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Wisdom

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									                                       The Wisdom of Beginning
                                         by Marge Shasberger
                              lyrics by Marge Shasberger & Deryn Riggs
                                   mshasberger@placercoe.k12.ca.us

                                  If we know the wisdom of beginning
                                  And ending,
                                  We will never fail.
                                                                 Tao 64

       Darkness enfolded the dark green sedan in its shadows. A woman’s blond head rested
against the steering wheel, and there was no response to the child crying in the rear. Hands
reached over the front seat and removed the seat belts from the infant carrier, drawing the
weeping boy out of the car. The cries of “Mommy, Mommy” were ignored as the car seat was
secured in the rear of the sport vehicle parked next to the sedan. The driver climbed into the
high front seat of the 4-wheel drive, started the engine, and pulled out into the main street
leaving the small luxury sedan and its silent passenger parked at the side of the road.

                                            **********

        Cassy sat alone, the only sound in the squad room was the impatient tapping of her
pencil on the desktop. Where was everybody? Tom was late, there wasn’t a blue shirt in the
room, and Harry’s office was empty. She had just about convinced herself she had missed a
memo about a holiday, when she heard footsteps moving toward the squad room. Dropping
her pencil and jumping to her feet, Cassy started toward the stairs. She stopped as a petite,
attractive brunette woman appeared in the entrance. The stranger stopped, staring in awe
around the room.
        “Can I help you?” Cassy questioned.
        “Can you tell me where they stuck the captain?” the woman asked.
        “I beg your pardon?”
        “His office, where’s Lipschitz’s office?” the stranger asked again as she stepped down
from the main entrance and strode aggressively into the room
        “I’m Sergeant St. John, maybe I can help you.” Cassy responded, as she stiffened and
let her hand rest against the desk drawer where she’d put her gun.
        “I’m here to see the boss.”
        “Do you have an appointment? Otherwise I think maybe you’d better tell me what it is
you want.”
        The woman stopped and gave Cassy the once over, then she took a deep breath and
raised her hands in a placating gesture.
        “Sorry, didn’t mean to storm the place. I’m Rita Lorenzo; used to be known around
here as Rita Lance, and I do have an appointment. I was supposed to see Harry at ten, I’m
just a little early.”
        Cassy considered the newcomer suspiciously for a moment, then part of the name
clicked in her brain. “Lance? Lieutenant Lance?”
        Rita smiled and shook her head slightly. “I see I haven’t been forgotten. So is he
here?”
        “I don’t think the captain’s here yet, but his office is over there,” Cassy responded as
she stepped away from her desk and started toward Harry’s office.



                                                                                                   1
        Both women turned at once as their attention was drawn to another figure entering the
office. Captain Harry Lipschitz walked in. He was on the second step before he looked up
from the report folder he was carrying. At the sight of the two in front of him he halted, and
they watched as a look of pure delight lit up his craggy face.
        “Rita! You’re here!” He finished his entrance into the room with an enveloping hug for
the newcomer, then he stood back and gave her an appraising look up and down. “You look
great. I am so glad you took me up on my offer.”
        “You made it sound like you were desperate, Cap. You know I hadn’t intended to come
back here,” Rita replied. “Does everything meet with your approval?” she asked as he
continued to stare at her.
        “Of course it does; I mean you look great. I already said that,” Harry replied,
momentarily flustered. His eyes narrowed and he dipped his head, peering at her over the top
of his glasses. “And you know perfectly well this is where you belong. Besides, I missed
you…I missed my Godson.”
        Cassy blinked. Godson? This is the first I've heard of a Godson.
        “Cassy,” Harry continued, turning to the other officer. “You remember Rita Lorenzo,
she and Chris Lorenzo were partners. She made chief just before….”
        The captain stopped his introduction and turned a concerned look toward the woman in
question.
        “Before he died,” Rita finished for him as she extended her hand toward Cassy. “I don’t
think Cassy and I ever worked together, Harry. She and her partner pretty much worked a
different shift than Chris and I.”
        “I know Tom knew your husband. I don’t think I did, I’m sorry,” Cassy said as she
accepted the firm handshake
         “Well,” Harry broke back into the conversation. Rita, has agreed to return to this
wonderful place and resume her old duties now that Jackson has retired.”
        “It’s a trial, Harry. I agreed to give it a try.”
        “Of course, of course. Just a trial. It’s going to be fine. Come with me you two,” Harry
directed as he strode off toward his office.
        “You guys were the infamous Sams weren’t you? It’s a treat to finally meet you,
welcome home,” Cassy commented as the pair followed in Harry’s wake.
        Rita didn’t answer, and the two settled into the chairs in front of Harry’s desk. He was
already rummaging in a drawer, and they watched until he sat up, handing the small leather
wallet to the returning officer.
        “This should make it official,” he smiled.
        Rita reached for the offering, and opened it slowly. For a moment she simply stared at
the gold shield and ID inside, her fingers moving slowly to trace the name over the
photograph; Rita Lorenzo, as the captain had addressed her earlier.
        “It used to say Lance,” she said softly as she continued to gaze at the picture.
        “I had it corrected."
        Rita raised her eyes and the two stared at each other for a minute. Then Harry broke
the silence.
        “So, where’s my Godson? Did you know Frannie and I were Chris Jr.’s Godparents,
Cassy? You have to bring him by, Rita. I’m sure everybody would want to meet him.”
        The phone rang, interrupting the captain’s enthusiastic monologue. Rita settled back
into her chair, as accustomed to waiting on Lipschitz phone calls as Cassy.




                                                                                               2
      “We’ve got a DB on Imperial Highway. Cassy, Tom’s going to be in court on the
Anderson thing for at least three days, you and Rita take this one. Here’s the address.” Harry
held out the piece of paper. Cassy accepted the address, and she and Rita left the office.


        “I can’t say I don’t like the new headquarters. It was never that ritzy when I was
around,” Rita remarked as the two drove across Palm Beach. “It certainly is bigger and
prettier. Do you like it?”
        “Everybody does,” Cassy answered as she maneuvered the department sedan through
the remnants of the morning commuter traffic. After a moments pause she broached the
subject of Rita and Chris. “How was it married to your partner? Didn’t it cause all kinds of
problems?”
        “We didn’t exactly broadcast the news around, and we weren’t married very long before
he was killed. We never had a chance to get into trouble.”
        “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dredge up bad memories.”
        “I’m concentrating on the good ones,” Rita replied. “They’re the ones that keep me
going.”


        The two reached the scene of the crime and joined the group gathered around the
green luxury sedan. The body inside was of a young, blond woman. They examined the form
slumped against the steering wheel, taking in the single bullet wound to the head.
        “Her purse is here, license says Michelle Allison…over three-hundred dollars still in the
wallet,” Cassy remarked. “There doesn’t seem to be any sign of a struggle; no tire tracks, no
marks on her. What was this all about?” Cassy jotted down names, addresses, and other
information before handing the purse and its contents to the crew collecting evidence. The
medical examiner promised to let her know anything else that cropped up. It was one of the
uniformed officers who called after the two detectives as they walked away from the car.
        “Sergeant St. John!”
        “Yeah, Morgan, what’cha got?”
        “Well, maybe it’s nothing, but this looks like an indent from a baby carrier here on the
back seat.”
        The two homicide officers returned to the car. With the removal of the victim, the back
seat of the two-door vehicle was much more accessible, and they gave it a closer look.
        “There are cookie or cracker crumbs under the back of the seat, Rita,” Cassy stated as
she straightened from her examination of the car cushions. She extended her hand in front of
her to show the other woman what she’d found. “It also looks like this might be a piece of a
puzzle or a game. There definitely must have been a kid here not too long ago. We’d better
get some next of kin identified and find out if the child was in the car.”

                                                 ******

       Later that afternoon, Cassy’s suspicions were confirmed. Her call to the address on
Michelle Allison’s identification card had brought Christine Allison to the precinct only
moments before. The distinguished looking older woman had arrived in the company of a
uniformed chauffeur, looking confused and terribly apprehensive. Cassy and Rita had
escorted her to the morgue to view the body, and now the weeping woman sat in the chair
beside her desk.


                                                                                                3
         “Mrs. Allison,” Cassy began, reaching out to touch the older woman on the arm. “Mrs.
Allison, I’m very sorry for you loss. I hope you can answer some questions for me, the more
we know, the quicker we can find out who did this.”
         “I understand,” the woman whispered. She dabbed at her eyes with her already
sodden handkerchief.
         “Mrs. Allison, where was your daughter this afternoon?” Cassy asked gently.
         “Michelle was at school. She had class until three o’clock, and then she would have
stopped by the school to pick up…. Detective, where is the baby? Michelle always picked
him up promptly at 3:30 at daycare.”
         “Is your daughter’s daycare by the college?”
         “Yes, not far, why?”
         “Mrs. Allison, we didn't know if there was a child in the car, but I’m sure the daycare
would have called you by now if he hadn't been picked up. Your daughter's car was found
near your home, so I’m afraid he was with her.”
         "Do you mean there was no sign of him?"
         "I’m sorry, we were hoping that the child wasn’t with her. I can assure you, we’ll do
everything we can to find out what’s happened to your grandson."
         The woman stared at Cassy for a moment, and then dropped her head into her hand,
crying softly.
         Rita moved around in front of the weeping woman, pulling up another nearby chair to
sit in front of her. “Mrs. Allison, can you tell us about your grandchild?”
         “Tell you?”
         “Yes. His name, how old he is, that kind of thing. The more we know, the quicker we
can get on this.”
         “Yes, yes, of course, Matthew Carlson Allison. He’s two years old, almost three.”
         “Do you know anyone who would want to hurt your daughter or your grandson?”
         “Hurt them? Why would anyone want to hurt them? He’s so precious, such a precious
little boy. Who would hurt such a beautiful child?” The woman’s words were muffled in her
renewed tears, and Rita turned to Cassy.
         “I think maybe that’s enough for now. Let’s let her go. We’ll need to talk to Harry, and
we can ask more questions later.”
         Cassy agreed, and the two stood watching as the uniformed chauffeur moved in to
assist his employer from the room. Grim faced, the two detectives turned and headed for the
captain’s office.


        “There was a child in the car, Captain,” Rita explained as she and Cassy brought
Lipschitz up to date on what they had found. “We’ve confirmed that the mother picked him up
at the school. Looks like we’re dealing with a kidnapping.”
        “There was no sign of struggle, Harry,” Cassy added. “The car looked like it just pulled
over to the side of the road. She may have been picking someone up, maybe somebody she
knew. Her mother was getting pretty upset, so we sent her home. But we’re going to have to
go out and talk to her, look at the house and Michelle’s things. Maybe we’ll find a clue as to
who might have wanted the baby.”
        “Okay, but be careful,” he instructed. “The Allison’s have a direct line to the Governor’s
office. I don’t want any insinuation that we’re not doing everything possible. Make it good,
you two, and find that kid, quick! I’ve already had to notify the feds.”



                                                                                                 4
       “Wonderful, that’s all we need,” Cassy grumbled as she and Rita pushed back their
chairs and turned to leave.

                                                ******

        The Allison house was on the beach. The beige coloring and green trim blended in
with the beautiful gardens that surrounded the dwelling.
        “Talk about understated elegance,” Rita whispered in awe of the beautiful mansion.
“This is one of the best of the best in my opinion.”
        The doorbell was answered by a uniformed maid, who led the two into a sitting room at
the rear of the house. Mrs. Allison was pacing back and forth between a glass table and the
double French doors that looked out over the pool area. At the sound of approaching
footsteps she turned, and closed on Rita and Cassy.
        “Have you found him? Please tell me, Oh God, tell me you’ve found him.”
        “I’m sorry, ma’am,” Rita began. “We haven’t found your grandson. We wanted to ask
you a few more questions if we could.”
        The older woman seemed to sag, and Cassy jumped forward to assist her onto the
white leather couch. Rita settled herself next to the weeping woman and tried to calm her
down.
        “Please, Mrs. Allison, we only have a few more questions, and we’d like to see your
daughter’s room. Did she live here in the house with you, or did she live somewhere else?”
        The older woman drew in a deep breath and made a visible effort to compose herself.
She raised her head and stared off into space for a moment, then answered without looking at
either of the officers. “I’m sorry, this has just been such a hellish day. I don’t know what I’m
going to do.”
        “Mrs. Allison,” Rita continued, “do you have a recent picture of your grandson?”
        “Yes, of course,” the woman answered, rising to retrieve a gold-framed picture from the
white piano across the room. “Matthew Carlson Allison. He was named after my husband.
This was taken just last week. He and his mother live out in the guest cottage behind the rose
garden. She doesn’t like living here, inside with us. She needs her independence…” the
woman said as she stared at the picture in her hands.
        Cassy watched as Rita rose to take the picture, an odd expression flitting across her
face as she gazed at the image of the adorable child.
        “Mrs. Allison,” Cassy continued, “have you thought of any reason why someone might
want to harm your daughter…or you or your husband?” When she received no response,
Cassy tried again. “Where is Matthew’s father?”
        The look on the older women’s face changed from grief to rage. “That ridiculous
excuse for a man is somewhere on the other side of the world as far as I know.”
        Cassy and Rita exchanged glances, and Rita handed the photo-frame back. “Could
you take the picture out for me, please. We will need to make copies of it." As the older
woman reached for the picture, Rita took her arm and guided her back to the couch. The
woman removed the photo and handed to Rita.
        “Mrs. Allison, what is your son-in-law’s name?”
        “He is not my son-in-law. He never was. My daughter may have been stupid, but she
was not crazy. I would never have let her marry anyone like that. They met at that school she
insisted on attending. I don’t know how she could have fallen for his line, but he seduced her
and then just abandoned her. The poor thing was distraught. We brought her home



                                                                                               5
immediately, but she refused to take care of the problem, even insisting on keeping the baby.
We’ve tried to be understanding, my husband and I, but it has been so hard.”
        “His name, Mrs. Allison?” Rita broke in.
        “His name is Jason Masterson. He’s a sailor in the Merchant Marine.”
        “Do you know how we can get in touch with him?”
        “I don’t have any idea how to get in touch with him. The last I heard he was on the way
to Singapore.”
        “And when did you last hear about him, Mrs. Allison?” Cassy asked.
        “I don’t remember. Please. I can’t talk about him, he…I didn’t mean that I...that we…”
the older woman looked back and forth between the two officers, her eyes widening in fear.
        Cassy and Rita exchanged a look.
        “Mrs. Allison, we can’t help you if you don’t tell us everything,” Cassy continued.
        “We heard from him last month when he sent me a new post office box number for the
checks.”
        “The checks, Mrs. Allison?”
        “Yes, the checks my husband agreed to send him to keep him out of our lives.”
        “He’s blackmailing you?” Rita asked.
        “No, it’s not blackmail. More like protection. Protection for that little boy and my poor
daughter. Protection from any interference by that detestable man. We had to be sure that
he wouldn’t bother Michelle anymore. It was worth any price. We had to…it was all we could
do.”
        “All right, Mrs. Allison. It’s all right. I understand,” Rita tried to sound reassuring. “Can
you tell us how to get in touch with him?”
        “You don’t think he had anything to do with this, do you?”
        “No ma’am, I’m not suggesting anything. We just need to get in touch with him, see
where he was. It’s just a formality, I’m sure he’s on the other side of the world. But if you
could just tell us…”
        “You will have to ask my husband. I never spoke to him myself.”
        “All right, we’ll do that. Is your husband coming home?”
        “I don’t know. I called, but his secretary said he had already left for the airport. He had
a meeting in New York, but I’m sure he’ll postpone that. She said she would get in touch with
him. He’ll probably go back to the office.”
        “Can we reach him there?”
        “Yes.”
        Rita followed the older woman to the small white table that served as a desk.
Catherine Allison retrieved a business card from one of the drawers and handed it to Rita.
“This is his private number."
        Rita and Cassy gathered their things and left the house, walking slowly toward the
patrol car.

                                                   ******

       “Parental kidnapping you think?” Cassy finally raised the question once they were on
the way back to the precinct.
       “Sounds suspicious, doesn’t it,” Rita replied. “He’d have to kill her or she’d ID him. It’s
hard to believe anyone could murder the mother of his child, though. But it takes all kinds in
this world.”



                                                                                                     6
                                                 ******

       Back at the precinct, the two began the tedious task of recreating a life. Computer
programs gave access to newspaper articles about debutante balls and other social agendas
for Michelle Allison. There was, however, no mention of the birth of a child in any of the public
places, only the official birth certificate that listed no name on the line marked father. Rita
discovered a driver’s license in Texas for a Jason Mark Masterson. It didn’t take long to track
Michelle’s school records to her first year at Texas A&M. The promising freshman had
apparently dropped out of school, with no record that she had enrolled elsewhere until her
registration at Florida University the past semester.
       “Maybe Grampa Allison will shed some light on the daddy’s whereabouts,” Cassy
suggested, reaching for the phone.
       “Can you believe it,” Cassy exclaimed as she hung up the phone. “It’s been over two
hours since we were at the house. I figured he’d be at home by now, but he’s not back from
the airport yet. What could he be doing? Must be real worried about all this.”
       “People handle stress in different ways, Cassy. Maybe he just wanted to keep busy.”
       “Yeah, right. He should be home with his wife. I’m gonna go talk to Morton,” Cassy
replied angrily
       Rita didn’t push it, merely following Cassy as she strode angrily out of the squad room.
       The medical examiner had nothing new for the two officers, and they walked silently
back toward the office. The sound of the catering truck's horn drew Cassy’s attention. “You
want something from the truck?” she asked Rita.
       “I’d have to get my purse. I think I’ll just pass. Too many bugs to eat outside this time
of year.”
       “It’s okay, I’ve got some cash,” Cassy volunteered as she dug into the pocket of her
jacket. “You want me to get you something? I’ll bring it in.”
       Rita gave Cassy an order and headed back to the main room. When she reached the
squad room she saw a stranger sitting at the desk across from Cassy’s. It was a face that she
vaguely recognized. She assumed he was Cassy’s partner, and tried to dredge up his name
from her memory as she walked over to introduce herself.
       “Hi, my name is Rita….” she began as she approached the desk. She lost the thread
of what she’d been going to say as the man looked up, and Rita felt herself drowning in the
smile that generated not only from his mouth, but also sparkled from the warm hazel eyes. He
was on his feet in a second, and towered over her. Chris had been maybe 5’11”; this guy had
to be over 6 feet.
       “Tom Ryan,” his voice broke into her momentary daze. “Is there something I can help
you with?”
       “No, um, not unless you know where my office is," she stammered. "Harry hasn’t
bothered to tell me yet.”
       “Your office?”
       “I’m the new, or I guess you could say returning Chief of Detectives, and you are?”
       “The other half of the Tom and Cassy team.” The hand he extended clasped hers with
a strong grip that mirrored the genuineness of his smile. “Have we met before?” he asked.
       “Now that’s an original line,” Rita joked. “Actually, I think you knew my husband, Chris
Lorenzo.”
       Tom seemed to hesitate a moment, as if trying to place the name, then enlightenment
dawned on his expressive face “I remember. Lance and Lorenzo. I don’t think I ever met
you, and Chris and I only ran into each other a couple of times at the gym. I was at a


                                                                                                7
conference in Los Angeles when he was killed. I’m sorry I didn’t make it back in time for the
funeral.”
        “You didn’t miss anything,” Rita responded with a nervous smile. This was the point
where most people usually started to simper, telling her how sorry they were, calling her a
‘poor thing’ and asking her how she coped. She hated it.
        “I missed being able to offer my support,” Tom continued, cutting into her shift into
melancholy. “I’m sure it wasn’t an easy time. You’ve been gone what, three years? How’s it
feel to be back?”
        “Almost four,” she responded. “Harry has asked me to come back and take over my
old job. I’m going to give it a try.”
        “That’s great. It’s nice to finally get to meet you. This way to your domain.” He smiled
as he gestured dramatically toward the corner of the room.
        Rita was pleased at the way he handled the realization of who she was. She felt an
instant rapport growing. She liked this man.
        Tom led the way to the empty office, opening the door and standing back for her to
enter. The lettering on the frosted glass window did say Chief of Detectives on it, so Rita
assumed he knew what he was doing. She circled around the empty desk and stood for a
moment considering the very ancient looking black leather chair. She finally sat gingerly,
discovering that it was more stable than it looked, and then shifted back and rested her hands
on the wooden arms.
        “Looks like it fits,” Tom said.
        She smiled up at him and leaned even farther back.
        “So, tell me about you and Cassy. Are you as good as I hear?”
        Tom smiled, and proceeded into the office, perching on the corner of the desk.
Producing two pieces of licorice from his inside coat pocket, he offered her one and began to
chew on the end of the one he kept for himself. “Well, eighty percent last quarter,” Tom
continued the conversation. “'Course we were off our form until we got past the divorce vibes.
But now we’re kicking butt again. Probably top our own record soon.”
        Rita stared up at him. “You’re divorced from Cassy, and now you work together?
You’ve got to be kidding! Whose idea was that?”
        “It was Harry’s idea. Couldn’t split up the best team he’s ever had, he said.”
        “He said that, did he?” Rita replied, still mulling over this news about these two
partners.
        “Yep, that’s what he calls us. His finest detective team.”
        “Yeah, right, Thomas,” Cassy broke in as she appeared behind her partner. “Now just
when did you hear Harry say that?”
         “Hey, Cassy, I’m sure that’s what he said, ‘my finest detective team’, I heard him,” Tom
replied in mock indignation.
        “Don’t listen to a word he says, Rita. If it rhymes, it’s a song lyric, anything else is just
pure bull,” Cassy laughed.
        “You brought me lunch!” he exclaimed eyeing the two bags Cassy carried.
        Cassy pulled both bags out of his reach, handing one to Rita and hiding the other
behind her back. “Get your own,” she instructed him. “The truck is still out there.”
        Rita watched as Cassy pushed him off the corner of her desk and shooed him out of
the office, the light bantering continuing between them as they moved away. She unwrapped
the sandwich Cassy had brought her and spread her lunch out on the top of the empty desk.
Tom reappeared in the outside office minutes later with two bags, which he proceeded to



                                                                                                    8
empty all over his desk. Rita heard him tell Cassy that he just had to stick around until they
called him back into court, and his partner telling him about the day’s investigation.
         She shifted her glance to the rest of the outer room. She was glad there was a new
squad room; she had dreaded coming back to the old building, and had been very happy
when she had heard about the redo. It made things much easier, and the memories stayed
quiet.
         Cassy and Tom debated back and forth as they ate, and Rita recognized the shoptalk
mode. Tom lounged casually back in his chair, feet on his desk and his eyes on the ceiling,
seemingly uninterested in Cassy’s dialogue. Then he would make a comment, and Cassy
would stop and quickly write on the note pad in front of her. This was apparently normal
operating procedure for the two of them; Cassy bouncing ideas off her calm partner, her
reactions indicating that his thrown off comments were extremely insightful as they sent her
scribbling. Tom finally altered his position to rest his forearms on his desk, leaning toward his
partner as he spoke.
         Cassy looked back toward the lieutenant’s office and started to rise. Rita rose instead,
gesturing for the other woman to stay. She threw the trash from her lunch into a waste can
beside her door as she moved out into the main room to join them.
         “You got something?” she asked as she neared the two desks.
         “Tom thinks maybe we’ve jumped to a conclusion here. He’s not so sure the father is
involved.”
         “Kids get grabbed by disgruntled parents,” Rita turned to him. He was watching her,
head cocked to the side. He wants to see how I'm going to handle his challenge to my
conclusion, Rita realized.
         “Why would this guy cut off the bread line?" Tom began in defense of his point of view.
"The kid’s two years old, and papa’s been accepting the proud grandparents’ bribe this long.
You say there’s no publicity, no ugly court battle for custody between the poor sailor and the
social elite. So why all of a sudden would he nab the kid? I think you should see if he was
ever really in the picture, or just a sperm donor.”
         “Yuck,” Rita grimaced as she leaned back against Tom’s desk.
         “Happens all the time,” he continued. “She was a freshman; little rich kid away from
home, out of mommy and daddy’s sight for the first time. The white debutante dress gets a
little tarnished.”
         “Boy, you sound a little economically challenged, Sergeant Ryan.”
         “Not me, but I’ve seen it happen. Mom and dad get wind of what’s happening and yank
little miss back home. Only this time she didn’t come alone.”
         “I’ll call the school,” Cassy announced.
         “Go ahead,” Rita agreed, rising from her perch on the corner of Tom’s desk. “I’ll keep
trying to track our missing sailor. I should have heard back from the Merchant people, they
were going to fax me a picture and his service record.”
         “No sweat. Gotta cover all the bases,” Tom’s voice followed her.
         “How come you let her sit on your desk?” Rita heard the hissed question from Cassy as
she reached the door to her office. She turned back to watch his reaction.
         “Huh?”
         “You always give me the look when I sit on your desk. How come you let her sit on it?”
         With a devilish twinkle in his eye, Tom leaned conspiratorially toward his partner. “Must
be the view.” He rose and practically danced across the floor and out of the room.
         “The view?” Cassy responded, staring at his retreating form. “The view!”



                                                                                                 9
        Rita chuckled, and decided to ask around and see if Sergeant Tom Ryan was a male
chauvinist or a practical joker. She could deal with either, but the second would be more fun.
From the look on Cassy’s face, he was pretty good at setting her off. She hoped the two
didn’t spend all their time fighting. They must work together pretty well if they really had that
good a success record.

                                                  ******

        The high-rise building was meant to impress, but intimidation was not something that
either of the two homicide detectives accepted. The missing Mr. Allison had finally returned to
his office. The secretary had dutifully called the Palm Beach PD, and now the elevator sped
to the top floor of the building, where a very prim and proper assistant ushered Cassy and Rita
into the palatial office. The handsome, gray-haired man rose behind the black granite desk,
and the two officers were surprised when he immediately came around to greet them. His
handshake was friendly, despite the worried expression on his face.
        “Please, ladies, sit down. Is there anything I can get you? My wife has told me
everything. I assumed you would be by to talk to me.”
        The pair refused the offer of refreshment, and settled on the upholstered couch. Mr.
Allison drew up a chair across from them, and acknowledged Rita’s introductions.
        “Mr. Allison, we’re sorry about your loss, please accept our condolences. We wouldn’t
bother you with these questions, but we need all the information we can get. I hope you
understand. Getting your grandson back and catching your daughter’s killer may depend on
what you can tell us.”
        “Lieutenant Lorenzo, please do not hesitate. Whatever you can do to locate my
Matthew will be appreciated. If there is anything you need, anything I can do.”
        “Mr. Allison, we just wanted to ask you about Matthew’s father,” Cassy continued.
        The question was hardly out of Cassy’s mouth before the older gentleman sprang to his
feet and moved away from the pair. “I don’t know what my wife told you, Officers, but she’s
very upset; you have to understand. I hope you won’t be misled by what she might have
insinuated.”
        “Insinuated, Mr. Allison?” Rita asked. “Perhaps you’d like to explain about the checks
your wife told us about.”
        “Well it certainly wasn’t blackmail,” the man continued. He turned back and resumed
his seat, this time perching on the edge of the chair as if ready to take flight at any moment.
        “What would you call it, sir?” Rita pressed. She leaned forward, closing her hands
together on her knees and scrutinizing the man with a piercing gaze. “If he was threatening
you or your family, you should have told the police, Mr. Allison.”
        “He wasn’t threatening us. We just made an agreement. It was a business
arrangement. That’s all it was.”
        Rita sat back against the couch, releasing the man from her stare. She watched as he
stood again, this time prowling over to his desk, where he fiddled blindly with several objects
within his reach.
        “It was an agreement. He would leave us alone; I would see to it that he
was…provided with…with enough money to…I don’t know what he did with the money. We
agreed on an amount, and he stayed away. That’s all I cared about.”
        “And this has been going on for two years?” Cassy took up the questioning.
        “No, actually only for the last year. We didn’t hear from him until Matthew was almost a
year old. It was quite a shock.”


                                                                                                10
        “Mr. Allison, did he ever say anything about what might happen if you didn’t pay?”
        “No, there was never anything like that. He made it quite clear that he did not want any
part of the baby. I offered the money. I just needed to be sure.”
        “And he never asked to see Michelle, or the baby?”
        “No.”
        “Did he ever ask for more money?” Rita asked.
        “Only once, this last time he called.”
        “What did you say?”
        “I told him no, that we had an arrangement, and I was not prepared to negotiate.”
        “What was his reaction, Mr. Allison?”
        “His reaction?”
        “Was he angry?”
        “Actually no, he said it didn’t really matter.”
        “Didn’t that bother you?” Cassy asked, surprised.
        “No, he was always…insolent. He laughed. Like it was a joke.”
        Rita and Cassy exchanged looks and Rita spread her folded hands apart in a
questioning gesture. Cassy shook her head no, and Rita turned back to the man across form
them. “I think that’s all for now, Mr. Allison. We may have more questions later.”
        “I understand, anything I can do.”
        “Can you get us a list of the checks and amounts you’ve given your…the baby’s
father?”
        The man agreed, and Cassy and Rita thanked him for his cooperation, then left the
impressive building.


       “Wonderful person,” Rita muttered once they were back in the car.
       “Allison or Masterson?” Cassy questioned.
       “What?”
       “Which person? Grieving grandfather or missing father?”
       “The kid’s father, why?”
       “I just can’t stomach people like him.”
       Rita turned a quizzical glance toward Cassy. “Mr. Corporate Executive or Mr. Father of
the Year?”
       Cassy laughed, momentarily taking her eyes off the road and returning Rita’s look. “Mr.
Corporate Executive, no time for my family, just show me where to sign the checks, Allison.
He should be home with his wife, not sitting there in his granite tower doing business as usual.
He didn’t look very worried to me.”
       “You never know, Cassy. Like I said, people handle stress differently. He seemed
concerned to me.”
       “Okay, so we’ll agree to differ on gramps. What about dad?”
       “Slime,” Rita shot back.
       “No argument,” Cassy agreed as she slowed the car to merge into the thickening traffic
on the interstate.
       “Oh my God, where did all this traffic come from? What time is it?” Rita demanded.
       “It’s after four, what’s up?” Cassy questioned.
        “I’ve got to pick up my son at daycare. I can’t believe how wrapped up I got after one
day back. I’m going to be late. They will not be pleased.”
       “We can pick him up on the way back if that would help,” Cassy volunteered.


                                                                                              11
        “Thanks, I hope it won’t make you late for anything,” Rita replied. She gave her
impromptu chauffeur directions, and settled back in her seat. “I can’t believe this is
happening. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.”
        Cassy let the silence draw out for several minutes, then gently probed. “Doing what,
Rita?”
        “Going back to work. Chris is almost four, but maybe he needs his mom home longer.
I just…I’m still not sure how I feel about having him in daycare.”
        “Take it easy. You just got caught up in the first day stuff. Give it a chance, you’ll get
into a routine. Do you like this daycare place?”
        “I do. They’re supposed to be the best in town. Lots of staff, and they do all the
progressive stuff with the kids. You can even leave them there for kindergarten. I was really
lucky they had an opening.”
        “I take it Chris Jr. likes it.”
        There was a moment’s silence before Rita replied. “One minute I think he hates it, the
next…. We have this major scene every time I drop him off. I started taking him last week so
he could get used to it. He has a regular full-blown temper tantrum every time. Then when I
come to pick him up, he just wants to stay and play. He acts like I just don’t even exist. It’s…”
        “Give it a chance, Rita. You need to do things for yourself, too. You can’t just sit at
home the rest of your life. Don’t you need to work?”
        “Actually, no I don’t. I had some money, and Chris left insurance and stuff. I’d
probably survive. But you’re right, I don’t want to just sit and do nothing. That’s not who I am,
but then I start to feel so guilty.”


        Cassy waited while Rita fairly ran into the two-story building that housed the school.
The place was a converted house, painted yellow with white trim. A small, very discrete metal
sign over the door declared it to be the Tiny Tykes Daycare and Kindergarten. There was no
other advertising visible. The front yard was a play area that seemed to have every
conceivable modern piece of equipment designed to entice a child. Cassy found herself
wondering if there was a plain old-fashioned swing anywhere. She watched as cars came
and went as children were picked up. If the place was rated on the sticker prices represented
in its parking lot, it must be first class. The cheapest thing so far's been a Toyota Avalon.
High-class clientele, she mused, as another Mercedes pulled in beside her.
        But it was the kids themselves who drew her attention. The boys were decked out in
either blue corduroy pants or shorts, and lighter blue shirts with what appeared to be a school
logo on them. The little girls all sported either skirts or shorts, and a blue blouse with the
same logo. Very proper, she sighed. I wonder if they ever have a chance to get filthy making
mud pies or tear holes in their jeans climbing trees, Cassy grumbled to herself, shaking her
head.
        Rita returned with a brown duffel bag thrown over her shoulder and one of the small
child clones beside her. The little boy’s hand was clasped firmly in his mothers as the toddler
lagged as far behind her as she would allow. She settled him in the rear seat of the car,
strapping him securely in place.
        “Hon, this is my friend Sergeant St. John,” Rita explained to her son as they started
back to the precinct. “This is my son, Chris Jr.,” she continued.
        “Hi, Chris,” Cassy prompted, as she peered at the child in the rearview mirror. He did
not look happy. She turned and looked questioningly at the young man’s mother.
        “What’s wrong, honey. Can’t you say hello?” Rita asked.


                                                                                                12
        “Can’t see,” was the only reply.
        “I know Chris. I don’t have your car seat, but you have to keep your seatbelt on. When
we get back to our car, you’ll be able to see. Now can you say hello?”
        “Hello,” the child answered dutifully.
        “Hello, Sergeant St. John,” his mother corrected.
        “Is she a saint like Saint Patrick?” the boy asked.
        Cassy giggled, and Rita fixed her partner with a quelling maternal glare. “Don’t
encourage him,” she whispered, then turned back to the rear seat.
        “She’s not a saint, like in church, Chris. That’s just the way you say her name. Try it.”
        “Hello…St. Joan,” the child responded.
        “Chris, be polite. St. John.”
        “No, it’s okay,” Cassy interrupted, trying not to laugh. “I don’t mind, he can just call me
Cassy, okay Chris?”
        “Hello, Cassy,” the boy finally responded.
        Rita turned back toward the front of the car with a proud, pleased smile. Then the
litany began in the back seat.
        “Cassy, Lassie, Cassy, Lassie, Cassy, Lassie….”
        “Chris, stop that, it’s not nice.”
        “Rhymes, Mommy. We learned rhymes. What rhymes with Lassie, Mommy?”
        “With Lassie? Trashy?” Rita tried valiantly
        “Cassy, Lassie, Trashy; Cassy, Lassie, Trashy,” the child started to chant again.
        “Mommy, what rhymes with Trashy?”
        “He definitely knows you’re here,” Cassy laughed.
        “This rhyming thing is driving me crazy,” Rita grumbled under her breath.
        The game continued until they pulled into the parking lot of the police department.
        Cassy pulled the official car into a vacant space next to Tom’s Mustang. Rita
maneuvered Chris out of the bigger car, and he immediately advanced on the sporty car
beside them.
        “Ride in this one,” the child demanded.
        Rita lifted her son up so he could see inside the object of his interest. He extended his
hands, squirming as he tried to break free from his mother’s grasp. “Ride,” he repeated.
        “No, Chris,” Rita answered, grabbing a small hand as it reached for the steering wheel
that was so very accessible in the topless Mustang. She lowered the child to the ground and
took his hand. “Come on Chris, we’ve got to go home. Aren’t you hungry?”
        “Hungry – McDonalds,” the child instantly responded to the distraction.
        Rita rolled her eyes and turned back to Cassy. “Would you tell Harry I’m gone, or
check out, or whatever it is you do nowadays. I’m going to take the critter home.”
        Cassy laughed to herself as she watched the youngster and his mother start across the
parking lot toward Rita’s car. “I don’t envy her,” she murmured to herself. “At least not alone.
He’d wear me out,” she smiled and then turned toward the stairs to the office.

                                                  ******

        As expected, the officers from the FBI arrived the next morning. Cassy handed over
copies of their findings without a word; the look on her face displayed her disapproval of the
interference.
        “Look, Sergeant, I’m here to do a job. You’ve got a kidnapping. That makes it my
business.”


                                                                                                 13
      “Sure, but we’ve got a murder, so don’t get in our way.”
      “Nobody is here to get in your way. But you better keep us informed, you understand?”
      “Yeah, I understand,” Cassy scoffed, even as Rita pulled her away.
      “Cassy, take it easy, they're feds. We’re on the same side, here.”
      “I’ve dealt with these fed types before, they're only on ‘their’ side. They don’t care
about us hick town cops and our little measly investigation.”


         The two temporary partners spent the next few days tracking down tenuous leads on
the deceased girl. Friends told them of her withdrawal from past friendships, how she had
been pretty much a loner of late. A few of them knew about the baby, but it was obviously a
subject that they had not talked to her about. They were unable to locate anyone who knew
anything about the father, or who seemed to be on really friendly terms with Michelle since the
end of high school.
         The weekend crept ever closer, and the two decided to schedule a shopping spree.
         “I’ve got the babysitter arranged,” Rita said as she stood beside Cassy’s desk. “She’s
coming about eight-thirty. She can stay and give Chris lunch. Is that enough time?”
         “Well, shopping is supposed to be a dawn till dusk thing, but I suppose this once we
could cut it short,” Cassy laughed as she gathered her things in preparation for heading home.
“I’ll pick you up at nine, that should give you time to get them settled. Find out how late your
sitter can stay. We’ll just do what we have to do.”
         Cassy left the building, and Rita returned to make a stab at putting things in some
semblance of order on her cluttered desk. With a weary sigh, she glanced at the clock, picked
up her purse, and headed out after her friend.
         “I’m on time,” she congratulated herself as she pulled the seat belt over her lap. She
inserted the key and turned the ignition, giving the car gas. The only sound from the engine
was a fast, steady clicking sound. Rita turned off the key, and then tried it again. The sound
repeated, with no response from the engine.
          “Doesn’t sound like it’s going to start,” a familiar voice said as she finally took her foot
of the gas pedal to quiet the grinding noise.
         “Tell me something I don’t know,” she grumbled in response.
         “Temper, temper. It’s only a car,” Tom teased, leaning down to peer in the driver's-side
window. “Got gas?”
         “Yes, I’ve got gas,” she bit back at him. “I’m not completely helpless around
automobiles.”
         “Uh, huh. Want me to take a look?”
         “I suppose. If it’s not too much trouble,” Rita agreed, trying to sound grateful.
         It only took a minute for him to disappear under the raised engine hood.
         “Try it again,” he instructed.
         She turned the key. This time there was nothing.
         “What did you do?” she demanded. She pulled on the door handle and started to exit
the car, then his head appeared over the top of the raised hood.
         “Hey, oh ye of little faith, try it now.”
         Rita glared at him and then settled back into the driver’s seat. She turned the key and
sighed when the car kicked over obediently.
         Tom slammed down the hood and came to stand beside her door, wiping his hands on
a handkerchief that had probably been white to begin with, but was now covered with oil.



                                                                                                    14
       “I didn’t mean to yell,” Rita apologized. “I’m gonna be late, though. Two times in one
week, they’re gonna boot me out.”
       “They?”
       “The daycare director. I sure don’t want to have to hunt for a new place now.”
       “Well, it looks like the solenoid on the ignition relay is burned out.”
       “I see, well that just explains it all. Thanks a lot, gotta go now.”
       “If you turn the engine off, it will just happen again. You need to get it fixed. I could
follow you to your garage so you can leave it over the weekend?”
       “I don’t know where to take it.”
       “I know a great place,” he volunteered.
       ”You’d have to take me to get my son,” Rita said.
       “Not a problem, if we hurry, you won’t be late,” he advised her, dropping his voice into a
halfway decent imitation of Count Dracula. “Just follow me, I’ll get you there and to the evil
daycare witch in time,” he smiled.
       The two drove in tandem as Tom escorted her to his favorite garage. She was properly
impressed when the owner pulled himself out from under a truck on a rack to talk to her,
acknowledging Tom and immediately launching into a discussion about the next thing they
were going to ‘do’ to the Mustang.
       Mr. Sam, as he was introduced, was short, bald, and sported a long-handled mustache.
He called her ma’am, and treated her to his best poor little woman routine, promising to take
care of everything and assuring her they would work all weekend if necessary to have the car
ready by Monday morning.
       “I put everything else aside to finish it,” Mr. Sam assured her, patting her on the
shoulder. “Anything for Tom’s lady.”
       “I’m not Tom’s -”
       “That’s great, Sam,” Tom interrupted her declaration. “Really appreciate it.”
       Before she knew it, she had been whisked away and into the waiting Mustang.
       “What was that for?” she questioned, looking sideways at Tom.
       “Sam only works on cars for people who know people. If you aren’t somebody, you can
go somewhere else,” Tom laughed. “And, the more beholden to him you are, the better
service you get. He never lets you forget, but you won’t find a better mechanic in the city.”


