Beta read by BethB
Written for PetFly by Harold Apter
Rated PG -13
My life sucks.
It's one of Cascade's rare beautiful summer days. The temperature is a balmy 78 degrees, the sun is shining on the bay behind me, my teaching duties are over for summer break, and I *was* looking forward for once to a stakeout. Usually spending a night on stakeout means sitting in the cramped confines of Jim's truck in the freezing cold. Tonight, however, the location is a strip bar, which means young, beautiful, nubile women in scanty clothes or, if I'm lucky, no clothes at all. The gods, for once, are smiling on me.
So what's my problem? My car. The piece of shit (my affectionate term for the Volvo, but you'll never hear me call her that in front of Jim) hasn't run right since Jim used her as a pursuit vehicle a few weeks ago. Every time I put her in the shop, she comes out running worse than she did when she went in. I'm heading back from the garage now; the only reason I'm driving her at the moment is because I don't have another way to get home, and I know Jim's waiting on me. "Come on, come on, you can do it," I plead as the Volvo crawls up the hill, her transmission grinding.
She hops, backfires and pretends to stall, just as my cell phone rings. Grabbing it from the seat beside me, I hit the on button and tuck it between my cheek and shoulder as I downshift. "Yeah."
"Sandburg, you were supposed to meet me at the loft thirty minutes ago."
Jim. Shit. "Hey, Jim, look, I'm sorry I'm late. I was just having my car checked. My mechanic still can't figure out what's wrong with it." To emphasize my words, the Volvo hiccups again. It doesn't drown out Jim's sigh.
"The department already gave you replacement money, Chief. Just go get a different one."
The man has no sense of loyalty to a vehicle. He's gone through three trucks in the two years I've known him. "Get a different one? What are you talking about? You just don't replace a classic, man."
"It's your nickel. Anyway, I got to get rolling."
"Look, just wait five minutes. I'll be right there. This is an important stakeout. You'll need me to back you up." But my fantasy of a night spent with a bevy of beautiful strippers is fading as I hear Jim moving around the loft, picking up keys, heading for the door.
"Chances are it won't go down tonight. Why don't you just catch up with us tomorrow, okay?"
"Jim?! Jim...?!" My pleas are lost on the dial tone. The Volvo squeaks and shudders and the phone slides out of my tenuous hold and under the dashboard.
My life sucks.
Okay, I lied about the five minutes. It takes me fifteen to coax the Volvo
the six blocks to Prospect, with me stroking her ego all the way. "Just a little
further. We're almost home, honey, almost home." I give the dashboard a pat as I turn
into the parking area in front of the loft.
I look up in time to slam on the brakes as a motorcycle shoots in front of me and takes off with a roar. I'm too stunned to hit the horn. "Whoa! Hey, man! Watch out!"
He doesn't even look back.
I sit for a moment, not moving, feeling the tingle of adrenaline from the close encounter coursing through my veins. "Man." Exhaling, I let out the clutch and pull the Volvo into a parking space. A quick look around confirms Jim's truck is gone. Now what am I going to do with my evening?
My car continues to shudder and knock even after I've turned off the ignition. "Should have stayed at the damn garage and made him fix it right," I mutter as I get out.
I'm heading toward the loft when I hear a thumping noise. Leaning over the hood of the Volvo, I listen intently, but it's not coming from her.
"Help!" The sound is muffled, like the person is in a closet…or a car….
"Hello?" I'm turning around, trying to pinpoint the noise. As I watch, the trunk lid of the Honda parked next to me shivers under the force of a blow from the inside.
"Help! Can you help, please?"
Jesus! There's someone in there! "Yep, hang on!" The Honda's window is open, and I lean inside, stretching to reach the trunk release. It pops open as I head around to the back of the car. Raising the lid, I find myself looking down at a slim, dark-haired woman curled up in the trunk, surrounded by boxes, her head resting on a pile of bedclothes. Relief flashes across her face, then she giggles.
I can't help it. I smile back and give her my hand. "Oh my god. Let me help you."
She clambers over the bumper and brushes at her purple slip dress. At least I think it's a dress, and that whoever locked her in the trunk hasn't disappeared with the rest of her clothes. "Thank you. It was getting difficult to breathe in there." She smiles at me, her dark eyes lighting up.
"Yeah, I can imagine." Her good humor is contagious, and I laugh. Who needs strippers when they can rescue a damsel in distress? "It's none of my business, but how in the world did you manage to…?"
She sighs in exasperation. "My ex gets really carried away sometimes."
"Your ex?" This is quickly turning not-so-funny. Domestic disputes can be ugly.
