I wasn't expecting to write a sequel to 'When', but I got a few reviews requesting one and I got to thinking...et voila!
Mahoosivest thanks to Tricki for the beta xx
There are few sounds more offensive than that of a ringing phone an hour before you're due to wake. There are those few moments of confusion as the noise is incorporated into your dream; then the slow realisation that it is, in fact, real life; then the panic to find the blessed infernal thing and severely reprimand whoever dared to call at such an ungodly hour. Woe betide Don Flack Jr.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know…" Flack began, before Mac had even managed to speak a word. "But I'm at a scene you're really gonna want to see. It's…it's a real doozy, Mac…"
Mac sighed, rubbing a hand over his face and checking the clock again with a grimace. "Text me the address and give me a half hour."
"I'll have coffee waiting."
"And Flack? Call Stella."
"Aww, Mac, c'mon! You know she's not exactly a morning person."
"I know, that's why I told you to call her."
"You just forfeited your coffee, man."
Mac smirked as he hung up and fell back onto his pillow, his eyes closing in wishful thinking. His hand fell to the sheet with a thud as he heaved a sigh at the thoughts of the day ahead and what could be waiting for him that was so urgent to drag him out of bed. He was actually sleeping, damnit.
The offensive noise began again, but the phone in his hand wasn't vibrating.
"Bonasera." A voice at his side announced. "And this better be good."
His head spun to her at speed, the pillowcase rustling under his ear as he focused on the mass of curls. She was facing away from him, the sheet exposing enough of her bare back for memories of the night before to suddenly flood every sense.
"It'll cost you more than coffee to get me out of bed, y'know…mmhmm, as much as I love your smile that's not gonna fly with me. Text me the address and we'll negotiate terms…" Although her tone was light, her sentiment was true; If he didn't have a bagel or muffin waiting her for with that coffee, there would be words.
She hung up the phone and let it drop to the floor where her dress seemed to be pooled. She gathered the sheet around herself and turned onto her back, a bashful smile on her lips. "Good morning."
She swallowed. "We, er, better get going, I guess."
There was a certain kind of symbiosis to their morning. They didn't talk about what had or hadn't happened that night and into the morning, there wasn't the time. Stella showered first, leaving Mac in the kitchen to make coffee and toast. He then showered while she dressed in her clothes from the night before and switched on the news in the hope of a few spoilers to what may await them at the scene.
She was sat on the couch, her feet perched on the coffee table, a crust of toast perched between her teeth as she listened intently to the newscast. It wasn't about the scene but some celebrity, Mac noted as he grabbed his watch from the table and pushed up his shirt sleeve. Her legs were crossed at the ankle, bent at the knee and her toned thighs were showcased fantastically as the dress floated over her skin.
His throat suddenly dried as he tore his eyes away, alerting her to his presence as he clumsily bashed into a chair.
As he dropped her at her place and carried on to the scene, Stella ran up to her apartment to quickly change and make her own way there.
Thanks to the early morning traffic, they both actually managed to turn up at the same time, Mac bidding her a "Good morning" as they squeezed their way between the squad cars and under the police tape.
"Good morning," she replied, a smirk tilting at her lips.
"You made it!" Flack said, spinning away from interviewing a witness and falling into step.
"Yeah, sorry, traffic on Fifth was backed up."
His gaze lingered on Mac more than Stella as he asked, "You took Fifth?"
"What have we got?"
"Wanna narrow it down for us, Flack?" Stella smiled.
"James Michaels, thirty five, found this morning by the City's Refuse Collectors - bin men to you and me. Shot four times, M.E.'s just left."
The three came to a stop before the slumped body half way down the alley. "Why were we needed so urgently?"
"Well, the M.E. just confirmed that the fatal shot was the one to the forehead," he poked the centre of his forehead with his pen. "The other three shots were...well, a few inches south of there."
Stella grimaced, "You mean..."
"A place no man wants a wound of any description, never mind gun shot."
"I'm gonna finish up on the witness interviews and leave you two to search for the guy's, er, pride and two joys." He gave a final shudder and returned to the top of the entrance where the refuse collectors were getting impatient.
"I think it's safe to say this was a crime of passion," Mac started, placing his aluminium kit on the ground.
"Trick gone wrong? Or domestic?"
"Let's find out," he said, his phone trilling to life in his pocket. He gestured that he would step to the side as he dug inside his jacket.
