The Angel Gabriel

Part 4

By Gabby Kat

Chapter 7


 


The rest of the evening had been spent enjoying dinner and each other’s company. In one week’s time these two women found the one thing that neither truly realized they’d been searching for…each other. It was a connection that rocked their existence and made them realize the happiness that life could bring. It was simple and pure.

Stress induced exhaustion, in no small part from the earlier press conference and having to deal with Sgt. Cannon, had claimed the detective’s consciousness, but the comfort of Samantha’s presence next to her on the couch had helped ease the detective into a peaceful slumber. When Katherine finally awoke she was vaguely aware of someone stroking her hair. She lay there for a few moments, motionless, praying that it hadn’t all been a dream. That the long arm draped over her midsection and the fingers gliding through her hair, drawing all her tension away, were real.

A gentle flutter danced about the smaller woman’s stomach easing a smile across her lips. It wasn’t a dream. Katherine’s eyes opened slowly, allowing her to look up at Samantha. The blond head was resting in the agent’s lap. Katherine watched for a few moments as pale blue eyes paid close attention to the soft tresses that the agent was stroking. Without warning, blue and green met and simultaneous smiles mirrored one another.

"Hey."

"Hey, yourself."

"How long have I been asleep?"

"Not long, ‘bout an hour." Samantha was brushing Katherine’s bangs off her forehead.

"Mm…" Green eyes closed in delight as she drew a lazy breath. "I could get used to that."

"Me too."

"I should get up. Your leg’s probably numb having to hold my head all this time."

"Not even close, but I suppose we should think of retiring for the evening. It’s after…" Sam creased her brows at her diver’s watch. "Two in the morning."

"Two?!" Hazel eyes lit in disbelief.

A quiet laugh. "Yeah. If you don’t get upstairs and in bed, you’re gonna sleep in tomorrow and we won’t have time to get your car…uh, your rental, before going over to Al’s."

It had occurred to Katherine, during dinner, that she’d never gotten a rental car for the following week, but Sam assured her that she could take care of it on the way to Kintrell’s house the next day. The burly sergeant had insisted on the two women coming over to his place for a mid-day barbecue on Saturday because his wife and daughter wanted to see Katherine and meet Sam. Samantha was touched to have been included and more that interested to meet people who meant so much to Katherine. The detective still wasn’t convinced about the rental car but she’d decided to relinquish the debate and trust in her friend’s many skills.

"Yep…you’re right." With a mild sense of regret, Katherine lifted herself off the agent’s lap and stood into a desperately needed stretch. Samantha couldn’t resist admiring the body in front of her. Katherine was less than five and a half feet of exquisitely toned muscle. The small t-shirt she was wearing lifted into the stretch as well, revealing a flat, well-defined abdomen. A dark brow lifted in silent approval before the agent joined the detective near the bottom of the stairs.

When Sam approached the smaller woman she wrapped her long arms around Katherine’s shoulders, pulling the detective into a hug. Samantha realized that she would never tire of having this woman in her arms, and she hoped that Katherine didn’t shy away from the unexpected contact. A lop-sided grin raised the corner of Sam’s mouth when the detective returned the embrace with heart-felt strength. Samantha leaned forward and settled a gentle kiss atop the blond head resting against her chest. "Thank you."

Katherine looked up from below the agent’s chin, confusion tickling her face. "Thank you? For what?"

"For not making me take you to your house tonight."

"Thank you for making me feel at home here."

Pale blue eyes warmed in the soft light of the living room. "I think you’re the one who makes me feel at home."

A lump caught in the detective’s throat, she wasn’t expecting such a declaration from the taller woman. But there it was, and it spoke volumes for the emotions swirling in the azure pools shining from above. Katherine leaned up and pressed her lips against Samantha’s, unable to express what she was feeling at that moment because her voice had simply left her. The contact was brief but it lasted an eternity in their hearts. When they parted, Samantha placed her hand on the small of the detective’s back and guided her up the stairs.

The agent led the blond woman to the spare bedroom at the top of the stairs and opened the door for her because it was where Katherine had slept since being in Samantha’s home. Sam wanted more than anything to fall asleep with Katherine wrapped tightly in her arms, but she didn’t want to rush what was happening. The detective stepped through the doorway and turned back to face her taller companion. She reached a palm up to caress the side of the agent’s face and brushed a gentle kiss on Samantha’s lips. "G’night, hero."

"Good night…sleep well." Samantha let the back of her hand trace the side of Katherine’s face before turning to her own bedroom.
 


*****


 


Katherine tried, but she just couldn’t sleep. Her mind was racing with the thoughts of the past several days, the past several hours overpowering most of them. She lay there on the soft, queen-sized bed with the comforter pulled up to her chin, moon-light finding its way into her room from the two skylights above. More milky rays filtered in through the bedroom door that was still open. Katherine was amazed at how the A-frame allowed for so much light to pour in, even from the midnight sky.

It was about four in the morning when she heard the first cry. At first she thought she’d finally drifted off and that a voice in a dream was calling out to her. Then there was quiet…she was awake, there was no doubt. A deeply pained yell cut through the silence of the night and yanked the detective from her bed. Katherine leaned over and retrieved her service pistol from the bedside table. Fear was a desperate emotion and it swelled from within her. She listened again. There was nothing, save the pounding in her chest. Katherine tried to get a fix on how many people were in the house with her…how many people weren’t supposed to be there. There was nothing.

Katherine stepped through the bedroom door and into the hallway. Her room was at the north end of the hall and she could just see to the south wall. The light peeking in from the huge western wall of glass in the living room painted the hallway in an eerie blanket of dull gray. The detective started to cross-step down the hall with a solid wall at her back. As she approached Samantha’s room she leaned forward over the banister to peer into the living room. It was quiet, there wasn’t anyone down there.

"Nnnoooooo—" Samantha’s voice echoed from within her bedroom spinning Katherine toward the door. The detective pushed the door to Sam’s room open and rushed inside, her eyes already adjusted to the soft darkness. Samantha was alone in the room, she was in her bed. Katherine crossed the floor and approached the sleeping agent, stopping short to put her gun on a bedside table. Sam’s breathing was shallow and ragged. Her muscles were tense and fighting a horrifying dreamscape.

Katherine perched herself on the edge of the bed, trying to push back her adrenaline. She wanted to reach out and pluck the agent from the pain that had surely enveloped her subconscious. Instead of physically touching her, though, Katherine caressed her with gentle words. "Samantha…"

"Damon, noooooo!" It was too late, the shot had been fired. She raced back to her binoculars. The image she saw was familiar but twisted in a surreal cloud that she didn’t recognize. Heinrikkson’s daughter was still dead, her lifeless frame being cradled by another. Damon’s ill-aimed hollow-point severed the life-line of an innocent. Ice-blue eyes lifted within the frame of magnified vision, to search the face of the girl’s father, so his pain would be forever etched into her mind. Her eyes came to rest on an angel. Liquid hazel eyes framed in soft golden hair. The pain behind those eyes, the regret, the anger…hazel darkened to a deep green that mocked the agent. Samantha searched them for the love that she desperately needed, the love that was slipping away.

"Sammy, how could you." Disappointment and shame. The binoculars were gone. Katherine was kneeling before her, the little girl’s body in her arms. The three figures were alone on the rooftop. "Samantha, how could you do it. I trusted you. You’re a monster."

"No. Katherine, please…"

Resentment shone from the green depths and pinned the agent with vicious precision. "No…how can I ever believe in you. You’re a killer…" The blond haired woman stood, the little girl no longer on the rooftop. She stepped onto the ledge of the roof. "It’s over Sam…let it go, it’s over—" She started to teeter back.

"Noooooo!"

Samantha’s torso bolted up from the bed as she lurched forward to grab at her friend before she fell back off the roof. She caught her, she had her in her arms. Thank God!

Katherine muffled a yelp as Sam lurched forward and pulled her close. She wrapped her arms around the agent and started to coo softly into her ear, the same words she’d been coaxing her with before the agent wrestled free from the dreamscape. "Shh…shh…It’s over Sam…let it go honey, it’s over. I’ve got you."

Samantha started to relax at the sound of the voice in her ear. Her breathing slowing and her pulse returning to normal. Katherine just held on and continued to rock her friend back and forth. When it seemed that Sam’s ordeal was over, Kat untangled herself from the taller woman and cupped the agent’s face in her hands. She brought Samantha’s head up so she could look into her eyes. Fear was still imprinted in the pale irises. "Sammy, it’s okay. Honey, it’s over."