She doesn't seem too troubled, though. "Uh-huh."
Pulling my cell phone out of my pocket, I hit the speed dial for the PD. "I'd say this is a little bit more than--"
She cuts me off. "No. We were having an argument, you know? He gets carried away. Who are you calling?"
Putting the phone to my ear, I say, "I'm calling the police."
Her joking mood takes on an edge of nervousness. "No, please don't do that."
I raise an eyebrow as I wait for the call to go through. "You have a problem with cops?"
"Yes, I really do," she answers firmly, taking the phone away from me and snapping it closed. "Thank you. My parents were protesters in the '60s. They got beat up a lot," she offers in way of explanation.
I know where she's coming from. Before I started working with Jim that's how I felt as well. "Yeah, I understand. My mom, she was a protester, too. She was really into the counterculture. She still is, as a matter of fact."
She hands my phone back to me, once again smiling, sunlight flashing off the tiny jeweled stud in her nose. "Anyway, thanks for…helping me."
"No problem. You're sure you don't want me to call?" Despite her light manner, I still get the feeling she's shook up.
"No, that's fine. Thanks." Reaching into the trunk, she picks up a box.
"Okay." I start to go, then the obvious hits me. Car, boxes… "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
I'm expecting her to ask me to carry something for her, but she surprises me once again. "Do you live around here?"
I point toward the loft. "Yeah, I do, actually. I live right up there."
She shifts the box in her arms and looks toward her building, then back at me. "Well, I'm moving in here, and they haven't turned my water on yet, so could I…could I take a shower at your place later?" She giggles.
"A shower?" That was the last thing I expected her to ask. Well, maybe not the last, but…"Uh, yeah, that'd be fine. That'd be fine." Like I said, who needs strippers? Maybe she'll let me wash her back. I can dream….
She shoves the box into my arms, giving me a flirtatious grin. "Cool. Here, hold this." She grabs another carton from the trunk.
"Great. By the way, I'm Blair."
"Iris," she says over her shoulder as she heads toward her building.
I follow, thinking. Jim's supposed to be gone all night...hmm. "Iris. Say, did you know in Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow and…."
Yawning, I stagger out of the bathroom and head for the kitchen. Flipping
on the coffee maker, I glance at the clock on the stove. 9:45 A.M. Well, I almost got five
hours of sleep. Of course I woke up when Jim rolled in at six. He stopped by my room long
enough on his way to bed to tell me the stakeout was a bust. Guess it was just as well I
spent most of the evening helping Iris move in. And I did keep my promise to let her take
a shower here.
I feel a smile crossing my face at that memory. No back washing went on, unfortunately, but there was sparkage. I can tell she likes me. A brilliant idea hits me. If Jim's guy never showed last night, then he'll be gone again tonight--all night. That means the loft will be empty. I could ask Iris over for dinner…and we could work on that mutual attraction thing. I'm still grinning as I go to answer a soft rap at the door.
Iris is standing there, her hand still raised to knock again. "Hey, Blair. I wasn't sure you'd be up yet. I just came over to thank you for helping me out again yesterday."
Shrugging nonchalantly, I say, "No problem. Glad I could help."
"I have another favor to ask. They still haven't turned my water on. Could I like…borrow some? I am so in need of caffeine."
Stepping back, I usher her into the loft. "I can do better than that. I've got a fresh pot going right now." As I close the door behind her and enter the kitchen, the coffee maker gurgles and finishes brewing. I fill the mug I'd gotten out for myself and hand it to her, watching as she takes a sip.
Her eyes close as she swallows, and a sigh of appreciation slips past her lips. "Man, Blair, you know just what I need." Blowing on the steaming liquid, she takes another drink, and I turn away to get a second cup down. "You know what this really needs, though, is something to go with it…a croissant or a cinnamon roll, maybe?" There's a hint of hopefulness in her voice.
"That does sound pretty good. There's a bakery around the corner. I'll run and get us some croissants and be right back." Grabbing my wallet and keys from the basket by the door, I tell her before I leave, "Make yourself at home. I shouldn't be gone more than a couple minutes." Then it's out the door and down the stairs. Things are working out even better than I imagined.
I'm only gone ten minutes but as I climb the stairs on the way back, I can
hear someone fumbling through a song on electric guitar. *My* electric guitar…shit! I
forgot to warn Iris to keep it down because Jim is asleep!
Fumbling to fit my key in the lock, I hear the guitar abruptly cut off. That can only mean one thing. Jim was asleep; now he's not. I get the door open just in time to see Iris' gaze run slowly up my friend's body. He's nearly naked, clad only in plaid underwear, a sleep mask pushed up on his forehead, making his hair stand on end. I barely contain my laughter. Iris, however, doesn't seem to see the humor.
