A/N: This has been a difficult writing journey, so really, thank you for staying around. References herein: The Narrow Margin, White Heat, and Ball of Fire.
If Helen of Troy's was the mug that launched a thousand ships, Maura Isles' knockers would have launched back-up for every ten. Make that every five. One. Even the most nearsighted buffoon wouldn't need a pair of cheaters to appreciate those.
These are the sorts of life-or-death ideas that run through my mind when I'm in mortal danger, handcuffed to a bed, with a gorgeous broad hovering over me. Her hair had been tickling my face and I ached to move up and catch her lips in a kiss as much as someone dying for a breath of wind during a heat wave; but then Maura sat up, and my breeze was gone. She was kneeling over my thighs, her teal skirt pooling like so much water. There was an expectant look in her eye, and I wondered if maybe she was waiting for my hand to disappear up her skirt before I remembered—again, chump that I am—that my hands were literally tied and she'd just said she knew where the key was to my cuffs.
Doyle was waiting for her. We had to be fast.
"So?" I breathed. "Where's the key?"
"Hold on, slugger," she said with a smirk, running her finger down my torso. "What's it worth to you?" Curse her voice, all buttery and smooth like you'd imagine a sphinx's to be.
"Depends on what I'm worth to you, I suppose," I answered, barely refraining from rolling my eyes. "Even if I could offer you any dough, you wouldn't need it."
"I'd look good in a new coat," Maura suggested teasingly.
"Honey, you'd look good in a shower curtain." Ooh, a shower. With Maura. There was a real idea.
She smiled and got up. "One of Doyle's brutes has the key. I think his name is O'Malley. If I could get him in here alone under false pretenses, maybe you could—"
"Get him within kicking distance and I'm good to go."
Maura smoothed out her shirt, nodded at me, and disappeared behind the door. And for a few moments, strangely, all I could think of was Jo Friday, our company mutt. Korsak had saved her from taking the long walk, and not a second too soon: she'd been in the puppy slammer, and was about to be killed off to make room for some other inmates before Korsak happened to drop by on business and asked for her. I wondered if a dog ever knew in times like that—if he ever knew he was about to die. I wondered if they ever felt tense, like I felt tense, waiting on what might as well have been a bed full of needles for Maura to come back, either with a death warrant (if Doyle tagged along) or my emancipation, if she managed only to bring O'Malley.
It wound up to be the latter.
O'Malley had a puss that told me he'd spent most of his childhood sitting in the corner of a classroom with a dunce cap on his head. In addition to that, it looked as though he'd been beaten to about an inch of his life with the ugly stick. His grin was hollow and devious like a jack-o-lantern's, his hair could use a trim, and I noticed Maura gave him more space than necessary—probably because he smelled about as pretty as a hidden bunch of eggs nobody had found after Easter. Disgusting as he was, all I cared about was the gun he had on one hip and the set of keys jangling on the other.
"So the boss's daughter said she needed a little help," he said, rolling up his sleeves as Maura shut the door. "Although it sounded to me like she was doing just fine beating off the jive session on her own."
"I don't bruise easy," I said. Sneering at Maura, I clenched my teeth and growled, "You make me sick to my stomach!"
"Is that so? Well, use your own sink," she returned, winking at me behind this lug's back.
O'Malley just chuckled, looking between the two of us like a hawk trying to pick out the choicest piece of meat. "Y'know, Doyle's put me on the rounds for you before, Maura. This is the first favor I'll be doing for you that I'm actually looking forward to. Until now, it was all, 'make sure only a good picture gets in the paper,' 'make sure she don't ever end up with one of my stevedores on the docks,' 'make sure there's enough cream in her coffee.'"
"If I were the cream in her coffee, I'd curdle," I said, and Maura bit her knuckles to keep from laughing.
He walked the rest of the distance to the bed I was cuffed to, leering over me. Just one or two more steps and he'd be close enough for that triangle, leg choke-hold Frost had taught me—he'd once had a Japanese neighbor who was disciplined in the study of ju jitsu, and had learned some moves which he'd then passed on to me. I'd never put any into real practice, and here was my chance.
And there went my chance when O'Malley suddenly toppled on top of the bed, collapsing unconscious on my waist. Behind him stood Maura, trembling, my old billy club in her raised hand. "Did I kill him?" she asked in a hushed voice, looking terrified at the very thought.
