After leaving the group session, Cat sat in her car and watched the building. This was the right group. No doubt about it. Thomas, Alina, Dominik, and Reid were all part of the First Legion. She knew it in her gut. Now she needed to prove it. She'd follow the first one of four who left, and in the meantime, Cat checked in with Jane.
Jane picked up on the first ring. "Rizzoli."
"It's Cat. I think I have a lead." Cat didn't waste time with niceties. "Can you have Frost check out a group called Living with Loss? One of the women had a ring with the Abigor Sigil. Alina, no last name. And a Thomas, Dominik, and Reid. Reid could be ex-military."
Damn. She should have paid more attention to his tattoos. "Dominik's foreign. German, maybe. Or Slavic."
"Anything else?" Voices came through the phone along with Jane's question. Cat recognized Tara's voice asking Jane how Cat was feeling. "Look," Jane began, "you left in a hurry this morning. Are you sure..."
No! Tara didn't have the right to ask that question. Damn Jane for caving in to Domme pressure and passing it along. "I've got to go," she said tightly and hung up. Her hands shook from a heady mix of anger and unreasoning panic. Throwing the phone across the passenger seat helped. A little. The car was closing in on her. She had to get out. Had to get some air.
Shoving the door open, Cat hurtled from the car, narrowly avoiding a car driving by. She moved to a safer location on the sidewalk and leaned her back against the car. One breath, hold. Out. Another in. Out.
"You're fine. Just relax. Breathe in and out. Slowly. Let me see you try." Some of the pressure eased as Tara's voice whispered through Cat's memory. Tara.
Cat's emotions turned on a dime. Tara was the cause of all of Cat's problems since she'd come to Boston with Faith. Hands fisting, Cat wished Tara was there on the sidewalk. She wanted a chance to tell her all the ways she'd made Cat's life a living Hell. Faith. First and always, there was Faith. Tara had taken Faith from Cat. Tara kept Faith from remembering. Tara had turned Faith into something she wasn't. A submissive.
Anger burned inside Cat. She focused on that, venting internally.
"Are you alright?" The comment was so similar to the ones Cat had heard since last night she didn't realize an actual person (and not a voice in her head) had asked it.
Her eyes shot open. "What?"
Alina regarded her with what might have been a smile. "You looked upset. Was it the session? We're really there to help, not make things worse." Without crowding Cat, she turned and mimicked Cat's pose against the side of the car. "I'm sorry about your Domme. I don't understand how things like that happen." Her voice was strangely compelling. It soothed without being suffocating or pitying.
"Mmm." Cat didn't know how to respond. It wasn't a question, and it didn't really matter why she'd lost her bond. With Faith in Boston, Cat's only question was how to make her remember.
"Have you tried to tell your Domme about the bond?" Cat thought Alina might have read her mind until she continued. "That's what I'd do. I think I'd be so mad I'd confront her."
Why hadn't Cat thought of that? "I don't...I...What would I say?" In a squeaky imitation of her own voice, Cat said, "Hey, can you tell me why you abandoned me? I was twelve. Do you have any idea what your leaving did to me?" She was getting worked up again. Her hands ached from being clenched so tightly. "Not to mention Tara." She was too caught up in the inner scene to realize she'd mentioned Tara by name. "What does she have that I don't? How did she turn you into a sub? You used to be so strong. Even if we hadn't met, I was yours. You never let me get away with anything!"
A couple of people walking by gave her wide-eyed looks and hurried away. Cat suddenly realized she was venting in public. Loudly. All this new therapy might be enlightening but it was also eroding her self control. She needed to get a grip – and remember she wasn't talking with Alina to become her best friend. Pacing back and forth along the length of the car, Cat bottled the anger and bitterness one more time. When she felt back in control, she stopped in front of Alina. "I'm sorry. We aren't in session anymore. You didn't stop to hear me whine."
For such a colorless woman, Alina had a very full laugh. "Whining isn't for people like you and me. Whiners don't get angry. They'd never go after what they want. And you sounded ready to take what you want, Cat."
