“Why don’t you take this one, Jinksy,” Claudia says cheerfully as they walk up the H.G.’s—surprisingly suburban and well-gardened, considering the criminal mastermind thing—house.
“Me?” Jinks says, giving her a weird look. “I mean—really? After all, I’m new, and this is…”
“You’ll be fine,” Claudia says as she rings the doorbell, grinning at the idea that H.G. might start something when the police come to see her. “She’s pretty easy to handle.”
Jinks stares at her. “She’s… Jeez, Claudia, she’s one of the most notorious criminals in the Western Hemisphere.”
Claudia snorts, because she is, but some of things the rookies say to each other about her are ridiculous. “I think she made up half her reputation. Not that she’s not good, but she likes telling stories. The gravity thing in England? I wouldn’t believe it for a second.”
Jinks gapes at her like a confused guppy for a second—maybe he hasn’t heard about that one yet—but then Christina opens the door and he gapes at her instead. “Um,” he says. “Hello?”
The kid barely glances at him before she squeals, “Claudia!”
“Hey, munchkin,” Claudia says cheerfully. “This is my new partner, Jinks.”
“Hi, Jinks,” Christina says with a big smile, because she’s an angel and makes new friends like it’s her job. “I’m Christina.”
“Hi,” he parrots blankly.
“Can you go get your mom for us, sweetheart?” Claudia says, grinning at how nonplussed he seems. The rumor mill goes nuts on Helena G. Wells, but somehow no one ever seems to mention that her kid is the most adorable thing this side of the sun. “We need to talk to her.”
“Sure,” Christina says, turning back to shout into the house. “Mo-om, the police are here to see you again!”
“Claudia and her new partner,” Christina yells. “His name is Jinks.”
“Well, that’s an unfortunate name,” H.G. says, coming to the door and smiling. She’s a bit messy, like she’s been working, but when Claudia holds out her hand, she gets a cheerful fist-bump anyway. “I do hope you don’t live up to it.”
He makes a bit of a face at her. “Uh, are you Ms. Wells?”
“That’s me,” H.G. says. “But feel free to call me Helena or H.G.” She leans forward conspiratorially and adds, “Believe me, no one bothers to calls me ‘Ms.’ anything.”
“Yes, well,” Jinks says, though at least he’s unlikely to fall madly in love with her on the spot. “We’d like you to come into the station for questioning about an incident we think you might be involved with.”
Considering H.G. is usually almost eager to come in to the station—sometimes she drops by just to tease them about unsolved cases and stare at Myka’s lips—Claudia’s kind of surprised when she sighs like she’s been asked to pick up the dry cleaning. “Can this wait?” she says. “I’m in the middle of working on something new.”
“Ooh,” Claudia says eagerly, because criminal or not, H.G.’s inventions are basically the best things around. “What does it do?”
H.G. laughs. “You’ll find out when I use it.”
“I can’t wait,” Claudia says. “I bet Artie punches another hole in his wall.”
“Photographic evidence or I won’t believe it,” H.G. says.
“Mom,” Christina says. “The expression is ‘pics or it didn’t happen.’ Honestly.”
“Of course, sweetheart, how could I be so silly,” H.G. says, ruffling her daughter’s hair, but it’s kind of obvious from the smile on her face that she meant to provoke exactly that reaction.
“Seriously, though, can you come in?” Claudia says, forcing herself to damp her curiosity about whatever H.G. is working on. “There’s almost a chance that you might actually be involved with this one. Maybe.”
H.G. makes a face. “I bet I can give you an alibi if you tell me when it happened.”
Claudia sighs, because most of H.G.’s alibis are not worth the time it takes for her to say them. She got three different people to swear up and down that she was playing poker with them last month when they know she was across town stealing that locket. “Okay, I didn’t want to have to break out the big guns, but I can basically promise you that if you come in for questioning, I can make sure that it’s Myka who interrogates you.” She shrugs. “What more can you ask?”
Jinks stares at her. “What? This is our case, we—”
“Hush, rookie,” Claudia says, flapping a hand at him. “Well, H.G.? What do you say?”
H.G. hesitates. “I don’t have time to get a sitter for Christina.”