I took a second to evaluate the man's condition before replying, "He's still breathing."
Maura let out a shuddering breath herself, lowering her arm and letting the billy club fall to the floor. Almost instantly she composed herself, tossing her hair behind her shoulder like knocking out droppers like this goon was part of her everyday routine. But as I saw her bend over O'Malley to take the keys from his belt, I could see her fingers were shaking. She'd been a nurse in the war; she'd seen death, she'd seen the worst. But she'd never physically hurt anyone else before. She'd had the tar taken out of her verbally, but never socked anything to anyone. It's a wonder she hit him just right, just enough to knock him cold but not enough to rub him out.
When she had unlocked the cuff holding my left and, I swung my arm forward and grabbed her wrist. Her eyes flicked to mine, and I kissed the back of her palm. And then I did something I couldn't remember sincerely doing in years. Frankie used to say it was an unwritten biblical revelation that Jesus would come again after I did it, until Ma started chastising him for being sacrilegious.
I thanked her.
It was just a whisper, just two small words—"thank you"—and yet Maura was looking at me as though I'd recited a dozen of Shakespeare's most romantic sonnets.
What did it matter that at the moment, we were in a dingy, poorly-lit, sealed-off little room? What did it matter that one of my hands was still cuffed, and there was a slugged-out button man lying next to me? What did it matter that in a minute or two we would be on the run for our lives? For just a second, all that mattered was that instead of throwing me to the dogs like she could have (and should have, for self-preservation's sake), she wanted to save me.
Behind all the sneering and jeering, the jokes and the jerks, the hard-earned cynicism and cruel tactics imposed on single women living in a man's world—she wanted me. We wanted each other.
Maura leaned over and gave me a quick kiss on the lips before pulling back to free my other mitt from its cuff. She stood next to the bed as I groaned and sat up, flexing my newly-freed wrists.
The way she said it made me wonder if any soldiers had found the time to express gratitude for her sacrifices—at least, in such a way that was honest, not Dennis Rockmond's attempts to get in her skirt.
"You did good," I said, getting to my feet and nodding at O'Malley's body. "Not just any woman could take out a guy like that." I nudged her with my elbow. "I like a girl with a little hair on her chest."
Maura's eyes narrowed. "Excessive chest hair growth on women is primarily the result of enocri—"
"Shut up, Maura," I laughed. "It's a saying. You haven't heard that one before?"
"I guess not."
"Doesn't matter. I think we're a match."
Given the desperate manner in which she grabbed two fistfuls of my shirt and yanked me into a kiss, I believe it's a safe assumption to say she agreed. But we weren't off the hook yet, and I didn't let the kiss last as long as I'd have liked.
I doubled back to O'Malley and grabbed his bean-shooter off his hip, checking his bullets. Looked like I'd only have five chances to take someone out if I had to. "Was anyone in the hallway when you went out there a minute ago?"
"Just Doyle's other handyman."
"Think he'll squawk?"
"If we try to sneak past him? I think he'll notice, yes, and I don't think he'll keep quiet about it to Doyle."
"Okay. Um…where d'you think he's holding Garrett?"
"Probably his office, now that I think about it."
"Right. Well, Maura, here it is: if we wanna blow and we wanna get Garrett out, too, we may have to kill Doyle. And by 'may have to,' I mean it's optional like paying your taxes is optional."
"Yup. Still want to go through with this?"
I looked at her over my shoulder, and saw that she was grimacing. Somehow, a grimace didn't look quite at home on a face so pretty. Like how you wouldn't hang a Monet original over your toilet. "If you have to kill him in self-defense, I won't stand in your way," she said. "Paddy Doyle is a murderer, callous as a blister." She took hold of my arm. "Do what you have to, Jane."
What does it say about me that I was excited by her permission? Having a shot a Doyle when coppers and G-men had been after him for years—this could be a real break for me.
Maura opened the door just slightly enough to look out into the hallway. "It's empty," she whispered. We stepped out into the hall, and Maura nodded at a room a little further down. As we crept towards it, we realized why Doyle's other gorilla wasn't hanging around in plain view. From behind the door, we could hear him snarling:
"Say your prayers, you dirty rat. My boss don't like being lied to, see?"
And then came Garrett Fairfield's voice, desperate and scared: "I swear on God's name, I am not lying!"
