Fatal Justice (Chapter 7)
"What the hell?" Sam muttered, covering her eyes.
With his hand on her elbow, Nick guided her down the stairs. "Let us through," he said in a tone full of controlled fury as he pushed his way through the half-dozen photographers. "Goddamn it," he whispered.
Not wanting to give the photographers any more fodder, Sam tried to shake off his hand, but he just held on tighter.
They reached her car, and Nick took her keys to unlock it. As more flashes exploded around them, she looked up at him with a forced smile. "This is fun."
His face was set in an unreadable expression. "I'll call you. Good luck today."
"You, too." Without the kiss she would've liked to have had, Sam got into the car, and he closed the door. She watched him until he was safely inside his black BMW. Her cell phone rang. "Holland," she said without checking the caller ID.
"Are you okay?" Nick asked.
"Terrific," he said with a laugh. "I'm sorry."
"All this attention. It'll die down. Eventually."
"I don't think it's going to."
"You sound pissed," he said.
"I'm more resigned than pissed."
"When are you going to mention that you told me so?"
"I'm saving that for when I need it," she joked. The combination of his sexy voice and their teasing banter helped to restore her good mood.
"I'll look forward to that," he said. "See you later?"
"Yes, you will. Love you."
"Love you, too, babe. Be careful today."
"I always am."
Sam navigated her way through rush-hour traffic and arrived at the public safety building fifteen minutes later. Her good mood once again dissipated when she found Lieutenant Stahl waiting for her in the office that used to be his.
"I need to call maintenance." She flipped on the lights and hung her coat on a hook behind the door. "The rat traps they set in here clearly aren't working."
"You think you're so funny, don't you?"
The revolting wiggle of his double chin made her want to puke.
"Things not working out for you in the rat squad?" she asked, referring to his new post in the department's Internal Affairs Bureau.
"Actually, I'm settling right in." He bit a chunk of skin off his cuticle and spit it onto the floor.
Sam made a mental note to stay away from that corner of the office until it was fumigated.
"And you're my first order of business."
His beady eyes narrowed. "You won't be so mouthy when your sordid affair with a witness gets you busted down to patrol."
She leaned on her desk to look him in the eye. "Three words, Lieutenant: Bring. It. On."
Fuming, he hauled his portly ass out of the chair. "Your wish is my command." He slapped a piece of paper on her desk. "Administrative hearing next week. Be there, and be ready to explain yourself."
"I'll look forward to it," she said, taking a shallow breath to short-circuit the pain grinding in her belly.
"Don't think your precious daddy can get you out of this one, Lieutenant." He stopped at the door and turned to leave her with a greasy smile. "And you'd better enjoy that title while you can. By the time I'm through with you, you'll be thankful for a night security job at a parking garage."
Sam let him have the last word because she couldn't have spoken if she had to. The moment she was alone she lowered herself into her chair and fought to breathe through the pain. This was not how she wanted to start her first day.
Freddie came to the door. "Getting settled, Lieutenant?" He took a closer look at her. "What's wrong?"
Sam made a huge effort to shake off the pain and anger. "Nothing. How are you? Good holiday?"
He stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. "You're pale as a ghost. What gives?"
She handed him the paper Stahl had left with her.
As Freddie glanced at it, his brows furrowed. "A summons to an IAB hearing? What the hell?"
"What about him?"
"Stahl's got Internal Affairs investigating me for hooking up with him in the middle of the O'Connor investigation."
"Are you serious? Without Nick's help we'd be looking for O'Connor's killer."
"He was the one who found O'Connor dead, so technically I shagged a witness. Stahl's going to find a way to screw for that."
"You don't have anything to worry about. Farnsworth and Malone will back you."
"They'll be forced to confirm that I became involved with Nick during the investigation." She ran her fingers over the hair she'd corralled into a clip for work. "Goddamned Peter." Just the thought of her ex-husband made her stomach turn, but with disgust rather than pain. In a jealous rage, he planted crude bombs on her car and Nick's. When her car exploded and injured them both, it also blew the lid off their secret relationship. "This is all his fault. Without him dicking with me, no one would've known about me and Nick until Thomas O'Connor was locked up and we were ready for them to know."
"It'll be fine, Sam. Stahl's got a beef with them giving you his command. That's all this is, and everyone will see right through it."
"I hope you're right," she said with zero confidence that he was. "Do me a favor and don't say anything about this to Nick or my dad."
"You aren't going to tell Nick?" Freddie asked, incredulous.
"Not if I can avoid it. He's got enough on his plate right now, and this'll just upset him."
"Won't he be more upset when he finds out you kept it from him?"
