Dark Paradise – Chapter 25
Dani was pouring her second cup of coffee when Charlie stepped into the kitchen with just a soft smile and a breathless, "hi." He'd been gone far too long to just put on a t-shirt. She half-turned towards him, questioning him with just her eyes.
He smiled slightly and gave her the answer to her unspoken question. "Ted."
She nodded and turned back the cabinet and poured her partner a cup of coffee.
He approached and she handed it to him, fingers brushing in the pass of the cup.
Their eyes locked and another conversation without words occurred as helpless, Fletcher simply watched.
He cleared his throat to remind them they were not alone.
Dani's eyes narrowed at him, but Crews grinned. "Sorry," he took his cup and sat near the lawyer. "It's been a weird morning," he said but gave no indication of why. "So….a hearing. What's that about?"
"I asked for it," Fletcher said confidently. "LAPD has nothing against you and the sooner we get that fact in front of a judge the faster this charade is over. Maybe then you can get on with your lives," he finished strongly including Dani in his analysis. In his view she was as big a part of this as Crews.
Said dark haired beauty lounged against the kitchen counter mutely, observing and assessing. Dani Reese was always learning. Even when nothing happened that told her something. Crews taught her that. The space between events and conversations sometimes held the deepest truths. But she had been and remained very comfortable with silence. Nothing Fletcher said was inclined to change that.
"That's your plan?" Charlie asked. "What if they have something you don't know about? Could I get locked back up?" It was a fair question.
"Is there something I don't know about Detective?" Fletcher asked cagily.
A fleeting look was exchanged between Crews and Reese. She shrugged, leaving it up to him whether or not to tell Fletcher more than they'd told LAPD. He was Crews' lawyer and he'd done a fair job thus far. Charlie considered his options.
Speaking any truth inside the confines of his house meant telling more than just Fletcher. The earlier conversation he'd overheard between Fletcher and Dani was heartening, but what if it was designed to gain her confidence – and through her - his. Charlie decided that it was time to see which side Fletcher was really on.
"Do you run Mr. Fletcher? I'm gonna go for a run. We could talk about it while we run," Charlie suggested. His question had a deep undercurrent and it conveyed, "I'll talk, but only to you and not here."
Fletcher looked down at his Tom Ford suit and Johnston Murphy wingtip loafers and back to Crews. The man was suggesting lunacy.
"You're what a twelve?" Crews smiled lazily. His guess was at Fletcher's shoe size.
"Eleven and a half," Fletcher answered meekly. He did not want to go for a run with the tall, lanky man in the noonday LA sunshine, but if that's what it took he would.
"Good," Charlie clasped the man's soldier. "I've got a spare pair of sneakers and some shorts and a t-shirt you can borrow. Let's go get changed," he gestured towards the winding marble staircase that led to his closet and wardrobe.
Fletcher sighed heavily and began removing his jacket, tie and leaving the contents of his pants pockets on the island. Dani appeared to him to have the countenance of a cat who'd just had a big bowl of cream. He turned and trudged toward the stairs.
Crews crossed the kitchen, put his cup in the sink and bent to give his partner a long sweet kiss, before following.
"I hope you know what you're doing," she warned.
"You don't trust him?" he rumbled as he withdrew.
"I don't trust anyone but you," she growled darkly.
"Time to find out just where Mr. Fletcher stands," he assured her that he was not going to spill all their secrets. This was a fishing expedition on both sides. "Worst thing that happens is I run him to death," he chuckled.
"I'm taking the car," she told him as she walked away. "I need to see my mother."
"Tell her I said good morning and that her daughter is beautiful," he grinned as he climbed the stairs. She smirked at him.
"And tell her," he whispered, "that she needs to teach you not to bite."
"My mother does not need to know about what I do in my leisure time," she argued.
"Leisure time?" he chuckled. "Am I an enjoyment for you?" he teased.
"You are about two seconds away from me hurting you, Crews," she threatened.
"But I like it when you hurt me sweetheart," he pressed her against the stainless steel refrigerator and kissed her breathless.
"Just go on your damned run," she pushed him away. As he made to leave, she called him back with a simple but telling question. "Charlie? You know I'd never really hurt you right?"