There was a rough smacking sound, unmistakably the result of a wooden chair leg rising and hitting the floor. I could easily picture Garrett tied to a chair and getting socked in the face with enough force to rattle the furniture. Maura put her hand on the knob, but I touched her wrist and shook my head. Garrett was hurt, no doubt, but not badly enough that I felt the need to intervene yet. Eavesdropping could be a useful weapon, and I wasn't going to risk throwing it away until I had to, until it became clear Garrett's life was at stake.
Doyle didn't have all he wanted from him yet, which meant I didn't either.
Doyle's voice came next: "You have designs on my daughter, Fairfield. You set it up so we could knock off that wanna-be playboy brother of yours, and the deal was that you'd take his business and cut me a break. Your money and your goddam family name was supposed to keep the scandal rags away, supposed to keep the bulls at bay. Wasn't that so, Reilly?"
"It was so, boss."
"Fellas, that's true, but I didn't—"
Another smack. "Didn't what?" Doyle half-shouted. "Didn't think I'd notice you stuck an amateur gumshoe on the case? Didn't think I'd notice you were trying to draw attention away from yourself, to pin it all on me, 'cause who'd ever accuse a bright boy like you? Didn't think I'd notice you were still crushing hard on my daughter—my daughter—and aiming to take your brother's place in her life? What makes you think you're good enough if your brother wasn't?"
Time to pull the plug. I yanked the door open, and three sets of eyes zoomed towards me, followed just as fast by two raised guns. I stuck the barrel of O'Malley's gun into Maura's back, and after a moment's hesitation, she obligingly raised her hands.
"Put down the gats, or I'll burn a clean powder-hole right through your daughter's pretty chest," I snarled.
I saw Reilly falter, but Doyle just sneered. "You don't have the guts."
"The hell I don't."
"Wanna play chicken, girlie?" he asked, and he moved his gun to Garrett's temple. Garrett looked about ready to faint. "Let's go ahead. You give me my daughter or pretty-boy gets it."
"You think I care about what happens to Garrett Fairfield?" I snorted.
For the first time, Doyle looked confused. "If you don't, what are you bargaining for?"
That was a good point. I hadn't really thought this through. "Justice," I sighed. "If you kill him, I can't prove he had a hand in his brother's murder."
"He won't sing. He won't ever sing. You kill me, there goes your witness."
"There's always evidence. And I figure I can swing life in the big house for Garrett if he helps me catch you." I shrugged. "Not much of a life, I grant you, but it's still life."
"I'll take it!" Garrett blurted.
The next minute unspooled at warp-speed, the seconds unraveling like coins flying out of a slot machine. Doyle had turned to look angrily at Garrett and I saw his trigger-finger twitch. In that moment, without thinking, there went my charade: I withdrew my gun from Maura's back and stepped in front of her, anticipating a crossfire that had yet to start. Reilly saw my move, saw I'd been bluffing, and raised his gun at me. But I was quicker. All I needed was one bullet, and Reilly was dead on the floor.
Doyle didn't even blink for his fallen comrade, staring instead in bewilderment at me and Maura. "The hell is this?" he muttered.
"It's called chivalry," I said, and Maura placed her hand on my shoulder. "A gangster like you's probably never heard of it."
"Maura, c'mere," Doyle growled.
She stayed behind me. She stayed with me. Her sweaty hand latched onto my free one, and I grasped it as tight as I could. Doyle moved the barrel of his gun from Garrett's head and pointed it at me.
To this day I still haven't asked Maura what it was that prompted her to stand in front of me at that moment. Maybe it was love, maybe it was just concern for an innocent pawn. Maybe it was just that she had this blind faith in Doyle not to harm her, and maybe we could avoid spilling any more blood. Whatever the case was, she didn't say a word, and Doyle lowered his weapon.
"Untie him," she said, her voice soft but stead.
Doyle pulled a knife out of his jacket pocket and sliced the knot behind Garrett's chair, and Garrett hopped up faster than Jo Friday when I offered her bacon. He bolted, and didn't stop at the doorway—he flew down the hall, but I didn't bother chasing him. Not when I had Patrick Doyle right here.
"Aren't you gonna go after him?" Doyle asked, addressing Maura.
"Yeah, maybe you should go stop him," I murmured, now standing by Maura's side.
"No," she insisted quietly. "I'm not leaving you."
I looked over at her, and saw determination reflected in her eyes. I think Doyle saw something too.