"Nice boxers," she purrs. "You must be Jim. I'm Iris, your new neighbor. Blair helped me move in yesterday."
Jim blinks, then says, "Right, right. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm trying to get some rest. I've been up all night on a--"
Closing the door loudly, I jump into the conversation, desperately wanting to steer Jim's attention away from Iris. "On a big project, right, Jim? Big project? See, Jim, he works for the city--road maintenance. He's one of the chief supervisors. Right?"
Jim looks at me like I've grown a third eye in the middle of my forehead but takes my hint. "Right. Excuse me." He heads toward the stairs, his expression telling me he's not pleased at the whole situation.
Iris is watching him ascend to his bedroom. Moving to interrupt her view, I say, "Oh, hey, look at that." Picking up the guitar from where she laid it down, I sit next to Iris on the couch. "You know, this was actually a present from my mom on my 12th birthday. It once belonged to Jimi Hendrix."
Her attention returns to me, if a bit reluctantly, as Jim disappears. "That's a really nice line, Blair, but--"
"He signed it." I cringe at the note of desperation in my voice, but I turn the white guitar over to show her the inscription on the back. "To Naomi, my own purple haze, Jimi Hendrix."
She's suitably impressed. "He gave her this guitar?"
I nod. "That's right."
Reaching for it, she says, "Your mom and Jimi Hendrix?" Maybe a little too impressed.
"They were pretty close." Rising, I put the guitar back in its case.
She watches me, her eyes filled with interest. "Wow, I would love to do some more jamming on that thing. I have an amp over at my place. Um, you wouldn't mind if I…" She shakes her head and looks away. "…of course you would."
My brilliant idea from earlier resurfaces. "Well, I tell you what. You let me cook dinner for you tonight, and I'll let you borrow it." I give her my best smile.
She grins back at me. "All right. It's a date."
Handing her the guitar case, I answer, "Good. You still want breakfast?"
Her gaze darts around the loft, landing on the clock. "Oh, god, look at the time. I gotta get going." She gestures in my direction with the guitar. "Thank you."
"Okay. See you tonight. Be gentle, you got it?"
"Umm-hmm, I got it. Later!" She rushes out the door, and I'm left with a bag of croissants.
Sighing, I pick the sack up from where I left it on the table and head to the kitchen. I can hear the slap of Jim's flip-flops as he comes down the stairs again. I look up to see that *now* he has a robe on. The forgotten sleep mask is still sitting on top of his head.
I hide my smile as he asks, "Doing okay there, Chief?"
"Yeah, I think I'll live. Want a croissant?" Handing him the bag from the bakery, I start opening cupboards and pawing through the contents. "Hey, you're still on stakeout tonight, right?"
"Urm, myeh…" he answers around a mouthful of pastry. "Why?"
"Perfect." Damn it, I know the can's here somewhere. I open another cabinet.
"Perfect for another train wreck in the ongoing disaster that is your love life," he quips.
Smart ass. He's licking butter off his fingers as I come back with, "Yeah, yeah. This coming from a man who I've never known to date the same woman twice." He's just as loyal to his girlfriends as he is to his trucks.
"At least I'm consistent. Why didn't you want her to know that I'm a cop?"
I open the fridge. "She's got this thing against cops. It's no big deal."
"But road maintenance? Well, at least you made me a supervisor."
Closing the fridge, I turn to face him. "Yeah, you're welcome. Hey, I used to have this can of grape leaves. Have you seen it? I got this recipe out of this Persian folklore book. There are these seven dishes that when eaten together are supposed to create this amazing aphrodisiac effect."
He snorts in disbelief. "You're personally testing this theory, are you?"
Nodding, I head for the front door. "Yeah, and it will not work without the grape leaves. You're welcome, by the way."
A croissant pauses midway to his mouth. "Huh? Oh, yeah, thanks." He waves the sack at me.
Shaking my head, I exit the loft.
Cascade PD, Evening
As Jim rounded the corner toward Major Crime with Simon Banks and Joel Taggart, Simon asked, "Where's your shadow?"
Jim shrugged. "Found something better to do."
Joel looked surprised. "Something better than staking out a strip joint? You know that place has women down there who wear nothing but thimbles. Not to mention the $5.95 special on roast beef."
Jim shot his captain a grin over Joel's head.
"Or at least that's what I've heard," Joel continued. "All I'm saying is, if you guys need an extra hand, I'm--"
Jim couldn't resist teasing his friend. "I think we got it covered."
