Maura Isles looked positively delighted.
“Maura.” Jane said her name through clenched teeth, cutting her eyes to the side in a manner Maura, quite frankly, found theatrical. “Don’t smile.”
Maura shrugged, smile still firmly in place. “It’s exciting.”
“I feel like I’m in the principal’s office.”
There was a pause. “I never really did get in trouble in school.”
Jane sighed; Maura sounded almost wistful, as if this was a great tragedy. “Trust me. You didn’t really miss out on anything.”
“Were you a troublemaker?”
It was Jane’s turn to shrug. “No. Not really. Not often. Hardly ever.”
“I’m surprised. I would have thought the strong moral code that makes you such a good detective would have prevented you from engaging in bad behavior.”
For a moment Jane looked sheepish. At Maura’s continued, expectant focus, it morphed into defiant. “It wasn’t like I was stealing cars and looting the streets. Didn’t you ever cut school? Get in trouble for talking in class? Anything?”
Maura’s already impeccably perfect posture seemed to somehow become even more perfect.
“No. I didn’t.”
It was occasionally difficult to tell what would make Maura feel self-conscious. Sometimes, Jane was careless. This time, it had been accidental. “Strong moral code,” she joked half-heartedly, painfully aware of Maura’s primly blank expression. “What am I, Batman?”
It worked, to an extent. Maura turned to look at her, confusion weighing down her brow. “The Batman is a vigilante crime-fighter. He doesn’t operate within the legal system like you, Jane. He works outside of it, which positions him, by default, as someone who isn’t law-abiding. Even if he did, I think it’s fairly obvious that what you’re describing as a strong moral code is really Bruce Wayne’s deep-seated psychological need to repress his role in this parents’ death by funneling his guilt into becoming a literal figure of vengeance who represents the power to defeat evil he lacked as a young child.”
For a long moment, Jane was silent. “Yeah, okay. Either way, this isn’t high school.”
“I don’t know why you assume we’ve been called here for an unpleasant reason.”
Jane shot Maura a look of disbelief. “Because you don’t get left alone to stew in the boss’ office unless you’re about to get a whack on the knuckles.”
“I doubt Detective Cavanaugh would resort to physical violence.”
“If he doesn’t hurry up, I might resort to physical violence. I should be interviewing witnesses and you should be dissecting my victim. We don’t have time to waste on bureaucratic nonsense.”
Maura sighed. When Jane became cantankerous, it was even more difficult to deal with her.
“Jane,” she said, reaching over to rest the tips of her fingers on Jane’s forearm, “I think it would be better if we waited patiently. I’m sure Detective Cavanaugh wouldn’t waste our time.” At Jane’s disbelieving look, she added, “Maybe if you tried practicing some of the meditation techniques…”
The crack of the door opening cut off the rest of her sentence. Fortuitously, it did the same for Jane’s reply.
The light press of Maura’s fingertips, a final warning touch before pulling away, was the only thing that kept Jane from immediately demanding an explanation.
“Progress on the Bryant case?” Cavanaugh asked, settling into his chair.
“The shooter used a 9 mil,” Jane said. “There were two close contact bullet wounds to the back of the skull. It looks like a professional job to me.”
Cavanaugh inclined his head in Maura’s direction. “Do you agree?”
“I can confirm that a 9 millimeter handgun was used to deliver two shots to the lower portion of the parietal bone of the victim’s skull from a distance of less than six inches.”
Maura shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a statement about anything beyond the cause of death.”
“We’ve got statements from the neighbors,” Jane continued, used to Maura’s equivocations. “Nobody heard anything. The vic has a boyfriend with a temper. The next door neighbor said she’s called the cops at least three times because of the shouting, and we pulled up a prior arrest for domestic disturbance at her residence. I sent Frost around to pick up the boyfriend and bring him in for questioning, but this doesn’t feel like a boyfriend/girlfriend kind of murder.”
Cavanaugh looked amused. “No?”
“There’s no passion. If the boyfriend’s going to kill her, he’s going to do it up close and personal. She would have been strangled, not shot in the back of the head.”
Cavanaugh nodded. He stood, walked behind them, and slid the blinds closed.
“You know what kind of work she was in, right?”
Maura’s smile returned. “Yes. She was a private dancer.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Stripper.”
“You been by her place of business yet?”
Jane shook her head.
“Good,” Cavanaugh said emphatically. “Stay away from it.”
“I’m sorry.” Jane scowled. “Did you just tell me to stay away from my vic’s place of business?”
“That’s exactly what I said. We’ve got something on our hands here.”
“Yeah. A murder.”
“Something big,” Cavanaugh stressed, undaunted. “Something that’s got very important people picking up the phone and calling the Chief, making the Chief pick up the phone and call me.”
For once, Maura seemed to catch on first. “Oh my,” she said. “There’s scandal involved, isn’t there?”
Cavanaugh laughed humorlessly. “Oh, there’s scandal all right.”
Jane leaned back with a sigh. “Great. Let’s see. We’ve got a stripper with two bullets in the back of her head, pro style. I’m going to go with mistress, blackmail, and an obscenely wealthy older, uh, gentleman.”
It was Cavanaugh’s turn to sigh. “What I’m going to tell you can’t leave this room. It is essential that the source of this information remains confidential. If you have any doubts – any – about your ability to keep this to yourself, I need to know it. I know this, the Chief knows this, and you’ll know this. That’ll be all. It’ll go no further.”
“Come on,” Jane scoffed, throwing up her hands as if to implore intercession.
Maura looked at her for a moment before turning to offer Cavanaugh a placating smile. “I think I can speak for Jane when I say we’re completely trustworthy. We’ll keep anything you tell us in the strictest confidence.”
She waved her hands. “Yeah, yeah. Strictest confidence.”
Cavanaugh didn’t look particularly reassured, but continued anyway. “Amanda Bryant worked at S/Hedonism. It’s small. Classy. Caters to a decidedly upscale clientele.”
Jane snorted. “That’s probably why I’ve never heard of it.”
Cavanaugh smirked at her. “The only way you’d even cross the threshold is if you were prepared to drop some big bills on the ladies. And,” he added slowly, “if you were a lady.”
For a moment, no one spoke. Then, Jane growled, “What’re you trying to say?”
Maura’s fingertips again found Jane’s forearm. “I think what he means,” Maura said delicately, “is that S/Hedonism caters to a lesbian clientele.”
Jane shot her a look of utter disbelief. “Again? What the hell’s wrong with the lesbians in this town? Since when did they start offing each other?”
“You can hardly conclude anything with an N of two.”
“The thing,” Cavanaugh said, talking straight through their interruption, “is that the dancers at this particular club aren’t just dancers.”
Before Maura could interject with something entirely off-point and tangential – some sort of zen rambling about how people were always more than the sum of their parts – Jane asked, “Meaning?”
“Meaning that S/Hedonism fronts a high-end prostitution service. It doesn’t operate in a typical manner. There are no calls out. The clientele are carefully chosen and very exclusive. All solicitations happen in the club itself.”
“So why, exactly, am I being told to stay away?” Jane challenged. “Is this one of those things where somebody donates money to someone’s campaign accounts, and there’s somehow just not enough compelling evidence to prosecute Mr. Money and Power?”
Cavanaugh’s voice was full of warning. “This is the kind of thing where I get called into a meeting with the Chief of Police, Madeline Duncan, and her high-priced lawyer.”
“Madeline Duncan?” Maura repeated, brows drawing together as she thought. “The Madeline Duncan who’s married to Ashford Duncan?”
Jane scowled. “Who’s Ashford Duncan?”
“He’s challenging for the Senate seat in this district,” Maura explained, voice low. “The Duncans started in the Boston shipping business, but lately they’ve diversified into…”
“Is this one of those founding family things again?” Jane asked, groaning.
Maura felt compelled to clarify. “I wouldn’t say they’re technically one of the founding families.”
“Oh, not technically. Clear difference.”
“He’s polling well. Ashford has a lot of influential backers.”
“Ashford?” Jane raised a brow. “Is this another ex-boyfriend?”
At the hurt look on Maura’s face, Jane immediately wished she could take it back. Since she couldn’t, the next best thing was redirection. “So, Madeline Duncan…”
It took a moment for Cavanaugh to realize that was his cue to fill in the back story. “Right. So, Madeline Duncan had,” and here he paused, clearing his throat, obviously painfully uncomfortable, “she was…”
Jane took pity on him. “Buying it.”
“Maura, seriously?” Jane asked. “She was paying the dead girl for sex. Before she was dead, obviously.”
Maura looked resolutely unconvinced. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Why not? Rich men do it all the time.”
“Was paying some hot young honey to get her off. It happens.” Then, to Cavanaugh, Jane asked, “Is she confessing?”
“To the murder? No. She claims she was being blackmailed.”
“And since when is blackmail not motive?”
Cavanaugh held up two fingers. “Twice.”
Maura blinked. “I’m sorry. I just can’t think of the two instances to which you’re referring.”
Cavanaugh looked baffled. “Two what?”
Jane plowed ahead, ignoring the misunderstanding. “You said she was being blackmailed twice.”
“Yeah.” Cavanaugh looked relieved to be back on solid ground. “The way she tells it, she hooked up with the girl a couple of times. It was all nice and discreet. She made the deal with the club’s owner, Elise Carpenter. They’d work out the details, and she’d get whisked away by limo to a privately owned loft apartment. Maybe 20 minutes later, the girl would show up. They’d do their thing, the girl would leave, and the limo would take her back to the club. But then, the hubby’s campaign heats up and she tells Carpenter she’s going to be cutting ties. A week later, she gets this DVD in the mail. It’s a recording of her and the girl, with a note attached demanding an additional two hundred and fifty thou or else a copy’s going out to all the major papers.”
Jane nearly choked at the amount of the bribe.
“This one’s from the club owner. She pays it and hopes she’s done with it. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the girl contacts her. She says she’s going to go to the papers unless she gets fifteen grand. And it’s a drop in the bucket, you know. Small change. But, this time it’s the principle of the thing. She goes back to the club owner and tells her about the girl’s threats and about how she’s done with the nickel and dime stuff.”
“So Bryant piggy-backs off her boss’ scheme,” Jane said slowly, piecing it together, “and somebody obviously took offense. But, we can’t know who, not from this. Maybe Duncan did it and is looking for a way to spin it. Maybe she thinks she can get in first and control the way this investigation goes.”
Maura’s words were strident. “Jane, she came forward of her own volition to offer information of use to the investigation. This information is obviously very personally damaging.”
“It doesn’t mean she didn’t do it,” Jane noted.
“Madelaine Duncan has already stressed to the Chief the informal nature of her involvement with this case,” Cavanaugh said carefully.
Jane translated for Maura’s benefit. “Meaning she won’t testify.”
Cavanaugh nodded. “Without her testimony, there’s no link. There’s no way we prove the existence of the prostitution ring, not to mention link Bryant and her boss together over the extortion thing, without Duncan. We try to do this on our own, and we’re looking at months, maybe longer, to infiltrate the club with any amount of depth. High profile clients like this mean we won’t be able to find any of the other women she’s blackmailing. If they’re all like Duncan, there’ll be as few links as possible.”
He waited a moment before adding blandly, “Only, S/Hedonism does have an opening at the moment.” When both Rizzoli and Isles stared at him uncomprehendingly, he said gruffly, “Look, you’ve done it before.”
“Done what?” Jane asked.
Cavanaugh squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. “Gone undercover.”
Jane frowned violently. “Do you mean to tell me you’re proposing to send Dr. Isles in undercover as a stripper?”
Cavanaugh looked horrified. Maura looked slightly befuddled.
“Of course not,” he said sharply. “You’re the stripper. She’s the john.”
“I’m the… Me?” Jane sputtered.
“You’ve got to be loaded to get into this place. You see anybody else around here drives a Mercedes to work? Duncan’s already agreed to do the intro.”
“Intro?” Maura asked.
Cavanaugh looked relieved to have something less potentially explosive to answer. “The way we’ll play it, Duncan’s going to hand you over to Carpenter as a trade. She’ll give Carpenter a new customer in exchange for an end to the blackmail.”
“Can we go back to the part where you want me to go undercover as a stripper?” Jane frowned sharply. “Because I’m not doing that part. And the other part, Maura’s not doing that either.”
For her part, Maura looked remarkably unperturbed. “I don’t see why not, Jane. It seems like a reasonable plan.”
Cavanaugh had to hold back a snort of laughter at the look of surprise on Jane’s face. “Reasonable? What part of this plan seems especially reasonable to you?”
“I know you don’t really think my background and upbringing are particularly desirable or useful in general, but this would be a perfect opportunity to take advantage of my lineage and personal wealth.”
“Your lineage? Maura, no. You’re not doing this,” Jane said resolutely. “And anyway, you’re the chief medical examiner. All this woman has to do is plug your name into Google, and she’ll know you’re with the cops.”
Maura seemed unperturbed. “But I’m not really a police officer, Jane. In fact, my position with the city might actually lead the blackmailer to presume that I’m in a very sensitive and precarious position. If anything, she might conclude that since I’m the chief medical examiner, it could actually increase the amount of leverage she has over me. I certainly doubt she would think I was there under false pretenses. It would be as ludicrous as assuming the chief of police would involve himself in an undercover operation.”
“It’s a bad idea,” Jane growled. “Think of your reputation.”
“My reputation?” Maura blinked. “How could participating in an undercover operation in any way affect my reputation?”
“Think about what he’s asking you to do,” Jane said, gesturing violently at Cavanaugh. “He wants you to go to that place and… and…”
“Pay for sex?”
“Yes!” Jane exploded. “That’s exactly what he wants you to do.”
“But he wants me to pay for sex with you, Jane. I wouldn’t actually be doing anything illegal.”
“Yeah, and you know what you have to do to get to the second part of this ridiculous plan, don’t you? To get to the blackmail part of it?”
Maura nodded brightly. “Simulate sex with you for video recording purposes.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“It’s in the service of catching a murderer. And, people often have to perform unexpected tasks in the course of their work,” Maura said seriously. “Although, if you’re worried about the video recording, it’s certainly understandable. Research has shown that people perform differently when they’re being watched. It’s called the Hawthorne Effect. But don’t worry, Jane… performance usually improves.”
“It wouldn’t be drastically different than paid acting. Actors and actresses aren’t really having sex when they film love scenes for movies.”
“We’re not actresses.”
Maura smiled comfortingly. Her hand once again found Jane’s forearm. “I would certainly prefer to undertake this operation with you as my partner, but if it isn’t something you would be comfortable doing, I’m sure Detective Cavanaugh can recruit another officer.”
“No.” Jane’s horror and disbelief showed plainly on her face. “No.”
Maura turned to face Cavanaugh, expression as earnest and helpful as Jane had ever seen it. “I’m afraid I don’t know their names, but I’ve seen at least two officers who might be able to fill the role you’ve assigned to Jane.”
“Two? Who? Maura…” Jane paused a moment and took in a deep breath. “No.”
“I’m quite okay with this, Jane,” Maura reassured her. Then, to Cavanaugh, “Would you like me to help you find a replacement for Jane?”
Jane’s hands clinched into fists. “This is my case,” she said, voice low and dangerous, “and I’m not letting you go in on an undercover operation with an inexperienced officer.”
“It’s clear that you’re uncomfortable with this,” Maura said, smiling reassuringly at Jane. “And really, someone with a more extensive dance background might actually be a better choice.”
“I can dance,” Jane asserted, affronted. “It’s just taking your clothes off, anyway.”
“Actually, it’s very difficult to be a good erotic dancer. They need phenomenal balance, excellent core strength, a good sense of rhythm, innate sensuality…”
Jane ran a hand through her hair in agitation. “Did you watch a documentary on stripping?”
“Look, I can do it, okay.”
“No,” Jane said resolutely. “I can do it. You don’t have to find someone else. I’ll do it.”
“Good,” Cavanaugh said, grateful that Maura had managed to pull off the difficult task of getting Jane to agree without any intercession on his part. “You can’t tell anyone. This is strictly off the books.”
Jane slumped back in her seat, arms crossed over her chest. “It’s not going to work anyway. No way I’m going to walk in there and get hired.”
Cavanaugh smiled widely. “Oh, we’ve got a lead on that too.”
Jane sat sullenly across the table from Brandy Markham. She’d had to shake Frost, who’d given her a wounded expression when she’d told him she was on the hook to do a favor for Cavanaugh and so couldn’t accompany him to Bryant’s place of business.
“Take Korsak,” she’d said, ignoring his protest. “He’s perfect for this. He knows way more about strip joints than I do, anyway.”
She’d given him a shrug, a ‘what can I do?’, and tilted her head meaningfully toward Korsak. “Take him,” she’d said, her tone indicating no room for compromise.
And now she was looking at her in, and her in was blonde, bored, and barely a day over 21.
“You work at S/Hedonism?” Jane asked. Cavanaugh was sitting beside her, silent, and his presence made things awkward. She was used to Frost. She was used to Korsak. She wasn’t used to Cavanaugh. She wasn’t even sure she liked him, especially now.
Brandy nodded, suddenly straightening. “I do,” she said hesitantly. “But…”
“Did you know Amanda Bryant?”
Brandy’s eyes widened. “Mandy? Of course I did. But, you don’t think I had anything to do with what happened to her, do you?”
Jane’s expression remained blank. “Did you know her well?”
“We were friendly. I didn’t have any problems with her, if that’s what you’re asking.” Brandy looked around the room self-consciously. “I thought this was about…”
“About the case you have pending?” Cavanaugh interrupted, throwing a folder on the table between them. “Drug possession.”
“That was a misunderstanding,” Brandy protested.
“I hear there’s a valid case for possession with intent to distribute,” Jane noted.
“What?” Brandy’s head shook violently. “No. No way.”
Cavanaugh looked thoughtful. “That’s, what? Two and a half year minimum? Ten years if she’s not lucky?”
“That’s not what happened.”
Jane nodded. “And if she gets pulled in on a prostitution charge, that’s at least another five.”
“But this file,” Cavanaugh continued, tapping his fingers against its cover, “this file could disappear. All these problems could disappear.”
Brandy’s eyes were wide with panic. “I want my lawyer.”
“Yeah,” Jane agreed. “We can get your lawyer. You’re probably going to want him here when you work out this deal.”
“What deal?” Brandy asked, distrust writ clear across her face.
Jane sighed and slumped back in her seat. “It’s your lucky day.”
Brandy Markham’s lawyer looked decidedly amused. “So, let me make sure I understand what you’re offering here. My client agrees to recommend you for a position at her place of work, provides you with inside information necessary for infiltrating said place of work, and agrees to testify should this come to trial, and she’s guaranteed immunity from future prosecution on any prostitution-related charges that might arise. Her drug case is dropped. Her arrest is expunged from her record.”