"No."

"Huh? Samantha it was just a dream."

"No it wasn’t. No. Katherine—" Sam reached up and removed Katherine’s hands from her face, misplaced anger chilling her eyes. Her voice shook now as she spoke. "You can’t stay here. This isn’t right, it’s not gonna work." Sam was standing now, offering her back to the detective.

Green eyes fairly glowed under the moon-light, her own anger swelling from within. She got up from the bed and grabbed Sam’s wrist…the arm was jerked from her grasp. Her father had taught her to fight for what she believed in and her stubborn nature wouldn’t allow for anything else at this moment. She believed in Samantha Christopher. "Don’t you dare pull away from me!" Katherine jerked Samantha’s shoulder to force a face-to-face confrontation. "Samantha! You can not stand there and tell me that what happened earlier tonight didn’t mean anything to you!" Katherine had a firm hold of the agent’s shoulders…she could feel Samantha trembling.

Tears filled the agent’s eyes, muscle twitches in her face told the detective that the agent was fighting the tears and the urge to release her emotions. "Nnn- no. I can’t." Sam lowered her head. She couldn’t lie to Katherine, especially about that. Katherine squeezed the shoulders in her hands before shepherding Samantha back to the bed. Sam sat down at the detective’s urging. Katherine knelt before her, placing her hand on Samantha’s thigh for balance, both emotional and physical.

"Sam…" She waited for Samantha to look up. "Sam, I don’t know what that was all about, but I’m not going to walk away from this. Not without a fight." Sam was still shivering; her t-shirt was soaked. "First things first…you need a dry shirt." The agent glanced toward a chest of drawers on the wall near the bathroom. Katherine followed her eyes and stood before Sam could rise off the bed. The detective returned to the agent’s side with a soft white t-shirt, and instinctively started tugging at the damp shirt without any resistance from the agent. After she pulled it free of the disheveled dark hair, she threaded the fresh one over Sam’s head and shoulders…with her hands through the shirt’s arms, Samantha started to help pull the shirt down and when she did her fingers brushed across Katherine’s.

Katherine claimed the hand for her own as she searched her friend’s face in the soft darkness. Samantha didn’t pull away this time, a realization that prompted Kat to move herself to the bed. She eased toward the middle of the king-sized mattress and beckoned for Sam to follow…the agent complied. At first they sat without any physical contact. Katherine watched, in silence, taking in the pain emanating from her friend. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and Katherine took one of Sam’s hands in both of hers. A shuddered breath from the agent followed. A whisper escaped her lips. "I’m a killer—" The words fell on silence, a silence so thick it was palpable.

Katherine felt, momentarily, as though she’d been sucker-punched. Her only outward reaction, though, was a gentle squeeze of the hand in her own. She believed in Samantha Christopher.

For the next two hours, Samantha talked and confessed all of her sins. She told Katherine everything she could remember. How she’d graduated high school early, and managed to complete four years of college in only three, and going into the CIA right after graduation. Special considerations had been made because of her age, allowing her a few years to learn the mechanics of surveillance…the dark haired woman had an amazing tenacity for machines and electronics. After a couple of years, she’d been given some benign undercover assignments. Shortly thereafter, her twin brother graduated from UCSD and was accepted into the Secret Service. Six months later he was murdered…and a murderer was born.

Samantha described to the detective the monster that she’d become, how easily she’d filled the roll of the Huntress. All the government assignments…the assignments she’d taken on the side from foreign constituents and local gangsters who’d learned of her skill for the hunt. Samantha had lived off the money she’d earned from the private contracts and the hazard pay attributed to the secretly government sanctioned assassinations. She had invested her government base salary, into a variety of legal enterprises, so the expanse of her wealth was based on legitimate money…her only way of paying tribute to her brother.

Sam detailed the events on the rooftop a year ago. Damon’s betrayal and murder of a 10 year-old child. How she’d fled the park and retreated to the San Gabriel Mountains. The agent didn’t hold back. She described her ascent on the mountain and her desired outcome. It was the only point in the confession that caused Katherine to wince. The little detective felt for the pain Samantha had endured, and how it had culminated to that desire for self-inflicted death. Katherine listened as Sam described the moment just before she eased off the motorcycle’s accelerator…the whisper in her ear. And how it caused her to quell a death wish moments before careening into the woman changing the tire on her Wrangler. Green eyes looked up in understanding. Somehow she’d known all along that that had been Samantha.

When she didn’t get a physical withdrawal, Samantha continued. "After I managed to pull myself together I went to my superiors and issued a full report. I knew I had been betrayed and that they were a part of it. The target had to go down…then and there. They knew I would never have agreed to it under those circumstances, so they withheld the information about the party."

The early morning light had begun to sneak about the bedroom casting the fading darkness from the figures still sitting in the bed. "I told them, in no uncertain terms, that if Damon wasn’t dealt with that I would go public. Maybe a part of me wished they'd have just had an assassin’s bullet find it’s way into the base of my skull. But they didn’t. Damon was fired and I was given my choice of assignments. I chose to resign, but the Bureau had other plans for me. They somehow arranged for a transfer from the CIA to them. I dunno, I guess someone was looking out for me. I agreed to it, because… it would be the perfect…"

"Penance." A whisper completed the agent’s thought. Wary blue eyes lifted to meet with…Samantha found herself gazing, yet again, into the most compassionate, patient eyes she’d every known. She doesn’t hate me. That’s not possible, there is no way she understands…"I understand—"

"Katherine…how can you? I’m a killer. I killed for money, for revenge, for hatred…didn’t you hear anything I just told you? You should be running out the front door right now. Goddamn it, Katherine! You should hate me—" Katherine pressed two fingers against Samantha’s lips to silence her.

"I could never hate you. When I Look at you I see someone who stayed by my side at the hospital…someone who opened her home to me. And that means even more to me now, after hearing all that."

"Yeah, because of Damon. He’s targeted you because of me—"

"Damon wasn’t there at the press conference. He’s not the one who tried to gun me down. Samantha, you put yourself between me and a bullet. You could’ve been killed, but you risked your life to save me." Katherine felt like she was pleading for the life of a damned soul. "When I look at you, Samantha, I don’t see a killer. I don’t believe that’s who you are. You became a product of a vicious cycle. I’m not saying I condone what you did, Sammy, but that’s not who you are." A brief pause. "Samantha, look at me."

The dark head lifted just slightly.

"Samantha…you are not a killer."

"Katherine. I nearly killed you…you were trying to lay your father to rest for God’s sake!"

"My father? How’d you know I was—"

"I saw that picture of you in Kintrell’s office the other day." Katherine knew the one. "I asked him about it…he said that that was the first time he’d heard you laugh since…" A shaky breath. "He told me about the service and about you taking your father’s ashes up to the Gabriel’s, I just put two and two together. Goddamn it! How could you possibly forgive a kill—"

"Samantha, stop it!" Katherine was on her knees now, Samantha’s face held firmly in her hands. "I will never see you as a killer. A killer isn’t capable of love—" Katherine hesitated…what was she about to admit to? "What happened on the couch last night, that was more than a kiss. I know you felt it." Samantha wanted to look away but she couldn’t. "The person you were doesn’t exist anymore…that’s not who you are! It’s not the person I know, the person I—" Katherine pressed her forehead to Samantha’s. "Love. Samantha, I love you." Her words were desperate.

Oh dear God. This isn’t happening. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Take it back Katherine, please. The words were rushing around in the agent’s head. God, this isn’t happening…I don’t deserve her, please take it back. "I…I love you, Angel." In truth, the agent had felt those words deep in her heart that first night in Katherine’s Jeep, when she looked up and her heart broke at the sight of the angel’s smile…

Samantha felt the detective’s arms wrap around her.

"I don’t deserve your love." The words were whispered into soft blond hair.

"Do you want my love."

"More than anything in this world."

"Then you deserve it…and so much more." Katherine closed her eyes and offered a silent prayer that her love would be enough to make Samantha believe. "Come on, Sammy, lay back down…try to get some more sleep."

Samantha allowed herself to be settled back into her bed and when Katherine moved to leave the agent’s side she was halted by a gentle hand on her thigh. The detective looked down and took the hand in her own, the smile on her face reaching deep into her eyes. The sentiment was unspoken, but it was shared by both women. Katherine allowed herself to be drawn into Samantha’s arms. With both women on their sides, the smaller detective tucked herself neatly into the taller frame behind her. They were a perfect fit.
 