“I don’t need a sitter,” Christina says.
“Yes, you do,” H.G. says, putting a hand on her shoulder. “What’s the rule about Mommy’s job?”
Christina sighs, every inch the put-upon preteen. “Mommy’s job means lots of people are angry at Mommy, which means they might try to hurt me, which means Mommy would have to kill them, which would put her in jail for a long time, so if I don’t want Mommy to be in jail, I have to make sure I stay with people who can keep me safe.”
“Good girl,” H.G. says.
“I still don’t need a babysitter,” Christina mutters.
“All right, I don’t have time to get a bodyguard for Christina,” H.G. says, laughing. “Is it okay if she comes with?”
“Sorry, you want to bring your daughter with you to your interrogation?” Jinks says, staring at her.
“Not to the interrogation itself,” Wells says. “Pete or Claudia can watch her while I talk to Myka.”
“Yeah, no problem,” Claudia says, because Christina is pretty much the best kid in the world. “Hey, munchkin, wanna hang out with me while Myka and Pete try to find out if your mom did a bad thing?”
Christina rolls her eyes. “Mom is always doing bad things,” she says, sighing.
“Yeah,” Claudia agrees. “Hey, want to tell me what some of them are?”
Christina gives her a Look. “No,” she says patiently. “I’m not stupid, you know.”
Claudia shrugs. “Hey, it was worth a try. Into the car with you, munchkin. You too, mom.”
H.G. perks up suddenly. “Don’t you want to handcuff me?”
Claudia makes a face. “Uh, no? I mean, we’re not even actually arresting you, and it’s not like you aren’t coming quietly.”
“Couldn’t you anyway, though?” H.G. says.
“I guess,” Claudia says dubiously, pulling them out. “Why, though?”
“I’m trying to figure out if Myka is into bondage,” H.G. says cheerfully as she holds her hands out in front of her. Jinks chokes.
“You’re going to scar your daughter for life,” Claudia says, laughing, but she cuffs her all the same.
“Hey, why the cuffs for our favorite criminal mastermind?” Pete asks, perching on Jinks’s desk and twirling a pen in his fingers.
“She wants to see if it turns Myka on,” Claudia says, coming back from the interrogation room where she’d left H.G. “Think it’ll work?”
Pete rolls his eyes. “I think everything works on Myka.”
Claudia laughs. “Where is she, anyway?”
“Myka?” Pete says. “Following a lead on the MacPherson thing.”
“Why aren’t you with her?” Jinks says, trying unsuccessfully to reclaim his pen.
“Because I’m following a lead on the MacPherson thing,” Pete says.
“On my desk?” Jinks asks dubiously.
“Shh,” Pete says, putting a finger over his lips. “When Myka gets back, just tell her it was a dead end.”
Claudia rolls her eyes. “Come on, what are you really doing? I know you wouldn’t let her do all the work and get all the credit.”
Pete sighs. “Waiting for a call from a CI that might lead to a lead on the MacPherson thing,” he admits. “But don’t tell anyone, it’ll ruin my image.”
“Haha,” Claudia says dryly. “Can you get Myka back for me, though? I kind of need her.”
Pete holds a hand to his heart in affected hurt. “What, I’m not good enough for you anymore?”
“Not even close,” Claudia says, shoving him. “Besides, I kind of promised H.G. that Myka’d be the one to question her. She didn’t want to come at first, and there’s, like, an off-chance that she might actually be involved with this one. Nothing warrant-worthy, though.”
Pete frowns. “Which case?”
“The museum robbery,” Claudia says. “You know, the thing with the—”
“Right, yeah,” Pete says. “That did kind of look like her style. Sure, I can get Myka back, no problem.” He pulls out his phone, dialing quickly and holding it to his ear. “Hey, Myka?” he says. “Listen, can you come back to the station? I’ve gotten into a bit of— No, dude, I swear I didn’t mean your mother— Seriously, Myka, you might need to smooth over some— You know assaulting a police officer’s seriously illegal, right? Oh, god, what are you—no, don’t—”
As he lowers the phone, she can hear a tinny, “Pete? Pete?” coming from it.
