Written by Maggie the Cat
It seemed like it was going to be another usual day in the Baltimore Homicide Department. Bodies falling, witnesses balking, suspects lying--the usual. Coffee and doughnuts and bickering galore. It still being early morning, the detectives were still puttering around the squadroom, gathering files and making plans for the day, never guessing that a monster redball was bouncing, bouncing, ominously bouncing closer....
Valeria propped her shoes up on her desk with a sigh. The McBride case had been stringing along for three nauseating days now, and frankly, she was starting to not *care* who'd killed the promising young soft-core porn star. Add to that the fact that her cat (suffering from serious abandonment issues due to a blissful unawareness that Mommy needed to *work* to get food) was starting to chew her own tail, and her mean old ex-partner Invisi "The Big Goth" never returned her calls, and her *new* partner--
"Hey, Val!" Rachel's high, screechy voice cut through Vali's delicate thought process like a Fisher-Price record player's diamond needle across a particularly irritating Barry Manilow LP. "Ready to go finally solve the McBride case?"
"Uh-huh, yeah, sure," Vali muttered, shifting uncomfortably in her chair as Rachel plopped cheerily down at the desk--The Big Goth's desk--across from her. "I think I've got a few leads, too."
"Really?" Rachel paused in filing her nails to widen her eyes at Vali in surprise. "Considering the usual glacial pace you work at--"
"You wanna hear this, or what?" Vali waited until Rachel subsided into silence before continuing. "It seems that a bunch of Kenyan feminist-empowerment tourists were at the bus stop where McBride was strangled, and a few of them might have some info...."
Rachel stared at Vali, her mouth open in disbelief. "A bunch of...you can't be serious."
"Yeah, they were on their way to Vermont to learn how to ski." Vali raised her eyebrows over her glasses. "What, you have a problem with that--black, non-skier lesbians?"
"I always *knew* you were a kinky mother, Vali." Karen hooted as she sauntered past the two, flipping her porkpie hat off with a neat snap and rolling it down her arm. Hayley followed close behind, peering into a brown paper bag, frowning.
"I think they gypped us an order of fries, Karen," she said, removing her nose from the bag and blinking rapidly. "I *told* you we shouldn't've flipped the manager the bird."
"Yeah, well." Karen shrugged, taking her food and half of the fries. "He was askin' for it, anyway."
"He told us we couldn't park in the handicapped space!"
Karen glared at Hayley before settling down to eat. "It was the *way* he said it, okay?"
"Marti's gonna have your *asses*. We've already been sent the memos about parking in handicapped spots three times now!" Orakle sat on the edge of Hayley's desk, darting hopeful glances in Vali's direction and trying to look as if she wasn't.
Vali sighed. Ever since Rachel had transferred in from the big city back West, bumping the rookie Orakle out, the displaced lil' critter had been like a calf separated from its mother. It was a shame, really, since Orakle was a *good* partner who actually liked both cartoons and literature. And so loyal, too! Vali sighed again and with greater emphasis as Maggie came storming through the doors by the Aquarium, Beth in hot pursuit. Looked like another kufuffle was in full tempest between the two....
Maggie stopped in mid-stomp to the coatrack and spun around, causing Beth to nearly have a head-on collision. "Oh, so you're still *here*!" Maggie spat, jerking off her coat. "Not that it matters *now*, does it?"
"Look, what's the big deal?" Beth tried, spreading her hands in a bid for peace. "You talked to Gallagher, you got him to tell us everything we needed--"
"That's right! *I* got him to tell! And you know *why*? Because you weren't *there*! I turn around and you're *gone*, you're disappeared without even waving goodbye!"
Beth pressed her lips together resignedly and shrugged. "I *really* needed a smoke," she said helplessly. "And...he was kinda hot...."
"Yes, he *was* incredibly sexy, but that's not the point! Now, am I gonna have to march in there and ask Marti for a new partner? One I can count on? One with a less intrusive habit, like fire-bombing convenience stores?"
Narrowing her eyes, Beth muttered, "Yeah, whatever...it's not like *you* don't smoke too!"