*****


 


It had only been about six hours of sleep but it was the most peaceful rest Samantha Christopher had ever known. When she finally awoke she opened her eyes to find an arm across her waist and a rumpled head of blond hair resting on her shoulder. Katherine was snuggled into the agent’s side and their legs were tangled together. Sam started playing with the golden tresses that were tickling her neck; she was amazed at how they reflected the sun’s rays that shone in from the skylights. It was as though the heavens were reaching out to the angel Gabriel and blessing her with their sacred touch.

The body that Sam had wrapped her arm around started to flex into a stretch. Katherine was awake now and trying to eye her human pillow. Samantha brushed several errant locks from the smaller woman’s face and when their eyes met the agent’s heart stirred. "Mornin’ Angel."

"Angel? I’ve been called a lotta things, but never an angel." Hazel eyes sparkled in the sunshine that reached in from the huge windows.

"Well, I call’em like I see’em. Did you sleep okay?"

"Like baby. You make a great pillow by the way." Katherine poked a finger into the shoulder she’d been sleeping on. "Wha—" In a swift motion Samantha grabbed her companion by the shoulder and twisted her around pulling the detective to her back. When Katherine opened her eyes she was looking into very playful blue spheres.

"Hm…as I recall, so do you." Samantha was hovering over the trapped detective, supporting her weight on an elbow, an evil grin spreading wide.

"Yes, you do seem to keep landing on top of me."

Sam leaned forward and pressed her lips to Katherine’s forehead. "Well, if you didn’t keep needing to be rescued—" Oh the look she got from the detective was rather unique.

"You’re gonna pay for that one!"

"Well, you’ll have to collect later, my dear. We’re gonna be late if we don’t get a move on. Go grab a shower. I’m gonna call that friend of mine about your, uh…rental, see if we can get it later tonight or tomorrow…since someone decided to sleep in."

"As if!" Katherine was more that ready to protest, but was halted by an amazing smile that seemed to melt the agent’s eyes and the detective’s heart with its warmth. The smaller woman merely nibbled her bottom lip and rolled her eyes before retreating from the master bedroom. It was a gesture that the agent was becoming especially fond of.

Sam waited for Katherine to leave before she picked up the phone and dialed Ogre’s number.

Three rings.

-What?!

"Jesus, Ogre…you might not scare your customers away if you learned some damn telephone etiquette."

-Telephone etiquette is for pusses…if they don’t like the way I answer my phone they can kiss my ass.

"You bend over…I might just do that."

-Peedab…you’re a smart-ass, ya know that?

"Yeah, I’ve been told that a few times. Ogre…ya got any good news for me?"

-I found you a Jeep…with every thing you wanted.

"Excellent! Now I won’t have to ask you about a rental.

-Not unless the rental is for someone other than ‘Katherine Gabriel’.

"Huh?" Sam was momentarily distracted by the sound of the water being turned on in the shower in Katherine’s bathroom.

-Peedab! Pay attention. That was the name that was supposed to go on the paperwork, right?

"Oh…sorry Ogre. Yeah, that’s the name. You used the address I gave you too, right?

-Yeesss, Ms. Priss. But you know how the DMV feels about post office boxes.

"The DMV’ll get over it…a formal letter from the FBI should smooth that over. I don’t want her registration coming back to a traceable address."

-Yeah, that’s what I figured. You can come down and pick it up anytime you like, I brought it back to the shop.

Silence on the telephone line.

-Peedab? Hey woman you still there?

"Uh, yeah. God, Ogre…I’m sorry, my mind’s just a million miles away."

-Mhmm.

"That other thing I asked you about…you find anything?"

-Yes ma’am, I sure did. That little piece’o shit’s a very bad seed.

Ogre knew of Damon Mars and wasn’t surprised when he’d found out about the Agency kicking him out on his ass. He was even less surprised to find out why they’d done it. What had surprised him, however, was the fact that Mars had decided to come after Samantha. Mars was a coward and the fact that he was being so brazen had the older mechanic concerned for his friend’s well being.

"Yeah, he is. He should’ve just come after me, but he’s fucking with someone else…and he’s gonna pay."

-Samantha you just be careful.

Sam heard the concern in her friend’s voice. "I will. I better let you go old man. I’ll call before I come over."

-‘Old man?’ I swear, I’m gonna take a belt to your backside one of these days.

"You’d have to catch me first." Samantha laughed a bit before saying goodbye to her friend. I owe you one old man…big time!
 


*****


 


The day had turned out to be beautiful and couldn’t have been more perfect for a barbecue. Kintrell’s wife welcomed Samantha into her home with warmth and openness and left no room for awkward silence. Alice Kintrell fit the roll of the typical mother. She was very petite but exuded a no nonsense air about her. Which was probably pretty helpful considering the man she’d been married to for 26 years. The fine lines around her pale green eyes showed a woman who loved to laugh and rarely went without a smile. Although Alice had given birth only once in her life, she felt in her heart that she had two daughters. Katherine Gabriel was as much apart of her as if she’d been born of her own womb, and when her husband told her about the FBI agent who’d stayed by her side at the hospital…Alice knew she was going to like her. She wasn’t wrong.

The group was sitting around a huge glass and wrought iron table on the Kintrell’s deck. Lunch had been eaten long ago and the newly acquainted friends were simply enjoying each other’s company. Katherine was tucked between Samantha and Kintrell’s daughter, Jessie. Everyone’s attention had been drawn to the other side of the table where Al was engrossed in a tale about his daughter's lack of grace in learning how to drive a stick shift.

"If ya can’t find’em…grind’em. I swear to God, I don’t know how my clutch survived her first driving lesson." Al was incredibly pleased with his ability to embarrass his daughter in front of other people. The younger Kintrell took it in stride, though, and wasn’t about to relinquish her pride quite yet. Her dark hair was pulled back into a pony tail and her beautifully bronzed features were beaming at the impending argument. A dark brow quirked as Jessie pushed forward…she wasn’t going to let her father win that easily.

"Hm…if you ask me…it was all in the teaching style." Her own hazel eyes sparkled at the raised eyebrow she earned from her father.

"Young lady, there is absolutely nothing wrong with my teaching style." The debate was clearly about to begin, drawing amused smiles from the dark haired agent and Alice Kintrell. The older woman had endured enough debates between her husband and their daughter to know when to keep quiet. But when the little detective decided to lean into the conversation…Alice sat back in her chair and rolled her eyes. She locked glances momentarily with Samantha and tried to convey to the agent that she may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

"Nothing wrong with your teaching style?!" Katherine pinned him with her eyes, her look completely incredulous.

"Don’t you start with me." The sergeant’s finger was raised, but he had to split his attentions between his daughter and Katherine, both women were leaning on respective forearms, peering across the table at him. Goddamn it…they’re teaming up on me. His old dark eyes were bouncing between nearly identical pairs of greens.

"Albert Kintrell!! You have got to be the most stubborn, ill-tempered, cranky-natured human being on the planet when it comes to teaching novices something new. Need I remind you of the one record you hold with the San Diego Police Department?" A slight pause as she studied the look he was beginning to acquire. "Hm?"

"I don’t hold any records…unless you count ‘Biggest Pain-in-the-Ass’." Large arms folded across the sergeant’s chest as he eased back into his padded wrought iron chair.

"Point taken…I suppose I was wrong on that." Al gave her a quick look of victory. "That makes two records…No Sgt. Kintrell, you happen to hold the record for being the shortest lived FTO in the history of the department." She waited for just a beat, lavishing in the face he was making. She had’em. "Six hours."

"Six hours?" Samantha blurted out of turn. It didn’t help Al’s case and Katherine appreciated it immensely.

"Yes…six hours. Kintrell’s very first rookie…the golden child of his academy class, lasted six hours with Kintrell before requesting to be driven to the police station in order to resign."

"Hey…I never even wanted to train damn rookies in the first place—"

"Yeah, because you don’t have the patience for it, daddy—"

"Jessica Lynne…that has nothing to do with your ability to master a clutch…one more lesson and I wouldn’t have had a transmission."

"Kintrell, after two lessons with you, the poor girl was on the verge of a nervous break-down…one lesson with me…she was driving like a pro."