       Rita emerged from the childcare facility with Chris Jr. in tow. This time, however, he
was dragging her toward the gate leading to the street and the waiting Mustang. His eyes
open wide, the youngster stopped to admire the classic blue car.
       “Cm…bur…table,” he exclaimed as he reached out and touched the shiny vehicle.
       “Yes,” Rita laughed down at her son. “It’s a convertible. Can you say it that way?
Con…vvver…ta...ble.”
       The boy made several more stabs at the pronunciation as Rita lifted him over the side
and settled him into the car seat she had transferred out of her car. She buckled him into the
child carrier, and resumed her place in the front passenger seat.
       “This is Sergeant Ryan, Chris. Say hello,” Rita directed, preparing herself for the usual
argumentative response from her son.
       “You can call me Tom,” he said to the youngster as he maneuvered the car out into the
afternoon traffic.
       “Hello, Tom,” Chris Jr. responded.



                                                                                               15
        Rita waited, expecting the rhyming contest to commence. There was only silence.
“Chris?” she finally addressed the boy, turning to check him out.
        The rear seat was high enough for the boy to see out and catch the wind in his hair,
and he was sitting with his eyes closed and his head leaning back against the cushioned
upholstery, obviously delighted with the whole sensation of riding in the sporty car.
        Rita laughed softly, wondering if his reaction was simply that of a child, or if it was an
inbred ‘guy’ thing.
        The ride to the apartment complex in mid-town was eventually punctuated by gleeful
laughter from the child, as he and his mother played the ‘name the car’ game.
        Tom was also watching in the rear-view mirror, and Rita saw him smile indulgently at
the youngster. When they reached her apartment building, she insisted that the favor at least
deserved dinner. Tom accepted her invitation and leaned over one side of the car to retrieve
the child’s backpack as Rita leaned over the opposite side to free the exuberant boy from the
car seat. He finished unbuckling the carrier from the seat, lifted it out, and turned to follow the
two across the street.
        Rita led the way into the nondescript building. They passed the tiny pool in the center
court, stopping to allow finger dabbling in the water by the child. Rita held onto Chris Jr.'s
belt, leaning over with him to admire his reflection.
        “It always seems to take a half-an-hour to go from the street to the second floor,” she
apologized over her shoulder. “Everything he does is a grand discovery, but it sure makes it
hard to get anywhere on time.”
        Tom merely smiled, settling the car seat on the concrete and waiting patiently.
Eventually Rita managed to get the youngster moving again, and this time the threesome
made it up the stairs to the second floor apartment.
        Rita unlocked the door and opened it. Tom followed along behind as she and Chris Jr.
proceeded him inside. It wasn’t much, just a plain, two-bedroom apartment. The furniture that
came with the place was all mostly earth tones, beige and brown, with little real color in the
room.
        “School clothes off in your room, Chris,” she instructed her son. The child started for
the hallway that led off of the small living room. “I’ll be in in a minute to help you, hon,” she
continued as she headed for the kitchen on the other side of the room. She was glad she’d
only shopped the day before. There was plenty of fresh lettuce and other fixings for salad,
and she could find something in the freezer, she was sure. She threw her purse and keys
down on the counter that separated the living room from the kitchen, and headed for the
refrigerator. She jumped when she stepped back to open the door and backed into Tom.
        “I thought you’d stop at the TV,” she laughed turning back toward him.
        “Figured I’d help."
        “You know about kitchens?” she teased.
        “Oh yeah. Did you have anything planned?”
        “I don’t know exactly, there’s salad stuff, and I can defrost something in the freezer.”
        “You want me to look?”
        “What?”
        “If you don’t mind, I’ll look. You go take care of the kiddo.”
        Rita stepped back with a sweeping gesture, and Tom proceeded to pull open the
freezer door. By the time she exited the kitchen, he already had several packages of things
out on the kitchen counter. This should be good.




                                                                                                 16
       She took her time getting Chris Jr. out of his school clothes and into his favorite pair of
patched jeans, even obliging his request to read his favorite story. She dragged out the
precious minutes, sitting on the floor with her son snuggled in her lap. It was so seldom that
there was time for this now that she was working. She managed to position him in her lap so
that she had to wrap her arms around him to hold the book.
       But all the while she sat with the boy, she was expecting to be summoned to the
kitchen to rescue the would-be short-order cook. Finally she rose and took her son’s hand,
heading back toward the main room. When the two reached that portion of the apartment that
served as both an eating and cooking area, there were several pots on the stove and the
counter was covered with salad fixings.
       “What are we having?” she asked innocently.
       “Well, you had chicken breasts, they only took a minute to microwave and cut up, then
you had Ricotta cheese and there was some fresh spinach and some canned tomatoes with
basil. You had manicotti, so we’re having pasta stuffed with secret Ryan ingredients. Salad
with herb dressing – you’ve got some nice fresh herbs here, and -”
       “You found all that in forty-five minutes?”
       “Well it was all right here. You must like to cook.”
       “I do. But it’s kind of a waste for just one. I take it you do know your way around a
kitchen.”
       “My dad’s a chef. Owns his own restaurant. I’m a bachelor, remember? Been feeding
myself for years.”
       Rita moved over to take a peek under the lid of the saucepan, discovering the bubbling
sauce. “Well, there’s cooking, and then there’s cooking,” she joked.
       “I enjoy it. Got any wine?”
       “Actually, I do.”
       What followed was a thoroughly enjoyable meal. Much to Rita’s surprise, even Chris
Jr. had eaten the ‘big peoples’ stuff rather than his own junior kid’s meal. She was amazed
that he was willing to try, and evidently liked the fancy food.
       After dinner she discovered that Chef Ryan didn’t even mind cleaning up. She almost
panicked when she turned back from opening the dishwasher to find both he and Chris Jr.
carrying plates over from the table. But the look of accomplishment on her young son’s face
forestalled any motherly intervention, even when the kitchen helpers placed the dirty dishes
on the floor. She stood silently and watched as Chris Jr. methodically selected one plate at a
time and handed it up to his new tall friend to be placed in the rinse water in the sink.
       “My mom used to make us do that,” Tom replied to Rita’s raised eyebrows when she
caught his attention. “She always said you were never to young to start.”
       Rita smiled in reply and continued to just observe as Tom picked up the small boy and
seated him on the counter. It only took a few minutes before each rinsed dish was transferred
to the dishwasher, the sink refilled with soapy water, and Chris Jr. was gleefully dropping dirty
pots and pans into the mound of soap as Tom handed them to him. Tom washed the cooking
utensils and handed them back to the child to dry. Then he patiently advised the youngster on
how to stack them in the drainer. When the pile of pans began to totter and fall, both
intervened to rescue the creation, Chris Jr. laughing with delight as they saved the tower of
stainless steel.
       Rita moved back, leaning against the table, as she watched the two play in her kitchen.
When Tom turned to investigate her silence, there were tears in her eyes.
       “Rita?” he questioned.



                                                                                                17
        “Can…would you watch him for a minute?” she whispered, turning away abruptly when
he nodded, to flee into the bedroom. She sat a moment on the side of the bed staring at the
gold-framed picture on the bedside table. She sniffed and squeezed her nose viciously with
the tissue she’d retrieved from the dresser.
        “Stop it. Just stop it,” she admonished herself, as she continued to stare at the photo of
herself and Chris Sr. Unable to restrain herself, she reached for the picture and held it against
her stomach. “It should have been you,” she whispered. “It should have been you…” she
repeated, closing her eyes as a solitary tear escaped to role down her cheek.
        “Rita?” the soft voice broke into her melancholy. She turned her face up and met her
guest’s concerned look. He was hunched down in front of her, and he reached toward her,
taking the picture from her clenched fingers.
        “This is Chris and you. Looks like a wedding picture.”
        “It is,” she whispered.
        “Chris Jr. looks like him. Has his eyes….”
        “I know. He reminds me of him more every day.”
        “I didn’t mean to intrude.”
        She didn’t answer; her hands now clutched together around the tattered Kleenex. The
next thing she knew he was sitting beside her and she was cocooned against his chest,
uncontrollable sobs racking her body. She wasn’t sure how long she cried. It was probably
only a minute, but it seemed like forever.
        “I’m sorry,” she finally managed to get out, pushing away from Tom. “I didn’t mean to
fall apart like that. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. It was just…it was just seeing you
two there in the kitchen, having such a good time…it should have been….”
        “It should have been Chris.”
        “I’m sorry,” she repeated. “Some dinner this turned out to be.”
        “Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s okay.”
        “No, it’s not, this is ridiculous. You must think I’m a real idiot.”
        “I don’t think any such thing,” he replied, prying the wet tissue from her hands and
reaching up to wipe away a streak of mascara from her cheek. “You must have loved him a
lot.”
        “I did, but, well, I mean it’s been over four years…”
        “That kind of love doesn’t just disappear on command.”
        “Sure, but I’m a big girl now. Really, I’m sorry, I’m fine. Where’s Chris Jr.?”
        “I put him in his room. When I called and you didn’t answer, we came looking for you. I
saw you in here. He told me you were being sad. I take it he’s seen you sad before.”
        “I never let him see me like this.”
        “Why not?”
        “What?”
        “You loved his father. That’s not something you need to hide from him.”
        Rita stared at the tall man sitting beside her.
        “Listen, if you’re all right, I should probably get going. I didn’t mean to upset you.
Thanks for dinner, and let me know if you need any more help with the car or a ride to work.”
        Before she could frame a reply, he was up and headed out the door. Rita picked up
the picture from where Tom had laid it on the bed and replaced it on the nightstand. She
hesitated a moment, then rose and headed for the living room.
        “Tom,” she called after her retreating visitor. He turned back toward her. “I really am
sorry. Thanks for all your help. I promise, next time no tears.”
        He smiled. “Next time? Are you asking me for a date, Lieutenant Lorenzo?” he teased.


                                                                                                18
        Blushing at the realization of what she had just said, Rita returned his smile. “It’s the
least I can do. You cook dinner, do the dishes, play with the kid, and then all I do is blubber
all over your shirt,” she laughed. “I owe you something. Next time, I promise, I’ll even cook.”
        “It’s a deal,” he agreed, stopping in the door to give her one more smile of
encouragement.
        She stood in the center of the room staring at the now closed door. What just
happened? she asked herself in confusion.

                                                  ******

       “The following morning, the ‘biggest sale day of the year’, Rita’s sitter called in sick.
She and Cassy decided to take the three-year old with them rather than cancel their day all
together. They were several hours into the mall excursion and about to give up, shopping with
a child proving to be their undoing.
       “I’m sorry, Cassy. Maybe we can do this another time,” Rita apologized as she
grabbed for the hand that was about to upset a carefully arranged display of shoeboxes.
       “I guess trying to do this with the munchkin along wasn't the smartest decision we could
have made,” Cassy smiled.
       “What’s up?” a new voice entered the discussion, and both girls turned to greet the
familiar figure of Cassy’s partner.
       “Tom, what are you doing here?” Cassy asked in surprise.
       “I think it’s called shopping,” he answered with a grin as he held up two paper bags
bearing the name of a popular men’s clothing store. “What are you guys doing?” Tom
rejoined, eyeing their slightly harried appearance.
       “Well, definitely not shopping,” Cassy quipped.
       “I said I was sorry,” Rita responded with a slightly affronted look at her new friend.
       “I just didn't realize how...active he'd be. I thought he'd stay in the stroller.”
       “He’s really too big for it. I said we should call it off,” Rita started to defend her
offspring.
       “Hey,” Tom interrupted. “You just need some girl time. How about the boys go off and
check out the carousel and get some lunch? Would that help?”
       Rita stared. “You want to take him by yourself?”
       “Why not? Does he bite?”
       “Well actually, he has been known to on occasion. I don’t know if it’s such a good
idea,”
       “You don’t think I can handle him alone?”
       “I didn’t say that…it’s just a lot to ask…”
       “Nah, I’ve got everything I need,” Tom handed his two bags to Cassy and hunched
down in front of the three-year old who was about to pull out some of the freshly planted
mums from a nearby mall garden display. “Hey, Chris, you wanna go see the merry-go-
round? We could check out the arcade?”
       “What’s ah arcade?” the youngster questioned as he transferred his attention to his
newest playmate.
       “It’s a place with games. You can throw balls…all kinds of stuff.”
       “Tom, I’m not sure I can ask you to do this…”Rita started to interrupt.
       “Mommy, can I go throw the ball, please?” her son pleaded pulling on her pants leg.
“Tom says he take me.”
       “Are you sure?”


                                                                                                19
        “No big deal.” Tom extracted the child from the stroller, swinging the small boy up and
onto his shoulders as he stood. The child wound his hands into the tall man’s hair and
laughed with glee. “We’ll be fine. How long do you guys want? We’ll go to the carousel, then
the arcade, and then we’ll grab lunch. It’s eleven, how about if we meet you here say, two?
Okay?”
        “Perfect,” Cassy exclaimed, turning Rita away from the pair. “They’ll be fine, Rita,
come on, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Now we can check out Nordstrom’s dress sale.”
        Rita allowed herself to be pulled along, turning back only once to watch the figures
retreating in the opposite direction. She wasn’t sure which caused the sudden lump to form in
her throat, the realization that her son was more than willing to go off with Tom, or the actual
sight of the tall man with the child perched on his shoulders walking away from them. She
heard Chris Jr. laugh out loud, and felt the first pangs of loss as her baby took a major step
toward independence from the relationship they had always shared.
        “Rita, come on,” Cassy pleaded, pulling at Rita’s arm.
        Shaking her head, Rita turned and followed. She tried to dredge up some of her
friend's enthusiasm for their sudden freedom. Her every quarter-hour checks of her watch
raised looks from Cassy that soon went from amused to slightly exasperated.
        “He’s fine, Rita, really. Tom is great with kids, knows how to hold babies and all that
stuff. Just forget them for a while. He knows how to find us if he needs us,” Cassy finally
admonished her.
        Rita did her best to stretch the time checks farther apart, waiting until Cassy was in a
dressing room or something. He’s never been away from me before, she tried to justify her
concern to herself. What if he’s scared? What if Tom tries to get him to eat something he
doesn’t like and he’s crying…what if…?
        “Rita,” Cassy interrupted, “try this one. I bet it’s a knockout with your hair. Rita?”
        “What? Oh sure, looks good. But where would I ever wear something like that?” Rita
questioned as she took in the chic, spaghetti strapped, emerald green creation Cassy was
holding toward her.
        “Listen, for that price, you buy it and make someplace to wear it,” Cassy teased.
        Rita sighed, took the dress and followed Cassy to the changing room. She stood
looking at her reflection in the floor-length mirror at the end of the dressing area. Chris
will…would have loved this, she acknowledged to herself. The soft crepe clung to her,
outlining her still petite, and sculptured figure. She twirled, looking over her shoulder to watch
the effect.
        “Hope I look that good after babies,” Cassy commented as she appeared behind Rita in
the mirror. “Did you gain much weight?”
        “I guess I gained some in the beginning. But then I actually lost weight.”
        “After Chris was killed?”
        “I think if I hadn’t been pregnant, I might have just gone somewhere and quietly starved
to death. I wasn’t handling it very well, at least not in private.”
        The two stood a moment, looking into the mirror, then Rita shook her head. “Hey, you
can’t be sad in a dress like this. It needs shoes, though, don’t you think? Something with little
thin straps and very high-heels.”
        “You’re gonna buy it?”
        “I am. And then I’m going to make a reason to wear it, real soon.”
        “Way to go, girlfriend,” Cassy encouraged, patting her on the shoulder, and returning
back to her own dressing cubicle. Rita took another twirl in front of the mirror and then
followed.


                                                                                                20
        It was three hours later when the women, encumbered by a stroller full of shopping
bags, returned to the center mezzanine area. Rita spotted the two males. Tom was sitting on
one of the stone benches, leaning over Chris Jr. seated on the floor at his feet. The two were
engrossed in something, a box and its innards spread out on the floor beside them. As she
and Cassy approached, Rita could see that Chris Jr. was holding a wooden truck, and Tom
was just completing the assembling of wheels. As he sat back, the child climbed to his feet
and began to push the vehicle along the floor. He only moved a few feet away from his
babysitter when Tom leaned forward and said something to the boy. Chris Jr. stopped his
progress away from the man, looked up and smiled, and then turned back, altering his route
so that it circled back toward the bench.
        “See, I told you Thomas is good with kids, they’re fine,” Cassy stated smugly.
        “Evidently,” Rita agreed. As the two reached the bench, Chris Jr. finally noticed his
mother, and picked up the new toy to show it to her.
        “Truck, Mommy. Tom gives it to me. Its name is Mac.”
        “Its name?” Rita looked up from her parental admiration of the new toy toward the
smiling gift giver.
        “I told him it was a Mack truck,” Tom explained. “I think he got it a little confused.”
        “You didn’t have to buy this, Tom. Let me know how much it was and I’ll pay you
back.”
        “No problem, it was fun. I haven’t been in that toy store in a long time.”
        “In a long time?” Cassy broke in with a snort of derision. “I didn’t know you shopped in
toy stores, Ryan.”
        “I bought the presents for the Salvation Army stuff we donated last Christmas. It’s a
neat store. Maybe if you’d spend a little time getting in touch with your inner-child, you
wouldn’t be so uptight, St. John,” Tom retorted.
        “My inner-child grew up a long time ago, unlike some people I could mention…”
        “Hey, you two, cut it out,” Rita intervened.
        “Sorry,” Tom smiled, turning his attention back to her. “So how’d you guys get here?”
        “We took a cab. How did you know we didn’t drive?” Cassy asked.
        “’Cause I took Rita home last night after she dropped her car at the shop, and there’s
no room for kids and booty in the Porsche,” he smiled as he leaned over to help Chris Jr.
collect their trash.
        Cassy blinked at him in surprise, then looked at the child suspiciously. She should
have realized it wasn’t normal for such a young child to go with a stranger so eagerly. Just
how much time had he spent with the young boy for them to be so friendly?
        “I can run you home, if you want,” Tom volunteered.
        “No, that’s way out of your way,” Rita started to protest.
        “He doesn’t have anything better to do," Cassy responded. “It’ll save us cab fare.
        “But it’s Saturday, maybe he does…” Rita responded.
        “It’s okay. She’s right as usual, nothing on the social calendar,” Tom acknowledged his
partner’s assessment of his weekend plans.
        They gathered belongings and the three-year old, and followed Tom toward the parking
lot.

                                             ******



                                                                                              21
         Rita stepped down off of the bus and held on to Chris Jr.’s hand as he jumped, two
footed onto the sidewalk after her. Hand-in-hand the two walked toward the pier and its
profusion of gaily-painted buildings. It was a tourist place, but this early on a Sunday morning,
there weren’t many out-of-towners stirring yet. They strolled down one side, stopping to buy
sticky buns for breakfast and eventually making their way to the carousel. It had just opened,
and Rita bought tickets for five rides. The kiddy cars were next, and then the two walked out
to the end of the wharf. Chris insisted on climbing up to look out. Rita clasped him firmly
around the waist, one hand securely entwined in the waistband of his shorts.
         “Ocean,” the young boy exclaimed as he leaned out over the railing.
         “Yes, Chris, this is the ocean, don’t lean out too far.”
         “Where's the whales, Mommy?”
         “That’s in California, Chris. The other ocean. This is the Atlantic, not the Pacific.”
         “Wanna see the whales,” the child insisted.
         “It’s too foggy,” Rita replied, realizing that geographical logic was not going to convince
the little boy.
         He evidently accepted that excuse, and she gazed out across the fog-banked water,
waiting for the child to decide to climb down. Her son proved to be more observant than she
was.
         “Tom, Tom,” the boy exclaimed, raising one arm to point down into the parking lot
below them along the beachfront.
         Rita followed the direction her son pointed, and saw the unmistakable blue Mustang.
The top was up this time, but that had not fooled her male child.
         “Tom,” the boy repeated.
         “I see, hon. But it’s just his car. I don’t see Tom.”
         “We find Tom,” the boy demanded as he pushed back from the railing and started to
jump down.
         “Chris, wait. Be careful,” Rita warned, but she took his hand and let him pull her back
along the pier. It took them a few minutes to reach the parking lot below, and Rita tried to
work up some enthusiasm for the meeting. She had practically jumped out of this same car
the night before, thanking Tom abruptly for the ride home, refusing his offer of help with her
bags, and dragging Chris Jr. out of the back seat. She wasn’t sure then why she’d been in
such a hurry.
         Admit it, you didn’t want him to come in, she chastised herself. She’d been caught in a
very uncharacteristic flurry of butterflies at the thought that he might want to stay, and that his
presence might invoke more of the emotions that had slipped out the night before. She knew
she had been rude, and she hadn’t been looking forward to running into him at the precinct on
Monday. It looked like she was going to have to deal with the things he seemed to spark in
her a little sooner.
         The two reached the car, but there was no sign of its owner. The windows were up,
and Rita soon discovered that it was securely locked. She peered into the interior, but it gave
no clue as to the whereabouts of the missing occupant.
         “Maybe he’s down on the beach,” she directed Chris. The child was off, pulling his
hand from hers and running out into the sand. “Chris, wait. Chris, stop,” Rita demanded. The
small boy took a few more steps, and then stopped. He turned back toward her, and she
could see the petulant look cross his face.
         “I want to find Tom, maybe he swimming. Mommy you hurry!”
         She couldn’t help smiling. I know I’m going to regret this when he’s bigger, but I can’t
help loving that little temper of his, she mused as she walked toward the child.


                                                                                                  22
       Rita made Chris Jr. wait while she pulled off his shoes and then removed her own. She
held them in one hand and the child’s hand in the other as they moved across the beach
toward the water. There was no sign of anyone around. The morning sun had not yet pierced
the low-lying curtain of gray clouds, and the sun-worshipers had not appeared. I hope he’s
not out there swimming alone, she thought, the first niggling of concern beginning to appear.
       “This is far enough,” Rita instructed, and the two turned and headed back toward the
car. They saw nothing. Maybe I should call in, her police instincts began to kick in. Maybe
something has happened to him. She felt it then. The fear. Her heart started to pound and
she felt the cold shiver radiate through her, even as the sweat beaded on her upper lip. Take
it easy, Lorenzo, don’t panic. Nothing’s happened here. Just relax. She kept up her litany of
instructions to herself, but by the time the two had reached the car again, she knew her
control was all but gone. She couldn’t suppress the memories that forced their way into her
consciousness. Holding him in her arms, blood everywhere. “Chris,” she whispered, even as
she closed her eyes and bit her lip against the apparition.
       “Mommy?” Chris Jr. questioned.
       He stared up at her; his eyes grew wide and round as she watched her fear transmit to
the child.
       “Mommy, what’s wrong?”
       “Chris, sit here,” she instructed as she perched him on the sidewalk bench near the
Mustang. “Mommy's gonna make a phone call.”
       She couldn’t stop herself. She placed her purse on the hood of the car and began to
rummage inside, intending to get her cell phone and call. Call who? 911? I can hear them –
‘what’s the nature of your emergency, ma’am?’ Panic… overreaction…missing cop…officer
down the thoughts rolled through her mind. Calm down, this is stupid she argued with herself.
Get a grip. Can't just fall apart.... She took a few deep breaths, closing her eyes again. It’s
okay, it’s okay…she chanted silently as she forced the terror back into the hiding place inside
her heart. She almost had the panic back under control when she heard the heard the sound
of running feet coming up behind her.
       The reaction was instinctive. Her hand closed not on the thin cellular phone at the
bottom of her bag, but around the handle of the gun. She let the purse drop as she turned,
both hands wrapping around the grip of the weapon.
       He was running across the parking lot toward them. Head down, looking at his watch,
he hadn’t seen them.
       “Tom,” Chris Jr. cried, jumping down from his perch on the bench.
       Tom looked up and stumbled to a halt as his gaze flicked back and forth between the
child now headed toward him at a run, and the mother pointing a very deadly thirty-eight at the
center of his chest.
       “Oh my God,” Rita whispered. She lowered the gun down in front of her as she turned
back, reaching out to lean one hand against the top of the car. She heard the sound of her
son reaching his target as Tom greeted the youngster, but she couldn’t suppress her start of
reaction when she felt the hand settle on her shoulder.
       “Rita?” Tom’s questioning voice washed over her.
       “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
       “Chris Jr. and I are going to walk out on the beach, we’ll wait for you.”
       She dipped her head and sucked in several short breaths, then turned and leaned back
against the car. Eventually she bent down, retrieved her purse, and tucked the weapon back
inside. She looked up and watched the two walking toward the water. He’s not holding his
hand, the purely maternal instinct crowded into her tumultuous thoughts.


                                                                                             23
       She pushed off from the car and started toward them.
       By the time she got to the two, Chris Jr. was wading in the shallow waves, and Tom
had stopped, settling down cross-legged to sit on the edge of the dry sand.
       “You shouldn’t let him go into the water,” she directed.
       “Why? I’m right here.”
       “It’s too dangerous. Chris, come here,” she ordered.
       The child turned back toward the two adults, his eyes pleading for a reprieve.
       “It’s okay, kiddo, just don’t go any further,” Tom instructed.
       The small boy smiled, and turned back to the sea, squatting down to reach for
something in the sand.
       “What do you think you’re doing?” Rita demanded as she started toward the child.
       Tom’s hand caught her wrist and stopped her. For a moment she resisted, then she
turned back toward him, staring down at his raised face.
       “He’s my son. What do you think you’re doing telling him what to do?”
       “He’s not a baby, Rita. We’re right here. He’s not going anywhere. You can’t hold
onto him forever.”
       She snatched her hand free of his grip and turned back toward the child. He was in the
exact same spot, letting the gentle waves wash over his hands and watching with fascination
as his fingers and toes disappeared and then reappeared in the shifting sand beneath the
water.
       “You have to let him grow up.”
       “I know. I just want to keep him safe.”
       “You do, Rita. Let him play. Sit.”
       She took a step back, and let him pull her down beside him on the sand. She folded
her legs into a mirror pose of his posture, tucking her long broomstick pleated skirt around her,
and settling her purse in front of her, staring at it.
       “I’m sorry,” she repeated.
       “You don’t have to be sorry for anything.”
       “You don’t mind having a gun pulled on you?” she replied, letting the realization of the
absurdity of the whole thing creep in.
       “They usually use them at the start of a race,” he replied.
       She looked sideways at him, and met the smile on his face. It was irresistible, and she
found herself smiling in return.
       “I didn’t know you ran. How far do you run?”
       “I don't run mileage, I run time. I just did three hours"
       "I don’t understand, I always hear people talking about miles and ‘K’s”?
       "I watch the time. During the week I usually only put in about half-an hour a day, but on
the weekends I try and get in a couple of good two or three hour sessions."
       "Okay, so how fast do you run?" she asked, glad for the emotionally benign subject.
       "It's not important."
       "Come on, how fast?"
       "I usually average about seven miles an hour."
       "What? You run seven miles an hour...and that means you just finished what 21 miles?
You do serious running! Do you race?"
       “When I have time. Mostly local charity runs, 10K’s and stuff,” he smiled.
       “You ever do a marathon?”
       “Yeah. I’ve done the Boston.”
       “The Boston Marathon? That’s pretty big time?”


                                                                                               24
        “Nah, anybody can do it.”
        “Did you win?”
        “It’s not about winning. It’s about finishing.”
        “Oh. Sure. Well, did you finish?”
        “Yes,” he replied simply without elaborating.
        Rita let the silence stretch out, the safe topic exhausted. “I suppose you want to know
why I over reacted like that.”
        “I know what happened to Chris, Rita.”
        “You do? I thought you said you didn’t know him very well.”
        “I checked it out.”
        “Why? When? How?”
        “Because you’re here. Yesterday. I have access to police files, remember? I looked it
up after…”
        “My little crying jag the other night.”
        “It’s okay, Rita.”
        “What? To be at the mercy of old memories? To be unable to let it go? To dwell on
the past?”
        “To have the jitters. You’ve only been back here a little while. Memories are very
powerful things.”
        “I could have shot you.”
        “No, you couldn’t. You reacted to a situation. Maybe a little excessive, but you were in
control.”
        “You think so, huh?”
        “I know so.”
        “We were married on the beach,” she commented vaguely, steering the conversation
away from the embarrassing subject.
        “Does it make you sad?”
        “The beach? No, it brings back memories, but they’re the good kind.” When he didn’t
respond she turned to look at him. He was staring off across the water, seemingly lost in
thought. She had a suspicion that the look on his face mirrored hers of a moment ago. “Does
it make you sad?” she asked him.
        “I guess so,” he replied softly. He reached down and picked up a handful of sand,
letting it sift slowly through is fingers. “I got engaged on the beach. Well, almost, anyway.”
        “Almost?”
        “Yeah, I brought Cassy for a picnic. But I lost the ring in the sand.”
        “What?”
        “She was supposed to find it. But then I…it was really stupid. She’s never let me
forget it,” he laughed, his voice filled with self-derision.
        “I think it sounds very romantic!” She can’t really give him a hard time for that, Rita
thought aghast.
        “Yeah, well, Cassy didn’t think so,” he smiled. “It would seem that getting involved with
fellow police officers was not the best life choice for either of us,” he continued, reaching for
another handful of beach.
        “I don’t have any regrets over my choice,” Rita replied. She realized that the comforting
roles had suddenly been reversed in their conversation. “I take it you do?”
        “About my choice? No. I just wish…you didn’t have any say about what happened to
you. I’m still trying to figure out what really went wrong between Cassy and me. I don’t



                                                                                               25
understand what…what I did….” His voice trailed off, and then he abruptly brushed the
remnants of sand from his hands before Rita could reply. “So, you okay now?”
        “I’m okay, thanks,” she answered, allowing him his retreat from the personal
introspection.
        “I guess I’ll head home and take a shower. You want a ride?” he offered, looking away
from her. “Or are you two here for the day?”
        She hesitated a minute, running the out he’d given here through her mind. “No," she
replied, making her decision, "we just came down to get sticky buns for breakfast and ride the
carousel before all the sun worshipers show up. It’s a new Sunday morning tradition since we
got back. If it’s not too much trouble I’d love a ride. Do you think, maybe…never mind.”
        “What?”
        “Well, seeing as how you have nothing to do this weekend,” Rita alluded to Cassy’s
disparaging remarks from the day before, “could you take us home by way of Ocean Front?
There’s a place there I’m thinking of buying. I’ll buy lunch afterwards.”
        “You got it,” he replied. “We can go by my place so I can change, then we’ll go by your
place and get the kid’s car seat. Then the house, then lunch.”
        “This is beginning to sound like a battle plan for some troop movement,” Rita laughed
as she gathered her long skirt and rose as Tom did.
        “That’s exactly what my mom used to say about kids, that going anywhere with them
was like moving an army. Stuff to pack, potty stops to schedule.”
        It was the promise of a ride in the Mustang with the top down that finally lured the child
away from his play in the ocean. Rita and Chris Jr. waited on Tom’s couch watching Sunday
morning cartoons while their unofficial taxi service showered and changed. A stop at Rita’s
apartment for the car seat, then they headed back toward the beachfront and the house Rita’s
agent had told her about.
        They arrived at their destination to find that there was an official Open House going on.
There were several cars parked in the drive and on the street, so Tom parked a few houses
down and the three walked back to the residence. The real estate agent had set up a sign-in
table in the wide square foyer inside the front door. Rita stopped to sign the guest register,
letting go of Chris Jr. to hold the book. It was all the child needed, as he immediately set off
on an investigation of his own. His first goal was the large stuffed goose decoration that stood
guarding the steps leading down to the living area.
        Just as Rita started to turn to capture her son, the agent began to hand her a stack of
informational brochures and tell her about the house. Chris Jr. was down the steps and
headed across the open living room/dining room area toward the natural stone fireplace.
Sitting regally on the raised stone hearth was a life-like, white ceramic poodle.
        “I’ll get him,” Tom volunteered, giving Rita the opportunity to accept the information and
hear about the house. He followed Chris Jr. down the three steps to the living room, checking
out the long open room with its sliding glass doors that ran the full length of the area, offering
a spectacular view out over the beach and ocean. He reached the child only a moment before
his small hand descended onto the head of the mascot of the room.
        “Don’t touch, Chris. It’s not real.”
        “Pet the dog,” the child insisted, twisting his small wrist in Tom’s grasp.
        “No, come look. See, it’s just pretend. And it will break if you touch it. It’s just to look
at,” Tom instructed as he bent down to the child’s level.
        The child peered at the figurine and then sideways at his companion. “Why?”




                                                                                                  26
        “Why?” Tom repeated. “You mean why isn’t it real? Um, because, maybe the people
who live her are allergic to dogs, but they wanted one so bad, they got a pretend one just so
they wouldn’t be lonesome.”
        “Nice save, Ryan,” Rita commented as she came to stand behind the two admiring the
dog.
        “I thought it was pretty good,” he laughed.
        “Come on, Chris, let’s look at the rest of the house,” Rita said.
        “Ocean. Want to see the ocean,” Chris Jr. demanded.
        “Hon…”
        “You go look around, we guys will go check out the beach. That way you won’t have to
worry about him touching or breaking anything.”
        “Thanks, that would be great, if you don’t mind.”
        She joined them a few minutes later, dutifully admiring the sandcastle they had started
to build.
        “Did you see everything?” Tom asked.
        “I took a quick look. There’s more people coming in; it’s kind of crowded. I think I’d like
to come back and look at it again by myself if nobody makes an offer. But thanks for watching
the kid, here. You ready for lunch?”
        Never one to object to food, Tom did, however, veto all of Rita’s restaurant
suggestions. “It’s no good taking a kid to a restaurant and trying to make him sit and be
patient. Why don’t we just get some sandwiches or something and head to a park. That way
the big guys can eat and the little guy can run some energy off.”
        “If you’re sure?” Rita questioned.
        They decided on a deli and ordered an array of things to take to their picnic. Then they
settled on the park near Rita’s apartment where there were ducks that regularly benefited from
Chris Jr.'s attentions. The magic Mustang had produced not only a blanket to sit on, but also
a football for after eating. Rita lay back on the soft car robe and watched the two males'
impromptu football game. It had only taken a few minutes for several other children to join in
the fun, and Chris Jr. was obviously enjoying having such a large crowd to play with. Rita
smiled as her son squealed with delight as Tom grabbed him and the two ran toward the
makeshift goal, the football firmly clutched in the child’s pudgy arms.
        He’s so good with kids, she thought to herself as she watched Tom control the
dynamics of the game. He never let the two older boys escalate the intensity of the play past
the ability of the younger children. The first time one of them stole the ball from weaker
hands, Tom retaliated by blocking first the older child’s throw to his friend, and then the pair’s
attempts to stop the goal run when he passed the ball to another of the smaller children. But
he tempered his silent reprimand when he let the two take him down a few plays later. The
older boys quickly turned their more aggressive actions against him, which he allowed. Rita
laughed as it became Tom and the little ones against the two older boys.
        The game eventually ended, and Tom and Chris Jr. started back toward the blanket.
Tom collapsed on his back beside Rita, and the youngster settled contentedly on his mother’s
lap. I think he’s going to be ready for a nap, Rita smiled to herself, as the child leaned against
her and relaxed in her arms.
        “I didn’t mean to wear him out,” Tom said.
        Rita turned toward him. He was watching her, his gaze moving from the child to settle
on her face. “He’s never had anybody but mom to play ball with. I don’t know what to say
except thank you.”



                                                                                                 27
        He looked away, letting his head rest on the hands clasped behind it as he turned his
attention to the blue sky overhead. “I think I’m the one who needs to say thanks…for sharing
your kid with me. I like children. I wish…”
        “You and Cassy didn’t have…I mean you weren’t together very long. You’ve never
thought about having your own, finding someone else?”
        “I’ve thought about it. Hasn’t seemed to work out. I always wanted a big family.
Cassy’s not really into kids. That’s not true, she talks about wanting to be a mom. She loves
her job, being a professional. I don’t know that she’s going to want to be, you know, a stay at
home type.”
        “A lot of women have careers and children.”
        “I don’t mean they can’t, but Cass, she’s…she’s really a very insecure person.”
        “Cassy!”
        “I know,” he laughed. “She comes on so strong. I think that’s why she pushes so hard.
She has to keep proving she’s good enough. I’m not sure she believes she’d be good at
raising kids. She’s asked me about it, I’ve always told her she would, but she just doesn’t
have the self-confidence.”
        “I'm not sure I ever thought of Cassy lacking self-confidence," Rita replied. "What
about you?”
        “I don’t know that anybody knows ahead of time what kind of parent they’d be. But I
know I want kids. Course that usually requires a little help from the opposite sex,” he laughed
again.
        “You could adopt. Single people are doing that these days.”
        “I could. But it’s not just the kids I want. I want…boy this is getting to be a heavy
conversation.”
        “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
        “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just realizing that I’ve sort of put these kinds of thoughts
on the back burner a lot.”
        “Since the divorce?”
        “I don’t know. I’ve dated. Cassy has dated. There hasn’t really been anybody serious.
I guess once you’ve blown it, it’s kind of hard to think you’ll do any better the second time
around.”
        “I don’t think you blew it, Tom. Sounds like you and Cassy just didn’t talk much about
the future when you decided to get involved. Sort of caught up in the present, were you?”
        Tom laughed and turned his head to look at her. “You and Chris planned this all out, I
take it.”
        “No, you’re right. Finding out we were pregnant sort of put planning for the future at the
top of the priority list. We decided to get married, to try and make a real family. It was what
we both wanted, we realized. Do you think maybe if you’d had a kid…?”
        “I think Cassy would have panicked if she’d found out she was pregnant. She pretty
much panicked when she realized she was married,” he smiled. “She was afraid of the
commitment. She has a big issue with trust.”
        “She trusts you.”
        “As much as anybody, probably. But she still’s always trying to take care of it herself
first. She hates having to ask for help.”
        “So what are you going to do…with your life I mean? You going to try and find
somebody to settle down with? Or are you thinking Cassy will change her mind?”
        “I guess I’ve been hoping she would. But I should probably admit it isn’t going to
happen.”


                                                                                                   28
        “You still love her?”
        “In a way. I wish I could give her the peace I know she craves, but I suppose she has
to get that for herself before she can really connect with somebody, on an emotional, personal
level.”
        “So in the meantime what about you?”
        He looked away again, and Rita thought about apologizing for the very personal
question. She felt a sudden very strong need to know about this man. For the first time since
she’d walked away from this city and her old life, her determination to never let her self be
vulnerable again began to crack. But when he didn’t respond, she decided she needed to
recant the intrusion. “I didn’t mean to get personal. Forget I…”
        It’s not that. I was just thinking. I’ve sort of just been treading water. I know what I
want in a general sense. There just hasn’t been anyone in particular that I really thought
about fitting into that picture. I need to admit that Cassy didn’t really ever fit into it. I wanted
her to be something she wasn’t, and that’s not fair to her.”
        “She does care about you.”
        “We care about each other. Maybe because we really do know each other pretty well.
I do like who she is, I’m not sure she does, though.”
        “I like who you are. You shouldn’t sell yourself short in all this.”
        “Who I am?”
        “It would be a great loss to the next generation if you don’t get to participate. Think of
all the PeeWee football players who won’t get coached, the daughters who won’t get adored,
or the potential boyfriends who won’t get lectured if you don’t have kids, Ryan. Just not fair to
the world,” she teased.
        Again he didn’t answer, and Rita turned her attention back to the now sleeping child
nestled against her. She stroked his head and bent slightly to kiss the top of his dark hair. “I
suppose I should try and get him home so he can get a good nap,” she said.
        “I’ll carry him,” Tom offered. And Rita let him take the boy from her. She gathered up
the picnic things and followed to the car. She watched as he gently settled the child in the car
seat, resting his head against the high back without waking him. He strapped him in the
carrier and then turned back to collect the blanket and things from her, returning them to the
trunk of the car.
        It was only a few blocks to Rita’s apartment, and Tom carried the still sleeping boy in
and laid him on his bed. Rita watched as he drew the soft, flannel blanket over the child. She
felt the tightening in her chest as her emotions churned. She wasn’t sure what she was
feeling. She could identify her sorrow for this man who was missing out on the things he
wanted. But she was startled by the sudden thought that she could provide those things.
Unlike his former wife, she wasn’t so enamored of her career that other things couldn’t
become more important. She had realized that when she’d first found out she was pregnant.
It had been a revelation to her then, and now she missed the life that might have been.
        He finally turned back toward her. She knew that he was reluctant to give up his
contact with the child. She smiled at him and turned to walk back down the hall to the living
room of the apartment. He followed. She stood in the middle of the room, not quite sure what
to do next.
        “I should get going,” he said behind her.
        “Sure. I didn’t mean to hog your whole day,” Rita replied as she turned back toward
him. “Thank you for everything.”
        “You provided the picnic,” he said quietly.
        “Well, yes. But it was your idea, and it was fun.”


