One of the requirements of her job was learning to blend into the background. It was easy enough with most everyday people. The guy at a newsstand across from a house they needed info on. Woman with kid shopping at a store. Super in a building. They were all easy. Some sad eyes, some cleavage, some politeness—whatever the case required. Criminals tended to be warier. LEOs were warier still. Which might have explained why Kalinda was slightly surprised by the fact that she was able to lurk just around the corner in the hallway where the latest visitors who had set the partners into a tizzy were currently arguing.
“Uh huh. Just following up.” The voice matched the woman who had been introduced to Diane as Special Agent Barrigan. While wearing a Derek Lam pantsuit. The agent, not Diane. The average FBI agent, from the white collar division of the New York field office or not, could not afford Lam suits—at least, not for daily wear. Her tone strongly suggested that she remained entirely unconvinced. The snort that she punctuated that statement with suggested it even more.
Kalinda tuned out the conversation from a few passing junior associates who were discussing the chances that next year the Cubs might throw off the curse. Their conversation held the dregs of bitter disappointment that flooded the city once the Cubs lost to the D’Backs in the NLDS. That was less important than the conversation happening around the corner. After all, when she had been summoned to Diane’s office and briefed in that laconic Diane way, it had been clear what her job was: figure out what agents from the New York field office were doing in Chicago sniffing around the firm.
It was the voice of the woman in the Lam suit again. “Did you forget the part where he’s already in jail, Peter. You don’t have to—“
“I just have a feeling about this case. Too many of the details strike me as being exactly what Caffrey would have been like before he found his feet. And besides, we’re talking about only one of 36 in the world. And the only seascape by another Dutch master. That’s worth a wild goose chase or two. If there’s even a chance that they’re here, we have to try.”
It never ceased to amaze Kalinda that silence had its own characteristics, but that was an annoyed silence if she’d ever heard one. The next words came from the woman in the suit who still sounded pretty skeptical. “You go ahead and keep telling yourself that long enough, and maybe you will start to believe it. The rest of us here on planet earth—“
And then there was the sound of a door opening, and the voices of Jonas, Will, and Diane floated out into the hallway. The conversation between Barrigan and her boss came to an abrupt end.
Kalinda didn’t stick around to listen to the greetings. She’d learned what she needed to know. It was time to do her job.
The sun coming in through the windows of Diane’s office made it seem like maybe it wasn’t November; if you didn’t step outside, all that sunlight might misdirect you long enough from the chill in the air that moved past brisk and headed into the realm of winter coming that for a minute you might forget it was Chicago. In November.
Diane Lockhart was a little like fall in Chicago: stripped down to its bare essentials but dressed up enough to go out on the town at the same time.
One of the things Kalinda most appreciated about working with Diane was that the woman never wasted much of anything. Kalinda’s cue that it was time to start the brief was nothing more than a slight incline of Diane’s head.
“Supervisory Special Agent Peter Burke is something of a star in the New York white collar division. Two years ago, he caught Neal Caffrey, a notorious art thief and forger who had attained international infamy. Multiple times. No one else was able to catch Caffrey, and Burke’s collaring him was widely publicized. Before that he already had a close rate far above many other agents, but Caffrey was clearly the jewel in his crown, so to speak.”
Kalinda paused, Diane nodded, and on they went.
“Did his undergrad in accounting at a state school. Married to an event planner; she appears to be exactly what you’d expect in an event planner. Good taste. They have a mortgage on a reasonable brownstone. One dog—a yellow lab named Satchmo. He’s a lot smarter than he looks, and he often uses the fact that people expect LEOs to be bumbling idiots to get information by playing that part.”
“In other words?”
"I think people who seem him as really lucky are underestimating him. And I think Burke likes it when people do that, so don't. Remember that he was smart enough to catch Caffrey, who was pretty smart himself."
Diane swiveled her chair and leaned in. "But?"
"But some might suggest—and in that some I’m including some of his own people—think he was a little obsessed with Caffrey.”
“And you think?”
“I think he’s very strongly goal-oriented.” Beyond that, Kalinda wasn’t prepared to speculate.
“And the others?”
“Mostly junior agents. Shiny and brand new sounds like. I overheard them in the lobby on the way up. Burke doesn’t seem impressed with them.”