“Yes,” Jane said, jaw clenched tightly. She didn’t like deals, never had, but she understood their necessity. It made it easier that this girl hadn’t really been involved in anything serious. But, in making this official, they were coming one step closer to actually having to implement Cavanaugh’s ridiculous plan. With Brandy signed on, it was suddenly more likely that Jane would, at the very least, have to audition as a stripper.
The lawyer leaned over to whisper something in Brandy’s ear. She nodded seriously, and said, “Okay. Where do I sign?”
And that, Jane thought dejectedly, was that.
Maura slid a beer across her counter to a waiting Jane.
“Have you selected your persona?” she asked, and took a delicate sip of wine.
Jane arched a brow. “My persona?”
“It’s my understanding that exotic dancers adopt an on-stage persona. Often, they create stage names and costumes to craft an entirely separate on-stage version of themselves that adheres to an overall theme they wish to embody.”
After a beat, Jane said, “Uh, no. I don’t have a persona.”
“You should consider one, Jane,” Maura said seriously. “I think it would help you feel more comfortable in your role.”
“More comfortable?” Jane scoffed. “How, exactly, am I supposed to feel comfortable taking my clothes off for a room full of horny, over-privileged rich chicks?”
“I could help you develop your routine. I’ve taken several years of dance.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Ballet.”
Maura didn’t seem to register Jane’s sarcasm. Instead, she said, “I don’t think this will be successful if you’re self-conscious.”
“There’s absolutely no part of this that doesn’t make me self-conscious.”
“But you did so well the last time you had to pretend to be a lesbian,” Maura offered encouragingly, “and you were uncertain then, too.”
Jane chose to ignore that. “Have you really thought this through?” she asked, staring at Maura over the rim of her beer bottle.
“I mean, if this works, we’re going to have to… You and I are…”
Maura nodded placidly. “I’m aware.”
“And you don’t feel weird about that?”
“I trust you.” Maura shrugged.
“It’s not a matter of trust. It’s… Maura, have you really thought about this? We’re going to have to, like…”
“Pretend to be intimate?”
Jane’s incredulity was clearly visible. “It won’t all be pretend,” she said, not quite understanding how Maura wasn’t getting that fact. “We’ll have to, you know, kiss. And, uh, other stuff.”
“Undress one another,” Maura supplied helpfully.
Jane’s eyes widened helplessly. “And that.”
“Convincingly mimic copulation.”
“Jesus Christ. Yes. That.” She paused a moment, before adding forcibly, “Friends don’t do those kinds of things.”
“But we’re more than friends,” Maura said, frowning. “We’re professionals.” She blinked at Jane, then smiled. “Would it make you feel more comfortable if we practiced?”
Jane nearly choked on her beer. “Practiced?”
“If we establish familiarity with one another before we actually have to perform in the admittedly high stress environment of the undercover operation, it might help decrease the anxiety you’re feeling.”
“I’m not feeling anxious,” Jane protested.
Maura simply stared at her.
“Fine,” Jane said, relenting. “Maybe I’m feeling anxious. You should be feeling anxious too. And no, I don’t think we should practice making out.”
“It takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to truly master a skill.”
Jane looked at Maura, dumbfounded. “I think I can handle it.”
“I really think it would be beneficial. If you were to have a negative reaction while we were undercover, it might jeopardize the success of the operation. I’m simply being practical.”
Maura was frowning again. “Are you sure you’re comfortable with this, Jane? It’s not too late to find a replacement.”
“Why are you so eager to hand this off to someone else?” Jane demanded, growing defensive. “Do you have a better option in mind? Someone at the precinct you’re looking to get to know a little better?”
Maura blinked. “You’re the most preferable option, but I can clearly see your discomfort, Jane.”
Jane was surprised to note she found that slightly mollifying. “Fine. I don’t know,” she said, defensiveness somewhat subdued. “Maybe we should try it.”
“Practice, you mean?”
Jane shrugged, turning away to focus her gaze on the far wall. “If this whole set-up actually works, I’m going to have to be able to pull it off. The first time I kiss a chick for real probably shouldn’t be when I’m pretending to be a lesbian prostitute.”
Maura nodded. “Probably.”
Jane nodded too, and chugged the rest of the beer before putting it down on the counter with resolute firmness. “Okay,” she said, straightening her shoulders, “how do we do this?”
Maura looked at her contemplatively, clearly giving the matter a great deal of thought. “Maybe it would be best if we attempted to construct the moment as it’s likely to play out.”
Jane ran her hands down her thighs, wiping away the condensation from her beer. “You mean role-play?” she asked. She stepped awkwardly around the counter so that she was standing in front of Maura, shoved her hands into her pockets, and rocked back and forth from the heels to the balls of her feet.
“Exactly,” Maura said, smiling, glad that Jane had caught on so quickly. “Of course, you’re obviously the more confident participant.”
From the look on Jane’s face, Maura assumed she’d somehow taken the statement as a personal affront.
“Why am I confident?”
Maura considered Jane seriously. “Well, you are, ostensibly, the one with professional experience with the situation. I should be nervous. I’ve never hired a sex worker before.”
“Yeah, but you’re the one who just laid out the big bucks to hire me for the night,” Jane argued. “You’re the one with all the money and the fancy family name. You’re the one who’s used to getting everything she wants. I’m the one who should be nervous. I’ve got to keep the customer happy, right?” She paused for a second before adding defensively, “And I’ve never been a prostitute before, so I think we’re even, okay.”
“I would imagine poise is a prerequisite for this type of high-end sex work.” Maura said thoughtfully, ignoring Jane’s outburst. She smiled beatifically, and reached out to place her hand on Jane’s bicep. “You see, Jane, this is why practice is so important. You’ve considered dynamics I haven’t and vice versa. For the sake of comparability, I’m willing to act out each scenario to see which is the better fit. It will help us make a more evidence informed decision.”
“What? Maura, no,” Jane said, throwing her hands up in frustration. “How about we both get to be confident?”
“But this is the first time I’ve solicited sex,” Maura protested. “I really don’t think…”
Jane couldn’t take any more discussion. She lunged forward, cutting off whatever explanation Maura was in the middle of giving, and Maura squeaked in surprise at the unexpected move. Her hands moved reflexively, coming up to rest on Jane’s hips, and it took her a moment to really register what was happening.
She was being kissed by Jane.
The shock of feeling Jane’s long body pressed so closely to hers momentarily immobilized her. Jane’s fingers were light against her cheeks; the touch of her lips was hesitant, betraying her uncertainty, and the combination of it left Maura feeling lightheaded. Without her heels, which she’d kicked off around the same time as she’d poured her first glass of wine, Jane was a good three inches taller than she was. She had to tilt her head back to meet Jane’s lips, and at that angle, the wild tumble of Jane’s hair cascaded down from where it was tucked behind her ears. It brushed against Maura’s skin in a fleeting tease, and she reached up instinctively to run her fingers through it.
At the touch, Jane pulled away with an unsteady breath. Maura watched, transfixed, as she unconsciously licked her lips. “That was okay, right?” Jane asked warily.
“It was certainly technically proficient,” Maura said, surprised to hear the breathless quality of her own voice. “But perhaps we should try it again at a more advanced level.”
Jane looked confused. “What, you mean with tongue?”
Maura nodded encouragingly. “I think that would be an appropriate place to start.”
After a long pause, Jane nodded her own head in response, the movement sharp, as if she were reassuring herself. She took in a deep, steadying breath through her nose and leaned forward slowly, and Maura was on her tiptoes, already leaning up to meet her, when Jane stopped abruptly. She drew back an inch and stared down at Maura quizzically, and Maura barely held back a sigh of disappointment.
Jane’s expression was adorably lost. “Where should I put my hands?” she asked, looking from them to Maura as if she couldn’t quite figure out how to make the two fit together.
Maura was unable to hold back her smile, something inside of her going unaccountably soft. “I liked what you did before,” she said immediately, without thought, then blushed. “But,” she continued, hoping Jane hadn’t noticed her enthusiasm, “you should just do whatever feels most comfortable.”
Jane shrugged, the movement awkward with tension. “I’m not used to doing this with someone who’s shorter than me,” she mumbled. “I don’t want to do anything weird, like accidentally pull your hair.”
“It would okay if you did,” Maura said before thinking. “I wouldn’t mind.”
After a second of stunned discomfiture, a slow smirk spread across Jane’s face. “So you like that kind of thing, huh?” she teased gently.
Maura sank into an embarrassment so profound it literally left her speechless; her clear embarrassment put stable ground back under Jane’s feet. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said, her voice still teasing but slightly huskier than usual in a way that made the bit of Maura that had gone soft inside a moment ago now go absolutely wiggly. It certainly didn’t help matters when Jane dipped her chin and smiled in a way that made her look positively roguish. “Maybe you should make me a list of things you wouldn’t mind. If I get confused, I can pull it out and check it.”
Up until that moment, Maura had been aware of a sublimated attraction to Jane. She’d explained it away to herself as natural, given the close nature of their relationship, her deep and abiding appreciation of Jane as a person, and Jane’s obvious physical attractiveness. It was present but never a problem, because she was quite content with their friendship. True, she was aware of the perhaps overblown sense of jealousy she felt whenever someone appeared who might threaten their relationship in any way, but it wasn’t troublesome.
The way she had just shivered at the sound of Jane’s voice was most definitely troublesome. The intense desire she felt to press Jane back against her kitchen counter and move systematically through all of the most common erogenous zones she could remember until Jane was willing and pliant was similarly problematic. It was an objectively fascinating phenomenon, the way she’d moved from simply appreciating Jane to experiencing an intense desire to take her hand and lead her to bed. Or, it would have been, had she not become suddenly conscious of the growing wetness between her legs and the marked increase in her respiration.
The signs of her arousal were obvious, should Jane choose to notice them.
“So I’m going to try this again,” Jane warned, and Maura nodded weakly. “Don’t freak out or anything.”
If she was going to freak out, as Jane had so eloquently put it, Maura was quite certain it would be because she’d just now realized how very much she liked kissing Jane as opposed to anything else.
As before, Jane’s fingertips were resting against her cheeks. The kiss was almost identical as well, still hesitant, but Maura actually felt the moment when Jane decided to push forward. She stiffened resolutely under the light pressure of Maura’s hands at her hips, took a step forward to eliminate the last bit of space between them, and slid one hand around to the back of Maura’s neck.
Dimly aware that it would be a bad thing were she to let escape the moan bubbling up in her chest, Maura curled her hands into the fabric of Jane’s shirt and forced the sound of approval back down. She didn’t know where Jane had learned that particular move, a mix of aggression, possession, and confidence. She only knew the results of the practical application of it – for a brief moment, her mind had gone gloriously, frighteningly blank.
It was entirely disconcerting.
Maura identified all of the sensory and emotional stimuli interfering with her ability to think and act in a manner approaching rational; chief among these were panic, arousal, excitement, and a growing sense of devil may care recklessness. And, although she was widely known for her reserve, it wasn’t that she could completely control every emotion that chose to manifest itself. Even with her years of practice in letting her head rule her heart and other places further south, some variables couldn’t be contained. She had no control over Jane’s actions, for example, such as the way her tongue was light and teasing, almost daring Maura to return the caress. Then, too, was the unpredictable reality of Jane’s body – the smell of her, the heat of her, the intriguing mix of solid and soft. Her body’s own biological response played a factor as well, prompting her to melt into the embrace and return Jane’s kiss with enthusiasm.
By the time Jane pulled away for a second time, Maura had one hand tangled in Jane’s hair and another pressed against the bare skin of her back. She’d rather boldly drawn her tongue along Jane’s lower lip before deepening the kiss even further, and had somehow managed to maneuver them so that Jane was pressed back against the kitchen counter and Maura was snugly fit between her legs.
Maura couldn’t stop staring at Jane’s face. She carefully catalogued the dilation of pupils in already dark eyes, the way her nostrils flared with each sharp inhalation, the rosy blush running along the edge of sharp cheekbones, and the way Jane’s lips were parted ever so slightly. Jane was always beautiful, but like this, she was mesmerizing, and Maura desperately wanted Jane to kiss her again.
“I think…” Jane began before stopping. The words were barely audible, her already scratchy voice nearly disappearing. She cleared her throat, looked away, and tried again. “I think that’s enough practice.”
Maura watched as Jane’s flush turned into a full-fledged blush. She became suddenly aware of the way they were pressed together and took a self-conscious step backwards. Her hands returned to her sides and her lips pressed into a straight line that was nonetheless encouraging. It was absolutely essential, she knew, that she treat this moment as if it wasn’t actually momentous. If ever there was a time when she would have been well served to have been impervious to the social implications of a situation, this was it.
“I think that was beneficial,” she said, smoothing down the front of her dress. “It helps to know beforehand just what to expect. I know some people posit that spur of the moment actions are actually a better predictor of…”
“Maura,” Jane said affectionately, “it’s late.”
Maura nodded nervously, though internally she felt a swell of relief. If Jane was smiling at her like that, the way Jane smiled at her over coffee or detailed explanations of the cultural significance of tattoos among the Samoan peoples, then Jane couldn’t be too upset.
“Of course,” she acknowledged, moving back another step. “I’m sure you have a lot of work to do to prepare. If you’d like, I can give you the name of my aesthetician.”
Jane looked up from where she was tucking her shirt back into her pants. “Your what?”
“My aesthetician. In case you were considering waxing before your debut.”
Jane rubbed her hand across her forehead wearily. “Waxing? Jesus, Maura.”
“She’s really quite good. My sessions with her are by far the most comfortable experience I’ve had with wax,” Maura added earnestly.
“Just how many experiences have you had with wax?” When Maura simply looked at her quizzically, Jane sighed. “Never mind. Thanks for the offer, but I’m going to take a wild guess that it costs you more to get your hair ripped out than it does for me to buy groceries for the month.”
“Only because you don’t keep a fully stocked pantry.”
“Do you understand how that’s not reassuring?”
Maura smiled. “I’ll text you her number.”
Jane looked poised to respond when a subtle scraping noise caught her attention. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bass making his way across the floor slowly and was surprised by the sense of affection she felt. For a tortoise.
“Hey buddy,” she said, pushing off of the counter. “Are we keeping you up past your bedtime?”
“Bass has a well developed sleep/wake cycle,” Maura reassured her. “We won’t bother him.”
“Yeah,” Jane drawled. “Okay.” Then, “Look, Maura, this was…”
Maura waited expectantly.
Jane let out long breath. “Let’s not let this be awkward, okay? Let’s just… This is for the job, so we shouldn’t let it be weird. I mean, it is weird, but let’s not let it be weird.”
Maura nodded her agreement. She felt an almost irrepressible impulse to share her recent discovery that this wasn’t weird at all, was instead wondrous, but had known Jane long enough to know that such a revelation probably wouldn’t be accepted in the manner in which she’d intended it. Jane, in other words, was unlikely to agree.
“So,” Jane said, a hint of uncertainty to her voice, “we probably shouldn’t see each other for a couple of days.”
Jane shrugged. “We don’t know how this is going to play out. If these people are ruthless enough to bring in a pro, we have to take them seriously. We can’t risk them seeing us together and figuring out what’s going on here.”
“Do you think they’re going to follow you?” Maura asked, eyes widening. She hadn’t really considered the danger to Jane before this. She should have, since the whole plot was designed to solve the murder of the girl Jane was trying to replace. In concern, she took a step forward and tangled her fingers with Jane’s. “Jane, I don’t…”
“It’s just a precaution,” Jane said softly, squeezing Maura’s fingers with her own. “Don’t worry. Besides, you’re going to have to start building your cover. You’ve got to meet with Duncan and have her take you to the club. You can’t just show up there once. You’ve got to go a couple of times. You’ve got to let them get used to you. If you and me show up at the same time and try to make this all look natural, it’s not going to look natural.” Jane sighed. “Maura, are you sure you’re going to be able to pull this off?”
“I understand why you might have reservations,” Maura admitted, smiling wryly, “but I think I can do this.”
Jane’s own smile was fond. “Because you might be a genius at most things, but lying? It’s not really a skill.”
“But it’s you, Jane. It won’t be a problem.”
Jane laughed softly and rolled her eyes. “As much as I want to solve this, I hope you don’t even have to try. I think we’d all be better off if we worked through this one the old fashioned way, without all this undercover nonsense.” She tugged her hand away gently. “I’ve got to go. Don’t take any risks, Maura. It isn’t worth it if you expose yourself to danger.”
Maura was fully aware that she looked lovestruck, but couldn’t do anything about it. Fortunately, Jane didn’t seem to notice.
“Goodnight,” Jane said. “Give Bass a strawberry for me, okay? I’m pretty sure he hasn’t warmed up to me yet.”
“He can’t warm up to anyone,” Maura said fondly, fighting back an impulse to pull Jane into a hug. “He’s a reptile.” Jane gave her that look again, the one that made her feel like she was somehow charming instead of spectacularly odd. Unable to hold back the flow of unnecessary information in the wake of Jane’s amused smile, she added softly, “It is unusual to see him out and about so late. Like many tortoises, he’s crepuscular. It’s probably the lack of predatory activity that makes him feel comfortable.”
Jane snorted. “Craptastic? You going to let her talk to you like that?” she asked Bass, before grinning up at Maura.
And yes, Maura noted, feeling a combination of physical, mental, and emotional signals manifest themselves as bliss. This was highly problematic.
Jane had learned a number of things that morning. For one thing, the kid, Brandy, somehow looked even younger than she had the day before, when she’d been scared and tiny and facing major jail time. With no makeup, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a loose, tattered tank top advertising the Woonsocket Dance Studio, she could have been fresh out of high school.
Two, pole dancing wasn’t nearly as easy as it looked. Jane wasn’t a hardcore gym rat, but she wasn’t a slouch either. But, an hour and a half of rented time at a dance studio that helpfully hosted a series of pole dance classes, and she was sore all over. Her quads, her arms, her abs… everything. She’d already downed a couple of painkillers and she still winced every time she sat down.
Three, when it came to dancing, she wasn’t in any danger of winning any prizes.
“You’ll have to play to your strengths,” Brandy had told her as Jane wiped the sweat from her face.
Jane had wrapped the towel around her neck and looked at Brandy in disbelief. She’d just spent 90 minutes impersonating an uncoordinated ostrich that was trying, for reasons undetermined, to be sexy. “I have strengths?”
“The swagger. The attitude. That weird wounded toughness thing you’ve got going on. These ladies… Don’t work for them. Make them work for you.”
