Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: One
Title: Division Street
The uniforms led her up the stairs, parked her beside the door, and announced her arrival by hollering into the chaotic interior of the apartment.
Detective Leonard Warren emerged, still wearing his overcoat and gloves, badge visible on belt. “Ms. Tillman. Good of you to come.”
“Not really,” she said, face pinched and hands fisted. “Your officers didn’t give me much choice.”
He dipped his head in a show of deference he didn’t feel. “I’ll make this quick.”
Her sharp black eyes pierced him. “I still don’t understand why I’m here.”
“Follow me. I’ll explain inside,” he said, leading her though a small living area and stopping outside a bedroom door.
A half dozen officers exited the room and their absence gave way to the sharp scent of copper assaulted them and their line of sight was filled with red splashes across white bedding.
At first it seemed she didn't know him, and that was understandable given the severity of the wounds, but once recognition set in, a shriek spilled out of her mouth, quickly followed by the contents of her stomach.
And then she was on her knees on the hardwood floor, arms hugging her abdomen and shoulders heaving.
A sharp ache settled into the base of his skull. Had he been wrong? He bent, took her elbow, and hauled her to her feet.
She fought him the whole way. “Get off me you bastard! What the hell is wrong with you? That's a piss poor way to identify victims.”
He let go and stood back. “True, but I already know who the victim is. I'm looking to identify the assailant."
She rolled up the lower half of her sweater, pulled the whole thing over her head, and tossed it at him. “That’s a four hundred dollar angora sweater. I expect to be reimbursed.”
Trying to ignore the sweet swells straining against her snug camisole, he said, "I'm not authorized to -"
She strode out of the room, ignoring the stares, and headed for the elevator.
He had no choice but to go after her.
Keep a low profile, the captain had said. Sure. No problem. Keep your feelings and opinions to yourself, the captain had said. Sure. No sweat.
This debacle was going to cost him a boatload of humble pie and maybe even his badge. Worst part of it was, he hadn’t gotten any satisfaction out of it. Damn it!
The elevator doors were closing but he wedged his boot in the gap.
Her voice echoed in the metal chamber. “Take the stairs, jackass.”
He shoved his shoulder into the spreading gap and stepped inside. “No, we’re gonna hash this out right now.”
Her face was red, blotchy, and full of anger. “Fine. I’ll take the stairs.”
He blocked the doors. “Look. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry -”
“Sorry?! That man in there, sliced open and spilled out was someone special. He didn't deserve to die like that and I didn't deserve to see him like that. So screw your sorry. Now let me out of this damn thing!”
He let the door closed behind him and blocked the buttons with his hand. “I was wrong, okay? When I saw he'd been killed like your ex-husband, and then found out the two of you'd had a relationship, it was pretty easy to make the leap."
She leaned against the back wall. "I was on assignment in Cairo when my ex was murdered. And this week, I was on the east coast until flew back home this morning. So explain how that figures into your little scenario, shit for brains.”
He inspected his shoes a long moment before saying, “I let a personal issue cloud my judgment on this."
"That's the first honest thing you've said to me, isn't it?"
He nodded. "You took those photos of my partner getting shot earlier this year.”
She looked away for a moment before meeting his gaze. “Petersen was your partner?"
"Yes and those pictures devastated his wife and kids."
Her shoulders dropped. "I'm sorry to hear that. But you understand I’m not paparazzi, right? I’m a photo journalist. I was on assignment for The Herald at that rally and everything I shot that afternoon belonged to them, to do with as they saw fit.”
He felt numb and worn out. This wasn’t how the day was supposed to go. Or how this case was supposed to go. Or how his vengeance on Petersens’s behalf was supposed to play out.
Standing there in the silence, he hit the butten for the ground floor, slid out of his coat and held it out to her. "Any chance we can start over?"
She shrugged into the coat. "Sure. If you buy me a cup of coffee."
"There's a cafe next door."
"That's why I suggested it," she said, tapping the 'stop' button. "Before we get there, though, I want to tell you something, here, where it's private. I didn't have a relationship with Tony. Not the way you think."
He waited for her to continue, taking in the dark eyes, the dark damp hair piled on her head, and dark circles under her eyes.
She closed her eyes and spoke quickly. "Couple years ago, I was attacked in a parking garage. Tony was there, leaving the office late, and he chased the guy off. I didn't know him. Didn't even know he worked in my building. But I don't know what would have happened to me if he hadn't been there."
His attention was piqued. "Was that here, in the Division Street District?"
"Yes, but it never made the papers. And they never found the guy."
"You think this guy had something to do with Tony's death?"
"Oh, no," she said, a shudder going through her at the thought."But I'm getting to who I think might be responsible. See, Tony and I kept in touch. He'd text or email me, just checking in, making sure I was okay. Took me to a couple therapy sessions when I was too depressed to go by myself. His wife was okay with it all of it, at first. But then she snapped, accused of us having an affair."
"Did you? I mean, I'm not judging. Victims falling in love with their rescuers is fairly common."
"I swear, detective, that's not how it was. I mean, yes, I had some very intense feelings for him, but I never acted on them. But Tony's wife got worse, hounding him, sending me threatening texts, until finally, he phoned to say that as much as he cared about my well being, he just couldn't stay in contact with my anymore."
"So, that was it? You didn't hear from him again?"
She shuffled her feet. "Not exactly. We'd chat every few weeks via a secret forum. Nothing personal or suggestive. Just chat. Look, I know it sounds bad, but I didn't mean any harm. If it helps, I'm willing to give you access to those chat files."
He moved across the elevator car and leaned against the wall beside her. "What about your therapy files? Will you give me access to those?"
She looked up at him, held his gaze without flinching. "Tony was the only person I trusted for a long time and because he understood what that meant to me, he didn't cut our ties, and I think that's what got him killed. So, yes, I'll release the files to you."
"You're pretty sure it's the wife, aren't you?"
"Yes, and over that cup of coffee, I'll tell you several reasons why, including three that I saw in that room upstairs."
"But how does it tie in to your ex's death?"
"I don't know. A copycat kill would be my guess. It would have the added bonus of throwing even more suspicion my way."
He phoned his captain to advise him of the situation, pressed the 'open door' button, and ushered her out of the elevator and into the foyer. "Ms. Tillman, thank you for putting up with my bullshit. Losing my partner nearly did me in. Seeing his family put through the wringer because of those photos gave me a place to focus my anger. But taking it out on you the way I did was unforgivable."
She linked her arm through his as they exited the apartment complex and headed for the cafe. "Detective, if you're truly sorry, there's a way you can make it up to me. With the information I'm going to give you, you're going to be able to prosecute Tony's killer but when you do, I'd like you to keep in mind that the creep who attacked me altered all three of our lives - me, Tony, and his wife - so please, would you go easy on her? She was a victim too."
He held the cafe door open for her. "I will do my best."
"Thank you. And to demonstrate that I'm sincerely sorry about the pain I inadvertently caused you and Petersen's family, I'll have my accountant draw up a contract to have an annual stipend from my Herald earnings distributed to Petersen's family."
As they slid into the booth, he caught her gaze and said, "I have the strangest feeling that this is the beginning of a very interesting partnership."
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