Diane’s voice held a note of warning. “Doesn’t seem?”
“He might have been complaining that amid all those Harvard degrees and they couldn’t find one storage unit in all of Chicago.”
“Could we leverage—“
“No. When he scolds, it comes across as a slightly disgruntled father figure. He treats his people too well. They’re loyal. No easy in there. Would take too long, and they’re FBI, so—“
“We’re the enemy.”
“The obstructionist enemy.” Someone less intelligent or pragmatic might have pursued it. Diane Lockhart did not.
“Do you have any contacts in the Chicago office?”
Kalinda shook her head. “None that I trust with this. The agent on the case from Boston should be the one here. I overhead Burke and Barrigan talking about one of 36 paintings and an only seascape. Sounds like the Gardener theft for sure. That would put someone from the Chicago white collar division or the lead agent on the Gardener case who is based in Boston on it. If Burke is here, he might be slightly off the reservation. But it’s likely he's got enough clout to pursue this. The droves of junior agents suggest the latter. So if Burke’s here with support, it’s likely connected to Caffrey and not something New York would normally have jurisdiction over. I caught part a conversation between him and his first lieutenant—a Diana Barrigan. I think Burke thinks that this was maybe Caffrey’s first case.”
Diane just nodded. “And Barrigan?”
“Smart, worldly. Her father worked for the State Department. She grew up all over. I heard her having a conversation with one of the facilities guys in Spanish. Her accent was European, but it wasn’t the stilted stuff you usually see from diplomats’ kids. She’s practiced the actually useful variety enough to sound comfortable and colloquial. She'd never pass for Chicana, but she gets the inflection right so she doesn't alienate people. Looks like she can move comfortably in a lot of circles. Makes her good at her job and harder for us to control.”
“Is that respect I hear?”
“No. She’s just making my job harder. I know I don’t have to tell you about the suit.”
Smiling, it was Diane’s turn to shake her head. “No, I recognize Derek Lam. So she comes from money. Did she think she was going to follow in daddy’s footsteps?”
“Possibly. Undergrad at Tufts. Guess that would leave Princeton or Georgetown for graduate school if she’d been so inclined. Might have rebelled or gotten distracted along the way, though. Didn’t major in IR. Enrolled in their program with the Museum of Fine Arts. If there’s a connection to the Gardner, it makes sense Burke would bring her. Of all his staff, she’s the one who knows most about art.”
“I’ll pull the files on the O’Donnell case, but—“
“I’ve already started asking around. No news on any paintings or drawings of that profile coming onto the market.”
“The vase and the finial?”
“Nothing there either.”
Diane got up from her seat—a clear sign the discussion was over. “Good. Let me know if you find anything out.”
They were on their way to the door when the people they had just been discussing showed up with Will right on their heels just outside the office door. Diane’s hand was on the door and pulling it open before the FBIies had a chance to. Worse, Will was wearing his apologetic face. In her experience, that was never a good sign.
“Diane. Kalinda. I wanted to introduce you to Special Agents Burke and Barrigan.” Kalinda nodded her head and watched as Burke tried to size her up.
“I assured Special Agent Burke that we’d be happy to cooperate.”
Some days, Kalinda wondered how the man ever won in court. Too often he embellished more than he needed to, tipping his hand. In front of someone as perceptive as Burke was, that was a rookie mistake. Or the one that cleaned you out at a poker game. There was nothing happy about this, and they all knew it. Diane would have left that word out. Smart woman.
“It appears that they have a lead on a storage unit that belongs to one of our clients. The warrant is in order. I suggested that our in-house investigator go with them to ease the way with the locals.”
And then he could turn it around and nail the subterfuge spot on in the next sentence. Some day, she'd work out how to predict which Will was going to show up. Today she just nodded. “Be happy to. Your SUV or mine?” she asked as she turned to face them.
Points to both Barrigan and Burke for noticing the antagonism in the undertone. Another point each for not rising to the bait.
The first storage unit was, unsurprisingly, a clusterfuck. Everything she’d been able to assemble on Caffrey and on his buddy the elusive Mozzie is that they had layers within layers of security.
She did take a few mental notes on effective countermeasures guaranteed to piss of the people you didn’t want in your stuff. She also smiled sweetly when the junior agents glared at her like it was somehow her fault they hadn’t stood back while the unit was opened.