"I haven't done a great job of that up to now," Cat admitted. It was the truth. Why had it taken so long to realize it? "A year in the loony bin and fourteen years of shrinks... The whole time I've been waiting for Super Domme to wake up and realize I was there." Doctor Blaylock couldn't hold a candle to Margaret Tinsale and one creepy support group.
"Now you're ready to turn over a new leaf. Push past Super Domme and Tara – or roll right over them." Alina sounded approving. "Not bad for one group session."
Tilting her head back and gazing into the bright sky, Cat said with a touch of arrogance, "I'm a fast learner. What else do you have for me?" Alina was the key to the entire investigation. Cat needed to keep her interested and talking
Instead of picking up the verbal gauntlet, Alina straightened and looked at her watch. "It depends on you, Cat. How committed are you to changing your life?"
This was the critical moment. Cat had to get it right or go home empty handed. Cat waited for a long, deliberate moment. "How committed? I'm tired," she finally answered. In the last two days, she'd let her personal and professional lives intertwine so tightly they were nearly a single strand. It had so far been a success for the investigation. She purposefully didn't think about the disastrous visit to Ninth Circle or her interactions with Tara yesterday. The investigation was all that mattered. The investiagtion meant telling Alina not what Cat the Cop should say, but what Cat the Person wanted to say. "I wake up every morning, go to work, and play for the crowd. My boss and co-workers think I'm fantastic. I don't have to burn personal days if my Domme gets sick and needs me to make her soup or wipe her nose. I lie to myself and my therapist. I'm fine. I'm starting to move on. Really what I do is let all the pain and anger build up until I can't take it anymore, and then I hit hole in the wall clubs. Violence and sex cure a whole lot of heartache."
She turned and met Alina's pale eyes. "I'm done with that. I want to be a whole new person. I want to stop lying. I want to tell my Domme she can be happy on her fucking knees. Or…" Reigning in, Cat considered her next move. Alina had mentioned confronting Faith or "rolling over" Tara. She decided to push. The First Legion wasn't a quilting society. There was a string of bodies tied to them. "What I really want is to be the person who can take Tara out of the picture and control my future. Tell me how."
Alina narrowed her eyes and assessed Cat's sincerity. Cat stared right back using the expression she'd honed breaking up drug deals and gang wars during a stint in Dorchester.
It worked just as well with Alina as it did with the Cape Verdean crews in Uphams Corner.
Alina reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a business card. "I heard you tell Thomas you wanted to attend the regular group sessions. Don't." Her hand snapped up to forestall Cat's inevitable question. "You're beyond the beginners. You know what you feel and what you want to do. Come to the address on the card tonight at eight. It's not a support group, just a bunch of people like you who want to change their lives. Tell the doorman you're my personal guest." With one last nod, Alina strode swiftly away.
Cat watched Alina disappeared around a corner two blocks away before really examining the card in her hand. Abigor's Sigil shone in gold against a black background. The First Legion, an Army of Change. Climbing back into the car, Cat noticed several missed calls from Jane and an unfamiliar number in the 614 area code. The phone icon showed five new messages. Too bad. They'd have to wait. It was after eleven now. She had to bring her A-game to the First Legion meeting tonight – and that meant sleep.
By the time Cat pulled into a parking lot adjacent to the First Legion's Congress Street address, her phone had been off for hours. It had buzzed so often as she tried to sleep that Cat had had no choice. To keep Jane from sending a radio car to her apartment or placing an all-points bulletin out on her car, she'd been sure to text Jane about following a clue before she'd powered off. She'd also included a promise to check in as soon as she had something concrete.
Cat hadn't lost all sense of priority, however. She got out of the car and checked that the knife sheath strapped to her calf didn't show. Her badge and gun were locked in a safe in the trunk of her car. No way was she risking being outted as a cop tonight. Cat turned her phone back on and activated the app which allowed her to record voice notes. It was the best listening device she could manage at the moment.
It was show time.