"Whoa, you never told me about that. Was it in your Jeep?"

Uh oh. "Uh, well it was the only other stick shift close at hand." Damn, damn, damn…he was never supposed to know about that. Katherine looked briefly at Jessie and flashed an apologetic look. The young college co-ed just shrugged her shoulders. Katherine’s offer to give Jessie a lesson had been forbidden because of Al’s dislike for Wranglers…and their notoriety for being unsafe.

"Damn things are nothin’ but a squared off death trap." Al looked down at his pint glass of Guinness. The mood took a sudden downward pitch.

In spite of herself, Katherine chuckled softly. "Tell me about it." The detective stole a glance at Samantha, just knowing the agent was there seemed to comfort the little blond, but when she looked up and into compassionate seas of blue, her heart warmed. Sam was actually sitting very close to Katherine and she reached out under the table and clasped a small had into her own, squeezing gently.

Alice was ever the positive influence and she wanted to salvage the moment. "Well…that’s all behind us now, and Katherine is a shining testament to it, too." The tiny woman looked fondly at Katherine.

"I’ll tell ya, Gabe—" Jessie broke the uneasy silence. "When daddy called me at school and told me how bad it was…I started to make arrangements to come home…to get out of some tests, but he called the next day and said you were fine. There was so much relief in his voice. It was kind of unsettling. How did you…I mean—"

Katherine hesitated for just a moment. She hadn’t really thought about the wreck or her injuries. She was content in her acceptance of the quiet miracle…she and Samantha hadn’t even discussed what had happened. "I dunno, Jess…my doctor was completely stumped."

"Well…what do you think happened? I mean, you went from critical condition to perfect health, without any help?"

"Oh no, I had help." Katherine sputtered the words without really thinking. A flush of memory engulfed her mind. She definitely had help.

Katherine remembered lying on her back in the most excruciating pain she’d ever known. She wanted to cry out for help, for someone to come to her and ease the pain, but she couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak or open her eyes or beg for mercy. The beeping in her ears was so loud and was causing the pounding behind her eyes to intensify.

Oh God it hurts! Wait. There was someone else there. Another person was there with her. Maybe it was the doctor…why didn’t he want to come near her? Wait. It was a woman…Katherine thought she recognized the presence, but she wasn’t sure who it was. Then there was another. Was it a person? Something different, but definitely a male. A male? A healing presence… Yes, the detective remembered the male person; perhaps he was the doctor. He was urging the female to come closer. The female hesitated at first then complied, not entirely of her on volition. Then the woman was close. Katherine felt a familiarity in the woman’s closeness…it was comforting. Who was it? God, how she wanted to look up and see who was there with her.

Then there was a touch. It was so gentle. There were strong, masculine fingers intertwined in her own, and the instant skin came in contact with skin, Katherine felt a chill that reached to the marrow of her bones, then it retreated and warmed her very soul. The warmth seemed to force away the pain. A whisper floated on the still air…Sammy, it’s gonna be okay. Then the touch was gone and she felt another hand…the woman’s hand on her forehead. It was then that Katherine was able to part her lids and force bleary green eyes upon the pair of beings before her.

Samantha looked so concerned…azure pools filled with sorrow. Katherine remembered thinking to herself that it was going to be okay and that she didn’t like seeing her friend upset. The young man standing next to the agent looked content and at peace, no pain in his eyes. Oh, those eyes, where had she seen them before? He was very handsome and so young. She wished she could see his face better, but he was more… distant. Katherine somehow realized that if she had tried to reach out to him, she wouldn’t be able to touch him. His fair hair glowed, it encircled him near the crown of his head and cast an ethereal light upon his tall frame.

She remembered Samantha talking to her, distracting her from the golden man. Oh, those eyes! Katherine remembered looking into Samantha’s eyes… this time seeing happiness and relief. She wanted to thank the golden man…he must have been the doctor…he made all her pain go away…

When Katherine paused, she looked up to find three stunned faces; the fourth bore a look of near exasperation. Pale blue eyes were fixed on infinity as though the agent was trying to locate a distant memory. The detective concentrated on Sam’s expression as she reached her hand out to the agent’s knee.

"Samantha? Hey, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I’m sorry…I was just—"

"Katherine, that was amazing." Jessie’s youthful features were awestruck. She turned her stare to the agent trying to gauge the emotions she found on Samantha’s face. "Sam…who was he? I mean, what’d he do?"

Samantha didn’t answer for a few moments because she couldn’t find the words. She remembered that night in Katherine’s hospital room. The dark agent had felt another presence in the room with her and Katherine. It was what had urged her to the detective’s side…gave her the courage to face her fears…told her that everything was going to be okay. She remembered hearing her brother’s voice. It was peaceful, and gentle and soothing…the same as it had been every time it drifted through her ears. Every time it coaxed her from the edge of her existence. Even in the San Gabriel’s, just before she rounded that curve…before plowing into…

"There was no one in the room with us." Samantha was lost. Frankly, she had been convinced that she was going crazy. Her brother was dead, but she kept hearing him, sensing him…he was constantly reaching from beyond the grave to save her from herself. Did Katherine sense him too? Jesus, Christopher, what the hell’s wrong with you?

A blond brow raised to accentuate the detective’s disbelief. "What do you mean, there was no one there with us? I saw him."

Kintrell and his wife looked briefly at one another before fixing on Samantha.

"That night I stayed with you, the first night you woke up. I was alone."

"Maybe it was a guardian angel." Jessie was only partly kidding, because she really believed in the existence of such things; she just never thought she would know of one’s existence in reality.

A shiver ran the length of Samantha’s spine. A guardian angel?

"Jesus, people! This ain’t an episode of Touched by an Angel we’re talkin’ about here." Kintrell got to his feet with his pint glass in hand. "I need another beer." The glass was more than half way full, but he couldn’t think of a better excuse to escape the discussion before him. Alice and Jessie Kintrell were both staring at Katherine and Samantha. Blue and green fields saw nothing but each other and effectively locked out the rest of the world.

When Al stepped through the deck door into his dining room, he turned back to look at the women still sitting outside. He was flexing his jaw muscles, the memories of those hours in the hospital, waiting for Katherine to come out of surgery, painfully fresh in his mind. He thought of the detective as his eldest daughter, someone who’d helped give him back his own child. If it hadn’t been for Katherine reaching out to his daughter, there’s no telling what would’ve happened to Jessie. She’d probably be dead right now herself. "Guardian angel—" Al spoke the words to himself, it’s what Katherine was to him and his family.

By the time Kintrell returned from the kitchen he’d managed to retrieve a fresh Guinness and most of his composure. He was grateful that everyone was talking about other things. Jessie and Katherine were laughing about a favorite TV show.

"Jessie… you don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m telling you, they’re just friends!"

"Kat…I can’t believe you don’t see it. You of all people—"

"And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?!" Blond brows were furrowed, but there was no anger in her voice.

"Oh come on! You’re a closet romantic and you know it!"

"I am nothing of the sort! I just don’t think they’re lovers."

"Puhleeeze…all that leather and bare flesh?? Hell, sign me up…I’d be her love slave." Jessie threw out the last comment for the benefit of her father. He was standing just within earshot.

"Jessica Lynne! Not in front of your mother!"

"Oh daddy, she’s a grown woman for God’s sake."

Al came up behind his wife and put his hands on her slim shoulders and brushed a kiss on her cheek before resuming his seat next to her. The sergeant relaxed back in his chair and regarded the three women across from him and his wife. His eyes were drawn to the dark haired agent for a moment. She didn’t seem to be paying attention to the conversation buzzing around her but she looked…almost…content.

The sun was starting to dip toward the western sky lengthening dark shadows throughout the landscaping. Sam’s attention was drawn to the shrubs and flowers and their thoughtful arrangement. She was impressed with the original layout of the landscaping timbers and the flagstones that made a path from the deck to the pond and small waterfall near the back corner of the yard. The set up was unique and personal. Who ever did it was incredibly talented…and artistic.

"Al, your yard is really beautiful." Sam glanced up at Al as he took a sip from his dark ale. What she wasn’t expecting was a simultaneous ‘thank you’ from her left side. The agent looked over to where Katherine and Jessie were sitting. Two dark brows lifted in question.