"But I can control myself, because I'm incredible like that. So shape up, okay? Or I'll have to revoke the Kum & Go lighter from you."
"You wouldn't *dare*."
Maggie, suddenly remembering that Beth was taller than her, decided to let it rest there. She stopped by Vali's desk, picked up and rolled a die, and moved a small round plastic piece for five places. "Geography. For a wedge."
Sitting up, Vali whipped a Trivial Pursuit card out of the box on her desk, cradling her hand protectively around the answers on the back. "What country is completely surrounded by another?"
Scowling, Maggie pretended the answer was on the tip of her tongue before admitting defeat.
"San Marino!" Vali crowed. "Take that!"
"I'll get it next time," Maggie muttered, glaring at Beth for no good reason before sitting at her own desk.
"Yeah, sure," Vali drawled, rearranging her Sarah Polley photo collage and propping her feet back up on the McBride file. The phone rang and Rachel picked up before it even finished, industriously jotting notes on her notepad with her favourite pen, the one shaped like a foley catheter. She took down directions for about five minutes, drawing a little tiny map with a legend and everything.
"OKAY!" she bellowed, hanging up and grinning brightly at her partner. "We've got a murder!"
Vali blinked once before venturing, "Who phoned it in?"
"spinner. Her and Jackie saw the whole thing." Rachel was putting on her coat and striped scarf as Vali gawped at her. "Coming?"
Bemused, Vali stood, grasping her coffee mug. "Okay."
Forty-three seconds later, they were standing over the rapidly cooling body of Emerald, one of the Homicide division's secretaries. A spilled mug of coffee was lying next to her outstretched left hand, and her face was drawn into a rictus grimace.
spinner and Jackie stood over the body, sipping on sodas from the "Cool Drinks" machine. "Just went down," spinner said laconically. "Took one sip of that coffee and ulp! choked up tighter'n Luther Mahoney on drug charges."
"It was funny, really," Jackie mused. "Well, I mean, not funny ha-ha, but funny weird--Emerald said she didn't really like coffee and she was just drinking it this once 'cause she was sick of drinking tea."
"Did the two of you see her actually drink the coffee?" Rachel asked, wondering why she was feeling so hot and rearranging her scarf.
They shook their heads. "We were sittin' over there, and Jackie was too busy tryin' ta convince me that Ann--remember Ann? Threw herself into the harbour?--that Ann's haunting the john."
"spinner, you're my partner, and my friend. I thought it was my duty to warn you."
"Yeah, sure." spinner finished her soda, then nodded at Rachel. "You wanna ask anything else, we're in the squadroom, huh?"
Rachel scribbled down copious notes in her notebook before moving over to the body, where Vali was already inspecting the unfortunate Emerald. She was trying to sniff for poison when something cold and hard bumped into the side of her head.
"Goddammit!" Vali yelped. "Dasha, would you quit filming so close? The camera *is* equipped with a zoom function, y'know!"
"It just looks better if I move in closer," Dasha backed off, hurt.
"Hal Hartley you're not, so stay outta my face." Vali resumed her inspection, carefully depositing the coffee cup in a plastic bag. Rachel continued scribbling frantically in her notepad, seemingly deaf to the world, so Vali didn't interrupt her.
saffron strolled in, reeking of alcohol, and greeted the two detectives in between pulls from a Wild Turkey bottle.
"Heeeeey, saff!" Rachel paused in her writing to screech, then went back to it.
Dropping to one knee beside the body, saffron squinted at Emerald, sipped some more at her bottle, and then stood up. "OD," she hiccupped. "I'd say heroin." She slugged down some more as Vali wrinkled her nose.
"You can tell just from looking at the body?" she said dubiously.
saffron snorted. "I'm the best, youngest, and wildest ME ever! The party never stops when I'm on the scene! Of course I can tell!"
"Is that *fermaldehyde* in that bottle?"
"Yeah...well...the thing about that, is...." saffron looked furtively around, then ran out the door.
Shaking her head, Vali joined Rachel over at the coffeepot. "There's a big sack of heroin in the filter," she said, taking out the coffee-ground-and-deadly-opiate combination, bagging it, and writing down another volley of words in her notepad.