Burke had scowled yelled at the Harvardites that this was a learning moment, and then sworn pretty colorfully under his breath when he was out of hearing range of them. Kalinda also could have sworn that Barrigan had turned around in order to hide her own smile as he did so.
To be fair, neither Barrigan nor Burke had been in the line of fire for the really epic dust cloud that had exploded when they opened the door to the unit. Kalinda's estimation of them both went up another notch.
Problem was, after that fiasco, Burke and BArrigan had had a hurried conversation—which had been completely impossible to listen in on—that resulted in Burke telling Kalinda that he was sending both she and Barrigan off to search the next most promising site on the list now that all of his other agents had to basically be decontaminated of possible evidence.
Which made Kalinda feel about as warm and fuzzy as an operating table. Having a Fed follow her around—in her own city—was not a good plan, but there was never any chance of convincing a Fed of that, even when they were working on the same side.
However, since she'd been stuck backseating in the FBI truck, at least the assignment meant that she got to drive. Sure they'd had to hitch a ride back to the office with some local FBIies. But that was nothing compared with getting back behind the wheel of her own car. Even if she was pretty sure no amount of precision driving was going to freak someone like Diana Barrigan out, it was nice to be back in control.
Kalinda settled for trying not to get distracted. It was clear from the way that the expensive suit’s jacket hung just a little less perfectly than it ought to that there was a shoulder harness and holster with what Kalinda would guess was a standard issue service weapon inside.
It would also be a stupid bet to assume that the agent didn’t have minimum a second piece in an ankle holster. Special Agent Diana Barrigan did not seem like the type not to have a back up plan or six in place.
As Barrigan had climbed into the vehicle, Kalinda had watched her hands. They were lean but clearly stronger than they looked. Her nails were trimmed but polished in a neutral shade. If it had been the summer, Kalinda also would have wagered a tidy sum on being able to catch a glimpse to confirm tattoos that were obscured under the jacket.
Which sort of sucked because Barrigan was totally her type.
Still, it didn’t really matter how hot the agent was, there was no flirting with FBIies, especially those currently crashing her city. Kalinda shoved those thoughts out of her mind as she swung into a parking space on the left side of a one-way street.
In precisely three moves.
Maybe she couldn’t flirt, but it never hurt to make a good impression, and Diana Barrigan certainly seemed like the type to appreciate competence and skill. Kalinda shut down the police scanner she’d been monitoring on the drive over.
Since Kalinda had seemed quite conversational with her fellow agent, it surprised Kalinda to learn that Barrigan apparently wasn’t a chatty type. The drive had been peaceful—quiet enough that Kalinda had turned on the scanner for some background noise to break the silence up some. When she opened her door and got out, Barrigan followed. At the end of the block, Kalinda stopped and turned to face the agent. “I have some contacts in Chicago PD. I don’t have to tell you they aren’t likely to be happy to see you. I’m not going to tell you not to tell them who you are, but I wouldn’t flaunt it if you could help it.”
That earned her a snort, not unlike the one she’d overheard earlier. “I have met local law enforcement before. Once or twice.”
“Good. Then you should be able to follow the rules,” she said in response as she resumed walking.
Kalinda could just hear Barrigan's footsteps a little more frantic than her normal cadence as she rushed to meet the pace Kalinda set. It was pretty much all she could do not to let herself be distracted by Diana’s breathing. It certainly wasn’t like Kalinda was rushing on purpose just to see if she could unnerve an FBI agent.
After all, she would never resort to those sorts of tactics. Nope. Not Kalinda.
As she thought it, she realized that her inner monologue was overcompensating as badly as Will had done. Well, that explained it. Will’s poor lying skills were contagious. As long as they only infected her inner thoughts, she was okay. If they spread, her job was going to get twice as hand and four times as dangerous.
As they rounded the corner and walked straight into the wind, Kalinda looked back and placed her finger in front of her lips. She let her eyes flick down to where Diana’s hand was reaching into her jacket—where there was indeed a holster sporting a standard issue FBI service weapon.
Striding up the sidewalk along the side of the building, Kalinda heard the agent behind her catch up enough to whisper “You know, if we’re going to be working together, I could teach you some of the FBI—“
But Kalinda didn’t even give her time to finish the thought. “Already know them. Just didn’t want to spook you by using them until you suggested it.”