Cat strode across the street and up to the dimly lit entrance to the bar. Unlike Ninth Circle or any of the trendy clubs downtown, Cat didn't think the lack of lights was to set a mood. There was no velvet rope or line of hopeful couples waiting to be waved in. "Alina invited me," Cat told the Reid-clone at the door. She flashed the business card from that afternoon.
"Welcome to the First Legion," he intoned. Not much personality there. Cat hoped the rest of the party-goers were livelier.
"Thanks." Ducking past Mr. Friendly, Cat entered the club.
Darkness was an obvious theme. Cat had to stop right inside the door to let her eyes adjust. Hard, nasty techno music throbbed through the floor and up through the soles of her shoes. The main club area was themed as a dungeon. Faux torches cast red- and orange-tinted light in small semi-circles. A dry ice machine pumped "fog" into the room, and it swirled around Cat's feet and ankles as she moved into the room. Unlike most dungeon clubs, there were no play areas. At least, none Cat could see. There were carefully arranged sitting areas on the fringes of the main room. The rest of the area held a dance floor which currently hosted a dozen couples gyrating to the bass beat.
Cat sensed someone approaching and turned just as the man reached her. "Good evening. Welcome to the Legion." His smile was practiced and the shadows from the low lighting made the expression more sinister than friendly. "Alina asked me to be on the lookout. She said you were a very promising new recruit. I am Stephen."
His hand was cool and dry when Cat shook it. "Cat." They were both nearly shouting despite being only inches apart. "This wasn't what I expected."
"Ah. This is an area for...less qualified recruits." Stephen gently touched her elbow. "Alina is one of our founding members, and she was very impressed, Cat. Very impressed." He flashed another plastic smile. "Let me show you the VIP area of the club. I think you'll find the crowd and the atmosphere are more to your tastes."
Cat's mind insisted on humming "Hotel California" as she allowed Stephen to steer her past the dancers to a well-concealed door. On the other side was a carpeted staircase - and sound proofing. The instant the door closed behind them, the music disappeared. "Wow. I'm deaf now." Making a show of it, Cat rubbed at her ears. "So you have two separate clubs? A dance club on the main floor, and what? More like a private dinner club downstairs?" She needed to get him talking. Her recorder would be useless without a verbal record of information and talking to herself would look suspicious.
"You'll see in a minute," Stephen answered vaguely. The lighting in the staircase was better. Cat scanned the walls for anything interesting. Unfortunately, there was nothing more than the same dungeon-themed paint structure. It was a surreal experience. Without the sounds from above and with the carpet muffling their footsteps, the trip downward was completely silent. The landing was guarded by yet another door, this one with a digitized key pad.
Cat pretended to look away as Stephen punched in his passcode but managed to make out a four and seven as the first part of the 5-digit code. The door opened with a hiss, indicating it was a sealed room. The reason for that was not immediately clear. Cat peered around the room (thankfully not kitted in the best dungeon gear). Tasteful couches and chairs in burgundy and black leather created conversation areas. A full bar nestled in a corner. "Much better," Cat murmured.
The people milling around the room or talking quietly in the sitting areas glanced their way. Cat didn't recognize anyone. "Let me introduce you," Stephen volunteered without any prodding. "Alina wanted you to meet the rest of the founding members."
Nerves slicked Cat's palms with sweat. As casually as possible, she wiped them on her pant legs. It wouldn't fit her image to present a damp handshake to the Legion VIPs. "Will Alina be here later?" Cat asked. Since Alina had offered the invitation, Cat wanted to show her allegiance.
"Perhaps. She rarely attends events unless we have something special planned." They approached a startlingly attractive couple near the bar. Both men were tall and well-built. "Ah, gentlemen, may I introduce Alina's new recruit? This is Cat." With an obsequious half-bow, Stephen ushered Cat forward.
Their twin stares were piercing. Cat's smile faltered. "Hi," she said faintly and tried not to flinch away.
"Alina..." The blond on the left murmured. "You must be very special, Cat." He flagged down the bartender. "What can we get you to drink?"