Katherine cocked her head to the side. "You aren’t the only one with many skills my dear agent of the FBI." Kat elbowed Kintrell’s daughter in the arm. "Isn’t that right Jess? Two summers ago this yard looked like a flat, baron piece o’ turf. Wasn’t fit for the Atlanta Falcons to use as a practice field."

"Hey!" Kintrell stiffened in mock anger.

"No commentary from you, mister man." Katherine leveled a finger in Al’s direction. She looked back at her companion, very pleased with the astonished look on her face. "I designed the layout, Jessie put the plant combinations together and viola." She spread her arms in a grand finish.

Sam looked from Katherine to Jessie and back to Katherine. "I’m impressed. I wish I’d have known about you two when I had my yard done."

"Your yard looks great."

"Yeah, but not like this." Sam was looking back near the pond.

Jessie was the one who spoke next. "Well, the great thing about landscaping…with enough dirt and concrete, you can do just about anything." Her tone was almost hopeful, and drew the attention of both Katherine and Samantha.

"Would you be able to do something around a pool and hot tub?"

"Oh hell, yeah. Actually, that’d fulfill one of my requirements for school."

"Hmph…my daughter’s smarter than Goddamn Bill Gates, himself, and I’m sending her to college so she can learn how to mow the grass." Kintrell was leaning his elbows on the table.

"Daddy!"

Sam looked over at Al. He was trying to keep a stern look, but his face beamed with the pride he felt for his daughter.

"Sam…if you’re serious, give me an idea of what you want done—"

The agent scanned the yard again and locked eyes with the detective, a sincere smile forming on her face. "I’ve got to put the hot tub in first, but I trust your judgment with the rest."
 


Chapter 8


 


"G’night ya’ll. Jess, I’ll get up with ya after she puts the hot tub in. We’ll try and plan it around one of your school breaks."

"Awesome, girl. Thanks again Sam, for letting me do that. It’s gonna help me out a lot."

"You’re welcome, but after seeing your handiwork…I think I’ll be the one doing all the thanking." The agent approached Al’s wife to thank her for making her feel so welcome. The tiny woman reached up and pulled the tall agent into a hug.

"Samantha, you take care of her…okay? We love her like she’s one of our own." When Sam pulled back she looked into knowing pale eyes.

"I will Alice." It was a softly spoken vow that reached to the depths of the agent’s heart.

Samantha and the little detective bade the last of their good nights and poured themselves into the agent’s Mustang. As the engine purred to life Katherine looked over at her companion. "They really like you."

"That’s good, because I like them. Jessie’s lucky to have them as parents."

"Yeah, she is. She’s been a handful for them, but she’s a good kid…she’s finally got her life together."

"Ya know…Al give’s you most of the credit for that."

"Lemme guess…another discussion over the photograph in his office?"

"Weellll, yeah." A sheepish grin.

"I don’t know that I really deserve that much credit…I just helped her figure some stuff out. Hell, she probably helped me more than I helped her." Katherine’s voice trailed off just a bit. She watched as the city lights came into view; her mind was drifting to a place that she didn’t want to visit. "Hey, you wouldn’t want to do me a favor, wouldya?"

That wasn’t your most graceful of segues my friend. "Name it Angel."

Katherine smiled in pure reflex. "Could you take me to my house."

"What?!" A dark head jerked to the right, pale blue eyes bright with concern…and pain. Katherine saw the emotion on her friend’s face and her mind scrambled. The detective reached out and put her hand on Samantha’s thigh.

"Whoa. I just wanted to get some more clothes and things. I…take it I’m still welcome to stay with you?"

Samantha let out a breath that she wasn’t aware she’d been holding. "Of course you are…I just thought you were—"

"You’re pretty damn cute, yourself, when you’re flustered."

"I do not get flustered." Sam spoke as she returned her focus to the road and squared her shoulders.

"Mm…" Score one for the Gabester. Katherine smiled inwardly at her ability to make the dark agent blush. After several minutes of driving through the more populated areas of the city, Samantha eased her Mustang into the detective’s driveway. Katherine looked intently at the front door for several minutes before getting out of the car. Samantha sensed the hesitation from the smaller woman and thought it was because she hadn’t been home in several days…like coming back after a long vacation and things feeling out of place.

The front porch light was on, casting a yellowish haze on the sandstone brick that framed the door. Katherine was quiet and pensive as she approached the house, something wasn’t right. She felt Samantha at her back and pressed forward. When she climbed the three steps to the porch, her eyes fixed on the doorjamb. The door wasn’t closed. Two concealment holsters unsnapped in unison, breaking the uneasy silence that had settled over the cool night air.

Samantha wanted to take the lead, but she knew it would be better if Katherine did because of her familiarity with the layout of the house. Blue and green locked together in silent understanding. Katherine led Sam into the house and the methodical search began. Every room was checked and every corner searched. The women worked as an extension of one another.

Katherine inhaled the air to smell for any odd odors, to get a sense of someone else’s presence in her home. She could smell fragrant spice…her companion was very close; and there was an unfamiliar hint of sweet fruit. After the search was over, the detective allowed herself the reality to absorb where she was; whose house she was actually searching.

With her gun holstered, Katherine surveyed the damage. Her house was destroyed. Every seat cushion ripped to shreds, tables overturned, brightly colored terra cotta lamps and vases littered the pale carpet. Samantha couldn’t believe what she was seeing either. The southwestern décor of the house was completely demolished. Everywhere she looked she saw destruction…and anger. This was more than a break in. Whoever did this wasn’t looking for stuff to pawn or trade for a crack fix. This was personal.

Picture frames had been pulled from shelves and walls and thrown to the floor. Most of them looked to have been stomped on several times after they’d been discarded. Sam was taking special notice of the pictures and realized that the ones containing Katherine’s image seemed to suffer the most damage.

As the two women continued to check the damage, Sam went back into the kitchen; it hadn’t been spared either. The contents of the refrigerator were spilled out onto the floor. It was such a mess, that the agent had a hard time distinguishing what color the tile had been. Samantha squatted down so she was close to the floor. She reached out and picked up a can of Pepsi that hadn’t busted. It was cold. A shiver ran the length of the agent’s spine. She looked up at the kitchen door…it was open. It took a split second to register, but the agent knew that door had been closed the first time they searched the kitchen. Samantha shot upright and skitted across the floor trying not to lose her balance in the slippery mess.

Adrenaline was pulsing through her veins again. Any sense of caution left the agent when she realized that they’d interrupted the person responsible for all this. She grabbed at the door and flung it open stepping into the murky darkness of the back yard. Giving her senses a moment to focus, Samantha felt, more than saw, the movement near the back corner of the yard. The bastard was still there. "Motherfucker…you’re mine." The growl cut through the night air and found its target lurking in the shadows. The prey knew it had been spotted and prepared for its escape.

The Huntress lurched her head forward and brightened the night sky with the fire in her eyes and the sparkle of an evil grin. She started across the yard knowing that her prey was trapped. Sam was almost half way across the lawn when the orange-white blast of light brightened the back corner of the yard. She saw the shot before she heard it but there was no question as to what it was. Then came the familiar pain of searing heat as it ripped through flesh. It spun her around and knocked her off balance. As she hit the ground she saw her prey slip past her…there was something familiar in the sound of the voice. Sam could swear she heard a hyena laugh as the prey found its way to the gate and to its freedom.

"Saammmannnthaaa!!" Another familiar voice. This one was pained, but it was there to help. Katherine ran across the yard and came to a sliding stop on her knees at her friend’s side. "Samantha! Oh my God. Are you okay? Come on Sammy, don’t do this to me."

"Angel…it’s okay. I’m fine." Samantha started to sit up…it hurt like hell, but she’d live. "Ungh…that’s gonna leave a mark." She reached up and surveyed the damage to her left arm. The bullet grazed the outer surface of her upper shoulder. The wound would require some stitches, but not much else.

"Jesus Christ, Samantha! Why the hell did you come out here by yourself? You could’ve gotten yourself killed!" Katherine’s eyes glowed a mossy gray in the hazy moonlight.

Oh shit…she’s really pissed. "Katherine, I’m okay." Sam tried to grab Katherine by her shoulders but her left arm seized up in pain and all the agent could do was clasp the side of the detective’s head with her right hand. Blond hair was hanging forward. "Katherine, look at me, I’m okay." Sam was pleading with the smaller woman. She moved her hand under the detective’s chin and eased it up…she felt moisture on Katherine’s face…sweat?