Which, all in all, Jane liked wounded toughness a hell of a lot better than PTSD, which is what the department’s shrink had been trying to tell her she had every time he “ran into” her at the vending machine.
Four, stripper prostitutes pulled down a lot of money. Like, a lot, lot of money. If Brandy could be taken at her word, she brought home 8K in a bad month.
“It’s no great hardship,” she’d said, smirking at Jane’s well meaning ‘why?’. “Trust me. These ladies take care of themselves. They look good, they smell good, they feel good, and they treat me good. I treat them good in return, and everybody’s happy. When everybody’s happy, I get paid well and I get tipped well. Develop a couple of regulars and you’re set. They request you. They buy you gifts. They leave a couple of hundred in thanks, and you get to keep all of it plus your fee. Maybe you’re the one who should be reconsidering her career choices.”
When Jane thought about the lack of extra zeros in her bank account, it almost seemed promising.
“But you’re just a commodity,” Jane said, struggling to understand. “These people, they think they can buy anything. They pull out their checkbook and make you one more thing they can use however they want.”
Brandy’s smile almost seemed self-aware. “They only use you if you let them.”
Five, it thankfully wasn’t all about the dancing.
“We spend most of the night working the room and serving drinks. We take time with the clients to get them warmed up to the idea. It’s not everybody, you know. Elise chooses them carefully. Ninety-five percent of them don’t even know about the other side of the business.”
Which, okay. Passing out drinks and making small talk wasn’t her definition of a fun night out either, but it was better than humping a steel pole.
Six, this was going to happen.
“I told Elise you’re a friend of a friend, in town for a little while and looking for some work. She wants you to stop by tomorrow afternoon for a try-out.” Brandy had looked her up and down assessingly before sighing. “I’ll push you hard to her, but you’re going to pull it off on your own. Remember, stick to your strengths. If you can come in with references, that would be even better.”
Seven, she actually had references.
“I talked to our friend down in DC,” Cavanaugh had told her over the phone. “He pulled a couple of strings for us. You worked in the Starlite Lounge down there. Tell them to call Mickey Cantoni if they want to verify.”
“You talked to Grant?” Jane had croaked. “You told him about this?”
“I guess he’s not too big to do favors for us yet.”
Which, Jesus. She could have done without Joey Grant being read in on this debacle.
Maura had once told her that people were only capable of remembering, on average, seven new pieces of information in a day. Jane decided she’d met her quota.
It wasn’t like she knew what to wear to a stripper audition. It wasn’t like she could call Maura either, because she’d probably tell her to wear something frilly and prissy. When it came down to it, Maura was probably a better source for outfits for high tea, not high class hooch.
If she was going to do this, she was going to have to do it her way. Play to her strengths, Brandy had told her, so she ended up under Elise Carpenter’s assessing gaze in a pair of tight, worn jeans, a form fitting charcoal tee, and black boots. Her hair was down and wild, held back only by the mirrored aviators pushed on top of her head. And besides, the last time she’d played a lesbian, she’d done more than fine on her own. Apparently, she had a natural affinity for fitting in in this particular crowd.
“So this is Jane Richards? I’m intrigued,” Elise murmured, giving Brandy an approving look.
Jane smirked. She was doing more than fine on her own this time, too.
Brandy had told her that she’d done her best to put things in place, that she’d pulled Elise aside for a wink and a nudge and a she’s looking to make a lot of money and is up for anything conversation.
Elise pointed a finger at Jane and traced a rough outline of her figure. “Now strip.”
It was easier, somehow, than it had been when she’d been trapped in the tiny dance studio with Brandy, who’d asked her to do the same thing. She was in the club, on the job now, and it felt more natural to slip into the role. So, she whipped her tee off over her head, kicked off her boots, and shimmied out of her tight jeans. She’d worn matching underwear at least; Maura had sent it over to her, delivered directly from the store and wrapped in silky, nearly transparent tissue paper that managed to impart the impression of very expensive. She was tempted to send it right back to a Maura – she could pick out her own damn underwear. But then, after seeing the bra and panty set laid out on her bed, she conceded that maybe she couldn’t really pick out her own damn underwear, not when it came to finding something calculated to be sexy. She wasn’t calculated. In the past, she’d always figured either she was sexy or she wasn’t, and fancy underwear wasn’t going to do anything to change that. For this, though, while she might not trust Maura’s taste when it came to outfits, she admitted it might not be so bad to defer to her expertise when it came to lingerie.
After all, this wasn’t just underwear. It was professional underwear.
Still, she wasn’t entirely sure how Maura had managed to order something in exactly the right size. And, she was somewhat surprised that Maura had picked something that suited her so perfectly, but Jane couldn’t deny that the plain, black g-string, unadorned by lace or embroidery, was something she might have selected herself. If she was going to try to dress herself like a stripper, that was.
Maybe it helped, too, to not be completely alone in this. Elise Carpenter might be assessing her like a calf queued up for slaughter, but she hadn’t been sent out into the field without any protection. Maura had made sure of it.
Elise Carpenter had dark russet hair threaded through with just enough silver to hint at her age. Jane placed her in her early 50s, based purely on that and the confident, savvy way she easily mastered her environment. It was, she could tell, a confidence borne from experience and success, the kind of experience and success it took decades to build. Her skin was pale, flawless but for the light smattering of freckles and the tiny lines forming at the corners of her eyes. Others hinted at a smile broader than the slight, encouraging one she was giving Jane, but in a tailored black suit, with her hair pulled back into a low ponytail and elegantly understated make-up, she looked every inch the business executive.
“You’re a bit older than the girls I usually hire,” she said. Her accent was neutral, not from any part of the country or world Jane could discern. “I’m not wedded to youth, mind you. Experience is a valuable thing.”
“Trust me. I’ve got experience.”
Elise’s smile widened imperceptibly. “I imagine you do. Let’s see you dance. If you’re suitable, we’ll discuss further.”
And, of course. The woman wasn’t going to hire her to be a dancer without seeing her dance first.
“Go ahead,” Elise prompted, waving Jane up to the stage. “Brandy will find something suitable for you.”
The place wasn’t exactly what Jane would have expected out of a strip club. The floors weren’t sticky, for one. Instead, they resembled marble but weren’t, with swirling amber and deep brown reflecting the subtle, rectangular lighting inset into the high ceiling. An aged brick pillar separated the bar from the main room, but beyond it she could see gold and ivory glass mosaic topped by a thick sheet of copper and bottles lining matching copper shelves. Small round tables were scattered sparingly, as were chairs. Along the back wall were booths darkened for privacy. Facing the stage and above the bar were a row of private observation boxes, each with glass tinted so dark as to be black. She could see herself in them, a mottled, mostly bare reflection.
The stage jutted out in the shape of a narrow U, rimmed by lights that illuminated as the club’s lights darkened. It threw everything but the area closest to the stage into dark relief. She couldn’t see Elise Carpenter or Brandy, and the sense of vulnerability she’d thought she’d tricked into complacence reemerged. There was a silver pole positioned midway down; the music cued, she took a deep breath, and decided to pretend this wasn’t happening.
Play to your strengths, she repeated once, and took a determined step forward.
If Jane had to pick one word to describe Elise Carpenter’s office, she would have gone with posh. The desk looked like it had been shorn from a solid hunk of obsidian, the floor was quite possibly actual marble, and the chairs were made of black leather so soft they felt like butter. One entire side was a bank of darkened glass overlooking the dance floor. The room felt like it was suffering from an identity crisis, as if it were designed to intimidate and comfort all at the same time.
Jane shifted awkwardly in her chair and pondered the notion that it was working.
“I’ve spoken with Mr. Cantoni,” Elisa said, eschewing the chair behind her desk for one closer to Jane. She sat angled toward her, legs crossed tightly. “He told me, and I quote, that you’re a peach.”
Jane only just kept from rolling her eyes.
“You don’t look anything like a peach to me, Ms. Richards.” Elise smiled faintly. “As far as I can tell, there’s absolutely nothing about you that’s sweet.”
“That’s what I like about you,” Elise continued. She leaned forward, hands folded neatly in her lap. “Our clientele is very select.”
“So I’ve heard,” Jane said guardedly.
“The girls aren’t supposed to talk, but I know they do,” Elise said with an almost affectionate smile. “Brandy seems to think you’d be a good fit here.”
“I understand the job comes with a lot of perks.”
Jane caught and held Elise’s gaze. “I want it.”
Elise leaned back. She looked almost amused. “Well,” she drawled, “you’re not shy.”
“I don’t see any need to play games. If what I hear about this place is true,” Jane said, looking around her carefully as if to verify what she’d been told, “then I want to be here. Look, I may not be a kid like some of the other girls you have on your payroll. I may not be sweet. But, I know what I’m doing and I’m good at it and if I’m good at something, I might as well get paid for it.”
“And you understand we cater strictly to women?”
Jane smirked. “Just what kind of experience do you think I’ve been talking about?”
Elisa laughed softly. She leaned forward again, face softening. “You’re cocky.”
“I like to think of it as confident.”
“And I like to think of it as cocky.” Elise let her eyes drift down Jane’s torso. “What if I told you I was going to need a private audition?”
Jane’s heart skipped a beat. “Then I’d tell you I don’t mix business with pleasure,” she said, trying to keep her voice even and calm. This was the moment where this thing either worked or fell apart. She could feel it. If Elise pushed, it would be over. She was willing to do a lot for her job, but there was a line. “No offense, of course. Maybe you could speak with my boss and set something up, but I have to warn you. I don’t come cheap.”
It was somehow the right thing to say. “Cocky,” Elise murmured, her smile pleased. “I’ll let you spend a couple of days serving drinks. If they seem to like you, I’ll put you up on the stage. And if they really like you… Well. There’s room for upward advancement in the company.”
Jane smiled triumphantly.
“And get with Brandy. If you don’t already have appropriate costuming, she’ll tell you where the best places in Boston can be found. We like to keep our ladies entertained.”
Maura knew Madeline Duncan as well as she could know anyone who had been a regular fixture at her parents’ occasional cocktail parties. She had the vague impression of a woman who towered over her, and who was always dressed as if she might somehow find herself in a photograph that managed to appear in the newspaper. She had the shrewd, slick confidence of a competent politician’s wife, and the effortless, elegant arrogance of someone who felt the world owed her some indefinable fealty.
“Maura,” she said, accepting air kisses as if they were meeting for brunch. “How good to see you again.”
The threat of an awkward silence was whisked away before it had time to develop as Madeline assessed her coolly, and offered a tight smile. “You always were a bit of an oddity,” she said lightly, peering distractedly into her purse. “And look at you now, working with the police, dissecting dead bodies. It suits you, I suppose. Are you sure you’re going to be able to manage it, darling? I can assure you, where we’re going, the bodies are very much alive. As I recall, actual people were never a strong suit.”
It was the kind of statement Maura had been better able to handle when she spent her time in the company of people like Madeline, who were very clever at saying hurtful things while implying that any resulting hurt feelings would simply be an overreaction. Now that she spent all of her time with people like Jane, who sometimes said hurtful things but never with any real malice behind them and who was generally genuinely sorry when she did so, she found herself caught off-guard.
A second passed before Maura managed to compose a reply. “I have absolute faith that Detective Rizzoli and I will be able to successfully complete this assignment,” she said stiffly. “If I were you, I would be more concerned about your own predicament and less concerned about my potential job performance.”
Madeline smirked. “There’s no need for such hostility, darling.”
Maura felt like she was back at boarding school. The most popular girl in school had decided to amuse herself by tormenting her, yet again, and there wasn’t an inch of solid ground to be found. Instead she was sinking; everything that could have acted as a lifeline – her intelligence, her family’s wealth – had been completely negated. All of her so-called advantages meant nothing, not without the ability to use them to her advantage. None of them prepared her for casual malice, and she was once again a cowering mouse trying desperately to avoid the sting of sharp claws.
This was why Maura had long ago decided that sex was far easier than friendship. Sex was an uncomplicated satiation of mutual desires, not a back and forth push and pull of compromises and allowances. Friends had to be understood. Sex partners did not.
Madeline was a necessary evil, she told herself. Madeline got her into the club, made her introduction to the owner, and set this whole thing in motion. She’d gotten a text from Jane the day before, a terse ‘got hired’, which meant it was time for Maura to make sure she was in place. If she wasn’t in place, Jane would be alone and without protection. And Jane alone and without protection in a lesbian club would be a catastrophe. Women would probably kill themselves trying to catch her attention.
For all she knew, someone else would try to solicit Jane before she could.
Maura hadn’t known quite what to expect out of the club. She’d never been to such an establishment before, and only had representations in movies upon which to base her preconceptions. She’d been expecting something far more sleazy, with tawdry lighting and raving crowds of women rushing the stage for the opportunity to slip dollar bills into the g-strings of surgically enhanced women. Given the lack of ear-shattering American rock or rap music, she could only imagine they’d managed to arrive before the show started.
“They do sets every 90 minutes starting at 6:00,” Madeline said, putting a light hand to the small of Maura’s back. She led her through the growing crowd of women, up a staircase tucked neatly away behind an almost hidden door, and, after a discreet knock, into an expensively appointed office. To her left, Maura could see the activity going on below. Standing in front of the glass, surveying everything, was a woman with exquisite posture and rich, glossy hair. Maura recognized her houndstooth dress as St. John, and felt an unwitting appreciation for her style.
Maura could see the three of them reflected in the glass – Madeline’s sharkish smile, the other woman’s cool one, and her own trepidation. In her purse was a small recording device, supplied by the Boston PD. She knew the shape and size of it, its range and recording capabilities, its development and production history. It was well hidden and innocuous, and so it was irrational to suddenly believe that the woman’s piercing gaze could see straight through her subterfuge to know it was there.
“Elise,” Madeline said smoothly, “this is Dr. Maura Isles. Maura, this is Elise Carpenter.”
Maura’s manners kicked in, prompting her to walk forward and extend her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said congenially. “That’s a lovely dress.”
“Thank you, Dr. Isles.”
Madeline, who had been watching the pleasantries with an air of patronizing boredom, smiled shortly. “You ladies will excuse me, of course,” she said. “Ashford has a fund-raiser tonight, and I absolutely must be on my way.”
“Of course,” Elise said, giving the impression that she had dismissed Madeline as opposed to the opposite. As the door closed behind the other woman, Elise turned fully and smiled. “Come,” she said, tilting her head, “let’s sit.”
Maura followed her nervously. She sat on the edge of her seat, hands clasped tightly in her lap, and tried to look as if she wasn’t terrified that she would say the wrong thing.
“Madeline tells me she knows your parents,” Elise said. Her smile was warm and inviting, and the lack of reproach in her voice put Maura slightly at ease.
Maura nodded. “That’s correct.”
“I know why Madeline first came to me, but why are you here Maura?”
Caught off guard by the question, Maura leaned back, putting distance between them. She hoped her face didn’t reflect the furious thought going on in her mind as she struggled to put together an answer, but she was afraid it did. “Well,” she began carefully, “it’s hard for me to say.” She paused and decided to go with the truth, albeit to a question she hadn’t been asked. “I’ve recently become aware of feelings. They’re not new feelings, but they feel new. I really should have noticed them before. In retrospect, it seems obvious, but I’m afraid I’m not good with such things.”
Now involved in her own story, Maura nodded. “And now I don’t know what to do with these feelings. I’m afraid that I’ll act inappropriately, or do something wrong.” She frowned. “It’s a difficult situation. I don’t want to upset the balance in my working situation, or make anyone feel awkward or uncomfortable, but now that I know how I feel, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to hide it.” She looked up at Elise apologetically. “I’m not very good at hiding things.”
Elise rose smoothly from her seat. “I think you and I have more in common that you would think.” The words drifted over the curve of her shoulder as she moved to the room’s small bar. Maura heard the clink of glass and the splash of liquid; when Elise turned, she had two glasses of red wine in her hands. She pressed one into Maura’s hands and settled again. “It can be difficult, being a professional woman with needs. Before I started my own business, I was CFO for an international corporation. My life was never private, not like the men who worked with me. They could do as they pleased. People might talk, but their position was never in jeopardy. But if I strayed out of line… well, the consequences were much more severe. I constantly felt confined. Much like you must, in your work with the police.”
Maura started, afraid she’d been discovered. “How do you know about that?” she asked sharply, fingers tightening on the glass in her hand.
“It’s not a secret that you’re the chief medical examiner for the city of Boston.”
Sure that she’d somehow managed to give away the ruse, Maura pushed to her feet. “I shouldn’t have come here,” she said, looking around distractedly for some place to deposit her glass of wine.
Elise’s hand on her forearm stilled her nervous movements. “Maura, it’s okay. We’re very discreet here. Yours won’t be the first secret I’ve kept. It won’t even be the biggest.”
Maura only just refrained from pointing out that she knew better.
“Why don’t you let me show you around,” Elise said, taking the wine glass out of Maura’s hand. “If you’re especially worried about your privacy, I’ve got just the thing.”
Frost grabbed the pitcher and wound his way through the crowd to the booth where Korsak was waiting.
“And then,” he said, picking up on the conversation they’d been having before he left for the refill, “she sends me a text and says she’s sick. Sick!”
“Janie’s never sick,” Korsak said, frowning.
“You think this has something to do with this side thing she’s working for Cavanaugh?”
“Since when is Jane doing him favors?”
Korsak refilled both of their glasses. “There’s something going on here.”
“Did you call her?”
Frost glared at him. “Of course I called her. It went straight to voicemail.”
Korsak grunted. “Did you call the doc?”
“And say what?”
“And say what the hell’s up with Jane.”
“How about you call her?” Frost asked over the lip of his glass. “I’m not having Jane come down on me when she finds out you went through Dr. Isles to get information.”
“Fine.” Korsak shook his head. “Be a pansy about it.”
Frost thought sincerely about leaving.
“Okay, okay,” Korsak said, holding his hands up in a peace offering. “What was your read on Carpenter?”
Earlier that afternoon, Korsak had accompanied Frost to S/Hedonism. Much to his surprise, Frost hadn’t been completely mortified by his behavior.
“She’s hiding something,” he said finally.
“Of course she’s hiding something,” Korsak said, snorting. “She owns a strip club.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that if you own a strip club, chances are there’s a skeleton or two in the closet. And don’t go giving me that look. You know I’m right.”
Frost frowned. “I don’t like making assumptions.”
“So don’t make an assumption. Dig something up. Use your fancy-pantsy computer skills.”
“I can’t dig into someone’s financials without a court order,” Frost said icily.
