from her voice

"Sure."

"I thought Ash Wednesday was in the spring."

Tristan looked confused. "It is. Why?"

"You have soot on your forehead," she said, reaching up to wipe it away. She brushed some out of his hair, too. He lifted his head back up when she was finished. "So, arson?" she asked, taking her notebook and pen out again

"Mm-hmm."

"It's too hot to be setting a fire," she commented. "What did you find up there?"

"A dead body on the bed."

"Male or female?"

"Female."

"Can I get a name?" She glanced at him.

He shook his head in response.

"Is it because you're being difficult on purpose today?"

"No," he replied. "But that usually is a fun tactic. I think I make it too easy for you sometimes anyway."

"So then, you can't say or you don't know?"

"Both at the moment," he said, tilting his head over to the entrance of the building, where Mark was speaking with a couple of men in suits.

"Those guys aren't homicide detectives, are they?" she asked, turning back.

"No. Sex crimes."

"Oh."

"They're helping us out. We don't know if it's their case yet. It'll depend on the ME's report."

"But something makes you guys think it could be?"

Tristan nodded. "The victim was tied to the bed by her wrists."

"Kinky," Rory said absentmindedly, and then quickly added, "Oh sorry. That was insensitive. There's a dead girl. No ID?"

"Nope. And she was burned pretty badly. So, Jane Doe for now."

"But the apartment belongs to someone, right?"

"Yeah."

"Who?" She didn't receive a response. She glanced at him expectantly. "Fine. I'll figure it out some other way."

"That won't mean the apartment belongs to the body. You still can't print a name, anyway. Not if it's a sex crime."

"People's addresses are in public records."

"You won't be content until you get me into trouble, will you?"

"Please. Like you need my help in that department. And you won't get in trouble if I credit a non-police source. You can't be held responsible for my actions."

"Yeah, we'll see about that."

"So what did the apartment look like?"

"Blackened."

"Does the fire marshal know what started the fire?"

"A flammable substance poured around the bed—not sure what yet."

"Was there so much fire damage that there wasn't anything with a name on it?"

"That's what was weird about it. It was furnished, but it didn't look like anyone was living there."

"What do you mean?"

"There weren't any personal affects. It looked cleaned out."

"I see, so it looked like your apartment."

"When were you there last?"

"Earlier. I went up to see if I could get a better view of the sixteenth floor."
"Crafty," he complimented.

"Yeah, I try. I emptied your refrigerator while I was there. Everything was expired."

"What will I eat now?"

She gave him a blank look. "Stuff that won't give you food poisoning—probably from my refrigerator."

"Ah-ha, so you admit that I'll be at your place to eat. You like me around. I knew it."

"I didn't say that."

"It was close enough. But don't worry, I won't tell anyone."

"They wouldn't believe you if you did."

"The feds and those Jersey cops might."

"Well, I don't know them, so I don't care what they think."

"Good. That makes two of us."

"So what did the building manager say?" she asked, getting back to the matter at hand.

"You'll have to talk to Mr. Furley yourself. Are you even allowed to print quotes that you attain by hearsay?"

Rory looked at him piteously. "You must be getting our respective industries mixed up."

He nodded in agreement. "You're right. My mistake."

"I should probably try to get back to the newsroom before Kyle does. I think he's chomping at the bit to take this whole story. He probably wanted to cover the high speed chase, I should have let him. He'd have been all over it—and you."

"I'm not comfortable with that."

"Don't be picky. You should take what you can get."

"I obviously got better," he said, eyeing her pointedly. "And I don't intend to settle for less."

"You wouldn't necessarily be settling with Kyle. I'm pretty sure he has a man-crush on you. And I think it runs deep."

Tristan shook his head. "The feeling isn't mutual." He looked over to his partner and the other detectives. "I should get back."

He started to back away, but thought of something and stopped with a concerned expression on his face. "Hey, you don't have a thing for firefighters, do you?"

"Why?"

He shrugged. "We're just rivals, you know—as far as keeping New York City safe goes."

She turned so she could get a good look at a few firemen not too far away. It was an extra-long look, for Tristan's benefit. She turned back to him and paused for dramatic affect. "No. You fulfill all my American hero whims."

He nodded. "Good."

Rory watched him leave for the second time that day before she turned to go back to her own job.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

"I have the details about the body found in the fire," Rory told her editor later that afternoon. She was standing in the doorway of his office.