                                                                                                  29
       “You want a ride to the mechanic's in the morning?”
       “Um, I guess that would be fine. If you don’t mind. I’ll have to leave early enough to
get Chris to school and then get the car.”
       “I could drop you at the garage and then take him for you. That way you wouldn’t be
late.”
       “I can’t ask you to do that, it’s…”
       “It’s not a problem Rita.”
       “Okay, then, we’ll see you in the morning.” She smiled as she followed him when he
started toward the door. “Thanks again for the day. It was fun,” she restated.
       “It was,” he admitted. “Thanks again for letting me share the kiddo for an afternoon.”
       “You’re welcome to share anytime,” she answered. It was meant as a joke.
       "I might take you up on that," he answered seriously.
       He hesitated, and Rita wondered if he was going to decide to stay. But then he turned
away and exited the apartment.
       She stood for few minutes with her hand braced against the door she had just closed.
Then she walked across the room and stood by the window and watched him climb into his
car. He sat for a minute, merely staring at the steering wheel. She held her breath, but then
he started the car and drove off.
       “Chicken,” she whispered as she watched him leave.

                                               ******

        Cassy arrived a few minutes late on Monday and scurried to her desk, looking guiltily
toward the captain’s office as she tried to get to her chair without being noticed. Her luck
didn’t hold. His door was open, and he was waving her in even as she approached her desk.
Putting her purse in the bottom drawer, she sighed and turned toward the office, ready to take
her punishment.
        She was surprised to find Rita already seated at one of the two chairs in the inner-
sanctum, but grateful that whatever the other officer was discussing with Lipschitz had
apparently distracted him from her tardiness.
        “So, ladies,” the captain began. “Anything new?”
        “No, we’re still looking for the father. The feds are on it, and so far they’ve been pretty
cooperative. They’re using their sources to try and find the guy. We’ve traced his ship to
Singapore, but apparently he didn’t come back from a shore leave. That’s all we know.”
        “That’s not enough. As I was explaining when you decided to join us,” the captain
addressed Cassy, “I had a call from the mayor. Do you suspect the father?”
        “Well, Tom doesn’t seem to think so, he says the guy wouldn’t give up the support
checks he was getting from the Allisons, but I’m still suspicious.”
        “Well, I’d really appreciate some progress on this. It looks like Tom is going to be tied
up a little while longer, so I’m going to leave you two together until this is over. Anybody have
any complaints about that?”
        “No complaints, Cap,” Rita replied. “How come they’re only using Tom in court on this
case?”
        “I was on vacation when the Samuels decided to play fast and loose with the
inheritance they were expecting. Miss grateful daughter of the year had no qualms about
going after the provider thereof, dear old daddy,” Cassy answered. “Tom and Harry got to
check it out. But captains don’t waste their time in court, do they Harry?” Cassy kidded her
boss.


                                                                                                 30
        “I’m available if they need me, but Tom is more than capable of testifying on his own.
Now you two get busy,” Lipschitz replied curtly to her humor.
        The pair left the office, and Rita settled in Tom’s chair. “So what do you want to do
now, Cassy?”
        “I think we should keep checking with some of Michelle’s friends. Somebody must
know if she’d had any contact from the father. I’ve just got a feeling; I know he’s involved. I
don’t know why, but there’s something going on.”
        “But Tom’s comment about the income is pretty valid.”
        “I know. There’s got to be something else, something that would make this guy give up
the pay-off money. You with me?”
        “I’ve got Masterson’s picture, can’t hurt to talk to a few people and show it around.
Maybe somebody’s seen him in town. Let’s go.”
        The two continued their attempts to find something concrete in the frustrating case.
The missing father seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Forensics had been
able to give them the model of gun used, but they were unable to trace its origin. And friends
of the deceased still continued to deny any knowledge of the baby’s father, most of them even
surprised that there was a baby. There just wasn’t anything that seemed to make any sense
out of the whole incident.

                                              ******

        It was the end of the frustrating and unfruitful week. Tom was scheduled to be back in
the office full time the following Monday, and Cassy had not come back from her late lunch.
        Rita sat at her desk, idly tapping the pencil against the telephone. She was waiting for
a call from the real estate broker. The woman had promised to call before four o’clock. She’d
made a tentative appointment to go see the beachfront home she and Tom had looked at the
previous weekend. He had picked her up as promised on Monday morning, and taken her to
his friend’s shop to collect her car. Things had been rushed; with conversation centered
around the expected cost of her car repairs and checking in procedures at the daycare center.
Before she knew it he was driving away. She was grateful he had taken Chris Jr. to the
daycare, insisting again that it was right on his way to the courthouse and no bother. But the
comfortable togetherness of the weekend was gone in the return to their professional lives.
        She had seen him again on Tuesday. They met in the foyer of the courthouse where
she had come to drop some papers at the district attorney’s office. She told him she was on
her way to another house her agent wanted her to see. He again volunteered to pick up Chris
Jr. and meet her. She had agreed, appreciative of both the time saved from having to make a
run out to the center, and the chance to be alone at the house before her son got there.


        It was a large, imposing house, just on the fringes of the downtown area. It was
beautifully maintained. The agent explained that the old woman who had passed away last
month had lived there almost thirty years. She had raised four children, but none of them
lived in the area anymore, and they just wanted to sell the place.
        Rita walked through the large, high-ceilinged rooms. It was certainly of the grand old
style of another era. Not the clean lines of modern architecture, but perhaps a more
glamorous, sophisticated life, she thought to herself.
        “It’s not you,” a voice interrupted. She turned to see Tom and Chris Jr. standing in the
double doors that led to the library she was standing in.”


                                                                                               31
        “You don’t think so?”
        “Nope. To fussy.”
        “But it’s big.”
        “Too big.”
        “This from the ‘want a big family’ man?” she laughed as she walked toward him. “The
lady that owned it had four kids. I’ll bet there’s a slew of bedrooms and stuff upstairs.”
        “Lots of rooms don’t make a home.”
        “You don’t like it.”
        “No. It’s not…it’s…”
        “Cold.”
        “I guess. Would you think I was really weird if I said I didn’t like the vibes? It’s too
formal, and kind of old fashioned.”
        “Some people really like the old fashioned stuff.”
        “You don’t strike me as the homemade quilt/craft type.”
        “And what do I strike you as?”
        “I don’t know. Candles, modern art, comfortable, but open and airy.”
        “A modern girl,” she smiled. “This fancy wallpaper, molding, must have been a pretty
formal household. I wonder what her kids are like. I’ll bet they all wear three-piece suits and
sip their tea with their little pinky raised.”
        They moved through the house, following the agent for the rest of the obligatory tour.
There was no furniture, nothing left of the residents, just the empty rooms. There were indeed
four bedrooms upstairs, and it was in the smallest that they found the crayon marks on the
wall. “Not so formal, maybe,” Rita commented as they stood for a moment observing the
artwork. Even Chris Jr. seemed reserved, holding her hand without protest and walking
quietly beside her.
        She thanked the agent for the visit, promising to call her after she’d thought about the
house. Then the three walked toward their cars parked at the curb.
        “Thanks for picking up Chris. I’m glad you were here to look at it with me.”
        “Anytime. I like house hunting.”
        “I thought men hated it.”
        “My mom used to like to do open houses. My dad hated it, but I kind of liked to go with
her. She would always talk about what the house said…about the families. The colors, what
was in them. We’d make up stories about what kind of people lived in the houses. It was
fun.”
        “You and your mom are very close, it sounds like.”
        “She’s a neat lady. She and my dad are the best.”
        “I’d like to meet her. Maybe she could give me some pointers on raising a respectable
son,” Rita smiled.
        “I’ll make sure you do the next time they’re here. And thank you for the compliment, I
think?”
        “Definitely intended. Listen thanks again, I’d better get this little guy home. You could
come by…”
        “I have some things I need to go over before court tomorrow. Wanted to reread some
of the reports. I better take a rain-check.”
        “I’ll see you at work, then,” she said as he finished transferring the car seat and said
goodbye to her son. Then they parted to go their respective ways.




                                                                                               32
         They next met in the parking lot at the precinct on Wednesday afternoon. Once gain
the conversation shifted to a rather stilted exchange.
         “Hi,” Rita smiled as she walked down the steps toward her car. Tom was there, just
getting out of his car.
         “Hi yourself. You leaving?”
         “On my way home. You just getting out of court?”
         “They let us out early today. I should only be there a few more days. Thought I’d just
check in with Harry before I left. How’s the car?”
         “Seems fine. Working great. Thank you again for the recommendation.”
         “Always glad to help. You decide about that house?”
         “It was just too big. Really too much money, despite the fact that they were willing to
dicker. I’m going to go back and look at that beach place, I think.”
         “Let me know if you need anymore help. And say hi to Chris Jr. for me.”
         “I will.”
         He had continued on into the precinct, and Rita had found herself watching him as he
walked away. Now she sat staring at the empty desks outside her office. ‘I knew Chris for
years,’ she thought to herself. ‘I feel like I’ve known this man just as long. Why now…so
suddenly? It’s been four years, and there’s been nobody I even looked at twice. Maybe it’s
time. Maybe there is room in my life for somebody else.” Finally gathering her courage, she
rose and walked to the captain’s office. “Okay, Cap, fill me in,” she began as she settled in
the chair across the desk from her friend.
         “On what?”
         “On Tom and Cassy.”
         “What are you talking about?”
         “Don’t be dense, Harry. What’s between those two?”
         “I don’t know.”
         “Harry!”
         “Well, what do you want to know? They were married for seven months, and they’ve
been divorced almost four years. They’re one of the best homicide duos I have had, and I
don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
         “Harry, tell me the real story.”
         “What? I don’t know the ‘real’ story. Why do you think there’s a ‘real’ story?”
         “Because I’ve seen the way he looks at her. I’m not so sure about Cassy, but he’s still
hung up on her, isn’t he?”
         Harry looked over the top of his glasses at Rita. “Why do you care?”
         “I’m just interested, that’s all.”
         “Interested? Interested. Hmmm, what are you up to, Rita Lorenzo? You’re are a
married woman with a baby, what do you mean interested?”
         Rita didn’t answer for a moment; then she squared her shoulders. ”I’m a widow, Harry.
It’s been over three years. I don’t want to raise a son without a father, so don’t give me the
guilt trip. Chris would never have asked me to spend the rest of my life in mourning and you
know it. I’m lonely.” Harry stared at Rita for a moment, and she saw the tears form behind his
glasses.
         “You’re right,” he finally said. “You need to get on with your life. Chris would have
wanted that, but…it’s just hard…to think of you with someone else. Are you seriously
interested in Tom Ryan?”
         “I don’t know, Harry. I was just asking.”
         “But Ryan, you can’t…. I mean that’s just…it’s not a good idea, not Tom Ryan.”


                                                                                              33
        “Why not? I’m not saying I am, but for pete's sake, does he have the plague or
something? Why are you so shocked? Last I heard he was single. If Cassy doesn’t want
him, I’m sure there are others out there that do. Tell me why I shouldn’t check him out?"
        Rita found herself leaning forward aggressively toward the captain. The phone rang,
and as Harry reached for the offending instrument, Rita settled back in her chair, shaking her
head. Where had this whole argument come from? She wasn’t interested in Tom Ryan; he
was just a friend. She had been asking hypothetically, just wanting to know the dynamics of
the office. Why was she getting so defensive?
        “Rita, phone call,” the desk sergeant called, and she pushed herself out of the chair
and left the captain’s office. The call was from her agent, and Rita confirmed that she could
be at the house in forty-five minutes. She started back to the captain’s office to ask if there
was any problem with her leaving early. Instead of still being in his office, however, he was
now standing with Tom and Cassy who had both reappeared in the outer office. She strode
over to the threesome.
        “Harry, I need to leave a little early. Any problem?”
        “No, that’s fine. Everything all right?”
        “I’m going to look at a house.”
        “The beach house?” Tom piped up. “You gonna make an offer?”
        “Maybe. I have to pick up Chris Jr. and meet the owner in forty-five minutes. I’ve gotta
hurry or I’m liable to miss her.”
        “Want me to get Chris Jr.?” Tom asked helpfully. “I’ll grab him and meet you there.
You can’t make an offer without letting me give it the once over.”
        “And why not?” Rita asked indignantly.
        “Tell me you know how to check for dry rot, that the wiring isn’t about to set fire to the
place, that the foundation is stressed for-”
        “And if the vibes are right,” Rita smiled.
        “That, too,” he answered, with a knowing look.
        “Okay, okay,” Rita laughed. “I’ll take you up on it,” she said turning to leave. “I’ll meet
you there.”
        “Don’t you have to call the daycare center and tell them Tom’s picking Chris Jr. up?”
Harry asked.
        The two exchanged suddenly shy looks and Lipschitz looked from one to the other.
        Rita wasn’t quite sure if she should go into the reasons that Tom had been added to
the school’s list of adults officially allowed access to her son’s life. She decided the less said
the better. “It’s okay, Captain. They know Tom. He’s picked him up before.”
        Aware of the questioning looks thrown at them, the two turned away, Rita hastily
retreating to her desk to gather her things, and Tom rummaging on his desktop to retrieve his
keys.
        The captain watched as Rita hurried from the room before exchanging a look with
Cassy and then returning to his office
        “So, partner, since when are you into house hunting?” Cassy drawled, settling back
against her own desk.”
        “I’m just gonna pick up Chris Jr. and meet Rita at the beach house.”
        “The beach house?” Cassy questioned. “She didn't give you a location. How come
you know where this house is?”
        “Um, well actually I drove her by it last weekend while her car was in the shop. It’s a
great location, right on the water. It looks like a great house. I’m just gonna give her the male



                                                                                                 34
view of the place. Besides, it’s hard to concentrate on business with the kid running all over
the place. Better to have two sets of eyes watching the little critter.”
       “Is that all?”
       “Yeah, why?”
       “Nothing. I’ll come, too.”
       “You don’t have to do that, Cassy. We can handle it.”
       “We?”
       “I mean, I can do it. I don’t mind helping out.”
       “You think she’d care if I bum along?”
       “No, I guess not.”
       “Do you care?”
       “Me?”
       “Three’s a crowd.”
       “Don’t be silly, Cassy. I just didn’t think you’d want to bother.”
       “So there’s isn’t any reason you don’t want me to come?”
       “No. Why would there be? You want to come, come. You want to ride with me?”
       “Then you’d have to bring me back here to get my car.”
       “That’s fine, I don’t mind.”
       “Never mind, let me tell Harry I’m tagging along, then I’ll just follow you.”
       Cassy stuck her head into Lipschitz’s office to tell him she was joining the early exodus.
She was surprised when he waved her inside.
       “What, Harry, is there a problem?”
       “What do you know about this house?”
       “Me? Nothing. I didn’t even know she was looking.”
       “Did you know Tom was helping her?”
       “Helping her? I…he just drove her by to look at it.”
       “Why did he drive her?”
       “Her car was in the shop last weekend, Harry. I don’t know why he drove her, maybe
she asked him.”
       “She couldn’t wait until she got her car back?”
       “Harry, what is this? What’s the big deal?”
       “Something’s going on.”
       “Something, Harry? Something what?”
       “Just keep an eye out.”
       “For what? What are you talking about?”
       “Those two are getting very friendly. You better watch them.”
       “I know they’re friendly,” Cassy laughed. “Tom likes the kid. What’s the big deal?”
       “You don’t care that they’re getting friendly?”
       “Why should I care? We work together.”
       Lipschitz stared at her for a few minutes, then pursed his lips as if he was about to say
something. Cassy waited, but he seemed to change his mind. He shook his head slightly and
then waved her back out of the office.


       Cassy followed Tom to the daycare and then to the Ocean Front Street location. The
minute they walked into the beachfront house, Tom and Rita became a twosome. She
watched them pass Chris Jr. back and forth between them as they engaged the real estate
agent in different questions. The woman quickly began to include them both in discussions


                                                                                               35
about the home. Cassy followed through the building and out onto the deck, as Harry’s
strange questions began to replay in her mind.
        What exactly was going on here? Tom and Rita talked as if there had been other
conversations about houses. Tom played with the child in his arms; the two engaging in some
kind of finger game as if they’d done it before. Rita touched his arm and pointed out
something as they walked. It was very….
        Cassy felt a sudden tightness in her chest. Her hand moved of its own volition to cover
the pain, closing into a fist over her heart. She stood back as the group moved out to the
deck, finding it difficult to take a deep breath. They look like a family, the realization hit her. A
shudder pulsed through her body as if she’d stepped into a cold breeze.
        Outside, Tom lowered Chris Jr. down and passed one of the child’s hands to Rita
before he turned and trotted down the stairs of the deck and out onto the beach. He
disappeared under the outdoor structure, and then his voice floated up through the
floorboards. “There’s some damage here, Rita. I think maybe there’s been some wash-out in
the past."
        Rita moved to lean over the railing, peering over the side toward the voice. “You think
it’s bad? Has there been any structural damage?”
        “I’m sure that everything is fine,” the agent interrupted.
        “Has there been a home inspection?” Tom asked still beneath the building.
        “I’m sure everything is fine,” the agent repeated, joining Rita in peering over the side.
        “Well, I’d check it out. I don’t know that I’d go with what they’re asking if there’s going
to have to be a bunch of major repairs done to the foundation.”
        “Tom is hiding,” Chris Jr. interrupted. He climbed up onto the deck’s banister, pulling
his hand out of his mother’s grasp as he leaned over toward the voice. Tom stepped out from
under the deck, and the child extended his arms over the railing toward the sand below.
        Cassy finally managed to proceed out onto the deck, and watched as Rita took hold of
the boy by the waist, lifting and swinging him out over the railing, then lowering the child feet
first toward the man below. At the last instant, she actually had to release him before he was
in Tom’s grip, and Cassy heard the little boy squeal with delight as he was dropped into the
waiting arms beneath him.
        Rita began to discuss possible problems with the house and any price break that might
be offered if repairs needed doing. Cassy crossed to the stairs and walked down, removing
her shoes as she moved out onto the beach. Tom and Chris Jr. had already started digging a
hole in the sand. She approached the two slowly.
        “Very nice, Thomas.”
        “What?” Tom asked innocently, looking up toward his partner.
        “The little number on that poor agent. Is there really damage under there?”
        “Cassy, are you calling me a liar?” Tom asked with a grin.
        “Who me? Now why would I do that?”
        “Hey, all’s fair in love, war, and real estate. I know how much Rita can afford, and she
likes the place. It’s just a little out of her price range.”
        “How do you know she likes the place?”
        “She…we…" Tom let his reply fade away as he turned his attention back to the still
digging youngster.
        But Cassy was not prepared to give up her interrogation. “And you know what her
price range is, hmmm? Sounds like you’ve discussed this with her.”
        “We talked about it.”
        “When?”


                                                                                                   36
        “When I drove her home after we looked at it last weekend.”
        “She didn’t mention it when we were shopping?”
        “It wasn’t on Friday.”
        “Sunday? You saw her Sunday?”
        “I just ran into her at the pier. She needed a ride home and she wanted to go by this
place she’d heard about. They were having an open house, so we took a look. But there
were a lot of people. She said she’d probably come back and on her own another time.”
        “On her own…?”
        “Yeah, what’s the problem?”
        “Tom,” Rita’s voice interrupted.
        Tom reached down to gather the child, throwing him headfirst over his shoulder. Chris
Jr. squealed, releasing a handful of sand down Tom’s back and kicking his legs. Tom
responded by swinging him around and down, shaking him headfirst toward the sand.
        “Dump it you little weasel or I’ll drop you on your head!”
        The child laughed and released the other handful of sand, letting it fall back on the
beach. Tom swung him down onto his feet and then broke into a trot, headed for the stairs.
“Race you to Mommy,” he challenged the child who immediately broke into a run.
        Cassy watched the rest of the scene unfold as the two raced up the stairs, Tom
allowing the child to beat him to the object of their contest. Rita laughed out loud as she was
captured by her son, and then turned to wrap a supporting arm around the pantomiming
exhausted loser. Tom stood, his hands on his knees, leaning over toward the youngster and
proclaiming him a cheater. The three ended up walking back into the house behind the agent,
Rita settled in the middle between the two males, one hand held by each of them. Cassy
wasn’t quite sure how to identify the emotion that flooded through her. It was part rage, part
fire, and a large part confusion. Just what the hell was going on here? she wondered, finally
acknowledging that there might just be some grounds for the suspicion that Harry had planted
in her mind.
        But once inside the house, Cassy found herself even more confused as the threesome
suddenly parted. Tom handed the child over to his mother for one last time, and then came
back to stand beside Cassy as Rita and the agent left together.
        “Aren’t you driving her home, or something?” Cassy inquired.
        “She has her own car.”
        “I figured since you picked the kid up and everything…”
        “I was just doing a favor for a friend, Cassy. No big deal. Listen, you want to stop and
get some dinner or something?”
        “Me?” Cassy questioned.
        “Why not? You and I do Friday nights a lot. Is there a problem? You got a date?”
        “No, I don’t, but I thought…sure what the heck. You pick the place.”


                                             ******

        Rita and Tom and Cassy gathered together on Monday to discuss the frustrating
murder case. Their lack of any new evidence, and the feds apparent inability to find the
missing father, eventually brought the conversation to a halt. Rita and Cassy had switched to
comparing notes on the latest movie rage in town, deciding to go see it. Tom pronounced it a
‘chick-flick’ when they asked him to tag along. He vetoed Rita’s willingness to call a sitter,



                                                                                              37
proclaiming that the boys would stay home and do a ‘guy thing’. “I’ll take him to my place,” he
declared. “We can watch a game.”
       “Why don’t you just stay at Rita’s?” Cassy asked.
       “’Cause I’ll bet that apartment doesn’t have cable, does it, Rita?”
       “Nope, hardly gets the regular channels.”
       “You can’t survive without cable?” Cassy asked with a smile.
       “Hey, you gotta entertain the sitter,” Tom replied. “No ESPN, no free babysitting.”
       Cassy had given in, and they drove to Rita’s apartment to pick up things that Tom
might need. Cassy had played with the child while Rita and Tom loaded a satchel with extra
clothes, favorite books, and other necessities for entertaining a three-year old.
       “How much stuff does he need,” Cassy asked in dismay. “We’re going to miss the
early; we’ve gotta get going, Rita.”
       “Why don’t you just put everything in my car?” Tom suggested. “You guys go, there’s
no need for you to come all the way back to my place. Just go. We’ll be fine.”
       “I’ll take my car,” Rita said. “Then we can just come home afterwards.”
       “No, go ahead, take Cassy’s. I’ll bring you home after the movie.”
       “You're sure?”
       “I can handle it. You won’t be that late.”
       “I suppose. Cassy what do you think?”
       “Whatever, let’s just go or we’re going to miss the beginning.”
       Rita had assured Chris Jr. she’d be there to get him early, fussing with getting him and
his gear into the Mustang. She was expecting a healthy protest at her leaving. Instead, the
child began an instant conversation with Tom, asking if they could get pizza. She stood and
watched as the car pulled away and headed off down the street without her.

                                                ******

        The petite, Hispanic young woman hurried down the dark alley toward the door at the
rear of the two-story apartment building. Melana was late. The Mrs. had kept her to help
prepare for the party they were having that night. She knew that Margarita would not stay, her
own husband demanding that she be home on time to prepare the evening meal for the
family. Juan would have been alone for almost a half-an-hour by now. It was not the first
time. Guilt tore at Melana, and she quickened her step.
        She reached for the door and began to insert her key in the lock before she realized
that the lock was not engaged. Margarita would never have left the apartment open! Terror
overcoming caution, Melana pushed the door open and rushed into the apartment. She could
hear Juan fussing in the tiny bedroom at the rear of the living quarters. She threw her purse
down on the couch and hurried toward the room.
        Confusion stopped her just inside the doorway as she observed the child standing in
the makeshift bed on the floor with his jacket and hat on, as if prepared to go outside. She
started forward again and it was then that the door swung shut behind her. Before she could
turn, a hand swept around her head from behind and clamped down over her mouth. The
cold metal of the tip of a gun pressed cruelly against her temple, tilting her head into the arm
that encircled her with its force. Her eyes opened wide as she cast a terrified look toward her
baby, and then the ‘pop’ of the silenced gun ended her life.
        The figure holding the dead woman allowed the limp body to slide to the floor. The gun
was holstered, and then the stranger returned to the business of dressing the now wailing
child. The hand that had so brutally held the mother gently placed a pristine white cloth over


                                                                                              38
the screaming child’s mouth, and the baby slumped over. Drugged into compliant sleepiness,
the child did not protest as he was lifted over the single crib side that had been used to
restrain him in the corner where the mattress had been placed on the floor. He was carried to
the large SUV parked around the corner from the old building, placed in the back seat of the
car, secured with a child’s lap belt, and then whisked away from the scene of his mother’s
death.

                                                 ******

        Rita captured her hair into a ponytail and held it with one hand as Cassy drove the
Porsche through the early evening after the movie. She mulled over the peculiar night. She
admitted that it felt strange, turning her son over to another person, but she realized that as a
single mom it was probably the best thing that could have happened. Her boy would need a
male role model in his life, and if Tom was really going to keep hanging around, she couldn’t
ask for a better one.
        Now as they drove back to Tom’s apartment on the way home from the movie, the
subject of the Ryan/St. John marriage had become the topic of conversation. Rita listened,
trying to appreciate her friend’s point of view. But as hard as she tried, she couldn’t
understand.
        Cassy complained about living with him; stupid things like what kind of sheets they
were going to buy, what they would eat for breakfast, and the fact that he left things lying
around. Rita looked away, staring unseeing out the car window. She’d gone to Tom’s last
Sunday when they’d stopped at his place to let him change. It was a bachelor pad, small,
compact, and she’d thought surprisingly neat. The kitchen was spotless, there were no
leftovers spread across the coffee table in front of the television; the bed had even been
made. Sure he’d grabbed some clothes off of the chair beside the bed, but jeez, he was
human – what had Cassy expected?
        Who cared what kind of sheets were on the bed? What mattered was that they weren’t
cold when you crawled between them because there was a warm body to share them with.
What difference did it make what you ate, as long as there was someone across the table to
eat it with? As much as she loved her son, she couldn’t help but wish there was somebody
there whose toast you didn’t have to cut, who could talk and laugh, and touch your hand….
Rita jerked her thoughts back, trying to concentrate on Cassy’s recital of Tom’s faults.
        They finally reached the warehouse-like structure that housed Tom’s loft apartment. As
they approached the front door, they could hear a hockey game playing on the television.
        “Bet we’ll find Chris, Jr. tied to a chair or behind that gate thingie you sent along.
Course the only door he could put it in in this apartment is to the bathroom,” Cassy smiled as
she slipped her key into the locked front door.
        The two entered the apartment and stopped. The youngster in question was not a
prisoner. Tom was stretched out on his back on the couch. One arm hung down beside the
sofa, the TV remote held in his hand. The other arm lay across the youngster snoozing,
spread-eagled, on his chest. There was an empty pizza box on the coffee table, and toys and
books were strewn around the slumbering duo. Although his head was turned toward the
television, Tom was as fast asleep as his small charge.
        The two women both smothered their laughter and tiptoed toward the end of the couch.
Rita turned to Cassy with a grin. “Looks like they wore each other out,” she whispered.
        “Must have been all the cheering,” Cassy replied, and they both lost the battle to keep
their laughter silent.


                                                                                               39
        The two males in question both woke. Tom with a jerk, and an instinctive tightening of
the arm that held the three-year old against him and Chris Jr. with a wail of frustration at being
disturbed. Before Rita could react, Tom straightened up and had the child sitting in his lap.
        The shrill ringing of the phone broke into the scene.
        Occupied with the child, Tom looked up to the two standing over him. “Somebody get
that, please,” he pleaded as the boy began to squirm.
        “I’ll get it,” Rita reacted first and moved to the kitchen to answer it.
        Cassy stood watching Tom soothe the cranky boy in his arms, a different surge of
emotion from the earlier laughter pushing its way into the foreground of her consciousness.
She remembered asking Tom once if she would make a good mother. He had been totally
supportive, responding with unhesitating assurance that she would definitely be a ‘great mom’.
She had not gone into who might be the father of said children in response to his “You just
have to find a great guy” comment. She realized she had never even questioned in her mind
whether or not Tom would be a good father. She had seen him interact with friend’s kids, and
always acknowledged that he was a natural.
        The squeal of the now placated youngster snapped Cassy from her reverie, and she
pasted a smile over her melancholy feelings as the two rose together to say hi to “aunt”
Cassy. Without hesitation, the youngster reached for her, and she knelt down to his level to
receive her hug. It was then that Rita returned to them.
        “That was Harry. They’ve found another one.”
        “Same M.O.?” Tom asked.
        “Yep. Single gunshot wound. No struggle, no robbery, nothing. He wants you and me
to go, Cassy.”
        “You and me? Tonight?”
        “Harry thinks it’s the same guy, so he wants us to look into it. Do you mind, Tom?”
        “That you’re stealing my partner or leaving me with the kid?” Tom laughed.
        “Both,” Rita returned with a smile.
        “Hey, Cassy can find her way home, and,” he teased as he reached down and grabbed
the toddler inspecting Cassy’s brooch, “CJ can stay with me. We’ll order another pizza.” Tom
punctuated his declaration by swinging the youngster up and over his head, settling the child
down to sit in what was becoming his regular position on his shoulders. He let go of the small
boy’s arms, placing his hands on the little legs on both sides of his neck. The child grabbed
handfuls of his tall friend’s hair and began to chant “Pizza, Pizza, Pizza,” pointing chubby
fingers towards the empty box on the coffee table.
        Rita shook her head and placed one hand on a bare, pudgy knee. “Okay, you can stay
with Tom, but no more pizza, Chris.”
        “CJ, CJ, Pizza, Pizza,” the child chanted brushing his mother’s hand away from his leg.
        “CJ?” Rita questioned. “Who’s CJ?”
        “Me, Mommy, me!” the three-year old answered gleefully. “Nickname, that’s me,” he
grinned proudly. Wrapping his hands down around Tom’s face with his fingers beneath the
man’s chin, he looked down at Tom, the expression on his face confirming where the moniker
had come from.
        “I always assumed that there wouldn’t be a nickname for Chris,” Rita replied shifting her
gaze to Tom’s with a touch of exasperation in her voice.
        “I couldn’t keep calling him Chris, Jr. all the time like you and Harry do. He needs his
own name, at least while he’s little. He isn’t his father, you know.”
        Taken aback by the child psychology, Rita considered her reaction. “What does CJ
stand for? His middle initial is H.”


                                                                                                40
        “Well, it’s sort of not really a name, it’s a…”Tom suddenly began to stutter.
        “Cool Joe, Mommy. Like the football guys on TV, Cool Joe. That’s me. I wanna play
football when I get big. Tom says I can."
         “He does, does he? What if I don’t want you to play football and loose all your front
teeth?” Rita watched the child’s face fall at this horrible possibility.
        “Jeez, Rita. Give the kid a break. He’s only three. It will be a few years before you
have to start making those kinds of decisions. Besides, football’s not that bad.”
        “Rita’s eyes narrowed as she glared at Tom. “You have first hand knowledge of this I
take it?” she questioned.
        “Well, high school football anyway. College ball does get a little cut-throat, I guess.”
        Rita shook her head and turned back toward her temporary partner who stood silently
at the end of the couch watching the exchange between the two adults and the child. Cassy's
gaze settled on Rita. For a moment their eyes locked, and Rita could only describe the other
woman’s look as cold and very unfriendly. Then Cassy looked back toward Tom, but he had
turned away, already engrossed in entertaining his charge.
        “Everything okay, Cassy? You don’t mind going with me do you?” Rita asked, trying to
interpret what she had just felt. “Harry seems to think you and I should finish this, but if you’d
rather take Tom, I'll take care of it.”
        “No, let’s go,” Cassy said, turning and exiting the room. Rita grabbed her purse to
follow.

                                             ********

        Rita endured the heavy silence between them as she and Cassy headed back across
the city to the crime scene. They arrived to the usual bedlam of a murder investigation. The
body of the young woman was being bagged, and Cassy took a moment to observe. “Just the
gunshot wound, Morton? No signs of assault or anything?”
        “Nope, doesn’t even look like she struggled. That might be a bruise on the side of her
face, but I’ll have to check it out,” the medical examiner advised as he zipped closed the
plastic bag.
        “Okay, thanks,” Cassy said, moving out of the way of the workers.
        “Cassy,” Rita called from behind her.
        Cassy turned and moved across the small room to observe the corner where the
impromptu child’s bed had been erected.
        “Looks like some kind of kid’s crib, doesn’t it?” Rita murmured, running her hand along
the top of the crib side.
        “More like a jail,” Cassy grumbled.
        The two had left the forensics team to their work, and walked around to the front of the
structure to speak with the other occupants of the building. The manager had seen nothing,
and she trailed along with them to their next stop, stepping in to translate for them. It was a
frustrating experience. The building was occupied by other immigrants from Puerto Rico. It
was obvious they had no intention of saying anything to the authorities. None of them claimed
to know the young woman, even denying that they had known there was a child in the room
with her.
        It wasn’t until they reached the last apartment that they got any help. Cassy knocked,
and then took an involuntary step backwards when a large, barrel-chested Hispanic male
answered. The woman they brought with them to interpret hid behind her, only being
persuaded to question the man by Rita’s insistence.


                                                                                                41
        “I don’t know the woman. My family and I keep to ourselves. We have nothing to say.”
        “Carlos?”
        The small, hesitant voice had come from behind the towering man. He turned, allowing
Cassy and Rita a view into the living quarters. Behind the man was a small, mousy looking
woman.
        “Is this your wife?” Cassy asked.
        The man didn’t answer, instead letting loose a string of Spanish in an angry,
commanding voice.
        “He is telling her to be quiet,” the interpreter whispered to Cassy.
        “Excuse me,” Cassy said, using her most authoritative tone as she reached forward
and placed her hand on the shouting man’s arm. He turned back, staring down at the hand
and then up into the face of the woman addressing him. The expression on his face changed
from the anger he’d been directing toward his wife to incredulous shock at Cassy’s
interruption. The shock quickly turned to very apparent rage at her forwardness, and he
raised his arm to fling off Cassy’s hand as he took a step toward her.
        Cassy and Rita reacted at the same moment. Cassy countered the aggressive move
with a twist of her own, turning the man’s arm in the beginning of a defensive maneuver,
twisting him around to the side as she applied leverage to the limb.
        Rita stepped between the man and the cringing interpreter, flashing her badge in his
face as she reached into her purse and pulled out her gun. She brought the weapon up in
front of her, bracing the hand that held the badge against it as she trained the weapon directly
into the face of the belligerent male. “Policia!”
        The man stilled, not fighting Cassy’s move as she twisted his arm around behind him.
        Rita unleashed a string of Spanish at the obnoxious male, and the man stepped back
when Cassy tugged at him from behind.
        Cassy released him, as Rita motioned with her gun for him to stand beside his wife.
“What did you say?” she whispered as she moved into the room with her partner.
        “I told him to shut his filthy mouth and quit struggling or I’d blow his head off,” Rita
replied with a grin, her gun still trained on the now glaring man.
        “I didn’t know you spoke Spanish.”
        “I’ve lived here a long time, Cassy. You pick things up. Lots of immigrants working on
this island. You want to question the wife or should I?”
        “Oh, I’ll do it, you keep an eye on Mr. Wonderful, here. You speak his language so
well,” Cassy grinned.
        Cassy dragged the interpreter with her as she asked the woman now identified as
Margarita Ortez, if she could ask a few questions. It was like prying open a locked box, but
the terrified woman had finally confirmed that there had been a child in the apartment below,
and that the deceased’s name had been Melana Chapano. She knew nothing else except
that Melana had worked at one of the ‘big’ houses out on the beach. Someone named
Carpenter.
        “You didn’t see anyone lurking around the building?”
        “No, I did not.”
        “Do you know when Melana returned home?” Cassy had asked.
        The other woman did not answer, and the tears began to form in her eyes.
        “Mrs. Ortez?” Cassy questioned again.
        “She was supposed to be home at four-thirty,” Margarita finally answered through the
translator
         “Supposed to be?”


                                                                                              42
       “That is when I have to leave, she knows that.”
       “Leave? You mean you baby-sit for her?”
       “Yes. I watch Juan during the day. But I must be home by four-thirty to prepare supper
or…. She take him with her at night.”
       “At night? You mean she had another job?”
       “I think so, yes. I do not know where.”
       Cassy did not press for the reason the babysitter had left the child unattended, only
looking back in exasperation toward the still angry man in Rita’s care. She shook her head,
turned back to thank the meek woman, and tilted her head toward the door to indicate she
was ready to leave.


        “She left that kid all alone in that cage,” Cassy spat as the two drove away from the
crime scene. Her earlier unwillingness to talk forgotten.
        “Do you blame her?” Rita asked. “Did you see the bruises on her arms, and the one on
the side of her head? Any doubt what would have happened if she hadn’t been home on
time?”
        Cassy shook her head in disgust, acknowledging what must be standard operating
procedure between the couple they had just talked to.
        A quick phone call to the office confirmed the address of the Carpenters, and Cassy
pulled the Porsche into the driveway of another of the large mansions that dominated the
community of Palm Beach. This time the two investigators where uniformly unimpressed by
the ostentatious, over decorated house. “No class,” Cassy mumbled as a quiet, black maid
showed them into a drawing room.
        The owner of the house was seated on the couch facing a huge glass wall that looked
out over the pristine, yet somehow sterile, landscaping of the very properly lighted rear yard.
The blond woman rose to her feet as the two were announced, and she circled around the
sofa and headed toward the two policewomen. She was coiffured and clothed in attire
appropriate to a young woman, but neither of the visitors had the slightest doubt that she was
most likely at least in her early forties.
        "It's a little late for a police call isn't it?" the woman asked as she acknowledged their
introductions with an almost imperious nod. She indicated they should sit on the sofa, as she
then moved as far away as possible to sit in a chair across the room. Cassy had to rise and
move to her to hand her the Polaroid snapshot of the body.
        "I apologize if we've inconvenienced you Mrs. Carpenter, but could you tell me if you
know this woman. It's important."
        “Oh my goodness,” the woman exclaimed, looking away as she handed the gruesome
picture back. “Yes, that is Melana. She’s been with us for several months. Quiet. Not very
effective, I was considering letting her go.”
        “Can you give us any more information about her, Mrs. Carpenter?” Rita questioned as
Cassy resumed her seat on the couch.
        “Information? What information would I have?”
        “You did see her papers, didn’t you? Does she have any relatives here in the states?”
        “Her papers? I don’t deal with that sort of thing. You’ll have to talk to George.”
        “George?”
        “The butler. He’s responsible for hiring the domestics.”
        “I see, Mrs. Carpenter. Can you please get George for us.”



                                                                                                43
       “He will be in the pantry,” the woman advised reaching for the small silver bell resting
on the table beside her. The same maid reappeared, and Cassy and Rita were turned over to
her to be shown to the kitchen area and the butler.