"I do," he said simply. Then he turned and scampered up the stairs two at a time.
They were two miles into a route that went eight, if Crews chose to make it that long. He examined the lawyer obliquely. Fletcher was fit and able, but not trained; he lack Crews' stamina and endurance. He flagged in the hot sun and breathed hard and they trudged along.
Crews was like a horse restrained by a bit, without Fletcher to hold him back, he would race like the wind. Thus far, all Fletcher had learned was Crews capacity for Zen was not a simple rumor.
At the end of the latest Zen koan and Crews' explanation, they jogged along in silence. The scuffing of shoes and breath were the only sounds in the canyon where they ran high above the city. Then when they were well away from distractions of places and people, Charlie Crews asked what he really wanted to know.
"What were you in for?"
"Huh," Fletcher wondered. His brain was dulled. Most of his oxygen was going to the big muscles in his legs. Crews waited and the question permeated.
"I did ten years for embezzlement," he panted.
"Brokerage," the man was succinct with his replies. He needed all of his air.
"What do you owe Rayborne? Why?"
"When I got out," Fletcher broke his reply into snatches of conversation between breaths, "he gave me a job. Took a chance on me, when no one else would. Helped me get back on my feet; helped put me through law school. I can't handle public monies, but…"
"Ted has the same deal," Charlie smiled. "That's why he works for me."
Fletcher nodded and panted harder they headed uphill.
"Let's take a breather," Charlie offered. Fletcher stopped running that instant grateful for the break. He put his hands on his knees and coughed.
"I'm just gonna stretch a bit," Crews through back over his shoulder as he sprinted ahead. Crews topped the hill and then headed the quarter mile back down slower.
Fletcher drank guilty gulps of air and watched the younger man who barely seemed winded jealously. "I think you should leave the police force," Fletcher offered when Crews got close enough to hear him.
"Yeah?" Charlie replied. "Why's that?"
"No one there trusts you. No one there wants you there," Fletcher was candid.
"Reese trust me," Charlie countered.
"She loves you," Fletcher argued.
"True," Charlie admitted.
"Why'd you go back there anyway? After what they did to you?"
It was a fair question. He could duck it, but instead Charlie gave Fletcher a simple truth. "It was all I knew," he said reached both arms behind his head and stretching his chest and back.
"Didn't you also do it to find the man who really killed the Seybolt family?"
"I wanted to," Charlie admitted, "and to find the people who framed me."
"You'll never do that," Fletcher said flatly. "I know the system now," he explained. "I understand it. It had to be everyone the beat cops, the detectives, the prosecutors Hell, maybe even the judge….and therefore no one." No one had ever put it to him that bluntly.
"Everyone therefore no one." He liked that idea and he hated it. "That's Zen."
By now they'd reached the hilltop and Fletcher began to jog again, slowly, downhill.
"Is there something I don't know that could come up at hearing?"
"So many things," Crews said cryptically, but added no detail. They trudged downhill in silence until Fletcher finally inquired if he passed the test. Charlie nodded and then pointed to a turn that appeared out of nowhere. Fletcher could see Crews' house again and decided he just might survive this adventure after all.
Dani pulled the sleek red car to the curb in front of her childhood home and climbed from it. She jingled the keys in her hand as she walked to the front door. Her mother knew she was there. Dani had seen the curtains move as the throaty growl of the sports car drew the attention of her mother and the neighbor.
Mrs. Paxton watched from her kitchen window with great interest. The Paxtons had lived next door them all Dani's life. She'd dated their son in high school. Rudy was a nice boy, but then Dani didn't really like nice boys. He'd decided to be a bad boy and try to force his hand up her shirt. She'd blacked his eye, just before a well-placed blow to his crotch sent him home doubled over in pain. Her mother made her apologize, but her father had just grinned at her. They knew more about her than she liked, but she smiled and waved dutifully.
Her mother opened the door and scolded her daughter in Farsi. She mentioned something about Mrs. Paxton cheating a cards and Dani rolled her eyes. For the great sin of cheating at the bridge table, the two women might war for months.
Once inside, however, Dani's mother wanted more from her than wringing promises not to talk to the neighbors. She wanted details Dani was reluctant to divulge. "Tell me this," she demanded. "You love him. Does he know this?"