“So get a court order. It’s the vic’s place of business. Vic’s boss.”
“Yeah, speaking of our vic’s business,” Frost said, refilling Korsak’s now empty glass, “did you see her account? How’s a 22 year old stripper sitting on 50K?”
“Maybe she pulled out of the stock market before the crash,” Korsak said drolly.
“She doesn’t come from money. Her parents came out to ID the body today. They weren’t exactly rolling in it.”
“So maybe she’s got somebody doing her favors,” Korsak said, shrugging. “Maybe a different kind of daddy is paying her rent, passing her cash.”
“Uh, you do know that club we went to today is for ladies, right?”
Korsak frowned at him.
“It’s a lesbian strip club,” Frost said slowly. “You know, ladies dancing for other ladies.”
Frost looked at Korsak in disbelief. “How did you miss that?”
“How was I supposed to know?”
Frost simply rubbed at his forehead.
“Anyways,” Korsak muttered, “I want to bring the boyfriend in again. I’m not saying we forget about the club angle, but it don’t feel right to me. A guy with that many domestic disturbance calls on his sheet needs a closer look.”
Frost eyed him warily. “We’re not partners,” he said. “This is just temporary.”
Korsak waved at him irritably. “Yeah, yeah. You don’t have to tell me.”
Satisfied, Frost nodded. “I’ll tell dispatch to have a uniform pick him up tomorrow morning.”
“And bring coffee.” At Frost’s indignant look, Korsak said, “What? It’s your turn.”
“My turn? When was it your turn?”
“Day after tomorrow,” Korsak said, smirking. “Or maybe some time next week.” He looked down at the now empty pitcher, then back up at Frost. “Hey, you got next, right?”
With a sigh, Frost pushed up out of his seat.
The night before, Maura had gotten the tour. Now, she was getting the pitch.
They were in a booth in the back of the club, nearly hidden away from the other customers. She had full view of the floor and the stage but more anonymity than she might have guessed. The music was muffled here, though it was never particularly loud. She’d arrived in time to see the last few acts of the previous set, and Maura had to admit that she was intrigued.
“They’re quite good,” she’d told Elise, watching a particularly flexible redhead with interest. “How many dancers do you employ?”
“Fifteen in all. And then there are the bartenders and a few extra servers. We just hired a new girl, actually. Oh, there she is.”
At the other end of Elise’s gesture, Maura found Jane. “Oh my,” she breathed, unable to look away. “Oh my.”
Jane was wearing the equivalent of a very small, black bikini and black, knee-high boots. She looked absolutely stunning, all olive skin and long limbs, and Maura knew she’d seen most of Jane before, but this was somehow different. Before, they’d been in the locker room after a work-out or changing into pajamas before a sleepover. Now Jane was smiling patiently at something someone was saying to her; with her deep dimples and the dark flash of her eyes, she looked positively wicked.
Elise laughed softly. “Do you see something you like?”
“Yes,” Maura said, not looking away from Jane. “I want her.”
Elise hesitated. “Like I was saying, she’s new.”
Maura managed to look away long enough to fix Elise with a determined stare. “If this is a problem, let me know how much it will cost to make it not a problem.”
“I’ll be putting her onstage tomorrow night,” Elise said. “Why don’t you give it a night to think things over?”
“I don’t need a night,” Maura said. “I’m quite sure now.”
“I want to make sure you’re pleased with your experience,” Elise said, gesturing to someone Maura couldn’t see. “Tonight, the two of you can become better acquainted. Tomorrow night, if you’re sure, I’ll arrange things for you.”
“I really don’t see any reason to wait,” Maura tried to protest, but it was clear Elise wasn’t listening. She was, instead, gesturing again.
Maura wasn’t sure how it happened, but the combination of gestures led to a chain of events that led to Jane swaggering over to where she sat.
“Yes?” Jane asked, giving Maura a blank, flirtatious smile before focusing her gaze on Elise. “Boss?”
“Jane,” Elise said warmly, glancing over at Maura, “you’ve been requested for a private dance.”
Jane’s smile faltered momentarily. She’d only been out on the floor for a few minutes, and already Maura had made her move. She’d told her to play it cool, to not make things too obvious. Then again, this was Maura. Maura was about as obvious as they came.
“Sure,” she said, holding her hand out to Maura, who took it and stood gracefully. “My pleasure.”
“A private dance?” Maura asked Elise, confused. She wasn’t sure if it was code for something else, if she would soon find her way to an assignation with Jane despite Elise’s earlier protests that Jane wasn’t ready. “Is that…”
Elise smiled. “A taste of things to come, Doctor. Jane, you’ll take good care of her, won’t you?”
“Absolutely,” Jane said, giving Maura’s hand a tug. She’d been shown the private rooms that afternoon, and promptly assured that she wouldn’t be giving any dances her first few nights on the floor. Things, apparently, were subject to change.
Once they were away from the table, Maura murmured uncertainly, “Jane?”
“It’s just a private dance, Maura,” Jane murmured in reply. “You, me, and a little privacy.”
“But Elise said I couldn’t solicit you until tomorrow night.”
Jane shot Maura a sideways glance. “Could you use a different word?”
Jane shrugged. “I don’t know. You make it sound so formal. It’s weird.”
“But it’s what I’m trying to do, Jane. What word would you prefer I use?”
“I’d prefer we didn’t talk about it.”
Because Maura had a much more immediate matter to explore, she let it go. “Exactly what happens during a private dance?”
Jane looked straight ahead to keep from looking at Maura as she said, “I dance for you. Privately.”
Despite the low light in the club, Maura could see Jane’s blush.
“Perform for me, you mean.”
Jane smiled at the bouncer guarding the door to the hallway that led to the private rooms and squeezed Maura’s fingers to make sure she didn’t ask any more questions while they were in earshot. The hallway was long, tastefully lit, and lined with closed doors.
“You’re at the end,” the bouncer murmured, letting them pass. “Take as long as you need.”
The room itself had a plush black leather couch, much like the ones in Elise’s office upstairs, pushed against one wall. Expertly dimmed lighting seemed to make the room and everything in it glow, including the much simpler chair placed neatly in the middle of the room, highlighted from above.
“Jane,” Maura began, stopping promptly as Jane placed a finger on her lips. Her eyes widened and she looked up, confused and seeking guidance, to see Jane’s eyes exploring the room’s corners with suspicion.
Apparently unsatisfied with what she found, Jane leaned forward. She used one hand to brush Maura’s hair over the curve of her shoulder and wrapped the other around her waist. “The place could be bugged,” she said softly, and Maura fought back a shiver. “There could be cameras. We’ve got to play this thing like it’s for real.”
Maura nodded jerkily. She opened her mouth to agree to the plan, but instead found herself saying, “Those boots really suit you.”
Jane rolled her eyes, then smirked. “Yeah,” she said, her naturally low voice pitched even lower, “you like them?”
Maura, unable to tell if Jane was being Jane or if Jane was being Jane pretending to be a stripper, simply nodded.
Jane leaned forward again. This time, there was forced cheerfulness in her voice. “If you ever, ever tell anyone about what I’m about to do, I will think long and hard about an appropriately inventive revenge. We will never speak of this again. This will be that thing we did for work that one time that we never remember or discuss. Do you understand?”
This time, Maura was quite sure Jane was being the real Jane being intimidating.
“I understand,” she said shakily.
“Good.” There was a moment’s pause before Jane added, “Don’t get too handsy.”
Maura wasn’t even entirely sure what that meant until Jane put her hands on Maura’s hips and brought their bodies firmly together. Jane was smirking down at her in an entirely intimate way and moving her body against Maura’s in a way that made Maura gasp, and it made much more sense because she felt a very strong compulsion to touch as much of Jane’s bare skin as possible. She became acutely aware of the fact that their skin was separated mostly by the thin fabric of her dress, which really wasn’t much protection at all. A few millimeters at most, and not even that scant barrier for her hands which had, quite without her conscious consent, come to rest at Jane’s hips.
Music was playing, something slow and sensual; Maura had to struggle to remember that this wasn’t real, and that Jane didn’t really feel the hunger she was clearly projecting with her expression
“Come on,” Jane murmured. Maura nodded, ready to agree to anything.
She found herself being walked backwards until, without warning, Jane put her hands on her shoulders and shoved. Maura landed on the couch with a surprised oomph, and wondered if she’d done something wrong. Jane didn’t look upset, though. Instead, she looked focused. She grabbed the back of the chair sitting in the middle of the room and pulled it so that it was in front of Maura.
Maura could only stare. With her boots and long legs and all of that bare skin, Jane seemed to tower over her.
Jane turned the chair so the back was facing Maura and promptly straddled it.
Her heart rate accelerated so suddenly that Maura was momentarily afraid she was experiencing tachycardia. And then Jane began to touch herself, running her hands down her sides and further, tracing down the length of her inner thighs, and Maura realized the only sensation she was feeling was arousal. She couldn’t look away, couldn’t look Jane in the eyes or focus her gaze politely off to the side. All she could do was follow with her eyes the same path Jane’s hands took. She reexamined things she had only subconsciously noticed before, like the way Jane’s hands were fine-boned, with long, elegant fingers that would have been perfectly at home on a concert pianist. The smoothness of her skin, the rich olive hue of it, and the lean muscles that appeared to evidence themselves everywhere – forearms, thighs, abdomen. And then Jane began to move. She draped her arms over the back of the chair and matched the rhythm of her hips to the music, and Maura’s mouth went dry.
There was a subtle sensuality to Jane’s movements that was completely at odds with how Maura perceived her. Jane was blunt. She was open and honest, and didn’t use camouflage to cloak her meaning. She didn’t distract with the sway of her hips or woo with a seemingly innocent but otherwise seductive touch. Her smiles were expansive, her gestures were exaggerated, and her presence filled the room.
This Jane, the one slowly pushing to her feet, filled the room in an entirely different way.
Maura’s already wide eyes widened further as Jane stepped easily around the chair to stand in front of her. She cowered, but not from fear. She was, instead, overwhelmed.
Jane gave her an odd, searching look before gently straddling her. Her knees were on either side of Maura’s thighs and one arm was reaching out to balance against the back of the couch, and Maura felt entirely enveloped. It put her eye to breast level with Jane, and she found she couldn’t look away. It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen Jane’s breasts before, or that Jane was so captivatingly well endowed that it was impossible to focus elsewhere. It was just that she hadn’t ever been in a position to examine Jane’s breasts quite so closely before, and certainly never while Jane was effectively sitting on her lap and moving her hips in a way that quite clearly brought to mind the impression of, if she was going to be polite about it, sex.
It took Maura some moments to pull her gaze away. When she did, she looked up at Jane uncertainly only to see Jane smiling back at her, gently amused. Maura suddenly became aware that she was taking short, desperate, erratic breaths in through her mouth in a way that wasn’t actually providing her with the amount of oxygen she required.
“Not so easy when it’s not just an academic exercise, is it?” Jane murmured, her voice pitched low enough to be only barely audible above the sound of the music. “That’s the problem with things that sound rational and reasonable in theory. It’s a whole other ballgame when you put them into practice.”
Maura licked her lips, willing moisture back into her mouth. “I can see the validity in that statement,” she admitted, dazed. “Jane, I…”
As if sensing that Maura was on the cusp of saying something she didn’t want to hear, Jane rose suddenly. She sighed at Maura’s decidedly flustered state – flushed cheeks, wide eyes, rumpled clothing – and extended her hand. “That’s enough for tonight,” she said, pulling Maura to her feet. “I’m pretty sure we’ve got them convinced that you’re interested.”
Not quite sure if the words were simply an unemotional statement of fact or a comment on Maura’s inability to control her body’s reactions in response to Jane’s performance, Maura blushed, lowered her eyes, and flattened her lips into a tight line.
Seeing her friend shut down, Jane sighed. She put a finger under Maura’s chin and tilted her head back, searching for eye contact that Maura refused to give.
“Maura, come on,” she said affectionately. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Maura’s eyes flitted up to hers, filled with distrust.
“It’s kind of cute, okay. The way you’re all…” Jane trailed off and waved her hand vaguely, which Maura found less than reassuring. “I mean, it helps. You’re not the one parading around in her undies, here. And you get to go home. I have to go back out there and let the social elite of Boston shove dollar bills down my drawers all night.”
Maura’s expression softened, becoming compassionate. Jane thought it was even worse than when Maura had looked embarrassed.
“Go find Elise, give her a good report, and get out of here, okay?” she muttered. “You’ve got work tomorrow.”
Well aware that Jane was desperately trying to avoid any sort of substantive conversation, Maura nodded. It wasn’t the time or place for it, anyway.
Maura looked up, startled, when Frost appeared in her morgue.
“Detective,” she said by way of greeting.
As the body on her table belonged to an elderly man who had nothing to do with any of the cases Frost was working, Maura found herself at a loss. “Can I help you with something?”
Frost pulled nervously at the collar of his shirt and swallowed hard. “About Jane,” he said.
Maura instantly froze.
“What about Jane?” she asked carefully.
Frost’s eyes touched on the corpse on her table before skittering away. “She called in sick,” he finally said.
After a long, uncomfortable silence, Frost asked, “Is there something I need to know?”
“I’m not quite sure what you mean.”
“Just, it’s Jane. She doesn’t call in sick.” Frost looked longingly at the door, as if he wanted to run away, though Maura wasn’t sure if he wanted to run from the conversation or just the morgue in general. “Is there something wrong with her? Something bad?”
“Nothing of which I’m aware,” Maura said, relieved to be presented with a question she could answer without attempting to lie.
Frost shrugged apologetically. “Because, it’s just… If she was going to tell anyone if something was going on, it’d be you. And if something was going on, we’d want to be there for her. Me and Korsak.”
His concern was so adorable that Maura grinned widely. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Jane has a remarkably resilient constitution. I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”
“But you’d tell us, right? If there was something serious going on?” he asked, unconvinced.
“If there was something in Jane’s life that she would like to remain private, I would like to think I could be trusted to keep that confidence,” Maura said. “It’s very sweet of you to be concerned.”
Frost looked intensely embarrassed. Maura felt a moment of sympathy for him.
“Okay,” he muttered, backing toward the door. Then, in his normal tone of voice, he added, “The next time you see Jane, tell her to return her messages. And, tell her Korsak and I brought in the boyfriend from the Bryant case this morning. There’s something there. I’ve pulled his financials for the past year. Something just seems off. Korsak’s going to run down some of his friends. He’s got a feeling,” Frost finished, adding air quotes to the last two words.
Frost shrugged. “Just tell her to call, okay.”
She wasn’t one to interfere – much – in the police side of investigations, but Maura felt compelled to take the information Frost had shared with her to Cavanaugh. After all, Frost and Korsak were completely unaware of the covert operation upon which she and Jane had embarked, and so wouldn’t know of any potential need to convey pertinent information to their supervisor or, really, know what might make information pertinent enough to merit conveying. So she explained to Cavanaugh exactly what Frost had told her, shared her concern that it might somehow affect their plan, and waited apprehensively.
She didn’t get the response she’d anticipated.
Cavanaugh scoffed. “Korsak’s gut is better than GPS for the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts, but he’s not working with all the information on this case. His feeling doesn’t have all the facts, and the main fact is we’ve got a good solid lead on this, and we’re in position to act on it. You don’t pull out of an opportunity like that because Korsak thinks he’s on to something hinky.”
She’d expected a more careful consideration of the evidence and potential implications of Korsak’s belief that Amanda Bryant’s boyfriend might merit further attention.
“Look,” Cavanaugh said, his voice surprisingly gentle, “I get that you may be nervous about all this, but it’s almost over, right? You’re doing a good thing here, Dr. Isles.”
Although Maura wasn’t entirely convinced – there was too much conflicting information for her to be able to draw a conclusion comfortably – she presumed that it did make sense to capitalize on all of the work they’d already done. Jane was in place, she’d made contact with Elise Carpenter, and they were in position to bring the objective of their undercover plan to fruition.
“You’re right, Detective,” she said, giving him a tremulous smile. “I completely understand.”
The club seemed a good deal rowdier than it had the night before. Then again, it was Friday, a day typically associated in the popular culture with overindulgences and exuberant displays of gratitude that the work week was finished. Maura didn’t completely understand the tendency. Work, after all, could be very fulfilling, especially if it was appropriately intellectually stimulating.
She made her way to the bar in the back, ordered a glass of wine, and wondered how she was supposed to go about things. The night before, she’d left Elise with a shaky smile and a promise to return. Elise had seemed entirely too pleased by her discomfiture, which Maura could only take to be a good thing given their assignment. Jane had promised her that she wasn’t supposed to look like she knew what she was doing. If she came across as too confident, Jane had said, then Elise might begin to suspect something.
Maura was absolutely sure she’d managed to avoid coming across as too confident.
She was midway through a sip when Elise appeared at her elbow; Maura nearly choked on her wine.
“I’m glad to see you back,” Elise said, putting her hand on Maura’s shoulder in what Maura could only assume was supposed to be a comforting gesture. “Especially after the way you rushed out of here last night.”
Maura blushed, remembering the way she’d felt after Jane’s dance: nervous, aroused, confused, and vaguely mortified. Unable to think of any way to explain all of that, she offered a weak smile instead.
“Did you enjoy your dance?”
Her blush deepened. She cleared her throat, and managed to keep her voice almost normal as she said, “It was quite satisfactory.”
Elise’s smile was predatory and pleased. “Excellent,” she said, taking Maura by the hand to lead her back up the stairs to the second level. “Let me tell you a little more about our pricing options.”
The private booth Elise led them to was a relief. It was still there, quieter. She had an excellent view of the stage and the growing flock of customers gathering around it, but she wasn’t lost among them. She was, instead, removed from them and provided with the perfect view.
“We have two openings at the moment, including this one,” Elise said, settling into a one of the room’s two chairs. “Reservation of a private viewing booth comes with a number of additional perks. You have a dedicated parking space in the private, back lot. You can enter the club through the VIP entrance in the back, so there are no lines and no prying eyes. You can use the phone there,” she said, pausing to point, “to order anything you’d like, to be delivered to you by the dancer of your choice. You’re entitled to a complimentary private dance every month. Entry fees are, of course, waived. But, best of all, no one out there even has to know you’re here. For our clients with privacy concerns, it really is the best option.”
Maura nodded her head, inclined to agree.
“We can do monthly plans, but the yearly rate is really the best. Fifteen thousand dollars for twelve months of privacy and self-indulgence isn’t so bad, is it?”
Again, Maura nodded. It really wasn’t.
“Not that you have to decide now,” Elise said, smiling reassuringly. “I know you have other issues on your mind tonight.”