"Stolen from Evidence Control this morning." Holli stood in the doorway to the breakroom, adjusting her cowrie shell necklace with a grimace. "I think this is definitely an inside job. There were no prints or anything left." She looked around the breakroom before snitching a doughnut and heading back to Narcotics.
"Got it!" Rachel yelled, drawing in a full stop so hard that her pen tore through several sheets of paper. "I finally got it!"
"What?" Vali asked, trying vainly to see. "You know who killed Emerald?"
"Huh?" Rachel stared at her. "No! I just figured out how Mulder can live without any limbs or organs other than his pancreas and one lung! D'you know how many Purple Heart Awards I could win if I wrote a story like *that*?!?"
Marti tapped her fingers as she regarded the two detectives across her desk. "Smorgasbord," she said sternly.
"We know, Lieutenant," Vali said. "Believe me, we wanna wrap this case up as quickly as possible."
"Tusen takk Valhalla fjord Abba Erik the Viking Bjork ludenfisk?"
Rachel winced. "No, we don't have any leads yet, but we're gonna get everyone in the Box and ask them questions. We figure it's an inside job."
Mary smiled tightly at the two detectives, smoothing her hair. "You two didn't like me much when I was a Captain," she said through her smile. "That's okay. I understand. spinner gave me a lot of trouble too, and I know how close you and spinner are, Vali."
"Not as close as you and Jackie are, Mary," Vali said, folding her arms as Rachel paced around behind Mary. "But the real reason we're here is Emerald."
"Emerald. One of the secretaries? You know, 'Line one, Beth'?"
"Oh, oh yeah. The one with the paperclip fetish."
Rachel and Vali shared a significant glance before both leaning in, pressing their hands against the table. "A *what*?" Rachel asked.
Mary nodded. "Oh, yeah. She was *always* complaining, that one. We never had enough funding to buy those pretty, fancy paperclips--you know, the multicolored ones? Plain stainless steel wasn't good enough for her. Three memos a week she'd write, all of them about how much easier her life would be with colored paperclips." Mary leaned forward, her eyes blazing. "Y'know, I think she was part of the reason I got double-demoted. That, and the horribly botched-up job I did on the Hargitay redball, but mostly the paperclips."
"Why are the two of you in here together?" Rachel frowned at Karen and Hayley as she re-buttoned her jacket. Jeez, the heat must be on real high in here, she mused before turning her attention back to the other two detectives, who were looking belligerent.
"We like to hang out together," Hayley said defensively. "We're partners. That's the way it works. Look, just because Karen's marriage broke up and she spends tons of time on my boat and we're really really close and sometimes we do it in the back of our Cavalier doesn't mean I'm dirty!!"
"Uhhhhh...o-kay," Vali said slowly. Either Hayley's incipient-psycho hair was a real indicator of something, or the improvised game of "Medicine-Cabinet Russian Roulette" she'd played this morning had taken a dreadful turn.
"Tell us what you know about Emerald," Rachel said impatiently.
"The Line One secretary," Vali added for clarification.
"Nothin' *to* tell," Karen shrugged. "She took our calls, took messages...although lately, she did seem kinda...jumpy."
"Yeah," Hayley chimed in. "Always looking over her shoulder, like somebody was watching her. I asked to borrow her white-out and she winged it across the room at me!"
"Talk to Orakle," Karen suggested. "Her and Emerald had a big bust-up the other day."
"Yeah, we fought." Orakle's eyes darted nervously from Vali to Rachel and back again as she wrung her hands. "But I didn't kill her! I mean, it wasn't that *big* a fight!"
"Why don't you tell us all about it, Orakle," Vali said kindly, shooting a mean glare at Rachel--who, as usual, was oblivious.
"Well, you know how Hayley and me are always shooting rubberbands at each other? Well, Emerald, she got like super pissed and she yelled at me." Orakle looked mortified. "In front of *everyone*. I coulda *died*!!"
