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Striker by Patricia Green – Extended Preview

Striker by Patricia GreenThe next morning, I realized it had been a huge mistake to allow my partner to drive the police vehicle to the scene of the latest murder. She was reckless and completely unconcerned about other cars. Sure, we had our flasher in the window and the siren on, but we were in an unmarked car. People were slower to get out of the way than they would be for a marked police car. “Geez, slow the fuck down!”

She grinned at me and slewed the car on the wet road. A moment later, she was back in control, but her grin was a little false. I gripped the oh shit bar above the window and held on for dear life. Even a seat belt and air bags wouldn’t be enough if she lost control at this speed.

“God damn it, Piccolino! I said slow down!”

“Grow some balls, Striker!”

“I mean it. You’re going to kill us both. Now cut it out!”

“Or what?” she mocked. “You’re going to spank me?”

Where she’d gotten that, almost reading my mind, kind of threw me for a loop. But if a person ever deserved a spanking more than Piccolino, I couldn’t think of one.

Rain started again, pelting the windshield with big, drooling drops. She flicked the wipers on, but didn’t slow down in the least. We rounded a corner and fishtailed, but once again, she got control after a heart-stopping moment.

“You sure as hell need a spanking, you little brat.”

“Good luck with that. I know karate.”

“Not that it would do you any good.” We swerved and I saw my life flash before my eyes. “You are out of control, woman!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” The car screeched to a halt, well, almost to a halt, just as it sideswiped a parked vehicle a block away from our destination. Piccolino’s mouth opened and shut a few times, and then she squeaked, “Oops.”

“Your ass is grass, Piccolino,” I told her. “Get out of the car.” My door was pinned closed against the crunched driver’s side door of the BMW she’d hit. Silently, her face pale, Piccolino got out of the car, and I awkwardly moved across the seats and got out behind her. There were no pedestrians and few moving cars along the street, probably due to the rainy weather. That was fortunate for my partner, because it was going to be bad enough reporting this MVA to Donati. Accidents happened when pursuing criminals, but we hadn’t been in pursuit, so there was no excuse for it this time.

I straightened my fedora and stared down at her, my brows drawn together.

“I’m sorry.”

I remained silent.

“Really. I’m sorry. I should have listened to you. I’ve just never been so excited. Rolling to the scene of a homicide. I felt like I was in the big time, you know, like… I don’t know…”

“Starsky and Hutch.”

“Who?”

“Never mind. You crossed the line. This was no little fender-bender.” I pointed to the Beamer. “That guy’s paint job alone is going to cost a thousand bucks.”

“Do we have to say it was my fault?”

“It was your fault.”

“Well, kinda. And kinda not.”

“You want me to lie?”

“Lie? No. Just… don’t say anything about how fast I was going. If you don’t say anything, Donati will never know this was more than an unfortunate skid and crunch due to the weather.”

“I’ve had it about up to here with your attitude, Piccolino,” I told her, gesturing to the top of my head. “You deserve whatever you get from Donati.”

She bit her lower lip. “Do I deserve…maybe…a spanking?”

I snorted. “Donati would no sooner do that than fly to the moon.”

She smoothed the sides of her skirt from waist to thigh. It was a sexy move, sensual, emphasizing the curve of her hips. I didn’t miss it, though I would have been more comfortable had I done so. “But if I was punished in some way, wouldn’t that make up for getting in the accident?”

“I assure you, you will be punished. You’ll probably have a formal reprimand on your record.”

“But, Striker,” she pleaded, touching the lapel of my trench coat. “Those never go away! Please don’t tell on me. You said that I needed a spanking, wouldn’t that be enough?”

I hadn’t really meant it when I said it, though I’d been plenty mad enough to do it at the time. But now, it would have been a pre-meditated spanking. And I had the sneaking suspicion that Piccolino’s idea of a spanking was a little more akin to one of my previous girlfriends. She was kinda into it, but always a sexy spanking; never a punishment session. I have my kinks just like any guy, but I’d never spanked except in the bedroom—a room I’d never share with Piccolino. Would it do any good? Would she quit being so headstrong and acidic if she got punished outside of the chain of command? And, if she was trying to seduce me, as her bedroom eyes and the way she stood only a few inches away from me suggested, I could be biting off a big chunk of trouble.

The fact was, if I spanked her and she pressed charges, it would be my ass in a sling, not hers. “I don’t trust you,” I told her.

“Come on. I’m trustworthy.” She held up her hand in the Girl Scout salute. “I promise not to report you, if you promise not to report me. I think that’s fair. And you get to take a swat at my butt.”

She seemed sorry. In fact, she seemed desperately sorry. Maybe a spanking would have some effect on her. But it wouldn’t be the erotic spanking she was subtly suggesting. That would only encourage her.

“I don’t know…” Let her sweat.

“Please? Please just spank me and we’ll call it a done deal?”

“We need to call in this MVA.”

“It can wait. If you spank me quickly, instead of chewing it over like a camel with its cud—”

“You are not making points, Piccolino.”

She sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m begging you, Striker. I know you want to do it. And, don’t I deserve it? I was reckless. I disobeyed the orders of a superior officer. You’re a Detective II, while I’m only a Detective I. That makes you my boss.”

I knew that, but wouldn’t have held it over her head. Still, what she said was true. “Okay.”

“There’s an alley right there. We can go there, behind the dumpster, and you can spank me.” She cringed a little as she said the words. I turned my head to look to where she’d pointed, but she grabbed my hand and urged me over in that direction. “Come on. We have to call in the MVA. Hurry up.”

We got to the area behind the beat up blue dumpster. There were no flies, and the dumpster had recently been emptied. Some construction stuff—two-by-fours and scraps of plywood—were leaning on the cement block walls. The scent of rain on the concrete and the wet wood was clean. “I don’t think you’re taking this seriously,” I told her, disengaging my hand. “I hope you have a high pain threshold.”

“I do. I do. Now where do you want me?”

There were some plastic milk crates next to the dumpster, so I made quick work of setting the boxes one on top of the other. I sat and patted my lap. “Here.”

She eyed me, apparently wondering what she’d gotten herself into.

Her business attire was nearly as distracting as the casual street wear she’d worn the day before. The tight skirt she wore with a curve-hugging sweater skimmed over her like fog over poppies. “Are you wearing panties?”

That got her attention. “Yeah, of course! Why?”

“Skirt up. Leave your panties in place.”

“This is just a spanking, Striker, not a T&A show.”

I stood and made a show of straightening my trench coat. “If that’s the way you want it.” About two seconds after I started walking away, she grabbed my arm.

“No. I’m okay with this. Come on. Sit down.” She pulled up the edge of her skirt, and bared her legs and some sheer, lace-topped stockings. I sat on the crates again, watching her in a sort of panic. I wondered what in Sam Hill I had been thinking when I told her to partially undress. She had perfect, smooth, shapely legs. She wasn’t tall, but her legs seemed to go up to her shoulders. She wore a tiny little white thong that barely covered her. It looked so innocent there, in a very sexy way. I swallowed my nerves and hurried the process. I needed to get past this, or too many dangerous things could happen.

“Don’t dawdle. I don’t want to be here too long.” If my voice was a little strained, it was due to the discomfort I was feeling—mostly in my trousers.

She positioned herself over my lap. Oh, God. I nearly groaned. She had a perfect ass. And then I remembered how perfectly off-limits it was, and I got second thoughts about this whole spanking business. Her two globes radiated their invitation to me from where they cradled her thong. I kept my hands to myself and cleared my throat. “I’m not sure about this. This might be a bad idea. It’s better if you deal with the reprimand.”

“Come on. You agreed. Do you always welsh on deals? Or are you a coward?”

My second thoughts evaporated like rain on a hot roof. In one quick motion, I raised my hand and smacked her firmly on one ass cheek.

“Ow!”

“That’s just the start,” I warned, bringing my hand down again and again. The message had to be clear, or we’d be facing this situation again. I swatted her a few more times and knew I really had her attention as she started to shift around on my lap. She wasn’t exactly trying to get away, but close. Her cries of pain and embarrassment got louder with each stroke.

Once her butt got a little pink, I spanked her harder, trying to make a firm impression that would last an hour or two. But, aside from a hot butt, I wanted her to remember how she’d gotten herself into this predicament. “You will not drive recklessly in the future.”

“Right! Ow! Damn it.”

I started moving my spanks down to where her butt met her thighs. That really caused a few yelps. “You will not put me in a position where I have to lie for you.”

“I didn’t. Not exactly.” She drew out the words as though begging me to stop. But the words she’d said did nothing to make me want to ease up on her.

“Piccolino…”

“Okay. I’m sorry. Ouch! That hurts.”

“You thought it would be a massage? A little tap on the rump and all would be good? Maybe some touchy-feely just for fun?” I waled on her butt for half a dozen more strokes.

“I promise I won’t do it again. I promise!”

I peppered her rear for a minute longer. “That’s damn right you won’t. Because I will take it out of your ass every time you do.”

I don’t know whether it was a Pavlovian response or what, but my cock was raging. Prior experience with erotic spankings was getting in the way of this punishment. Piccolino’s earlier testing attempt at seduction hadn’t been all for naught. I had to get past it, so I kept spanking.

“Okay! Okay! Please stop. I’ve learned my lesson!”

“No, I don’t think you have.” I went on spanking for another minute, and her rear was getting red in spots. She was squirming on my lap, and I had to grab her hands when she tried to cover her butt. I thought I heard her sniffling, too. Oh, hell. I’d made her cry. That was about all I could stand; my anger evaporated. I felt like a heel. It took only a few seconds to flip down her skirt and help her stand up. She straightened the fabric, getting hold of herself, her jaw tight.

“Are we done here?” The question came through gritted teeth.

I nodded, trying not to note her reddened eyes and pink nose. I think we were both embarrassed.

To give her credit, she was courageous. She straightened her shoulders and marched out of the alley and toward the car, where she radioed in the MVA. We’d crossed a threshold, beginning a dynamic that neither of us had anticipated or wanted. Yet, there we were. No time for regrets.