Stella looked at the body. If it wasn't for the pool of blood and matter between his outstretched legs, or the high velocity spatter against the brick wall behind him, she would have just thought it was a guy sleeping off one too many. Just another to scoop up and ship off home to wallow in hangover hell.
His hands caught her eye; through-and-through gunshot wounds where he'd obviously tried to protect himself, a few broken knuckles as well. She wondered whether a punch-up had pre-dated the gun fight and snapped on latex gloves to manoeuvre the head.
Had the blood been pumping for longer, she would have been fully expecting a more purple hue and a hell of a lot more swelling. He had to have fractured eye sockets, a broken nose and jaw to go with the lacerations to the skin. His eyes were still open, the dark blue of his irises dulled behind the cloudy, opaque corneas. Even so, something was strangely familiar about them...
She quickly grabbed the drivers licence Flack had bagged and tagged, flipping it over to look at the photo. It was him; The guy with the intense midnight blue eyes. The dark and smouldering/twisted and serial killer guy she saw at the hotel bar the night before.
Her heart dropped into her stomach and every breath left her body.
The fight-bite and wedding ring tan she had noticed then were blasted away, but she remembered that another alarm bell for her had been the familiar bulge of a gun under his jacket. Flack would have mentioned finding something like that, she was sure, but she fanned open the body's sports jacket and felt around the back of his waistband.
"It's not here..."
Mac crouched down next to her, "What isn't here?"
"How do you know he had one?"
She sat back on her heels, snapping off her gloves and looked at Mac. "He was there. Last night, at the hotel."
He hooked a hand around her elbow and guided her over to one side, "What are you talking about?"
"Last night," she said in hushed tones, "I thought he was one who bought me that drink. I was looking around for him to tell him 'thanks but no thanks' but I saw you and..."
"Did you talk to him?"
"No, no, he just stared at me over the bar. I didn't like him though," she looked over to the body, "Something was off."
"How do you know he had a gun?"
"I noticed four things about him; his eyes, a tan line," she stroked her ring finger, "fight-bite on his knuckles and a bulge under his jacket."
"It could have been his phone in a holster-"
"-Top right pocket; blackberry. It blinked."
If it had been any other situation, he would have smirked at her contradicting herself about knowing four things; of course she knew more. "Okay, you can't be here."
Her voice dropped even lower, "you were there too, Mac. There's just as much chance of you getting caught."
"I didn't have any interaction with the vic, no matter how small," he emphasised as she began to protest. "Hawkes juat called in a double down at Battery Park. You go assist, I'll stay here and-"
"As promised," Flack announced, thrusting a small blue cardboard coffee cup into her hand, "and an almond pastry to sweeten the deal."
Stella looked down at the white paper bag in his hand, her mind taking a moment to switch conversations.
"For dragging you put of bed?"
She could have laughed at the irony. "You, my friend, are back in my good books," she grinned, taking the bag.
Flack smiled, "Know anything more? I've had to release the witnesses."
"I know I've got to run. Hawkes caught a double so I'm leaving this one to you boys."
"Even after I bought you the pastry?"
"Boss' orders." She gave Flack's arm a squeeze as she passed, her gaze lingering on Mac's as she silently told him what their company couldn't hear: Keep me informed, Be careful, I got a bad feeling about this.
The traffic was still backed up on Fifth, the moments at standstill allowing her mind to wander to the 'what if's of the situation. She ran through every moment in the hotel; from arriving and sitting at the bar (two tables taken - far wall and by the window - one with a couple, other with two businessmen, none of which were Michaels), to leaving with Mac (she only remembered him).
She'd had two drinks before she saw Michaels. She had a pretty good tolerance for alcohol so she was confident with her memory, she just couldn't remember much about him. She'd sat with her drinks, listening to that awful music and getting lost in self-evaluation. And not liking the results.
She'd done it again, hadn't she? Brought her work and what passed as her social life so close that she may potentially lose her job. Her career. The only thing she had anymore. She slammed her hand down on the steering wheel, her jaw clenching as she wondered when it might be her chance for happiness.
The traffic jerked forward a few inches. It wasn't just her job on the line this time, it was Mac's too. She hadn't been alone in that bar and if it came out that either of them where at the vic's last location and hadn't disclosed, never mind actually leaving and spending the night together, they could both be looking at disciplinary actions if not worse.
