Chapter Fourteen — The Legal Limit
Music blared out from a set of speakers attached to the iPhone dock in the medical examiner's office, as it had done for the past hour. Vivaldi played by Yo-Yo Ma was followed by James Taylor, Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons, Metallica, Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik," Ofra Haza, strains from Evita, Katrina and the Waves, Jill Scott, and now some P!nk. The office of the medical examiner, including the autopsy, fiber, trace, and tox labs, had been returned to the charge and care of Dr. Maura Isles, who could not let the occasion go by without celebrating her return to the seat of her power. Each song, including the Vivaldi and Mozart, had been cause for dancing — that is, in between moving various objects back to their proper homes, from which they had been moved by the HazMat team, intent on checking for every trace of radiation and, if necessary, removing it. Every finger snap, every complicated bit of footwork, every booty shake, announced to herself and the world, I have returned, like a conquering monarch/general to her own palace after successful campaign.
The fact that her seat of power was bereft of coffee pot barely even mattered to her at this point, as P!nk came into the shuffled song list, announcing that they had better get the party started. "Get this party started on a Saturday night," Maura sang, on key but with no real vocal ability or power other than that. It didn't matter, at least not to her. After hours — on a Saturday night, in fact, just as the song promised — who else should be here to hear it, after all? Thanks to the thallium scare, the lab techs and assistant medical examiners had all been given the weekend off, and would not return until Monday morning.
"Sendin' out a message to all of my friends, we'll be lookin' flashy in my Mercedes Benz. I've got lots of style, gold and diamond rings, I can go for miles, if you know what I — Oh!" The rest of the lyrics would have to wait. Maura's latest shimmy-and-twirl maneuver brought her to her doorway, and almost smack into the chest of Frankie Rizzoli. "OH!" she shrieked again, not at the surprise of seeing another human being where none were expected, but at the fact that it was Jane's brother. Quickly she smoothed down her dance-rumpled dress, hair, and demeanor. "I didn't expect anyone to be here," she said by way of awkward apology for what she knew many would see as excessive jubilee, given that her office, beautiful though it was, was the heart of a morgue.
Frankie "I got a problem... I think he's dead." There was no need to say who. The younger Rizzoli had been set to protect the janitor who had robbed her of her office.
Immediately, Maura was both dismayed and disappointed. You had one job to do, she thought in a moment of impatience. Frankie, Frankie, Frankie. You have to stay alert. You lose focus for one second... But she did not utter the words aloud. Frankie was a good man, and she knew well that he'd worked a full day before being assigned to guard the prisoner almost ten hours ago. He would take any perceived blame to heart, and it would eat at him and make him doubt his fitness as a cop, as a budding detective. "What happened?" That should be a safe question. There was no judgment in it.
"Ericson came to relieve me," Frankie answered promptly, though with guilt lacing his words. "So I went. Took a while to get the," his voice lowered, "stuff arranged. So, about two hours after I left, I was finally home and asleep, and Ericson calls me, asks me to come back and take a look. There he was..."
When Jane finally arrived, she was less than pleased. "Are you kidding me? Frankie, you had one job to do! Make sure Washington stays alive! You have to stay alert. You lose focus for one second... "
Neither she nor anyone else noticed Maura turning her head to the side and suppressing hilarity. It wouldn't do, making Frankie think she was laughing at him. It was just funny to her that she had absorbed some of Jane's thought patterns; or maybe it was that Ocean's Eleven movie that they'd watched together a few days previously.
Frankie, while hangdog, pointed out, "I did! You said if I was going to be up for 36 hours, I should get someone to cover. So I got Bob Ericson." Frankie paused and looked away. "He went to the bathroom while they were delivering lunch."
Pinching the bridge of her nose in the exact same way Maura had moments ago, Jane stifled the urge to kill her brother. "Where are Korsak and Frost?"
"Going over security camera footage." Maura replied, supervising the loading of the body onto a gurney. At least the transport would be brief.
Frankie answered this one. "Cavanaugh's chewing him out."
"Yeah? Why aren't you there?" wondered Jane, feeling the headache sneaking in.