Tears. Katherine lifted her face up to Samantha but diverted her liquid eyes. "Sammy, I thought you were—" Her voice cracked as it trailed off. "I’d come into the kitchen to look for you. I heard the gunshot outside…it sounded so close. When I looked outside…I saw you spin around and hit the ground. Then there was a blur. You were so still." The detective didn’t make an attempt to shield her resolve as it faded with every whispered word. Samantha pulled her close and held her tight with her one good arm.

A few minutes later the two women were in Katherine’s bedroom, the only room that the hyena hadn’t invaded before it was interrupted. The call to 911 had been made and the women waited for the police to arrive. Samantha, in all her stubborn glory, refused to request an ambulance.

"Samantha…you’ve been shot for God’s sake! You have got to let someone look at that."

"Katherine, it’s fine, I promise. Hell, I’ve done worse with a razor in the shower." Well, it wasn’t a total lie…she had some heinous shaving scars to prove it.

"Samantha—"

The agent had wandered over to the detective’s closet hoping to divert Katherine’s attention to other, more important things. "On a brighter note, the shithead who broke in here didn’t make it to your bedroom…your clothes are okay."

"You’re not very good at changing the subject, ya know that."

"Yeah, one more thing we have in common."

Katherine chuckled once in understanding before allowing her eyes to fix on infinity. "I don’t believe this. I total my car…now someone’s totaled my house. Nothing to drive, no place to live. What the hell am I gonna do?"

"Well, I can take care of the car with a phone call. As far as a place to live, you’ve already got one of those." Sam was now sitting on the bed next to Katherine. She draped her good arm around a slender pair of shoulders and drew the detective close. "I can even get us a little muscle to help move all your salvageable stuff tonight."

"Samantha, honey, I’ve ridden in your Mustang…I know I don’t have much stuff left, but there’s no way it’s gonna fit in your car."

"Oh ye of little faith—" Sam smiled a lop-sided grin before leaning forward to press her lips to the side of Katherine’s head, but the detective pulled away. Uh oh.

Katherine had an intensely serious look on her face that stopped the agent cold. "Samantha, what little faith I have left in this life is stronger than you could possibly imagine. My faith in you is just about the strongest I’ve ever known…I hope you realize that."

"Wh…but, I didn’t m—"

"Samantha I believe in you. No matter what happens in this world, I will never lose faith in you."

There was a stark reality in the detective’s words that shook the agent and warmed her heart at the same time. The last person to say anything like that to Samantha was her brother. Sammy, it’s gonna be okay. The words echoed once again. Bright hazel eyes shot up to look into the most perfect shade of blue. Samantha took a slow, deep breath because for the first time in over ten years, she actually believed the truth in those words.
 


*****


 


The police officer who’d come to take the report didn’t know Katherine personally, but he knew her well enough by reputation to know that he’d better do his best or suffer the condemnation of too many other officers to count. Officer Davis called for a K-9 unit to respond to the scene after obtaining the basic facts of what had happened. If there was any chance that the suspect was still in the area a track would have to be started as soon as possible.

A short time later, Erin Capri arrived with Cerberus. Cerberus was over a hundred pounds of teeth and jet-black fur and looked more like a wolf than a German Shepherd. The name that Capri had given the dog when he was still a puppy proved to be more a portend of his nature than she could have imagined. Although Cerberus had the best record for locating suspects, he also had the highest bite count. Officer Capri brought her shepherd through the garage and into the back yard where Cerberus started to work his magic.

After a few commands spoken in German, Cerberus, who’d been dubbed Perro Diablo by most who encountered him, picked up on the hyena’s scent. Handler and K-9 worked as one, although Cerberus fairly pulled Officer Capri along behind him. Erin was no bigger than Katherine was and if not for her strong resolve and even stronger arms, the devil dog would easily have pulled away from her. Unfortunately the track lasted less than a block. Cerberus came to an impatient, sniffing halt at the edge of the road that paralleled the back of Katherine’s property. The shepherd looked back at his handler with a nearly human expression of confusion, because the hyena had apparently made its escape by means of a waiting car.

"It’s okay, Cerbie…ya did good boy." The devil dog was rewarded for his efforts, and for a few moments he danced around like a puppy, tugging at the gnawed length of nylon rope Erin had produced for him in reward. The K-9 officer led her charge back through the yards and into Katherine’s garage, where she encountered the detective.

"I take it you didn’t find’em." Katherine spoke through a wry grin.

"What gave it away?"

"Cerb isn’t lickin’ his chops."

"Heh…" A quick scratch behind the dog’s ears. "Sorry, Kat…Looks like your visitor had a car waiting for him."

"Thanks for trying Erin—"

"Hey Gabe!" Julie Adam’s familiar tones drifted out to the garage.

"No problem, hon. I better get him outta here, he can’t stand the smell of fingerprint powder."

As Erin led Cerberus toward the garage door, he hesitated briefly at a small foil wrapper on the concrete floor just in front of Katherine’s feet. The shepherd became very still, before lowering is hips so he was sitting on his haunches. As the rest of his body moved his head remained perfectly still, black eyes fixed on the foil.

"Erin? What’s he doing?"

The small uniformed woman stepped between Katherine and her dog, and crouched down close to the item that seemed to have captivated her partner’s interest. "Well, I’d say that your visitor decided to take a peek around your garage…and he chews—" She leaned a little closer. "Wrigley’s."

The unfamiliar smell of sweet fruit.

Just then, the Crime Scene Tech popped her head out the door that led from the garage to the pantry. "Hey—" Julie looked down, a touch of fear in her eyes. "Oh, hey Cerberus." She lifted her brows and was surprised…no, relieved to see that the shepherd paid her no attention.

"Hey, Jules. After Erin takes Cerb out of here…you might want to collect that piece of foil."

Julie looked intently at the little piece of trash…a blanket of fear draining the color from her face. When she looked back at Katherine she couldn’t speak. Erin Capri felt the tension and when she saw the expressions on the two women above her, she decided to make her retreat. The K-9 handler hated to see spooked looks on people’s faces, especially when those people’s professions made a practice of hovering over dead bodies.

When the garage was emptied of all it’s occupants except for Katherine and Julie and a seemingly harmless piece of paper foil…the technician stepped through the pantry door and stood motionless next to the detective.

"Katherine—"

"I know Jules."

"He was here."

"We don’t know that for sure." Katherine’s voice was very quiet, almost a whisper.

"You think it’s a coincidence that the press conference was yesterday, and today your house gets ransacked? Every IceMan scene I worked I found those gum wrappers. Lemme guess…Wrigley’s? Bet it smells like Juicy Fruit."

There was silence.

"Come on Gabe…is that what it is?"

"Yeah."

"Jesus Christ, Katherine! This is so not cool." Julie was flooded with a sense of fear for the smaller woman beside her.

"Well, we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions until we’ve had the wrapper chemically processed."

"Gabe, that won’t identify him. Prints were found on all the other wrappers…but there wasn’t a match in AFIS."

"I know, but at least we’ll know if it’s our guy."

A pair of headlights filled the dimly lit garage, silhouetting the Mustang that was still parked in the driveway.

"Hm…must be my rental." Katherine spoke softly, her words barely heard by Julie.

"Huh?"

"Oh, um…I need to go move Sam’s car so this guy can park in my garage. Go ahead and pick this thing up…we’ll see if the lab has any luck with it."

"Sure. After that I’m gonna run over the back yard with a metal detector…see if I can find the casing and bullet from where Mr. Peckerhead shot at Agent Christopher."

Katherine winced inwardly…’shot at Agent Christopher’ played eerily in the detective’s ears. She took a deep breath to steady herself before stepping back into the house. "Hey Sam. I need your keys…I think your friend’s here with that car. You said it was an SUV right?"

Samantha was sitting at the dining room table having just finished her statement to Officer Davis. She stood, sucking in a sharp breath at the pain in her arm. The compression bandage that Katherine had insisted on applying had stopped the bleeding and actually helped with the pain, but the sudden shift in body weight and ensuing blood pressure forced a jolt of pain that the agent wasn’t expecting. Katherine closed the distance between herself and her friend before Sam could extract the keys from her pocket. "I’m taking you to the hospital." The detective hissed under her breath.

"No…you aren’t." Sam lowered her voice to a menacing purr.