She drove to the other scene on auto-pilot, pulling the Avalance into a space behind Hawkes'. She pulled down the mirrored visor and checked nothing was telling, nothing that could give Hawkes cause to be concerned or intrigued. She took a deep breath and climbed out of the car.
"I hear you've got your hands full," she grinned, crossing the parking lot to where Hawkes was stood over a body, a camera to his face.
He looked across and smirked, "With the bodies or with you?"
She laughed, diverting her blush to the rather large gentleman lying before him. "What do you know?"
"Somebody brought a gun to a knife fight. This guy's got a 44 in the gut, that guy," he gestured to the other body on the sidewalk, "has multiple stab wounds."
She moved over to the sidewalk. The body, also of a rather large gentleman, had a gun still gripped in his hand, the other hand covering a gaping and very bloody slice to the abdomen. "What is this place?" Both bodies were dressed in jeans, heavy boots and leather jackets.
"Biker club. It started inside and spilled out here, the others took off once they realised the cops would be showing up."
"Your guy got any patches?"
Hawkes hefted the body to his side, noting now the rips and tears to the jackets where insignias and patches once identified them to a certain band of the biking community. "Nope. Something tells me these guys weren't the kind to bike through Maine to see the leaves change..."
"I think you're right. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for their friends to return while I run them through AFIS."
A call to dispatch doubled their uniform protection and allowed them to keep their focus on evidence collection and, in Stella's case, not on James Michaels.
Stella printed and searched for the two bikers in the databases, finding that both were in fact known to AFIS and the penal code. It also seemed that, in exchange for lighter sentences, both men had ratted on the other and only realised it today. The disloyalty to each other had had them kicked out of the gang and stripped of their insignias. Instead of wasting their ammunition on the deserters, the rest of the gang had left them to hash out their differences themselves, knowing that neither would come out alive.
Stella loaded up the car with her depleted kit and two boxes of evidence to be shared out to Trace, Ballistics and herself and Hawkes and headed back to the labs. She was shocked to realise the next shift would already be on the clock, meaning the scene had taken up way more time than she had anticipated and that she hadn't heard a peep out of Mac...
She pulled a right and descended down the ramp into the parking garage, her vision momentarily blocking as she went from beautiful daylight to fluorescent strip lighting. She circled the structure and drove into the reserved parking space against the far wall. It wasn't until she was climbing from the driver's seat and fixing her jacket that she noticed Flack leaning against the trailer of the company pick-up truck next to her. "Jeez, Flack! Give a girl a heart attack..."
His mouth only flickered with the grin she was expecting before returning to tight lips and furrowed brow.
"What's going on?' she asked as he rounded the truck.
He flipped open the manila folder in his hands and pulled out a glossy, zoomed-in photograph and held it out for her. "James and Emily Michaels."
She glanced at the photo in her hands. It was a wedding shot, she in a silken a-line white dress with spaghetti straps and a beaming smile. He in a three piece suit with dark purple infused to match her sash and the bridesmaids' dresses. "This is the wife..."
"Yup, circa 2007. This," he pulled out another picture, "is Emily two weeks ago."
The air left her body. It was an autopsy photo. Emily on the metal morgue tables, her face twice the size and so purple it was almost black.
"She suffered multiple blunt force traumas to the head, face, neck and torso," he said as she placed the two photos side by side. "but that's just the recent injuries. Unrecognisable, isn't she?"
"How was Michaels still on the street?"
"He had an alibi. Some girl he apparently picked up in a hotel bar."
"I pulled his credit card records from last night and traced him to the," he flipped open the folder and scanned the papers unnecessarily; the name was burned into his mind. "Masterson Hotel bar. The guys behind said bar couldn't recognise him from his DMV picture, but apparently it was pretty busy last night. I sat through six hours of security footage though and got some interesting results…"
He passed her a grainy, dark screencap of the bar. It was an overhead shot but zoomed in enough to show just how busy the bar was, and Michaels staring at a curly haired woman that she hoped he didn't know was her. Flack tapped the photo, "That's Michaels there. He got talking to this redhead," he slid another photograph on top of the apparent redhead - she imagined he'd pulled her DMV records too because the photos were black and white. Although the woman was in the forefront - a straw seductively placed between her lips as she stared off to the right -, the background was more interesting her, and, she knew, Flack. Though blurred and somewhat pixellated, she could clearly make out herself looking to Mac, his hand on her cheek. It was a quiet moment amongst chaos; it was intimate. Her eyes were stuck to the image, there was no denying what it meant.