"Good," he said, looking up. "Kyle is typing up his report. Your stuff can be added in."

"How about I add his stuff into my story?"

"Because I sent him to cover the fire."

"And I went to cover the homicide."

"Well, it's all one story now."

"Not necessarily. We have to wait for the autopsy report from the medical examiner."

"Come on, a body was found in a fire. Two and two don't make five, even if Big Brother says so."

"The body was tied to the bed."

"Kinky."

"Jimmy, a woman is dead," Rory reprimanded—hypocritically. "And it wasn't an accidental fire. Someone set it. That makes it a homicide. I found the story, so it should be mine. And I can write it on my own."

James got up from his desk and headed out to the newsroom. Rory kept up at his side. "When you left, I thought it was to do bodily harm to your boyfriend. I didn't know you were going to follow him to his next job."

"It doesn't matter how I found the story, only that I did find it."

"Hey, I'm not telling you not to write about it. If you want to stay with the investigation, that's fine. In fact, I encourage it. You'll get the intimate details anyway. But Kyle is on the story with you."

"Why?" Rory demanded as James paused at various reporters' desks to drop off marked up articles for corrections.

"Because I'm still the editor and I assigned him to the fire. That includes anything that came out of it—including a dead body."

"But Kyle is a baby rookie. A homicide is serious."

"He isn't an intern anymore. And you never had a problem with him before. Especially when he was picking up the slack over the summer, when you cut back your hours."

"That's because I was in grad school. But I finished two weeks ago, remember?"

"I do. Your raise should go into effect this month."

"It also means my hours are back to normal. So I don't need help. In fact, I have an advanced degree now. I should be getting more responsibility, not less."

By this time, the two had circled around the newsroom and they stopped at Kyle's small work station.

"Kyle, when you're finished with what you have, send it to Rory. She'll add what she knows about Erika Hart's homicide."

"Erika Hart?" Rory asked. She turned to Kyle. "It's Jane Doe."

"The apartment belongs to Erika Hart. I found someone who knew."

James smiled. "See, young Kyle shows promise."

"We still can't print the name. They don't know if the body belongs to the apartment owner. And it might be a sex crime. Those victims have a right to their privacy."

"We can say the fire was in Hart's apartment if someone confirmed it," James said.

"But the homicide has to be separate," Rory insisted.

James considered her for a moment. "Fine. Write a separate report. But you're still both on the case."

Rory glowered as she headed back to her desk. She sat down and picked up her office phone. She dialed and moved her computer mouse to bring it out of hibernation.

"DuGrey," Tristan answered.

"Erika Hart," Rory said flatly.

"Congratulations," he said, sounding distracted.

"Yeah. Whatever."

"What's wrong? You sound like your fish died. Your fish didn't die did they?" he asked quickly, now giving his full attention.

"No," she said with a frown. "And if they did, I would just replace them like usual."

"Still, if they both died on the same day, it would be tragic."

"Well if it ever happens, I'll be sure to swap them without you knowing."

"I appreciate that. So what's the matter?"

"I have to share the investigation with Kyle since he was assigned to the fire."

"Oh. That's not so bad. You get an underling to boss around."

Rory shook her head. "I don't think that's the deal. He found out Hart's name. I tried to stop him and Jimmy from printing it."

"Why? You were going to find it anyway."

"Yeah, but I wasn't going to assume that she's the dead body."

"I guess you can't expect all journalists to care about the facts."

"I guess."

"Cheer up. It'll be okay," Tristan said consolingly. "I have to go."

"All right. See you later."

"Will I?"

"Won't you?"

"Your choice."

She could tell by his voice that he was grinning on the other end. She rolled her eyes and gave an exaggerated sigh. "Yes."

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

Around five thirty that evening, Tristan was leaning against the side of his car, which was parked on the street in front of the New York Daily News. He glanced at his watch before looking back at the entrance. A couple of Channel 13 news reporters walked out of the building. Tristan crossed his arms unassumingly and turned away slightly. He hoped they wouldn't see and subsequently recognize him from his day's adventures.

After a few minutes, Rory walked out. She looked perplexed by his presence. "What are you doing here?" she asked when she stopped a foot away from him.

"I brought you something." He reached through the open car window to retrieve an iced coffee from a cup holder and handed it to her.

