Michelle tossed the wrapper to her hamburger in the trash with a flick of her wrist. Then she scattered the rest of her fries on the ground for the birds and the squirrels and sipped on her chocolate shake. The sun was hot on her bare shoulders, the breeze cool on her cheeks. She actually felt better, almost human again.
Nick was sitting next to her, drowning french fries in ketchup and munching on them.
"So," he started, keeping his tone of voice light despite the feeling of dread he couldn't quite bury.
"So, what?" She reached out and rescued one of his fries from the red ocean of ketchup and nibbled on it.
"You still going to respect me when I'm soaping bumpers at the car wash?" He bit into the exposed end of the fry she held and chewed then swallowed.
"Who says I respect you now?" she quipped, watching a squirrel chasing another around a tree. The park was quiet, what little kids had been here when they arrived were gone, probably home taking naps. The older kids preferred the park downtown where the toys were cooler. They had the place to themselves besides an amorous couple that was making out in a car in the parking lot. They had been there when Nick and Michelle had gotten to the park twenty minutes ago, and were still there now. They had yet to come up for air.
Nick followed her gaze. "Maybe we should go and show em our badges?" he asked lazily. "Nah, too much work," he answered himself and stretched out, folding up his leftovers to dump in the trashcan.
"Just a couple of teenagers. I wonder what they'll do come this winter?"
"What do all teenagers do in the winter, run the heater." He turned around on the picnic bench, leaning against the table, staring out across what was now just a little more than a stream but in the spring could flood the entire park.
He closed his eyes and turned his face up to the sun letting the heat burn the cobwebs back. This had been the best medicine for him, sunshine had recuperative powers, his mother had always told him. She had gardened in the summer, a huge straw hat protecting her face. She would take him out, show him the different plants and insects. He would help her with weeding, work beside her contentedly, until his father came home from work.
He had wonderful memories of his mother. Extremely cherished memories and a few photos that had escaped the fire. His parents had died just a few weeks after the fire that had taken everything they had. It was a car accident that had taken them from him. He had been in the car, too. and had broken an arm but had been unhurt otherwise. They'd been killed instantly when the drunk swerved across the yellow line and hit them head on.
Summer would always remind him of her.
"So," Michelle said.
"So, what?" he asked, distractedly.
"So if you are soaping bumpers, who's gonna run the investigation?" She didn't pull punches. "Maybe you should just go to this meeting, kiss a little ass and keep the spot as primary?"
"Kiss the Sheriff's fat ass?"
She flinched back from expected temper. She could hear the disdain in his voice. The disbelief that she would even make the suggestion.
"You must be more tired than I thought if you think I know how to do that." He sneered the words, looking down at her.
"Just hear me out, Nick." She put her hand on his arm, wanting to touch him even if she knew she shouldn't. "Don't you think if you soothed the Sheriff's wounded ego a little, he would keep you on the case. You might have to deal with a task force, but I know you've done that before. You are the best man here, the only one with the experience to locate and arrest this killer." She stroked her hand down his arm, pausing to let it rest on his forearm. "Would it be that difficult?" She looked up at him through her lashes, her fingers caressing his soft shirt.
"And you would get to stay out of uniform and working the case," he stated.
She pulled back, lifting her hand off his arm like it was on fire and glared at him, affronted. "Do you really think that is the only reason that I want you to stay on the case? Because, if it is, you don't know me as well as I thought you did." She started to get up but he put his hand on hers, holding her where she was.
"No, I don't believe that you even think of yourself at all in any of this." He entwined his fingers through hers, pulling her closer to him. "Look at you, you are barely walking, you've slept what, maybe ten hours all week? And you've never asked for anything from me." He paused, then added, "Well, nothing but a chocolate shake. Oh, and that thing last night, you know, where you wanted me to..."
She slugged him in the stomach with their entwined hands. "I'm gonna start thinking you're as big a pig as Jimmy Benitti if you don't watch it."
He rubbed her hand across his muscled stomach grimacing at the comparison. He was much better looking then Jimmy Benitti and smarter. She laughed when he told her so.
They spent another half an hour at the park, sitting in the swings, Michelle laughing at the way Nick's long legs seemed to come up to his chin in the low seat. They didn't talk about the case, this was their time to get away, to regroup.
It ended too soon. Nick looked at his watch, his face clouding up.
"We should get back. I have to get everything together to take it in to the Sheriff's office." He was quiet, thinking about options.
She reached down and grabbed the edge of the seat that he sat on, yanking so that it dumped him in the sand. He looked up at her, blinking dumbly.
"What the hell was that for?"