Simon appeared to hesitate, before saying with mock reluctance, "Well, Jim, technically since Sandburg won't be there…"
"We are a man down, sir," Jim agreed with him.
A broad smile crossed Joel's face. "What time?"
"I'll clear my calendar." Laughing, Joel walked off as Jim and Simon entered the bullpen.
"So, Jim, what's Sandburg got going anyway? I'd think he'd jump at the chance to visit a strip bar at the department's expense."
The detective shrugged. "He's cooking dinner for some girl he just met. She's not too fond of cops."
Simon chuckled as he paused outside his office door. "That's all right. I don't like cops either."
Shaking his head, Jim said, "There's something familiar about this one, though, like I've seen her somewhere before. I've just got a bad feeling about her."
His friend clapped him on the shoulder. "Jim, you're taking this big brother thing with the kid way too far. You've got to let him out on his own, let him make his own mistakes. He's got to fail once in a while. If anything else, it'll build character. God knows he needs it." With that, he entered his office, effectively ending the conversation.
Walking over to his desk, Jim took a seat, picked up a pencil and opened a file folder. Simon was right, it wasn't any of his business, and Sandburg seemed to get his heart broken every other week with no ill effects. But the uneasy feeling he had about Iris wouldn't go away. Jim ignored it as long as he could, but his curiosity finally got the better of him. Shoving his paperwork aside, he dragged the computer keyboard toward him and started searching arrest records.
Humming to myself, I add a bit more cumin to the spiced lamb mixture in
the skillet. For once it looks like everything is going to be ready on time. I'm even
ready, dressed in the blue shirt I know brings out my eyes and a pair of Dockers I
actually pressed. All I have to do to make this evening a success is spoon the mix into
the grape leaves and roll them up. Phyllo pastries are just out of the oven--
The chirp of the telephone interrupts my cooking. Snatching it off the cradle, I go back to stirring. "Hello."
"Blair, it's Iris. I'm sorry. I can't have dinner with you tonight." There's an echo to her voice, like she's in an empty room.
Staring at my beautiful lamb, my heart sinking, I manage an "Oh."
She makes an exasperated noise then says, "Okay, I was parked in a handicapped zone, but it was only, like, five minutes."
My heart soars. It's not me; it's circumstance. "Where are you?"
"I'm downtown at the Kelly Center garage."
"I'll come get you." I'm determined we're going to get together tonight, and a little thing like Iris' car being impounded is not going to stop it.
"No, Blair, that's sweet, but I already ruined dinner, and--"
I interrupt her protest forcefully. "Don't be silly. I'll be right there." I shut off the burner under the skillet and cover the food, then stick the pan in the fridge, glancing around the kitchen to make sure everything's off. "Great." Pulling the tie out of my hair, I grab my keys and head out the door.
Cascade PD, Evening
Jim sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. This was stupid. He didn't know Iris' last name, or even if Iris was her real one. At this rate, he wouldn't find her until next week. He glanced at the mugshot on the screen and clicked the mouse to go to the next one. "Wait a minute," he muttered, and went back. Damn if that wasn't her. Her hair was different, but he recognized the sulky look she seemed to think passed for sultry.
"Jim? You ready to go?"
Ellison looked up at the sound of his captain's voice to find both Simon and Joel standing beside his desk. "Yeah, give me a minute. I gotta call Sandburg."
"What for? I thought you said he was giving the stakeout a pass tonight," Joel said.
Picking up his phone, Jim swiveled the monitor of his computer toward the two men. "That's Sandburg's date."
Simon let out a low whistle. "Will you look at this? Robbery, extortion, suspected drug trafficking, grand theft auto…."
Jim swore under his breath. "Damn it. I got the machine." He heard his own voice saying, "Leave a message and we'll call you back."
"Sandburg, if you're there, pick up the phone." He waited for few seconds, but Blair didn't come on the line. "Okay, listen, I hope you're having fun, but when you're done with dinner, would you remember to count the silverware." He hung up, chewing the inside of his cheek. He didn't like this, didn't like it at all.
"Why didn't you just tell him?" Simon asked.
Jim shook his head. "No, not on the phone. I mean, if she's listening, it might get ugly. And besides, what can happen in one night?" he replied, trying to convince himself. Turning his computer off, Jim followed the two men out of the bullpen.
Fifteen minutes after Iris' phone call, I'm pulling the Volvo into the
lower level of the Kelly Center garage. Iris sees me coming and, giving me a big smile,
gets into the car. She's dressed in hip-hugging jeans and a stomach-baring tank top with
tiny spaghetti straps. Giving her an appreciative look, I smile back. "Hey."