        “How can I help you?” George asked. He stood in the huge butler’s pantry inventorying
the dishes that had been used for the evening meal.
        “We’re here about Melana Chapano,” Rita answered. “Your employer informs us that
you are in charge of the domestic help. Can you tell us when you hired her?”
        “It was three months ago.”
        “Do you use an agency?” Rita probed.
        “Of course.”
        “And they might be?”.
        “I can give you their card,” he said stepping forward.
        George stopped, waiting for Rita and Cassy to move out of his way, then preceded
them into the kitchen area. He moved quickly through the immaculate, state-of-the art room
and opened a door into his office. He retrieved the rolodex from the very tidy, white table-
desk and flipped through the cards. He retrieved one and handed it to Rita.
        “You’re not going to keep the card, are you?” he asked with disdain.
        Rita sighed and reached into her purse for her notebook. When she continued to
rummage, the man reached back to the desk and picked up a pencil, handing it to her with two
fingers as if afraid she might touch him.
        Rita smiled her most condescending smile, accepted the pencil, and jotted down the
name, address, and phone number of the agency. She mischievously placed the pencil in her
mouth between her front teeth as she tucked her notebook back into her purse, then handed
the card back. The butler accepted it with the same two fingers, but declined her attempt to
return the pencil with an offended look and turn of his head. Rita heard Cassy snort behind
her, and could barely control her own laughter.
        “What time did Ms. Chapano leave work, Smithe?” Rita asked.
        “After four p.m. I believe,” the man answered. “And my name is George.”
        “Is that the usual end of her shift?” Rita continued.
        “I believe she was here a bit late. We were entertaining the governor this evening.
There were extra things to prepare. Has she complained about the long shift?”
        “Oh no, nothing like that. In fact, you’re going to have to go back and call your agency
if you need help.”
        “Oh my, was she an illegal? I might have suspected. There are so many of that kind
nowadays.”
        “No, actually she’s dead.”
        “Dead?” the man asked in horror. “You aren’t assuming any connection to the
Carpenters are you?”
        “Of course not, what could it possibly have had to do with the Carpenters?” Rita replied
in much the same tone of horror as she’d been questioned. “Thank you so, much Jeeves.”
        “George.”
        “Ah yes, George,” Rita acknowledged and then turned back toward her partner. The
two followed the maid as they were shown toward the door in the kitchen. “We’ll be in touch if
we need any other information,” Rita said over her shoulder as they exited, making their way
through the house to the front door.



                                                                                              44
        They got as far as the end of the driveway before they both broke into peels of
laughter, and were still laughing once they got into the car. “Pompous ass!” Rita sputtered.
        “Mrs. Carpenter or Jeeves?” Cassy asked.
        “It’s George!” Rita chortled using her best English accent.
        The reply set the two laughing again, and Cassy struggled to get the key into the
ignition and start the car.
        “I suppose we’ll have to wait till Monday to talk to the agency,” Rita finally said,
sobering the two as they once again considered the case they were on.
        “We’re going to have to tell the captain and the visiting spooks about this, we’ve
apparently got another one,” Cassy added. “I hate involving those guys. They’ll muck up
everything.”
        “Maybe they’ve had some luck locating the father from the first time,” Rita responded,
trying to pacify Cassy’s dislike of the government officers.
        “None of her friends are admitting anything was between them. I was figuring he’d
come back here for the little mother and the kid, but I guess I was wrong and Tom was right.
Doesn’t look now like it was daddy after all.”
        “Is Tom usually right?” Rita asked.
        “He’s pretty good,” Cassy admitted.

                                             ******

                 It was almost ten when Cassy finally drove Rita back to Tom’s apartment. Chris
Jr. was fast asleep on the couch. The three adults gathered the youngster’s things. Tom
lifted the sleeping child gently to his shoulder and started toward the door. Rita stopped to
pick up one last toy, and then turned just in time to see the look on Cassy’s face as she
watched Tom crossing the room. Her eyebrows were slightly furrowed; her mouth turned
down in a frown. She looked…confused.
         Rita started to follow Tom, and Cassy fell into step behind her. Once outside, Tom
transferred his burden to the car seat. The child never stirred.
         “I guess I’ll go on, then,” Cassy said as Tom straightened up and turned back toward
the two women.
         “You want us to follow you home, Cass?”
         “Like I need a body guard. I’m just fine,” Cassy replied. “Since when did I need your
protection?”
         “I seem to remember a time or two when you haven’t objected to my presence.”
         “Well…”
         “Listen,” Rita interrupted the uncomfortable bickering, “I’m sorry to be so much
trouble…”
         “It’s okay,” Cassy stopped her. “I’ll see you guys in the morning.” She turned and
walked quickly to her waiting car.
         The two remaining adults stood a moment, the discomfort of the scene holding them
motionless. Then Tom shook his head and turned toward the car. He held the passenger
door open until Rita was settled, and then circled around to climb in himself.


       They drove across the quiet streets in silence until they reached Rita’s apartment. Tom
carried the small boy into his bedroom and laid him on the bed. He stood behind her for a few
minutes as Rita undressed the sleeping child, but when she finally tucked her son in and


                                                                                                 45
turned back to leave the room, he was gone. She felt a very pronounced sense of
disappointment, and she found herself hoping that he hadn’t left.
        He was there, in the living room, staring out the second floor window.
        “I can’t wait to get a place of my own. There will not be one beige thing anywhere in
sight,” Rita commented as she joined him.
        “What? Oh, right. Everything okay? I suppose I should leave.”
        “You want something? Coffee, a beer, before you go?”
        “I don’t know why she does that,” he answered.
        “Cassy?”
        “Anytime she gets…things get…start sounding personal, she…strikes out…”
        “Covers her feelings?”
        “I guess so.”
        “I can understand that. It’s sort of natural I guess. The need not to be hurt.”
        “Hurt? I’d never hurt her.”
        “Maybe she’s hurting herself, and doesn’t know how to stop.”
        He turned back toward Rita. “A beer would be good, if it’s not to late.”
        He settled on one of the barstools at the counter that divided the small kitchen from the
living room area. She set the beer in front of him, and stood on the other side, sipping at her
own. “Should we retire to the couch?” she asked with a smile. Then she realized what she
had said, and held her breath, waiting for his reaction.
        He smiled, raised the bottle he held toward her in a salute, and turned to walk over to
the stereo in the wall unit. “Can I put on some music?”
        “Sure, anything you like.”
        “So, how was it?” he questioned. “Anything concrete? Was it the same guy, you
think?”


        They spent the next half-an hour discussing the crime. Rita finished her tale. Tom
reacting with humor to her description of the obnoxious butler. His expression turned serious
when she told him about her confrontation with the irate husband.
        “I could handle it, Tom.”
        “I didn’t say you couldn’t.”
        “Don’t look at me like that.”
        “Like what?”
        “Like you’re surprised I could handle it. I’m a cop. Just like you. I…”
        “Hey, that’s not what I was thinking?”
        “Oh yeah, right. I know what you were thinking. You should have been there to handle
him. We should have had a man.”
        “Rita, I didn’t say that? I can’t help being concerned.”
        “Nobody asked you to be concerned. I can do my job. I don’t need anybody.”
        “Need or want?”
        “What’s that supposed to mean?”
        “You’re beginning to sound like Cass.”
        “I am not!”
        “Maybe I should leave.”
        “No, what do you mean? I sound like…”
        “Why are you so angry at me? All I did was express concern that it was a tough
situation, and you could have gotten hurt. Why is that a problem?”


                                                                                               46
         “Cops get hurt. It doesn’t matter if they’re male or female.”
         “They also get killed.”
         “Shut up,” she snapped, jumping up from the end of the couch where she’d settled, and
moving back to the window.
         She stood, looking out, clutching the now empty bottle of beer to her chest. God, she
was going to do it again, she was going to cry.
         “People get killed, Rita. Even civilians,” his voice reached out. Soft and soothing, it
tore at her shattering defenses. “Car accidents, fires, all kinds of things. It happens.”
         “But they don’t invite it. They don’t make themselves targets.”
         “Neither do we. A good cop is always alert, always looking for trouble. We watch each
other’s backs. We’re more aware of what’s going on around us than most people. The odds
even out.”
         “What are you saying? She whirled around. “That he wasn’t a good cop, that he wasn’t
paying attention?”
         “No, I’m saying he was probably one of the best. But when his family was involved, it
didn’t matter whether or not he was a cop; he was willing to do whatever was necessary. It
doesn’t matter who or what you are, when it’s your time, it happens.”
         “Don’t give me that for everything there’s a purpose crap. If he hadn’t been a cop, he’d
still be alive today. He’d be here to play with his son, to be with me. He wouldn’t have gotten
shot.”
         “I guess you could try that argument on all the victims of drive-by shootings. Or maybe
on one of your current two ladies. They weren’t cops. It didn’t save them. You can’t shut
yourself away from people because they might get hurt, Rita.”
         “I don’t,” she declared, turning back to the window.
         “I’m glad to hear that.”
         She jumped as his voice sounded in her ear. She hadn’t realized he’d approached her.
She expected him to touch her, but he didn’t, waiting instead until she turned toward him. He
was even closer than she realized. His hand reached up, then he brushed the back of his
fingers down her bare arm. She shivered, and let him take her hand in his. He just held it, not
putting any more demands on her.
         “Tom, I…I don’t think this is such a good idea.”
         “What?”
         “Maybe you should go.”
         “If you want, just say the word.”
         “I can’t do this,” she whispered.
         “Yes you can,” he replied softly as his other hand came up to tip her chin up toward
him. “He’s gone, Rita. I know you loved him, but he’s gone.”
         “I know. But I’m not sure…I’m afraid.”
         “To get involved with another cop?”
         “Yes.”
         “Do you want me to leave?”
         “No.”
         “Then let it go. You have to decide if you’re going to live your life in fear, or take what’s
out there and enjoy the ride. It has its ups and downs, but you know what they say about the
valleys…”
         “They only make the mountains look higher.”
         His head lowered toward her. For a moment she thought about pushing him away,
running in panic, retreating to the emptiness she’d wrapped around herself to ward off the


                                                                                                    47
terrors. Then the thoughts were gone as his lips touched hers. She let her eyes close and
her hands brush up his arms to circle behind his neck and draw him closer.
       They broke apart, and for a moment he just held her. “I should probably go,” he finally
said.
       “I guess you should.” The two moved toward the door together. As he started to leave,
he leaned toward her one more time, brushing her lips with his. She returned the gentle
caress, as their lips met, and in her mind she thought she heard a chuckle and a familiar voice
whisper it’s about time, Sam.

                                             ******

       “What do you mean, drop it? We’ve got a double homicide here!” Cassy exclaimed as
she stood facing the captain across his desk on Monday morning.
       “I know, St. John. And it involves kidnapping. The feds are on it. I want you off. There
are other things that need your attention.”
       “Captain, I…”
       “You what?”
       “I don’t want to be taken off this case. Rita and I…”
       “I have other plans for Rita, and Tom is back so you two need to get busy on this,”
Harry commanded as he threw a report at Cassy.
       “Who’s Jefferson Lambert?” Cassy inquired, looking at the folder.
       “An out-of-town investor. His company’s planning on building some kind of plastics
plant over in the new industrial park.”
       “So? What does that have to do with Homicide?”
       “Seems they’ve gotten some threats. Sounds like environmentalist, Save the
Neighborhood, types. Mr. Lambert got here last week, checked into his hotel. He’s
supposedly the final scout for the site. They haven’t heard from him since Friday.”
       “They suspect something’s happened to him?”
       “You could say that.”
       “But Captain…these women.”
       “The feds are on it, Cassy. This is more important.”
       “More important than women being killed and their kids disappearing?”
       “At some point in your career, St. John, you’re going to have to learn the concept of the
three P’s in police work.”
       “The three P’s, Harry?”
       “Yes. The most important things in our line of work.”
       “And they are?”
       “The perp, the press, and the politicians.”
       “I see. Which one of the three should I pay particular attention to in this case?”
       “The third, politicians. This company would bring in big bucks to the tax base. They
want to know if anything has happened to this guy.”
       “Why not missing persons, Harry?”
       “Because they found his car down at the beach.
       “No body, no sign of foul play?”
       “I want you to go and find that out, Sergeant. Do you think you can do that?” Harry
asked sarcastically, peering over the top of his glasses.
       “I can do that, Harry. I’ll just wait for Tom.”
       “Call him and have him meet you at the beach.”


                                                                                              48
       “Okay, okay, I’m on my way, jeez.”


        It wasn’t very complicated. She and Tom arrived to find the scuba team searching the
inlet. It only took them about an hour to find the body. Morton added his help, supplying a
very positive cause of death – blunt trauma to the head.
        “Your sure, Doc? He didn’t drown?” Tom asked.
        “Nope. No water in the lungs. He was dead before he went in.”
        They checked out the area without finding anything until the forensic team brought
them the fingerprints from the door handle of the rental car. “Not Mr. Lambert’s I’ll bet. Let’s
run them,” Cassy suggested.


       The prints led to a known member of the environmentalist group. He held up under
pressure of their interrogation, but the D.A. allowed them to hold him on the basis of the print
and the warnings the company had received. Their luck held when they returned to look for
anything they might have missed.


        Tom was down on one knee, sifting through the sand near the edge of the grass when
the green-haired teenager approached him.
        “You guys cops?” the teen asked as they searched through the sand and grass where
the car had been found.
        “Palm Beach P.D.,” Tom answered, looking up.
        “You here about the muggin’?”
        “Mugging? Did you see something?”
        “Yeah, me and my girlfriend where down on the sand. We were, you know. We saw
these guys come up and sort of block this big old fancy black car. The guy was sitting on the
bench over there eating a burger or something.”
        “So what happened,” Tom prompted.
        “They got out and started talking to the suit on the bench. We couldn’t see everything,
but the guy seemed pretty upset. He started to head for the car and they…well they were
trying to stop him.”
        “What did you do?”
        “Well, we…man we didn’t want to get involved. We just rolled up the blanket and snuck
away. They looked mean.”
        “Did it ever occur to you to call 911?” Cassy broke in.
        “Hey, I don’t call the cops. They’d never have believed me.”
        “Okay,” Tom intervened. "Do you think you could ID these guys?”
        “I…well it was dark…I’m….”
        “The car was parked here, it was what, 8:30? Still light. And there’s a light right next to
the picnic table. I bet you had a pretty good view. I’d hate to have to get an arrest warrant,
cooperation would be nice.”
        “What did they do, rough the guy up bad?”
        “They killed him,” Cassy snapped.
        “Gee, man, I didn’t know they were gonna…I just thought they were going to roust him.
I would’ve called, I mean I figured a guy like that could make do with losing a wallet…I didn’t
know…”


                                                                                                 49
        “Easy,” Tom calmed the youth as he rose to his feet. “Will you come down with us?”
        “Yeah, man. I guess so.”
        “What about your girlfriend?”
        “Ah hell, do I have to get her involved? Her old man will freak when he finds out she
was with me. Couldn’t we just leave her out of this?”
        “It’s a murder investigation,” Tom said looking questionably at the young man. “You
would be?”
        “Jep,” the youth answered.”
        “Jep?” Tom repeated.
        “… for Jepherson, David William Graham Jepherson…the 3rd,” the youth supplied
reluctantly.
        The boy finally gave them the name of his female companion, and the two teens both
identified the man in custody. From there it only took a little while before he was ready to turn
over his buddies. The case was closed and on the way to the district attorney by quitting time
on Friday.


       “Very good, people!” Harry congratulated them. “Did I tell you they were good, or
what?” he smiled smugly, peering over the top of his glasses at Rita as she stood beside his
desk. “I think we should give them the rest of the week off. What do you say Ms. Chief of
Detectives?”
       “It’s Friday, Harry,” Cassy said.
       “So it is. Well, take the weekend off then.”
       “Gee thanks,” she responded as she rose to follow her chuckling partner out of the
captain’s office.
       “You want to get dinner?” she asked as he settled behind his desk.
       “Well actually, I’ve got a dinner date.”
       “With who? What haven’t you told me, Thomas? Come clean.”
       “I’m taking Chris Jr. to McDonalds.”
       “By yourself?”
       “Rita has a meeting after work. She won’t be done till 7:00 tonight, so I volunteered to
do dinner. It’s nothing special, she’s going to pick up CJ at the restaurant. You could come.”
       “Hey, never let it be said that I forced myself into Guy’s Night Out. Besides, you know
how I feel about McDonalds. Everything is fried.”
       “They’ve got salads.”
       “You can’t call those wilted things salads. You just go and have a great time. Just
don’t whine to me the next time you have your cholesterol checked,” Cassy responded,
shaking her head as she walked out of the bullpen ahead of her partner.

                                              ******

        For a while it was the return to things as usual for the working end of the team of Ryan
and St. John. The captain did indeed taken command of Rita’s work time, and one afternoon
in the ladies room at the precinct, she confided in Cassy.
        “This is hard, Cassy.”
        “What? You were chief before. What’s the problem?”




                                                                                               50
        “It’s the hours. I feel like I’m here all the time. When I get home I’m beat, I know it’s
affecting the baby. It’s just been he and I for so long. There’s so much paper work. I always
liked the…working the streets. Maybe I should give up this administration job.”
        “Well, it’s hardly police commissioner. You’re not exactly chained to the desk. We
need some more females in the upper ranks. You’re great at the job. You can’t let us down.
Up with Women and all that crap,” Cassy laughed.
        “I’ll try,” Rita replied. “But I’ve got to work things out better with CJ.”
        “You’ve decided to keep the nickname?” Cassy remarked casually, turning to
concentrate on the water running over her hands. “So, what’s going on with you and Tom?”
        “Me and Tom? I don’t know what you mean.”
        “Oh, just seemed like you two were getting kind of chummy.”
        “It’s nothing, Cass. We’re just friends. I really appreciate the interest he’s willing to
take in Chris Jr. He's getting so big, it’s good for him to have a male influence in his life.”
        “Don’t need any male influence in your life?” Cassy teased.
        Rita flushed, leaning over the sink to splash cold water on her face. “Tom’s nice. I’m
glad he’s willing to help me with my new house. You’ve both been good friends. I was afraid
I’d really be lonely when I came back. It was mostly just Chris and me before. We didn’t
socialize much, or have a big crowd. It was just the two of us. I’m grateful to have you guys
to talk to.”
        “Just buds, huh?”
        “Is there a problem, Cass? If you don’t want me to be friends with Tom, say so. I don’t
want to step on anybody’s toes, here.”
        “A problem? Why should there be a problem, Rita? I just wondered, that's all.”
        Rita left the restroom and Cassy leaned against the sink. Something was bothering
her. “She called me Cass,” she realized. “Nobody else calls me Cass except Tom, and only
when we’re alone. I wonder just where she picked up that habit?” she asked the face staring
back at her in the mirror.
        Cassy tried to examine her feelings. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that was taking
hold. There was something going on between Rita and Tom, she was sure of it, something
serious. It was becoming an obsession, waking her at night with dreams of Tom and Rita
walking away from her waving. They were usually laughing, and she was convinced they
were laughing at her.


         He was walking ahead of her toward the steps that led to the employee parking lot.
Rita called his name, and he turned back toward her. She stopped just short of where he
stood. “Hi,” she said softly.
         “Hi, yourself.”
         Rita looked away and continued her walk toward her car. Tom fell into step beside her.
         “So, how’s CJ?”
         “Chris, Jr. is fine. He asked about you. I told him that you were busy. He doesn’t
understand that adults have a life,” she smiled. “The world revolves around one certain three-
year old.”
         “We had fun at McDonald’s. That is obviously his favorite place.”
         “I know. I think he’d eat there anytime,” she agreed as they started to walk toward their
cars together. “I appreciated you taking him.”
         “So you haven’t been avoiding me on purpose this last week? I wanted you to know
that if you think I stepped out of line you can just say so. I mean if you were upset about….”


                                                                                                51
        “The kiss? I don’t remember exactly pushing you away,” she smiled. “Harry’s been
keeping me pretty busy. He seems to think I should memorize every personnel file he has. I
will soon know every deep dark secret there is in this place,” Rita explained as she reached
her car. For a minute he said nothing while she fumbled in her purse for her keys.
        “I had no business telling you what to do. I’m sorry if I stuck my nose in where it
doesn’t belong. I just didn’t like seeing you hurting. I don’t think that is what Chris would have
wanted. I know it’s not what I would have wanted if I’d been in his shoes,” he finished.
        “You don’t think you’d be upset? I mean, sitting up there watching while your ex is
making out with another guy?” she said. She meant it as a joke, but he looked upset.
        “I wouldn’t call it making out. I’m not sorry for what happened. I didn’t know if you
were.”
        “I didn’t mean it like that,” she replied.
        “I wouldn’t care about, you know. If I was watching. I’d be glad. I don’t think anybody
who really loves somebody wants them to be alone, or sad. Listen, I’d better go. Try not to let
Harry bury you alive. And tell CJ I said hi and that maybe we can do Mickey D’s again soon.”
        Rita watched him walk away. She unlocked her car door and, opening it halfway,
extracted the small white envelope from her purse before throwing the handbag onto the front
seat of the car. “Tom,” she called after him.
        He stopped, but didn’t turn back. She walked up to him, circling around to stand in front
of him. “Can I ask you something?” She extended the envelope toward him. “The gal who
lives next door to my apartment gave me these. She and her husband have to be out of town,
so she thought I might like them.”
        He took the envelope and opened it, pulling out the two tickets inside to examine.
“Jolson, at the civic center. These are first row, second balcony; great seats."
        “I’d like to go, but I don’t want to go alone. I suppose I could hire one of those cute
escort service guys,” she smiled at him. “But I’d rather go with somebody I know. But, it’s up
to you, don’t feel obligated. I just thought you might like the music.”
         “Are you sure you’re okay with this? I mean...“
        “I said I owed you a date.”
        “You sure you want to call it a date?"
        “What would you call it, Ryan? This is the 90's. A girl's allowed to call a guy and ask
him out?”
        “I’m sorry, I don’t mean it like that. I’d love to go, I just didn’t want you to get the wrong
idea, I mean I’m not trying to...“
        “If I hadn’t heard so much to the contrary, I’d say you were shy, Tom Ryan,” she
teased. “Look, I just wanted to say thank you for all your help and stuff. The play starts at
eight. Do you want to come?”
        “Yes. I'd love to. I will pick you up then. Do you want to get some dinner before?”
        “I think I’d like to get Chris Jr. in bed before I go. I’ve never left him with a sitter before.”
        “Sure, I understand. I’ll pick you up about seven. Who’s your babysitter?”
        “Actually, Harry suggested the daughter of a friend. So I’ll see you about seven,” she
smiled up at him. He turned then and continued on his way toward his car. Rita stood for a
moment, watching him. A date. That’s what it is, Ryan. And I’m looking forward to it.


       The knock came at exactly seven o’clock. Rita wrapped the embroidered, black silk
evening wrap tightly around her shoulders, gathering it together in front of her. The long tails
of the covering nearly brushed her knees in the front, and the rest of the full, ruffle-edged


                                                                                                      52
garment covered her almost to her knees in back. She picked up the small black purse.
“Now, Suz, you’ve got the number of my cell phone, the hospital, the theatre…”
        “Mrs. Lorenzo, I’ve got it. I have Mr. Lipschitz’s number, Poison Control, Fire and
Rescue…”
        Rita smiled at the tall willowy blond teenager who stood near the front door.
        “You want me to let him in?” the young girl asked.
        “I guess so,” she replied, standing back to wait for the door to open. He greeted the
sitter, and then stepped into the room. Rita took a deep breath and held it for a moment,
admiring the picture before her. He was dressed all in black; black suit, black shirt, and a
beautiful tie that ran from black to gray. There was just a hint of a red line swirling about it
from the knot under his chin down the center and under the closed button of the jacket. He
looked even taller, and quite gorgeous, she decided.
        Rita tightened her hold on the shawl; afraid to offer him the same appraisal she’d just
given him. For all her declaration to herself that she was looking forward to this first plunge
back into the social scene, she was nervous. It had been a long time since she’d really cared
what somebody thought about her, how she looked, what she said. It was a strange feeling to
be back in that world. She wasn’t sure she was up to it again. But this Tom Ryan made her
feel safe. She smiled and stepped toward her escort.
        “You ready?” he inquired. “Got the tickets?”
        “I do,” she replied, releasing her death grip on the front of shawl enough to open the
small dinner purse and extricate the tickets, handing them to him. “There’s just one little
problem. Suz doesn’t have a way home; her dad had to bring her. Would you mind taking her
home afterward?”
        “Not a problem,” he agreed as he pocketed the envelope and turned back to hold the
door open for her. Rita tried to think of everything she might have forgotten to tell the sitter,
giving instructions and warnings until she realized the girl was not listening to her, but looking
past her at Tom. She turned and caught the grin on his face.
        “What’s so funny?” she demanded.
        “Nothing. I was just remembering when I was in high school and used to baby sit for a
couple of my mom and dad’s friends. The ones I hated the most were the parents who
wouldn’t leave.”
        Rita felt the blush creep up her cheekbones, and she ducked her head to fiddle with the
clasp on her bag.
        “Come on, Rita, it’s okay. He’ll be fine.”
        “I know, have a good night, Suz. Don’t hesitate to call if there’s a problem,” Rita finally
moved past Tom and out onto the walkway that led to stairs.
        “Have a good time, Mrs. Lorenzo,” the teen called after the retreating couple as she
closed the door behind them.
        “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be such an overprotective mother.”
        “I think that’s a given,” Tom replied.
        “What?”
        “Overprotective and mother. I’m not sure you can have the title without the tendency, “
he smiled.
        They walked across the street to Tom’s car, and he held her elbow as he assisted her
into the passenger side.
        “You put the top up?” Rita remarked as she ducked her head inside.
        “I figured you wouldn’t want to be all wind-blown. I know how ladies are with their ‘date’
hairdos.”


                                                                                                 53
         “You do, do you?” Rita smiled at him. “Well, can we put it down on the way home? I
love riding with the wind in my ‘do’.”
         “You got it,” he agreed as he levered his tall frame into the driver’s side of the car. The
ride across town to the civic center was accompanied by discussion of things at the precinct
until they reached the parking lot of the theatre. Tom turned off the engine, but made no
move to exit the car.
         “Tom? Is something wrong?” Rita finally asked.
         “I just wanted to clarify the other day, in the parking lot. I didn’t mean to make it sound
like I didn’t want to come, Rita. It’s just, I didn’t…don’t mean to put pressure on you.”
         “I think I’ve already had this conversation with Harry," Rita sighed. "I'll admit you...the
whole thing took me by surprise a little the other night, but I can’t say it wasn’t a pleasant
experience. Chris is dead. I’m learning to deal with that, and I’d just as soon not spend the
rest of my life in black sackcloth. I know that isn’t what he would have wanted. You were
right, I shouldn’t shut myself away.”
         “I’m glad. It’s just not my place to tell you how to run your life, and I guess I would
understand if you didn’t want to get involved with a policeman again.”
         “I tell you what, let’s not worry about what we do for a living tonight. I’ll promise if you
will."
         “Promise? Promise what?”
         “No more shop talk. This is after hours. Agreed?” she asked, turning to extend her
right hand toward him.
         He hesitated, then smiled and took her hand in his. They shook once, and laughed.
He got out and came around to the passenger side then, assisting her out of the car. She
couldn’t miss his very appreciative perusal as he admired first the black patent, high-heeled
sandals on her feet, and then the trim ankles and legs she presented as she exited. His
assessment brought the heat to her face. Maybe you’re not over the hill yet, Lorenzo.
Pushing closer to forty all the time, but he’s still looking, she laughed to herself as she stepped
away from the car. Savoring her apparently acceptable appearance so far, she let the shawl
slip down off her shoulders to hang softly at her elbows. He had turned to lock the car, and
when he turned back, the look on his face made the price tag on the green creation worth
every zero.
         “Whoa,” was all he said as his eyes traveled slowly over her, taking in the full effect of
the softly clinging dress now outlined by the backdrop of the black cover.
         Rita reached forward to slip her left arm beneath is right, and gave a gentle tug. He
didn’t react for a moment, then he just smiled and closed his hand over hers as they set out
together toward the theatre.


       The top was down as they drove slowly back across town. The couple in the car next
to them at one red light gave them a very concerned look, but it did not dissuade their hearty
rendition of Swanee. They ended the duet as the light changed, dissolving into laughter.
       “I didn’t realize Jolson was the one who introduced so many songs I know, “ Rita
commented. “I loved the dancing.”
       “It was a good show,” Tom acknowledged. “You want to stop and get some coffee or
something? It’s still early. On me, if you’re not going to let me pay for my ticket.”
       “I’d like that. You know a place?”
       “Murphy’s is close. It’s a restaurant, but they’ve got a bar too. Very respectable.”
       “I bow to your excellent judgment,” Rita laughed.


                                                                                                   54
         “Murphy’s it is. Can’t go home too early, Cinderella. Wouldn’t want to waste that
dress.”
         “I bought it at the mall the day I went with Cassy. I wasn’t sure I’d have a place to wear
it, but I’m glad you like it.”
         “I’m not sure like is the word,” he responded, and Rita felt the blush again. First tears,
now blushes. What in the world is the matter with me? she laughed at herself.
         It was later, when he invited her out onto the dance floor that she realized another
benefit of the dress. Not only did the deep green, slightly iridescent fabric of the dress shift
colors as she moved; but as he pulled her close, she felt his hand brush her bare shoulder
blade just above the top of the dress. It sent shivers down her spine and she made a half-
hearted attempt to pull back away from him a little. He was having none of it, securing her
position against him as they deftly executed another turn.
         “You didn’t mention a dance floor,” she accused.
         “Didn’t I?” he asked, his voice filled with innocence.
         “I take it you’ve done this before,” she chuckled as he spun her through another set of
fancy footsteps to the strong Latin beat of the lounge combo.
         “A few times. You know a step or two yourself,” he acknowledged as they finished with
a spin and then a dramatic dip. Rita laughed, and let him pull her back up. They returned to
the small table at the edge of the dance floor, and finished the two drinks waiting for them.
The band was taking a break, and Tom ordered coffee for himself. They sat together in
comfortable silence for several minutes until his order arrived.
         “Seems a shame to cover up that wonderful gin and vermouth,” Rita smiled at him.
“Whoever that bartender is, he knows how to make a Martini.”
         “All I’d need is to get pulled over,” Tom smiled. “Patrol cop would love that, so would
Harry! Besides, can’t risk putting a dent in the pony.”
         “Oh, right, can’t risk the paint job.”
         He smiled, and drained the coffee cup just as the band came back. “One more set
while the caffeine takes over?” he asked, and she extended her hand.
         It was well past one o’clock when they finally reached Rita’s apartment. They walked
slowly past the softly lighted pool; her arm once again tucked into his. He seemed
unconscious of the shortening of his stride as he matched his steps to her high-heeled walk.
He insisted on escorting her to the door rather than waiting for the sitter in the car, and she
turned before inserting her key in the lock.
         “I had a good time tonight. Thanks for going with me.”
         “Thanks for the invitation,” he answered.
         “So?” she teased, raising mocking eyebrows at him.
         He smiled. “Permission to kiss the boss good night?”
         “You promise not to spread my name around the precinct?” she asked with a smile.
         “Scout's honor.”
         “Okay, then, permission granted,” she laughed as he leaned down toward her.
         He kissed her gently, raised his head, then kissed her again; taking her hands in his as
he did. She finally pulled back a little, seeking air. “I think I’m sorry I made arrangements for
you to take Suz home,” she said.
         “You’d invite me in on the first date?” he questioned in feigned horror as he
straightened up. He did not release her hands.
         “Is my reputation ruined?”
         “I like a lady who knows what she wants,” he laughed. “But it’s probably for the best.
Some things should be saved for the second date.”


                                                                                                 55
      “The second date. I see. Glad you’re so confident, Ryan.”
      He laughed and followed her into to the apartment to collect the sitter.

                                             ******

        Cassy turned the key in the door and pushed open one side. “Tom," she called, as she
stepped into the large, open flat. Her inquiry was met with silence, and she continued in,
throwing her purse on the couch and heading for the kitchen.
        She opened the refrigerator and rummaged inside, then she straightened, leaning her
head against the arm that held the door. Why am I here? she asked herself. She needed to
talk to him. She always came to talk to him.
        She settled on the couch to wait. She flipped through the cable channels for a while.
Finding nothing worth watching, she switched off the TV, and eventually slipped into a light
doze. She wasn’t sure how long it was before she heard the key in the lock.
        He came in and headed for the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and retrieving a bottle
of water. He hesitated, peering into the fridge and then turning toward the living area.
        “Cassy, is that you?”
        “Hey, how’d you know I was here?”
        “There’s a beer missing. I didn’t see your car outside.”
        “Well, you certainly are observant, Thomas. The car's around the side, I don’t just
leave it on the street. Is my being here a problem?”
        “No, of course not. Are you here for a reason, or just slumming?”
        He settled beside her on the couch, tacking a swig of his own bottle, then turning to
look at her as he set the water on the coffee table and laid his arm on the back cushion behind
her.
        “I got a call from my sister Claudia this afternoon.”
        “And?”
        “My mom went to visit her.”
        “Can’t knock having more miles between you and the wonderful Evelyn," Tom quipped.
        “She got sick while she was there.”
        “Sick? Did Claudia say what was wrong?”
        “No, just that they’d taken her to the hospital for observation. Do you think I should
go?”
        “Did your sister ask you to come?”
        “No.”
        “Do you want to go?”
        “No,” Cassy whispered, unable to mask her distress any further.
        “Then don’t, Cass. I’m sure Claudia will call you if it’s anything serious. Then you can
decide what you want to do.”
        “I should go. I should want to go.”
        “You and your mother had it out before, Cassy. You told her you weren’t going to
dance anymore. Being sick doesn’t grant her any Brownie points.”
        “But she’s my mother.”
        “Then what are you going to do?”
        Cassy didn’t reply, but when she wasn’t able to suppress the first hiccup and sniff, Tom
let his hand fall to her shoulder, drawing her gently toward him. She moved into his embrace,
seeking the comfort and support he always offered her, and giving way to tears of frustration
and fear.


                                                                                              56
          It was several minutes before she could get herself under control again, and she was
content to just rest in his arms. It felt good, right. He seemed in no hurry to alter their
positions. “So, where were you all night, dressed to the nines, I might add?”
          “I had a date.”
          “With?”
          “Does it matter?”
          Cassy pulled away slightly so she could see his face. He wasn’t looking at her, and he
turned his attention to the bottle of water he’d retrieved from the coffee table. “Of course it
matters. We always kiss and tell, at least each other. What’s up, Thomas?”
          “I was out, with Rita.”
          “At this time of night?” she asked as she checked the digital read-out on the VCR.
          “That’s usually when one goes on a date.”
          “Well, I know that, but it’s usually you and the kid, I mean with Rita tagging along.”
          “A friend of hers gave her tickets to see the musical at the civic center. She asked me
if I’d like to go, it was Jolson, she knew I’d like the music. We left CJ at home with a sitter.”
          “I thought you were the resident babysitter?” she teased.
          “Resident being the operative word?” Tom jabbed back.
          “I didn’t mean that…I just meant…”
          “That’s all I am, the babysitter? I like Rita. She’s tough, but she’s…”
          “What?”
          “She’s not…”
          “What?” Cassy demanded pushing away from him. “She’s not what, Ryan?”
          “She has a soft side. She’s not afraid to…”
          “To what? Be all sappy and dewy-eyed? Not Jane Wayne like me, is that it? Go on
say it, she’s not a cold fish.”
          “Cass, don’t. I didn’t say that. I understand the way you are. It’s not your fault.”
          “The way I am! You understand, do you? So the great Rita Lorenzo is not above
playing ‘little woman’ to get what she wants. I thought she had more integrity than that. Did
she wear a green, slinky dress, Thomas?”
          “Yes, she wore a green dress. What of it?”
          “Didn’t take her long to come up with a reason,” Cassy mumbled to herself, then turned
back to Tom. “Can’t you see through her? She’s playing you like a violin.”
          “It’s not like that, she’s just…”
          “Fishing. And you’re just jumping right in the boat.”
          “Stop it.”
          “You don’t want to hear the truth? You never do. You never listen. You just go on
making a fool of yourself over anything that gets all teary-eyed at one of your songs. I’ll bet
she just sits there and purrs when you sing.”
          “Maybe you’d better go,” Tom sighed as he pulled his arm away from Cassy and
started to rise off the couch.
          “Don’t do this, Tom. Don’t let her do this. She’s looking for a father for that baby.”
          “What’s wrong with that?”
          “You like kids, so you’re perfect. She’ll just climb right up the career ladder on your
shoulders while you do kid watch.”
          “Don’t be ridiculous. She’s not like that.”
          “You are such a sap. You aren’t interested in her; all you want is the kid. Why don’t
you just go out and adopt your own? You don’t have to take her in the bargain. You’re just
being stupid.”


                                                                                               57
        “I’ve gotta get up early, Cass. Let’s call it a night. I’m not going to argue with you.”
        “You just don’t want to see. She’s been after you since the first day when she sat on
your desk. If she’d had a shorter skirt in her closet I bet she would have worn it if she’d known
she was going to run into you.”
        “That’s enough, I mean it.”
        “Oh, I’m scared. Big tough cop. Can’t see the nose in front of your face.”
        “Cassy, what is this all about? You’ve never cared before if I was seeing someone.”
        “I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”
        “Since when? You’re not bad at open-heart surgery, why should you care?”
        “I…you know I didn’t mean to…”
        “Hurt me? You should have thought of that a long time ago. Like the day you walked
out. Look, let’s not go back over all that. Just go, Cass. I’ll see you later.”
        “Are you throwing me out?” she asked as he pulled her forcibly up off the couch.
        “I guess I am.”
        “Fine. Just great, go ahead, be a fool. Just don’t come whining to me when you’re
sitting at home being Mr. Mom while she’s out running for police commissioner.”

                                                 ******

        Cassy was sitting at her desk on Monday morning, staring at nothing when the phone
rang. She grabbed it, relieved at the intrusion into her dark thoughts.
        “St. John,” she barked.
        “Cassy?” the familiar voice questioned.
        “Claudia? Is that you? What’s with this connection?” Cassy responded as she pushed
a finger into her other ear to try and help her hearing through the distorted telephone
reception.
        “Cassy, I’m on the cell phone. They just called me from the hospital. Mom’s had some
kind of attack. They’re not sure if it was a stroke, or what. I’m scared, Cassy. What if
something’s happened?”
        “Take it easy, sis. She’s a tough old bird. Nothing could hurt her.”
        “Don’t talk like that, this is serious. Can you come?” her sister questioned, and Cassy
could here the panic in her voice.
        “Okay, okay, calm down. I’ve got vacation coming. I’ll see what I can do.”
        “Thanks, sis. I don’t want to be here all alone if something happens.”
        “I’ll let you know, can I call your cell phone?”
        “I’ll keep it on, hurry, please.”
        Cassy dropped the phone back into its cradle and started to get up. She realized that
Tom was standing next to her. She hesitated. She had not seen him since their argument on
Saturday night. She was not sure of his mood.
        “Your mom?” he asked, and she heard the concern.
        “Evidently she’s taken some kind of turn. Claudia wants me to come. Do you have a
problem with that?”
        “No, everything is finished on the Lambert thing. It’s probably a good time. Go, play
big sister.”
        “Thanks. Listen, about Saturday night, I’m…”
        “Forget it, Cassy. You want me to drive you to the airport? Then you won’t have to
leave the Boxter here or in long-term parking.”
        “That would be great. Let me check in about taking the time with….”


                                                                                               58
       “Rita,” Tom supplied with a smile.
       “The chief,” Cassy corrected, as she returned his smile.

                                                  ******

        Cassy managed to get a last minute flight out, and Tom drove her home and waited
while she packed. From there he drove her to the airport where she refused his offer to come
in with her, waiving him off from the temporary-parking zone in front of the airport. He
watched her in the rearview mirror as she gathered her bag and entered the airport. He was
glad they had made up. He didn’t like it when they argued.
        She had agreed to let him drive the Porsche in exchange for his pickup duties. He
dropped the car down a gear and accelerated as he pulled into the freeway traffic. As he
reached again for the stick, his hand connected with a bottle of hand cream. He moved it out
from under the gearshift, recognizing it as the kind that Cassy used. Then when he reached
to turn on the stereo, he encountered a fingernail file in the tray in front of the control panel.
He laid it along side the tube on the other seat. All her stuff, he thought. She’s always worn
this perfume, he remembered as he reached for the hand cream to inspect the container.
        He wheeled the car into a faster lane, flexing its horsepower muscles. He smiled as he
thought of her behind the wheel of this machine. It was how she liked things, fast, powerful,
and controllable his mind added. “Always in control, Cass. That’s what I love about you. It
also drives me nuts,” he acknowledged. “If you could just get a handle on this thing with your
mother, you might have a chance for a life; maybe we would have had a chance,” he added.
“Dump ‘em before they dump you, that’s your attitude, babe. I thought you trusted me
more…I don’t know how to make you trust me enough, Cass. I tried. I really did. I just can
never seem to break through all the walls you’ve built around yourself to keep your mom's
kind of pain out.”
        He returned to the precinct, sitting at his desk to put on the finishing touches to the
extra narrative the District Attorney had asked for on the recent case. He was about to take
the file to Alexander’s office when Rita and Harry entered the squad room laughing.
        “Are you sure about this Harry?” Rita chuckled, smiling as they started down the steps.
        “You think we can’t handle it? Frannie is beside herself.”
        “What’s up?” Tom inquired as he rose to meet them.
        “Harry and Frannie are taking CJ for the night,” Rita replied with a shake of her head.
        “It’s time we got to know our Godson better.”
        “He’ll have a ball, Rita,” Tom replied.
        “I know he will. But I’m the one that will have to spend the next day with him throwing
up after he eats all those chocolate chip cookies.”
        “Are you insinuating that Frannie and I don’t know how to take care of a three-year
old?” Harry exclaimed with indignation.
        “Oh, no, you have so many of your own,” Rita jabbed back. Her rejoinder was met with
silence, and Tom watched the unintentional verbal dagger take the wind out of the captain’s
sails.
        “I’m sorry, Harry,” Rita immediately continued. “You know I didn’t mean…listen, I know
you’re going to be great,” she assured him as she placed a gentle hand on his arm. “You’ve
got his overnight bag. I’ve told the daycare you’re picking him up. He’s so excited. You’ll
have a great time, I know it.”
        The captain perked up, and acknowledged her gesture with a hug. Rita watched him
stride into his office and then turned back to Tom.