Maura opened her mouth to speak, but was cut short by the dimming of the house lights.
“Your little favorite is going to be performing tonight,” Elise murmured, sitting back in her chair comfortably. “I assume you’ll want to compare her with the others before you make any decisions.”
There were no decisions to be made. Maura had a thick pile of money in her purse, on loan from the Boston Police Department, and an intense desire to finish up with the portion of the evening that required her to be in Elise’s presence. The longer she had to uphold the façade that she was simply a customer looking to work out an arrangement involving payment for sexual services, the greater the chance that she would somehow do something wrong.
Maura wasn’t particularly good at authentically feigning interest, so it was a good thing that she actually found the dancers fascinating.
“It’s quite interesting,” she said, only vaguely aware she was addressing Elise. “Each of them is able to embody something quite distinct from the others. Obviously there’s some repetition. There can’t be endless variation in theme and movement, of course, but there is more variety than I would have expected.”
“People have quite diverse interests,” Elise said, agreeing, but Maura was almost surprised to hear her reply. She’d been so wrapped up in watching the show that she’d almost forgotten she wasn’t alone. “You, for example, seemed quite drawn to Jane. There’s something about her that quite clearly speaks to you.”
Maura shifted uncomfortably, feeling instantly exposed. “She’s very striking.”
Elise smiled. “I agree. But, not everyone wants to take on such a challenge.”
“Jane doesn’t strike me as particularly complacent.” Elise paused, smirked. “Many of my clients appreciate complacency in their personal entertainment, especially given the stress and frustration they deal with on their way to financial success.”
Maura blinked at her, as if the notion was completely foreign. “I like to be challenged.”
“Something else we have in common.” Elise looked at her shrewdly. “My girls are available for $1000 an hour, for a minimum of two hours and a maximum of eight. We assure privacy and confidentiality. We’ll transport you to a private location and return you to the club after your time is finished. I find it’s much easier to keep these things off the books. Cash transactions are preferred, but if necessary, we can discuss alternate arrangements.”
Caught off guard by the sudden switch to business, Maura nodded silently, eyes wide.
“Why don’t you watch her dance, and then we can finish our discussion.”
The first strains of a new song caught Maura’s attention and she looked back at the stage to see Jane striding out onto it confidently. When she saw her, Maura nearly choked.
The navy blue beat cop uniform was skin tight. With her hair pulled up and tucked under a cap and her eyes hidden behind mirrored aviators, Jane looked intimidating, severe, and absolutely gorgeous. A utility belt was slung low around her hips; Maura could see a nightstick and a pair of handcuffs attached to it, and things that she’d long considered utilitarian suddenly took on an entirely different cast. Jane pulled the cap free, and Maura gasped. Her hair tumbled down over her shoulders, long, dark, and messy; when Jane looked at the crowd over the top of her sunglasses, smirking widely at the enthusiastic cheer the move evoked, Maura’s heart skipped a beat. The smirk was for all of them and for her alone, and she suddenly felt unaccountably jealous of everyone else who had seen it.
Jane’s fingers were moving down the buttons on her shirt, undoing them but not removing it, and Maura felt herself actually moving to the edge of her seat in anticipation. Before the night before, Maura had never particularly thought of Jane as a tease. Now, watching her, one hand above her head and wrapped around the thick steel pole as she slid down it, stopping only when she was almost on the ground only to wiggle back up again, Maura knew better. She’d just never considered that in this, as in all things, there were talents Jane kept hidden away.
Jane pushed away from the pole to stalk forward again. The voice on the speakers was singing about putting a big boy in someone’s life and Jane was stroking the thick, black nightstick in a way that was positively indecent; Maura felt her mouth go completely dry. She was wearing the boots again. Maura didn’t see them until Jane let the utility belt drop carelessly to the floor and ripped off her pants. It was undoubtedly wrong to be objectifying her friend, but Maura simply couldn’t help it.
Jane was mesmerizing.
As the music faded away and Jane swaggered off of the stage, Maura turned to Elise, licked her lips, and said hoarsely, “I have cash.”
She’d been taken to a loft apartment and left there to wait. Elise had left her alone in the private box after they’d made arrangements, and Maura had steadily worked her way through several glasses of wine as she’d watch Jane perform another two times. Now she was perched on the edge of a chair, hands clasped daintily in her lap. Her head was a little fuzzy, a combination of the wine and anxiety, and all she seemed to be able to focus on was the massive bed situated in the dead center of the room.
How had she ever thought this would work? Jane had been absolutely right. This was, in no way, a reasonable or practical plan of action. Perhaps it would have been better if Jane had decided she couldn’t do it, and they’d found someone to act as her substitute. Maybe without Jane’s involvement, Maura could have remained objective. She could have focused on the task at hand and avoided all of the complications that would arrive at the same moment Jane did.
As if conjured by her thoughts, there was a soft knock on the door.
Maura took a deep breath, stood, straightened her dress, and froze.
After a few moments, the knock came again, but Maura still didn’t move. She wondered briefly, erratically, if Jane would go away if she didn’t answer.
Another second more, and the door cracked open and Jane peeked inside.
“Hello?” she called out hesitantly. When she caught sight of Maura standing in the middle of the room, looking at her like a deer in headlights, Jane shook her head, amused. “You mind if I come in?”
Maura took an awkward step forward, the flustered hostess. “Oh, of course. Please.”
When Jane closed the door behind her softly, the room felt decidedly smaller. “Sorry I kept you waiting,” she said, depositing her purse carelessly as if at ease and comfortable. “I wanted to take a shower.”
“That was considerate of you,” Maura said, smiling woodenly.
Even though Jane looked like she normally did, in her black tank and worn blue jeans, Maura couldn’t get the image out of her mind of Jane looking out over her sunglasses and smirking. She’d always loved Jane’s smiles in all of their permutations, but that one had been especially arresting. She wasn’t smirking now, though. She wasn’t doing anything other than looking at Maura as she always did, patient and vaguely amused. She wasn’t even wearing the boots, which made sense, but Maura found she was unaccountably disappointed nonetheless.
Sensing Maura’s uncertainty and inability to advance the situation, Jane closed the distance between them. She put her hands on Maura’s shoulders, smiled reassuringly at her, and slid her hands down Maura’s arms so their fingers were linked.
“Hey,” she said softly, conscious of the possibility that their words were being recorded. “You okay?”
Maura’s face crumpled immediately in the face of Jane’s concern. “I’m not sure I can do this,” she confessed in a whisper. “You were right, Jane. This wasn’t a good idea.”
Jane looked at her in disbelief, one brow arched. “Yeah, honey, it wasn’t a good idea, but now it’s a little late to back down.”
“I don’t think you understand.”
“No, I’m pretty sure I was the one who understood from the start.”
“But Jane,” Maura said worriedly, “I don’t think I can do this.”
“Sure you can. It’ll be just like we practiced,” Jane said reassuringly, taking a step forward. She gave Maura a crooked smile. “Just pretend for a little while, and then I can retire my g-string.”
With Jane pressed close, smiling down at her, Maura forgot the argument she’d been planning to make – namely that what she wasn’t at all certain she could do was hold fast to the thin line between playacting and reality.
Instead, she corrected weakly, “Thong.”
“Like there’s a difference.”
“Actually, the thong provides slightly more coverage…”
Jane groaned, tightened her fingers around Maura’s, and kissed her. Maura whimpered and kissed her back. As keyed up as she was, having spent the night before reliving Jane’s private dance and the past few hours watching Jane strut around in that delicious perversion of a cop’s uniform, Maura wasn’t prepared to ease into things. She was vaguely aware of a loveseat positioned just behind Jane, so, keeping their hands joined, she brought them up to chest level and pushed. Jane went tumbling back, and Maura followed, crawling onto the cushions and straddling Jane’s lap.
Startled, Jane pulled away from the kiss. “Whoa,” she said hoarsely, looking up at Maura in surprise. “Maura?”
“You don’t understand, Jane,” Maura reiterated breathlessly. “You were just so… so…” She trailed off, unable to pick the descriptor she felt best encapsulated the way Jane had looked on that stage. She disentangled their hands and brought hers to Jane’s face, brushing her thumbs over Jane’s cheeks. “And I spent the whole night watching.”
Jane gave her a concerned look and licked her lips nervously, and Maura nearly moaned. “So, uh, what you’re saying is this whole thing’s got you a little, uh, worked up,” she ventured hesitantly.
“Yeah. You know, worked up. Excited.”
“Oh, yes. That.” Maura nodded solemnly even as her hands slipped into Jane’s hair. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I’m going to be honest with you, Jane. I’m having difficulty regulating my actions. It may be incumbent on you to make sure things don’t go too far.”
“Too far?” Jane blinked in surprise. “Maura, are you seriously suggesting that you might have trouble, you know… refraining?”
Maura nodded again, and wriggled even closer to Jane. “I think we should agree beforehand that we won’t ever discuss anything that happens here tonight. Please just know that your portrayal was extremely effective, and that I know I shouldn’t be responding this way. I’m usually able to exercise a much higher degree of control over myself. It’s almost as if I’ve suffered a severe frontal lobe injury.”
Before Jane had a chance to respond, or ask what that even meant, Maura kissed her again. She felt oddly powerful looming over Jane, with her fingers wound tightly in Jane’s hair and Jane’s lips under hers – it calmed the part of her that had felt almost wild since she’d seen Jane onstage.
She registered a vague sense of surprise that Jane had let her take the lead like she had. Then again, just as Jane had a tendency to hide away her talents, she often did the same with her vulnerabilities. If anyone should know that Jane wasn’t always the person she tried to be for the rest of the world, it was Maura. Sometimes Jane was uncertain instead of sure. Sometimes she was willing to let someone else take care of her, instead of the other way around. Sometimes she let things happen, instead of making them happen.
Sometimes Jane followed her lead.
Relief flooded her when Jane’s hands slid up her back and Jane started to kiss her back. Maura took it as permission to continue, and it gave her license to do the things she’d wanted to do since the night before, when their positions had been reversed. So she ran her nails down the back of Jane’s neck, grasped the hem of her tank, lifted it free. She found the shell of Jane’s ear and traced it with her tongue, pulled hard at the hair at the nape of her neck and forced her to bare her neck. And when Jane’s neck was bared, she kissed her way up the length of it, over her chin, and back to her lips.
She pulled away to look at Jane, utterly unaware of the look on her face: desire and yearning, with a hint of wistful.
Jane took in a deep breath, head spinning, something in her responding instinctively to the way Maura was looking at her. “Jesus, Maura.”
“I know, Jane. I’m so sorry…” Maura began softly, only to be cut short when Jane surged up to kiss her again.
Jane’s thighs were tensing beneath her. Maura could feel the impatient press of her body, the growing restlessness at being trapped, and so she pushed herself off of Jane’s lap and stood. She looked down at Jane for a long moment, taking in the wild tousle of her hair and flushed cheeks and feeling unaccountably proud that she’d been the cause of it, before extending her hand.
After a moment’s hesitation, Jane took it.
“Jane, are you…”
“Help me with this,” Jane said, interrupting, sliding her hand around to the back of Maura’s neck. Maura was dressed casually, for her, but the blouse was complicated by snaps and hooks Jane didn’t have the patience to navigate. And so Maura undid them for her and drew the blouse over her head, tossing it casually to the floor. She watched as Jane watched its descent with a faint smile, watched as the delicate fabric settled into a messy pile, and desperately wished she knew what Jane was thinking.
The momentary break brought hesitancy with it. Maura examined Jane carefully, trying to measure her mood and receptivity. Her hand hovered between them, fingertips a few inches short of brushing against Jane’s abdomen. She was suddenly shy.
It was Jane who had to break the stalemate. Holding Maura’s gaze with her own, she deliberately reached behind herself, unhooking the clasp of her bra. As it slid off of her shoulders and onto the floor, Maura stepped forward, reanimated. Her fingertips met Jane’s skin. They traced a line from her sternum down, the touch light enough to elicit goose bumps. When they met the resistance of Jane’s waistband, her other hand came up as well, and she very slowly and deliberately undid the button of Jane’s jeans.
Jane’s breath hitched and Maura looked up, searching for any sign that she should stop, but Jane’s face was unreadable. She froze, uncertain, brought one hand up to brush Jane’s hair behind her ear, and tried again to speak. “Jane…”
She wasn’t surprised when Jane cut off her question with a kiss. This one was more reckless; it carried a hint of desperation. Maura could almost feel the confusion in it, confusion she echoed back in a kiss equally as desperate. Her hand slid out of Jane’s hair, down to the back of her neck; Jane could break her hold, she knew she could, but the tight grip made her feel as if she’d regained some of the control she’d lost.
Jane’s fingers fumbled with the clasp on Maura’s bra, opening it clumsily, and she spoke against Maura’s lips. “Do it,” she said, the words muffled and nearly incomprehensible. “Do it.”
And so Maura did, pulling down the zipper on Jane’s jeans.
Jane pulled away. Her jaw clenched and her fingers scrambled with the button on Maura’s slacks. “The bed,” she said hoarsely, kicking out of her shoes. She shucked her jeans even as Maura did the same for her slacks, and they tumbled onto the mattress in a pile of limbs. Jane pulled roughly at the sheets below them, freeing enough of them to pull them over top of herself and Maura, but the protection they offered was rendered useless a moment later when Maura straddled Jane’s waist and reared up above her.
“Jane, I want…” Maura began, then paused. Her mouth was dry, her voice hoarse. “Can I…”
Her hands slid up Jane’s sides, pausing just under the curve of Jane’s breasts. Maura was almost sure Jane was going to refuse her; seconds ticked away, leaving them locked in tense stillness, before Jane finally gave a short nod. At it, Maura let out a sigh of relief and slid her hands upward, shivering as she cupped Jane’s breasts. She wasn’t sure what to do, whether to be soft and gentle or give over to the part of herself that pressed her to grasp and paw. This was, she knew, perhaps the only time she would be afforded this opportunity, and she was aware of a need to be perfect – to make the right choices, to leave some indelible mark.
But, perfection took planning. Perfection took a clear mind and the ability to think rationally. It took the sorts of things she wasn’t capable of with Jane beneath her, watching her with a look Maura couldn’t decipher. And even if this had been the sort of thing Maura could have plotted beforehand, using her considerable knowledge to design an impeccable plan of attack, she still would have failed. Jane had always been a foil to her careful planning. Jane was impulsive, sure of herself in ways Maura never could be. She tolerated Maura’s methodical, careful approach to the job; Maura had a feeling Jane wouldn’t tolerate a methodical, careful approach to her. And besides, touching wasn’t enough. Maura wanted more. She wanted to know what Jane’s skin felt like against her lips – her taste, texture, and reaction.
Maura moved before she could think better of it, dipping down to take Jane’s nipple between her teeth.
Jane moaned loudly. Her fingers wound into Maura’s hair but, instead of pulling her away, they clenched tightly. Maura took it as encouragement to continue. She indulged herself in ways that were gluttonous, using her teeth, tongue, and lips. She reveled in the way Jane’s body writhed beneath her, and the way her hands slipped down to grip Maura’s shoulders as if desperate for an anchor. Even that, though, wasn’t enough. It was only a beginning, not a full catalogue; Maura still wanted more, so she slipped under the covers and settled between Jane’s legs.
Her hands were already tugging at Jane’s panties when it occurred to her, suddenly, just what she was proposing to do.
“Jane,” she said again, not a question this time as she pulled Jane’s panties down over her hips. She pushed up, edging the covers back over her head so that she could see Jane’s face. Her fingers ghosted over the patch of fabric between Jane’s legs, and she took in a deep, shuddering breath when she felt wetness against her skin. “I know it’s not real, but I want to…”
She paused, unable to say it. As before, Jane’s expression was unreadable, and Maura began to believe that she’d overstepped a boundary, and overstepped it greatly. She pulled her hands away guiltily, and was almost ready to push her body away from Jane’s, when Jane’s hand came up to cup her cheek.
“Maura,” Jane said, voice rough, “just… you can…”
Maura pressed a kiss against Jane’s palm even as Jane’s head turned to the side and she looked away, arm coming up to shield her eyes.
It was surprisingly easy to move from Jane’s capitulation to action. She slid under the covers once more, pulled away the last barrier separating her from Jane, pressed her thighs apart, and settled between them again. She couldn’t see but she could feel, and when her tongue found Jane, it was as if something slotted into place – the wildness that had been with her earlier settled.
Above her, she heard Jane hiss. “Jesus, Maura,” she said, then Jane’s fingers were tangled in her hair again, and Maura focused all of her attention on her task. She slid one hand up Jane’s torso, needing to feel the softness of her skin, and wrapped the other around her thigh. She imagined how they must look, how Jane must look, and moaned at the thought of it. They were beautiful together, she knew it, with Jane’s lean length and sharp features. And her, paying homage in the most ancient of ways.
She needed to be inside Jane.
It was more than she could have expected. Tight, hot, and wet, of course, and the physicalities she could have predicted. What she couldn’t have predicted was the intimacy of it, the way Jane tightened around her fingers and moaned. The way her grip tightened, pulling almost painfully on Maura’s hair, and the way Maura felt she had gained access to something secret. Neither act was more intimate than the other, really. To have the taste of Jane on her tongue brought her no more or less close to Jane than did the press of her fingers inside of her. It was just a connection of a different sort; and then Maura joined them together, and the combination nearly overwhelmed her.
If Maura thought she had felt powerful before, pressing Jane back into the loveseat under the pressure of her kisses, it was nothing compared to what it felt like to have Jane quaking and bucking beneath her.
Jane was still breathing heavily when she tugged Maura up to her, pushed Maura’s hair away from her face, and kissed her with an uncalculated carelessness that made Maura’s heart swell.
When she felt Jane’s hand slip under the waistband of her panties, Maura jumped in surprise. She sat up, giving Jane the space she needed to be able to move, and braced one hand against the headboard. The other she wound in Jane’s hair, needing the connection. Jane’s fingers were moving in tight circles against her clit, making it hard to breathe. She couldn’t stop the movement of her hips, the slow, grinding roll that probably made things more complicated than it did to help, or the way she moaned Jane’s name over and over. And then Jane brought her free hand up to Maura’s neck, curled her fingers around the side and pressed her thumb along the front in a way that felt both possessive and dangerous. Maura moaned loudly; the movement of her hips quickened, grew sloppy, and if she hadn’t been bracing herself against the headboard, she would have collapsed.
Her orgasm left her breathless. Boneless. She rolled to the side, careful not to crush Jane beneath her, and put a hand to her forehead. She smiled over at Jane blearily and sighed blissfully. “Jane,” she murmured, and then lethargy combined with the alcohol swirling through her system, and she drifted off to sleep almost immediately.