Vali patted Orakle comfortingly on the back, lavishing attention and affection on her as Rachel lit up a cigarette, darkly muttering,
"Too bad you *didn't.*"
"Could we maybe, I don't know, cut a window in the wall for some fresh air?" Vali waved her hands theatrically in front of her face as Rachel, Beth and Maggie all sucked fiendishly at their cigarettes. They pretended not to hear her.
"I never talked to her," Maggie declared.
"Yes, you did. We all did. When she transferred our calls from Line One," Beth said.
"Okay, I talked to her. But not about anything *important*, is my point. If you want *my* opinion--" Maggie ignored the three sets of rolling eyes and continued, "I think that all the evidence so far definitly points towards a certain Chris Thormann--"
"Jesus Christ!" Vali yelled. "*Everything* for you is Chris Thormann! Why don't you give it a rest already!!"
Sulking, Maggie slumped over the table while Beth made an actual effort to be helpful. "Why don't you ask the other secretary?"
Rachel and Vali shared blank looks. "Other...secretary?"
Beth stared at them, flabbergasted. "Yes! Justine! She's the one who rewrites the names on the Board when we put down our cases! She's the one who retrieves files for us when we need them! She's the one who answers calls when Emerald's on her lunch break!" Beth noted their uncomprehending looks with growing frustration. "How can you guys not *know* her? She's here every day! Just because she's a secretary doesn't mean she's nobody! They're people too, and they have an important and essential place in our lives! Godammit! You guys never think about anyone but yourselves, do you?"
Vali leaned over to Rachel. "Am I the only one who thinks this is getting out of hand?"
"No. I'll get the firehose."
Back at their desks. No Justine in sight; Dasha, who was more underfoot than usual today, informed Rachel and Vali that she was on her lunch break and would be back in fifteen minutes. Which was just as well, since they were pulled into Marti's office for a meeting with Colonel Pam Rose, wherein the colonel informed them that Emerald's death was making headlines and if they didn't make any headway, she'd have to call in a couple of detectives from the EvolSquad to take over.
spinner sidled over to Vali, who was glumly flipping through her well-thumbed copy of "Showboating: The Whine and How to Do It" without really reading.
"Gettin' anywhere?" she asked. Vali gave a monstrous sigh and put on her most pitiful face.
"No," she said mournfully. "Nobody seems to know *anything* about Emerald *or* Justine. How could these people have worked here for so long and yet remained such mysteries? It's a sad reflection on the solitude of the individual. Even when you're in a group for years and years, there's no guarantee that anyone will know you any better than if they met you on the street!"
"How's partnering with Rachel holding up?" spinner tried to change the subject.
"Well, once you get past her charming tales of nissa--nissae? Whatever--and Whippy-Dip, she's fine. Midwestern stick-to-it-ness, if you know what I mean--and she makes a mean enchilada. I gotta admit it's nice having somebody to debate the finer points of life with, from religion to David Duchovney. That is, if you can deal with walking around town with somebody who stops on every street corner because she meets somebody who knows her. I swear--if the Prince of *Norway* ran into us, he'd recognize her from when they had Swedish meatballs together or something!"
"...and another thing, Vali's forever trying to accuse me of bossing her around. Like I'm some kind of tyrant!" Rachel took a big bite of the egg-white-on-kaiser sandwich that she and Beth were sharing, chomping annoyedly on it as she accompanied her rant with pertinent hand gestures. "If *I* didn't take the lead once in a while, we'd just go around in circles. Hell, we'd start going backward!"
"Mmmm-hmm," Beth said, sipping her grapefruit juice. "Why do--"
"--I put up with it? I don't know. Probably because she *is* kind of funny, when she's not whining. And her rants keep me entertained."
"--I guess it's okay being partnered with Vali, all things considered. She's not perfect, but...she's my partner. All partners fight once in a while."
"Exactly. I mean, me and Maggie--"
"--think we're a good team, too? Wow! That's totally cool!"
Beth sighed, then pasted a smile on her face and nodded at Rachel. "Yeah. It *is* kinda cool."
Justine wouldn't say a word. She just smiled and smiled and kept smiling.
"So did Emerald seem jumpy or *what*?" Vali asked for the umpteenth time, slapping her hands down on the table. "Come on! You worked with her! Don't give me this "Code of the Secretaries", silence-beyond-the-grave bullshit!"