"Hi!" she chirps, "Thank you so much! You're a lifesaver."
Her praise makes me blush, and I duck my head as I put the Volvo in gear. "No problem. We'll go pick up your car and then go back to my place and eat. I've got a really fantastic meal planned--"
"I have to make a stop. Is that okay?" An unreadable look flits across her face, then is replaced by a hopeful smile.
"Uh, yeah, sure, no problem."
Despite my reassurance that a little side trip isn't a big deal, she explains further, "It'll only take a minute. I just have to stop by. A friend owes me some money. It's on the way."
"Relax, Iris, it's not a problem." As I let the clutch out, the Volvo hops, backfires and quits. Iris grabs for the dashboard, then laughs. I feel my face burning for the second time in as many minutes.
"Sorry! This car gets a little temperamental." Come on, you piece of shit, start! Pushing the clutch to the floor, I shift into reverse and turn the key again. The Volvo coughs and sputters, but she starts. "There it goes. Okay!" Giving Iris a grin, I let out the clutch again. We go backwards. I want to sink under the floorboard. "Oops, wrong way." Great impression I'm making. I shove the gearshift into first and step on the gas. We exit the garage in a cloud of smoke.
I hope the rest of the night goes much, much better.
'It's on the way' turns out to be an hour across town, but I obediently
pull into the parking lot of a convenience store at Iris' direction. Dinner is ruined; I
can picture the lamb sitting in congealed grease, the pastries I slaved over are, by now,
cold and soggy. I'm trying to figure out how to salvage it as I park in front of the store
and turn off the engine.
Iris opens the car door. "Can you wait here? My friend gets a little weirded out at strangers."
"Sure, no problem," I reply absently, wondering how much money I have in my wallet. She shuts the door and heads into the shop.
I might have enough for takeout Chinese. Out of the corner of my eye I see a car pull in on the opposite side of the lot, but I don't pay it much attention. I'm trying to remember if that emergency twenty is still in my sock drawer.
The passenger door to the Volvo is yanked open. Startled, I jump as a creepy looking guy sticks his head inside. We stare at each other for a moment, then he says, "Sorry, kid. I thought you were somebody else." Slamming the door shut, he retreats across the parking lot.
"Easy on the car, man," I mutter under my breath. The door to the store opens and a guy walks past my side of the Volvo, heading for the car parked on the other side of the lot. Something just doesn't feel right, and I adjust my rearview mirror so I can see the other car. The longhaired guy who just came out of the store is talking to the creep who thought I was someone else.
I jump a second time as the passenger door of my car is opened again. It's Iris. "Start the car," she says, then looks toward the two guys.
"Yes, ma'am," I answer, starting the engine, wanting nothing more than to get out of there. The whole thing is giving me a serious bad vibe. She makes no move to get in. "You know, it works a little better if you're actually in the car--"
The sound of a gunshot stops my heart for a split second, then I'm leaning over the seat, grabbing Iris by the wrist. "Get in the car!"
Evading my hold, she says, "Relax, Blair, relax!"
"Relax! Are you nuts? The guy's got a gun!" I hear the sound of running feet, and the guy with the gun is climbing into the back seat of my car. "What are you--what are you doing? Get out of my car!" What in the hell do I think I'm doing? He's got a gun! And now it's pointed at me!
"Calm down," I manage, trying to keep the situation from becoming ugly.
"Move, move!" he shouts in my ear as Iris gets into the car and slams the door.
"Drive now!" she yells.
"Take it easy," I say, still trying to keep everyone calm as I back out of the parking space.
Iris' voice is tight. "Drive. Drive now."
As I pull out of the lot with a squeal of tires, the guy in the back seat screams "Whoo-hoo!" in my ear. What the fuck have I gotten myself into?
"Yeah! You take a left onto 97 south," he orders me, leaning forward between the seats.
Sweat is trickling down between my shoulder blades, and I feel like I'm going to hurl. "Where are we going?"
"Shut up and do what I tell you."
I glance over at Iris for help. "Iris, what is going on here?" I ask, trying to keep my voice from squeaking.
Shrugging, she grins at me. "Well, I should have told you, but we needed a ride, and I didn't want you to freak out."
"Well, I'm freaked out," I snap, "so why don't you just tell me what's going on?"
She gives the guy in the back seat an approving look. "Chance just stole a half a million dollars in uncut heroin from a guy named Artie Parkman."
"Oh, my god…" I'm *so* sorry I asked.
"You got a problem with that?" Chance breathes in my ear.
"Um…" He jabs the gun into my side. What does it say about me that the sensation is familiar? "No."
I had it right yesterday. My life sucks.