The evening was shaping up to be worse than the mock prom Cat had attended at the asylum when she was fourteen. Stilted conversations, far too many nerves, and people Cat needed to impress. "Rum and Coke," she told the uniformed woman behind the bar. "I guess..." How should she play this? Brash or unsure? "What is this place? The stuff upstairs is nice but like every other club I've been to. What happens down here?" Oh, and by the way, who the Hell are you?
Stephen appeared chagrined. "I'm afraid I didn't get to all of the explanations," he told the two men.
"No matter. If Cat is Alina's, we will be happy to do the tour." The second man took control of the conversation. "Cat, my name is Jonathan Stewart, and this 'place' is the heart of what we like the call the First Legion." As continued to explain the foundation of the group, Cat's mind raced.
Jonathan Stewart. The man behind the whole Legion. Alina must be super connected. Cat prayed her phone was recording everything.
"We normally don't bring new members in without taking them through a full introduction process. Those are the people you noticed upstairs. It's a series of social events, support group attendance, and private training sessions at various facilities throughout the city." The bartender returned with Cat's drink, which Jonathan intercepted and handed personally to Cat. "You're different, Cat. I spoke with Alina after your group session this morning. She said you had fire and conviction, and that we shouldn't waste your time with beginner classes."
Wow. Alina had really promoted her. Cat would have to figure out why at a later time. She focused on the here and now, meeting Jonathan's eyes with as much arrogance as she could muster. "I wasn't trying to impress anyone, Jonathan. I admit I barged my way into the group session, but I was really looking for answers. A way to change some things in my life, in me, that have been wrong for a long time. Alina said First Legion was the perfect place to do that." She sipped at her drink and waited for Jonathan to respond.
He wasn't off-put at her answer. "I'm sure Alina gave you our card. We like to think of the First Legion as an army of people who share just that thought, Cat. Change." Moving away from the bar, Jonathan gestured to his companion. "This is Matthew. Like Alina, he helped found the First Legion. Matthew heads up our West Coast membership; I'm very glad he was here to meet you tonight."
Matthew. Thomas. Jonathan. Stephen. Full, formal names. Silk suits and ties. Cat didn't know if it was significant, but it got filed away for later research.
"So what happens now? Do you have advanced classes?" Cat didn't back down. "Alina said I was ready to take what I wanted out of life." Glancing around the room, she allowed a hint of doubt to creep in to her voice. "Maybe. Let's say I finally know what I want. I'm still fuzzy on how to get it. Well," she forced a laugh, "without resorting to violence, and facing a judicial hearing isn't on my bucket list. The last one was...less than pleasant." Cat deliberately embellished her history. She'd have to get with Frost as soon as this meeting broke up and build a false identity in case Jonathan decided to check up on her.
"Fire and conviction," Jonathan repeated. "The judicial system has never been equipped to accept those characteristics." He nodded to Stephen. "Please make sure Cat enjoys her time here. I'm afraid Matthew and I have a prior engagement. Cat, it was a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to seeing you rise through the ranks of the First Legion."
He and Matthew swept away, and Cat watched people flow out of their path.
She looked at Stephen and wiped at imaginary sweat on her forehead. "You should warn people before introducing them to the VIPs right off the bat."
For the first time, his smile appeared genuine. "It's all part of the test, Cat, and you passed with flying colors. Now...I really would like you to meet the rest of the members. They'll be able to answer more of your questions on how things work and how to pick groups and events that suit your individual needs."
The rest of the night was a blur of names, handshakes, and questions. Cat did the best she could to keep them all straight in her mind. The members of First Legion were a diverse bunch. Bankers, teachers, government employees, even a few police officers. Those, especially, sent Cat's adrenaline rushing. She was going to have to be very careful. If someone recognized her, she'd have to have a story handy. For now, she filed away their names and planned to avoid them if she came to more events.
At one point, Stephen apologized and stepped away, leaving Cat with a small group women. "How's your first night going?" Cat thought her name was Marie, a sous chef at one of the restaurants downtown. "Overwhelmed?"
Rolling her eyes, Cat made no effort to hide her sarcasm. "Not at all. I always meet dozens of new people all at one time. Not to mention Stephen tossed me under the bus the second we came down the stairs. I wanted to kill him. He dragged me to meet Jonathan with no warning at all. Not even a 'straighten your hair and be polite' notice."