One more right turn, and Kalinda could easily make out the dark uniforms and gear of the SWAT team. Mostly, she was hoping that Arturo’s squad was here. When she overheard a particularly vicious son of a mother-fucking bitch in a familiar voice, she knew she was in luck. The scanner traffic had suggested, but even Kalinda got unlucky about team schedules from time to time.
“Arturo,” Kalinda said softly, pitching her voice low enough that the tactical microphones would probably not register the sound at all—and would definitely not catch the details of the conversation.
To his credit, Arturo didn’t so much as turn around. Without taking his eyes off whatever target they were fixed on, he answered. “Hi, Kalinda. You get that perp you were following the last time I saw you?”
She drew in a breath. Arturo knew better. “They aren’t all perps, mija.”
“So you say. What brings you to today’s fine false alarm?”
“Arturo Rodriguez, meet Special Agent Diana Barrigan.” It was entirely too much fun to watch Barrigan’s shoulders tense.
That got his attention. “Kalinda, did you just bring a Fed to my bomb scare?”
“Only because you love me.”
There was another bout of colorful swearing. Kalinda didn’t catch all of it; but it definitely involved the insertion of objections into orifices she was pretty sure weren’t designed for that kind of use.
Finally, Arturo drew a deep breath before yanking one of those packs of chiclet style mint gum from a pocket and popping two pieces into his mouth. “All right. I suppose I do deserve that.”
Kalinda allowed the corner of her mouth to curl upwards. “Just remember this the next time you think it’s a good idea to actively bar me from a scene. Have I ever gotten in the way before?”
“No.” Arturo sounded like someone had just scolded him for failing to wash behind the ears.
“Have I ever destroyed or contaminated evidence?”
That earned her a hiss. “Shit, no. We have detectives who have done more damage. But you’ve made Riley really angry, and he was—“
Kalinda held her hand up in a mockery of some sort of scouting salute. “I promise I am not here to traipse through your crime scene. I also promise not to antagonize Riley even if he’s about as smart as a slug.”
Arturo smiled. “Ballistic or insect.”
Diana cut in. “Are slugs insects?”
Kalinda shook her head. “You really don’t want to go there.”
The agent was persistent. “I’m just saying, insects generally have exoskeletons.”
Arturo turned his attention to Diana. “Why are you at my fake bomb scare?”
“Ms. Sharma has been tasked with helping us track down a lead on a white collar case. I have been assigned to follow her. I thought we were headed to a storage unit on our list.”
“Kalinda, she’s cranky. And snarky. I thought they drained that out of them at Quantico.”
She shrugged. “Maybe the white collar training puts it back in?”
Diana seemed to realize that this was off track from where they all needed to be. Kalinda was curious to see how precisely the Special Agent would play this.
"It's a special two weeks of training. They figure so many of the white collar criminals spent too much time at overpriced schools that practically offer whole majors in irony in all its may forms."
Arturo fixed his gaze on her. There was a brief nod followed by a genuine question. “You gonna try and throw your bona fides around my scene?”
It was Diana’s turn to hold up her hands in a surrender. “I’m just looking for information on a case. We can be out of here before anyone else finds out who I am."
Diana cut her eyes viciously in Kalinda's direction. Arturo rolled his eyes. “That’s what all the scary ladies in power suits say.”
Kalinda kicked him lightly in the shin. “Arturo, come on. You know this is more fun than the shopping bag someone forgot. And I promise it is not even close to the kind of case you’d be likely to get involved in.”
Smart woman that she was, Diana seized the opening. “We’re here trying to track down some leads on an art heist from 1990.”
Arturo, bless his slightly mercenary heart, was still unconvinced. Or maybe he was just cranky. The cold wind off the lake made it impossible for her to use her cleavage to its best advantage here. She'd do a lot of things for a good lead, but freezing herself to death for the FBI was not on that list.
“Chicago didn’t have an art heist in 1990. And art heists aren’t usually the sort of thing you’d need SWAT for,” Arturo said as he settled his backwards cap more securely on his head against the wind.
Kalinda put her hand on Arturo’s shoulder. “No, but SWAT does get called in if someone thinks there’s a bomb in a storage unit.”