Maura pulled her gloves off, "I think Frankie thought he'd rather tell you himself. Isn't that right?" She smiled thinly at the younger Rizzoli. "I'm going to make sure the body's secured, Jane."
The benefit of having had the lab closed for two days was that Maura now had the entire weekend free of scheduled autopsies and lab work, so that when the body came in, she could begin on it right away instead of putting it into the queue. Maura in her lab coat, Frankie in his much-rumpled uniform, Jane in her customary attire of wash-and-wear suit and beleaguered expression, Frost, and Korsak all stood in the autopsy lab. Frost had looked ill, but had not actually lost his dinner, the meal being by now too far distant to make a reappearance, by the time Maura set down her tools in the sanitizing bath and pulled off her gloves, but not her goggles. The goggles, Jane noticed for the umpteenth time, made her look like some kind of very cute insect. "I'll make a full report after I've had some sleep," Maura was saying, "but for now I can at least state cause of death. Cyanide poisoning by ingested powder."
"Oh, hey," Korsak spoke up, "I thought I smelled almonds." Heads swiveled in his direction. "What? It's a recessive trait, being able to smell them. I learned that back when Tylenol had that crappy series of poisonings in the eighties."
"I'll have tox confirm," Maura went on as if she'd never been interrupted, other than an eyebrow arch of vague interest, "but given the security in lockup and the presence of guards, the only truly likely vector seems to have been the food."
Frost's phone rang, and he picked up. "Detective Frost." He looked a little important, as he often did when dispatch called him instead of one of his more senior partners. "Found what?" Importance faded in a whoosh, replaced by surprise. "Aw, man. Okay, we'll get there. Thanks. No, I've got them all right with me."
He hung up, slipped the phone back into his pocket, and delivered the news without preamble or softening. "The guy who should've been bringing food to Grady Washington and the other guys in lockup never got home this morning after his graveyard shift. The food guy we saw on the footage wasn't him. The real guy just got found by his kid in a closet. Double-tap to the head with the gun left next to him."
Jane's hand went right back to the bridge of her nose. That headache was just going to sit there, mocking her, with the idea that O'Rourke's men were revenging on his death at Doyle's hands a few years back. "Are you kidding me? Tommy O'Rourke's move? Did we just start a new mob war?"
A meaty hand landed on her shoulder and Korsak, in his most sarcastic, pointed out, "You always said you wished you'd been on the force then." Jane couldn't come up with a verbal reply and just glared at her partner. "Let's go pick the stiff up. And run some of that fancy facial recognition stuff to see if we can find out who was delivering food."
Without having to look at a computer, Frost shoot his head. "He never showed his face to a camera or a reflective surface. I noticed that the first time I saw the video. It's why I flagged him."
"You did good, Frost," Jane sighed and pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead. Nope, that headache was here to stay. "Frankie, go home and get some sleep. Maura, you coming?"
"I might as well," replied the medical examiner. "I'm here; everyone else is off until Monday, because we didn't know when I'd get the lab back."
There would be no rest for the weary.
On her second beer of the night, Jane announced, "This sucks."
Korsak, on a diet soda in lieu of his second beer, raised his glass. "Hear, hear." Without comment, Frost raised his glass of milk and the trio clinked their drinks together. "How bad is this for your other case, Jane?"
Interestingly, Jane didn't feel guilty at all that she'd not told the guys about Paddy Doyle being alive, and the root cause for the whole resurrection of the case. She felt worse about not telling them that tonight she was going home to Maura. She felt worst about not having solved a damn thing. "Not bad, actually. We solved the Gerstmann murder. Mostly."
Leaning back in his seat, Frost thought about that. "He had partners, multiple. And they were all keeping tabs on Doyle's... family. They're still keeping tabs on them, even though he's dead. Maybe they think someone would take revenge?"
"Nah, we killed Doyle," objected Korsak, not looking at Jane for the moment.
"Dean killed Doyle," Jane corrected, absently, looking out the window for Maura, who was finishing up some lab work. They were both going to be overworked the next week thanks to the precinct shut down, but Maura's work started first. The detectives were silent for a while. "That doesn't make sense. Why would the mob care if we look into the deaths of Doyle's relatives? They already know how we feel about them."