"What's this for?"

"Can't a guy just bring his girlfriend a cold beverage after a long hot day at work?"

"Not when you're the guy and today is the day," she said, taking a sip of the coffee.

He grinned and put his hands in his pockets.

"Half of my troubles arose today because the crazy person I'm in love with will probably drive me to pull all my hair out. Does this pick-me-up have anything to do with that?" she asked.

"I'm sure you'll make a very pretty bald girl," he said. "But, you got me. I'm trying to mend some fences."

"Atoning already? It isn't even Yom Kippur yet."

"Or sunset. But I thought I'd get a head start."

"What is it you're making amends for, exactly?" she asked.

"You know, the thing from earlier today."

"The thing? Can you be more specific?" she asked. "Apparently you like women's razors, so there are a couple things you could be referring to."

"That was a onetime thing. I forgot that I need a new one. I'll just do without tomorrow, I promise," he said. "But more importantly, I apologize for joining a high speed chase just for the excitement. I was showing off, really."

She silently scrutinized him as she took a long sip. She shook her head. "You aren't sorry about that. You had fun. A lot of fun."

He nodded. "That might be true. I do like a good chase. But I am sorry that you worried about me and went all the way to Brooklyn just to tell me so." He took a step closer to her.

She shook her head again. "You enjoyed that too."

"That's absolutely true. In fact, looking back, it was probably my favorite part. Seriously, it was kind of the best day ever."

"I'm glad I could contribute."

"Me too," he said as he opened the passenger side door of his car. "Care to get out of here?"

"Depends, are you going to keep it under ninety miles an hour?"

"Cross my heart and—"

"You probably shouldn't finish that sentence, you came pretty close today," she said as she stepped between the car and the open door. She stopped to look at him. "You're dangerous."

"Never forget," he replied, putting his sunglasses on. "So where did we land on the whole 'that guy should get laid' thing?"

"Don't press your luck," she said as she got into the car.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

The next day, Rory was at her desk in the newsroom. She was on the phone, speaking with Edward Waters, the manager of the apartment building with the dead body.

"Does Erika Hart still live on the sixteenth floor?" she asked.

"Yes. But her lease is up at the end of this month," Mr. Waters answered.

"Has she informed you of whether or not she's renewing her lease?"

"Yes, and I've documented that she's not."

"Oh, so she might have been in the process of moving out then."

"Uh, yeah, probably."

"When was the last time you saw her?"

"Oh, a couple weeks ago, I guess."

"Do you have her forwarding address?"

"No. She still has the keys to the apartment, too."

"So legally, the apartment is still hers."

"Right."

"Does she have any roommates?"

"No. It was just her."

"What about a boyfriend?"

"Yeah, I've seen her with a guy."

"Do you know his name?"

"No."

"Do you know if he had a key to her apartment?"

"I don't know. And she could've had more made—other than the two that she got when she moved in."

"True. All right. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Mr. Waters."

"Sure. Are we finished then?"

"Yes. Can I call if I think of any other questions?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess so."

"Thanks," Rory said before ending the call. After making a few notes, she continued her previous task of sipping her morning coffee and checking her e-mail.

A few minutes later, James walked over. "Gilmore, you're going to do a piece for the Health section," he told her.

"What? Why?"

"Because you want more to do, so here it is."

"So you're loaning me out to another section? Trading me—like a baseball card?"

"Come on now, you're a person. I'm trading you like a baseball player." He started to walk away.

Rory got up to follow. "So that's it then? I'm out and Kyle's in?"

"I'm not really trading you. You're still on the story. You're just pinch-hitting for another section."

"I don't even know what that means. Are we talking sports or health? Because I'm no good at either."

"You'll be fine."

"But I don't know anything about health. If you knew anything about how I was raised, you would know that. Eating habits? Horrible. Exercise? I don't even know the meaning of the word. I'm the worst person for the job."

"You're good at researching though. And talking to people. So find someone in the health field and talk to them."

"That's not the problem. I can find someone in the health field, easy."

"Then what's the problem?"

"The problem is that you're trying to assign me to a different beat when I already have one."

"I'm not trying to assign you. I already did."

"Don't I get a say in it?"

"Nope. And it's not permanent. Unless you want it to be."

"I won't want it to be. I want to stay on my beat and write my article."