“Only If PSBD is busy or if they think the bomb builder is still around.”
Kalinda smiled. “Exactly. The previous unit was booby trapped. I’d like to know if you or your buddy Jake in PSBD has recently had any weird calls to storage units?”
Arturo locked eyes with Kalinda. “Define weird.”
“A storage unit with lots of running electrical equipment. Something that would be keeping the temperature and humidity constant. If that equipment failed, there’s the possibility that someone might mistake it for a haz mat issue or an explosive device of some kind—“
“Only an idiot would confuse a dehumidifier—“
“A paranoid idiot in post 9-11 Chicago?” Kalinda asked.
Rubbing his hand back and forth across his forehead just under the band of his hat, Arturo sighed. “You have a point. There are way too many people who meet that description. Wish I could help you, Kalinda. I’d like to be on the owed end of this favor thing. But we haven’t had any storage unit calls in the last month on my team at all. Any weird ones we’d’ve heard about from the guys who were still trying to puzzle it out. And you know those bomb squad geeks. Nobody whines more about false alarms than them.”
“The suits are really uncomfortable,” Kalinda offered.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, bitch and moan is all they do.” Arturo turned his attention back to his scene.
“Thanks anyway,” she said, pushing herself off from the wall. "You'll let me know if anything turns up, right?"
“You just let me know if you’re planning on changing jobs. I do not want to be on the wrong end of your scope.”
Kalinda waved lightly as she began walking away.
The silence on the way back to the SUV was angry. Kalinda wasn’t exactly surprised to turn around and find Barrigan looming in front of her. Kalinda held her ground and raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t mention the Fed thing, huh?”
“What can I say? I like to be the one controlling my sources.”
Diana gave her a look that suggested she had a few choice suggestions of her own about exactly where such strategies could be shoved.
“It worked, didn’t it?”
Diana rolled her eyes. “Yes, it did. It threw him off his game enough that he didn’t lie to us. Fine. It worked. I still don’t have to like it.”
Kalinda nodded. “How do you feel about lunch?”
“Someone like you knows every worthwhile dive in the city, right?”
“Oh don’t even. You have a finger in every community in this town, Kalinda. The damned SWAT team doesn’t run you off a live call. Don’t play coy with me.”
“I’m also sure you’ve done your due diligence on me. You know my father was a diplomat. We were stationed in Poland at one point. I’m in Chicago. I want some good Pierogi. You know where the non-tourist traps are. Let’s go.”
Piergoi for lunch it was.
Traffic was so bad that it was almost an hour later that Diana hesitated on the way in the door that she leaned over and spoke low in Kalinda's ear. "I know you're not happy about having us foisted on you. And I don't expect roses and chocolate. But you will get rid of us faster if you don't antagonize Burke or slow us down on purpose."
Outside, Kalinda was smiling. Inside, she was worried. Diana was entirely too intriguing for Kalinda's own good.
Two days later, Burke was miserable. Worse yet, none of them were any closer to making Burke happy. Kalinda waited patiently while a junior agent in the batch Burke had, in his own words, appropriated from Chicago office used a pair of bolt cutters on the padlock on this particular unit. It was at least the 17th they had checked. The routine, the frustration, and even the coffee were all getting old.
Or, to be more precise, she waited patiently while making sure to be a comfortable distance back from the doorway in question. In-house investigators might not have access to all the same sources as people with credentials issued by the Federal government, but they also generally had less comprehensive disability plans, it was entirely possible that something was going to go boom when the door was opened. To their credit, the New York Harvardites were also well out f the immediate blast zone.
She'd had to bite her tongue to keep from placing a bet with Diana about which of the Chicago agents would be too green not to know to keep well back.
Diana, in another black suit whose designer Kalinda hadn't been able to place, was safely back and trying to keep Burke from going quietly ballistic.
When the lanky Fed with the Texas accent rolled up the door, she was pleased to find the standard set of storage unit crap. Boxes, bins, furniture wrapped in pads, and tell-tale rodent droppings piled up in the edges.
Diana cleared her throat slightly as she walked past Kalinda. "They not paying you enough to jump right to work, Ms. Sharma?"
"Didn't see you rushing the door either, Special Agent."