When Maura awoke, Jane was standing beside the bed, fully dressed, with Maura’s clothes in her hands.
“Come on,” she said gruffly. “Our time’s almost up.”
It took Maura a moment to remember the significance. “Oh, right,” she said finally, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. She brought the sheet with her and held it tight to her chest, suddenly very conscious of her nudity. “We’ll have to go soon.”
Jane nodded shortly. She laid Maura’s clothes on the bed beside her and dropped her eyes down and away.
To Maura, it felt like a rejection. She stood stiffly and dressed, her movements deliberate and slow. It seemed important that she not appear bothered or perturbed by the distance Jane was putting between them with her silence and refusal to meet Maura’s eyes.
Her clothes were wrinkled. No matter how much she ran the palms of her hands over the fabric, she wasn’t able to smooth away the imperfections. Without warning, she had to blink away tears. She turned so that Jane wouldn’t notice, and made a show of looking for her purse. It was just where she’d left it, of course, because the room hadn’t changed. Only she had.
“Here,” she said, fumbling through it. She drew out a slim fold of bills and pushed them at Jane sightlessly. “I should tip you.”
She barely registered that Jane was standing as close as she was until Jane pushed gently on her chin, tipping it up. Their eyes met briefly before Maura looked away, tears once again forming, and Jane sighed heavily.
“Maura,” she said, hand dropping back to her side.
Maura cleared her throat, and said briskly, quietly, “We never outlined an exit strategy.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just trust me, Jane. You’re going to need an excuse to leave.”
“Yeah. It’s called a resignation.”
She was interrupted by a discreet knock on the door.
“We don’t have time,” she said, frowning up at Jane. “Please. Follow my lead.”
The driver was waiting patiently outside the door, staring blankly at the other side of the hallway.
Maura took a deep breath, turned to Jane, and kissed her gently. As she pulled away, she pressed her hand to Jane’s cheek and offered a tremulous smile, indulging herself in one last moment of tenderness. After a second, she stepped back and steeled herself, expression once more serious. “I’m very wealthy,” she said without inflection, as if it was a mundane tidbit of little importance. She rifled through her purse again and pulled out a business card, wrapping it in the fold of bills. “I could take care of you. Anything you wanted, I could give it to you.”
Jane looked from the offering to Maura, her expression a mixture of surprise and confusion.
“If you’re interested, call me. You won’t regret it.”
And then, channeling her mother for inspiration, Maura turned sharply and walked away: head held high, shoulders thrown back, and face a blank mask.
Maura jumped and nearly dropped her scalpel when the doors to the morgue slid open. She’d been on edge and jittery all day; it didn’t help that the rest of the night before had been spent sleepless, reliving and dissecting each and every moment of her time with Jane and barely resisting the urge to call her.
“Hey, whoa. You okay there, doc?”
Korsak was looking at her in alarm, and Maura realized that she was gripping the edges of the autopsy table so tightly it looked like she would collapse were the support removed.
“I’m sorry. Yes,” she said, taking a deep breath and straightening. “I’m fine. You startled me.”
“Should I come back?”
Maura gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “No, of course not. How can I help you?”
She almost believed that Korsak was blushing. “It’s just, maybe you’ve talked to Jane?”
Instantly on guard, Maura swallowed hard and offered a cautious, “Why?”
“She’s not answering her phone, she’s called in sick the last few days.” Korsak blew out a breath, eyes darting away in embarrassment. “It’s nothing. I know it’s probably nothing, just Frost getting all worked up about nothing, but if you did happen to talk to her, maybe you could tell her to give us a call, huh? And anyway, I’ve got this theory I want to run by her.”
“I’m a good listener,” Maura said, smiling brightly.
“Aw, doc, that’s sweet of you, but…” Korsak trailed off at Maura’s increasingly disappointed expression. “Okay, okay. It’s about the Bryant case. You know the one, right? The stripper who got done by the pro? Of course you know it. Not that many bodies come through here that you’d forget, right?”
Maura’s smile faltered slightly. “I’m aware of the case.”
“Right. So Frost and I bring the boyfriend back in. It just doesn’t feel right him not being involved, you know, with his history and all. But his alibi, it’s airtight. He’s in Atlantic City all weekend with a buddy of his, playing the high roller. So we bring in the buddy, and it’s odd. The girl’s boyfriend calls him up on Wednesday, says he wants to spring for an all expenses paid trip to the Boardwalk that weekend. The buddy says it’s short notice, and he doesn’t know if he’s going to be able to make it. He asks if they can reschedule, but the boyfriend’s adamant. It’s got to be that weekend. So his buddy goes, because it’s the kind of thing you don’t pass up, you know. And the girl’s boyfriend, he’s waving around big bills all weekend.”
He stopped, apparently finished with his recitation, and Maura nodded. “It does seem suspicious.”
“Frost checked the boyfriend’s financials, but there’s nothing there. So I’m thinking he came into a pile of cash, and it was burning a hole through his pocket. Maybe even somebody’d told him to make himself scarce.”
“The killer, you mean?”
“Or the person who arranged it.”
“And you’d like for Jane to weigh in on this theory?”
“It was her case, before she dropped off the face of the earth,” Korsak said, giving a nonchalant shrug. “Me and Frost have it handled, but I thought she’d want to know.”
“I’m sure she would.” Maura smiled kindly at Korsak. “If I see her, I’ll tell her to get in touch with you.”
Not that Maura expected to see Jane, which is why she was dumbfounded by the face she saw through her peephole later that evening.
“Come in, please. I wasn’t expecting you,” Maura said nervously, stepping back to give Jane a wide berth. The other woman looked as tense and on edge as Maura had felt all day.
“It was a good touch,” Jane said shortly, starting a conversation in the middle. She was watching Maura warily, hands shoved deep in her pockets. “Letting the driver overhear your proposition. It was smart.”
“You were right. I needed an out. Carpenter wasn’t thrilled when I told her I was handing in my notice so I could go be the personal plaything of the whale she’d just landed, but she wasn’t surprised. I thought it might make sense to make a personal appearance, just in case she’s following up.”
Maura blinked. “Did you just refer to me as a whale?”
Jane gave her an exasperated look. “Whale. Big fish. Walking ATM. If there’s something you like better…”
“I can’t say that either of those alternatives was preferable.”
“The point,” Jane said peevishly, “is that given the way she treats employees who mess with her cash flow, I thought it might be a good idea to follow through on my new career choice. If she’s got someone tailing me, then at least I look legit, coming here.”
“Oh, about that,” Maura said, pleased to be able to relay the messages she’d been given. “Frost and Korsak have a theory about the murder they’d like to run by you. They’re both really very concerned about your health.”
“Your health. You called in sick?”
Jane waved their concern away. “I thought it would be easier.”
“Well, it appears they’re both under the impression that you have an unassailable constitution, so this unprecedented behavior has them quite worried.” They were still standing just inside Maura’s front door, and it was beginning to fluster her. “Jane, why don’t you come into the kitchen? Would you like a beer?”
From the look Jane gave her in reply, Maura might as well have asked something salacious of her.
“I’m going to the kitchen,” she declared. “It’s been a long day, and I was midway through a glass of wine. You’re welcome to join me.”
Maura had ample time to pull out a beer and uncap it before Jane came slinking into the kitchen. So much time, in fact, that the bottle left a ring of condensation in its wake when Jane took a drink from it.
With Jane watching Maura warily, it didn’t take long for the tension in the room to grow.
“Here,” Jane said finally, digging into her pocket. She pulled out a fold of bills and tossed it onto the counter.
Maura looked down at it quizzically.
Jane had to swallow hard before she could speak. “It’s the money you gave me. You know, for the tip.”
“Oh,” Maura said faintly.
“I figured you could go ahead and get it back to Cavanaugh.”
“Yeah. He can’t be happy having that kind of BPD money floating around.”
“That’s not the department’s money, Jane,” Maura said, smiling at the mix-up. “Detective Cavanaugh only provided me with enough money to make the initial transaction.”
“That’s my money.”
Jane looked down at the folded bills as if they had personally offended her. “You gave me your money?” she asked, voice low and dangerous.
Although not sure exactly what her offense had been, Maura was wary. “I was led to believe it was protocol.”
“You… Maura, you and me…” Jane stopped, putting a hand to her forehead, and looked at Maura with an expression that intimated that Maura should be understanding something that she absolutely didn’t. “You paid me off with your own money? I did a good enough job that you thought I’d earned a little extra? What was it, a head start?”
“Jane, I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You’re going to take care of me?” Jane asked, now combative. “You going to buy me, like you can buy everything else you want?”
“Are you talking about what I said last night? Jane, that was for the benefit of our ruse.”
“Yeah, well, you can keep your money. And you know what? It didn’t really feel like a ruse.”
Maura blushed instantly, deeply. This was the discussion she’d been anticipating and dreading since she’d opened the door to see Jane standing on the other side of it.
“You want explain what happened, Maura?”
Maura shrank back, stricken, and shook her head.
“What happened to pretending? What happened to just making it look real?” Jane challenged.
There were times when a lie would serve better than the truth. Maura knew that, but she couldn’t bring herself to fabricate one. “I wanted it to be real,” she said quietly, blinking back tears. She had a feeling she knew how this would end. Jane didn’t like deception or trickery, and Maura had subjected her to both – unwittingly at first, and then by omission. “I’ve recently come to understand that in addition to enjoying your company and our friendship, I’m physically attracted to you.”
“You’ve recently come to understand. Just how recently, exactly?”
“Any confusion I might have had was clarified when we practiced,” Maura said, eyes dropping to the countertop. She took a deep breath and forced her eyes back up so that they met Jane’s. “I liked kissing you.”
Jane’s eyes dropped as well. “What am I supposed to say to that, Maura?” she asked. She sounded lost, all challenge gone in the blink of an eye. Her hands were once again shoved in her pockets, shoulders hunched up nearly to her ears.
Maura frowned. “Ideally, you’d repeat the sentiment.”
“Ideally, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Ideally, nothing would have happened that would have made it so we’d have to have this kind of conversation.”
“But it wasn’t just me.” Maura felt an irrational need to defend herself, and it made her words sound accusatory. “I know it wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did, and it couldn’t have happened without you. I wasn’t the only one… You kissed me too, Jane. You touched me too. You…”
Now defensive herself, Jane said sharply, “Yeah, well, I owed you one, didn’t I?”
The words drew a gasp from Maura. She turned away, not able to hide the tears that immediately filled her eyes. “I wasn’t aware you were keeping score,” she said, trying, and failing, to keep her voice level.
Silence fell between them, interminable.
“I can’t deal with this,” Jane said finally, her voice deceptively soft. “I just can’t deal with this right now, Maura.”
For a moment, she looked as if she was going to say something further. As the seconds ticked past, Maura pushed down the need to explain, to apologize, sensing that anything she said wouldn’t help the situation. But, when Jane spoke again, her voice was brisk, business-like, and it felt like her window for fixing this was closing rapidly.
“I don’t have to tell you not to go back to the club. Don’t contact Madeline. Don’t contact Elise.”
There was something in Jane’s voice that made Maura uneasy. “I won’t,” she said, surprised by the meekness in her own voice. “Jane, please…”
“Not right now, Maura.”
Maura drew herself up and pressed her lips together. She focused on remaining poised, on smoothing her expression out until it was the blank, vaguely pleasant mask she’d used in situations like this her whole life.
“I have to go. We’ll do this later.”
Maura’s tone was icy, clipped. “Of course.”
Jane gave her an odd, searching look. “Maura…”
“No, you’re right, Jane. We should discuss this at a later date when we’re both in a more rational frame of mind.”
“A more rational frame of mind?” Jane shook her head and laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, okay. Sure. You let me know when what happened becomes rational.”
Maura waited until she heard the door close behind Jane before she collapsed into her seat, shoulders slumped, and cried.
Jane knew it was bad when she had to turn to Frankie, of all people, for advice.
“You ever agreed to do something that you know is a bad idea? But then you do it anyway and it turns out you were right?”
“Sure,” Frankie said, pausing only to finish off the last of his beer. “That third helping of Ma’s lasagna last Sunday was, let’s just say, ill-advised.”
Jane glared. “I’m being serious here.”
“So am I. I was up half the night with heartburn.”
“Okay, okay. So you did something, and it was a bad idea.”
Jane gave a gesture that was half shrug, half nod.
“And what, something bad happened?”
“I don’t want to say it was bad, but it probably shouldn’t ever have happened.”
“So chalk it up to bad judgment and move on. Everybody makes mistakes.”
“It’s not that kind of mistake.” Jane leaned back, opened the fridge, pulled out another beer, and handed it to Frankie. “This is the kind of mistake I have to see again.”
Frankie pulled a face, as if he’d just smelled something particularly unpleasant. “Aw, Janie. This a sex thing? Because I don’t want to hear about it if it’s a sex thing.”
Her deadpan look confirmed his fears.
“This sounds like a girl kind of problem. Why are talking to me about this? Why aren’t you talking to Maura? Girl kinds of problems are the kind of things you talk about with girl kinds of friends.”
“Because I’m talking to you, Frankie, okay.”
“Or Ma. She’s a girl.”
“For that, I’m going to tell her that you said her lasagna gives you heartburn.”
Frankie shot her a wounded look. “That’s not fair.”
“Are you going to listen to me or not?”
“I’m listening to you,” he said, holding up a finger, “but I’m listening to you under duress.”
Jane narrowed her eyes at him before settling back into her story. “So, this thing that happened that probably shouldn’t have happened – I don’t know how to deal with it.”
Frankie shifted uncomfortably on his stool. “Okay,” he said uneasily, his confidant role an ill-fit. “So it was a bad thing but was it, you know, a bad thing.”
She stared at him, uncomprehending.
“I mean, was it good, this bad thing you did?”
Seeing his sister’s embarrassed blush was almost enough to make the whole situation worth it. Even the tips of her ears went red.
“It was… Yeah, I mean, it was good. The circumstances were maybe not the best, but it was good.”
“But you don’t want it to happen again?”
Jane shrugged. “It shouldn’t happen again.”
“But you just said it was good.”
“It’s more complicated than that.”
His brow furrowed. “Complicated?” He eyed her suspiciously. “Did you do this bad thing with someone you shouldn’t have?”
“Yeah,” Jane said, frustrated that he was just now picking up on that. “That’s kind of the whole point here, Frankie.”
“Like, the kind of shouldn’t have who’s married?”
“Then what? Some kind of perp?”
“These are the kinds of options that pop to mind? Really?”
“You said it was somebody bad.”
“No, I said it was somebody I shouldn’t have been doing that sort of thing with in the first place.”
“Who then?” Frankie asked, exasperated. “Frost?”
“Frost? Jesus, Frankie. He’s a baby. Do I look like some kind of cradle robber to you?”
Frankie looked almost offended. “He’s not that much younger than you.”
“Twelve years if he’s a day.”
He waved it off. “That’s nothing, not these days.”
Jane glared. “It’s not Frost.”
“I’m running out of options here, Janie. How about you just tell me.”
“It doesn’t matter who it was. It just matters that I shouldn’t have done it, and maybe then I said some things I shouldn’t have, and now I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Of course it matters. How you deal with it depends on who it was.” He gave her a long, meaningful look. “You remember Patty Hines?”
“The girl with the…”
He cut her off before she could finish. “Yeah. Her.”
“You and her?”
“It was one of those things that shouldn’t have happened. And then she called me, all the time. Text messages, voicemails, fifteen missed calls a day.”
Jane waited fruitlessly for his story to continue. “And?”
“And, that’s a whole different kind of shouldn’t have than sleeping with your rookie partner.”
“I didn’t sleep with Frost.”
“I’m not a mind reader.”
He scowled. “You don’t like my methods, take your problem to somebody else.”
“What methods? Is something you’ve done supposed to be helpful?”
“I didn’t come to you, you came to me.” He shook his head, then grinned at her. “So you slept with somebody you shouldn’t have, somebody you’re going to have to see again. Maybe it’s going to be awkward for you, but it’s not the end of the world. Wait a couple of weeks, take a trip to the clinic, hope for the best, and then put it behind you.”
Jane covered her eyes with her hand. “It’s so not that kind of shouldn’t have,” she muttered.
“Well then, good for you.” Frankie stood up and clapped Jane on the back. “No offense, but if we never have a talk like this again, it’ll still be too soon.”
“You’ve been a real help, Frankie. Really.”
“Thanks for the beer.” He paused, his expression softening. “There’s no shame in bagging a younger man, Jane.”
“For the last time, it wasn’t Frost.”
“I support you.”
“Just get out of here, okay.”
“Being a cougar is a thing these days, you know. It’s totally acceptable.”
“Frankie,” Jane growled warningly.
“Okay, okay. I’m going.” Hand on the doorknob, he shot her one last, mischievous grin. “Sugar mama.”
The door closed behind him before she could throw anything, which was just as well. She had enough messes to clean up.
When Maura looked up to see both Frost and Korsak looking back at her, she startled so badly it, in turn, startled them.
“Sorry if we scared you, doc,” Korsak said awkwardly, a hand lingering at his chest.
“Yeah, sorry,” Frost echoed.
Maura gave them a tremulous smile. She carefully laid her scalpel to the side and stripped off her gloves. “It’s okay, gentlemen. How can I help you?”
Frost jerked forward on a less than subtle shoulder from Korsak. He shot a glare at his temporary partner then cleared his throat, offering Maura an innocent smile. “We were just wondering if you told Jane about our theory.”
“And how come she won’t call us back.”
Frost glared at Korsak again. “That’s not…”
“What? I just want to know.”
Maura’s heart rate increased at the sound of Jane’s name. “I’m sorry, I don’t…”
“I mean,” Korsak said, interrupting, “we know you’ve been talking to her. She sent us a text.”
“What’d it say again, Frost?”
“I’m fine,” Frost recited, his voice monotone. “Quit bugging Maura.”
“So if she’s so fine, why doesn’t she call? Frost’s been on the phone with the casino in Atlantic City, the one the boyfriend and his friend stayed at. They said he bought $10,000 in chips, paid for it in cash, but we look at his bank account, and he doesn’t even have 10 grand in there to withdraw. So, where’d he get the money?”
“It certainly is suspicious.”
“I think we’ve got enough juice for a warrant, but Cavanaugh’s stalling us.”
Frost nodded. “He wants us to wait.”
“On what, I ask him, but I don’t get a straight answer.”
Maura shifted uneasily. “I’m sure he has his reasons.”
Both Korsak and Frost looked at her as if she’d committed a particularly egregious breech of etiquette.