"We also followed them to the street." Another photograph was slid into her view, showing Michaels with his arm around the woman, his mouth to her ear as they crossed the street. Again, though, it was clear that it was the background that was of most interest: Stella pressed against Mac, his hands in her hair, their lips together. That was pretty self-explanatory.
"We lost him on the Masterson's cameras after that," he started, having given her a moment for that image to soak in. "But I managed to get footage from the ATM across the street." He slid a final page into her grasp, this one showing three photographs all within the same minute, according to the time stamp. These, she noted immediately, didn't show her nor Mac at all; just Michaels, the redhead and an unknown male.
The first showed the couple stopping before the man; the second had the woman hailing a cab as the male grabbed a handful of Michaels' shirt; the final shot showed a powerful punch connecting with Michaels' cheek. "This guy," he taps the unknown attacker, "is Philip Young. Brother of Emily Michaels." He took the top sheet back and shut the folder. "We just charged him with the murder of James Michaels."
Stella closed her eyes, her lips in a tight line as her jaw set and a sigh escaped her. The brother would no doubt feel the full force of the law when it was Michaels who was the one to be prosecuted. Statistics said that women only reported domestic abuse after 37 incidents; how many had Emily suffered at the hands of her husband? There was no way it would have been the first time; no, it would have systematic abuse no doubt starting a few months, maybe even a year after their wedding day. When he was secure enough, with his feet under the table. It would have started slowly, maybe a comment about her clothes or her cooking, then it would have escalated to a pull or a push. Then a punch. Then god only knew what. He would have alienated everyone around her, given her nowhere to turn...except there was. There's always someone to talk to.
"He confessed immediately, said he shouldn't have waited so long 'cos otherwise his little sister would still be here." His mouth was in a sad smile as he nodded her a goodnight and turned on his heel.
He'd rounded the truck again when she called him back, "Flack, these pictures…" she gestured to the stack still in her hand, the stack showing her and Mac in the rapid change to their relationship.
"Oh, right, the funniest thing happened. Every time I went to save them something happened so I had to start over. They're all different zooms and positionings now," he threw his hands up as it he'd been defeated by technology yet again. "Probably won't need them with a confession anyway."
She began to smile as he turned on his heel again. Her eyes dropped to the top photograph - the exterior shot of her and Mac in an embrace. "Flack, you and Jess…"
The faintest, quickest of smiles graced his features before his eyes turned dark and flicked downwards. "We were a long time coming. I knew her a long time and worked with her longer. It just sorta evolved…"
"Do you ever regret-"
"- Only that it took us so long to get together."
She nodded. "Do you miss her?"
"Every damn day." He tapped the folder on the truck before turning to leave again, his eyes forlorn and dark.
He spun to her again, more amused than annoyed.
"Me and Mac…"
"About friggin' time."
If asked, she wouldn't have been able to say whether she was staring at the man in the interview room or at her own reflection in the one way window. What was it about her that made her pick the potential nutjobs?
Frankie still surprised her, not for one moment had she thought he was capable of that. Capable of nearly killing her, because that was what his intentions ultimately were and he'd damned near succeeded.
Then Drew. There was something with him that had always irked her, but she - and everyone else - put her apprehension down to fallout from Frankie. Oh no. He was potentially worse than Frankie for her self esteem because she was nothing to him. She was just the gateway to Mac, the little twist of the knife in Mac's gut because of their friendship.
James Michaels. He hadn't gotten further than a stare over the room, thank god. Something within her knew something was up, maybe a heightened response from Frankie and Drew, either way it was too close for comfort.
She looked at the man in the interview room. His head was in his hands, tears slowly spilling from his eyes. Not from the fact he'd just murdered a man in cold blood - no, there was an element of pride about that - but from the fact he was two weeks late.
Her heart broke for him.
The door to the viewing room opened and she watched as Mac's reflection closed it behind him and stood next to her.
"Is there nothing we can do for him?" she asked his image.
"No. I have a few calls in with people though."
Stella nodded, she'd make her own calls too. There must be something.