Diana smirked and stepped over the rug rolled up and resting just inside the door. "We don't get reimbursed for dry cleaning."
"I'll keep that in mind."
In the background, Supervisory Special Agent Burke's jaw was getting tighter by the second. To say that this investigation had not gone as he hoped would be an epic understatement.
Leaning against the wall just inside the unit, Diana had already pulled out a cell phone and begun making calls. Kalinda didn't have to overhear to know that she was discussing flights back to New York.
Clearly, the two of them were not going to get what they--or at least Burke--had hoped for from this trip.
As Kalinda pulled her jacket's collar up around her neck, settling the bottom of her face into the warmth there, she thought back to the weather forecast from that morning. The hallway might be inside, but it wasn’t well heated, and as it was close to 9 pm, the temperatures had dropped with the storm rolling in from the lake.
The chances of even a private jet getting off the ground with the phrase “lake effect snow” dominating the weather forecasts were dropping with each minute.
The multilingual stream of obscenities emerging from Barrigan suggested a correct guess. Kalinda made out the word shit in several languages besides English(scheisse and gavno), suggesting that Diana had been around German and Russian speakers. They were uttered with a practiced cadence that made it seem like her scatological litany was a tried and true favorite.
And then Agent Burke was standing in front of her. "Thank you, Ms. Sharma. You have gone above and beyond what most investigators would have done on this case, and I appreciate your dedication. We’ll be taking our leave tonight. If we have any additional questions, we’ll send them along to the office."
His eyes were focused on her--no distraction, no subterfuge, even his very subtle brand of it. He deserved an equally sincere goodbye. She inclined her head slightly and nodded. "Thank you, Special Agent Burke. I'm sorry we couldn't find what you were after."
For just a moment, Burke's head pulled back like he was slightly surprised, but then he nodded back at her.
Before Kalinda could even absorb that, Diana was whispering over her shoulder. "Wow. I've never seen him decide to like someone quite that fast. What did you do?"
In response, Kalinda just gave one of her unreadable, slightly coy shrugs.
When one of the junior agents found something, Burke rolled his eyes and trudged over in the direction of what Kalinda, Barrigan, and Burke clearly knew wasn't going to be what they were looking for. The body language of Burke—slightly slumped shoulders, a heavy gait, still-clenched jaw—said it all: Burke would do his duty, but he'd given up hope of finding something worthwhile.
Kalinda moved into Barrigan’s line of sight as the agent moved out into the hallway. “The airports are grounding all traffic, huh?”
“Case is over, but you’re stuck here at least one more night?”
“Looks that way. Want to point me in the direction of the best tamales in town?”
Kalinda smiled. “Tamales sound great.”
“The art behind the art in my hotel room made me crave Mexican.”
“Art behind the art?”
Diana smiled. “Oh, this I have to show you.”
"So the problem with hotels, even—no especially—the nice ones, is that the art is all utterly plebian."
Diana, in her own hotel room, seemed slightly more relaxed and at the same time slightly more powerful. She was currently digging around in the bag of tamales they'd picked up. Holding one aloft, she asked "Is this the sweet corn or the pork?"
Kalinda raised her eyebrow. "Does it matter?"
"I guess not. I'm planning on being greedy and eating at least one of each." She unwrapped one and breathed in the scent. "Oh God, that smells divine."
"So, art behind the art?"
Then Diana was moving across the room. Her shoes had been discarded by the bed, so she was able to leap just on the tips of her toes as she sped to the generic hotel room painting. Before Kalinda could even entirely process what was happening, Diana had, apparently, made a screwdriver appear from thin air--because where else could she have procured one so fast-- and had begun removing the bolts that held the painting on the wall.
At that point, Kalinda forgot about the throb of attraction that had clearly been pulsing between them for days. She just walked over to see what was going to get revealed.
By the time she got to the side of the room Diana was on, the painting was in her hands.
And on the wall was a piece that could only be described as funky fusion of cubist and Chicano mural art depicting the gorgeous courtyard of an adobe that was surrounded by a riot of flowers in violent warm colors. The reds and oranges and fuchsias were having the same effect on Kalinda's brain that the scent of the tamales was having on her nose. Sensory overload.