Korsak's ice cubes clinked as he swirled his straw. "Maybe they aren't the target. Maybe they're trying to stop us from finding their spies left in the department, so they can always know when we're getting close." Now everyone looked out the window at their precinct. "That's a horrible thought," admitted Korsak, and he downed half his Diet Coke like it was a shot. "Screw the diet, I'm gettin' the good stuff. You in?"
Both Jane and Frost agreed, and Korsak wandered over to the bar to explain his order. "Is the Doc going to be okay?" wondered Frost quietly. "I mean, this can't be easy on her, having to work on her... stepmother's case."
"She's fine," assured Jane. Being able to talk openly with Maura about all aspects of the case had made it easier for both of them to come to grips with the whole situation. One of Jane's fonder memories of this case would be Saturday afternoon, after they'd collected the body of the food service worker, when Maura insisted on contacting 'Rick Dale' and badgered him until she was certain he hadn't arranged for the death. Even Anna was impressed, and told Maura if she ever wanted to switch career tracks and become an interrogator, the FBI would love to have her.
Jane sat up straighter when she caught sight of Maura's camel colored coat cutting through the light December snow. Rarely did Maura sacrifice fashion for function, being an expert at embracing both, and her ankle length coat swirled about her surprisingly fuzzy winter boots. Where she'd found winter boots with a heel, and how she managed to walk in them without slipping on the ice, Jane never knew. The door jingled as Maura strode in, a hint of swagger in her step.
By the time Maura had divested herself of jacket and slid in next to Jane, Korsak was back with four shot glasses. "Don't worry, Doc, this is the good stuff."
"I highly doubt that," muttered Maura, fairly well acquainted with the limitations of the Dirty Robber's liquor cabinet. She took a shot glass without further comment and mirrored Jane's motion to raise it in the air.
"To unsolved cases closed, new cases opened, and the continued employment of the finest detectives, and medical examiner, in the fine city of Boston," intoned Korsak, solemnly.
All four shot glasses were touched, gently, and three were downed quickly. One was sipped, and Maura's eyebrows rose in surprise before she followed suit and downed her shot. "That was good," she said with overt pleasure, the alcohol making her voice temporarily husky.
"Should be, for almost $400 a bottle," agreed Korsak. "Lagavulin 16 year old. It's the 'White Horse' bottling. You gotta know what to ask for, Doc."
Frost regarded his empty glass for a moment, and then his watch. "Speaking of knowing what to ask, I'm going to see if Anna wants to catch dinner before she heads back to DC." Flipping out his phone, Frost went to a quieter corner of the bar to make the call. Within minutes, he was pulling his coat on and rushing out the door.
"Young love," tsked Korsak, watching the hat-less Frost skid across the street.
Under the table, Jane took Maura's hand. While neither turned their head to look at each other, their eyes met in a sidelong smile. "Give him a break, long distance stuff is hard," admonished Jane.
"I think it's sweet," smiled Maura, "and heartening as well, to see them giving their relationship another try. It shows they're not quitters, and that they care about one another more than they were angry."
Jane's hand squeezed Maura's and she tried to keep a poker face. Hadn't Daniel Brophy just said that? "Speaking of not quitting, how's yoga going, Vince?"
His eyes darted between the women, curiously. The problem with Vince Korsak was that he was a damned good detective. "Still going three times a week, and doing that elliptical thing twice a week. Doc says I keep this up, my ticker's gonna look like a thirty-year-old's."
"That's not medically possible —" Maura started, but Jane elbowed her. "Oh, hyperbole. I'll be right back." She rolled her eyes and let go of Jane's hand to go to the bar and get her own drink.
Without really thinking, Jane watched Maura and smiled, appreciating the woman's form. "You got something you want to tell me, Janie?" muttered Korsak, his voice suddenly quieter, and he jerked his head towards Maura.
The diner was the most upscale one Jane could find that had at least a four-star review on Yelp!, and still served burgers and malteds. On top of that, she had to make sure Maura was going to be delayed at the lab a little more than expected, so she purposefully didn't give Frost the last bit of evidence until she was about to walk out the door. Maura was annoyed at being late, but at Frost and not Jane, and asked Jane to explain the situation to Constance.