                                                                                                59
       “That wasn’t one of my brighter comments,” she said. “So did Cassy get off?” she
asked when all she got was a sympathetic look.
       “Yeah, I dropped her earlier. Now I’ve got to figure out how to get her car back to the
safety of the secured parking at her condo. If I leave it on the streets at my place, it’ll be
stripped down before I can get the alarm activated,” he laughed.
       “You need a ride?”
       “If you could. I just need to drop the Porsche and get back here to pick up my car.”
       “At your disposal. As you just saw, I’m a free woman for the night.”
       “You want to do dinner?” he asked innocently.
       “It is my turn, isn’t it? Okay. It’s a…”
       “Date.” Tom supplied.
       “You never give up, do you,” she replied laughing.


       They took Cassy’s car back to her apartment, and then stood together in front of her
building.
       “What do you feel like?” she asked when Tom had joined her beside her car.
       “Doesn’t matter, anything’s fine.”
       “Well then, would you celebrate with me?”
       “What are we celebrating?”
       “I got the house,” Rita announced dangling the key ring with the single house key
attached.
       “The beach house? That sure was fast. Good for you.”
       “Well actually, escrow doesn’t close for two more weeks, but the owner’s husband had
already transferred to the West Coast. She couldn’t wait to get out, so I’m renting until
everything is done. I haven’t even started moving yet, but how about we get take-out and
check it out?” she suggested.
       “Chinese?”
       “I love Chinese. Asian Garden?”
       “You read my mind. I tell you what, take me back to get my car; I’ll go home and
change, then I’ll meet you there in say an hour? I’ll bring the beverage.”
       “It’s a deal. What do you like?”
       “Anything. Don’t forget chopsticks. Make it an hour and a half, I’ve got an errand to
run,” he added as he climbed in to the passenger side of her car.


        Tom drew up in front of the condo, retrieved a brown grocery bag from the rear of the
Mustang, and walked to the slightly ajar front door of the beach house. He knocked gently,
but the only response was the further swinging open of the door. He continued into the large
entrance area, stopping at the three steps that led down into the now empty interior of the long
living/dining area encompassing the length of the house in front of him. The setting sun
streamed in through the entire east wall of the large open room, reflecting a golden glow from
the hardwood floor of the great room. He smiled, feeling the inviting atmosphere of the place.
Then he turned back toward the kitchen area to his right.
        There was a large cardboard box on the sink under the window that looked out to the
street side of the house. He set his bag down alongside, stopping to inhale the aroma from
the white cartons inside. Then he turned and walked back to the living room, jogging down



                                                                                                 60
the steps to the main floor and proceeding out the open French doors onto the deck. As he
reached the rail, he saw her down by the water’s edge.
        She’d changed into another of the long, brightly colored pleated skirts she seemed to
like for leisure wear, topped by a light blue, three-quarter length sleeved blouse. He could tell
by the way it gathered into folds at her waist, that it was probably tied together in the front.
His suspicion was confirmed when she turned back. The top two buttons of the garment were
unbuttoned, drawing his eye down to the shirttails that crossed at her waist. She was holding
her shoes, and she raised one arm to shield her eyes from the reflection of the sun in the wall
of glass behind him as she looked at the deck. The gentle ocean breeze ruffled her hair
around her face and her skirt around her angles as she began to move back toward the
house.
        Not good form to ogle one’s boss, he kidded himself as the very unbusinesslike
emotions flitted across his mind. But that was exactly what he was doing as he watched her
walk slowly across the sand. She was a tough lady but beautiful, in a softer way than Cassy.
And why are we comparing her with Cassy? he questioned himself. Cassy is just as smart,
and gorgeous, but only on the outside. Inside she’s a mess, and you know it, he answered
himself. With Cass everything is a competition. I’m getting tired of always being on trial, and
feeling like I have to defend myself for being a member of the male race. No that’s probably
not fair, its not just men; she doesn’t trust anybody. I may understand why, but I’m tired of
waiting and hoping she’s going to get over it. I’m tired of being on the defensive all the time.
This lady has her problems too, but at least I’m not the source of all of them. He continued to
watch as Rita walked across the sand toward him. As if in confirmation of his thoughts, she
looked up at him again and smiled; she was just glad he was there, not challenging his
motives, his very right to breath the air.
        Rita reached the steps, and Tom moved to meet her as she climbed to the deck.
“Smells wonderful in there, what did you get?” he asked.
        “A little bit of everything, I think. I just kept saying one of those, and some of that. We
do have a problem, though.”
        “What’s wrong?”
        “The lights. They were supposed to turn the lights on this afternoon. I called, but
evidently they didn’t get to it.”
        “No problem, I am prepared,” he responded dramatically, as he took her arm and
steered her back into the house. They walked slowly through the shadows of the gathering
evening, reaching the kitchen. Tom moved ahead and began to rummage in the bag he had
brought. He turned back toward her, holding a tall candle. “Let there be light,” he quipped,
then turned and lit the candle from the stove beside him. “Good thing you’ve got gas. They
never turn that off, just swap names. But – here we are,” he proclaimed, as he rustled in the
brown bag once more and produced an empty wine bottle. He inserted the candle in the
bottle and placed it on the counter beside the stove. “So unpack, I want to see what you got,”
he directed.
        Rita turned to the box on the counter by the kitchen sink and began to sort out the
cartons, removing them one-by-one. She recited the names of each one, finally reaching the
plates and utensils at the bottom. When she turned back there was another bottle on the
counter behind her, and two tall-stemmed glasses.
        “What did you bring?”
        “Champagne. It’s a house-warming, right?”
        “You can’t drink champagne with Chinese food,” she teased.



                                                                                                 61
        “I know, that’s why I brought this,” he replied as he pulled a large, square gift box out of
the bottom of the bag. He handed her the offering, and leaned back against the counter to
watch her open it.
        She fumbled with the tightly tucked in flaps of the box, then began to pull out the
shredded paper that shielded the treasure inside. The first thing she saw was a black curved
handle, then the top of something stainless steel. The candle reflected off the shiny surface
as she pulled the teakettle from the box. The tip of the spout was wrapped in white paper,
and she pulled it gently off. The whistling mechanism was not the usual black-handled cap,
but instead the lever-operated opener was topped with a golden Chinese dragon. Rita simply
stared at it, then looked up at Tom.
        “Where did you find this? It’s adorable.”
        “Wait till you see him hiss,” Tom advised, taking the teakettle from her and moving to
the sink to fill it. He was like a kid with a new toy as he returned the kettle to the stove and
turned it on. He retrieved tea bags and two blue porcelain teacups from the same gift box, all
the while watching the golden dragon out of the corner of his eye.
        It took only minutes for the water to boil, and Rita laughed out loud as the white steam
escaped through the nostrils of the tiny figure, creating the usual shrieking demand for
attention.
        “I love it,” she declared. “Do you have one of these?”
        “Nah, I got one for my mom, but I don’t think it’s…I mean it’s kind of….”
        “Not a guy thing,” Rita interjected, laughing. “How did you know I needed one?”
        “I noticed that old, white enameled thing you had at your apartment. It was all chipped,
and the top was bent. I hope it wasn’t some kind of family heirloom or something.”
        “No, actually the kitchen is furnished, just like the rest of the place. It’s not mine. This
is perfect.”
        “Well, shall we eat out on the deck?” Tom asked.
        “Outside? We’ll get eaten ourselves.”
        “Nope, prepared for that too,” he responded as he pulled one more thing from the
grocery bag. He set the miniature, green metal pail on the sink. “Bugs beware,” he
commanded as he took the already burning candle and lit the citronella version inside the
small container.
        They returned the dinner cartons and utensils to the box, and Tom retrieved the bug
repellent container as headed out onto the deck. Rita followed, carrying the teakettle and the
wine bottle and candle. Tom stopped to balance the utilitarian candleholder on the deck rail,
and then set everything else down in the center of the open deck. Rita set the candle
between them and sat cross-legged across from him. They unpacked the food box, and as
Rita piled portions of each container onto their plates, Tom poured water into the two teacups.
He took the food she handed him, and then raised his cup toward her. Rita reached for hers,
and raised it to accept his toast.
        “I’m sure there should be some appropriate Chinese blessing here, but I didn’t have
time to ask Mr. Wong,” he smiled. “So, happy housewarming.”
        “Mr. Wong, from the gift store out by the pier? How did you get all the way to your
place, out there, and back here that fast?”
        “Actually, I didn’t. I went from the precinct to the pier.”
        “But you changed,” she commented. Once again taking in the casual clothes she’d
noticed when she’d first seen him on the deck. The comfortably faded jeans were quite
pleasantly attractive on his long-legged body, and the soft blue/green pullover shirt had turned
his eyes a misty gray/green. For a moment she stared, mesmerized, across their raised


                                                                                                  62
hands as she watched the soft candlelight reflected in the color that even now seemed to shift
as the evening got darker.
        “I had clothes in the car,” he broke her preoccupation as he touched his cup to hers.
They sipped the still steaming beverage together, and then turned to the food. They managed
to polish off all of the various boxes of treats, ending by dipping their fortune cookies in the
last of their tea. “What’s yours say?” Rita asked as Tom pulled out his fortune after biting off
half of the cookie.
        “It says ‘do not let the past decide the future’. Very cryptic. How about yours?”
        “Oh,” Rita exclaimed. “It’s blank. That must be bad.”
        “Maybe it just means you get to make your own future. No predictions, it’s all in your
hands.”
        “If you say so,” she laughed. “So, what do you think? You want to check out the rest?
I know you’ve seen it, but I have so many ideas of what I’d like to do.”
        Tom agreed, and they gathered the remains of their picnic. Rita blew out the citronella
candle and then shielded the flame of the other with one hand as she carried the wine bottle
inside. Tom carried everything else, moving past her when she stopped in front of the living
room fireplace. He deposited the trash in the grocery bag and placed the kettle on the stove.
Then he joined her as she started toward the hall at the end of the living room.
        “This will be CJ’s room,” she indicated the first bedroom on the right-hand side of the
hall. It shares the bath with the other bedroom. I’m going to make that a study-library room,
maybe with a bed for a guest. “But I really love this room,” she commented as she crossed to
the master bedroom that ran the rest of the length on the beachside of the house. There was
a wall of glass here, too, now allowing the rising moon to reflect off of the ocean to gently
illuminate the empty room. “I love the fireplace, I can imagine just lying here with the sound of
the ocean and a fire in winter…not that we have a lot of winter in Florida, but there are days,”
she smiled. She moved farther into the room to stand beside the smaller version of the living
room hearth, staring out the windows toward the sea. “They told me the house is stressed for
a second floor, so I could add more if I ever decide I need it. Maybe someday I’ll put a suite
up there for CJ so he can have some privacy when he’s older.” She finally realized she was
carrying on a very one-sided conversation, and turned back toward the room, almost
extinguishing the tiny source of light she still held. He had stopped in the door.
        “Tom?” she inquired softly. “Is something wrong?”
        He didn’t answer; instead he stepped into the room toward her. He took the candle and
placed it on the mantel beside them. For a moment they stood, only inches apart, then he
reached for her. She went into his arms, circling her hands around him as his head lowered
and his mouth claimed hers.
        He straightened, his hands moving gently up and down her back as she leaned against
him. “You might need room for other things,” he commented softly.
        “Other things? Like what?”
        “Oh I don’t know, maybe someday more little Lorenzos running around.”
        “Lorenzos? I love my kid, but I’m not sure I’m totally dedicated to single-parenthood. I
think I’d prefer any additional small additions to have a different last name,” she laughed.
        “So you're not opposed to the idea.”
        “Of more kids? I love being a mom. Chris and I talked about having a couple. I was
an only, and I didn’t want that for my son.”
        “Families are nice,” he commented.
        “If they’re made up of the right people. I’m not sure Cassy would agree with you on
that point,” she joked.


                                                                                               63
        “Yeah, that’s for sure,” he answered as he released her and retrieved the candle from
the fireplace. “We should probably get going.”
        Rita watched as he turned away from her, surprised that the mention of his ex-wife had
so thoroughly dampened the mood. Cassy’s dysfunctional family had been one of the recent
topics of conversation between her and Harry in his got-to-know-your-people-Lorenzo
campaign. She regretted letting the subject come up as she followed the retreating light
source back to the living room.
        He was standing by the French doors, looking out over the moonlit beach. She
searched for something to say to dispel the sudden gloom. “Have you decided about the
vibes yet? You never did say if they were right.”
        He turned back toward her and didn’t answer at first, then he smiled. “Definitely good.
Color green everywhere.”
        “Green?”
        “I dated a girl that was into the psychic stuff for awhile. She explained the color of
auras to me quite thoroughly. Green is good.”
        “Well I’m glad,” she said, relieved that he had apparently recovered his good mood.
For a minute they just stood in silence. Rita realized that she was going to have to take the
next step. Unlike most of the guys who had come on to her when they found out she was
single, this one was not going to push the relationship. She hesitated, then made her
decision. She wanted a life, to get on with the living. She didn’t want to do it alone. He had
made her open some doors, and she didn’t want to walk through them alone.
        “You know, we won’t be able to drive home if we drink that champagne. We should
probably save it for another time, when there’s a couch or something comfortable to sit on,”
she finally said.
        “Or we could take it somewhere else,” he answered softly.
        “Where did you have in mind, Mr. Ryan?” Rita asked.
        “Well, there’s your place, but that’s clear across town. Then there’s my place. It’s only
about fifteen minutes from here.”
        “If I go to your place and have champagne, I won’t be able to drive home,” Rita
extended her argument.
        “That’s true,” he agreed as he crossed to her and once more claimed her lips with his.

                                                 ******

        The morning symphony of cooing doves and crying gulls, combined with the steady
drumbeat of his heart against her right ear, woke her gently. He lay on his side; she lay on
her back, tucked up against his chest; her head pillowed on his left arm. His right arm lay
gently along side her own across her stomach, as if to assure she wouldn’t slip away. She
turned her head slightly, and let her gaze travel down the arm beneath her until her eyes
settled on his fingers.
        Something was wrong. She stared at his hand, until her fuzzy thoughts zeroed in on
what she’d noticed. There was no ring on his finger. She sucked in a lung full of air as the
morning haze of sleep fled from her mind and memory returned. Quelling the instinctive urge
to flee from his embrace, she acknowledged that this was not her husband, nor her own bed.
        She turned her head back to stare at the ceiling, and felt his soft breath caress her
temple. She didn’t want him to wake. She just wanted to savor the peace and the
contentment. She hadn’t been held in so long. She closed her eyes and let the music of the
morning float around her; then she sighed deeply.


                                                                                               64
        It woke him.
        His right hand slid gently across her stomach, the fingers twining with her own. He
brushed the top of her head with a light kiss. “Mor’nin,” his deep velvety voice whispered.
        For one more moment she let herself be lost in the security and comfort of his embrace
before she opened her eyes. The reality that came with the morning light pierced her haze of
tranquility. She should not have let this happen.
        She turned her head to stare into his hazel eyes, more of a soft warm brown this early
in the morning. She could read the desire in them. If she moved her head only a fraction, she
could kiss him. But she knew what that would start. She closed her eyes again to block out
the look of on his face, turned her head away, and reached up with her left hand to brush her
fingers down the arm that had apparently been her pillow for a good portion of the night.
“Your arm must be dead,” she said softly, running her hand from his elbow to his wrist.
        He pulled gently on her right hand, encouraging her to turn toward him. For a moment
she considered accepting his silent demand, but then she thought better of it. Instead, she
swung her legs out of the bed, and sat up, pulling the sheet gently around her body. She
thought about trying to retrieve her blouse that lay in a heap some distance from the bed, but
the absurdity of needing modesty after spending the night with nothing between them made
her smile, and she started to stand. When she tried to tug her captive hand free, he held it for
a moment, and then he released her. She knew his eyes followed her as she padded across
the bare floor to the bathroom, but she didn’t look back.
        She returned a few minutes later, wrapped in the blue robe she found on the back of
the bathroom door. He was sitting up; his back propped against the headboard. He held out
his right hand and she took it in her left, sitting beside him on the edge of the bed with her feet
curled up under her.
        “Are you okay?” he asked softly, giving her hand a gentle tug.
        Still resisting his invitation to lie back down beside him, she finally raised her eyes to
meet his.
        “I’m fine,” she replied with a small smile.
        He leaned forward even as he pulled her to him, and gave her a soft kiss on the mouth,
then leaned back against the headboard, giving her his lopsided grin. He released her hand,
accepting her decision to withdraw.
         “You’ll have to start breakfast,” he said.
        “Why?” she rejoined. “You’re the gourmet cook.”
        “Cause my arm is dead!” he chuckled. “It could take hours for the feeling to return.”
        Smiling, she punched him playfully in the shoulder. Swinging her feet back to the floor,
she strode to the kitchen. She began to rifle through the refrigerator and cabinets, looking for
inspiration. Behind her, she heard the bedclothes rustle as he moved to the bathroom, but
she resisted the temptation to turn and watch him as he had her.
        A few minutes later, he walked back and took a seat on one of the barstools. “What
are you fixing?”
        “All I could find on such short notice was stuff for pancakes,” she laughed. “But I didn’t
know if you wanted to eat right away. I thought you might want to do your running thing
before breakfast.”
        “You wouldn’t mind? I’d like to, before it gets too hot. But I can do it tomorrow.”
        “No, go ahead, I’ll take a shower,” she agreed as she turned and offered him a glass of
juice. You said you usually do a couple of hours on a weekend?”
        “Is that how long you need to take a shower?” he quipped.
        “Only on a bad hair day.”


                                                                                                 65
       “Well, then I better make it quick,” he replied, reaching out to twine a finger into the
brown riot that was her long, silky hair. “Will you be here when I get back?”
       She met his warm, questioning gaze and smiled.
       “I’ll be here.”
       His face lit up with a boyish grin and he tugged gently on her hair, pulling her head
toward him for one more kiss.
       “Back in a flash,” he promised as he moved away.
       She watched, smiling, as he retrieved his running shoes from under the couch, sitting
for a moment to lace them up.
       “Don’t get lost,” she admonished as she moved toward the bathroom.


      She heard the phone ring as she toweled her hair, and hurried to snatch it up.
      “Tom Ryan’s,” she answered hesitantly.
      “Tom Ryan…what…how did I get this number? Who is this?”
      Oh my God, it’s Harry, Rita stared at the phone. “It’s…it’s Rita, Harry.”
      “Rita? I thought I called your number?”
      “I’m sure you did, Harry. I put my phone on forward to this number. I wasn’t at home,”
she replied mischievously
      “You weren’t at…what are you doing at…? Oh…” the captain finally wound down.
      There was a moment of silence, and Rita could visualize the expression on Harry’s
face. The she laughed, taking pity on her boss. “What do you need, Cap?” she asked.
      “It’s CJ.”
      “What!” she exclaimed, all banter gone from her voice. “Is something wrong? What’s
happened, is he sick, did he hurt himself…?”
      “Rita, it’s all right. He just keeps talking about ‘it’s time to go get sticky buns.’ I figured
he meant that place at the pier, but he wants to go with Mom. I think he’s a little homesick,
and that maybe his first outing on his own has gone on long enough.”
      “Oh,” Rita unconsciously mimicked Harry’s earlier response.
      “Can you come get him?”
      “Sure, Harry. Just let me get dressed, I’ll be right there,” she answered distractedly.
“Harry?” she questioned when her answer was met with silence.
      “I hope you know what you’re doing, Lorenzo,” he ended the conversation.
      She stood staring at the dead phone. Finally hanging up, her attention was drawn to
the paper and pencil on the counter beside the telephone. She remembered sitting on the
couch last night writing down lyrics for Tom after she’d rummaged around looking for
something to capture his inspiration. I should never have let him sing, she thought as the
images from the night before played out in her mind.


       She drove her own car back to his apartment. He had offered to drive and bring her
back whenever she wanted to come. It was probably a silly statement of independence; there
wasn’t much doubt where this evening was going to end. He’d taken her up on her unspoken,
but very clear offer. But there was still the need to be able to walk away, on her own terms, in
her own time. She felt the butterflies stir in the pit of her stomach as she parked the car and
turned to join him where he waited at the front of his building.




                                                                                                    66
        He put the champagne in the freezer to cool. Rita settled on the couch, and reached
for the sheets of paper strewn on the coffee table. Before she could even get a look at what
was on them, he’d whisked them out of her hands.
        “You don’t want to read that stuff,” he said.
        “I do so, what are they?” she protested, reaching for one remaining sheet on the table.
        “They’re just…”
        “They’re your songs!” she exclaimed as she began to read the poetry on the one sheet
she’d captured. “I thought Cassy was kidding, but you do write songs. Let me read them,”
she teased.
        “Nah, they’re stupid.”
        “Well then sing me one,” she demanded, settling back on the couch.
        For a moment he just stood in front of her, staring down at the rumpled papers in his
hands. “You promise you won’t laugh?”
        “I promise,” she replied, raising her hand in her best imitation of the Girl Scout salute.
He laid the pile of handwritten notes back on the table and retrieved his guitar from the corner
of the room, then settled down on the floor across the table from her.
        The first one was sad and lonely. He’d only started on the second verse when she
began to see that the words had a target. He was singing about himself.

                                No one really cares about you
                       and cries themselves to sleep at night
                               no one's gonna hold your hand
                       and make this ruined world seem right
                            No one's breaking down my door
                                               976 is how I score
                                       love is lost in neon lights
                       and bitter faith mocks sleepless nights
                                No one calls me on the phone
                                              just to see if I'm ok
                            got no queen to grace my songs
                                    and no one listens anyway

       He finished, smiling, until he turned toward her and saw the look on her face. The
smile vanished and she knew that he recognized her understanding. She hadn’t meant to
make him uncomfortable.
       “Do you write all your lyrics?” she asked, trying to cover the awkward moment.
       “Usually. Sometimes I steal something someone says or does. My mom used to make
us do that when we were kids. She’s start a song about something stupid like the forks feeling
lonely without the knife and the spoon on the table,” he smiled. “Then she’d make us finish
the story. It was a game we played all the time, especially in the car. Even dad would do it.”
       “You just filled in the blanks,” She laughed.
       “That’s about it.”
       “Can I try?”
       “I guess.”
       “Okay, two guys sitting in a blue Mustang,” she began.
       “Headed for the beach and the Friday night gang,” he added.
       As the song got longer and longer, they had trouble remembering the words. She’d
climbed over the arm of the couch at his direction to search on the small desk for paper and


                                                                                                 67
pencil. They were both laughing as the rhyming got more and more ridiculous, and Tom
finally admitted defeat when he couldn’t counter her last contribution.
        “Ready for champagne?” he asked. “If I leave it in the freezer too much longer, it’ll
burst.”
        Rita nodded, and watched as he rose and moved into the kitchen to retrieve the chilled
beverage and the glasses. He brought them to the table, settling once more on the floor as he
popped the cork and filled each glass. She licked the overflow from hers, and then took a
healthy gulp.
        “This is good. I don’t recognize the brand.”
        “It’s a new California label. The guy at the little local store recommends it. He knows
his stuff.”
        They clinked glasses gently. “Here’s to your new house,” he saluted her. “May it be
filled with dreams come true.”
        For a while they just sipped the sparkling beverage, then he reached again for the
guitar. Soft words of love this time about a new house and the family that was going to
occupy it. The love of two people, shared with their children. She listened, fascinated as the
words just flowed, then reached for the pad of paper beside her on the couch and began to
write.

                                      Can't say it's been easy
                                no guiding light from above
                      seems like centuries came and went
                                 waiting for the perfect love
                                But now that I've found you
                                    nothing seems the same
                      there's still life's little toils and strifes
                    but they mean nothing since you came
                          Thought there'd never be a family
                               but you took away my curse
                 we weathered through the twos and threes
                    who'd have guessed teens were worse

                              But it's always been a blessing
                          even in the deepest depths of rage
                            I'm warmed inside by something
                                  when it's war on life I wage
                                                      with you
                                                      with you

       He seemed to have forgotten she was there, lost in his inspiration, then he looked up.
He laid aside the guitar and rose, pulling her to her feet. They moved around behind the
couch and he drew her into his arms to dance as he continued his story until his fictional
family was once more a couple, and the two sat together on the deck of the house, looking out
over the ocean, reliving their lives.


                            Now fleeting eons passed us by
                       the house is paid and kids are grown


                                                                                             68
                          through all the trials of parenthood
                        never thought we'd dread to be alone

                         But you've always been my blessing
                               as we're dragged into old age
                               All my songs of life for singing
                             have been written on each page
                                                      with you.

        At some point he stopped singing, merely humming. She savored the sensation of the
sound as her head rested against his chest. The dance stopped when they bumped up
against the end of the bed. She looked up, and he kissed her tenderly. She tugged gently on
the back of his shirt, already partially free from the waistband of his jeans. Once released,
she slipped her hands under the soft material and gently traced a path up both sides of his
spine with the tips of her fingernails. Her hands moved slowly up his back until they reached
his shoulders, drawing the shirt up with them. He broke his embrace to raise his arms and
finish pulling the shirt over his head, and then his hands fell to the buttons on the front of her
shirt.
        “I don’t have a nightgown,” she whispered distractedly, as her fingers moved to assist
him.
        “Is that what you usually wear?”
        “No, usually just an old shirt or tee shirt,” she continued, unable to stop the building
nervousness that even the champagne couldn’t mask.
        His fingers finished their job and tugged the shirttails of her blouse free from the knot at
her waist. “I can offer you one, if you really want it.”
        For a moment she couldn’t answer. Between responses to her apprehensive
comments, his mouth continued to play havoc with her senses as he kissed her neck; then
nuzzled her ear, ending up reclaiming her mouth. His lips were soft against hers, exploring,
seeking.
        “I suppose not,” she murmured. “It’s just…it’s been a long time…I….” His lips silenced
her as he gently pushed the blouse off her shoulders. His hands slid down her arms until the
garment dropped to the floor and his fingers entwined with hers. He drew her hands up and
placed them against his chest as he kissed her yet again. She was lost. The mental haze of
sensation rippled through her body; her temporary reluctance wiped away as he drew her
down to the bed.


       “Quit it, Rita,” she declared, dragging her thoughts from the previous night. She
collected her clothes from the chair beside the bed, and tried to compose a note to leave him,
wondering what had happened to the words she’d written on this pad the night before. He’ll
understand, he’s so good with Chris Jr. It won’t be a problem, she tried to assure herself.
She didn’t know how to word her message. She wasn’t the love note type, and she still wasn’t
sure how to exactly describe their relationship. She settled for the facts, telling him that Harry
had called, that CJ wanted her, and that she’d call him. It sounded cold. She propped the
folded note on the counter and stood staring at it. Should I say more? I don’t know what to
say. Had a great time! Great sex! I wish I could talk to him.
       She gathered her purse and keys, glad that she had insisted on driving her own car last
night. For a moment she hesitated in the doorway, wishing that she didn’t have to go, that she


                                                                                                  69
could be there when he returned. She wanted to call back. Maybe if she talked to Chris
herself, she could convince him to stay with the captain. She actually took a step toward the
phone.
       “What am I doing?” she questioned in horror. “He’s my son, and he needs me.” Filled
with maternal guilt, she shook her head to banish the personal need, and turned and left the
apartment.


       Tom extended his run right up to the front door of the apartment. He stopped for a
moment and leaned his hand against the door jam to catch his breath. He opened the door
and entered, suspicion gnawing at his consciousness. She said she’d be there.
       The apartment was quiet. No smell of coffee brewing greeted his nose. There were no
plates on the counter.
       She was gone.
       “Damn,” he swore as he strode into the room. Then he saw the note propped against
the phone on the counter.

                                                 ******

       He was at his desk on Monday when the Chief of Detectives approached.
       “Tom?” Rita questioned.
       He looked up, a blank look on his face.
       “We’ve got a customer over on the palisade. Do you want to work it with me while
Cassy’s gone?”
       He didn’t answered for a minute, then he sighed. “Sure, why not.”
       “Are you upset with me?”
       “Why should I be upset?”
       “I was going to call you Sunday, but Chris Jr.….”
       “You didn’t have to call, Rita.”
       “I kind of got caught up with CJ. I think he was a little apprehensive about my leaving
him again. He seemed to need reassurance that I was staying home and…but I tried to
explain in my note.”
       “I guess ‘gotta go, duty calls’ wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but you’ve got other
responsibilities. I know where I stand,” he cut in with just a touch of petulance in his voice.
       Fine, she thought. That’s the way you want to play it. So much for understanding my
position. I guess I made a big mistake, here.
       Tom listened to the description of the homicide that had been called in as the two
headed for a car in the parking lot and then drove to the scene.


        “What’cha got? “ he asked, moving to stand beside Rita as she bent over the partially
clad, female body on the ground in front of her.
        She didn’t look up; keeping her gaze focused on the victim.
        “White, female, age 28. Her purse is over there. ID and everything still inside.”
        Tom leaned past her to reach for the brown handbag. His hand unintentionally brushed
her hair, and he stepped sideways as if he’d been burned. Retrieving the purse he turned
away from her and began to sift through the items in the bag.



                                                                                               70
       Rita pulled the yellow sheet over the battered body and maintained her position a
moment longer? Assuming her best professional mask, she rose and joined her partner as he
examined what little evidence had been found.
       “See anything I didn’t?” she asked.
       “I doubt it” Tom replied with a trace of defensive sarcasm.
       Rita swallowed a corresponding belligerent retort and raised her eyes to meet his gaze.
They weren’t brown any more, now they were flinty gray in the foggy morning daylight. She
turned away to talk to the medical examiner.


        Harry looked up as Tom and Rita entered his office. They both met his stare without
flinching, daring him to comment. He wished that these two would get their lives figured out.
He made a mental note to call Frannie and tell her how much he loved her. Snapping out of
his perusal of the younger people in front of him, he waved them to the chairs in front of his
desk.
        “You’ll leave better instructions for the babysitter next time, I presume?” he addressed
Rita.
        “Won’t happen again, Cap'n”, she replied bitterly.
        Lipschitz glared at her. That wasn’t what I meant and you know it,” he almost shouted
at her.
        “What is going on?” Tom demanded, looking back and forth between the two.
        “Nothing”, Rita replied, cutting him off. “Tell Harry what we’ve got so far.”
        Tom looked at her for a moment and then turned to Harry. He described the crime
scene and the identifying items they had found on the young woman’s body.
        “Any ideas?” the captain snapped at him.
        “Not yet, Harry!” Tom replied with surprise.
        “Okay, well get on it,” the captain chided, waving the pair out of the room.
        Tom opened the door to let Rita leave and turned back to look quizzically at his boss.
But Harry had already picked up the phone. Tom heard him say “Frannie” as he closed the
door.
        “What’s got him all riled up already this morning?” he questioned Rita. “What was
going on between you two?”
        “Let it go, Tom. It’s nothing. I just forgot some procedural thing.” Rita replied, sitting in
Cassy’s chair.
        Plopping into his own chair, Tom leaned on his desk, a feigned look of horror on his
face.
        “You, Miss Administrator, forgot a rule?” he exclaimed.
        “I got distracted, all right!” Rita snapped at him. “Will you just let it drop!”
        Tom shifted back to sit squarely on his chair. He surveyed his partner’s face. “Fine”,
he replied, raising his hands in surrender. “Let me know if you need back-up” he quipped.
        Glowering at him, Rita turned away and began tagging the items she’d dumped on
Cassy’s desk, passing each piece of evidence over to Tom for him to look at. They spent the
morning confirming ID, investigating background information on the victim, and verifying
employment and addresses. They also began placing inquiries out for next of kin.
        Rita interrupted the uncomfortable silence between them, first with the grumbling of her
stomach, and the to inquire if he wanted to go get lunch.
        “Sure, why not,” Tom replied, throwing down the address book he’d been checking
through.


                                                                                                   71
        The pair went outside to the catering truck, and decided to stay to enjoy the sun that
had finally burned through the morning haze. Rita bought her usual bottled water and veggie
sandwich, while Tom ordered a sub sandwich and milk. She smiled as she watched him
weigh the wilted lettuce and slightly stale bread against his gourmet training.
        “We could go down to the deli if you want,” she stated sympathetically.
        “No, it’s okay,” he answered. “I’m not really hungry.” He then proceeded to wolf down
the sandwich and return to the truck for chocolate chip cookies to wash down with the milk.
        After lunch they wandered down to the coroner’s office.
        “Hey, Doc,“ Tom greeted the room’s occupant nervously, looking sideways at the
interior of the cold place. Rita chuckled. Cassy had told her about Tom’s lack of appreciation
for the medical examiner’s domain.
        “Good morning Ryan, Lieutenant,” the M.E. intoned.
        “Anything yet, Morton?” Rita asked.
        “She was sexually assaulted. There are rope burns on her wrists and ankles. Based
on a preliminary exam, I would ascertain she was tied at the time of the attack.”
        Rita shivered. Tom must have noticed, because he placed a hand on her shoulder.
Unconsciously she leaned against him a bit. A brief flash of the night in his arms caused a
wave of sadness to wash over her as she mentally compared the evening before to this girl's
last night. The only restraints on her wrists had been Tom’s gentle fingers, not the horror of
stinging ropes.
        “Any idea on cause of death?” Tom asked.
        “Not yet, Ryan. I would guess she was strangled from the marks on her throat, but
there are still lab findings out. I’ll let you know when those are back, and if anything else
strange pops up.”
        Tom steered Rita back upstairs and to her office.
        “You all right?” he questioned, as she settled in her chair.
        “”Yea, I just couldn’t help…” Rita started as she realized what she’d been about to say.
        “What?” Tom asked.
        “Nothing, Nothing.”
        Before Tom could press her, the phone on his desk rang and he moved away to
answer it.
        “Anything?” Rita asked as she approached his desk when he hung up.
        “Got a next of kin. Mother lives out of town a ways.”
        “I’ll tell Harry,” Rita stated, turning to let the captain know where they were headed.


        The next few hours were not the favorite part of the job for either of them. The woman,
Mrs. Anderson, identified the pictures they brought and agreed to go to the morgue to identify
the body. Other questions about Lisa Moran, now identified as her daughter, revealed little for
the two detectives to go on. She sounded like a pretty normal person: job, friends, liked to
sail, amicably divorced. They left with the name of her ex husband who lived out of state, and
a list of acquaintances and favorite haunts. All things to check out that would probably lead to
nothing.
        “I don’t know why, I just keep feeling like I know her from somewhere. I can’t pin it
down. It just keeps flickering on the edge of my mind, you know?” Tom commented once they
were back at the precinct.




                                                                                               72
       “It’ll come to you, just don’t push it. I’m going home. We’re not going to get anything
else tonight.” She gathered her things from the top of Cassy’s desk, trying to avoid his gaze,
but the silence across from her finally drew her eyes to his questioning look. “What?”
       “So that's it, you're just going to leave?”
       “You're the one being unreasonable here. I haven't been sulking all day.”
       “I’m being unreasonable? You just walk out, don’t answer your phone, nothing.”
       “I left a note.”
       “Maybe I should frame it as one of my favorite let down letters.”
       “Look, could we not discuss this here?”
       “Hell, we don’t have to discuss it at all if that’s what you want. I shouldn't have brought
it up. What was I thinking?”
       “Don’t, Tom. It was a mistake. I’m sorry.”
       “For God’s sake, Rita, don’t say you’re sorry!”
       His anger surprised her, and she watched stunned, as he fairly exploded out of the
chair and strode angrily toward the entrance to the squad room. By the time she gathered her
wits and followed, the parking space next to her car was empty.


        He called in sick. It was barely light outside when he gave up trying to sleep. He
wadded up the sheet tangled around him and threw it viciously toward the wall, then stared at
it in impotent rage as the one corner still trapped by the blanket curtailed its flight, causing it to
uncoil and drop mockingly about six inches from the point of launch. He huffed out a breath
as he stared at the bundle of linen.
        Swinging his legs out of the bed, he ran a hand through his disheveled hair as he
walked barefoot into the kitchen. He pulled the pot out of the Coffee Mate, and stood with it
under the running water at the sink. It wasn’t until the water had been running over the top of
the glass container for several seconds that he jerked it out from under the stream of the
faucet. He spilled some liquid on the floor, and stood halfway between the sink and the stove
staring at the spot. I don’t want coffee, I don’t need to wake up, I haven’t been asleep, he
groused to himself.
        He left the pot on the stove and the puddle on the floor as he turned and retreated to
the bed. Dropping down to sit on the edge of the mattress, he retrieved jeans, shirt, socks,
and shoes from the pile of clothes on the floor beside him and pulled them on. He stood and
moved across the room. He was halfway to the front door when he turned back and retrieved
a bottle of water from the refrigerator, then he exited, closing the apartment door behind him.
At least I didn’t lock myself out, he thought as he recognized the fact that he had remembered
to turn back the lock.
        It was another of the seemingly unending foggy days of spring, and he walked toward
the beach. His aimless journey didn’t end when the street did; he merely stepped into the
sand, bending down to pull his socks and tennis shoes off. Lost in thought, Tom tucked the
water bottle under his arm, and then stuffed his socks into the shoes, tied the shoe strings
together and slung them over his shoulder as he proceeded across the beach to the harder
sand where the tide was retreating. He grasped the bottle, and turning, started north, still
staring at nothing.
        “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Ryan.” He finally began a conversation with
himself. “Haven’t you learned anything in the last six years? You don’t get involved with lady
cop types, you jerk!”