Sam's scowl answered for her. She'd handle this her way, and if Nick didn't like it, that was too damned bad. She wasn't about to start telling him how to run his career. "Are Gonzo and Arnold here yet?"
"They caught a sexual assault first thing. They're at the George Washington E.R. taking a statement from the victim."
"Send them in the minute they get here. I want to know what they've got on Clarence Reese so far. I worked his name into conversation with my dad and got zilch. If he had contact with Reese, he doesn't remember it."
"To say the least. I just keep asking myself – why would Reese have all that stuff about the shooting if he wasn't involved somehow? Let's see what Gonzo and Arnold found out, and then we'll hit it ourselves this afternoon. I want to talk to Reese's mother and brother."
"You're the boss, L.T."
"It's going to be kind of weird around here until I figure things out. I'd understand if you wanted to partner with someone else – "
He held up his hand to stop her. "I'm all set with the partner I have."
"I'm planning to work some second and third shifts in the next few weeks to touch base with everyone. You don't want to do that."
"I'll work when my partner works."
She eyed him suspiciously. "Are you sucking up?"
Taking another long look at him, she sized him up. "What's with you? You're all spiffed up today."
"Nothing," he said, but he blushed.
Sam stood up and walked around the desk for a closer look. Standing almost eye to eye with him, she turned on her most intimidating expression. "Tell me the truth – did you hook up with that Ginger chick from Nick's office?"
Sniffing, she realized he was wearing cologne. "Something's up."
"I don't know what you're talking about." He stepped back from her. "Just because you're Little Miss Romance these days doesn't mean the rest of us are, too."
She raised an eyebrow. "Who said anything about romance?"
"I've got work to do," he huffed, his -handsome face turning red again.
Oh yes, something was definitely up.
"Let me know when you're ready to head out," he said as he beat feet to the safety of his cubicle in the detectives' pit.
"You'll be the first to know."
She watched him go, noting the pressed khakis and the untucked striped dress shirt that were wildly out of character for her denim-wearing, T-shirt-clad partner. Does my little boy have a girlfriend? Scratching at her chin, she decided to keep a very close eye on young Freddie.
Returning to her desk, she read and re-read the IAB summons. With a sigh, she put her aching head down on folded arms.
"I guess that answers my question about how your first day is going."
Jerking her head up, she found Captain Malone standing in her doorway. Her mentor was almost as tall as Nick with broad shoulders and gray hair. His warm brown eyes crinkled with mirth. Today he wore a crisp white uniform shirt and dark pants. His gold shield was pinned to his chest, his service weapon holstered to his hip.
"Is it time to go home yet?"
"Not even lunchtime, I'm afraid."
She rested her head against the back of the desk chair. "I've never understood the expression 'be careful what you wish for' until today."
"I may not be cut out for this," she confessed. "Not even an hour in the office and I'm already jonesing for the streets."
"No reason you can't do both."
She shot him a skeptical look.
"You're the , Lieutenant. Set things up the way they best suit you. Delegate, delegate, delegate."
Sam pondered that advice. "I'll go out of my mind if I can't work some cases."
He shrugged. "So pick and choose what you want."
For the first time since she arrived, Sam had reason to smile.
"It's called , Lieutenant. Take command."
"Stahl did all his own admin," she reminded him.
"Stahl sucked, his people hated him and his commanders did, too. Don't take your cues from him. Pave your own path. Just don't let your shit roll uphill to me, and we'll be fine."
She reached for the paper Stahl had left, handed it to the captain and watched his mouth tighten with displeasure.
"Since I'm sure you won't forget what this says, do you mind if I take it to show the chief?"
"Be my guest."
"Try not to worry. Stuff like this tends to blow over more often than not."
"He's got a beef with how I ended up here," she said, gesturing to the office. "He can't prove the promotion was bogus, so he's going after me with the gift-wrapped package I handed him during O'Connor."
"Nick was never a suspect," Malone reminded her. "Worst possible outcome is a disciplinary letter in your jacket."
"It's still a slap."
"Put it out of your mind for now. I'll do what I can on my end."
"Hope your day improves," Malone said with an encouraging smile as he left her to the piles of paper Stahl had bequeathed to her.
Nick's first order of business was a meeting with Christina and Trevor.
"We need to talk about a deputy," Christina said, pulling a sheet of paper from her binder. "Here're a few people to consider."
Nick scanned the list of staffers. "I've already taken care of that."
Startled, Christina looked up at him. "Who?"
She stared at him. "You're kidding, right?"
Her face went slack with shock. "But, I don't understand. Why?"
"Because he was groomed his whole life to hold this office, and I guarantee he'll bring more to the table than anyone on that impressive list of yours."