“And, scene,” he says, sounding satisfied with himself. “Ten minutes, tops.”
Claudia buries her head in her arms, laughing. “Man, she’s gonna kill you.”
“I’m counting on your sexy criminal to distract her,” Pete says.
“Oh, she’ll distract her,” Claudia says. “And then she’ll kill you.”
“It’s like you don’t have any faith in me at all,” Pete says sadly.
“Hey, I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em,” Claudia says.
“Pete?” Myka calls, running into the station. “Pete, is everything okay?”
“Oh, hey, Myka,” Pete says, leaning back in his chair and tossing a rubber-band ball up and down. “Claudia and Jinks need you.”
Myka stops short, staring at him. “I’m going to kill you,” she says at last.
“No, wait, hear me out!” Pete says, straightening up and holding out a hand. “…Claudia and Jinks really need you?”
Myka does not look impressed. “You made it sound like you were in trouble,” she snaps.
“Claudia and Jinks were in trouble,” Pete says. “I was in…sympathetic trouble.”
Myka hesitates. “Claudia?” she says.
“Jinks and I really need you to interrogate H.G. for us,” Claudia says, spinning in her chair and feeling completely unrepentant.
Myka throws her hands up into the air. “And why can’t you do it yourselves?”
“Well, we promised,” Claudia says.
“You promised?” Myka says incredulously. “What? Why?”
“We don’t have a warrant, and H.G. was in the middle of something. She wasn’t going to come with us until we promised we’d get you to question her,” Claudia says. “So you’ve got to do it, because we promised.”
Myka flushes. “Why would that make her agree to come?”
“Oh, come on,” Pete says, flicking a rubber band at her. “The whole department knows she’s got a crush on you. She’s asks you out pretty much every time we haul her in here.”
“Yeah, at the last Christmas party she practically proposed,” Claudia says. Grinning wickedly, she adds, “It was pretty cute, I would’ve said yes.”
“Claudia!” Myka hisses. “She did not propose.”
“Wait, H.G. Wells is invited to the cop Christmas party?” Jinks asks.
“Well, I mean, technically it’s a secular winter holiday party, but calling it a Christmas party around Artie is pretty hilarious,” Claudia says. “And yeah, of course she’s invited. It gives Artie a stroke every year—which is the best part—but no one else minds.”
“But she’s a criminal,” Jinks protests. “She’s practically the criminal.”
“Eh,” Claudia says, because most of the police force stopped bothering to even pretend they cared after about the tenth time they’d arrested her for something-or-another. “It’s not like we’ve ever managed to convict her of anything.”
“I’m telling you, we should try tax evasion,” Pete says.
“I already did,” Claudia says morosely, because that had practically been a whole week of auditing down the drain. “She does them, like, scrupulously. They’re basically perfect. The IRS wouldn’t find a dollar out of place.”
“Wait, so you want to catch her, but you also want her to come to the secular winter holiday party and date Myka?” Jinks says, clearly still catching up.
Claudia shrugs. “Sure. I mean, we’re cops, she’s a criminal, we have to try and arrest her, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”
“Just don’t tell Artie that unless you want a lecture,” Pete says with feeling. “If I hear the phrase ‘professional boundaries’ one more time…”
“We should have professional boundaries,” Myka mutters.
Claudia rolls her eyes. “Right, because your relationship with H.G. is so professional. Full of appropriate boundaries. By the way, she’s handcuffed.”
Myka blinks. “I thought you said you didn’t have enough for a warrant.”
“We don’t,” Claudia says. “She wanted to see if it would turn you on. Does it?”
Myka stares at her. “No,” she says after a beat, very unconvincingly.
“Thought so,” Claudia says smugly, because Pete’s right, everything works on Myka. The fact that she’s lasted this long against H.G.’s campaign of seduction is honestly impressive. “Anyway, go find out if she did it, would you? And then find out if we can prove it. I mean, I’m assuming we can’t, but everyone has to get lucky once, right?”
Myka sighs. “Which case is it?”
“The museum robbery,” Claudia says promptly. “Thanks, Myka, you rock!”