                                                                                                    73
        He continued on, walking past the small boat-launching pier and eventually into the
wetlands bird sanctuary. It was there, among the tall rushes that he finally stopped and sat in
the sand. He drew his long legs up slightly, resting his elbows on his raised knees, and
unscrewed the top from the water bottle, taking a long drink. Then he sighed and just sat. He
held the bottle between his knees with one hand and stared out across the fog-banked water.
The world was gray, the just rising sun barely beginning to chase away the darkness of the
night. It was still, and he could almost convince himself that he was the only human being on
the planet.
        “That wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” he grumbled. He played back the last few weeks
in his mind; some of the things that Cassy had been saying ringing loudly in his brain. Was
she right? Was it the kid? He couldn’t deny he enjoyed being with the boy. But then he’d
always loved children. It didn’t matter what size, newborns to teens. He just liked having
them around. “They talk about women’s biological clocks,” he laughed to himself as he
acknowledged his subconscious wish for children in his life. “I hardly know Rita. I mean a
couple of weeks, one lousy date, where’s your head?” he chastised himself. “What did you
expect from her? Now your feelings are hurt because she spent the night but wants to back
off? It was a mistake. Never should have happened.”
        For a while he sat, silent and still. The birds that had been circling overhead landed,
watching him warily as they moved past him to secret places within the marsh area. He didn’t
notice them. It was awhile before his self-judgment turned to self-pity. It was the two birds
landing and then strutting out of the water and into the sanctuary together that twisted his
thoughts.
        “Even the damned birds can find a somebody. What the hell’s the matter with me?” he
addressed the two retreating creatures. “I’m employed, half-way intelligent, straight. I don’t
want to do kinky stuff, I can talk; I even read big fat books sometimes. A couple of dates,
maybe a night together and they run like they’ve seen a ghost.” He took another swig of water
and retreated back into silence, returning his attention to the softly lapping water at the edge
of the marsh.
        He knew that it was partially her note that was bothering him. She had just signed it
Rita. Kid needs me, gotta go. Not even a ‘had a great time’. So she’s supposed to thank
you? Obviously she’s not feeling what you’re feeling, Ryan. I thought it was kind of major
step. Evidently not for the lady.
        Staring out across the water, he continued his silent debate with himself. They’d never
really said anything to each other. Their conversations had been cloaked in shades of
fantasy, what if. Sure, she’d talked about wanting more kids at the house, but she hadn’t said
whose kids. He’d sort of admitted that he was tired of waiting around for Cassy to get her life
together, but he hadn’t asked her to step in and fill the void in his life. They really hadn’t said
anything concrete to each other. Obviously he’d assumed more than was really there.
        “You gotta learn to pick ‘em better,” he resumed his conversation. "She’s a lady on a
career track, just like Cassy says. Probably headed for the captain’s chair. She was married
to a great guy, gave her a kid and then got himself killed protecting her. What did I think she’d
see in me? All I manage to do is write poetry, for God’s sake. Not exactly a ten on your
dragon-slaying scale.”
        He heaved the empty water bottle into the ocean. Just like the sheets on his bed had
refused to fly dramatically into a heap against the farthest wall, the current focus of his anger
mocked him by merely dropping into the water a few yards from him. He watched with guilt as
the ocean performed its silent rejection of the polluting bottle, pushing it relentlessly back
toward the shore. Another deep sigh and he rose and waded out to into the shallow water to


                                                                                                 74
retrieve his trash. For a moment he toyed with the idea of just walking straight out into the
sea.
       “Dramatic, but probably a worthless gesture, Ryan. You’d probably get eaten by
sharks before anyone could find you, and nobody’d know you did it on purpose.” He turned
back and walked back to the dry sand, stopping to stare at his soaked pants legs. It didn’t
matter, nothing mattered. He started back toward civilization.

                                                ******

      The captain summoned Rita to his office.
      “Okay, what’s going on?”
      “I don’t know what you mean, Harry.”
      “Ryan called in sick.”
      “I know.”
      “According to the voice mail, he called at two o’clock in the morning. He didn’t look sick
when he left yesterday.”
      “I…”
      “What did you do?”
      “I didn’t do anything.”
      “Where were you last night?”
      “At home. I figured I’d get a check-up call from you, but you managed to restrain
yourself.”
      “You weren’t together?”
      “That’s none of your damn business.”
      “Why weren’t you together, did you have a fight?”
      “Harry!”
      “What did you do, Lorenzo?”
      “I…well I guess I kind of pissed him off yesterday.”
      “I thought you were investigating a homicide?“
      “We are.”
      “And that pissed him off?”
      “No, Harry, it was what I said.”
      “What did you say?” Harry shouted.
      “I told him I was sorry about, you know.”
      “You’re not serious?”
      “I just meant.”
      “I can’t believe you were that stupid.”
      “What?”
      “Sit!” he demanded gesturing toward the chair in front of his desk. “I told myself it was
none of my business, but I’m not going to stand by and watch this happen again.”
      “Harry.”
      “Sit down and shut up!”
      She sat.
      “Now, why did you spend the night with him?”
      “Harry!”
      “Lorenzo, I’m not going to ask you again.”
      “Well, we just sort of…I mean you and Frannie had Chris Jr.…he needed to take
Cassy’s car back to her place, and I owed him a dinner. We had take-out at my new house,


                                                                                                75
out on the deck, but he’d brought champagne. We didn’t want to drink it there ‘cause we had
to, you know, drive home. So we went back to his place to have a toast, and then he started
showing me his music and then…”
       “Okay, I get the picture. So why are you being such a jerk about it now?”
       “I’m not being a jerk, I just…I realized when you called that I should have been
home…that Chris Jr.…that we needed to keep our relationship professional.”
       “Professional? I tried to warn you.”
       “Warn me?”
       “To leave him alone. He doesn’t need another woman to play Marquessa De Sade;
doing heart surgery without an anesthetic on him again.”
       ”Harry, I didn’t…”
       “There is nothing worse than a blind female. You go over there and straighten this out,
you hear me. Just remember that this is not the first time somebody has let her job come
between her and him.”
       She gaped, but before she could answer he pointed to the door, cutting off any protest.


       He wasn’t in the apartment. The front door was unlocked, the bed wasn’t made, there
were dishes in the sink, and when she investigated further, there were sweats on the floor
beside the bed.
       “God, maybe he is sick.” She was about to head for the bathroom when she heard the
front door open.
       “Tom?”
       “Rita? What are you doing here?”
       He was dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, and was carrying his shoes. There was sand
on his feet and his pant legs were wet. He’s been walking on the beach, her mind registered
before she looked directly at him. “I just, I wanted to talk to you about what I said. I didn’t
mean…”
       “Let it go,” he snapped.
       “Tom, I’m sorry…” the minute the words left her mouth she cringed. He closed his eyes
and turned away from her, dropping the shoes next to the door and starting toward the
kitchen. She scurried after him and put a hand on his arm.
       “I didn’t mean that, I just meant I was sorry about the way I sounded yesterday. You
have to understand, I’ve got the baby, and…and I’ve been down this road before. I
don’t…can’t get involved again, not with somebody…not with…somebody I work with. I don’t
want…I’m not sure I can handle that again.”
       He turned back and their eyes met. She could see the pain in his.
       “I thought you’d understand.”
       “You don’t have to make excuses. I’m glad I could help you with the house. I’m sorry I
took things too far, and you don’t have to say anything. There aren’t any parts of back-off I
don’t understand.”
       “I didn’t mean it like that.”
       “But you’ve got other things to do. Don’t worry, I won’t bother you.”
       “I never said you bothered me. It’s just…with Chris Jr. and now the house… there’s so
much to think about.”
       “I understand.”
       “Tom, please,” she tried again, but he pulled his arm away from her grasp and
continued into the kitchen. She watched as he busied himself with refilling the water bottle he


                                                                                             76
was carrying, returning it to the refrigerator, and then fussing with a handful of paper towels
and an apparent spill on the floor. He rose and walked away from her toward the trashcan.
        “Harry sent me to check on you,” she retreated into business. “He wants to know if
you’re coming in today.”
        “I just need some time alone. I’ll be in after lunch,” he replied without turning around.
“Tell the captain he’ll get his eight hours out of me.”
        “That wasn’t his concern.”
        “Sure it wasn’t,” he answered sarcastically.
        She turned and gathered her things. When she looked back he was watching her. “I’m
sorry,” she whispered, tears threatening.
        “So am I,” he replied.
        She turned and fled.


       Harry was waiting for her when she returned to the station.
       “Well?”
       “He’s fine, he’ll be in this afternoon.”
       “No, I need him now. Here, there’s been another killing. I’ll call him and have him meet
you. It’s right near his apartment.”


      He was there when she arrived, bending over the body of another girl. He looked up
when she reached him. “Same M.O.?” she asked.
      “I know her, Rita. This time I’m sure. She works over at the deli where I stop on the
weekends. We’ve had lunch together a couple of times. She was strangled, just like the other
one. You don’t think this has anything to do with me, do you?”
      “Whoa, that’s a pretty big jump,” she cautioned him, glad that at least he was willing to
communicate with her on a professional level. “They’re both from this neighborhood, that’s all.
You haven’t even remembered if you knew the first one.”


        The case died as quickly as it had started. They came up with nothing; no connection
between the girls, no evidence they could tie to anything. Harry nagged them for a few days,
but there didn’t seem to be anything to find, and more pressing things took over for the
moment.
        Neither one of them was aware of the scrutiny of their captain as he watched them the
rest of the week. They were back to being civil to each other. Very professional; as they
searched for a connection between the girls, for motive, and something pointing toward a
suspect. He couldn’t fault their investigative skills, even if he could see the scabs forming
over the mess they were making of their personal lives.

                                                 ******

       Cassy picked up the files that Rita had left lying in the center of her desk. She raised a
questioning glance as Tom appeared, walking slowly to his own desk.
       “You and Rita worked on these while I was gone?”
       “Yeah.”
       “But now she wants me to take over? Doesn’t she want to finish this with you?”


                                                                                               77
       “She’s already finished with me.”
       “I beg your pardon?”
       “Nothing, she’s got other things to do. This is just down to street work. She doesn’t
have time to do that kind of stuff. Do you want to get started?”
       The day continued pretty much on the same note. She asked questions, he answered,
usually in monosyllabic words. She shrugged and let it go.
       “So what’s with your mom?” he finally started a conversation.
       “It was her heart. They did all kinds of tests; treadmill, EKG, and stuff. Angina, they
said. Just a warning. But she has an HMO, after all. They weren’t willing to keep her in the
hospital. So they gave her nitroglycerin tables, told her to quit drinking, and sent her home on
Friday. All she has to do is follow their diet. Claudia said she could handle it.”
       “You okay with that?
       “Yeah, it’s fine. I told her to call me if she needs me.”
       “Evelyn was not exactly encouraging you to stay around, I suppose.”
       “She let it be known that my services were not required. So what’s with you? Anymore
babysitting chores I should know about,” she changed the subject.
       “I’ve been busy,” he retreated into his simple replies.
       They spent the day talking to people, trying to get a handle on what was going down in
the world of homicide in Palm Beach. By the time they separated at 6:00 p.m., Cassy was
glad to get rid of him. She could feel a major headache coming on.
       She was home when he appeared with pizza in hand.
       “I thought you might not have had time to go shopping yet. Look, no anchovies.”
       “Great, come on in,” she lied. If the evening was going to be anything like the day, it
was going to be great fun.
       They ate in silence for a while, lost in their own thoughts.
       “I’m sorry about today,” Tom finally began. “It’s just been a busy two weeks. I’m glad
you’re back.”
       “I’m glad to be back. Are you sure that’s all it was?”
       “What else?”
       “Nothing, that’s fine. St. John and Ryan, riding into the sunset. All’s well with the
world,” she laughed.
       “Ryan and St. John,” he countered.
       “Not on your life,” she returned, punching him in the ribs. “You're sure there’s nothing
going on I should know about?”
       “Such as what?”
       “Come on, Thomas, like things weren’t a bit on the tense side around here before I left.”
       “Things like what?”
       “You and Rita?”
       “There’s nothing between me and Rita. She needed help with the house; I was just
being a good neighbor. You and I both know it doesn’t work to date a colleague. Better off as
friends, just that.”
       “That’s what you decided?”
       “Pretty much, yeah.”
       “What about CJ?”
       “What about him?”
       “You two were getting pretty tight.”
       “You know I like kids. I just seem to have a particular affinity for other people’s. So far
haven’t found anybody interested in producing any little Ryans.”


                                                                                                78
       “Tom!”
       “No, it’s okay. She’s the boss, after all. And she’s already…she seems pretty….”
       “What?”
       “I think she’s pretty much still in love with her husband. Sometimes, when you’ve found
that soul mate, I’m not sure you ever want another person in your life. It’s just not a
relationship you can replace.”
       “People get past those kinds of things, Thomas.”
       “Not everybody. I can’t imagine my mom with another man. I mean if my dad was out
of the picture, I don’t think she’d ever settle down with somebody else. They are…they are
one, I mean they belong to each other, they just….”
       “I know what you mean. Unlike my mother, who can’t seem to decide who to share
anything with.”
       “Some people find the right person, Cass. Then they’re done for life. It’s right, and
nothing can take its place.”
       “Do you think we’ll ever find the right person?” she asked, smiling.
       For a moment he sat silently beside her, then he rose, gathering the remains of their
dinner. “I gotta go. You must be tired after your first day back.”
       Cassy didn’t comment, rising to help him box up the trash.
       “I’ll take this out on my way, you don’t want ants,” he stated as he headed for the door
with the stuffed plastic bag of garbage.
       Cassy followed him, stopping to lean on the doorframe. He turned toward her. “I am
glad you’re back, partner.”
       “You didn’t answer my question,” she replied. “Do you? Think we’ll ever find that soul
mate?”
       “I don’t know. How do you tell?”
       “You’re supposed to know; you just hear the birds and the harps or something,” she
teased.
       The look he gave her was serious, and he moved his free hand to touch her face,
leaning toward her to brush his mouth over hers. “I thought I had,” he whispered as he turned
away, leaving Cassy starring after him dumbfounded.


         He set off on foot, having walked to Cassy’s. He had wanted the time to think. He was
at the corner of his street when he saw Rita’s car parked in front of his building. She was
sitting inside. He thought about just walking right past her; maybe she’d get the message.
But he didn’t. He stopped and stood, meeting her gaze when she looked up.
         “Go away, Rita,” he mumbled before he continued toward his home.
          “Can we talk?” she called after him.
         “You shouldn’t sit there on this street with the window open. You’ll get mugged.”
         “Can we talk, Tom?”
         “Sure, why not. I’m always good for talking,” he replied sarcastically as he turned away
from her.
         She followed him into the apartment, and settled on the couch when he waived her to
it. He took a minute to shed his jacket before he walked back to stand in front of her.
         “You want anything? Beer?”
         “No.”
         “So talk.”
         “Would you sit, please?”


                                                                                               79
       He settled at the other end of the sofa, crossing one leg over the other and leaning his
head against the back of the couch.
       “Tom, I’m sorry…No, wait, let me finish,” she demanded, reaching out a hand to stop
his almost violent attempt to stand.
       “I am sorry. I’m sorry that I have other obligations, and…that I’m still afraid.”
       He let his head drop toward his hands now clasped together between his knees,
turning almost imperceptibly away from the slim hand resting on his forearm. “Afraid? Of
what, me?”
       “No, of me.”
       “Rita…”
       “I can’t tell you how it felt. I held him until the ambulance came. I couldn’t do anything.
I couldn’t…all he would say was that he loved me…”
       “Rita, don’t.”
       “I’m trying to make you understand…”
       “I understand.”
       “How could you? You’ve never lost anybody – had them jerked away from you…."
       “You’re right. She didn’t die, she just killed everything I thought we had,” he said,
pulling away from her to rise and move to stand with his hands braced on the television
console. “I should have known better than to even consider getting involved with another
damned lady cop. You’re all so busy proving you’re better than any of the guys. Heaven
forbid any mere male should ask you to--” He stopped, dropping his head.
       She could hear him draw in a sharp breath, and his hands closed into fists. The cords
of the muscles in his forearms stood out and she wondered which he was more afraid of, what
he’d been about to say, or whether he was going to smash something. Rita sat staring at his
back, recognizing the rage hidden beneath the surface façade of humor and good-
naturedness. She finally realized just how badly Cassy had hurt him.
       “I’m sorry…”
       “Hell, Rita, would you stop saying that?”
       “This was a mistake. I shouldn’t have come. I’m….” Rita rose and took a step
sideways toward the end of the couch.
       “I didn’t mean to yell,” he whispered, stopping her retreat.
       “Sounds like the lyric to a great song,” she tried to joke through the threatening tears.
       He turned and faced her. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I shouldn’t have gotten so upset
when you had to leave, I understand you have to take care of CJ first. I just wasn’t used to,
you know, sharing I guess.”
       “He’s my baby, Tom. He doesn’t have anybody else in this world. It’s just been him
and me for a long time, now. I’m sorry I didn’t handle it better, though. Since I lost Chris, I
guess I’ve been kind of, well, maybe a little obsessed. But I didn’t mean to make it sound like
what happened with us wasn’t important. There hasn’t been anybody in my life since Chris. I
just….”
       “I understand the not wanting to be alone, the need for reassurance that you’re still
among the living. You’ve been on your own a long time. People sometimes just need to
connect with somebody.”
       “The idea of the poor desperate widow needing a good lay went out a long time ago,”
she shot back, angry at his belittling of what she’d felt.
       “You don’t have to be vulgar, that wasn’t what I meant."
       “Me vulgar? What the hell were you talking about?”
       “Just, I know you loved Chris, but people still get lonely.”


                                                                                                80
        “Yes, I loved him, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ever care about anybody else.”
        “Doesn’t it?”
        “I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life alone, hankering after something I had but
don’t have anymore. Unlike some people I could mention, I can get on with my life. He had
and took with him a big piece of my heart, but the damned thing is still beating. Being one of
the living dead never appealed to me, but maybe you don’t understand that.”
        “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
        “I’m talking about you, idiot. Just where were you tonight?”
        “I was at Cassy’s.”
        “Of course, run home to Cassy. Why can’t you let her go, Tom? Why are you still so
hung up on her?”
        “I’m not hung up on her. We’re friends. But you don’t seem to have a lot of those,
maybe you don’t understand that,” he replied angrily.
        “Like you wouldn’t be in bed with her in a flash if she didn’t keep you at arms length.”
        “We don’t think of…feel that way about…”
        “Can you honestly tell me that if she invited you back into her life tomorrow that you
wouldn’t go?”
        “No of course not.”
        “And you didn’t just invite me over because you’re between girlfriends at the moment?”
        “I invited you over because I thought you wanted to come. All that shit about wanting
more kids, and second stories on the house. If the poor schmuck hero had fallen for that line
in a movie, the audience would be in stitches laughing!”
        “Line!” Rita gasped and took an angry step toward him.
        “At least Cassy never plays the coy female games with me.”
        “At least Chris never had to fill me full of champagne to get me into bed,” Rita spat at
the same moment as she continued to advance on him.
        They stood toe to toe, glaring at each other.
        “We’re kind of pathetic,” he finally commented, not sure at just what moment the anger
died.
        Rita finally took a deep breath, and then she responded, the anger also gone out of her
voice. “You know what the counselors say about dealing with the loss of a loved one?”
        “No, I guess I don’t.”
        “Doesn’t matter if it’s death or divorce, it takes about four years to really get over it.
Grief, rage, denial, and…and acceptance. They all have to be dealt with, or it never goes
away.”
        “Which one of those do you think this was all about?” he asked.
        “Kind of felt like the Fourth of July,” she smiled. “You know, when they do that last
thing, setting off all the fireworks at once.”
        “Independence Day you think?” he asked.
        “I think some of us already signed the declaration. You still seem a little reluctant to
break the ties to home and king, well queen.”
        He raised a questioning eyebrow. “You think that’s what I should do?”
        “When you get a better offer,” she teased.
        “I wasn’t sure where we were, the messages I’ve been getting have been just a little....
Are you sure this is a good idea?” he restated her own argument.
        “Don’t you laugh at me, Ryan. If you want me to go, I’ll go. I’m trying to say I’m sorry
and that I didn’t mean to trample all over your feelings, damn it. But don’t expect me to get
down on my knees and beg.”


                                                                                                81
       “Not even if I ask nice?”
       She blinked and then glared at him. “Not a chance.”
       “I wasn’t laughing at you, I just want you to be sure,” he sobered as he raised his left
hand and teased a lock of her curly hair.
       “I’m not sure about anything, but I guess I’m willing to consider another viewpoint,” she
said as she tipped her head sideways to rest against the palm of his hand.
       “So, where’s the kiddo?” he asked innocently.
       “At Harry’s,” she replied with a smile.

                                                   ******

        Something was definitely going on. Cassy was more confused than ever as she tried
to figure it out. After the night at her house, and the out-of-the-blue declaration at her door,
she had expected things to be different between them. Back on the road they’d been on
before, with the resumption of the question of whether or not they were going to get back
together. She told herself that she needed to stop hiding behind her usual mode of sarcastic
swordplay to keep him away from the things she was afraid to face. Promising herself that
she would try and sort out her own jumbled feelings about their relationship.
        But he’d been distant ever since they came back on that following Monday. She finally
came right out and asked if something was going on she should know about, but and he
denied anything; she teased him about CJ, and he changed the subject; she asked him if he
wanted to do anything together and he found excuses.
        And then the unconscious things began to creep into the relationship between him and
Rita. They would touch. A hand on a shoulder, a brushing of arms. It wasn’t intentional, but
what she saw was that it also wasn’t uncomfortable. She watched the time Rita accidentally
backed up into him and didn’t even move away, as if being that close to him was a perfectly
natural thing. She watched, as his arm seemed to settle naturally on her shoulder whenever
they were near each other. They were involved. She knew it. It had started again, even after
everything she’d said, and his apparent agreement with her assessment of the relationship.
        But this time it was different. Different than all the other times when he had come to
her to discuss things, letting her tear apart any burgeoning feelings of connection he might be
considering toward another woman. This was quiet and somehow so much more intimate
than anything before. It was private, and personal, and he didn’t want to share it with her.
Cassy began to feel a tangible distance between herself and Tom. It was only a couple of
mental inches, but it was there. She had the feeling that just maybe he was starting not to
need her anymore.
        She thought about it all night, as she lay alone in her pristine apartment. She had tried
to call him until almost midnight tonight. Where had he been that late on a weeknight? She
ran her hand unconsciously over the silk edge of the sheet, and then turned over yet again,
reaching for the pillow beside hers. What’s going on? Is this getting serious? Is something
happening? This isn’t his fault, it’s hers. He’s such a sap for a pretty face and a teary-eyed
look. She’s managed to wheedle her way back in, and he feels sorry for her, saddled with a
kid all by herself; the way her husband died. I can’t let her hurt him. If he won’t listen, I’ll have
to take care of it myself.


       Cassy was on the road much earlier than usual, her confidence building as she neared
the station. He knew how she felt about him. She knew he loved her. They were a twosome.


                                                                                                   82
She’d been thinking a lot about things between them since she’d come so close to losing him
when he’d been shot. She felt a sudden stirring of unease about not talking to him about her
feelings sooner.
         You never told him how you felt, the little voice screamed in her mind.
         “He knows. I don’t have to say the words. He understands. He knows I just need
some time, that there are things I have to work out,” she answered her own conscience. “Who
does she think she is, trying to wheedle her way into his life; dangling the kid in front of him
like shark bait?” Cassy continued her one-sided dialog.
         Why didn’t you tell her to back off in the beginning? She did ask you.
         “Shut up,” Cassy yelled out loud. “They were just friends. She said. Just a guy in her
kid’s life, that was all. Just friends….”
         By the time she pulled into the precinct parking lot, Sergeant Cassandra St. John had
worked herself into a storm of righteous anger. She headed straight for her target.
         “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Cassy burst angrily into the lieutenant’s
office.
         “I beg your pardon?” Rita replied with surprise.
         Cassy continued into the office, slamming the door behind her, resting her palms on the
desk, leaning toward the other woman. “You’ve been seeing Tom.”
         “What if I have?”
         “Were you with him last night?”
         “That’s none of your business.”
         “What were you doing? I thought we were friends.”
         “You want a blow-by-blow description or will the highlights do? Is this your idea of
sharing the details with your girlfriend the morning after?”
         “Just buds, likes hanging around the kid, need a man’s influence in my son’s life. Why
don’t you just hang a sign around the kid’s neck – ‘cute kid, mom goes with the package’?
That’s what he wants, you know, the kid!”
         “Get out of my office, Sergeant.”
         “Yes sir, yes ma’am. I’m not done, Lorenzo. You meet me anywhere you want when
you can be a civilian, and we’ll chat. Just let me know where and when.”
         “I don’t have to meet with you anywhere, St. John. You’re out of line.”
         “Am I? Or are you afraid of the truth? Hide behind the nameplate, Lieutenant. But
you’re not as smart as you think you are. I’m gonna make sure Tom finally sees exactly what
you’re up to, you can bet on that.”
         “What I’m up to? What are you talking about?”
         “You’ve been whining about having to deal with the kid and work since you got back.
When are you gonna ask him to turn in his badge and be Mr. Mom so you can head straight
for the captain’s office? How long will it take, do you think?”
         “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
         “When were you planning on telling him no more children because you’re too busy
getting ahead?”
         “You’re crazy?”
         “He wants kids, you know that. I’ll bet you weren’t real happy about being forced to
have the first one. What happened, Chris Sr. wouldn’t let you stop at the Planned Parenthood
clinic on the way to work?”
         “You don’t know anything about Chris and me.”
         “I do know what you really want from Tom. Let me guess which one of you will leave
the department.”


                                                                                                83
        “Neither of us has to leave. He’s not my partner, he’s yours. Why are you so hung up
on this? You didn’t have any concerns about Tom Ryan’s desire for a family. You weren’t
willing to give up your career or your size six figure to give him children. Why are you coming
on like this? When and if Tom and I decide to do anything, it’s between us. It’s none of your
business.”
        The rebuke stung; a direct hit to the real anger inside Cassy. The realization that she
just might have left things until too late hit her, momentarily stealing the anger.
        “I didn’t take him away from you.” Rita utilized Cassy’s hesitation. “I thought you and I
were friends. I asked you about you and Tom, but you denied anything; no warnings to stay
away. If I’d thought you and he were still together, I never would have let any of this start. But
you dumped him from the way I hear it. How long did you intend for him to wait to see if you’d
changed your mind.”
        “I didn’t dump him.”
        “What do you call it? He knows you as well as anyone, and he still doesn’t understand
why you walked out on him. He was willing to do anything you wanted, but nothing he had to
give was enough, was it? Or maybe it was too much. Is that it?”
        “Shut up.”
        “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it. Did you talk to him about kids? Did he say it
was okay, that it didn’t matter? This isn’t about me, is it? It’s about you and your guilt. He
would have given you anything you wanted, but you didn’t give him anything, did you? Not
one damn thing.”
        “Shut up!”
        “Get out of my office,” Rita repeated as she rose and pointed toward the door. “Take
your accusations and your assumptions and go find the nearest mirror, Cassy. Then you’ll
see who’s not willing to share her life around here. Get out.”
        “I won’t let him do this,” Cassy hissed.
        “It’s gone way past your having any say in it, St. John. He’s finally cutting the apron
strings, and you’re just gonna have to learn to live with that,” Rita retorted, then her face
softened. “Let him go, Cassy. I’m not going to hurt him. I know you love him in your way, but
you’re not good for him. Not while you’re so mixed up inside. Can’t you let go?”
        “You don’t know anything about me! This doesn’t have anything to do with me,” Cassy
declared angrily. With a smack of her hands against the desktop, Cassy stood and then
strode out of the office, banging the door angrily behind her.

                                              ******

        She was walking on the beach; the small child cuddled against her chest as it nestled
in the papoose carrier. She absentmindedly stroked the silky head. The fog was rolling in off
of the ocean, and the waves lapped gently at her feet. It was one of those damp, cold,
mysterious mornings that she loved. No one else was around. She could walk forever and
see no one. She didn’t hear the approach of the stranger behind her. The sand gave no
warning. It wasn’t until the hands grabbed her from behind that she was aware that she
wasn’t alone in her dream world.
        The waves continued to encroach on the shore, now swirling around the body that lay,
twisted and bloody at the water’s edge. The soft cloth of the baby carrier was trapped in the
lifeless fingers, and washed gently back and forth like the seaweed that whirled around it, but
escaped to the sea.



                                                                                                84
                                              ******

        “Tom, Cassy!” Lipschitz hollered from his office.
        The two officers entered the room and settled into the two chairs opposite the captain.
Harry peered at them over his glasses, taking in the body language. If they could have moved
the chairs apart without attracting attention, he was sure they would have. He found himself
wondering if there would be sparks if they accidentally came in contact with each other.
        “So, what’s with you two?” the captain inquired.
        “Captain?” Tom questioned innocently.
        “Is there something going on I should know about?”
        “There’s nothing going on, Harry,” Cassy snapped. “Do you have something for us?”
        For a moment the captain just stared at them, then he leaned back in his chair.
        “Mr. ‘G-man’ has gone back to Miami, I take it.”
        “There wasn’t anything else around here. He’s still checking on the first kid’s father and
trying to find out if there was anybody involved with the Chapano girl since she came to the
States. The INS is checking out who got her into the country, and trying to find out where she
got the illegal papers.”
        “Well you better call him back,” Harry advised, handing Tom a manila folder.
        “Not another one?” Tom asked, shaking his head.
        “Looks like it. Body on the beach, gunshot to the head. She was holding one of those
carrier things they stuff babies into.”
        “They’re not stuffed, Harry. It’s very secure, and babies like to be close to the mother.”
        “I see, father Ryan. Anything else you’d like to tell me about child-rearing?”
        Tom rolled his eyes and looked away.”
        “So, the two of you get out there. See if you can find anything, and then get the FBI
back here. This has got to stop.”
        “You told us to back off, Harry. That the feds would handle it,” Cassy reminded her
superior.
        “Well they’re obviously not doing too well. Don’t step on their toes, but see what you
can find. I’m really getting tired of these headlines.”
        “You got it, boss,” Cassy replied with enthusiasm.

                                              ******

       The two reached the quiet beach and both slipped off their shoes to walk down to the
investigating team. The fog was still in. The whole area was eerily quiet. “Kind of spooky,”
Tom whispered.
       “Oh Tom, don’t get all creepy. It’s just a beach.”
       “Sorry,” he replied turning away from his partner.
       “Tom!” Cassy tried to recant her bitchiness. “Damn,” she muttered to herself. “Why do
I do that?”
       “Ouch,” Tom cried lifting his foot and then peering down into the sand.
       “What?” Cassy asked, moving to stand beside him.
       “I stepped on something. Here. What is that?”
       “It’s some kind of pin or badge. I don’t know if it’s official or just decoration?”
       “Doesn’t look tarnished or scratched, must not have been here in the sand or in the
water. Do you think our perp dropped it?” Tom questioned as he turned the small gold
medallion over in his hands.


                                                                                                85
        “Could have been torn off if there was any kind of struggle. We’ll have to check and
see if we can identify if it’s real and what branch of the service it came from.”
        Tom dropped the pin into an evidence bag and pushed it into his pocket. The only
other thing they found was the casing from a bullet, and Morton confirmed their suspicion that
it looked about the right caliber for the wound in the body.
        A trip to the local naval base was very informative. The officer on duty had referred
them to the supply room, where they were introduced to Chief Petty Officer O’Neil. The gray-
haired, older man was the head of procurement, and obviously a career type. His uniform
was decorated with just about every bit of striping and insignia imaginable. He proved to be a
wealth of information.
        “Do you recognize this?” Tom asked, bringing out the gold bar.
        “Sure, it’s a service emblem.”
        “From the Navy?”
        “Nope, little anchor on top of a shield, that’s not Navy, it’s Merchant.”
        “Merchant? You mean the Merchant Marines?”
        “That’s what I said.”
        “Father number one,” Tom and Cassy said as one, as their eyes met.

                                             ******

       The call to the FBI office in Miami practically short-circuited the one coming in the
opposite direction. The partners took the call in the captain's office so they could use the
speakerphone. The federal agent listened to their latest find and then gave them his own
information. They’d finally traced Masterson in Singapore. He’d gotten himself into major
trouble while on shore leave, and the Singapore police had confirmed a connection with one
of the biggest tong’s in the city.
       “That’s why we couldn’t get a trace on the gun,” Cassy interrupted the agent’s report.
“It was foreign, right?”
       “Must have been. His new business partners probably provided it. He ran up so much
gambling and drug debt they were going to make fish bait out of him. Then they evidently
discovered they had a mutual interest in the hottest commodity on the black market today.”
       “Babies,” Tom supplied.
       “You got it. When they found out he had a kid, and access to the mother, the deal was
struck. We found the first deposit in an account in the Caymans. He must have liked it,
‘cause there’s been another deposit since then. Both about five days after your murders. I
presume we’ll see another one crop up next week. He must have decided he had a good
thing going and gotten greedy for more. We’ve got one perp spilling his guts in Singapore and
a lead on the broker here in Miami. We’ll get him.”
       “You need some help?” Cassy fairly demanded.
       “I think we can handle it.”
       “You think he’s gone back to Miami?”
       “If he just got another kid, he’s got to get rid of it. It makes sense he would come here
to pass it on.”
       “Well, try not to let him get away,” Cassy continued sarcastically.
       “We can do our job, St. John.”
       “Yeah, I’ve seen how you do your job.”
       “Cassy, cool it,” Tom commanded. “You’ll keep us informed?” he asked the FBI officer.
       “I’ll call you, Ryan. You let me know if you get anything else.”


                                                                                              86
        Tom switched off the phone and raised his eyes to his partner’s across the desk.
“What was that all about?”
        “Incompetent idiots,” she hissed back at him.
        “Cassy, you’re not thinking straight. They can handle this. It’s federal.”
        ”You’re just going to roll over and let them take this away?”
        “We don’t have any jurisdiction in Miami, and it makes sense that that’s where he’d
head. We’d have to get a warrant, get the marshals involved. Admit it. He’s probably long
gone from here by now. If we wait for what we’d need to follow him, we’d never find him.”
        “You are turning into such a wuss!”
        “Cassy.”
        ”Do you have to ask permission to take a piss, Ryan? Where did she hang your
backbone?”
        “Don’t do this, Cassy.”
        “What was all that crap about one love and soul mates? You almost got loose, but
she’s suckered you back in and you don’t want to hear the truth?”
        “This doesn’t have anything to do with truth, at least not mine. Get a grip. I’ve never
seen you like this. Maybe you should take some more time off or something. Is this about
your mother? Go take care of her if this guilt is going to make you crazy.”
        “It doesn’t have anything to do with my mother. It’s about watching you make a fool of
yourself. Why don’t you just go stand outside her office door until the master calls, then you
don’t have to sit at your desk with your tongue hanging out and that hang-dog look on your
face. You are pathetic.”
        Tom stared at her for a minute, and then pushed away from the desk and started out of
the office.
        “Don’t walk away from me,” she demanded as Cassy grabbed his arm and spun him
back toward her. “Were are you going?”
        “To find the captain,” he replied, as he pulled free and continued out of the office.
        Cassy pursued him, catching him in the hall outside the squad room. “What are you
gonna do, Ryan, ask him to assign you to work with her?”
        He turned on her then, grabbing her arm and propelling her out of the building. He
continued to drag her with him despite her efforts to disentangle herself from his grip until they
stood at the edge of the parking lot. There wasn’t anyone around, and he released her arm
and turned toward her.
        “Maybe that’s what I should ask him. Is that what you want?” he picked up the
conversation. “It sounds like you’d prefer to work with somebody other than me.”
        “What?” Cassy gasped. “You’re an even bigger idiot that I thought. This is just what
she wants, to break us up. Then you can be her little puppy dog here at work as well as at
home. Your not supposed to let this kind of crap affect the office!”
        “This doesn’t have anything to do with Rita. I’m tired of listening to you call me names,
and accuse me of things. I’m an adult and I can make decisions for myself, without your
approval. You’re the one who has made this personal.”
        “Personal? The birds and the harps, that wasn’t personal? I thought…”
         “I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair, dumping on you and getting you involved in my problems. It
was true, but I didn’t mean it…it was…it's in the past. It was just the way things used to be.”
He looked away from her, running one hand through his hair before settling his hands on his
hips. The tension seemed to drain out his stance along with the anger. “It was…I was…I just
couldn’t let go, Cass. I’ve never wanted to admit that it was really over, that we were…that
you had a life, and you didn’t need me, probably never did. That we were just friends and that


                                                                                                87
was enough. I’ve always had a hard time with the forks in the road in my life. But I shouldn’t
have used you like that. It won’t happen again.”
       “I…” Cassy sputtered, a sudden shortness of breath robbing her of a reply. She felt a
sharp, stabbing pain in her chest. He’s serious, her mind screamed. He’s going to walk
away. You waited too damned long. You’re going to be alone, totally. You blew it, St. John.
She felt the tears threatening. You’re going to make a damn fool of yourself, right here in the
parking lot. But she was saved from making a scene as another presence intruded on their
space. It was her, the bone of their discussion. She watched as Rita walked down the
sidewalk toward them.
       “Tom, are you two headed somewhere?” Rita called. “Could I see you a minute before
you go?”
       “Tom, can I see you a minute?” Cassy imitated, cauterizing the bleeding wound of her
emotions with sarcasm. “I’ll bet she needs a babysitter.”
       “Cut it out, Cassy,” Tom warned as he turned and walked back toward the other
woman, leaving her standing alone in the middle of the lot.


         Cassy finally followed the pair back into the precinct, and was sitting at her desk when
they emerged from Rita’s office. She looked up and glared at them both. They stopped
beside her desk, but only Tom returned her stare.
         “We’re leaving, Cassy,” he stated flatly.
         “What do I care?”
         “We can talk about this tomorrow.”
         “Sure,” she replied as her eyes shifted back and forth between Tom and Rita, then
returned to his face. “Why not, we’ll just talk tomorrow,” she agreed with a sneer.
         The two moved away to exit the building, and Cassy stayed at her desk, slamming
folders around and tearing pages off of her note pad, while abstractedly swiping at the
moisture that threatened to spill out of her shimmering blue eyes. She sorted through her
notes on the murdered women, dragging her thoughts to the case and away from the earlier
confrontation.
         When Harry appeared in the doorway of his office she was bent over the file, the phone
pressed against her ear. She jumped to her feet, and when she headed in his direction, he
backed slowly into his space, allowing her to pursue him around his desk. She dropped the
file folder in front of him and pointed dramatically at the open page.
         “That’s it, Harry. The link.”
         “The link?”
         “Yeah. I couldn’t figure out why those three women. The first one’s little miss rich girl,
the second is an illegal, the third is a single mom with no apparent connections in the city.”
         “So, we’re not dealing with similar social strata here is what you’re saying.”
         “Right, they don’t seem to have anything in common.”
         “So you found?”
         “Well first I tied number one and number three together. They were both in school. I
thought that was it, but of course Melana Chapano wasn’t in school, so…. I talked to Mrs.
Allison again, and finally got hold of the third victim’s neighbor. They were both in school all
right, but Sierra Jackson, victim number three, was a single mom trying to finish her
education. Guess where she was doing her Early Childhood Education class observation.”
When Harry merely stared at her over the top of his glasses, Cassy continued. “At Tiny Tykes
Daycare.”


                                                                                                 88
       Her announcement was met with more silence. “Right. And guess whose kid attended
this Prep School South?” Cassy continued.
       “Little miss rich girl.”
       “Right.”
       “So, how do you get Ms. Chapano’s involved? That place is a little out of her wage
bracket, wouldn’t you say?”
       “Yeah, but we knew Melana had a night job.”
       “A night job. I’m starting to feel like a dentist, here, Cassy. How many teeth would you
like pulled?” Harry growled. “I’m also beginning to understand Tom’s little problem with your
charts.”
       “Okay, okay, Melana Chapano cleaned at night. Three houses. One…”
       “Tiny Tykes Daycare.”
       “You got it. Somebody at that place was supplying Masterson with the names of single
women who have small children. Easy targets. But they were smart enough not to go for just
kids that were enrolled. We would have figured that out right away.”
       For a moment Harry simply stood looking at her, his brow furrowed in thought.
       “What, Harry?”
       “I know the name of that place. Why do I know the name of that place?”
       “You keep your kids there, Harry?” Cassy joked.
       “No, but I know somebody who does,” Harry replied his eyes widening in fear.
       “Oh my God,” Cassy whispered as the same realization hit her. She watched
paralyzed as the captain reached for the phone on his desk

                                             ******

        Tom left with Rita, feeling the daggers in his back from the cold stare of his partner.
They picked up Chris Jr. from the prestigious daycare center and headed to her apartment for
what appeared to be the last load of boxes to be moved to the beach condo. Tom carried
things out to Rita’s car while she fed the small boy the last of the dinner she’d prepared for
him the night before. With everything stuffed into Rita’s roomier sedan, Tom secured the child
in his Mustang, and Rita agreed to meet them at the new digs after she stopped to pick up
some dinner for the adults. The guys set out for the direct run to the beach.
        Tom walked carefully down the five steps to the entrance level of Rita’s new home.
The child slept contentedly on his shoulder, having hardly stirred when he’d maneuvered him
out of the rear seat of the car. Tom fumbled with the unfamiliar key ring in the gathering
gloom of the evening, finally locating the house key. He inserted the key in the lock and
turned the deadbolt, then reached for the doorknob. He entered the room, feeling beside him
for the wall switch. Before he could locate the light, CJ began to stir in his arms, and he
abandoned the light to grab for the shifting body. Moving forward into the dark room, he
adjusted the child to his other shoulder and headed for the bedroom he knew was Chris JR's.
        He heard the sound behind him, but hampered by the weight in his arms, did not react
as quickly as he might have. Even so, his movement saved him a direct blow to the base of
his skull. The first hit struck him instead on the side of the temple, and as he raised his right
arm instinctively in defense, the second blow caught him on the forearm. The duel attack
stunned him even as the pain jolted in both directions up and down his arm. He stumbled
sideways, unable to protect his fall without releasing the suddenly squirming child. He felt
hands grabbing at him, and although they broke his fall, it was evident the intent was to
capture the child.