“I’m pulling the boyfriend’s phone records.” Frost crossed his arms over his chest. “Tell Jane to give us a call when she’s ready to get back to doing police work.”
Korsak echoed his posture. “And tell her she’s got one more day before we stop calling and start knocking on her door.”
“And tell her we’re not stupid.”
“Yeah.” Korsak nodded. “Tell her that.”
“We know she’s trying to keep something from us.”
Maura was beginning to feel overwhelmed. “I’m sure she’s not…”
“And it’s not cool,” Frost said fiercely, “trying to drag you into the middle of it, Dr. Isles.”
“Not cool at all.”
Not quite sure what to say, Maura just smiled.
“So until then, we’ll just be upstairs,” Frost said, turning smartly on his heel, “solving this case.”
After another nod, Korsak followed him.
Jane threw open her door with a scowl.
“Maura said I had another day.”
Korsak shouldered his way past her, already on his way into the kitchen to stow the beer in the fridge. Frost gave her a slightly guilty smile and a shrug before shoving a pizza box into her hands.
“Yeah? You’re talking to the doc?”
Jane wasn’t entirely sure why the question made her feel so defensive. “She texted me.”
“That’s funny, because we call, we text, we leave messages, but we don’t hear back.” Korsak reappeared, three beers in hand. The expression on his face was pinched and almost prissy, and Jane considered the notion that he might be even more moody than her Ma.
“Things came up.”
“Oh,” Korsak said, “well then excuse me. Things came up. Now it makes sense.”
Frost stared at her accusatorily. “You don’t look like you’ve been sick.”
Jane glared back at him. “You want me to cough on you? See how you feel in a few days?”
“I want to know why my partner’s acting like she’s in witness protection.”
“It hasn’t even been a week. What, I’ve got to report on all my movements now?”
“You don’t just leave in the middle of a case.”
If Frost had looked angry instead of hurt, Jane wouldn’t have hesitated to rip him a new one. Instead, she just sighed. “Why is my living room suddenly full of knuckleheads?”
Korsak handed her a beer then crossed his arms over his chest. “I’ve gotta feeling about this Bryant case.”
“It’s hinky,” Frost agreed, nodding.
“You two going to start finishing each other’s sentences now?”
“Look, this thing smells worse than Frost’s gym shoes. We need you back on the case.”
“Do you need some kind of intervention?” She looked them squarely in the eyes, and said seriously, “You two are good detectives. You can manage to solve one case without me.”
Neither of them looked amused.
“Look,” Korsak said, “you want to hear what we’ve got on this or not?”
Jane sighed, sank down into her couch, and pulled a piece of pizza from the box.
Maura knew that going to see Jane was probably a very bad idea. She’d realized that when the idea first occurred to her, still agreed with it when she’d gotten in her car and exited the parking lot in a direction which would take her to Jane’s neighborhood, and knew it as a fact when she slid into a parking space in front of Jane’s building. Her emotions were still too raw to process things rationally, and Jane obviously wasn’t in a frame of mind to be receptive to explanations or apologies. It would undoubtedly be best to let time pass, so they could both approach a discussion in a rational frame of mind. Maura would apologize and Jane would let her, and they’d manage to move past this.
Maura decided that it might help to say it aloud as practice. “We can move past this.”
She wished she sounded more confident. Accepting that confidence wouldn’t be forthcoming in the near future, Maura decided to rely on bravery, which she preferred infinitely more than the thought that what she was doing was in fact not brave, but stupid.
It helped somewhat that Jane was in uncharacteristically high spirits when she opened the door.
“I told you guys,” Jane said, glancing distractedly back into her apartment as she lounged against the doorframe, watching the arc of a fly ball as it crested the fence in center field, “I’m finished. Done. Kaput. You understand?”
The high spirits disappeared as Jane whipped around to face her, jaw slightly agape. “Maura?”
“I take it you were expecting someone else?” Behind Jane, Maura could see a coffee table littered with empty beer bottles and a still open pizza box. She started to back away, already apologizing. “Do you have guests? I’m sorry. I suppose I should have called ahead.”
“What? No. The guys were here. That’s all.” Jane put her hand on the edge of the door and began to swing it back and forth. She rested her head against the door frame, sighed, and shrugged. “So…”
Maura thought it was an excellent summation of their current situation.
With a growl of frustration, Jane finally let the door swing all the way open. “Come on,” she said, already heading into her apartment. Her feet were bare and her hair was down, and Maura felt a surge of something in her chest. “We should probably talk.”
It was also a bad idea, Maura knew, to suggest that they forego talking about things and instead maybe try that having sex thing again.
Instead, she said, “I would very much like that.”
Jane disappeared into her kitchen without looking back at Maura. She returned with a beer in hand, watching Maura warily as she took a sip.
Maura was keenly aware of the fact that Jane hadn’t offered her anything. She took a deep breath, trying to steady unsteadied nerves. “I owe you an apology.” Her voice was tighter, more formal than she would have liked. “I put you in a very bad position. I should have listened when you said you didn’t want to engage in the undercover operation. That night…” she faltered slightly, “I should have realized I was in a situation I couldn’t control. I should have ended things there. At the very least, I should have told you what I was feeling. It wasn’t fair of me.”
Jane continued to regard her silently.
“And so I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry, Jane, and that I hope our friendship can recover from this.”
Jane made a sound too bitter to be a laugh. “You hope it can recover.”
Maura steeled herself. “I realize that it might take time…”
“Maura, we slept together.” Jane sighed, and moved forward to sink down on the couch. “That changes things.”
“I know.” In the blink of an eye, Maura’s expression hardened. “I’m not going to regret it. There are a lot of things in life that I never got to have, for a number of reasons. I never had a best friend before, Jane. Not like you. I don’t want to lose that. But, now that I know I want more, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life pretending that all I ever wanted from you was friendship. There have been so many things in my life that I’ve been afraid of wanting, so afraid I don’t even try for them. I didn’t expect this, Jane. I didn’t plan it. But it happened, and I’m not sorry. You may not want it, and that’s fine. I promise I’ll honor your wishes. I just don’t want you to shut me out.”
Jane gave her a half smile. “I talked to Frankie about this.”
Surprised, Maura blinked.
“I mean, not about you and me specifically. I told him that something had happened. Something that shouldn’t have happened.”
Voice measured, Maura asked, “And what did he say?”
“He thinks I slept with Frost.” Jane chuckled. “He’s very supportive.”
“Of you and Barry?”
“He thinks I’m a cougar.” At Maura’s blank look, she explained. “An older woman who sleeps with younger men.”
“Oh, well… that’s good. I guess.”
“But what if he finds out it was you, Maura? You think he’d still be supportive? You think my Ma would invite you over for Sunday dinner? You think she’d brag to all her friends?”
Maura felt a chilling clarity wash over her. Her spine stiffened. “I understand,” she said.
Jane looked down at her bottle, absently picking at the label. “We’re friends. That’s all.”
“Maura,” Jane’s voice was strained, “I’m sorry too. And I’m sorry about the things I said. You didn’t force me to do anything. I could have stopped it.”
The codicil – if I’d wanted to – remained unspoken.
Maura smiled tightly. “Apology accepted.”
“So we’re clear?”
“It can’t happen again.”
“I understand, Jane.”
Jane finally looked at her, eyes apologetic. “We should meet the guys for beers when this is all over.”
Maura blinked back tears. “I think that would be nice.” And then, not able to stand being there for a second longer, she said, “I… I think I should go.”
Jane stood suddenly, her now empty beer bottle abandoned on the table in front of her. She crossed to where Maura was standing and then stopped abruptly, leaving a foot of space between them. Hands shoved in her pockets, she gave Maura a weak, wobbly smile. “I think… just give it time, Maura.”
This time, Maura blinked in surprise. “Are you giving me advice on how to get over you, Jane?”
Jane blushed, jaw clenching.
Unable to help herself, Maura smiled sadly. Her hand reached out, unbidden, fingers just barely brushing the waistband of Jane’s jeans. “I think I can manage on my own, but thank you.”
She slipped out of the door before Jane could say anything else, for which Jane was grateful.
Frost looked up at Korsak, excitement showing in his expression. “I tracked down the burner cell.”
Korsak looked back at him as if he’d spoken in a foreign language.
“The burner cell that made three calls to our vic’s boyfriend the week before she was murdered.”
“So, don’t leave me hanging in suspense. Who was it?”
“Well, I tracked down the cell, not who made the calls.”
“What the heck’s that mean?”
“It means the number is registered to a cell and the cell is registered to a company and the company keeps records of where their product is delivered.” Frost leaned back in his chair with a smile. “Now all we have to do is make the last link.”
“And how do you expect us to do that, Sherlock?” Korsak asked irritably.
“We take a little field trip down to the Main Street Mobile in Watertown.”
“And do what?”
“A little old fashioned detective work, Watson.”
Four hours later, Korsak took a big bite out of his doughnut and smirked at Frost. “Who’s Watson now?” he taunted, watching Frost sort through stacks and stack of receipts. Main Street Mobile had security video and Main Street Mobile had records of transactions, both of which they were more than happy to share with the detectives. Frost had taken a look at the looped rolls of receipt paper, the entirety of a cashier’s transactions for the day rolled up on strips of paper 3 inches wide and, on occasion, 3 feet long, and Korsak had seen some of the excitement go out of his eyes.
“We’re looking for a pre-tax charge of $27.95,” Frost said, laying the set of rolled up papers in front of him. There were nearly 70 rolls, from the two weeks prior to the calls alone, each marked by day and shift. Beyond that, there were no time stamps and nothing to indicate whether the person had paid by cash or credit.
“Have at it.” Korsak washed down his doughnut with a swig of coffee, then peered into the bag just in case another had appeared.
“Come on, man. This’ll take me all night by myself.”
“And that is a very sad story. I am feeling very sad for you right now.”
“So help me out.”
“I would, but I can’t.”
Frost glared at him. “Something else on your plate?”
“I have important things that aren’t that,” he paused to point, “to do.”
The man in question smiled brightly. “I’ll be back for morning shift.”
Frost stared daggers at Korsak’s back as he left, step entirely too jaunty.
Maura stared at the coffee machine morosely. There had been a time when she’d always manage to bump into Jane here in the mornings, perhaps not so surreptitiously as she’d always thought. Perhaps she’d subconsciously arranged her morning routine so that she’d arrive here at approximately the same time as Jane, who managed to be the living embodiment of clockwork when it came to her morning coffee.
“Rough night, Doc?”
Maura looked up in surprise to see Barry Frost looking back at her sleepily. His clothes were rumpled and his eyes were bloodshot, and she took a step forward in concern. “Are you okay? You look horrible.”
His laugh was rough. “Thanks.”
Maura blushed. “What I meant to say is that it looks like you had a bit of a rough night yourself.”
Frost smoothed his hand down over his wrinkled shirtfront and grinned ruefully. “I pulled an all-nighter.”
“It’s the case with the dancer.” Frost brought a hand up to his chin and rubbed the stubble that had grown there overnight. “I had a lead I wanted to chase down.”
“And it took all night?”
“It wasn’t a very fast lead.” When Maura just blinked at him, he deflated slightly. “I think I might have found our mystery caller.”
“Do you mean that you think you might know who the killer is?”
Frost deflated a smidge further. “I think I might have video of him buying the burner phone, but he paid cash. I don’t know his name.”
Maura didn’t get the chance to ask just what Frost meant by ‘burner phone’ as the elevator doors parted to reveal Korsak, looking fresh and well-rested, smile on his face. “Got something for me?” he asked, and Maura could have sworn she’d heard Frost make mutter something under his breath that would have burned the ears of a sailor.
“I’ve got film,” he said instead, voice testy. “Now we need to find a name.”
Korsak’s smile widened. “So show it to me.”
Intrigued herself, Maura followed.
“So,” Frost said, settling in behind his computer and bringing up a folder filled with clips, “I went through the receipts to find any transactions for $27.95. We knew the cashier’s names, so I matched up the shifts with the receipts. There were 10 charges, so I pulled the video from the shifts and scanned through until I saw someone come up with one of our burner phones. After I got a feel for the flow of traffic, it was easier for me to estimate just how far into the shift one of the purchases might be…”
“We don’t need a play-by-play,” Korsak broke in. “Get to the good stuff.”
Frost scowled. “Six of the purchases looked like they were made with credit cards. I noted the time-stamp on the video so we could match it with credit card receipts. That leaves us with four who paid in cash, but here’s the interesting thing.” He paused, pulling up two of the clips. “This is eight days before the murder.”
All three watched as a man in dark glasses, a neat white button-down shirt, and dark pants strode up to the counter and purchased a cell phone and a cup of coffee.
“And here he is again, 5 days before the murder.”
The outfit was the same, but this time he had his glasses pushed up on top of his head. As he laid his purchase down on the counter, no cup of coffee this time, his eyes flashed up at the camera.
Maura gasped. She pointed at the screen shakily, eyes wide. “I know that man.”
Frost and Korsak both turned to her expectantly.
“It’s Ben Crawford.”
Korsak’s eyes narrowed. “Who?”
“Ben Crawford. He’s been the Duncan family driver since I was a child.” Maura swallowed hard. “I think you need to get Detective Cavanaugh.”
This, Jane thought to herself, was a clusterfuck. Ashford Duncan in Interview 1, Madeline Duncan in Interview 2, Ben Crawford in Interview 3, and Elise Carpenter in Interview 4. And, thanks to Cavanaugh’s less than delicate handling of the situation, Frost and Korsak looking at her like wounded puppies because she hadn’t let them in on the undercover work she was doing for their case.
“Not a word,” Jane had threatened them both when they’d grinned at her like fools, wishing Cavanaugh had used something a little more opaque when describing her role. Something like infiltrated the internal organization of the club, and not, instead, went undercover as a stripper.
And now, she just wished that Elise would quit smiling at her like that.
“We’re going through your financials now,” Jane said, her voice as flat as she could make it. “We’ll find the money trail. We’ll find the blackmail.”
“You did wear that uniform quite well. I can see why now, Detective Rizzoli.”
Jane fought back a blush. “We’ll find the payout.”
That seemed to throw Elise, although her confusion was covered over with a smile almost as quickly as it had appeared. “Payout?”
“The money for the pro you brought in to do the job.”
“If you’re talking about your paycheck, Detective, then I think we’re going to have to have a chat about the fraudulent reference you provided.”
“I’m talking about Amanda Bryant.”
Almost immediately, Elise’s expression became guarded. “Amanda was a good girl, if a little misguided. You should be talking to her boyfriend. I never liked him. He could never quite seem to reconcile himself to the demands of the… business.”
“You mean he didn’t like his girlfriend sleeping with women for money?”
The lawyer at Elise’s side leaned forward. “My client denies any knowledge of or involvement in any enterprise Ms. Bryant may have pursued on her own time.”
Elise put a hand on his arm, and smiled softly. “Jealous types don’t really make good partners for my dancers, Detective. I’m sure you can imagine why. But Amanda… I didn’t kill her, which seems to be what you’re insinuating.”
Jane bristled. “We know about the blackmail.”
“We know all about your little set-up. We know about the videos that come in the mail, and your demands for more cash.”
The lawyer leaned forward again, but Elise stopped him with an upraised hand. “If we were going to suppose that what you’re saying is true – which, of course, it’s not – then you would have to know that there exists the possibility that there’s a complete library of videos of the sort you’ve imagined, and that some of these non-existent videos would no doubt garner a great deal of interest should they ever be shown in court.”
Jane’s hands tightened into fists, eyes flashing with anger even as her cheeks colored.
“Turn off the camera,” Elise said, glancing up at the small camera in the corner of the room which was used to video interrogations. “Turn it off and promise me off the record, and we’ll see if we can’t come to some sort of arrangement.”
Elise’s lawyer protested immediately. “I really can’t…” At her glare, he raised a brow in disbelief and said sternly, “I strongly advise against whatever it is you have planned.”
“Turn it off,” Elise said. “Promise me.”
Jane shook her head. “I can’t do that.”
“I don’t know that I know anything useful, but I would like to help you catch Amanda’s killer, Detective. Turn off the camera, and we’ll talk. Or, you can leave it on and I’ll talk, but I really don’t think you want a recording of what I might say.”
Even though she very, very much didn’t want to do so – even though she, in fact, would greatly prefer to leap across the table and throttle the information out of Elise – Jane nodded her head tersely and said, “Fine.”
Ashford Duncan looked like he should hold political office. He had burnished silver hair and a wide, white smile made all the more inviting by a deep dimple on the left side. The cut of his suit was impeccable, and he looked cool and at-ease sitting across from Korsak and Cavanaugh.
“I couldn’t do it,” Korsak said conversationally. “I know it takes all kinds, but knowing that my wife was going out and getting some on the side? I would find that difficult to deal with.”
Frost nodded sympathetically. “I agree.”
“But you… you didn’t mind at all, did you Mr. Duncan?”
Ashford Duncan’s face remained impassive. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
Korsak leaned forward, resting on his forearms. “You knew exactly where she was going, didn’t you? Knew exactly what she was doing.”
“Maybe you’re one of those guys who gets off on knowing his wife is having sex with someone else. What is it they call it? Cuckolding?” Frost looked to Korsak as if for confirmation.
Ashford’s jaw ticked.
“I call it bad PR,” Korsak said. “What’s it look like for you in the press? Here you are, running for Senate, and your wife is carrying on with a 22-year old stripper. Can’t be good.”
“Can’t be,” Frost agreed.
“To top it all off, not only do you have to deal with the fact that she’s paying for it, but you’ve got to pony up for blackmail too.”
“And the best thing for us,” Frost said with a smile, “is that it doesn’t matter if it was you or your wife who had the idea. We can take you both down for conspiracy.”
Ashford’s eyes narrowed into slits. “I want my lawyer.”
Korsak and Frost smiled at one another. “I’m sure you do,” Frost said, and leaned back in his chair.
It had been a punishingly long day. After she’d recognized Ben in the video and subsequently seen the parade of suspects marched into interrogation rooms, Maura hadn’t been able to relax. The players had stacked up like a house of cards on the verge of collapse, and she’d felt her role in it, from the subterfuge at the club, her icy encounter with Madeline, to her identification of Ben on the video. It wasn’t that she owed any loyalty to any of the people involved, not to Madeline, Ashford, Ben, or Elise, and it wasn’t that she should feel guilty for her part in bringing the guilty to justice. It was what she did, although admittedly it was usually from the other end of a scalpel, cold and dispassionate in a way she could easily leave behind as soon as she crossed the threshold of the morgue. Evidence presented itself and she noted and catalogued it. Being on the other end of a pointing finger, however, and providing evidence pulled from her memory and experience was personal in a way that made her feel tight, uncomfortable.