“Yeah, yeah,” she says, slapping Pete’s chair. “Come on, moron, apparently Claudia needs us to do her job for her.”
Claudia sputters. “That is not what I said! Hey! Myka!”
“Hey, she calls ‘em like she sees ‘em,” Pete says, grinning, and Claudia throws a pen at him.
“Jerks,” she says. Turning to Jinks, she adds, “Hey, wanna watch them flirt? It’s pretty hilarious.”
“Myka and Wells?” Jinks says dubiously.
“Yeah,” Claudia says. “Come on. Hey, Christina! Wanna watch Myka try to find out if your mom did it?”
“Okay,” Christina says cheerfully, looking up from where she was drawing in a notebook.
“She doesn’t mind knowing her mother’s a notorious criminal?” Jinks whispers.
“Nah,” Claudia says. “H.G.’s always been really honest with her, and Christina seems pretty chill about it, frankly.”
“I think that’s probably a little weird,” Jinks says, and Claudia shrugs.
“Probably,” she agrees, taking Christina’s hand and letting Jinks follow behind. “Come on, munchkin, let’s go watch the show.”
Stepping into the little room, they find that Artie is already there, glaring at the window into the interrogation room like it’s personally offended him.
“Hey, Captain Artie, sir,” Claudia says, slapping him on the back just to piss him off a little extra.
He looks up at them and glares harder, if that’s possible. “Hey!” he says. “What’s the devilspawn doing in here? Claudia, this is an active investigation, you know better than that.”
“Hi, Uncle Artie,” Christina says, beaming at him and holding a hand out expectantly.
“Hi, devilspawn,” he says. “Why are you looking at me like that? I don’t have anything for you.”
“Yes, you do,” Christina says patiently. “I know you do.”
“Menace,” he mutters, but he pats his pockets down and comes up with a lollipop to place in her open hand, because Christina is an angel and even Artie can’t deny it too much. “You know you’re just like your mother, right?”
“Yup!” Christina says, popping the candy into her mouth.
“That wasn’t a compliment,” Artie tells her. “Claudia, what are you doing bringing her in here? I can’t even count how many rules that’s against.”
“What, she wanted to watch,” Claudia says. “Come on, lighten up, pops. Careful, or the stick in your ass will get stuck there.”
“What did you just say to me?” Artie says, and Claudia holds up her hands.
“Jeez, whatever, chill out,” she says. “It’s just Christina, okay?”
“Oh, yes, just the daughter of the most notorious, dangerous woman in the Western Hemisphere,” Artie says. “I suppose that’s not important or anything.”
“Now you’re getting it,” Claudia says, slapping him on the back.
Artie glares at her. “Claudia—”
“Oh, relax, okay?” Claudia says. “I want to watch.”
“You want to watch,” Artie says incredulously. “This is a very important investigation. And it’s your case, I might add.”
“Yeah,” Claudia says, rolling her eyes. “My case. A museum robbery she might be involved with, and that’s a pretty big ‘might.’ Anyway, we’re never going to be able to prove it either way.” They never can, even when she practically brags about it in the middle of the station.
“You’ll never be able to with that attitude,” Artie says.
Claudia rolls her eyes. “Yeah, I’ll be sure to get a degree from the Artie Nielsen school of positive thinking.”
“Claudia,” Artie starts, but Christina interrupts him.
“Hey,” she says, leaning up against the glass. “You guys are making it hard to hear Mom and Myka talk, and I want to know what they’re saying.”
“Whoops, sorry, sweetheart,” Claudia says, turning back to the glass after sticking her tongue out at Artie-the-parade-rainer. “My bad.”
“So, did you do it?” Pete is saying on the other side of the glass, because the man has subtle interrogation techniques.
H.G. purses her lips. “If I say no, will you release me from your custody?”
“You’re not in custody, Helena,” Myka says. “No one arrested you. We’re not charging you with anything.”
“Is that a yes?” H.G. says.
Myka sighs. “Probably? As far as I can tell, we don’t even have probable cause.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to tell her that,” Pete says, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet up on the table. Next to her, Claudia can hear Artie make a hissing noise. She thinks maybe she can hear the glare he’s leveling at them too.