                                                                                               89
        Tom let himself drop, releasing his hold on Chris Jr., but instead of ending up in a
helpless heap on the floor, he rolled, protecting his injured arm, and swinging his right leg up
and back, connecting solidly with what he was sure was the knee of his assailant. He heard
the muffled exclamation of pain, and then Chris JR's cry of terror as the intruder lost his hold
on the child. Tom did his best to gauge where the bodies were in the darkness of the room,
and was successful in rolling onto his back to block the child’s fall to the floor. Unfortunately
he also reached instinctively for the boy with his right arm. His movement tore an exclamation
of pain from his lips, even as the impact of the falling body onto his unprotected chest knocked
the breath out of him. He rolled sideways, spilling the child to the floor. He reached for the
sprawled child, turning him over as he attempted to pull him up. The attacker intervened,
pulling Tom’s arm away from the boy with a curse as he struggled to rise.
        “Run, Chris,” Tom commanded the child as he tried to grapple with the man pulling at
him. “Go, find the nice lady with the cookies.” If he hadn’t been so intent on delaying the
mugger, he would have appreciated the child’s obedience and understanding of his reference
to the lady next door.
        Chris Jr. crawled away from the confusion and the shadow that reached up behind his
fallen protector. Even as the little boy rose to his feet and turned toward the door, hands
grabbed for him, pulling him back down. He screamed in terror, but was released as Tom
managed to secure a hold on one of the kidnapper’s ankles and pulled, spinning the body
back around toward him. The small boy regained his feet and headed for the still open front
door as fast as his almost four-year old legs would carry him.
        The assailant started after the child as Tom struggled to gain his feet, his arm
screaming silent protest at being moved and his head spinning as blackness threatened to
overcome him. He got to one knee and successfully locked his good left arm around one of
the intruder’s limbs, pulling them both backward into a heap against the rear of the living room
sofa. Tom spared only a moment to see the figure of the small child disappearing through the
still open door in the light of the street lamp.
        The mugger seemed to give up his pursuit of the child. Instead he gained his feet,
pushing Tom down and then raising his arm to bring it down in a vicious blow. It was only
when he felt the impact of hard steel against his already bruised head that Tom realized the
attacker still held the weapon he’d originally been attacked with. The blow knocked him away
from the couch, back toward the floor, and for a moment he could not command his body to
respond. Dizziness and pain warred in their efforts to send him into unconsciousness.
        The thought that the kidnapper might catch Chris before he reached safety next door
was the only thing that kept him going. He struggled, with the little strength he had left, to gain
a hold on the figure standing over him. It was then that he felt the unmistakable pressure of
the muzzle of the gun pressed to the side of his head.
        “Give it up,” the muffled voice commanded, “or I blow your brains out.”
        Tom stilled as the weapon pushed cruelly against his head, forcing him back against
the sofa.
        “Who the hell are you, where’s the kid’s mother?” the stranger demanded, dropping
down to one knee beside him.
        “My name is Ryan, I’m Palm Beach PD. You better give it up.” Tom’s bravado was
met with the unmistakable click of the hammer of the gun pressed against his head. Even as
he started to move, a hand grabbed his shirt, pushing him back hard against the sofa.
Weakness washed over him, and he fell back groggily with the force of the pressure.
        “Stupid cop,” the voice growled.



                                                                                                 90
      Tom flinched as he acknowledged that the trigger was going to be pulled. He fought
against the blackness that washed over him like a tidal wave, demanding in vain that his body
respond. He pushed sideways with his last ounce of strength. Unconsciousness claimed him
as he heard the ringing of the telephone and the slam of a car door outside.


        Rita was only a few minutes behind, when she pulled into the driveway. She was just
stepping out of the car when she saw Mr. Mason running toward her from the house next
door. At the same moment, she saw the dark figure erupt out of the front door of the house.
She ducked back into the front seat of the car, grabbing for her purse and the gun before she
leaped around the open car door toward the person coming up the steps toward the driveway.
        “Police, freeze!” she yelled as she circled around the front of the car, her gun raised
toward the fleeing figure. “Get back Mr. Mason,” she directed even as she trained the weapon
on the intruder.
        She saw the figure’s hand rise, and in the light of the street lamp, saw the gleam of
metal. She shouted another warning, which went unheeded, and then squeezed her finger
against the trigger of her gun even as she watched the weapon aimed toward her spark its
assault. She ducked as she fired, and heard the ping of metal against metal as a bullet
ricocheted against the hood of the car. When there was no further sound, she rose up
hesitantly and peeked over the car. The body lay sprawled headfirst into drive, the legs and
feet still on the steps.
        Rita rose, her gun still trained on the downed assailant, and walked toward the victim.
She reached the body, kicked away the weapon still held in the outstretched right hand, and
then knelt cautiously, pulling off the black ski mask and reaching for the exposed neck. Her
fingers found a faint pulse.
        “Mr. Mason, are you there?”
        “Yes, can I come out?”
        “Yes, please. Can you come and use the radio in my car? I need some back-up here,
and an ambulance.”
        The neighbor approached the scene and followed Rita’s instructions as he switched on
the radio in the car.
        “Push the button on the side of the microphone and say one-eleven-six, then let go of
the switch,” Rita instructed. When she heard the answering voice on the radio she continued.
“Push the button again and tell them officer needs assistance, shots fired, and give them my
name and this address. Tell them who you are.”
        Rita listened, her eyes still trained on the body in front of her, as Mr. Mason followed
her instructions and then identified himself. He finally left the car and moved around the front
of the vehicle to stand next to it, staring at his neighbor and the person lying on the grass in
front of her.
        “Do you know what happened, Mr. Mason?” Rita questioned.
        “The little boy came running to my house, screaming something about a bad guy and
fighting. I came right out.”
        “Chris is at your house?”
        “With the Mrs.”
        “Where’s Tom?”
        “Tom? Tom Ryan? The nice young man who's been helping you move in? I didn’t see
him. I thought he was with you.”



                                                                                              91
       “Oh my God,” Rita whispered. She hesitated; duty and training warring with fear and
emotion, then moved to the wide-eyed neighbor. “Here, hold this,” she instructed as she
pushed the gun into the horrified man’s hands. “If that guy twitches, yell for me. If he makes
a move, pull the trigger.”
       Before the neighbor could protest, Rita turned and sprinted down the steps toward the
open front door. As she entered her hand reached automatically for the light switch and she
flooded the room with the light.
       He was lying sideways against the couch, his face partially hidden against the arm
stretched out above his head. The exposed portions of his head were covered with blood.
Rita stood paralyzed for a moment, then dropped to her knees beside the still form.
       “Tom,” she whispered even as she reached for his bloody face. Her fingers came away
from his hair sticky as she tried to get control, forcing herself to slide her fingers down to
search for the artery in his neck. She felt a pulse, and snapped out of her panic to jump to her
feet and run for the phone. She didn’t bother with 911, calling in the 808 code of emergency
to the precinct.
       “Lieutenant Lorenzo,” she barked, “add an ‘officer down’ to that last call, I need that
ambulance out here, now!”
       She replaced the phone in its cradle and dropped back to the floor, wanting to do
something, but knowing that she dare not move the fallen victim. She slipped both hands
around the hand that lay on the floor and leaned down to rest her head on his shoulder.
“Please, please,” she began to sob, “not again."

                                                 ******

        Harry and Cassy rushed down the hall toward the figure sitting in the white plastic chair
outside the emergency room. She was staring at the door, and did not acknowledge their
arrival. The captain finally stooped down in front of her and touched her arm.
        “Rita? Rita, what happened? Can you tell us?”
        “Is Tom all right? What happened to Tom?” Cassy demanded at almost the same
moment.
        “Take it easy,” Harry cautioned, as he raised his hand to Rita’s chin, turning her face
until she was looking at him. “Rita, honey, talk to me.”
        “There was so much blood, Harry,” she finally responded, brushing distractedly at the
stains on her skirt and blouse.
        “Tom’s blood? Was he shot?” Cassy barked.
        Harry looked up. “You either shut up or go outside,” he hissed. Then he turned back to
Rita, grasping her hands in his to stay their futile motion. “Who was it Lorenzo?” he tried
again, hoping an official voice would penetrate her daze.
        “Who? Black mask, coming toward us, roller blades…."
        “That was before, Rita. Tell me about now.” Harry’s tone softened.
        “Before…” she mumbled then finally looked up. “Harry? He was coming at me with a
gun… after Chris…. ”
        “What is she talking about roller blades?” Cassy demanded.
        “She’s describing what happened when Chris was killed. It was a guy in black, on roller
blades, who attacked them. Rita, tell me what happened tonight,” Harry tried again.
        “I am, he came out with a gun, I saw it. He was after Chris, my baby, he wanted my
baby. I pulled off the mask, it was Masterson. He wanted my baby…”
        “Take it easy, it’s okay,” Harry tried to calm the rising panic.


                                                                                               92
       “No, he was there, in my house. He would have killed…he tried to kill Tom. He tried to
take….” The dead stare in her eyes disappeared as the tears came. She started to shake.
       “Get me a chair, Cassy,” the captain asked softly.
       Cassy turned, searching for another seat. She dragged a white chair from farther down
the hall, positioning it next to Rita.
       Lipschitz rose and sat, never letting go of the trembling woman. He pulled gently on
her arms and she turned, dropping her head onto his shoulder. She began to cry.
       “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have let them go alone. I shouldn’t have ever come back
here…”
       “Rita, you couldn’t have known there was someone in your house. We all thought that
creep had gone back to Miami,” Cassy replied.
       Rita turned her head away from Harry, and turned to stare at the closed doors across
the hall. “I can’t go in there. I can’t…don’t make me go in there…”
       “I need to find out what’s going on, Rita,” Harry said as he pushed her gently back
down into her own chair. “Can you hold on while I go ask?”
       Rita didn’t respond, and Harry looked questioningly at Cassy. “You’ll sit with her?”
       Cassy said nothing, but when the captain rose, she settled into the chair. Harry moved
off down the hall leaving the two alone.
       “I’m sorry, Cassy,” Rita mumbled. “It’s my fault. I never should have come back.”
       “This isn’t about you, Lorenzo. It was a sicko after kids. It wasn’t your fault,” Cassy
insisted.
       “What if he dies? I can’t…I can’t do this again. I can’t,” Rita mumbled as she turned
away.
       “He’s not going to die, don’t talk like that. Just don’t talk like that,” Cassy demanded as
her own eyes began to fill up with tears.
       The two sat for several minutes, and then suddenly Rita rose and started across the
hall toward the emergency room doors.
       “Rita, what are you doing?” Cassy demanded as she followed.
       “I’m going in.”
       “Fine, we’ll go in.”
       “No, I have to go in alone. Tell Harry I went in…” she mumbled, then continued toward
the double doors.
       Cassy stood in the hallway staring at the doors as they swung shut behind Rita. What
was that all about? She wondered.
       Harry came up behind Cassy, taking her arm and turning her toward him. “Where did
she go? I told you to stay with her, she shouldn’t be by herself.”
       “She went in there.” Cassy pointed toward the entrance.
       “Alone, into emergency?”
       “She said for me to wait for you, to tell you where she was. She's giving me orders like
we were at the office, damn it! She shouldn’t have left him alone. I don’t know what she was
doing sitting out here in the hall.”
       “You wouldn’t understand, Cassy,” Harry said as he turned and started in the direction
Rita had just headed.
       “What do you mean I wouldn’t understand?” Cassy demanded as she grabbed Harry
from behind, stopping his progress. “He’s my partner. She shouldn’t have left him alone, she
should have been with him.”
       “Cassy, you don’t know, you weren’t there.”
       “Then tell me!”


                                                                                                93
        “Chris, her husband, he was shot when he went in alone to rescue her from a
kidnapper. We sat practically in this same spot and waited for the doctors to tell us what was
going on,” Harry explained as he looked back toward the chairs where Cassy and Rita had
been sitting. “I thought I’d go crazy. Then they came for her. She went in alone, only one
visitor at a time they said. When the doctor came back out, he told me there wasn’t anything
they could do. Then we heard the monitor - that horrible shrieking sound. The doc just turned
and ran. I followed him. They pushed her away from the bed and she just stood there and
watched. They tried to bring him back, but there was nothing they could do.”
        “I didn’t know, Harry.”
        “She just stood there. Never cried - nothing. I had to drag her away. She just shut
down. Came back to the office and tried to work herself into oblivion. I think if she hadn’t had
the baby to protect, she would have just…”
        “She said something like that, that she didn’t eat a lot, except what she had to for the
pregnancy. She really took it bad?”
        “What would you expect? We were never sure if the guy was trying to kill her or Chris.
She blamed herself. It was a nightmare. Much as I hated it, I was glad to see her leave. She
needed to put it behind her.”
        “And now…all over again. Do you think she’ll fall apart?”
        “I don’t know. I just don’t know,” Harry answered as the two finally continued down the
hall toward the emergency area.
        Harry and Cassy stood outside the glass cubicle. Rita stood just inside, not moving,
only staring and the still figure lying in the bed. A man came up to her, his long white lab coat
and stethoscope labeling him a doctor. He began to talk to her, and whatever he said, the
effect was immediate as Rita began to cry. The physician grabbed her by the shoulders to
support her as she began to collapse. He looked around for some assistance, and Harry
moved into the room and took his officer into his arms.
        Harry guided Rita back into the hall, and looked over the top of her head at Cassy. “I’m
going to take her home,” he advised. “We’ve got to get Chris Jr.”
        “What did the doctor say?” Cassy demanded.
        “He said he has a broken arm, and a concussion. He wasn’t shot. But he’s still out,
and they’d like somebody to stay with him. Will you...?”
        “Of course I’ll stay,”
        “Good. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
        “I’ll be fine, Harry. Don’t worry about me, I’ll take care of him.”
        “I know you will.”
        Cassy watched as the captain maneuvered Rita down the hall toward the entrance to
the building. Once they were out of sight, she entered the treatment room. It all looked like a
scene from her worst nightmare. His head was bandaged like the last time, but this time his
arm was in a cast, supported by an overhead sling that raised it several inches above his
body.
        Drawing up a chair, Cassy settled beside him, resting both hands on his right hand
where it rested on the pristine white sheets. “I don’t think this is fair, Thomas,” she whispered.
“I shouldn’t have to go through this again. You better wake up, or I’m going to….” her voice
trailed off as her throat closed. She swiped at the sudden moisture in her eyes, and sat back
in the chair. “I think we’re going to have to establish some kind of ground rules. No two-in-a-
row hospital stays. It’s just not fair,” she tried again.
        “Rita,” came the soft whisper.
        “Tom!” Cassy exclaimed, leaning back over him. “Tom, it’s me. Can you hear me?”


                                                                                                94
         “I’m not deaf, Cassy, you don’t have to shout,” he answered her, wincing in response to
her raised voice.
         “Sorry, I just wanted to make sure you were awake.”
         “I’m awake. Where am I? Man, stupid question,” he answered himself as he tried to
raise the hand she still held to his head.
         “Don’t touch it,” Cassy directed. “You’re head’s all bandaged, and your arm's in a sling.
You went and broke it.”
         “My head or my arm?”
         “Both, you dummy,” she replied chuckling.
         For a moment it was quiet, and she watched the pain register on his face before he
closed his eyes again.
         “Tom?”
         “I’m still here. What happened?”
         “Don’t you remember?”
         “Remember,” he mumbled, then he jerked as he tried to rise up in the bed. For a
moment Cassy had to struggle with him as she pushed him back against the pillows.
         “God, Cassy, Chris, where’s Chris? What happened? Did the guy get away? Where’s
Rita?” he gasped, even as he grimaced in pain.
         “You gotta calm down,” Cassy demanded as the machines around them began to
announce the agitation of the patient to the medical personnel hovering nearby. “Tom,
everything’s fine, Chris is fine, Masterson is in County General with a bullet in the chest. Rita
showed up, finally, and took him out.”
         “Chris is all right?”
         “He’s fine, I promise. Now calm down or they’ll have the whole hospital in here.”
         He gave in to her direction, settling back against the pillow. Her concern grew as his
color faded and his eyes drifted shut. “Tom?” she prompted, but this time there was no
response.
         “Excuse me,” the nurse intruded.
         “He was awake,” Cassy advised her.
         “That’s good, I’ll tell Doctor Smedling. Did he know you?”
         “Of course he knew me, I’m his…wife,” Cassy lied.
         “Did he remember what happened?”
         “Not for a minute, but then he did.”
         “That’s good. Okay, his blood pressure is back down. Try not to let him get upset if he
wakes again, please. I’m going to go call the doctor and let him know.”
         “What about the pain? He was in pain, can’t you give him something?”
         “Not with a concussion, we don’t like to prescribe heavy-duty pain medication until
we’re sure there are no neurological problems. Just try and keep him quiet if he wakes again.
I’ll ask the doctor if we can give him anything if he needs it.”
         “Cassy,” Tom finally whispered some time later, again opening his eyes.
         “I’m here, partner. Take it easy now,” she cautioned moving quickly to the side of the
bed from the chair where she’d been keeping vigil.
         “Tell me what happened. Where’s Rita?”
         “What do you remember?”
         “I remember going inside the house, I was carrying CJ. Somebody jumped me. There
was a fight…Chris got away…”
         “You mean you let yourself be a human punching bag so the kid could make a run for
it.”


                                                                                                95
        “I remember…he had a gun. I thought…he was going to shoot…I must have passed
out, but I remember the phone ringing and…and I heard a car door. It was Rita…God, Cassy
did he…where’s Rita?” he repeated.
        “Tom, take it easy, don’t,“ Cassy demanded as she once again pushed him back down
as he started to rise. "Listen to me, it was Masterson. He was getting his names from one of
the teachers at that Tiny Tykes Daycare. That’s how he got Rita’s name, single mom, lives
alone. He wasn’t expecting a guy. Chris Jr. hightailed it over to the neighbors, and Rita took
out Masterson when he tried to split. She’s fine.”
        “Where is she?”
        “She…” Cassy paused, considering her partner. “She’s not here, Tom. She went with
Harry.”
        “With Harry?”
        “She couldn’t handle it. She just went to pieces…started going on and on about the
night her husband was killed. Told us some guy on roller blades attacked; that was what
happened before. She wasn’t making any sense. She kept saying she couldn’t do this again.
She was out in the hall rather than being in here with you. She asked us not to make her
come in here. I was really worried about her.”
        “Worried?”
        “She was just being…she was in pretty bad shape. Looked like she was going to just
fall apart. When we got here, she just went with Harry. She couldn’t wait to leave.”
        For a moment he simply stared back at her. Cassy heard her conscience screaming.
Just shut up. Just shut up, she squelched it. It’s the truth, every word. I’ll make it right, just
be quiet.
        “…shouldn’t have pushed her. …my fault. She tried to tell me…didn’t want to get
involved with another cop. I should have listened. …push her over the edge…my fault,” he
repeated.
        “Harry will take care of her, like he did before.”
        “…all CJ has…needs his mom. You tell her it’s all right, that I understand, will you? I
don’t want to put her through this again.”
        “I’ll tell her, Tom.”
        He looked away toward the curtain that hung to the left side, and she watched as his
eyes closed again. She stayed a few minutes, sitting on the edge of the bed and holding his
hand, then moved back to her chair. It was several hours later when the doctor returned. He
listened to Cassy’s description of the conversation with Tom.
        “Sounds like he was pretty lucid.”
        “He remembered everything. He seemed fine.”
        “Well with his history of head trauma, I think we’ll keep him, at least 24 hours. I don’t
like the fact that he’s drifted out again. Could be nothing; the scans and everything are okay.
I think we’ll wait and do another CT Scan in the morning and see how he’s doing.”
        “You think there might be a problem?”
        “You never know with concussions. The worst can do nothing, and the least can send
a patient into a total tailspin. We’ll keep him around to be sure he’s okay.”
        “I’ll stay.”
        “You’re welcome to. We’re going to move him up to a private room in a few minutes.
Why don’t you go get some coffee or something and then you can meet him up there. Fourth
floor. I don’t know which room yet.”




                                                                                                96
        “I’ll be there,” Cassy promised. She took the doctor’s advice, and made her way to the
hospital cafeteria. She bought some coffee and then sat staring at the cell phone on the table
in front of her. She picked it up and punched in the pre-programmed number.

                                              ******

         Harry pulled into the driveway of his house and killed the engine to the car. “Rita, we’re
here,” he finally spoke to the silent woman beside him. He watched as she turned, first
looking blankly at him and then back toward the car door as she reached for the door handle.
“I’ll get CJ,” he advised as she just stood beside the car. “You go on into the house,” he
instructed quietly.
         He turned back, opening the rear door and helping the little boy out of his seat. He
drew the child into his arms and then held him as he brought him out of the car. He was just
as quiet, but his eyes didn’t have the same vacant stare, instead they were wide with fear,
staring first at Harry, and then at his mother over the top of the car.
         “It’s okay,” Harry murmured softly as he began to follow Rita into the house. He wasn’t
sure who he was talking to, the boy or himself.
         Frannie was waiting at the door, and she guided Rita into the living room when she
stopped in the hallway. “It’s okay, Honey,” he heard his wife echo his words of a moment ago.
“Sit,” she finally instructed as Rita merely stood where they had stopped.
         His wife turned back toward him, and Harry shook his head. “What should I do with his
bag?” he asked as he held up Chris Jr.’s satchel.
         “Put it in the guest room, Harry. I put the roll-a-way in there so they can be together.”
         Harry turned and started down the hall toward the spare room. It was then that the
emotions locked inside them all were torn apart as the child screamed, struggling in his arms.
Harry dropped the bag as Chris Jr. flung himself toward Rita.
         “No, mommy, mommy,” the child cried, extending his arms toward his mother.
         Rita was on her feet in a flash, rushing toward Harry and grabbing her son. The boy’s
arms wrapped around her neck and he began to cry and talk all at the same time. Harry and
Frannie watched as Rita tried to soothe the released terrors, walking around the living room
as she tried to calm the sobbing child.
         It was several minutes before there was quiet again. Rita turned back toward the
waiting couple, peering at them over the child’s head. “What am I going to do?” she asked
softly.
         “It’s going to be all right, Rita,” Harry tried to reassure her as he moved toward her.
         “Chris, baby,” Frannie joined them, “you want some cookies? I baked them fresh,
they’re still on the pan,” she tempted the child.
         The adults were all relieved when the boy raised his head and turned his attention
toward his godmother.
         “It’s okay, Chris. You can go; I’m going to stay right here. I just need to talk to Uncle
Harry,” Rita assured him.
         The boy allowed Rita to lower him to the floor, and then took Frannie’s hand as she led
him toward the kitchen. Rita turned away from Harry and stood staring at the fireplace, her
arms now wrapped around herself.
         “Rita,” Harry began, but he was interrupted as the phone in the hall rang. He turned
and hurried to answer it, hoping for good news. “Lipschitz,” he answered.
         “It’s Cassy, Harry. I wasn’t sure if you’d be there yet.”



                                                                                                 97
        “Cassy? What’s going on, has something happened? I just walked in the door. We
had to stop and pick up CJ and let Rita change clothes. Is there news?”
       “He was awake, Harry. Just for a few minutes.”
       “Was he okay?”
       “He was really of out of it, and then he just passed out again. The doctor seems kind of
worried. He told me that concussions can be really bad, especially with Tom’s history.
They’re going to move him to ICU. They said no visitors,” she lied again. “I’m going to stick
around just in case they need anything. I’ve still got his Power-of-Attorney, so I can sign
papers if they need or whatever. Can you call his parents, and let everybody know they can’t
see him?”
       “Okay, I’ll do that. You keep on them and let me know if there’s anything else.”
       “You know I will, Harry. How is Rita?”
       “She’s pretty upset, but Frannie will take care of her. I can’t believe this is happening.”
       “What about Masterson?”
       “He’s going to be fine, wouldn’t you know. She should have just…. I’ll tell Rita, maybe
if we can get her to come and spell you….”
       “No, Harry, he’s not supposed to have visitors and he…”
       “He what, Cassy?”
       “That was the one thing he did say. He said to tell Rita that he didn’t want to see her,
didn’t want her dragged back into this. He said not to let her come.”
       “Well, she’s pretty upset, I suppose that’s for the best. If you’re sure you’re okay.”
       “I’m fine, captain. Look I gotta go back, I’ll let you know if anything changes.”
       Harry replaced the phone in its cradle and returned to the living room. Rita was still
standing by the fireplace, and she looked up as he entered.
       “That was Cassy,” he advised. “Tom was awake for a little bit.”
       “I should go back to the hospital, but I don’t want to leave CJ.”
       “Honey, you can’t do that.”
       “Why, what’s happened?”
       “They’ve said no visitors.”
       “That doesn’t mean me, I’m not a visitor. I’m….”
       “Rita, you can’t. Cassy said. Tom…he…”
       “He what, Harry?”
       “He said he didn’t want to see you. He told Cassy to tell you not to come.”
       Rita turned back to stare at her the captain. “He didn’t want to see me? Are you
sure?”
       “That’s what he said, Rita. I’m sorry.”
       “He blames me. This is my fault. All of it. I can’t go through this again. I won’t let it
happen again. I need to leave, Harry."
       “Happen? What? Nobody is blaming you.”
       “He was trying to protect me. He could have been killed.”
       “He was protecting Chris, Jr., Rita. It’s not the same.”
       “Yes it is. He could die, just like Chris. Because he had to put his life on the line for
me. I should have been protecting my baby. I blew it, Harry, just like I blew it when I let
Montoya take me.”
       “Rita, you’re not making any sense. This isn’t your fault, and he’s not going to die; it’s a
concussion and a broken arm. He’ll be all right. There’s no reason for you to go.”




                                                                                                 98
        “You can’t talk me out of this, Harry. I’m going back to Miami. If I’d stayed away, none
of this would have happened. Nobody else would have gotten hurt because of me,” she
began to cry.
        Harry didn’t know what to say, he just moved forward and drew her into his arms. Her
head rested on his shoulder and she sobbed.
        They did not see the small boy peering at them from the kitchen door. He watched for
a moment, then turned and walked back to resume his silent seat at the table with his Aunt
Frannie.

                                              ******

        Cassy flipped shut the phone and sat staring at it. “It wasn’t a lie,” she argued with
herself. “They’re keeping him. He shouldn’t have disturbance. Rita’s too out of it to be here
anyway. I’m going to take care of him. Like I should’ve before. I’m not going to botch it this
time,” she promised herself as she headed back to the elevator to find Tom’s room.
        She spent the night, taking the staff up on their offer of the bed in the empty room next
to his. She dozed; waking several times to walk back into his room to check on him. She
waited in the waiting area as they took him for the scan, and sat beside him when they
brought him, still unconscious, back into his room. She finally laid her head down on the bed
beside his arm and drifted off herself.
        “Mrs. Ryan,” the doctor roused her. “I’m sorry to wake you, but I wanted to talk with
you.”
        “Sure, no problem. Is there something wrong?”
        “Well, that’s just it, there isn’t. I mean the scan is clear. No apparent bleeding or
pressure in the brain. I can’t tell you why he’s not responding. We’re going to need to keep
him and run some more tests. I will need your signature.”
        “Of course, whatever he needs, please.”
        The man had left, and Cassy had wandered around the room, alternating between
staring out the window and talking to the still, unresponsive patient. As she had before, she
told him things she never seemed to be able to tell him openly. She told him she loved him,
and that she didn’t want to think about her life without him in it. But there was no response,
and eventually she ended up silent herself, as she settled into the visitor’s chair.
        It was afternoon when the nurse entered the room and woke Cassy. She groaned as
she unfolded her body from the cramped position in the chair. “How is he?” she asked as she
rose to join the woman she now knew as Darlene at the side of the bed.
        “I don’t know, Mrs. Ryan. He should have been awake by now.”
        “But he was, before.”
        “Yes, but he’s not responding at all now,” the nurse continued as she moved around
the bed checking and adjusting the monitors and equipment.
        “Can’t they do something?”
        “There’s really nothing else they can do for the moment. We just have to wait and see,
and hope that he can bring himself back. A lot of it depends on his will, despite what the
doctors think. It takes more than meds and electronics to make a person want to get well."
        “Make them?”
        “A lot of healing has to do with the patient. They have to help. He has to want to come
back; we can’t force him to wake up. He has to make an effort, and right now he doesn’t
seem to be showing much interest in rejoining us.
        “He’s going to do that!” Cassy exclaimed as she reached for Tom’s hand.


                                                                                               99
       “Let’s hope so,” the nurse replied as she smoothed a last wrinkle from the blanket
covering the patient and turned and left the room.

       Cassy sat through the rest of the day. Harry had checked in mid-afternoon, telling her
that he’d gotten hold of Tom’s parents. Lyam was in San Francisco at some restaurant
school, but Margaret was going to contact him. As soon as they got coordinated, she was
coming down.
       “Anything new? Has he woken up again?”
       “No, nothing. There’s been no change. They did one of those scans this morning and
they couldn’t find anything.”
       “Have you had any sleep, Cassy?”
       “They let me use an empty bed last night. I slept. I just want to stay here in case
anything happens.”
       “I’ll come relieve you.”
       “No, I’m fine. I’m going to go home and take a shower, then I’ll come back. It’s okay,
Harry. I know you’re busy and I’m his partner. It’s my job.”
       “If you’re sure,”
       “Really, I’m fine, I’ll call later. Are you at home?”
       “No, I’m at the precinct. There’s some stuff here I have to take care of. I’ll be here for
awhile,” he advised.
       She closed the cell phone and moved back toward the bed from the window where
she’d been standing. She reached out and laid her hand on top of his again. “Come on,
Thomas, wake up. We need to talk. I need…there’s so many things I want to say to you.
This time while you’re conscious. Give me a break, here, will you?”
       The hand beneath hers moved, and Cassy closed her fingers around his, drawing his
hand up against her chest. “Thomas?”
       “Rita,” he whispered.
       “No, Tom, it’s me, Cassy.”
       “Cassy?”
       “Hey, yeah!” she smiled as she brushed his forehead with her other hand.
       “I thought I heard…I thought it was…” he spoke softly, his eyes wandering away from
hers, searching for the imagined other presence.
       “Tom, I told you, she left. She couldn’t take it, the whole hospital thing.”
       “I shouldn’t have…my fault. She tried to tell…”
       “She’ll be all right. Just forget about her. You have to concentrate on getting back on
your feet now. I’m here.”
       “Should have left her alone…. Screw up everything…. I’m so tired, Cassy.”
       “Tom!” She stood looking down at him. He’d just closed his eyes again, like he didn’t
even care that she was there. Cassy lay his hand back on the bed. She stood for several
minutes simply running her fingers down the back of his hand, returning her fingers to his wrist
to repeat their journey to his fingertips. Then she looked up toward the ceiling, willing the
threatening tears to stop.
       “Was he awake?” the nurse interrupted. “I saw his monitor go up for a minute.”
       “Yes, he was awake, just for a second.”
       “You couldn’t keep him awake?”
       “No, he just drifted off again. Is that bad?”
       “It’s not good. I shouldn’t be telling you that, but I don’t like what I’m seeing here.”
       “The doctor said all the tests were okay.”


                                                                                              100
        The nurse positioned herself over the patient, opening one of his eyes and flashing her
pen light into it. Cassy saw her grimace slightly.
        “What? What’s wrong?”
        “He’s shutting down. I’ve seen patients do this. I used to work in the burn ward at
County. Sometimes when it would be really bad, they would just turn off. There was nothing
we could do. It didn't even seem intentional, not a conscious decision most of the time. It was
just like their mind decided it had had enough pain, and when they were unconscious, there
was no pain, physical…or emotional,” the nurse seemed to add as an afterthought as she
looked directly at Cassy. “They just didn’t want to wake up. He’s starting to look like that. No
response to stimulus. His eyes are not focusing, even though they react to the light. His brain
is just elsewhere. Don’t tell the neuro docs I said that, but it happens.”
        “You think he’s…”
        “I think he doesn’t give a damn. I’m sorry; I know you’re his wife, and I don’t know
what’s going on in your lives, but he just isn’t trying.”
        Cassy stared back at the woman who stood across the bed from her. Their eyes
locked, and the nurse met her look with a no-nonsense expression. “He needs a reason to
live, Mrs. Ryan.”

                                             ******

       Cassy left the hospital and walked blindly toward her car. She drove the familiar
streets to the precinct, lost in thought.
       “Harry?” Cassy called as she entered the captain’s office. There was no answer and
she moved back out into the squad room. It as then that she saw him in Rita’s office. He was
standing behind the desk, taking things out of the middle drawer and putting them in a box.
Cassy crossed the room and entered the other office.
       “What’s with the boxes?” she asked, taking in the one on the desk and the other one
resting on the floor beside the chair.
       “Rita is leaving.”
       “Leaving?”
       “We had a talk last night. I told her what you said, that Tom didn’t want to see her.
She’s pretty much blaming herself for all of this, so I can’t say she was surprised he does.
She thinks it would be better if she went back to Miami
       “She can’t leave, I need to talk to her.”
       “It won’t do any good. Her mind's made up.”
       “You said she and Chris Jr. belonged here. I know how much you wanted her here,
why didn’t you try and change her mind?”
       “This isn’t about what I want,” Harry replied as he dropped his gaze to his hands
holding the picture of CJ he’d been about to put in the box. “I can’t understand what’s going
on. I know something was growing between those two. I was concerned for them in the
beginning, but CJ would have been the luckiest kid on the block to have Tom Ryan as a dad,
but now he’s going to be alone. And Rita, she’s a really good person. She didn’t deserve
what happened to Chris. She and Tom would have been good for each other. They would
have healed each other.”
       “Healed each other? What are you talking about?”
       “They were both still bleeding inside. I saw the light come back on in her eyes. It didn’t
take a rocket scientist to know it was Tom who lit it. And he, well you know how he is, always



                                                                                              101
laughing and joking. But he seemed…content. I mean really happy for a change. It wasn’t a
face he had to put on.”
        “You sound like you approved, Harry.”
        “I do. They both needed somebody to love them; unconditionally, without strings.”
        “Just three-year old strings.”
        “Chris Jr.? He wasn’t a string, he was a blessing. You know how Tom likes kids. He’s
what, thirty-seven, Cassy? It wouldn’t be the best thing for him to have to wait too much
longer to have a family. He needs to be young enough to enjoy his kids, to play ball and stuff
like that. There hasn’t really been anybody in his life since….”
        “Since we broke up?”
        Harry raised his gaze to confront Cassy’s. “Since ever, Cassy. You two had a fling,
but were you ever really in his life? You never talked about settling down, making a home,
being truly a couple. You had some fun playing house, but I don’t see you wanting what he
wants. You’re a career woman. You love the life. You’d never put your future into the hands
of somebody else. You’re too independent for that.”
        “My God, Harry, you make me sound like the next chairman of NOW! And Rita? She’d
be different? I’ll bet she was just overjoyed when she found out she was pregnant and would
have to quit working.”
        “She was ecstatic.”
        “She was?”
        “She and Chris both. They couldn’t wait. It was all they talked about.”
        “But didn’t they care that you had to split them up?”
        “Of course they cared, but it was worth it. Chris and Holly were doing pretty good
together, and Rita was willing to move into administration and maybe get out of the line-of-fire.
She couldn’t wait to be a mom, and Chris was over the top about being a father. They would
have been great parents. Now Rita will have to do it alone. And she will, she’ll be the best.
But I thought, there for a little bit, that maybe she was going to have help.”
        “My Tom.”
        “Your Tom? Seems to me I remember your giving the ring back.”
        “You know what I mean. We’re a team, St. John and Ryan. The best in Palm Beach
PD.”
        “What does that have to do with him and Rita? I’m not talking about the job. I’m talking
about two people who obviously cared for each other.”
        “But I love him, I always have. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
        “What do you mean you love him? You love to hassle him, you love to work with him
‘cause he makes you look good, St. John. You love having him around to fend off your
rejected male conquests. Admit it, you love him more like a brother than a mate.”
        “A brother? We were lovers, Harry!”
        “How long ago was that, Cassy? You two don’t treat each other that way anymore; you
boss him around, tease him, call him out when you need a champion, and then tuck him back
in the closet when you’re done with him. What do you call it?”
        “You make it sound pretty shallow.”
        “I’m not putting you down, that’s just who you are. It’s not a sin. You’re happy being
Jane Wayne. There’s nothing wrong with that. But Tom is different. He’s a good cop, but
that’s not what he wants, for himself, for his heart. He wants different things than you do.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about you. He does. But he wants what his parents have,
a family, a soul mate who just loves Tom Ryan for who he is, faults and all. I’m not sure
you’re ever going to really need anybody, Cassy. And Tom Ryan is the kind who needs to be


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needed. That’s why you couldn’t live with him. You don’t want to need anybody, or to let
anybody need you that much. Considering your past, that’s not surprising. It’s the way you
are, and you’d be happier if you just admit it.”
        “You make it sound like I’m going to die a lonely, shriveled up old woman without a
friend in the world.”
        “You have lots of friends, including Tom. Friends that would be there for you anytime
because you’d do the same. I just think that’s about as close as you want anybody to get, and
you're comfortable with that. You hang on to the idea that you and Tom are a couple because
the world says people can’t be single, they have to be paired up. Not everybody is cut out for
marriage, and home, and hearth. Some people want to be free and independent. I think
that’s you.”
        “I can’t imagine my life without him, Harry.”
        “He’d never be far, Cassy. Regardless of what some say, men and women can be
friends on other levels than in bed. A friendship like you and Tom have is a sacred thing; they
last for years, usually forever.”
        “Forever,”
        “He loves you, Cassy. You can’t doubt that. He’d do anything for you. I just wish there
was something somebody could do for he and Rita before it’s too late.”
        “Is Rita at your house?”
        “She was going to the beach house to pack some things. She doesn’t much care about
anything right now.”
        “I’ll talk to you later, Harry.” Cassy replied as she turned to leave.
        “What did you come for?” he called after her.
        “I just needed to talk…never mind, I have to find Rita.”

                                              ******

       “Rita, are you here?” Cassy called as she entered the open front door of the house.
She walked slowly into the living room, staring fixedly at the dark bloodstain on the area rug
where Tom must have fallen. Then she looked up as Rita stepped into the room from the hall.
       “Cassy? Is something wrong? Has something happened?”
       “No, nothing’s happened. But I need to talk to you.”
       “Sure, you want to sit down?”
       “Could we go out on the deck?”
       Rita followed as Cassy moved out onto the deck, leaning her hands on the back railing
as she stared out through the gathering night. Without turning around, Cassy began to talk.
       "I told Tom that you left with Harry. I told him you didn’t want to see him, that you didn't
want to get involved in this."
       “You told him I didn’t want to see him? Why would you say something like that?” Rita
stared at Cassy in shock.”
       “I thought, the way you fell apart, that it would be better. You’d never be able to stand
him being a cop, it would just happen again, and you wouldn’t be there when he needed
you…”
       “I can’t believe you did this,” Rita replied as she walked out onto the deck to stand
beside the other woman.
       “I just wanted…”
       “What did you want?” Rita put her hand on Cassy’s arm and turned her toward her.