With all her shenanigans, Jane wasn't able to beat Constance to the diner, but spotted the well poised woman in a comfortable booth, sipping a pre-dinner malted with the subversively gleeful expression of a woman knowing full well she was ruining her diet, and not giving a damn. "Sorry I'm late," apologized Jane, sitting across from Constance. "Maura's running even later. Work."
Eyes asparkle with the adventure of her fatty, sugary treat, Constance Isles lifted a smile towards the detective of whom her daughter had not stopped speaking from the moment they'd met. "I understand, Detective. You are both busy women. I'm glad that you make the time to spend with me when I'm in town. Oh, goodness, but this is delicious," she broke off for another taste from her straw. "It is also gratifying to see you making time for one another. That must be difficult to manage, but I'm so pleased that you do."
"We're making more time for it now," admitted Jane, keeping her light summer-weight jacket on in the air conditioned restaurant. "It's been a pretty rough year for everyone. But you're looking well."
They talked, briefly, on the normal banalities of life. Both Jane and Constance had gone through extensive physical therapy, and the shared extended damage of trauma was always easier to talk about with someone else who understood that you had weird moments crossing the street (Constance) or being in basements (Jane). Glancing at her watch, Jane realized she didn't have a whole lot of time before Maura showed up. "I hope you don't mind, Constance, but I kind of had an ulterior motive, asking you out to dinner," Jane began, cautiously.
Taking it as an excuse to do so, Constance pushed aside the dregs of her malted milkshake and leaned forward, showing all evidence of being vitally interested. "Do I detect ulterior motive in scheduling it earlier than my daughter was available, as well?"
Shifting in her seat a little, Jane felt like a teen-aged boy. "I could probably win reasonable doubt on that one," she said, stalling a little for courage. "I've never, um, I've never actually had this conversation before. Never needed to, and I'm still kind of not sure about..." Jane trailed off, watching her own hands make futile gestures in the air between them. "I'm probably going to screw this up."
"I'll take that into consideration," Constance allowed, kindly.
That didn't make Jane feel much better. "Okay. Okay, so I'm sort of— I think I'm falling in love with your daughter."
The head-tilt Constance gave her was eerily similar to the one Maura often gave when Jane was being incomprehensible. Or, well, no. Maura's was similar to Constance's. Still. "You tell me this as if to imply that it is..." She paused over the words, carefully selecting just the right one. "...new."
One day, Jane promised herself she'd figure out exactly when everyone in the free world, no, the planet, had decided she and Maura had been hot to trot for each other for years. Wearily, she pressed two fingers to her forehead. "It sure is for me," she sighed to Constance. "Yes, it's new. I haven't told her."
Honest shock galloped across Constance's usually dignified visage, and silence reigned while she processed the information. In the end, all she could say was, "Well, dear, hadn't you better get on with it?"
Jane sighed. "Yeah, I'm working on that, okay? Don't rush me." Aware that being snappish with the mother of the woman you were trying to ask out was a bad idea, Jane apologized, "I'm sorry. It's all really new to me, is all." She rubbed her forehead and then asked, "Why did you think we were already... You know?" Jane waved her hand in small circles.
"I'm familiar with the evidence of my own daughter's attractions and interests," Constance explained without seeming to explain much at all, "and it was really only a matter of identifying you as the other attracted party. I just assumed that since you were both interested in one another, and already so very close and affectionate... And then you showed such ferocity in protecting and advancing Maura's interests, and it was very easy to see, even if I hadn't had such an advantage." One hand lifted, waved a little in the air as if wafting the scent of her milkshake, or the flower in the vase on the table, towards her face. Again, an explanation without explanation.
Working her jaw in circles a few times, Jane's finely honed detective senses caught on to a rather important piece of information. "What advantage, exactly, are we talking about here?" she asked very carefully and very slowly.