She could have laughed at the outrage in his voice. "It was one way to get you to quit thinking and start moving." She danced out of his reach, his fingertips just brushing the hem of her jeans. She grabbed her jacket off the picnic table and started running for his car, laughing when he scooped her up from behind.
"Is this moving fast enough for you, Chelle?" he asked. He stood looking around as if deciding what to do with her. He looked at the stream and smiled. She saw the direction of that smile and started struggling.
"Oh no, don't you even think about it, Nick. That water is disgusting and cold." She screeched when he took a step in that direction.
He dropped her legs and let her slide down his body until she touched the ground. But he didn't let her go. Instead he just held her for a moment, close. She leaned into him, her arms going around his back, under his. He dropped a kiss on the top of her hair.
"Want me to drop you off at home?" he asked, dropping his arms and turning her in the direction of his car.
"Why would you do that? I have a meeting to go to at four. Gotta go and protect my boss from the big, bad Sheriff." She made a face at him.
He snorted. "Like I want you there to see me get raked over the coals." He pointed the automatic lock button at the door and punched it, turning to look at her. "I think you look awake enough to drive if you want me to just drop you off at your car." He grunted, unprepared for her fist in his stomach.
"Hey, police brutality," he wheezed. "What the hell was that for?"
"You ask that question a lot. That," she emphasized the word, "was for being a stubborn jerk." She opened her door and got in, closing it behind her.
He stood in the parking lot, rubbing his stomach and looking at her in bemusement. Finally he got into the driver's seat and turned to glare at her. "Why am I getting hit this time?"
"Are we going or staying, cuz if we are staying, you could either turn on the air conditioner or open the windows." She looked out hers, noting that the amorous kids had finally decided to leave the park.
He turned the key, turning the air conditioning on high to dispel the heat in the car. Then he shifted in his seat and crossed his arms. "Well?" he demanded.
"You're being an ass," she stated. "An egotistical, arrogant, no good at nothing but feeling sorry for himself, ass."
His mouth dropped open.
She almost purred in satisfaction at his reaction and decided to move in for the kill. "You ply me with fantastic pizza and juicy murders to get me to open up about myself, Chinese food and demented notes to get me to go to bed with you and chocolate milk shakes and autopsy reports to get me to be a good girl and go home," she poked a finger in his chest, "not to the meeting where I should be as your partner on this case." She dug the finger a little deeper. "If you consider me your equal, that's where I should be. Not at home like the little woman who needs to be pampered and protected." She sighed in disgust. "Now, can we get going. I have some work of my own to do before that meeting."
He just sat there, not moving. Did she really think that? "Do you really think that?"
The hurt in his voice sent a tiny wave of disgust at herself. She tried to tell herself to be strong otherwise he would never treat her as an equal, he would always feel like he had to protect her. She couldn't do it. "I want to be your partner on this case, Nick. I know you are my superior, but I'm as involved as you are. Shouldn't the Sheriff be looking to ream me too?"
"Just that thought turns my stomach," he sighed, rubbing his already abused stomach. "Okay, you want the bad with the good, right?"
"Then be ready to be reamed at four sharp, partner."
She beamed at him.
He couldn't help himself. He leaned over and kissed her, hard at first then softer as she leaned into him. "Does being partners mean I can do this when I want?" he whispered against her lips.
"Nope," she whispered back. Her lips clung to his despite her words. "Only when we both want to, Nick. Now drive." She sat back when he put the car in gear. "I do get points for letting you drive and not saying anything about the white hair that I can feel changing from my blonde, right?"
"You know, you might just deserve that dunking in the river." He glared at her for a second as she sat there and smirked. The he drove back to the station, staying at the speed limit and in his own lane the entire trip.
The next two hours were spent copying files, compiling notes, finishing the profile they had started. The phone rang constantly, the lab calling, the desk sergeant calling, finally the victim's parents calling from the morgue to set up an appointment. Ten minutes before the meeting, the phone rang again. He answered it and then hung up, his shoulders drooping just the tiniest bit. "We've been summoned."
The Sheriff's office was on the second story in the back of the building. They trudged up the worn carpeted stairs.
Nick carried his briefcase, the files they had made sitting snugly inside.
Before opening the outside office door, Michelle took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, pushed her hair back behind her shoulders and straightened her back. Nick looked down at her and smiled. "Ready, Chelle?" he asked, winking at her and opening the door to allow her to enter first.
"Ass," she answered back, pinching his rear end as she walked by him.
Louise held the door open for them and they trudged past her. She had a sympathetic smile for Nick and a curious one for Michelle.