                                                                                                103
        But Cassy could not look her in the eye. She didn’t answer at first, as a tear slipped
down her cheek. “I don’t know. I don’t know. He’s always been there. Eight years, he’s been
there when I need him. He’s…I can always…”
        “Use him?”
        “I don’t use him. I…”
        “Don’t say you love him, Cassy. That’s not love, when you only care about what
someone can give you. That’s…ownership. I don’t know if you even know what love is, but
what you're doing to him is going to destroy him.”
        “You sound just like Harry. I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
        “Hurt him? Tom? What are you talking about?”
        “The doc, he said everything was fine, but the nurse…”
        “Cassy, what’s going on, you’re scaring me!”
        “She said it’s like he’s not trying. Like he doesn’t care if he gets better. She says they
can’t make him well if he doesn’t want to get well. He asked for you when he first woke up.
That’s when I told him….”
        “What exactly did you say to him?”
        “I told him you fell apart. That’s not a lie, you did…”
        “You’re right, I wasn’t handling it, but I knew I had to go see him, had to find out. He
was more important than my fears. Did you tell him that?”
        “No. I…I’m sorry, Rita.”
        “Did he really say he didn’t want to see me?”
        “Not…not exactly. He said you shouldn’t have to go through this again. That I should
tell you he understood.”
        “Did they really say he shouldn’t have any visitors?”
        “No. They said somebody should be there to talk to him and make him want to wake
up.”
        “Is there anybody with him now?”
        “No.”
        “Why did you leave him alone?”
        “Because I…I saw the look on his face. All he cared about was not hurting you. He
just looked…so sad. That’s when he just…” Cassy turned away and leaned back on the
railing, staring out across the sand. “I thought maybe if he knew you were all right but didn’t
want to see him, that it would be like before. I was there; we’d be there for each other. But he
didn’t want to see me. He just looked away and closed his eyes like…like there wasn’t
anything…like it was all over. When he was shot before, I prayed he wouldn’t die, but it was
different. I knew somehow that he was there, I knew he wanted to live, that he’d fight. I can’t
explain it; I could just feel the difference.
        “But now, he’s not fighting. He needs…he needs you to go, Rita. He’s afraid you’ll be
hurt, but I’m afraid of what will happen if you don’t go.”
        “I take it back, Cassy.”
        Cassy turned back toward the other woman. “What?”
        “You do know what love is.”
        “Will you go?”
        “Of course I’ll go, but I have to do something with CJ.”
        “He’s here?”
        “I thought it was best if we came and got our stuff and he had a chance to come in the
house. I didn’t want him to turn this place into some kind of nightmare. I wish I had gotten the



                                                                                               104
stain off the rug before we came in, it really seemed to bother him. Then he fell asleep on my
bed while I was packing.. I’ll just go wake him and take him to Harry’s.”
        “No. I’ll stay here. Just go Rita.”
        Rita hesitated for a moment, staring at Cassy, then she turned and disappeared back
into the house.
        Cassy stayed where she was until she heard the sound of the car leaving. It was
several more minutes before she even moved. She entered the living room and walked
through the still unpacked boxes to the master bedroom. The child was curled up on the king-
sized bed, one of the pillows grasped in his arms. She sat on the side of the bed, and then
eased herself the rest of the way on until she was sitting back against he headboard. She
wasn’t sure if she fell asleep, but her eyes were closed when she felt the soft caress on her
arm. She opened her eyes and looked directly into the small child’s gaze.
        “Is my Mommy gone?” he asked.
        “She had to go out, CJ. I told her I’d watch you. Is that okay?”
        He didn’t answer. Instead he turned away and climbed down off the bed. Cassy
followed as he padded quickly down the hall, across the living room, and out onto the deck.
She saw the way he skirted the long way around the couch in order not to have to look at the
discoloration on the carpet where Tom had fallen. He crossed the deck, and Cassy followed
slowly down the stairs and onto the beach. He stopped in the spot where he and Tom had
been digging the day they had first come here. Cassy sank down beside the young boy and
watched as he began to dig slowly in the sand.
        “The Power Rangers dinnt come,” the child finally spoke without looking up from the
growing hole in front of him.
        “Who, Chris?”
        “I see’d them on TV. They come when kids are in trouble. They kill the bad guys. Why
dinnt they come?”
        Cassy searched desperately in her mind for some detail about the popular kid’s TV
show, but for the life of her she couldn’t remember anything. Forgive me Rita, I don’t know
anything about kid lore these days, I hope I’m not trashing some major hero here, she
thought. “Angel, you didn’t need those pretend guys, you have your own Power Rangers, you
have your Mom and Tom.
        “I ‘membered the cookie lady. I went when Tom told me to. I was good.”
        “The cookie lady?” Cassy asked, mentally praying for some guidance in dealing with
this traumatized child.
        “Tom said to find the cookie lady. She lives there,” he pointed to the neighboring
house. Tom and me came with boxes. She brungd us cookies. My teacher said not to talk to
strangers. Tom said she not a stranger, so it was okay.”
        “And Tom told you to go find the cookie lady?”
        “When the bad man came. I ran, like he told me. They were fighting.”
        “I know they were, CJ. I know that was scary.”
        “Is Tom going to heaven to be with my daddy?”
        “What?” she gasped. “No, why do you think that?”
        “’Cause Mommy is sad again.”
        “Sad?”
        “She cried last night. I see’d her with Uncle Harry. They were hugging.”
        “She was just upset, Chris. Tom got hurt, you know that.”
        “But she was sad. She said to pack my toys. We were going away.”
        “Well, that was a mistake.”


                                                                                           105
        “She was happy. Tom made her smile,” the boy continued.
        “He did?”
        “She was sad before. I knowed that. But we found him. I found him at the beach. He
found me at the store place. He likes to hug, like Mommy likes to hug me. He made Mommy
smile. But now he’s going to heaven like my daddy.”
        “CJ, listen,” Cassy demanded, pulling the little boy into her arms and settling him on her
lap. She looked down into his upturned face, and searched for words to reassure the child.
“The doctor’s are going to take care of Tom and make him all better. Your mom just went to
be with him and to make sure that everything is okay. She’s going to help make him better.”
        “You promise?”
        Oh, God. Can I promise that? She remembered the way he had looked that last time,
like he might never open his eyes again. She folded her arms around the small boy on her lap
and drew him against her, rocking back and forth. She finally spoke even as the tears started.
“Listen Chris, you and your mom make Tom happy too. And I think maybe he loves your
mommy and you. She went to tell him that you want him to get better. That will help, you’ll
see.”
        There was no answer from the child, and Cassy continued her back and forth motion as
she closed her arms even tighter around the small frame. “I’m sorry Thomas. I never meant
to hurt anybody, especially not you. Please, she’s coming, just hold on, she’s coming,” she
whispered softly as she bent down to kiss the small child on the top of the head.

                                              ******

       “Can I help you?” the nurse at the desk asked.
       “I’m looking for Tom Ryan’s room.”
       “Are you family?”
       “I….”
       “He’s restricted to immediate family, miss. I’m sorry. He’s in very serious condition, or
we’d allow friends.”
       “Please, you don’t understand, he asked for me.”
       “For you? Who told you that?”
       “Cassy, his…,”
       “His wife? She sent you?”
       “His wife, yes, his wife. She sent me. She told me to come.”
       For a moment the nurse eyed her. “His wife sent you,” she said, as she looked Rita up
and down. “I do understand. It’s 407, on the left.”
       “Thank you,” Rita replied as she turned at the woman’s directions and walked slowly
down the hallway. The room door was propped open, and for a moment she hesitated at the
entrance. He was there. She could see him lying so still and unmoving. There were no
machines, no blood, just the oxygen catheter under his nose, and a few thin wires that ran out
of the neck of the hospital gown. He looked asleep. Not like before, she remembered. No
blood, no bloody trays of instruments, no tube down his throat, no resuscitation machines.
Not like before. I wish you were here, Chris, she pleaded, as her hand reached up and
gripped the door jam.
       I’m here, Sam. Always have been.
       She says he needs me. I...know I need him.
       Then what’s the problem?
       I’m afraid.


                                                                                               106
        You’ve never been afraid. You do what needs doing, and you get it done. What are
you standing out here in the hall for?
        I couldn’t save you.
        You saved me long before we met up with Montoya, Rita. You made me whole. It was
just my time.
        It’s not his?
        No, it’s not. You need to make sure he knows that before it’s too late.
        I think I love him.
        I’m not surprised. You’ve got enough love inside you to share with the whole world.
Don’t be afraid to love, Rita. I don’t want fear to be what I left you. Take what he’s offering
and run. You deserve it.
        He’s not offering anything.
        Give me a break, the voice inside her head mocked her. You’re not that stupid, and
you’ve never lied in your life, so don’t start lying to yourself now. He’s afraid to say the words,
Rita, just like I was. You gotta make him believe, love.
        Rita hesitated a few more minutes, unable to decide whether she was really talking to
the spiritual embodiment of her late husband, or just her own mental logic trying its best to
work its way through the layers of emotional trauma the last hours had created. Finally she
moved into the room and stood beside the still form of the patient. She reached out and
placed a gentle hand on his chest and leaned down toward him. She touched his mouth with
her lips, then whispered against them, “Tom? Can you hear me? It’s Rita. I’m here. I’m right
here.”
        There was no response, and Rita settled into the chair that was still positioned beside
the bed. For a moment she just sat, then she leaned forward and placed her hand on his
forearm. “I’m here,” she whispered, then she began to hum softly as she stroked his bare
arm, slipping into the words of one of the songs from the musical on their first real date.
        “You made me love you, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it. You made me want
you, da dada dadada,” she crooned softly, humming the parts where she couldn’t remember
the words.
        For a while there was no reaction, then she saw his eyelids flutter. She stopped
singing. “Tom? Can you hear me?”
        “Rita?” he responded so softly she could barely hear him.
        “I’m here. Everything’s going to be fine, you just need to wake up. Will you do that?”
        “You shouldn’t…” he started to speak, but it seemed to exhaust him.
        “I shouldn’t what, Tom? Be here? Where else should I be?”
        “Not fair, not again…”
        “Don’t even start that kind of talk. I’m here, with you, because you need me. And,
because I need you, so don’t think you’re going to get away. I’m sitting right here until you’re
on your feet, and that’s the only way you’ll get rid of me. So snap out of it, and stop scaring
the hell out of all the hospital personnel.”
        “Rita.”
        “What?”
        “I don’t want…”
        “Don’t want me here? Well that’s to damn bad because…”
        “Rita.”
        “What?”
        “Let me finish,” he whispered.
        “Okay, what?”


                                                                                                107
        “I don’t want you to go away.”
        “Oh,” she smiled as she took his hand in hers. “Sorry.”
        “You’re awake, Mr. Ryan.” The nurse entered the room. “Excuse me, ma’am. I need to
check him out.”
        “Of course, I’ll wait outside,” Rita said as she rose. She released Tom’s hand and
started to move away from the bed.
        “No,” came the panicked response from the patient.
        “Hey, hey, settle down,” the nurse admonished him. “She can stay, I just need to check
you over.”
        His fingers moved restlessly, clutching at the sheet. Rita extended her arm from where
she now stood at the foot of the bed, and took his hand in hers. He calmed instantly, and the
nurse finished her poking and prodding before she started to write on the chart she’d brought
in with her. “I’m going to call Dr. Smedling and let him know your awake, Mr. Ryan. See if
you can stay conscious long enough to not make a liar out of me.” She smiled, then turned
and left the room.
        Rita moved back to her position beside him. “Can you do that?”
        “What?”
        “Stay awake? You really had some people scared, mister.”
        “I’m sorry I scared you. You okay? …shouldn’t have come.”
        “Don’t start that again. I’m fine, now. I won’t deny I had a few bad minutes, but I’m
fine.”
        “You shouldn’t have to…it’s not fair,” he said again.
        “Listen to me. You almost got yourself killed protecting my little boy. There is nothing
in this world I can do to make it up to you. I’m the one who's sorry you got hurt.”
        For a minute he didn’t respond, then he looked at her and his eyes truly seemed to
focus. He smiled a weak smile. “Can we just be mutually sorry?”
        “Ah, that’s my Tom Ryan,” she answered with a relieved laugh. “Okay, the Mutual
Thank You Society is now adjourned. But I get one more thing.”
        “What?”
        She leaned closer, and this time did more than just brush her lips against his. She felt
his response, and enjoyed the sensation of being totally in charge. “We better cut it out,” she
finally drew back. “We wouldn’t want to set off that monitor gadget and have the nurse lady
back in here,” she smiled.


       He was partially sitting up by the time the doctor stopped by on his evening rounds.
The man stood at the bottom of the bed reading the chart. “This is much better. You’ve been
awake all evening. I don’t know what was going on, but I think we’re out of the woods. I’d like
to keep you until tomorrow just to make sure, but then we could let you check out as long as
you’re not alone for a while. I’d like somebody to be around just to keep an eye on you for a
few days. The nurse said there was a Mrs. Ryan here earlier, will she be picking you up?”
       “Mrs. Ryan? There’s no Mrs. Ryan.” Tom answered confused.
       “They must mean Cassy,” Rita supplied. “She was here last night and today, you
remember?”
       “Yeah, sort of. I guess. But she’s not Mrs. Ryan, I live by myself.”
       “Well, I’d rather you didn’t go home alone. The arm is going to be a hindrance, but it’s
the head wound I’m concerned about, especially because you were out so long. Let me
know, otherwise I’m going to keep you here a few days for observation.”


                                                                                             108
         “I guess I’m stuck here for awhile,” Tom sighed as the doctor turned and left. He
closed his eyes and leaned back against the pillows propping him up.
         “Tom, you could…you could come home with me.”
         “To the beach?”
         “I could keep an eye on you. I’ll take a couple of days, Harry wouldn’t mind. It’s the
least I can do…”
         “‘Cause it’s all your fault, right?”
         “I didn’t say that.”
         “Rita, you don’t have to do that. It’s not necessary.”
         “I know, it’s just, I’d like to have you, you know…”
         “Move in?”
         “Well, maybe not...I didn't mean move in...like that, no. There’s a lot….” Rita stopped
and just sat on the edge of the bed staring suspiciously at him. She was glad to see the
twinkle back in his eye, but knew she couldn’t let him put her off. “I know we’ve…that there
is…are things between us…but I have to think about CJ and…I’m not sure I’m ready for
actually moving in…that that would be the right thing…”
         “Rita, stop. I know you have to think about CJ. I know I haven’t had a lot of first hand
experience with the parenting stuff, but I wouldn’t hurt that little guy for the world.”
         “I’m just not sure how to handle this…you and me. I’m not sure, there’s so much…”
         “Look, I don’t want to stay here, but I don’t want to put any pressure on you. I accept
your offer, but no strings attached. I know this scared you, there’s no hurry here. We have a
lot to talk about, a lot of things to consider. I think we can work things out if we do it together.
Just as long as you remember that there is a ‘you and me’. I’d hate to lose that because of
this.”
         “I won't forget. I don't want to lose it either. You can have the master bedroom, I’ll
sleep on the couch.”
         “I don’t mind the couch.”
         “It’s not long enough,” she smiled.
         “Okay, but only for a few days, until they tell me it’s okay, then I’m back in my own
place.”
         “I don’t mean to be such a…”
         “You’re a mom, with a lot of responsibility. This hasn’t been easy for you either,
regardless of what you say. I understand that. I’d appreciate the TLC, but only if you’re okay
with it.”
         “I’m okay.”
         “And the you and me part?”
         “I think there’s definitely a you and me. I don’t want to lose it either. Thank you.”
         “You don’t have to thank me for anything, Rita. I told you, this wasn’t your fault.”
         “Yes I do. It’s not about this; it’s about being a really nice guy. It means a lot, and I
appreciate it. More than you know.”
         “Yeah, well keep that thought until after you’ve had to play nursemaid for a few days.”
         “Hey, they tell me that little boys never grow up, they just get taller. And, that once
you’ve got one kid in the house, another one doesn’t really matter. It’ll be piece of cake,” she
replied with a laugh.

                                               ******




                                                                                                  109
        Rita called her house, finally getting an answer after she let the phone ring almost ten
times. “Cassy, is everything all right,” she demanded, frightened by the delayed answer. “Is
Chris okay?”
        “He’s okay, Rita. We were down on the sand having a picnic. We went to McDonald’s,
and I managed to get him to eat a little. Is everything all right there?”
        “Yes. Tom’s awake. I think he’s going to be okay, but they’re going to keep him again
tonight. I’d like to stay, but…”
        “It’s okay. I’ll take CJ to Harry’s.”
        “That sounds good.”
        “Can you talk to him, Rita? He’s kind of worried.”
        “Sure, put him on.”
        Rita waited, listening to Cassy talking to her son. She couldn’t understand what she
was saying, but then Chris Jr. came on the line.
        “Mommy?”
        “I’m here, hon. Are you okay? You weren’t scared when you woke up and Cassy was
there with you, were you? Did she tell you I had to come see Tom?”
        “Did Tom go to heaven?”
        “What? Chris, no, Tom’s not …he’s here, and he asked about you.”
        “Can I talk to him?”
        “I’m not in his room CJ. I had to come use the big phone that you put money in. I
forgot to have you plug in my little phone for me.”
        “He comes home?”
        ”Yes, but not until tomorrow. The doctor wants to take care of him one more night.
Then he can come home. Cassy’s going to take you to Uncle Harry’s so I can stay with Tom.
Is that all right, baby?”
        “If I be good, you come and get me?”
        “I’ll be there first thing in the morning. And I’ll bring Tom with me. He’s going to come
visit us for a while, and you can help me take care of him while he gets better. Would you like
that?”
        “Okay.”
        “You do what Uncle Harry and Aunt Frannie tell you, and I’ll see you right after
breakfast. Now let me talk to Cassy again, sweetheart.”
        Rita waited as the phone was traded back and Cassy came back on the line. “I’m
going to stay, Cassy. Thank you for taking care of CJ for me. He’s pretty upset, but I know
he’ll be okay with Harry.”
        “Don’t worry, I’ll take him. Is there anything else I can do?”
        “I don’t think so. Tell Harry I’ll call him later.”
        “Rita, is Tom really all right?”
        “I think he’s going to be fine, Cassy.”
        The conversation ended, and Rita stood for a moment just holding the receiver before
she hung it back on the hook. Then she turned and moved back down the hall toward Tom’s
room.


      It was after nine o’clock in the morning when Rita pulled into the driveway of Harry’s
house. She was barely out of the car when the front door burst open and the child ran down
the walk toward her. The boy reached the side of the car before she could get around, and
stopped, staring into the empty car.


                                                                                              110
        “Mommy, where is Tom? You said you’d bring Tom.”
        “Chris, it’s okay, I just came to get you first. We can go get him together,”
        “You said you’d bring Tom,” the boy cried out as if he had not heard her answer. He
looked up at her and then turned and fled back toward the house. Rita froze in shock for a
moment and then hurried after the boy. She entered the open door and found Frannie
kneeling on the hall floor, Chris Jr. wrapped in her arms, crying.
        “Rita, what’s going on,” Harry demanded as he appeared from the kitchen. “What’s
happened?”
        “I don’t know. I told Chris Tom is going to come stay with us, but they were taking so
long checking him out, I decided to come get CJ first so he wouldn’t have to wait. He came
out and when he saw the empty car he just freaked. He didn’t believe me when I told him we
were going to get Tom.”
        “He didn’t sleep much last night, he kept asking us if Tom was going to heaven. He’s
really scared, Rita. You may need to get some help for him.”
        “I know. But I think if he sees Tom and knows everything is all right, it will be better.”
Rita knelt down beside her son and Frannie. “Chris, honey, Mommy’s here. I told you I’d
come get you.”
        “I want Tom,” the boy hiccuped.
        “Well then you have to come with me so we can go get him.”
        Chris Jr. finally turned his head to look at her. “I was good.”
        “I know you were. And I came to pick you up. It’s going to be okay.”
        The child finally released his death grip on his godmother and allowed Rita to pull him
to his feet. “Can I bring Mac?”
        “Mac?” Rita asked, confused.
        “My truck that Tom gived me.”
        “Of course you can. Is it here?”
        “He brought it with him last night,” Harry advised.
        “Go get it Chris, then we’ll go get Tom,” Rita instructed her son, and the boy ran down
the hall toward the guestroom.
        “You’re taking Tom home with you?” Harry asked.
        “They don’t want him to go home alone. They were going to keep him a couple of extra
days if he didn’t have anybody to be with him. I wasn’t sure if his folks were still coming, so I
volunteered.”
        “I managed to get his mother last night. I told them he was better. Lyam is going to
finish his conference, and then they’re going to come.”
        “Well, he can stay with me until they get here. That should work out fine.”
        “Are you okay?” Harry asked. “What about Miami?”
        “I think I’ll just wait awhile and see what happens, Harry. I may not go.”
        “I’m glad.”
        “That I’m staying?”
        “That you found a reason not to go.”
        “I think I’ve found lots of reasons, Harry,” she replied as she leaned over and gave him
a peck on the cheek.
        “I ready,” Chris Jr. interrupted the moment. Rita took his hand and the two walked
toward the car. She settled the child in his seat and turned back toward Harry. “Would you let
Cassy know that Tom’s with me.”
        “I’ll call her. She looked pretty wiped last night. I imagine she went home and
crashed.”


                                                                                               111
        “Make sure she knows, and tell her to come and talk to him, will you.”
        “Consider it done, now go. Tell Tom we’ll come see him and that I’m so glad it was his
right arm, not his left. I have lots of things he can do at the precinct once he’s fit for desk
duty.”
        “I’m sure he’ll be overjoyed, Harry.” She laughed as she climbed into the car.


        Chris Lorenzo, Jr. sat unmoving in the waiting room chair under the watchful eye of the
young receptionist. His gaze never shifted from the double doors his mother had disappeared
through what seemed like such a long time ago. He hugged the wooden truck to him, and
sniffed, a single tear rolling down his cheek. The woman behind the desk spoke briefly into
the phone and then rose and came to sit beside him.
        “My Mommy went in there,” he said, pointing to the doors. “I was too little. But she be
right back.”
        “She’ll be here any minute, hon. I called upstairs, and she’s on her way down with your
daddy,” the young woman tried to reassure the child she’d been watching.
        “My daddy’s in heaven,” the boy whispered.
        “No, sweetie, he’s going to come right out through those doors. I checked, and they
should be here any minute. It’s okay. You want to count, I bet we can’t get to one hundred
before they come.”
        “I can only count to twenny,” Chris Jr. replied.
        “Well, we’ll count slow,” the woman smiled. She began to count, holding up her hands
and folding down one finger at a time. The young boy finally joined in. They had only gotten
to five when the doors opened. Rita was walking beside the wheel chair, which was being
pushed by a nurse, but the boy had eyes only for the chair’s occupant. The trio moved
forward and the receptionist stood, but the child remained seated.
        “Honey, I told you they were coming, it’s okay,” the young woman turned back to
encourage the boy. But he remained in his seat, clutching his truck to his chest.
        “Chris,” Rita began to move toward her son.
        “No, let me,” Tom stopped her. He used his good arm to propel the chair forward. “CJ,
you ready to go for a ride with me?” he asked as he extended his hand toward the youngster.
“They’re not going to let me keep this fancy chair, so we can only take it as far as the car, but I
can’t push it so good with just one hand. If you sit in my lap, we can do it together.”
        The boy slid from the seat and solemnly handed his truck to his mother as he reached
out and took Tom’s hand. The nurse came around to lift him onto Tom’s lap, cautioning him
not to bump into the sling that supported the broken arm. She placed his small hands on the
shiny metal bars over the wheels and showed him how to push, then resumed her place
behind the two. She started the chair gently forward, allowing the boy to help propel them
toward the exit.
        Rita stood for a moment before following, clutching the cumbersome truck to her chest
just as desperately as her son had. Then she hurried to catch up.


       They were only ten minutes away from the hospital when Rita checked her son in the
rearview mirror and realized he was asleep. She smiled. “He didn’t sleep very well last night
Harry said,” she commented to her passenger.
       “He looked really scared back there. Is he all right?”
       “He was worried about you. I think he’ll be fine now that he’s sure you’re okay.”


                                                                                                112
        “Was he all right going back into the house?”
        “Well, he didn’t want to be alone, and he made an issue out of not walking by the
couch, but otherwise he seemed okay. I didn’t push it. I thought I’d wait and see how things
go.”
        “I’m sorry this happened to him.”
        “Well it certainly wasn’t your fault! You saved his life.”
        “But we should have caught this guy. Cassy and I should have figured this out before it
came to this.”
        “None of us picked up on it, Tom. You weren’t the only one working on this case.”
        “I know, but Cassy and I have been a little distracted lately.”
        “By?”
        “By…by the past, and the present, and I guess the future.”
        “Distracted how?”
        “Like I said, memories are strong things. Sometimes they kind of mess with what’s
going on now, in the present.”
        “Memories of you and Cassy?”
        “We’ve been together a long time, Rita. Partners and everything else.”
        “And now?”
        “I don’t know; it’s complicated.”
        “Do you love her, Tom?” Rita asked, her hands tightening on the steering wheel.
        “I don’t know how to explain it. There’s never been anybody else in my life like Cassy.
I can tell her anything. Sure, she ribs me and gives me hell, but she’s always cared. She
was…my best friend.”
        “Was? I think she still is, Tom. That hasn’t changed.”
        “She’s been so mad at me lately. I can’t do anything, say anything, and she’s off on
me.”
        “Anything, or just things about you and me?”
        He didn’t answer for a moment. She turned to look, and his eyes were closed. “Tom?”
she called.
        “I’m okay,” he finally answered. “You’re right, it is you and me. She’s never seemed to
care about my dating before. I mean she’s always had an opinion about my ladies, but she
didn’t object. She was all right when I was seeing Grace. I thought for a while that that might
be something. Cassy was there when Grace went out to the West Coast to have her eyes
treated. She was going blind,” he explained as Rita looked at him questioningly. “Like I said,
Cassy was there and let me cry on her shoulder when Grace called and told me she wasn’t
coming back. But this, you and me, she’s really been tearing at it. I don’t understand.”
        “Maybe she got a little lost in the past, too. It’s not hard to do. The present and the
future are pretty scary places,” Rita said.
        “It doesn’t matter, she’s going to have to deal with it.”
        “It?” Rita chuckled. “You and I are an it?”
        “You know what I mean,” he replied with a grin.
        “I think so. Do you think you can handle it if she can’t deal with ‘it’?
        “She’s my partner, and you’re right, she's my best friend. I hope she’s going to be
okay, but the time has come for me to let go. I’ve been hanging on to what she and I had
because it was easier than taking a chance on another relationship. I was being a coward.”
        “You could never be a coward, Tom Ryan. Insecure, maybe, but never a coward.”
        “You think I’m insecure?”
        “I think you’re a walking tower of male indecisiveness waiting to topple.”


                                                                                            113
       “Would you catch me?”
       “Just stop that. We’re not having any of that kind of talk. You’re here to get better,”
she laughed. “Be good, or I’ll take you back to the hospital. We have a bargain, remember?”
       “On my best behavior,” he promised as they pulled up outside the condo.


        Rita walked out onto the deck overlooking the ocean, carefully juggling the tray with the
pitcher and glasses of iced tea. She stopped for a moment, staring at the two occupants of
the lounge chair. Tom was stretched out, his plaster-encased right arm resting on the arm of
the chair, while his left hand rested on the thigh of the youngster sitting astride his long legs.
Chris Jr. reached tentative fingers toward the bandage covering the left side of his friend’s
temple.
        “Be careful, Chris!” Rita exclaimed, unable to stop the motherly concern as she
proceeded down the steps toward the two.
        “He’s okay, Rita,” Tom said. “He asked if he could touch it.”
        “But he might hurt you,” Rita replied as she placed the drinks on the glass topped table
and moved to sit on the edge of the chair beside Tom. She shifted the child off of the patient
so that he was sitting on her lap, but allowed him to continue the motion toward the white
bandage embedded in Tom’s hair.
        The child gently touched the covering, murmuring words of sympathy for the
“owwweee”, then turned back toward his mother. “Mommy kiss it and make it all better,” he
directed.
        “I can’t honey, the doctors took care of it. It's okay.”
        “Mommy make it better,” the child demanded.
        Rita smiled, shifted the boy to the seat in front of her, and placed her hands on the
arms of the chair.
        “It’s okay, you can kiss it,” Tom laughed, then his smile faded as he saw the tears
gathering in her eyes. “I’m okay, Rita.”
        “I know, but…”
        “It didn’t have anything to do with being a policeman.”
        “I know, it had more to do with being…a dad,” she attempted a watery smile.
        “Make it better!” Chris Jr. repeated, impatient with the adult interaction.
        She hesitated, staring into the soft eyes that met hers without hesitation. They’re blue-
green today, she observed abstractly. Like his shirt and the ocean. Blue enough to drown in.
She leaned forward to bestow a light brush of her lips against the large bandage.
        “Isn’t this a cozy scene,” a voice intruded on the moment.
        Rita straightened up even as Tom turned his head sideways to acknowledge the visitor.
Cassy stepped down the last step toward the three.
        “Can I talk to you a minute, Tom?” she asked, looking pointedly at Rita. “Alone?”
        “Sure, we’ll be inside if you need us.” Rita acknowledged the silent demand as she
gathered up Chris Jr. Her eyes were on Tom’s face, seeking assurance, and she nodded
slightly as he smiled an encouraging smile.
        Cassy waited until the two had left, then she circled around and took a seat in one of
the other chairs. “I just came from court.”
        “Did you get an indictment?”
        “Three counts of first degree murder, three counts of kidnapping, attempted murder of a
policeman, attempted kidnapping. We got every one. He’s not going anywhere except
straight to jail.”


                                                                                               114
         "I know they found the Chapano baby and the last one. What about the Allison kid?"
         "The feds finally caught up with the Asian end of this mess. They're pretty sure they
know where the kid went. Hopefully, they'll have him home soon. I thought Rita would be
there today.”
         “She was bringing me home.”
         “Home? Well, you’re looking better.”
         “I’m feeling better, thanks for asking.”
         “Can’t knock the nursing care,” Cassy continued, turning her gaze toward the house.
         “Did you want something besides reassurance that I’m still alive, Cassy?”
         “Who me? What could I possibly want?” Cassy rejoined, rising and turning to lean on
the banister surrounding the deck. “Why are you here, Tom?” she finally continued.
         “Here? I think it’s because I’ve got a broken arm and a number of stitches in my head,”
Tom answered quietly. “They didn’t want me to go home alone. Rita offered to keep an eye
on me, and I agreed.”
         “I’d have helped you.”
         “Would you? You and I haven’t exactly been friendly lately. You’ve accused me of
some rather unpleasant things, Cass.”
         “Is that all you’re upset with me about?”
         “All? This hasn’t been your usual ‘take apart Tom’s dates’ routine. There hasn’t been
much in the way of support from you lately.”
         “Well, you haven’t been exactly letting me in on what’s going on in your life, either. I
found out from Harry that you were staying with Rita. I didn’t even know you’d been released,
until I went to the hospital. I thought you would have called me, unless you were not going to
talk to me anymore.”
         “I tried to call and let you know what was going on, you didn’t answer your phone. But
if I’d told you what I was planning, I don’t have much doubt what your reaction would have
been.”
         “I wouldn’t have said anything.”
         “Well now you know where I am, was there something else?”
         “I guess…I need to know what’s going on. To see if you…were okay…can forgive me.”
         “Forgive you? For what? I’ve been released, with the understanding that somebody
would keep an eye on me for a while. If Harry’s call and Rita showing up hadn’t distracted
Masterson, and I hadn't keeled over, it wouldn't be just a concussion. I sorta thought one
bullet in this old brain was enough. But maybe you’re sorry he missed. Would you rather he'd
put the slug in my head instead of the back of Rita’s couch?”
         “That’s a stupid question,” Cassy replied angrily, turning and moving back to stand
beside the lounge chair. “I’m talking about Rita, and the hospital. She was pretty scared.
She started going on about when Chris died. She’s…I wasn’t real helpful. I didn’t mean to
come down on her like I did. It wasn’t her fault.”
         “People do things they regret when they’re upset, she’s not mad at you, so neither am
I.”
         Cassy turned back to look at him, trying to decide if he was being deliberately obtuse,
or if he really didn’t know what she had done. The only way he would have found out was if
Rita had said something to him. It was beginning to sound like she hadn’t. Cassy felt the
defenses she’d built up to defend herself beginning to slip.
         “Cass, could you sit down, I can’t look up into the sun at you like that.”
         She held her position for a moment, and then returned to her previous seat. “There, is
that better?” she asked trying to hold on to her protective anger.


                                                                                              115
        “Thanks.”
        “So, answer the question, damn it.”
        “What question? What am I doing here? I’m convalescing.”
        “And?”
        “And what? What is it you really want to know, the makeup of the accommodations?
I’ve got the master bed, Rita is using the couch,” Tom answered, allowing a bit of anger to
enter his own voice.
        “Are you staying?” Cassy questioned again, the antagonism suddenly gone.
        “Are you asking if I’ve moved in permanently?”
        Cassy hesitated. “Yes.”
        “Do you really want the answer?”
        Again Cassy hesitated. “Yes.”
        “I’m only here temporarily, Cassy. But I’m thinking about asking her to marry me.”
        Cassy didn’t answer. She stared at him for a few minutes, then again rose and turned
toward the ocean.
        “That’s it, then.”
        “It?”
        “Us, we’re all through.”
        “Cassy, we were ‘through’ years ago. You got the divorce. I’ve been doing this dance
with you for five years, and I’m tired. I want a home Cassy. I want children. You’ve always
known that. I tried to wait. I tried to give you time, space, whatever it was you needed. It was
never enough. I’m thirty-seven years old, and I’ve had it with sitting on the sidelines watching
you fight your demons, while my life goes down the toilet. You’ve made it clear you weren’t
interested in any kind of reconciliation. You’ve rebuffed all of my overtures, ridiculed
everything I’ve said that even smacked of affection. I love…loved you Cassy, but love has to
be reciprocated, or eventually it withers and dies.”
        “It’s too late…?”
        “It was too late a long time ago, I just couldn’t admit it.”
        “I never…”
        “You never what? Intended for me to fall in love with somebody else? What did you
want, a permanent slave without any commitments except unrequited adoration?”
        “That’s not fair!”
        “Isn’t it? I don’t want to sound cruel, Cass, but you’ve been dangling me from the end
of your line for years. I got tired of being a puppet.”
        “You said you loved me. That you’d always love me.”
        “I do, and I will. But I’m not ‘in love’ with you anymore.”
        “Are you in love with her?”
        “Yes.”
        “Are you sure, Tom? Are you sure it’s not just the instant family, the built in kid? The
ready-made football protégé?”
        “Cassy, don’t. We’ve had this argument already. It’s not fair and you know it.”
        She turned back, the first tear trickling down her cheek, warring with the other emotions
fighting for control.
        “I’m sorry,” she finally mumbled.
        “For what?”
        “I didn’t mean that.”
        “I’m glad.”
        “And that I…that I waited, too…that I didn’t…”


                                                                                              116
        “Cassy,” he whispered, extending his good left hand. She hesitated a few minutes then
reached out to touch his fingertips. The next minute she was sitting on the chair beside him,
her face pillowed against his shoulder as the tears broke loose and she cried.
        Tom stoked her hair gently, mumbling soft words to her, then looked up. Rita was
standing in the sliding glass door watching. Their eyes met, and then she turned away and
retreated into the house.
        “Cassy, look at me,” Tom pleaded.
        She raised her tear-stained face from Tom’s chest and met his gaze.
        “I love you, Cass, you know that. But…”
        “We’re friends, best friends, and partners…forever, right?”
        “Right,” he responded. “Are you okay with that?”
        “We haven’t solved the strangler thing, and there are all those other files on our desks.
You think I’m going to let you leave me with all that?” she tried to respond with humor. But he
wasn’t letting her dodge the issue.
        “Don’t play games, Cassy. Tell me if you’re all right with this.”
        “I don’t have much choice, do I?”
        “Yes, you do. I’ll leave.” His declaration was met with silence, and tear-filled blue eyes
searched his own misty hazel gaze. “Is that what you want, Cassy? I can go somewhere
else, request another assignment.”
        “No, you can’t do that. Harry’d never forgive us.”
        “Forgive us for what?”
        “Breaking up his ‘finest detective team’.”
        “Are you sure?”
        “Yes…I’m sure.”
        “And Rita?”
        “I had my chance, Thomas. I blew it. It’s not her fault, or yours. I’m a big girl. I can
take my medicine.”
        “I don’t want to hurt you, but Rita…”
        “I know. She’ll be the…”
        “Most important thing in my life.”
        “Can I be a godmother?”
        “Godmother?”
        “To all the little Ryans. I think maybe that’s the only kind of ‘mother’ I’m ever going to
be.”
        “Don’t say that, Cass.”
        “Well, you can’t begrudge me a little time to wallow in self-pity. Maybe later, when I
‘find the right guy’ to quote my best friend.”
        “You can be anything you want.”
        “I better go. Will she come back out?”
        “Rita?”
        “I saw her reflection in the table. Do you want me to talk to her? I don’t want her to
misunderstand this little scene.”
        “I’ll talk to her.”
        “She’ll be okay with this, us, me and you still…you know.”
        “She knows how I feel about you, Cass.”
        “You’ve talked to her about me?”
        “Yes. We needed to talk about you and me before...we went any further.”
        “And has she…made a decision?”


                                                                                               117
        “I haven't asked her yet.”
        “Are you sure she’s…did she tell you about…?”
        He reached up and tucked a falling strand of blond hair behind her ear, his hand
lingering against her cheek. “She told me she had a hard time at the hospital. I know we
have a lot to get through. But we’re working on it.”
        “I didn’t mean to muck things up. That’s not why I came.”
        “You haven’t told me why you did come.”
        “I guess I got scared. I went to the hospital yesterday and you were already gone.
They wouldn’t tell me where you were when I admitted that I wasn’t really your wife. I’m so
sick of people telling me I’m not family,” she replied, moving her face away from the contact
with his hand.
        “Cassy.”
        She reached up and took the hand now resting on her shoulder, lowering it to her lap.
She stared at his palm. “I wanted to tell you…I thought I could drive you home…or
something. I’ve always done ambulance duty. But you were already gone,” she repeated,
looking away.
        “I won't forget to check in next time.”
        “I guess you won’t need to anymore.”
        “Yes I will.”
        She gazed back at him then leaned forward until their lips touched. He returned her
kiss gently, and when she drew away and dropped her gaze down, he kissed her lightly on the
forehead.
        “I love you, Tom Ryan.”
        “I love you, Cassy St. John.”
        “I want you to be happy.”
        “I know.”
        “I’m sorry I couldn’t…I wasn’t”
        ”Don't, Cass."
        "You won't, you know, do the sand thing... okay?" she sniffed.
        "Okay," he replied, his hand moving to close around her wrist.
        She looked back up, then pushed away from the lounge, and he let her go. She stood
for a moment before she turned and, without looking back, picked up her purse and walked
into the house.


      “Are you leaving?” Rita asked from the darkness of the interior.
      “Yes,” Cassy answered.
      “And Tom?”
      “I guess that’s up to you,” Cassy said as her eyes finally adjusted to the inside and her
gaze met Rita’s.
      “And if I ask him to stay?”
      “Then I guess that’s just one more indication why you’re the one with the lieutenant's
badge, not me,” Cassy replied flippantly. Then she looked away and started across the room.
She stopped at the front door without turning around. “Take better care of him than I did,
Lorenzo.”
      “You’ve always taken good care of each other, St. John. That’s why you’re the best
Palm Beach PD has.”



                                                                                            118
        “He wants to stay partners, he said he told you,” Cassy turned back, momentarily
defiant; then she continued, “you didn’t tell him about…you could have gotten me out of your
hair forever if you’d told him what I…tried to do.”
        “You sounded pretty defensive when you came in,” Rita acknowledged. “There wasn’t
any point in saying anything, he’s going to be okay.”
        “I really was out of control, I’m sorry.”
        “Did he tell you about that day we met at the beach and I drew down on him?” Rita
asked. “He told me I wasn’t out of control, I just had the jitters. That my memories got in the
way of my better judgment. Maybe that’s what happened to you, Cassy. I didn’t realize I was
a threat to you until it was too late. I should have seen. I know he thinks a lot of you, that’s
not a secret. I would never interfere with that.” Rita tried to assure the other woman. “I hope
you can believe me.”
        “Why don’t you hate me?”
        “Life’s way to short to spend it hating people. Believe me, I know. I thought we were
friends, and I hope we still are. We’ve got a lot in common, you and me.”
        “In common? Besides Tom Ryan,” Cassy smiled slightly.
        “Besides, Tom Ryan,” Rita agreed with an answering smile.
        Cassy held her position for a moment and then turned back toward the door. “Then
love him better than I did, he deserves that.”
        “Not better, Cassy, just different.”
        Cassy exited the house, and Rita turned back toward the outside. She stepped out into
the sunshine and shielded her eyes from the glare with her hand. He was watching her. She
lowered her hand and stepped down onto the deck and moved toward him, letting his fingers
close around her hand as she settled beside him into the spot that Cassy had vacated
moments ago.
        “Rita, Cassy just wanted…” he started to explain.
        “Shhhh,” she stopped him, placing a finger on his lips. “Cassy and I are going to be
okay. We just need to sort a few things out and lay a few ground rules about our common
interest in one Tom Ryan,” she added as she punctuated her last three words by taping him
on the chest with the same finger.
        “You’re very good at that, you know.”
        “I’m very good at lots of things. Are you referring to something specific?”
        “Making me laugh when I start wallowing in the deep emotional crap. You think it
would upset our bargain if I say I think I love you, Rita Lorenzo?”
        “No, because I think love you too, Tom Ryan,” she answered as she opened the rest of
her hand against his chest and leaned over to meet his lips with hers.




                                                                                             119

								
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