"My rather impressive olfactory sense." Constance finally clarified, with the air of reminding Jane of something she already should have known. "I'm a super-sniffer. Not quite as good as a dog, but at least as good as most cats. It's really a small matter. There's a woman two tables away wearing a silk blouse that smells of her dinner companion's aftershave lotion. You washed your hands with Ivory soap before coming here, and your coat is about eighty percent wool in content, and smells of Maura's home; you were there within the last day. Our waiter has a rash he's treating with niacinamide cream. And you are... very attracted to my daughter, and thinking of her right now." She gradually realized that that fact had managed to escape the detective. "Maura didn't tell you?"
As Constance explained her particular talent, Jane's face went from thoughtful to impressed and into horrified. "Oh my God, I am so sorry," she said, dropping the first words that came to mind. "You should never ride the bus — How the hell do you even take a taxi?" Then the rest of the realizations hit Jane like a bus full of bricks. "Wait, you can smell everything?" She felt her skin flush in sudden mortification.
"Not everything," Constance said reassuringly as she reached out to pat the table near Jane's hand in a gesture much like that which Maura often employed, a calming 'touch' without touching. "However, I do detect a great deal. Don't worry, I haven't mentioned it to her. Why would I? I truly thought she was already aware."
Jane covered her face with both hands for a moment, attempting to find her point in all this. The conversations with Maura never went the way Jane expected, and it was clear Maura had learned the twisty-turny surprise conversation method from her mother. "I don't think so," sighed Jane. "At least not in our out loud voices." Their eyes, on the other hand, spoke volumes. "I mean, she told me she was into me."
"Really?" Constance was surprised. "In those words? Or did she say she was interested in you?"
Removing one hand from her face, Jane waved it. "I knew what she meant. I can translate Maura into Earthling."
One nod. "Good. Good, I was afraid she'd never find it within herself to be the first one to speak. Well, you certainly have my approval and blessing, if this is why you've told me. I know my husband will agree." Constance smiled suddenly towards something over Jane's shoulder. "And here she comes. Shall we be discussing the menu when she's hung up her coat and joined us?"
"Unless you've got a really embarrassing story to tell me about her," Jane agreed, reaching for a menu. "I think I want a cheeseburger."
In the here and now, there was no mistaking what Korsak meant, not with that significant-yet-understated chin jerk he sent Maura's way. Jane sighed. "Not... right now, Vince, no."
The big man nodded. "Any time you change your mind, Janie." He finished his Coke and stood up. "I'm gonna go feed Clouseau and the cats. Tell Angela hello for me." Jane reciprocated, raising her beer as a farewell wave.
When Maura returned with a mineral water for herself (the bartender/owner being conscientious in fulfilling his patrons' needs, even the pickier ones), she just barely caught sight of Vince's back at the door. "Oh," she whined a little, "I didn't get to even say anything but hello to either of the guys." She seated herself on the opposite side of the table, now that it was empty and sitting on the same side would be noticed as unusual, but her hand settled flat on the table, stretched towards her dearest friend. "Drinks and dinner here, or would you like to finish our drinks here and get dinner somewhere..." She slowed her speech to consider her options, running quickly through a mental list of appropriate adjectives. Better. Healthier. With clearer lighting. Of higher quality. No, none of those would do. "...else?" she finished weakly.
Reaching across the table, Jane rested her fingers on Maura's hand. "Lettuce does not a healthy meal make?" she asked, teasingly. "Somewhere else sounds good, something light but energizing, maybe fresh fruit for desert. Or no dessert at all... Unless you have to go back to the lab tonight."
"Oh, God no," Maura replied with a shudder. It was quite a change from the dancing she'd been doing nine or so hours previously. Two bodies, one autopsy and another scheduled, plus putting her entire office and lab back to rights, had sapped a great deal of the enjoyment out of reclaiming her tiny kingdom. "No, I'm going to take the rest of the night off, and I think tomorrow I might even go in a bit late." She sipped her sparkling mineral water, set it aside, and forgot to be discreet with her hands, playing lightly with Jane's fingers and admiring them. Jane was her personal worry-stone, taking her mind off all troubles and points of dissatisfaction the moment she touched her.
"But your idea sounds like a good one. I like the idea of energizing and light." Hazel eyes lifted from the long, lean hands on the tabletop. "Especially if you're thinking of going in a bit late tomorrow, too."