“Well, in that case, I refuse to say a word on the subject,” H.G. says, smiling.
Myka stares at her. “You’re not going to tell us you didn’t do it, because then we’d release you?”
“Exactly,” H.G. says. Claudia figures she probably should have expected that.
Myka groans, dropping into a chair at the table and massaging her temples. “Of course,” she mutters. “Can’t you just give us your alibi? I bet you have one, even if you did do it.”
H.G. leans forward. “I’ll give you my alibi if you’ll go out to dinner with me tomorrow night. Or just come over for dinner. We don’t need to go out. We don’t even really need to eat. We could just…stay in.”
“Isn’t that extortion?” Myka asks Pete. “Can we arrest her for that?”
“Probably not,” Pete says thoughtfully. “We could try obstruction of justice?”
“Ha,” Myka says, though Claudia has a sneaking suspicion that’s mostly crap. “Give us your alibi, or we’ll arrest you for obstructing justice.”
“Fine,” H.G. says, sighing. “When did the robbery take place?”
“Um,” Myka says, and glances over at Pete, who shrugs.
“No idea,” he says.
“Claudia?” Myka says, closing her eyes and leaning her head back.
“Friday evening,” Claudia yells through the glass as loud as she can, making Artie jump and glare at her for a change. “At, like, five-ish.”
“Isn’t that during museum hours?” Pete says.
“Yeah,” Claudia shouts, unable to keep from grinning as she says it. She might be on the straight and narrow now, but that doesn’t mean she can’t appreciate quality work. “It was a really impressive heist with great tech. That’s why we think she did it.”
“I’m flattered,” H.G. says smoothly. “But unfortunately for your investigation, I was attending Christina’s piano recital at the time. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?”
“Yup!” Christina calls out.
“You all need to stop doing that,” Artie hisses.
“Oh, come on, she’d know we were here either way,” Claudia says.
“That’s not the point, Claudia, and you know it,” Artie says. “Besides, you’re setting a bad example for your rookie.”
“I’m just showing him the way we do things around here,” Claudia says.
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” Artie tells her.
“Uh, I think I’m okay,” Jinks says, but they both ignore him.
“Well, in that case, I guess you can go,” Myka is saying, standing up.
“Wait!” H.G. says, leaning forward in her chair. “Maybe I’m lying. It’s too dark in those theaters for Christina to really see me. Maybe she only thinks I was there.”
“H.G.,” Myka says patiently, “I was with you at that recital.”
“Oh,” H.G. says after a second, biting her lip. “Right. Darn.”
“God, get married,” Claudia mutters, and on the other side of the glass, Pete starts cracking up.
“You went with her to her daughter’s piano recital?” he says.
“Christina invited me,” Myka says, glaring at him.
“Did you make out in the back row?” Pete asks.
“It’s not a movie theater,” Myka snaps. “We sat in the front row, and H.G. taped the whole thing, so I can confirm her alibi in about three different ways.”
Pete keeps sniggering, but he manages to say, “I guess that means we can let you go, H.G.”
H.G. sits up straight. “Oh, well, maybe I arranged the whole thing but hired other people to make the actual theft in order to give myself a credible alibi. They could have been using my inventions. You might be able to get me on conspiracy.”
“This is the weirdest interrogation I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Jinks mutters.
“Why do you think we’re standing here, dude?” Claudia says, patting him comfortingly on the shoulder. “There’s nothing like watching H.G. throw herself at Myka while Myka tries to pretend she doesn’t like it.”
“You wouldn’t do that, come on,” Myka is saying, going over to stand right—right—next to H.G. and looking down at her. Claudia wonders if they realize most people don’t feel the need to stand within the same square foot when having a conversation.
“Oh?” H.G. says, tilting her head up and raising her eyebrows challengingly. “Do tell me why not. It’s always fascinating to learn new things about myself.”
“The puppet master thing just isn’t you, H.G.,” Myka says, putting a hand on her hip. “You like to do all the work yourself.”
“Well, I do like taking an active role in things,” H.G. practically purrs, and Myka takes a step back, flushing. Claudia sniggers and gives H.G. a mental high-five.