"You must be really attached to that boyfriend of yours, to be throwing such a fit over that story. Didn't your mother teach you to share?"

"I'm not throwing a fit and isn't about him. I just want to do the job I've been doing for five years. The one I've been doing well for five years."

"You're still going to be doing it. Geez, since when are you so against trying new things?"

"I'm not against new things."

"Good. I want you to pitch me your idea for a health article by the end of the day Monday."

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

Later that afternoon, the detectives were in Erika Hart's apartment, looking around at the burned rubble. They were searching cabinets and closets for a flammable liquid container. Tristan's cell phone buzzed and he took it out of his pocket to answer.

"Newsroom," he said.

"Now I'm just confused," Rory said on the other line. "Congratulations."

"Thank you. What did I do?"

"Well, it's not what you did, it's what the murderer didn't do."

"You've talked with the medical examiner, I take it."

"Yup."

"You know how she was killed too, then."

"I do. It wasn't the fire. She was smothered before that."

"Mm-hmm."

"Couldn't it still classify as a sex crime?"

"How?"

"You know."

"No. Tell me." His tone was innocent enough, but his lips curved into a small smile.

"There could have been a miscommunication over a safe word."

"I can't believe you, Mary. So naughty."

"You knew where I was going. You just had to hear me say it, didn't you?"

"Yes," Tristan confessed. "If it was an accident, then setting the fire was overkill."

"That's true."

"But you're still right. The other detectives are on speed dial, just in case we need to consult with them."

"So other than that the investigation is all yours, huh?"

"Looks that way."

"Lucky."

"Kyle is still cutting into your story?"

"Yes. And it gets worse. Jimmy assigned me a story for the health beat."

"Does he know you—"

"At all?" Rory interrupted. "Apparently not. I have to come up with an idea, too."

"Just give Paris a call. She'll be able to help you out."

"That was my plan."

"Don't tell her I said it or anything, but she can be pretty useful."

"Your secret is safe with me," she said. "So, Jane Doe is still Jane Doe?"

"Yes. According to Erika Hart's employer, she's on vacation through the weekend. And no one has reported her missing."

"All right. Well, I mostly needed to vent, but I'm better now."

"Glad I could lend an ear."

"I'll let you go," Rory said before they both hung up.

Tristan turned back to his partner. "You know, if you and Hannah are still looking for a place to live, this place might not be so bad—after the fire damage is cleaned up, of course."

"Finding real estate in Manhattan may be a pain in the ass, but I think we'll pass on the apartment where a dead body was found."

"Afraid of hauntings?"

"Yes. That's the only problem," Mark answered dryly.

"It's a shame too. If you lived here, we could car pool in the mornings."

"How would that work, exactly?"

"Well see, we'd both get in my car and then I would drive us to work," Tristan said slowly. "We'd ride together just like we do all day, except we'd start out here rather than meet up at the precinct first. Come on now, use the brain I know the Wizard gave you."

"What I meant was, how would we car pool from here? That would indicate that you actually live across the street," Mark said, nodding to the window that faced Tristan's building.

"I do live there."

"When was the last time you lived there—physically?"

Tristan thought for a moment. He opened his mouth to answer, but frowned and stopped to think a little longer.

"There's my point. You don't live there."

"I pay to live there."

"No, you're paying for a safety net. And as far as my living arrangements go, I think Hannah is just going to move in after we're married. My apartment will be fine for a while."

"How has she not been stabbed yet, living in the south Bronx? I can't believe you let her live there."

"She'll be moving in soon enough."

"Yeah, but not until after the wedding. Who does that anymore? You're so old fashioned."

"Well, not everyone is as modern as you. But I manned up. So we'll be doing the real thing, not playing house. See, we're adults."

"That sounded pointed."

"It was meant to be."

"What are you imply—"

"Excuse me, are you two detectives?" a woman asked.

Tristan and Mark turned to see a woman in her late twenties walk into the apartment. She had light blonde hair and had a fresh tan.

"Yes, can we help you?" Stevenson answered.

"Yes. I'm Erika Hart and this is my apartment. I just got back into town this morning. Someone from work called me to ask if I was dead."

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

A little while later, Tristan placed a cup of coffee down in front of Erika Hart as he sat down next to his partner. They had brought her back to the precinct for questioning.