"Um…Detective Gabriel?" Officer Davis raised to his feet, standing nearly four inches taller that Samantha. "I uh…I’ve got everything I need here. I’m gonna go ahead and get outta your hair." Samantha had been cooperative with the officer and even managed to answer all of his questions with forced patience, but there was something in her eyes that, frankly, scared the piss out of him…he was desperate to get out of this house and away from the agent all together.

Katherine broke her stare from the icy-blues looking down at her, as she softened her tone. "Thank you Bobby." The detective had never been formally introduced to Officer Davis, but she made it a point to know as many of the officers at the department by first name. It was a tactic that made people feel instantly at ease with her…and it worked.

Bobby Davis relaxed his shoulders for just a moment as he smiled his relief to Katherine. The detective looked pointedly at Samantha before escorting the officer to the front door. Samantha paid the look no attention as she struggled to take off the oversized Appalachian State University sweatshirt she’d snagged from Katherine’s closet. It was actually a perfect fit for the agent and concealed her wounded arm from Officer Davis. "Thanks again, Bobby…I really appreciate everything you did."

"No problem, ma’am." He nodded his head once before escaping out the door.

When Katherine turned around to continue her argument with her friend she saw a behemoth of a man examining Samantha’s left shoulder. Jesus, he’s huge. She approached slowly until she saw her friend’s face contort in pain. In the length of a stolen glance the detective was at the agent’s side. The compression bandage had been removed to reveal a bloody, ragged piece of flesh, causing the detective’s insides to lurch once again.

Katherine had seen every possible cruelty man could inflict on his brethren…but the sight of such an injury to someone who actually meant something to her caused the detective surge with a variety of feelings. They ranged from blatant nausea, to sympathy and compassion, to fear…to outright anger. The enormous wall of a man halted his examination for just a moment to regard the face of the blond haired woman. "You must be Katherine." A voice that sent shivers through most people barely registered with the detective.

"Yeah…you must be Orville." She didn’t give him a chance to react. "She wouldn’t let me take her to the hospital…she swore to me that you’d be able to doctor her. Can you fix it?"

Samantha sat back waiting for the impending explosion. A man that inspired fear in all who encountered him was looking down with ominous oppression into a pair of determined green eyes.

"Well Orville, can you fix it or do I have to hand cuff her and drag her kicking and screaming to the ER."

Oh shit.

Ogre started to nod his enormous head, slowly, before turning his face toward Samantha. A grin spread wide across his face exposing an expensive array of crowns and sparkling partials. "And I thought you were a smart ass." Ogre looked back down at Katherine. "Yeah, Squirt, I can fix it."

Squirt. "Why does everyone call me Squirt? What? What, is it…do I have it tattooed on my forehead?" Of course next to Ogre and Samantha, the little detective barely registered on the height charts.

"You’re a feisty little shit ain’t ya?"

Uh oh…hands on hips, blond head cocked to the side, the corner of her mouth quirked up just enough to express indignant irritation.

"You should see me when I get pissed."

"Mm…wouldn’t want that." Ogre couldn’t keep the grin from his face. "Peedab…I do believe you’ve finally met your match."

"Peedab?" It was a statement as much as it was a question.

Samantha closed her eyes and let her head drop forward, the ensuing mumble was incomprehensible. Ogre looked like he was going to insist on the agent repeating herself, but he bit off a grin and turned back to Katherine.

"Hey Squirt…get her keys and help me shuffle cars. Peedab, my kit’s in the Jeep…stay where you are, I’ll stitch ya up in a sec."

Ogre turned to leave as Katherine held out her hand for Samantha’s car keys. "I wish you’d let me take you to the hospital." Katherine’s voice was softer.

"It’s better this way. If I went to the hospital, they’d have to report it as a gunshot wound."

"Thank you Captain Obvious…that’s what it is." A pause followed by realization. "Wait a minute. You didn’t tell Davis about being shot?!"

"No, I told him that you thought I’d been hit, but that when we got inside, under the light…there was no wound. I told him that I must have seen it wrong, that there must not have been a shot fired. I think I convinced him that it was a flash light or something."

"Why? Samantha you aren’t making any sense."

Sam rested her right hand on Katherine’s hip. "Katherine…these reports are public information. I don’t want this guy knowing he hit me. There was something…familiar… in his voice as he ran past me—" Samantha stopped talking when she saw fear in the detective’s eyes. "Katherine what is it? Angel, what’s wrong?"

"Familiar?" A loud honk blared in from the driveway. Kat’s attention drifted back to what she was supposed to be doing. "Uh, hold that thought…I’ll be right back."

"No, wait!" But the detective was already out of the dining room and in the pantry. Samantha was left alone, perched on the dining room table. God this has been a completely fucked up week. Well, not completely…the agent’s thoughts drifted with unrequited pleasure to her living room couch and a connection with the other half of herself. Well, at least it can’t get any worse.

"Kaatherinnnee!!"

I should know better than that. "She’s not in here Julie…she went to move my car."

The Crime Scene Tech was in the dining room, her latex-gloved hand in a small fist. "Oh…Well, I found the casing and bullet." Julie Adams was breathing a little hard, obviously excited.

"Really? What caliber?"

"Well, that’s what I was gonna ask Kat about. If it’s what I think it is…you should be pretty thankful it didn’t get you—" Julie’s eyes finally acknowledged the now sweatshirtless agent. "Holy shit! Agent Christopher—" The technician grimaced at the wound that was a wicked product of the bullet she was holding.

"Here…lemme see." Sam held out her hand, and in it was deposited a .45 caliber brass casing and a flowered piece of metal-jacketed lead. Samantha was holding a spent round of black talon ammunition. No wonder her arm hurt like hell. This particular kind of ammunition was designed to open up like an eagle’s talon upon entry to its target…its purpose to rip and shred as much soft tissue as possible once inside the human body. Black talons were also restricted to military and law enforcement use.

"I think it’s what our department uses as duty ammo." The statement registered with the agent at the same time Katherine re-entered the dining room…Ogre on her heels.

"Hey Jules. D’ya find anything." Katherine was still smiling from something she and Ogre had been talking about. The smile faded when she looked at Samantha. "I take it, that would be a yes."

"What’s your duty ammo?"

"Duty ammo? .45 caliber talons…why?" The agent held out her hand for an answer.

Katherine looked at the offending piece of metal before locking eyes with Samantha. "That’s the same kind we use, but it’s not like we have a market on the stuff." Ogre was now stooped over the detective’s shoulder.

"Katherine, how many shooting deaths have you worked that involved that kind of ammunition?"

"Your average drug dealer doesn’t have access to this kind of stuff, Jules." Katherine was still looking at the bullet as she idly referred to most of the homicides she’d worked in her career. As sad as it was, the majority of the violent crime in this city was usually the result of a crack deal gone bad.

"We’re not talking about a drug dealer, Gabe, and you know it." Julie’s voice had a determined edge, and her words caught the agent’s attention.

"Katherine?" Samantha wasn’t pleased with the sudden realization that was overcoming her.

The technician pressed on. "Do you want to know how many shooting calls I’ve worked where I’ve found that kind of ammunition?" She waited for Katherine to look up at her. "Two. Remember when Captain Ballard found out his wife was cheating on him and he shot up her car? That was the first time…this is the second." Julie was focused on Katherine and nothing else.

"Katherine, what haven’t you told me."

At first there was no answer. Katherine could feel three pairs of eyes on her, and it made her feel much smaller than her physical height. She had been silently hoping that the person who’d broken into her home had been Damon Mars because of the vindictive assault on her personal belongings. And, frankly, she believed Samantha could protect her against him. How could the agent protect her against a shadow, a creature that stalked the night and had no face? "It’s the IceMan—"

The words were hollow and devoid of all emotion because Katherine Gabriel had nothing left to fuel the monsters that were preying on her.

"Jesus." Ogre and Samantha spoke the words at the same time.

Sam continued to speak. "How can you be sure?" The agent was off the table now with a firm hold of one of Katherine’s wrists. When she lifted the detective’s chin to look into her eyes she saw no fear, no emotion whatsoever. Katherine was sure. Sonofabitch. "All right…Julie, I don’t make it my habit to tell people how to do their jobs, but—"

"Whaddya need?"

Sam took a deep breath and tried to stifle the cold chills dancing along her spine. "Package the evidence as usual, but be very vague with all your wording. List the report as a break in, that’s how Davis is gonna write it up. I mean real vague, too… ‘pieces of metal collected outside’. Vague and nondescript."