Her eyes were drawn to Mac's reflection again. She knew he didn't wear any to work but she could swear she could smell his cologne from the night before. A spicy musk that subtly wafted as he had held her to his side, as she had buried her head in his neck, as she had fallen asleep next to him. She buried her face further into her scarf as a warm blush crept over her as flashbacks invaded her memory. His hands, his mouth, his tongue. How she fought reason as they sat together in the cab, her fingers drawing shapes on his thigh, her curls wrapped around his fingers. How they kissed in the elevator, being held tight to his body as he allowed his hands to roam everywhere. How she rucked his shirt from his trousers, splayed her hands across the small of his back.
They sprang apart as the doors jerked open and followed the corridor in the same silence they had shared all night.
He emptied his pockets into the bowl by the door as she shrugged off her jacket, Mac locking the door behind her. She'd been to his apartment many times but it was different now, obviously. Whereas before, the focal point to his decorating had been his book shelves against the far wall and the weird little art thing he loved and she didn't understand, now she only saw the bed. She tried to look out of the windows, but she only saw the reflection of the bed in the glass. She looked for any additions to his bookshelves, but saw how they were opposite the bed. The weird art thing was on the platform that held the bed.
She looked for Mac who was returning from the kitchen with two glasses of wine, holding out one for her. She took it with a smile, mentally scaling her hangover tomorrow after the whisky and now white wine...
He just sipped at his glass as they quickly tumbled into the awkward stages of apprehension. Who went first? Regardless of the fact they'd just made out in the elevator, his fingers skimming the sides of her breasts as they travelled down her arms.
She took a breath, either they were going through with it or not, but she damn well wasn't going to let the moments they'd shared wither and fade into a broken friendship and awkward anecdote.
So she took a breath, a sip of wine, and climbed the steps to the platform. She crossed to the windows, closing all the curtains and leaving her glass on the bookshelf. She turned to him. He was stood on the bottom step, one foot on the platform watching as she moved about his bedroom.
She twisted her feet out of her shoes and fed a hand up her back to the zipper of her dress. With a tug, the garment slipped over her skin and to the floor, Mac finally closing the distance.
"We should probably talk."
She nodded, ripping her mind to the present. It took a moment to think of where to start, "Why were you there?"
His eyes didn't move from the window. He'd watched a small smile -smirk really- curve her lips as she looked into interview room and knew exactly where her mind had gone. It had taken her to a place he hadn't managed to escape all day. Waking up with her there, the ease at which they spent the morning, the flashes of their night together as she simply sat watching TV on his couch. It was easy, there was no awkwardness, it was like it was a perfectly normal occurrence to have her naked in his bed. To have had her writhing under his touch, to have been hearing sounds from her he wasn't sure would ever leave him, to have been on the receiving end of Stella at her most open and unconfined. She wasn't exactly one to be tied down by rules or convention, but he hadn't realised until that moment just how much of herself she kept locked away, how much he had been missing out on, how much he wanted to experience it again.
She'd asked him a question though, what had brought him to that bar so late on the Thursday night. Finding her there had been pure coincidence. Maybe fate. To have thousands of bars in a city and they both decide to drown their sorrows in the same one? Lady Luck was having a giggle.
"Did you hear we closed the comic book store case? The two Jamies?" he asked, watching as her reflection turned and sat against the window. "Jamie Gutman and Jamie Sorens; They were born within the same week, lived across the street from each other and had been in the same class since kindergarten. They were inseparable. They loved Superheroes, especially Captain America, and had pooled their birthday money and allowances; walked dogs and cleaned cars for months to buy this certain issue that Adam and Lindsay tell me is a big deal."
"Closet nerd," he smiled, eliciting a chuckle. "They went after school to buy it and sat on the wall outside to read it when Carlo Vitelli saw two targets. These were smart kids and tried to walk away, but Vitelli had the itch. He pushed one to the ground and split his head open. The other charged but was no match for the box cutter in Vitelli's pocket. They did everything together and they died protecting each other. They were just twelve years old." His fists were balled at his sides before flexing them loose. Stella's hand snaked out and squeezed his arm. "After I pried it out of Adam's hands, I took their comic to their parents yesterday..."
"And came to the bar."
He nodded, partly in confirmation, partly as a gesture to Flack entering the interview room and taking the brother down to lock up.
She spun back around, watching as Flack cuffed him and led him out of the room.
"You want to get something to eat?"
Stella turned to him. The simplest of sentences and one he'd uttered countless times before, but with an entirely different meaning now. She nodded, "Yeah, I do."