"You're a faker," he said to me, and I returned my gaze to him. "But you're a cop. And I don't like cops."
"Yeah? Well I don't like thugs."
His lip curled. "I don't make it a habit to kill women, but you're hardly a woman, are you?"
"Get away, Maura."
For once, I echoed his sentiment. "Scram, Maura."
She didn't heed, and Doyle was done. He fired a shot, and the bullet went whistling between us. Whether that was on purpose or not I'll never really know, because I didn't give him the chance to try again or explain. I shot at his hand and his gun clattered to the floor. That was his opportunity to come in quietly, but he couldn't let go, reaching for his knife and preparing to throw it. I sent the rest of my Chicago lightning at him, and he crumpled to the linoleum, no more alive than yesterday's old news.
Maura had cringed and tightened her grip at the sound of the gunfire, and now in that ever-loving, ever-loud silence afterwards, was only barely starting to become less tense.
When I looked her in the eye, I knew she didn't expect or want me to apologize. This man I'd just killed may have fathered her, but she had no connection to him beyond that. He'd killed too many men for too many petty reasons, used bullets instead of words, blindly sought blood instead of true justice. I'd taken his life to spare ours, to spare countless others in the future. I tossed my gun to the floor, and it fell with a very final-sounding clunk.
I stepped over Doyle's body and sat myself in his chair, putting my feet up on his desk and grabbing the horn. "I'm gonna give Frankie a ring," I explained to Maura. "My brother, the cop. Tell him to keep an eye out for Garrett Fairfield."
"I don't know if that will work," Maura said. "Garrett's very good at hiding when he doesn't want to be found. Although, like Doyle said, he probably won't think he'll have to. He'll just hide behind a lawyer. Finding a loophole through which you could drag him to justice will be like… well, trying to find a needle in a haystack."
"Aw, that's a cinch," I said. "All you have to do is get a horse to eat the hay, and then x-ray the horse."
I grinned at her, and she hesitantly reflected it. I got an operator on the telephone, and as I placed my call, I watched Maura step over Doyle's body. She paused to inspect it, though she never squatted down. As I talked to Frankie (telling him about Garrett and also advising him that Doyle had been killed, and I'd get him an address soon), she sat on the other side of Doyle's desk, picking up a pen and turning over a clean piece of paper. She started writing something slowly, methodically, and when I hung up, she handed over the paper.
It said Garrett Fairfield.
"What's this?" I asked.
"That's Garrett's signature."
"Thank you. It's quite exact, if I may say so." She tried not to smile when comprehension must have finally dawned on my face. "You heard Doyle as clearly as I did, Jane. Garrett confessed. He might as well have written it out, don't you think? Perhaps typed it out on a fancy machine?"
"And if I were to, say, find that letter in my office's typewriter on this sheet of paper," I mused, taking it from Maura, "What then?"
She shrugged. "What indeed, detective?"
"You don't think it's dishonest?"
"A tad. Just don't put me on the stand about where it came from, and I won't break into hives."
"It's a deal, Dr. Isles."
We shook hands over the desk, and when I stood up, she followed suit. As we left Doyle's office, she glanced at Reilly and said, "There were my two-bit thugs, I suppose. Now, Jane."
She took my hand as walked down the long hallway towards a stairwell that she must have known led to the outside. "You also promised me grafters and shysters."
"So I did."
"And you promised me something else, too. You promised me yourself."
"You promised to stick with me." Nodding at the stretch of hallway behind us, I only half-jokingly said, "This was just another day in the office. Think you can handle that?"
"I think it'll be one heck of a ride, Jane Rizzoli. I'll risk it."
She smiled, and it was disarmingly sincere. She wasn't smiling at me; she was smiling for me. I knew I had no right to expect that she'd stay with me past a night or two, but she did. I knew I had no right to hope that lust would evolve into something a bit sweeter, but it did. I knew I had no right to hope my heart would leave its lonely place for a woman's face, but it did. The good came to light. The darkness hung around, but she helped to sweep it away into the corner until I was ready to deal with it. I'm not perfect and she's not perfect, and we're absolutely not perfect together. It's heaven and hell, Eden and just east of it.
But since we met, she's been my constant. I've been hers.
The trick was finding her.
It had started out ugly and angry and hopeless and unsure. And then it jump-started the best thing that ever happened to me: my relationship with Maura Isles, my funny valentine.