The Sheriff was sitting behind his desk, bent over some paperwork. He left them standing for a few moments before even looking up at them. A ploy that Nick had used himself to make someone feel less than important.
He looked up at Nick and noticed Michelle standing next to him. "What is she doing here?" he asked, the irritation in his voice at seeing his deputy extremely obvious.
"Deputy Parsons is my partner, sir. She knows as much if not more than I do about this case. She can be of use, sir." Nick was standing almost at attention, like a soldier in front of a general.
Dammit, Nick, Michelle thought, even as she almost glowed with pleasure at the compliment, don't over do it.
"Sir, I've worked with Detective Saint since the beginning of this case. My patrol partner, Sam Miller, and I were the first on scene of the second crime scene sir. I did some of the leg work on that case." Did she sound like she was begging?
"Fine," he waved a hand, dismissing the subject. "Mayor Brandleberg wants us to get a task force started. He wants to call in the FBI, maybe get one of their profilers out here. He wants to coordinate with Imlay City and Flint and get some of their guys on this force." He paused as if waiting for either of them to make a comment. When none came forth, he continued. "I am against it right at this moment. I told the Mayor that this is a county case, not a city case, none of the victims have been found on city property. He doesn't have the right to make any of those calls. But to be fair, he does have a point."
Nick started to interrupt but then shut up to let the ass finish braying.
"I don't want to call the feds in, have them take over and get all the credit when we finally have a suspect." He sighed and looked down at his desk. "Nicky, you've done a good job for us since you started here. I have to tell you that I don't know what is going on, why we don't have a single suspect or evidence to lead us somewhere, anywhere. I'm going to leave you as primary, Parsons can stay with you. But I am going to bring in some boys from the cities. The Mayor wants to sit in on the briefing. Tomorrow, oh eight hundred. You'll be ready." It wasn't a question.
Nick nodded and started to turn, ready to leave.
The Sheriff stopped him. "Parsons, leave us alone for a few minutes."
He gave her no choice, damn the man. She took Nick's briefcase and walked out the door, sitting down in one of the uncomfortable chairs in front of Louise who just looked at her with a raised eyebrow, the unasked questions very plain in her eyes.
* * * *
When the door closed behind Michelle, the two men stared at each other for a second.
Finally the Sheriff spoke, not pulling any punches. "Are you sleeping with her?"
Nick did a reasonable job of acting suitably confused. "Who?"
"Her, Parsons." He steepled his fingers together in front of him. "She's a hot piece. I wouldn't blame you but I need to know." He asked the question again. "Are you sleeping with her?"
If Nick hadn't despised the Sheriff before, he did now. "Deputy Parsons is an officer in this station. She handles herself well and very professionally."
"And you didn't answer my question, dammit! If you are sleeping with her, I'll have to pull her from the case. Conflict of interest if the two of you are involved in any kind of shooting or take down episode." His shrewd, piggy eyes stared into Nick's, trying once more to intimidate.
It didn't work any better this time than it had before.
"Deputy Parsons and I have a good working relationship, sir." The sir was maybe just a little too sarcastic.
Williams tapped his fingers against his thin lips. "And?" he prompted.
"No, we don't have any personal relationship sir, I am not sleeping with her." He hoped that God would forgive that lie. He could just add it in with the rest of innumerable sins.
The Sheriff stared at him for a good minute, trying to see behind his eyes, Nick thought. "Good," Williams said, seemingly satisfied by the answer. "Let's keep it that way." By way of dismissal, he went back to work on the file that was sitting on his desk. "Tell Louise she can send my calls through now."
Nick stalked out of the room, almost physically restraining himself from slamming the door to the Sheriff's office. He refused to be a messenger boy, the Sheriff could page Louise himself. It might have been petty and a little childish, but it made him feel a little better. He walked by Michelle without looking at her and didn't stop moving until he was in his office.
He stood there and looked at his desk and fumed. The man had no right to ask about his personal life, he had no right to infer something so callous about Michelle. It wasn't his right to even ask, even if it were true. He picked up the stapler he had left out and threw it at the wall.
It didn't help. He was still seeing red when Michelle came in, shut the door behind her, making the office about the size of a big coat closet.
She set his briefcase on his desk and leaned one hip against it. She looked down at the stapler, laying on it's side where it had fallen. Then she looked up at him and waited to hear what had set him off.
The room was too small with her in it. He was too mad, too emotional to be able to handle feelings right now. Maybe he shouldn't be so mad about what the Sheriff said, but, dammit, he was.
"So?" Michelle asked.
"So what?" he asked, a small smirk coming to his lips.
"You know so what." At least she had gotten a smile.