The whole group laughed; several looked impressed. "Jonathan, on the first night. You must be destined to leave us behind in a hurry," one of them said." Cat had no idea who, though. Stocky, blonde, and butch. The woman caught her examination and made sure the red leather cuff on her left wrist was visible. "What makes you so special?"
Now there was a leading question. Cat moved a little closer and leaned in before answering. "I got pissy at one of the group sessions and barged into a private meeting." She paused to let the tension build. "That's it."
There was a moment of stunned silence. No one had expected something so mundane. Butch Woman recovered first. "Must have been quite a temper tantrum. It took me a year of classes to make it Downstairs." She continued to watch Cat. "I think I'll stick around to see how high you go. Which group did you crash?"
"North End at nine. I didn't ask the guy at the desk for his name, but Thomas was running the session," Cat answered. The other woman's stare was uncomfortable. It was not quite a leer but Cat wanted to move away. She didn't even know this woman's name; it was far too soon for that level of familiarity and...ownership from Butch Woman.
There were a few shudders. "You're crazy. You took on Thomas? The man who eats nails for breakfast?" another of the women asked.
Cat shrugged; although she agreed with the comment. "All in a day's work. Besides I'd already crashed the party. I wasn't leaving without attending that session." It was getting late. A glance at her watch showed she'd been here for nearly three hours. Cat needed usable information and then she needed to get out. Jane needed to hear what she had so far. "Jonathan mentioned classes, too. How do I get hooked up with those? And which ones should I take?" It was about time Cat found an opening for real investigation. "From all the fanfare when Alina talked about this place, I expected rousing speeches and self-improvement workshops."
"They don't do that here." Marie settled onto a couch and patted the cushion next to her. "I'm tired. Sit down and let me give you the lowdown on the rest of the Legion policies."
Sitting was the last thing Cat wanted. She did it anyway. "I'm all ears."
"Advanced classes are usually small group. Invitation only." Marie waved at Butch Woman. "Tammy and I usually end up together. Our sponsor Karina has us actually teaching some of the newbies. Running some of the group sessions. But we've also been out to the Beacon Hill club, like this only way more exclusive, to meet more of the Founders and Jonathan's donors."
Jonathan had donors? He wasn't fronting the Legion himself? Cat tried not to look too interested. "Huh. Beacon Hill's a bit rich for my blood."
She didn't understand Marie's laughter. "Funny turn of phrase, Cat. I'm sure you'll get an invite. You seem to be fast tracking, but you'll have to go to at least a few of the Founder meetings first. The Legion can do a lot for you if you're willing to give something back."
It sounded sinister to Cat. Groups that wanted something back had a bad reputation and usually got labeled as cults. "Well, thanks for the Legion Lesson," she told Marie. "I'm beat. Next time I get invited, I'll have to be better prepared for the long hours." She stood and scanned the room. Jonathan was missing, and she didn't see Stephen. However, Alina was having an intense conversation with someone across the room. "Time to say goodbye to my Sponsor and find my way home."
A wave of good-natured jeers about it still being early followed her toward Alina. She caught pieces of the conversation as she approached.
"...time to move forward..." Alina's companion said.
Alina didn't agree. "It's too soon. We need more members. New blood. Jonathan arranged a meeting with Master Phillip..." She broke off as she saw Cat. "Cat! You did make it." Her smile was clearly forced and Cat took the hint.
"I wanted to say thanks for the invitation. You're busy. I'd like to see about enrolling in some of the classes Marie and Tammy mentioned. How do I..."
"Call the North End office and leave your name and number. I'll be in touch." Alina turned away, dismissing Cat.
Bitch. Giving Alina's back a glare (to stay in character, of course), Cat marched upstairs and out of the bar. She waited long enough to be out of earshot and checked her phone. Fuzzy techno music blared from the speaker. It had worked. Cat did a victory dance on the sidewalk and called Jane. It was time for the team to meet.