“Right, well,” Myka says. “Now that we’ve established that, I think we can agree that you clearly weren’t involved in the robbery. That means you’re free to go, Ms. Wells.”
“Oh, but,” H.G. says, “shouldn’t you keep me around anyway?”
Myka’s eyes flick to the mirror and then back to H.G. “Why?”
“Um,” H.G. says, seeming at a loss for words for the first time. “Because…I’m a very suspicious person.”
Myka bites her lip and looks away, obviously trying to fight off a smile. H.G., seeing that she’s found a weakness, smiles and leans forward, resting one—handcuffed—hand on one of Myka’s arms. Claudia’s surprised they don’t all spontaneously combust from the sudden increase in sexual tension levels in the building.
“Well,” Myka says, looking down at the hand and then away, “I guess you’re probably a person of interest in some ongoing investigation.”
“Ah!” H.G. says. “So we are having dinner, then.”
“Who said anything about dinner?” Myka says, leaning closer to H.G. Closer. Because they weren’t practically on top of each other already.
“Well, you have to feed me, don’t you?” H.G. says innocently. “You can’t let me starve. That would be police brutality. I could sue.”
“Yes,” says Myka, sounding amused. “Because we’re the ones keeping you from leaving.”
“Well, I am handcuffed,” H.G. says, smirking.
“By choice!” Myka says. “Claudia said you asked to be so that you could figure out if…”
“Yes,” H.G. says, smirking. “Is it working?”
Myka kind of squirms, looking all around the very small room. “No,” she says, and if anything, it’s less convincing than the last time. Claudia rolls her eyes.
“Wow,” Pete says, apparently agreeing with her. “Remind me to tell Artie you’re never allowed to go undercover again.”
“Oh, shut up,” Myka tells him.
“No, I agree,” H.G. says. “That wasn’t very good at all. But if you’re going to keep me handcuffed—and I think you should, since I am just so very suspicious—does that mean you’re going to hand feed me as well?”
“I’m not buying you dinner!” Myka protests.
“How can the police treat their prisoners this way,” H.G. says unrepentantly. “Perhaps instead of allegedly stealing something expensive for my next paycheck, I should write an exposé about the police department’s campaign of starvation.”
Myka and closes her mouth several times, before finally saying, “Fine. Fine. I will…order Chinese.” When H.G. starts to grin, though, she adds quickly, “But for everyone! This is not a date! We are eating dinner…near each other. And other people are also eating the same dinner, so it really isn’t a date.”
“Okay,” H.G. says, smiling.
“And I’m not feeding you!” Myka says, pointing at her.
“Okay,” H.G. repeats.
“And—and—and this is not a date!” Myka says, and practically runs out of the room.
There’s a brief pause, and then Pete says, “If you can get her to go out with you for real before the end of the month, I’ll split my winnings with you.”
“Why, Detective Lattimer,” H.G. says. “Doing business with an alleged criminal. Whatever would Artie say?”
What Artie would say, it turns out, is, “There’s a pool?”
“Yeah, of course,” Claudia says, actually kind of surprised that he hadn’t guessed that already. No one’s ever tried very hard to even hide it from Myka. “You’re in for the end of May.”
“What—Claudia!” Artie yells. “I do not bet on the likelihood of my most frequent suspect in anything and my best detective dating!”
“Well, no, I entered the bet for you, obviously,” Claudia says, rolling her eyes. “Come on, lighten up. It’s a good bet, you might win.”
“That is not the point,” Artie hisses. “And I am not going to win, because Myka is not going to date H.G. Wells!”
“You keep telling yourself that, bro,” Claudia says, slapping him on the back. “Come on, Jinksy, munchkin, let’s go order Chinese and then all mysteriously vanish when it comes time to eat it.”
“Okay!” Christina chirps, and Claudia ruffles her hair, because Christina continues to be the sweetest thing in the world and remarkably patient about how long it’s taking H.G. to get her a second parent.
“Your mom is great, but she does not deserve you,” she tells her seriously.
“I know,” Christina says smugly. “Everyone here is always telling me that, and Mom says she agrees.”
“Good on them,” Claudia says, and leads her out of the room.