"He wanted to know if we were sleeping together." Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. She wanted to be partners, she wanted the good as well as the bad, she got it all.
"He what?" Okay, Michelle, breathe. In with the good air, out with the bad... "He what!?"
"He asked me if we were sleeping together."
She huffed a huge breath. "This isn't the time to try and be funny Nick. What the fuck did you tell him?"
"I told him that you were a professional officer, that you did your job and handled yourself in a manner that was becoming of an officer." Nick was beginning to see a little humor here. But he also could read little nuances of her body language. If he wanted to ever slip naked between the sheets with her again, he was going to have to proceed cautiously.
"So. who knew we were together last night?"
"I didn't tell anyone. We arrived at the scene in different cars, at different times. No one had any idea..." his voice trailed off.
"I called the station from your apartment." The words were blunt, without explanation. They didn't need any.
"When you were finding out the address, they got my number from the caller ID system." She had it figured out.
"Who did you talk to?" Her face was white, she looked like she would be sick.
"Allie Trammel. She works third on dispatch." And she had a mouth the size of the Lincoln Tunnel and the love to gossip. "I denied it to the Sheriff. He seemed to believe me." He raked a hand through his hair and started pacing. "Damn, I can't believe how gossip travels in this department."
"You denied it?" she repeated the words more to herself than to him.
He sighed heavily. His eyes met hers, almost begging for her to understand. "He said that he would take you off the case. I told him that we had a good working relationship, and taking you off for any reason would be detrimental not only to you but to that case." He put his hand on her shoulder, flinching when she stepped out from under it. "Michelle, no one knows anything. I denied it, you deny it and it will go away."
She picked up the brass nameplate that stood on his desk. "Detective Nicholas Saint," she read. "Did they give you the badge from a cracker jack box?" She slapped it back onto his desk with a loud thwack. "Don't you hear what is being said about us? Don't you bother to listen?"
Whoa, sparks were flying out of her eyes. "What who is saying?" he asked, clueless.
She hit him in the chest with the heel of her hand, sending him stumbling backwards against the door. "The uniforms, the detectives, everyone. I got to 'play detective' because you want to screw me. I must be pretty fucking fantastic in the hay cuz you bypassed all those other more worthy male uniforms and took
me, the rookie, as a partner. Even Benitti thinks he can get away with copping a feel cuz I must be sleeping my way to the top." She put her hands over her face, and then her arms up over her head to cover her face. She looked mad enough to explode over anything he might say.
"Think about it from their perspective, Nick. You have such an astute eye for investigating, look at it the way they do and tell me you wouldn't think the exact same thing."
He shook his head even while his brain was processing all the facts. He realized that she was probably right. God damn it all. Someone had gotten to the Sheriff, someone who didn't like the fact that Michelle was working with him. Someone who knew Allie, maybe even Allie herself. But Nick couldn't see that. Allie might like to gossip but she wasn't petty or spiteful.
"Dammit, Chelle," he breathed quietly. "I can't believe this." He tried to look into her eyes, but she wouldn't have anything to do with it. She was gathering together work to take home with her, work to keep her busy and not thinking. "I'm sorry, Michelle."
She heard the sadness in his voice. "It's not you Nick. For someone with your reputation and all the cases you've solved, you're clueless about this, you probably wouldn't even think this of someone else. You're used to female detectives in Los Angeles." She picked up her keys and looked over her shoulder as she was leaving. "You just don't know how hard it can be for a woman to get ahead in some towns. The good old boys club of police officers doesn't open for females easily. If you hadn't given me this chance, I probably wouldn't have gotten into plains clothes for years and years. I should just thank you and go back to patrol." Determination lit up her eyes. "But I refuse to give them the satisfaction. They will have to order me back."
"Chelle, you know, if I can help it, you won't be taken off this case." He tried to take her hand, she moved away from him.
"I know, Nicky. And I appreciate it. But what happened last night just can't happen again." She left his office without giving him a chance to protest, not wanting to know if he would have or not. She was just too weak where he was concerned.
He heard her car start a few minutes later.
Nick rubbed the back of his neck, the muscles tight. How could this have happened in such a short time. Fourteen hours ago he had been in bed with a sexy, beautiful woman who made him feel like he could lasso the moon. Now he was standing here with the whole mess crumbling in his hands.
He glared at the nameplate and restrained the impulse to toss it in the trash. He needed action. He needed to do something. He picked up his briefcase, grabbed his keys from his desk drawer and stopping by the evidence locker to pick up Sheri Meridian's apartment key, left for Imlay City.
Feb 8, 2018 in romance