Trusting the bartender to keep his secrets (and win the betting pool, along with Caroline) Jane did not remove her hand from Maura's attentions, and just smiled. "I think I'm going to be working enough overtime for the next couple weeks to justify a late morning." She sipped her beer, finishing it, but made no move to get up and leave. "I'm going to have to go to DC in January for a weekend, probably, but that should be it for a while. Our boy Rick owes me some favors, and one of 'em is not dragging my ass across the country all the time. Looks like we're good there."
The mention of her biological father could easily have caused Maura to tense up, but it didn't. Perhaps she was too tired; perhaps too focused on post-prandial entertainments to come. Her only physical response was a smile. "Good. Because, you know, I'm thinking I'd really like to take you somewhere when this case is finished, or perhaps for Christmas. Somewhere... quiet. A spa, or a low-key cruise, or maybe the cabin. What do you think?"
"Cabin, definitely the cabin," Jane said quickly, and then blushed a little. "I think I'd enjoy it more if I wasn't so wrung out like last time. And besides, Mrs. Hudson's already seen me naked."
Maura's grin shone brightly in the darkly decorated bar. "She's one of the lucky few," agreed the petite woman. "Okay. I'll let her know we're going to be visiting soon. Do we have anything pressing to attend to?" asked Maura before finishing her mineral water.
"Nope," Jane smiled cheerfully. "Dean went home to deal with his blues, Anna's going home tomorrow morning, and Cavanaugh said Organized Crime is happier than he's ever seen 'em. Oh, and I totally kicked Brophy at chess on Friday."
That was news. "How did that happen?" She oozed out of the booth and stretched before going to collect her jacket.
Jane slide out from her side of the booth, leaving a nice tip. "He was visiting Dean in the hospital. I guess being the police priest means you have to be nice to the Feebies too," she shrugged. "I wanted to thank him for the other week. Being there for you."
Maura's nose wrinkled as she pulled her coat on and drew her hair out from beneath the collar. "I meant, how did you beat him? I know you're very good at chess, but he is, too. I'd have thought you'd... well, that the match would be slightly uneven."
"You don't even know the half of it," Jane boasted, forgiveably. "He was playing the game with Dean, right? And Dean is really bad at chess. When Brophy and I left Dean to his meds, I took over Dean's pieces. If I'd had the game from the start, I bet I would've beat him a lot sooner."
Justifiably, Maura looked impressed; and to Jane, who knew well what it looked like, a bit turned on as well. "Wow."
Jane beamed at Maura, shoving her arms carelessly into her coat. "It's funny, but even though we don't have the answers, I kind of feel like everything's going to be okay."
"Let's hope your optimism is justified. It's so rare," mused Maura, pulling her gloves on and securing the fit. Everything was precise. They made for the door, and once the two were outside, Maura stopped and turned her face up to her love, letting the light from the open window and the nearby street lamp illumine her pale features. "What about us, Jane?"
Jane thought about that for a moment, wriggling her fingers in the gloves Maura bought her last winter. "Do you remember that I told you I would never say everything would be okay when I couldn't promise that? We're gonna be okay, because we're in this together."
The End (For Now)
Well wasn't this fun? Some of those dangling threads from the last fic are cleared up, some new ones are left here. When will they tell Frost, Korsak, Frankie and Tommy? What about Frank Sr.? Does the idea of Maura sitting down like the man and telling the Rizzoli boys 'I'm sleeping with your sister' amuse you?
This time we didn't pick up on a current issue, but at least we used a poisoning method that has been popular for quite a long time. Thallium has been used as a poison for years; even Agatha Christie wrote about it, as we mentioned in-fic. We think you're all okay with the lack of "current events ripped from the headlines," given what we did cover: a crime, the season 2 finale, a bit more of the 'how Jane and Maura hooked up' story, coming out to Angela, Paddy Doyle and his impact on Maura, Casey, Dean... It was a lot, and we all got through it together. We feel we've bonded. Let's all sing Kum Ba Yah.
What's next? Something a lot fluffier! We all need it!