"Yeah, uh….yep," Dani stammered nervous for no reason. "Yes," she raised her eyes to her mother's as she finished. Truth shone in them.
"And are you…." he mother couldn't bring herself to say the words, but Dani knew she wanted to know if they were sleeping together.
"Mom…" she complained. Her mother relented and set about making tea.
Several hushed comments (again in Farsi) were uttered under the breath of both women as they prepared tea. Without Jack Reese there to forbid the use of her native tongue, Dani's mother found it liberating to speak with her own voice and in her own words again. Dani relented knowing her mother would harry her about it until she confessed.
"Okay…." she gave in, "yes, alright yes." She raised her finger and warned her mother, "but one question about grandchildren and I'm out that door."
Her mother nodded and contentedly sipped her dark tea sweetened with milk and sugar. "How are you my Dani?"
"I'm good," she smiled shyly. "Getting better. This feels different and yet somehow familiar, maybe right…I don't know. Does that sound…" she drifted off feeling somewhat silly.
Her mother's look was approving and understanding."And how is he? Your Charlie?"
"He's not my Charlie," she rolled her shoulders.
"Isn't he?" Her mother left the question meant as commentary hanging. It was one part innuendo with a strong helping of her mother's wishes. Clearly she liked Crews. He'd always had a way of charming women that she didn't care for or wished he didn't. For it to have registered enough that she noted disliking it; she must have exerted some degree of subconscious ownership over the tall redhead for far longer than she'd been willing to admit. Dani had to permit her mother that victory. He was hers; as she was his. But there was no way she was admitting it.
"There's still so much to figure out," she admitted, "but it's good. We're good." She hardly noticed that her mother asked about them separately, but when Dani answered she'd answered for them as one. A smile crept over her mother face. "What?"
"You seem happy, child," her mother observed.
Dani blushed furiously and quickly sought to speak of something else.
"Mom? Have you heard from Dad? I mean since he left… before I came home…did he ever call or write, send messages, anything?"
She expected her mother to become tearful, upset or angry, but what she saw was embarrassment. "There was money. He sent money."
"Sent?" Dani probed. Sent was past tense. Had the money stopped? Was it because Jack Reese was dead as Roman had bragged?
Her mother composed herself deciding precisely how to answer the question. The money had not stopped but it no longer came from the same source. "Your father's partner Karen used to bring it, then she stopped coming and it would just appear in the mailbox in the morning. A plain envelope full of cash," she divulged.
"Lieutenant Davis? Karen Davis?" Dani's shock showed. "She? She brought you money she said was from Dad?" Her mother nodded and sniffed slightly.
Her anger flashed. She wanted to jump to her feet, charge out of the house, speed to Karen Davis' place and wring deep truths from her. But she didn't want to scare her mother or give her false hope.
"When did Karen stop bringing the money?" she pressed.
"Three months ago," her mother admitted. "I asked her about Jack each time. I thought perhaps she grew tired of my asking her questions she couldn't answer."
Dani did the math and figured out that the cessation of the personalized delivery roughly coincided with Mickey Rayborne's disappearance and her field trip to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "I don't think that was it," she patted her mother's arm. "But I'm gonna find out," she vowed.
"Dani," her mother question. "Do you believe your father is dead?"
"I don't know," she replied honestly. "Everything said Mickey Rayborne was and he wasn't. Nothing points to dad being gone, but the word of a Russian mobster who liked to make a show of the people he killed. There's no body. I can't prove a murder without a body."
Dani's mother whispered a prayer in Farsi, Dani bowed her head out of respect and fell into the repetition of the verses out of habit.
"How can you begin?"
"At the beginning," Dani said simply. She kissed her mother and headed home. She and Crews had a murder to solve. One with no body, very few clues and only one lead – her old friend and mentor, Karen Davis. They'd solved murders with less to go on.
TO BE CONTINUED…..
Author's Note: This story has gotten quite long and involved. I'm going to continue this storyline it in a new event in the next few weeks. For those of you who have read, thank you. For those precious few who took the time to review & comment (be it praise, criticism or questions) – you make me a better writer and made this a better tale. I am in your debt. Stay tuned…more will follow. ~~Surfer