"We noticed you don't have much in your apartment, besides furniture," Mark started.

"That's because I've moved out. My lease is up at the end of August. I already moved in with my boyfriend. I didn't want to put off the hassle for when I got back from vacation, so I got it out of the way beforehand."

"Have you turned in your keys then?" Tristan asked.

"No," she said slowly. "But that's just a technicality. I'll turn them in. I was just going to wait until after I made sure I got everything out. I didn't want to turn them in just to realize I forgot something."

"That makes sense," Tristan said. He thought she sounded a little defensive though. So he pressed the issue. "How many keys to the apartment did you get when you moved in?"

"Two."

"Did anyone have the extra copy?"

"Well, I gave my brother one. But he said he lost it a couple months ago," she added quickly.

"We'll need his name and contact information."

"He said he lost his key though," she persisted.

"We still want to talk with him," Mark said. "Did he ever let himself in when you weren't around?"

"No," she said firmly.

"Did anyone else have a key?" Tristan asked.

"My boyfriend used to. But he gave it back when I moved in with him. It's not like we're going to go hang out in an apartment that I don't officially live in anymore."

"When did he give it back?"

"I moved in to his place a couple weeks ago, so that's when he gave it back."

"So, there were three keys to the apartment. You have two now and one is missing?"

"Right. Is that all you need?"

"One more thing. Do you know who this is?" Mark asked, showing her a picture of their burned victim.

Erika looked down at the picture and cringed at the severity of the burns. "No. I have no idea who that is."

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

Later that evening, Rory was in her bedroom, staring into her closet with furrowed brows. Her phone rang from the dresser so she moved to answer.

"Hello?"

"Rory, quick, tell me you're dying and that you need me by your side immediately."

"I'm not dying. Get ready for dinner," she sternly told her mother. She checked her watch. "In fact, you should be ready and en route. Besides, I like to think that if I was dying, Grandma and Grandpa would want to come too."

"Yeah. They like you," Lorelai reasoned.

"Tell them hi for me."

"Sure thing. So, big plans tonight?"

"Nope, just hanging out," Rory answered. "Actually, I'm reorganizing my closet right now."

"You always did know how to have a good time."

"Mm-hmm. But I'm having difficulty," she said, frowning at the clothes in front of her.

"Why? Too much clothes and not enough closet?"

"Yes. But it isn't all my clothes." She paused in thought for a moment. "I think Tristan is moving in."

"Oh. Wow. That's a big step."

"I guess. It has been almost two years. It's not like we just met."

"Yeah. But still, I didn't know you decided to move in together."

"Neither did I. But it looks like he's close to finishing a stealth operation. His things have slowly but surely migrated to the Upper East Side. And I saw the inside of his refrigerator yesterday. It was the Grapes of Wrath in there."

"Maybe it's more convenient. Is your apartment closer to his work?"

"No, it's farther. He has to get up earlier to maintain his impeccable punctuality."

"In that case, it might just be because you're there. I'm starting to think that he likes you."

"Maybe," Rory said. "I'd be stupid to kick him out. He's too good at household chores."

"Well sure, he has to earn his keep somehow."

"Yeah, he's a little neurotic though. He won't go to bed if there are dirty dishes in the sink."

"That's weird."

"I know. I think he might have military school nightmares if things aren't all in their place."

"I guess everyone has to be weaned off the maid somehow."

"Military school may have been a harsh punishment, but I swear by it," Rory said. "And you know what else? When he makes coffee in the morning, it's really good—suspiciously good."

"Suspicious how?"

"Well, you know how Luke's coffee is the best?"

"Yes." Lorelai gasped. "You are not going to tell me that Tristan's is better. I didn't raise you to be blasphemous."

"Oh, I would never. I'm not saying his is better, but it's almost as good as."

"Whoa. Almost as good as? That's serious."

"I know. Do you think Luke told him his secret? I've always believed that he needs a location in Manhattan."

"No. He likes you, but he doesn't reveal his secrets. He's like you with sources."

"Hmm. Maybe Tristan just watched closely."

"That could be it. Still, we better not tell Luke."

"Good idea," Rory said. "Hey, you guys haven't come to visit in a while. Why don't you come down for dinner some time?"

"All right. When is good for you? Our schedule is wide open."

"How about next Saturday?"

"That's no good for us, we have plans."