Bass was watching her balefully from the corner as she poured a glass of wine and sat at the counter to sift through the day’s mail. “I know,” she said, shoulders uncharacteristically slumped, “it’s been that kind of day.”
Before she noticed the envelope, she tossed aside solicitations from various charities, scanned lazily over her latest bank statement, and devoted a split-second’s thought to a postcard promising the prospect of owning part of a timeshare in sunny Sarasota, Florida, for a new, low price. She should have noticed it first, she realized, the shape too large, the material too stiff. It was the kind of white, rectangular envelope that could easily be purchased by unprepared mailers at the last minute at the post office, but the address lines had been left blank. There was nothing on it, no mark or sign of what it might contain other than the faint bulge that swelled the middle. Her first impulse was to rip open the envelope; there was a sinking feeling low in her gut, what Jane would call intuition. Had she been the kind of women given to histrionics, she would have taken the envelope outside and burned it, as if the act of never seeing what was contained within could wipe it from existence. Instead, there was protocol to follow, and so she gathered her tools – gloves, a paper towel, a sharp knife. She picked up the envelope in gloved fingers, used her knife to slit open the top of it, and then shook the materials inside onto the paper towel.
A splash of 3x5 photos slid free in a confusing rush of color, topped by a small note. The note was easiest, just words on paper and not what she could see, despite her attempts to look elsewhere, in the photos now spread across her counter.
It was a pleasure doing business with you, Dr. Isles. Please keep these for your personal collection. Sadly, our acquaintance is over, although I hope you will remember your time with us fondly. I know I will.
Maura felt her throat constrict. It had always been a possibility. It was what the entire undercover operation had been in service of, after all. Obtaining this bit of proof, this bit of leverage which would allow them to arrest and bring in Elise Carpenter, which would open the legal floodgates for further evidence collection and the possible discovery of Amanda Bryant’s murderer. True, it wasn’t a recording. Elise had held onto that, one more bargaining chip in her arsenal, but it was enough, this array of static memories.
Despite the fact that it was, objectively, the truth, she couldn’t see it as proof. She couldn’t see it as evidence. She couldn’t see it as anything other than a record of the moment when she had risked her friendship with Jane in search of something more. Risked, and ultimately lost.
She stood there for an interminably long time, simply staring at the first of the photos in the stack. The image was vivid and bright, the original shot, she imagined, with expensive and high tech camera equipment which provided her with a perfect, high definition rendering of events. In it, she was standing in front of Jane. Her eyes were dark and needy, and she looked the way she remembered feeling, as if there was nothing in the world that could keep her from doing what she’d done.
There were ten photos in all, and as she flipped through them, Maura felt her heart begin to race. It was an odd thing, she mused absently, to feel arousal and pain intermingle. There, in a series of images so stark and clinical that they almost didn’t seem real, was what she had wanted so desperately. What she had had, at the wrong time and under the wrong pretenses, and it was as beautiful as it was removed, raw and honest. There she was, with her hand on the waistband of Jane’s pants, forever trapped in the moment before she pulled the other woman to her. A few photos more, and they were on the bed, naked, pressed together, with Jane’s hands on her shoulders. Maura’s hair had been pushed back over her ear, giving a perfect view of her sharp, satisfied smile in profile.
In photo toward the end of the stack, Jane’s head was turned to the side. Maura found herself trapped by Jane’s gaze, by unblinking and almost accusatory dark eyes. She wasn’t in the photo as anything more than an easily definable lump beneath the sheets, and she took in a sharp breath, remembering the moment. With the moment came the memory of other things, wonderful and bittersweet, and she closed her eyes and pushed the photos away.
It felt disconcerting to have Jane standing in her kitchen again, with all of the things that had happened. The last time Jane had been there, she’d been cutting, full of anger. The time before, she’d been both confident and shy, the unwitting catalyst to Maura’s awakening. In between, she’d been the woman in the photos, and that woman was the one Maura understood least of all.
“I’ll just… I’ll be in there,” Maura said, pointing to her living room, “while you look at them. You’ll probably want some privacy.” Realizing the possible implication of her words, Maura blushed. “What I mean is, it would be undoubtedly awkward were you and I to examine the photos together for purely professional reasons.”
Jane arched a brow, a hint of familiar amusement in her expression, and Maura’s stomach dropped in an altogether too appealing way. She forced herself to stop speaking, to stop looking at Jane as if she wanted to kiss her.
She didn’t wait in the living room for very long before Jane appeared in the doorway. Her face was drawn and pale, but not nearly as worried as Maura had imagined she’d be. “Christ, Maura,” she said, voice strangled. “I know you said it was, you know, but I didn’t… I thought it would be one of those grainy black and white… Christ. Shit. Son of a bitch.”
Maura licked dry lips. “What should we do?”
“Do?” Jane sighed and slumped against the doorframe, absent-mindedly tapping her fingers against her thigh. “There’s nothing to do. The case is closed. The Duncans called in their high-priced lawyer. It’s all going to turn into a clusterfuck of a scandal when it leaks, but I think we have enough to nail them. Frost has Amanda’s boyfriend doing a voice line-up to see if he picks out any of them – Ashford, Madeline, or the driver. I think it’s a long shot, but if it works, it’s another nail in the coffin. They’re working the financials. Crawford was looking to cut a deal with the DA. Carpenter’s going to get away scot-free. She had the DA’s office eating out of the palm of her hand, but she gave up Ashford.”
“Gave up Ashford?” Maura repeated, uncomprehending.
“He knew, apparently. It was no big deal between them. Madeline had free rein to do whatever she wanted, so long as she kept it discreet.” Jane gave a rueful shake of the head. “I guess having the barely legal stripper prostitute his wife was banging showing up on their doorstep looking for blackmail money made things a little less discreet than he liked.”
“So they really conspired to have her murdered?”
“It’s not that much of a stretch. It’s his Senate run up against possible scandal. You know how it is. People with that much money and power, they think it entitles them to whatever they want, and it doesn’t matter who gets in their way.”
As her words registered, Jane straightened, arms crossing over her chest and eyes flicking away from Maura. She shifted uncomfortably, jaw tightening. “You know what I mean.”
Maura’s natural defensiveness made her tone tight, strident. “I am familiar with the sentiment. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it.”
Jane sighed. “I didn’t mean you.”
Maura wasn’t entirely convinced, but it wasn’t an argument she wanted to have. Instead she asked, “So what do we do about the photos? If Elise has entered into a deal with the district attorney’s office, then they won’t be prosecuting her for the prostitution and blackmail.” Worry edged into her voice. “You can’t turn them in, Jane. They’re special. Private.”
Jane shrugged. “I don’t know, Maura. They’re evidence in an ongoing investigation.” A blush swept up her cheeks. “Look, I don’t want to turn them in any more than you do. Christ, can you imagine it once the guys get a look at them? I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Mind racing, Maura said slowly, “But they don’t need all of them, do they? The note and one of them, won’t that be enough?”
She could almost see Jane considering her words. “Maybe,” Jane said, although she still sounded hesitant. “I mean, she didn’t actually ask for money. There’s no blackmail. There’s no recording. It’s not like the other cases.”
Maura brightened. “Exactly.”
Jane seemed to be considering the prospect carefully. “I mean, maybe I can slip them to Cavanaugh, ask him to keep it under the radar. We can keep the chain of evidence intact and hope that the live action version never surfaces.”
As quickly as she had begun to feel hope, Maura felt it fade. “Do you think Elise would do that?”
Jane thought back to earlier in the day, when she’d turned off the video camera in the interrogation room, sat down across from Elise Carpenter, and helped her work her way into a deal. If there was one thing she liked about the other woman, it was that she didn’t bother to mince words. “I don’t think so. I think she’s going to be packing up and moving out. Boston’s a little hot for her right now. And she… I don’t know. I don’t think she would. If anything, I think she thought this would be some kind of good-bye gift.”
Elise had seemed to view her arrest and interrogation as some sort of inevitable and minor hurdle that she’d known she was going to have to cross at some point. The cost of doing business, she’d said with a shrug, and gave Jane a look that made her want to cross her arms over her chest. When she’d followed it with a sharp smile, and remarked that, at the very least, she’d gotten a good show out of it, Jane, torn between mortification and fury and landing, as a compromise, somewhere around disgruntled embarrassment, had pretended that she didn’t feel the fiery hot burn of her blush.
Maura seemed to accept that as appropriate. “I did sense that we had a simpatico.”
Jane blinked at her for a moment before abdicating any desire to figure out how that worked out as in any way acceptable in Maura’s mind. “Anyway, I should take the photos. I’ll decide what to take in to Cavanaugh.”
Somewhere, in the middle of their conversation, Maura had begun to hope that things between them were returning to normal. She’d begun to hope that they’d figured out how to put it all behind them, and that Jane was going to forget what Maura had said and done long enough for their friendship to mend. And Maura was going to, well, not forget. She was going to sublimate, going to bury. She was going to reconcile herself to something that had been a long-held truism in her life – the distance between what she wanted and what she could have.
If that had been true, though, Jane wouldn’t have disappeared from her doorway. She would have lingered there, laughing and joking, and as the time passed, they would have found themselves agreeing to stay in for dinner. Jane would have watched as Maura cooked, would have drank one of the beers Maura kept expressly for her. There would have been easy conversation, and possibly a sleepy good-bye that turned into an overnight stay in the guest room.
Jane didn’t stay though. Maura found her in the kitchen separating out the photos, putting two of the least risqué into the pile that went into a clear plastic evidence bag. She sealed it, showed Maura where to sign, and then signed herself. The remaining ones went into an evidence bag she didn’t seal, and then she was gone.
As much as Jane liked the bustle of Sunday dinners with her family – loud happy voices, the clink of dishes, her Ma’s lasagna in the oven – on days when all she wanted was peace and quiet and time to think, it was overwhelming. Not that she could beg off, of course, no matter what the reason. God forbid she should want to stay home. If she tried, she’d find herself opening her door to her Ma and a pan of lasagna, with her Pop and Frankie giving her ‘what can you do’ looks from over her shoulder. Excuses only landed her in trouble. Not feeling well? Clearly she needed a gallon of chicken soup and her Ma hovering over her, plying her with tissues and orange juice. Emotional woes? The possible outcomes were so bad she’d never even tried.
The only thing to do was slip away and hope no one noticed. And so, making sure her Ma’s attention was focused elsewhere and Frankie and her Pop were caught up in the game, she crept down the hallway and out of the front door. Once free, she eased down onto the stoop with a sigh as the door closed behind her and the noise faded into a static hum, and focused her attention on not thinking.
She was largely unsuccessful.
Things had not returned to normal between Maura and herself, despite the best efforts of each of them. They’d tried coffee, a shared lunch break, promises of drinks after work, but there was an evident and easily understandable tension between them. It made every interaction strained, difficult. Every glance became searching, suspect. Touch lost the casual ease it’d had before. Now, Maura’s once casual, friendly gestures – fingertips to Jane’s forearm, brushing away a stray hair – seemed to burn her skin. She had to force herself not to pull away, but she knew Maura could feel the way her muscles tightened. It was even worse, watching the way Maura flinched and withdrew, because Jane wanted to reach out and comfort her. She wanted to promise that things would be all right, that they’d get through this and be just the same as they had been before, but she couldn’t. She wasn’t sure things would ever be the same again.
She’d given Cavanaugh the two photos they’d chosen, the least salacious ones. The others she’d kept, hidden away in her bedside table. They had to be kept, she told herself. They might have to stay there forever – they were evidence, and one day, she might have to produce them.
None of which meant she ever had to look at them again, but she had. It had become a nightly ritual, spreading them out in order on the bed like an array of crime scene photos. They flowed, moving from their initial kiss to the last one – Maura on top of her, back arched. In it, she was looking up. Her neck was straining upward, head lifted off of the pillow; the expression on her face was fierce, and her hand was wrapped loosely around Maura’s neck. She looked absolutely into it and positively possessive. Had an objective observer been given the photographs and asked to describe what was happening in them, they would have told a story of a passionate assignation between lovers, each equally desperate for the other.
She didn’t quite know what to do with that information. True, she’d probably never been closer to someone than she was to Maura. True, she’d noticed and resolutely ignored the chemistry between them. She wasn’t completely oblivious to the fact that their friendship sometimes felt a little closer than she suspected was usual for a platonic relationship, but the existence and recognition of a fact did not constitute an acceptance of it. And true, if she’d been categorically against the exploration of ‘something more’ – and if two words had ever packed more apprehension or frightening possibility into a phrase so innocuous, she wasn’t aware of them – then she would have said no. She would have played the part but no more. When it became clear that things were getting out of hand, she would have shut them down.
That she hadn’t was significant in a way she wished she could, but couldn’t, resolutely ignore.
The creak of the door opening behind her signaled the end to her short period of introspection. Maybe for the best, Jane mused, as it was hard to work on ignoring something if she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Without ceremony, Frankie joined Jane on the stoop, his posture mirroring hers – hunched over, forearms resting on his thighs – though he couldn’t quite match her morose expression. “You’ve been quiet today.”
Wary, Jane looked at him askance. “You practicing to take over for Ma?”
“What?” Frankie glared at her. “I thought maybe your May/December romance was on the rocks. I thought maybe you needed a shoulder to cry on.”
She laughed wryly at the irony. “What? So now you want to talk about my personal life?”
Frankie shrugged. “Why’re you busting my balls here? I’m trying to be supportive.”
“Of my imaginary fling with Frost?”
“Something’s been bothering you.”
Jane stared at him blankly.
“Come on, Janie. When you come to me for advice, things’ve got to be bad. And don’t think I haven’t noticed you moping around. So, what gives?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Maybe, but I kind of think you need to. Look, if I’m seeing that you’re going through something, just wait until Ma notices. The way I see it, it’s better to talk it out with me. At least I’m not going to work in any bonus guilt about the lack of grandchildren plaguing the family or ask why it is you always have to wear your gun and badge on every blind date you get set up on.”
“So what happened? You followed my suggestion and went to the clinic? They tell you you have a little something something?”
“You take a pill, you’ll be fine.”
“Come on, Frankie…”
“I mean, you’re going to have to have a little talk with Frost...”
“I slept with Maura, okay.”
Frankie looked at her, mouth agape.
Jane’s lips twisted into a bitter smile “You happy now?”
“Happy? No.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “You just ruined every lesbian fantasy I’ve ever had.”
She glared at him. “Can you be serious for a minute?”
“This is serious. You know me. I’m a simple man. Good seasons for the Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins, the Eagles, and the Patriots, good beer, good food, and a little girl-on-girl porn – it’s all I ask for in life. But how am I supposed to watch it now, huh? It’d feel… I don’t know. Objectifying.”
“You’ll have to forgive me for not being all that sympathetic.”
“We’re talking about a not insignificant investment in certain entertainment materials that have now been rendered useless.”
Jane shuddered. “First of all, ew. I did not need to know that. Secondly, can we talk about my problem for a minute?”
He blinked at her. “Yeah, sure, but I mean, what’s the problem? You and Maura are perfect for each other.”
Jane just stared at him. “How about the fact that I’m not gay?”
“That doesn’t mean anything these days. You remember Lindsey Marquez?”
“The one with the…”
“Yeah, her. She left me for a chick.” He shrugged. “She said it wasn’t about labels.”
She looked at him, dumbfounded. “You’re giving me advice from a girl who dumped you?”
“She’s smart. I mean, she’s smart about everything else.” Frankie threw up his hands defensively. “Anyway, it was just a couple of dates.”
“You think that’s what they’re going to say?” Jane asked sharply, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. “That it’s not about labels?”
Frankie rolled his eyes. “Who? Ma? Pop? They love you.”
She scowled. “Come on, Frankie. It’s not that easy.”
“I’m not saying it might not take a little while for them to adjust, but if you’re thinking it’s going to be bad, it’s not. I mean, you know Ma. Everything’s a drama. It’s how she keeps herself entertained. But, when it comes to it, she’s harmless.”
“Adores you. Thinks the sun shines straight out of your ass.”
Jane put her fist into his bicep, hard.
“Hey,” he protested, rubbing the abused spot. “You know I’m right.”
She did. “What about you?”
Any mocking words Frankie was considering saying died on his tongue at the sight of the tension on Jane’s face. Instead, his face and voice softened. “I want you to be happy. You’re my sister. I love you. Call yourself whatever you want. I don’t care.”
Throat constricting tightly, Jane bumped her shoulder against his.
After a moment of companionable silence, Frankie asked, “So, did you screw things up?”
She laughed hoarsely. “Yeah, a little. In my defense, so did she.”
“Sounds fixable to me. Pop’s not the only person who thinks the sun shines out of your posterior. Whatever you did, I bet you can make it right.” He shifted, stretching his legs out in front of him. “Do you want to make it right?”
Jane stretched her legs out as well, relaxing back on her elbows. “I’ve been thinking about it.”
“I’m not sure. I think I do.”
“I think you should go for it.”
“Got a reason why?”
Frankie gave a one-shouldered shrug. “It’s a gut thing.”
“Given your track record, that’s not really a selling point.”
“From what I hear, stud, you’ve already been sold.”
A second later, Frankie was left rubbing his bicep again.
Maura opened the door with a look of confusion on her face. Her hair was slightly mussed, as if Jane had roused her from bed. She was wearing a silk robe that was belted sloppily at the waist so that one side was slightly higher than the other.
Jane thought she looked adorable.
“Maura,” she started, then stopped. She hadn’t thought about what she was going to say, only that she was actually going to say it. “Shit, I didn’t mean to... Look, if I told you I needed time, would you give it to me?” The words came out in a rush, her uncertainty edging them from imploring to impatient. Maura’s brows raised – probably, Jane noted, in surprise – but she didn’t give her time to answer. Instead, she kissed her. She kissed her with a desperation she hadn’t meant to reveal and then stopped almost as abruptly.
When she pulled back, they were both panting. Maura was staring at her, eyes wide.
“I can’t do it all at once,” Jane interrupted, still too quick and jittery. “There’s Ma and Pop to think about, and work, and I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never… I mean, I know what people think sometimes, but I haven’t.” She paused, and Maura felt her heart flutter at the heartrendingly vulnerable look in Jane’s eyes. “Come on, Maura. Say something.”
Knowing that whatever words she conjured would probably be insufficient, Maura put a hand to Jane’s cheek, stretched up on tip-toe, and kissed her gently. “Come inside, Jane,” she said with a smile, and took a step back to give Jane room.