"Don't waste your time." Rachel, arms folded, leaned into the light to grin unsettlingly at Justine. "She's not gonna tell us anything."
"Oh, I get it." Vali leaned closer as well, grinning like a demented joker. "'Cause it's not like she had anything to do with it. In fact, she and Emerald weren't even close."
"Never talked to each other."
"Not even a quick hello over the fax machine."
"And yet--" Vali turned to Rachel, looking puzzled, "everyone knew *Emerald's* name, and not Justine's! Why is that?"
Rachel shrugged, keeping her eyes fixed on their suspect, whose smile was faltering just the tiniest bit. "I wonder," she said slowly. "Maybe Emerald was a better secretary. After all, *she* got to answer Line One...."
"No Line One for you, huh, Justine?" Vali taunted. "Stuck erasing all that marker on the Board, getting particles in your lungs, re-writing and color-coding till your eyes strain?"
"No Line One for Justine," Rachel joined in. "You listened to Emerald get it all the time, day after day, listened to her call out our names, so smug, right across the squadroom--"
"Line One, Karen!"
"Line One, Jackie!"
"Line One, Orakle!"
Rachel leaned closer still. "Until one day, you couldn't take it, and you turned to her after she trilled--"
Vali pitched her voice into a falsetto--"Line One, Hayley!"
"--and you screamed, 'YOU FUCKED ME OVER!!'"
Justine smiled. She took out a pen from her pocket and clicked it, holding it poised over the table. "Where do you want me to sign my confession?"
"Huh," Beth shook her head in wonderment. "Whod've thought there was so much intrigue going on under our very noses?"
"All in a day's work 'round this place," Karen snorted, rolling her hat down her arm.
"And you have the shining and exemplary teamwork of Rachel and Vali to thank for it!" Vali relaxed at her desk, smiling across at her partner. "Stand back, Karen and Hayley, Maggie and Beth, spinner and Jackie--we can do the murder police thing better than all of you!"
"Whatever," Hayley shrugged.
Vali sat up as the rest of the detectives dispersed, going back to their own desks. "So, partner," she said brightly, "wanna go get some Hunan chicken with me? I know a place with a huge fiberglass turkey out front--real classy."
"Sure," Rachel stood up, waiting while Vali put on her coat. "Just don't try to make me read any of that artsy-fartsy junk you're always writing, okay?"
"Wouldn't dream of trying to enlighten you, my dear girl."
"So," Redell said, packing up her legal briefs in her attache, "that's a full confession to stealing the heroin from evidence control, brewing the lethal coffee, and convincing Emerald to go have a hot, steaming mugful of death."
"Yep!" Justine smiled happily.
Redell paused, frowning. "Why?" she asked. "Why would you bother?"
Justine looked out the window of the Box at Rachel and Vali, joyously tromping off arm-in-arm, so full of cameraderie that if they'd had towels they would've been flicking each other's asses. She smiled her secret smile again and carefully put her pen away.
"Let's just say...." She stopped and looked confused. "Uh...ummmm..."
"Yeah, whatever. You're going to jail anyway."
"No! I'm supposed to say something clever and witty that wraps the whole thing up! Gimme a few seconds to think!"
Redell hauled Justine up and dragged her out of the Box, ignoring her protests.
And all was well again in Baltimore.
Sorry about making you Ballard, Rachel honey...but you played her so damn well! It's your own fault!!
Rachel as Ballard
Vali as Munch
Invisigoth as The Big Goth
Karen as Meldrick
Hayley as Mike
Maggie as Frank
Beth as Tim
Emerald as Naomi
spinner as Kay
Jackie as Beau
Ann as Crosetti
Dasha as Brodie
saffron as Julianna
Holli as Stivers
Marti as Gee
Pam as Barnfather (sorry! *g*)
Justine as Judy
That's all, folks! I know I missed some people, but dammit, the only characters left were Shep, Gharty, Falsone, Gee Jr...you get the drift. ;)
Maggie, wishing you many happy returns, the both of you!