"What about the Saturday after that?" Rory asked grimly.

"I think that will work."

"Okay, we'll see you then."

"But just a warning, if I don't get picked up by the Cash Cab this time, I will give up on New York City."

"Do you have any idea how many cabs there are in Manhattan alone?"

"That's not an excuse."

Rory heard a noise coming from her living room. "I think Johnny Law is at the door now."

"Oh, I guess I'll go then. You're sure you aren't dying?"

"Positive."

"Darn. I'll talk to you later," Lorelai said before they both hung up.

Rory sat her phone back on the dresser as Tristan walked in.

"Hey," he greeted, giving her a kiss. "Waiting for me in the bedroom? I like it."

She shook her head and went back to her closet. "No. I'm trying to make room for what I assume can only be your last two suits and four dress shirts."

"That sounds like a pretty close estimate."

"I think I saw cobwebs in your apartment yesterday."
"You're exaggerating."

"I'm not. I said hi to Charlotte and her kids."

"I have a solution to the closet problem. Would you like to see?" he asked.

"I'd love to."

Tristan walked across the hall to the spare bedroom and Rory followed. She watched him open the drawers of a tall dresser. They were all full of books. He looked at her with raised brows.

"I don't see the problem," Rory said.

"Have you heard of shelves?"

She shrugged. "Overrated."

"You're weird."

"That's probably good, since you tend to get bored easily."

"True," he said as he closed the drawers.

They both walked down the hall and heard a knock at the door. Rory went to answer and found her friend and neighbor on the other side. "Hey Lucy," she said, moving to let her in.

"Hi. I was wondering if you guys would come out to dinner with me and Philip tonight."

"Phillip?" Rory asked. "The guy you met on the subway last week?"

"Yes. He's nice and I really like him," Lucy insisted. "He could be the one."

"You think you met the one on the subway?" Tristan asked doubtfully.

Lucy put her hands at her hips defiantly. "Not everyone can meet at romantic places like crime scenes."

"That was a really pointed remark," Rory commented.

Tristan nodded. "Those have been going around today." He turned back to Lucy. "Why do you need us there if you think he's the one? Extra people will kill the mood."

"I just want another opinion. You know, from objective people who care about me."

"What about Olivia?" Rory asked suspiciously. "You've known her longer."

"Yes, but I want a male opinion."

"Uh-huh," Tristan said, not convinced.

"Men know guys better than girls. They can distinguish the good guys from the riff raff."

"How about I just do a quick background check for you?" he offered.

"You would do that? For me?" Lucy asked eagerly.

He turned to Rory expectantly.

"What?" she asked. "Do you need my permission or something?"

"Oh no. I'm just wondering if you're okay with me abusing police resources for the safety of your friend here."

"So you do need my permission."

"I don't see it that way."

"Go ahead. I'm not feeling very eager to uncover the corruption of 'the man' tonight."

Tristan went to retrieve his laptop and they all went to the kitchen. He asked Lucy for Phillip's last name and ran him through the system. While they waited, he and Lucy watched Rory take things out of her refrigerator and set it all on the counter.

"Is this dinner?" Lucy asked, looking at the week's leftovers.

Tristan tilted his head toward her. "I think she's on a one-woman mission to clean out all the refrigerators in Manhattan. Be warned, yours could be next."

"Noted," Lucy said. "By the way, we all watched the high speed chase yesterday at work. They were all jealous that I know you."

Tristan glanced at the refrigerator, where Rory was standing, and put a finger to his lips. "Shh." He looked back at his computer screen and gave a thumb's up. "No arrests or convictions."

"Thank goodness. What did we do all those years without you?" Lucy asked.

"Apparently you dated a lot of riff raff."

"Never again," she said, heading for the door. "Thanks Tristan. Have a good night," she said as she left the apartment.

"Just because someone has been arrested doesn't mean they're a shady character," Rory said.

"I agree," Tristan said as he closed his laptop and sat down on a bar stool. "In fact, when I'm at work, I just go over to the holding cell if I feel like making new friends."

"Very funny, Harvard. Maybe you should have been a comedian."

"Nah," he said, taking her by the hand and pulling her over to sit on his lap. "Comedians don't go to crime scenes."

"So?"

"So, crime scenes are very romantic places to meet girls."

"The weird ones, right?"

He nodded. "Those are the best ones."