Palm Springs is full of three things: golf courses, rich old guys with young wives, and gated communities. Real estate outside the gates costs an arm and a leg. Inside, it costs a whole body.
"Dead for about twenty-four hours," the ME said as he stood from his crouch. "Both of them. Third couple from here this week."
"Believe me, we know," Rita said as she marked body wounds on the stick men she'd sketched in her notebook. "I've barely slept in three days."
"Still pretty as a picture, Sammy," Chris called from across the room. He was talking to the first officer on the scene, making certain the timeline was properly set.
"No wonder you're not married," the ME said with a grin as he packed his bag.
"All the compliments, none of the work," Rita replied, giving the ME a nod as he walked out the door.
"Well?" Chris asked fifteen minutes later. He'd sent the responding officer back to his car, and Rita had spent the time sifting through the victims' personals.
"Nothing kinky," she said. "Not handcuffs or French Ticklers or even a blindfold."
"Vanilla couple goes down in a fit of passion," Chris said, glancing at the bodies as the sheets were thrown over them. "Now, that's a sad state of affairs."
"You'd know, Sammy," Rita replied, and Chris faked an over-the-top laugh as she walked around him to check the next room.
"Undercover?" Rita asked two hours later when Lipshitz handed them a file with details.
"Three bodies in a week," Lipshitz told her. "I don't want more. You two are moving to suburbia and falling in love."
"In that order?" Chris asked.
"Whatever works. You'll be in limited contact with us, just a phone call a day. Get in, look around, and find out who's doing this. I don't want any more bodies."
"Got it," Rita said, and Chris nodded in agreement as they stood up.
The house they were given for the operation had four bedrooms and was half a block down from the last murder. They made a big show of moving in, instructing the officers disguised as movers in where to place the furniture they'd pulled from lock-up.
"Think they bought it?" Chris asked as they sat in "their" new kitchen and ate Chinese food from cartons.
"We'll see," Rita replied, and she reached into Chris' carton and stole his pea pods.
Nothing happened in the first week. They tried to recreate the murdered couples as closely as possible, attending parties, making friends with the neighbors, even buying the same brands at the grocery store. The daily call to Lipshitz quickly devolved into him muttering things they couldn't quite understand, but his aggravation was clear.
"We'll get him, Captain," Chris promised. "He's probably just gone to ground for right now."
"Get a yard man," the Captain ordered. "They all had a yard man."
Rita asked around, all polite smiles and cheerful laughs, and got the name of a trusted yard man. He showed up the second day of their second week and got to work immediately, outlining flowerbeds and giving polite nods to Chris as he left for his fake job in finance.
"Anything?" Chris asked as he met her at the door that night, pecking her on the mouth as had become custom.
"Nothing," Rita replied, pulling at his tie and dragging him into the house by its tail. "Except it turns out I'm quite good at Bridge.
"You're good at everything, Sammy," Chris replied, and he kissed her without thinking.
"Sam," Rita breathed against his mouth as she pushed him away gently, like a wife might push away a sweet but distracting husband. "You know better," she said, giving him a look.
"Sorry," he said after a moment. He took a step back and straightened his shoulders. "Just kind of nice being out here with you."
"Sammy," Rita warned.
"I think about it sometimes," Chris added. "You and me and a house in the suburbs."
"We'd hate it," Rita said. "We'd be bored in a week without a body to poke at."
"We'd have great-looking kids."
"That's not a solution to boredom."
"They'd be clever."
"Same problem, Sammy."
Chris reached up and cupped Rita's face. She leaned into his palm and gave him a small smile. "One of these days..."
"I want my friend and partner," Rita said. "Before anything else, I want you like I have you."
"You drive a hard bargain, Sam."
"One of us has to."
Chris smiled at her and dropped his hand. "What's for dinner?" he asked.
Three days later, as they sat down to a dinner of porkchops, potatoes, and fresh salad, the yard man burst in the backdoor, hedge clippers pointed at them.
"No good yuppies," he murmured as he advanced. "living off the fat of everything while the rest of us--"
Rita picked up the unopened wine bottle and swung it like a five iron, catching the yard man under the chin and sending him sprawling. Chris pinned the yard man, squeezing his hand until he let go of the hedge clippers. He reached for his cuffs by habit, but there was nothing there.
"Hit him again," Rita suggested. Chris gave her a look, and she shrugged as she pulled a set of cuffs from her purse.
"Sammy," Chris said with an approving eyebrow lift.
"Just because the last victims were boring doesn't mean we have to be," she replied with a matching eyebrow lift.
It turned out the weapon wasn't hedge clippers, but a long knife they found tucked under the lip of the cupboards that the yard man had placed when he'd come in for a drink of water.
"What have I told you about letting strange men into the house, young lady?" Chris asked as they inspected the knife and listened to the yard man swear at the officers who were putting him in the back of the cruiser.
"Always bring protection?" Rita replied, hefting the wine bottle she still held. "Not my best swing, but a pretty good hole in one, I'd say."
"We could play golf everyday," Chris said. "I'll mow the lawn myself."
"I'd bury you under it in less than a week," Rita replied.
They looked at each other for a moment, then Chris broke into a grin and pulled her close for a hug. "Maybe," he said, "but it'd be a hell of a week."