"It's gorgeous," she said, her eyes locked on the place where the neckline of Diana's shirt was being tugged lower than she'd ever seen it. Kalinda could practically imagine the high end bra under all that fabric.
"You spend enough time in hotels, you eventually want to make them feel a little less . . ."
Kalinda looked around: industrial grade carpet, sheets bleached into stark white, tables so glossy they felt fake even when they weren't. "Institutional."
Diana's face broke into a smile. "Exactly."
And then Kalinda needed to take a step back before she did something she was going to regret. "Yeah. I can see how that painting would conjure up a craving to tamales."
"Carne asada might have been even better, but for that, I want to smell it grilling outside with the scent of the ocean in the background, you know?"
For once, Kalinda didn't. She just shook her head. "Where were you?"
"Los Angeles. Just for a few years. But I've never forgotten that smell. The grills all up and down, well—everywhere. Parks. Backyards in the expensive parts of town as the gringas tried to imitate the meals their help made. Working class neighborhoods on weekends. Nothing in the world like it. "
"You moved around a lot."
Diana nodded. "But that's not what you wanted to ask me the most, is it?"
Kalinda moved forward. Diana didn't give an inch. It was a shame, really. After all, Kalinda wanted to back her up against the wall. "No request for Indian?"
The response she earned was a scoffing exhale and some eye rolling. "Kalinda, I've been on the receiving end one too many times of someone trying to be nice or cool or hip by asking me where the best soul food in New York is. I kind of figured that you got enough of that."
As answer, Kalinda stepped back. "Point taken. I still would have told you."
Shrugging her shoulder, Diana took a step back toward the wall. "I just—we didn't know each other quite that well yet."
Kalinda ran her hand along the edge of the table, letting her fingers flutter over the plastic made to look like wood. Then she brought it to her neck and traced a path over the chain of her necklace, entirely conscious of what she was doing and riveted when Diana's eyes followed the movement of that hand. "Do we now?"
There was a slight shift in the energy in the room. It sounded ridiculous to say so, but Kalinda didn't know how to describe it. Something in the look on Diana's face changed—became a little bit more like the hunter that Kalinda knew had to be a part of the agent successful enough to draw Burke's attention. "Suddenly, I find that I'm not really in the mood to talk about Chicago's various ethnic food enclaves. You?" Diana took a step closer to Kalinda.
She smiled in return. "No, not really. Not when there are so many other much more captivating things to talk about. And I don't mean the art, no matter how beautiful it is."
"I'm not reading things wrong here, am I?" Diana asked even as she reached out and ran two fingertips lightly down Kalinda's face.
Kalinda took the step forward and brought her lips up to meet Diana's.
She tasted exactly like summer in the middle of November.
It was precisely 3:37 am when Kalinda slipped out the door of the room on the 19th floor of the hotel Diana was staying in.
Her own shoulder harness and holster, her leather jacket and boots, and her hair were all back in place. No one who didn’t know her would be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any of what had transpired in the hotel room that night.
It was just the way she liked it. All of it.
Two weeks later, a delivery arrived for her at Sterns, Lockhart, and Gardner. It was a large package, sent by a D. Gastropda. It had taken a second or two with Google before she figured out exactly what that meant. She flashed back to the conversation with Arturo.
Almost definitely probably not a bomb, then. Not unless someone really knew how to hold a grudge. When Kalinda opened the package, she found a framed print of Rembrandt’s A Lady and a Gentleman in Black. There was a small card with no signature, just a fragment of a painting. A hibiscus in a screaming fuchsia that if looked at from a certain point of view seemed more than a little obscene. Hanging the painting in an office in a firm that might or might not represent the current owner of that piece seemed ill-advised, even for someone with a penchant for flirting with danger. The print she took home.
The card she placed somewhere in the office that she'd be able to see it. Winter was coming to Chicago, and Kalinda figured that she could use the warmth she knew the card would generate any time she saw it.
When Arturo gave her a lead on a storage unit false alarm bomb scare, forwarded to him by his buddy in PSBD, Kalinda typed up the information onto a card the size of the one with the flower, stuffed it in a box with a chocolate rose, and shipped it off to New York.
She told herself it was only because you never knew when it would come in handy to have a Fed in another jurisdiction on your side.
But then, Kalinda told herself many, many things, some of which were even sometimes true.