"I understand, no problem." Julie took the bullet and casing from the agent.

"And not a word about any of this to anyone. Julie, I can’t be more serious about that…no one outside this room knows anything about what you collected. Friends, family—" Sam paused and glanced at Katherine before continuing. "And especially no co-workers. Don’t offer any information to anyone…and if asked, it was just a break in. Right?"

"Right. If anyone does start asking a bunch of questions, I’ll let you know."

"Here Julie, take this—" Samantha fished in her back pocket for her wallet. Her left arm was numb so she handed the black leather billfold to Katherine. "Could you get out one of my cards?"

Katherine accepted the small wallet and searched for the cards.

"They’re behind my license…there."

"Gotcha." Katherine’s slender fingers pulled at the items hiding behind the agent’s license. What she extracted were several white FBI business cards and two small photographs. She handed one of the cards to Samantha but still had a hold of the wallet while Sam wrote something on the back of the business card.

Katherine held the photos for just a moment. She thought very briefly about the inside of Samantha’s house. There were no photographs, no mementos, nothing personal that would give an outsider a glimpse into the agent’s heart. But here, in the detective’s hands were two items that spoke more to her about the dark agent than a thousand government dossiers.

The first was a crumpled picture of Samantha in a sleek one-piece black bathing suit. She looked so young, but there was no mistaking that lithe body, every muscle tense as she climbed up a lifeguard tower. At the top of the tower was a fair-haired young man. Just as muscle bound but with hair as pale as a fawn colored deer. He was laughing and was clearly trying to escape the dark haired woman. He was trying to lean away from Samantha so his face was obscured, but he looked vaguely familiar.

The second picture was clearer. It contained a very rusted, primer gray Mustang, the convertible top lying in a heap next to the car. The piercing blue eyes of her companion unmistakably belonged to the Mustang’s driver. Standing next to the driver’s door was…the man from the hospital. What the hell! Katherine looked from one photo to the other. She was sure that the men in each photograph were one in the same, and that he was the same man she remembered from her hospital room. Katherine was lost in her thoughts and didn’t hear the people around her.

"Gabe? Katherine ya still with us?"

"Uh sorry. Yeah." Katherine snapped out of her trance and replaced the photographs to their hiding place. "Sorry, I guess I’m just a little tired."

"Well, I’m gonna head on outta here. Agent Christopher, I’ll page you if something comes up." Julie gave Katherine’s shoulder a gentle squeeze before leaving through the front door.
 


*****


 


"Okay, Ogre…go ahead and take care of this," The agent’s chin pointed at the torn flesh on her shoulder. "Then we’ll get Katherine’s stuff packed into the Jeep and then we’re getting the hell out of here."

"You got it Peedab." Ogre pushed off the table that Samantha had clamored back on top of so he could get the medical kit he’d brought inside. The agent took a moment to watch Katherine.

The smaller woman still had the wallet grasped tightly in her hand and she had a peculiar look on her face. "Katherine?"

She didn’t hear the agent’s voice right off. "Huh? I’m sorry, what did you say?"

"Katherine…hey, what is it? You okay?"

"Yeah, I’m fine. Here’s your wallet." Katherine put the wallet in the larger outstretched hand, squeezing the hand slightly before speaking again. "I need to talk to you about something…after we get home." Home. A gentle calm warmed the detective’s heart before she released Samantha’s hand. Sam’s face started to furrow in concern but relaxed when she saw the smile hidden in the Katherine’s eyes.

"All right little lady." Ogre’s voice had a way of shattering a ‘moment’, but shattered it was and the agent lifted her pale eyes to regard the oversized mechanic. Ogre had spent countless hours in the jungles of Vietnam, performing God only knows what kinds of emergency medical procedures on fallen comrades…a few stitches on a flesh wound would be a piece of cake. Actually it turned out to be more like 30 stitches in all since several layers needed to be hemmed back together. Luckily, when offered the time to be careful, Ogre could be almost artistic with his needle and thread.

The pain had been excruciating, but Samantha swallowed it with quiet resolution, as she found her relief in the small woman standing by her side. Katherine had a firm hold of Samantha’s hand and amazingly, she didn’t pull away when the agent squeezed in reflex to the pain.

"Okay Sam…all done." The agent sucked in a breath of air but didn’t release the smaller woman’s hand right away…a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by the detective.

"Ogre you have the hands of a gorilla."

"That’s cause I’m as big as a gorilla, smart ass. You want dainty…teach her how to do it." Ogre jerked his head in Katherine’s direction, but stopped briefly to look at the tiny woman who was still holding Samantha’s hand in her own. "Ya know, that might not be a bad idea. You plan on spending any time with her…it’d be a skill worth learning. You still got that medkit I gave you Peedab?"

"Yeah old man…I got it."

"Good…why don’t you teach Squirt here, something useful?" Ogre peeled off his latex gloves and threw them into his own medkit before retrieving a medium sized amber bottle. "Here…don’t ask where I got’em from, just take two twice a day until they’re gone." Samantha released Katherine’s hand to take custody of the contraband. The sensation of losing contact with the smaller woman forced a twinge of regret into the agent’s palm.

"Okay."

"Peedab…take’em all." Ogre’s voice carried with it a warning tone.

"She will." Katherine snatched the bottle from Samantha’s hand. "I’ll make sure she does…lead poisoning would be a horrible way to go."

"She’s got your number woman!" A monstrously large finger wagged in Sam’s direction.

"God help me." Samantha smiled in spite of herself. "Well, let’s get your stuff loaded in the Jeep so we can book."

"Hey Orville—"

"Ogre. The name…is Ogre."

"Yeah she told me…but I like Orville better. That’s a helluva rental—"

"Rental?" Ogre’s bushy eyebrows knit together.

Samantha jumped off the table and intercepted the conversation as she grabbed Katherine by the arm and pulled her toward the bedroom. "Yeah, rental. Orville’s got awesome connections."

"Jesus Christ, they’re two of a kind." The salt and pepper haired wall of a man grumbled under his breath, but he followed without further comment.
 


*****


 


The hunter green Jeep Grand Cherokee was stuffed to capacity. Nearly every square inch of her dark leather interior was crammed with clothes and the few personal items that had been spared destruction in Katherine’s bedroom. Katherine was poised in the driver’s seat adjusting the rear view mirror out of habit, although the wall of clothes behind her blocked any view of the world to her rear. It had also become necessary for the passenger seat to be pushed as far forward as possible to accommodate the bulk of Katherine’s possessions. Sam had managed to fold herself into the leather seat, her knees pressing against the dashboard…her chest within inches of pressing against her knees.

Katherine regarded her companion with a devilish grin.

"Be glad it’s my left arm facing you, right now." Samantha’s tone was dangerously low.

"Hmph…you’re forgetting how quick my reflexes are, my dear."

"Ogre, can you put me outta my misery?" Sam lopped her head back toward the open passenger window. Ogre’s forearms were resting on the top of the Jeep, as his head looming inside the window frame.

"Nope, Peedab…I think you’re stuck with her."

"Heh…if you only knew Orville." A playful glint sparkled in hazel eyes.

"I think I do, Squirt. You take care of her, ya hear. Don’t let her go pullin’ those stitches out."

"I won’t…I’ll make sure she takes all her medicine too."

"Hellooo? In case you two haven’t noticed, I am still in the car."

"How could we not notice…you look like a six f—"

Blue eyes spun around and pinned the detective with as much iced intensity as the agent could muster. "Don’t…start…that again. Turn the engine on and take me home." Her dark head snapped to the right. "Naahhh," Sam’s finger was poised in Ogre’s direction, silencing his gruff retort. "Not another word from you either." She couldn’t maintain the façade of anger and was forced to let it melt away at the identical pair of pouting faces staring at her. "Oh for the love of God, just take me home." The agent’s head crashed back to the seat as she closed her eyes.

Blue seas parted, this time much warmer. "I owe you a helluva lot, old man. Thank you."

"You’re welcome, Peedab. By the way, that information you asked about is in the center console there." He waited just long enough for the last statement to register with Samantha. "I’ll take care of ol’ Red out there, till you can pick her up at the shop. You two call me if you need anything."

"We will old man."

"G’night Orville." The smile could be heard in Katherine’s voice.

The oversized mechanic started to walk toward the Mustang, a smile warming his face. "G’night Squirt."

TBC


Taiko's scrolls of the Xenaverse