"This is you being loyal to the O'Connors, isn't it?"
Nick suppressed the burst of anger that shot through him. "This is me doing what I want to do, Christina."
"He's got a lot of baggage," Trevor observed.
"Luckily we're not running for anything," Nick said. "What's next?"
They exchanged glances.
Trevor tugged a paper from his pile and held it up for Nick to see.
"Son of a bitch," Nick muttered as he got a look at a print out of the photos taken that morning outside his house. "They're already online?"
"On the site and the 's."
"Great," he said, imagining Sam's reaction to the suggestive photos.
"We've got some new polling data in, too," Trevor said with a nervous look at Christina. "Your approval rating in the Commonwealth is hovering right around seventy-eight percent. Unfortunately, the other twenty-two percent tend to be in the conservative, family-values column, and they don't approve of this." He referred to the picture.
"Well, that's too bad." Nick's jaw felt tight with tension. "Again, I'll remind you that I'm not running for anything."
"No, but that moral minority can make the next year awfully unpleasant for us," Trevor said.
"It'll be a distraction, Nick, er, I mean, Senator," Christina said. "Sorry."
"This subject is off limits, people," Nick said.
"You could take care of the whole thing," Trevor said hesitantly, "if you, you know, married her."
"I can't even get her to officially move in with me. She's not ready for that, and she's certainly not ready for the M word. Not after what she just went through with her ex-husband."
"I know you don't want to hear this, Senator," Trevor said, "but your relationship with her is going to pull the focus off the issues. All I'm saying is if you could convince her to marry you, it'd take the wind out of the media's sails. Even an engagement would make things a lot easier."
"He's right," Christina added. "Once the relationship is legitimate, it loses its appeal."
"Are you guys finished analyzing my personal life?" Nick asked.
They had the good grace to at least squirm a little.
He leaned forward to make sure he had their full attention. "The relationship is already legitimate, and I couldn't care less what anyone thinks of it. Is that clear?"
"We get it," Christina said. "All we're asking is that you think about what Trevor said. If you're heading toward marriage, sooner would be better than later."
"You've met Sam," Nick said, amused by the ridiculous conversation. "How do you think she'd take the idea of marriage for political expediency?"
"If I were to guess," Christina said, "I'd say not well."
"Precisely. So can we please drop this and move on to what we're here for?"
Clearing her throat, Christina consulted her notes. "You're set to meet with Senator Martin on the phone at ten to discuss getting O'Connor-Martin back on the floor after the recess. Also, Senator Cook's office called, and he'd like to have lunch with you today if you're free."
"That's fine," Nick said, anxious to meet with the senior senator from Virginia, a fellow Democrat, as soon as possible.
"Finally, we have studio time booked this evening so you can record the welcome message they play in the Virginia airports."
"I remember John doing that years ago," Nick said, smiling at the memory of John fumbling through about fifty takes to get the one-minute message nailed. The pain of his loss resurfaced with surprising ferocity, reminding Nick of how he had gotten here. He took a deep breath and forced himself to focus. "Anything else?"
"You've had a slew of interview requests," Trevor said, handing him a two-page list of reporters.
"I'll take a look," Nick said.
"Trevor, would you give us a minute, please?" Christina asked.
"Sure." Trevor got up and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Nick eyed his aide warily. "If you're going to start in on me about Sam again – "
"No," she said, twisting her hands in a rare show of nerves. "I was going to ask you if you'd mind or if it would be weird at all or, um…"
Laughing, Nick said, "Spit it out, will you?"
"Sam's friend, Tommy Gonzales, asked me out. I just wondered if you'd have any problem with that."
As he tried to decide whether or not he was in the mood to mess with her, Nick sat back in his chair and studied her. "Why would I mind?"
"Two reasons – one, I'm not exactly Sam's favorite person."
"She has no beef with you, Chris. Yes, she hassled you during the investigation, but nothing about that was personal."
"Felt kind of personal to me."
Since he couldn't argue with that, he didn't try. "What's the second reason?"
"John," she said softly. "It's only been a few weeks. It's too soon for me to be thinking about going out with someone else."
Nick stood up and came around the desk. "You were a loyal and faithful friend to him. I know you had strong feelings for him, but you weren't a couple as much as you might've wished otherwise. I can't see how going out on a date would be inappropriate."
She brightened. "Thanks." With a wicked smile, she added, "Sam's going to flip her lid when she hears I'm going out with Tommy."
"Why does that make it even exciting?"
"You're being nice to her," he reminded her.
"Absolutely," she said, smiling over her shoulder as she left the room. "Always."