Piccolino had to deal with the MVA, so I proceeded on foot down the block to the broad supermarket on the corner, where the new dead girl lay. There were a couple of black and whites parked near the backside of the large building, as well as a coroner’s wagon. That part of the parking lot was empty of the public, save for one old woman with a camera, standing just inside the crime scene tape. I turned on my Dragnet, hard-nosed cop demeanor and approached with my badge out, asking her how long she’d been there. Apparently, only an hour. I made sure she hadn’t seen anything suspicious—she was obviously nosy—but she claimed she hadn’t. I asked her to leave the area and particularly to get out from within the area that had been cordoned off. After she exclaimed that it was a public parking lot, I pointed out that it was, in fact, a private parking lot, owned by the grocery, and on top of that, it was a crime scene. Unless she wanted a ticket, she’d best be on her way.

Grudgingly, she left.

The officers at the scene were professional and helpful. I approached the coroner just as she was closing the body bag. CSI had already done its thing, and was off processing evidence. We were only here to get a feel for the crime and scene.

“One second, Julia.”

She looked up, a thick brown braid falling over her shoulder. “Oh. Hello, Striker. You working this case?”

“Hello, Julia. Yeah, I’m the lucky guy.” I leaned over to look into the black bag. A woman’s face was all I could see. She was pale, as are most corpses, but she was stunningly gorgeous. Her hair was strawberry blonde and stylish, she wore makeup, and had a pair of gold hoop earrings on. “What do you know so far?”

“Female, age approximately eighteen to twenty. No ID. I’d say she was a drug user, based on the old needle tracks on her left arm. There are marks on her throat,” she said, opening the body bag a little, so I could see the girl’s neck. Sure enough, faint bruises marred her skin. “Strangulation is a possibility.” She sealed the body bag.

“Time of death?”

“Early this morning, maybe five to seven a.m.”

I stood. “Thanks, Julia. I’ll read the rest when the report is done.”

A few moments later, I approached the lead officer. “Hey, Miller. Anything to identify the victim? Wallet, purse?”

“Nothing. There was a white rose on her belly when we found her. The CSI guys got all the pics.”

“I heard about the rose. That’s why Donati sent me.”

“Yeah. Most people don’t crawl into a smelly dumpster to die and take their own funeral flowers with them.”

“Nope. Somebody put her there.”

He nodded.

“Anybody see anything?”

“There was a produce guy offloading lettuce and carrots from the back of a truck, over in that loading dock.” He pointed. “But he says there are always people coming and going around here. It’s a twenty-four hour market.”

“Okay. I’ll have a chat with him. Name?”

“Roger, Roger Tymon.”

“Anyone else? Who found the body?”

“Guy named Gabe Williams. Don’t know if he’ll do you any good, though.”

“Oh, why?”

“He doesn’t seem quite all there. Developmentally delayed, maybe.”

“I’ll give it a try.”

“Those were the only two.”

“Okay. See ya later, Miller.”

He nodded his goodbye and we parted.

Inside the large, busy market, I asked for the manager and showed my badge. The store manager was a little guy with a semi-bald head and thick glasses. His milk-sop demeanor hid a sharp mind.

I introduced myself and showed my badge. He said his name was Mark Dobson.

“This is about the girl in the dumpster, right?”

“Yeah. What can you tell me?”

“Nothing much. No one saw her get in there. We didn’t discover her until our first trash dump, around nine o’clock. We would have just dumped the trash over her, without looking, but my guy is a little OCD and has to give the dumpster a look before he tosses stuff in.”

“Ah. That was Gabe Williams? Any other employees see anything?”

“Yes, it was Gabe. I think Roger Tymon took a look. No one else will admit to seeing anything.”

That was astute. A lot of potential witnesses don’t want to get involved. It made everything harder for us investigators.

“Can I talk to Mr. Williams?”

“He’s in my office with his brother. Follow me.”

We went into the cold area in the back of the market. It was a work zone, with black rubber mats on the floor and crates and boxes stacked around. Industrial air conditioners hummed loud enough that people had to speak up or go unheard. A couple of pallet-movers were in use, and a few employees were busy preparing stuff for the shelves. Grocery clerks were gossiping near the door marked “Employees Only,” until they saw their boss and quickly broke their klatch.

We proceeded to a room jutting out from the corner of two bare, concrete block walls. The door had a plate that said, “Store Manager.” Dobson preceded me into the room and closed the door behind him. Inside, the space was spartan, but clearly belonged to Dobson. A small metal desk stood near the center, and framed pictures of Dobson, a woman, and two kids were on the steel shelving units behind the desk chair. There were filing cabinets on both sides, the locking kind.

In front of the desk, two people sat close together on matching straight-backed chairs. They were black men in their early twenties. The resemblance between them was striking—same nose, same slightly bulging eyes, same flat eyebrows; clearly, they were the brothers Dobson mentioned. They both looked grim, and the younger one looked tearful. There were wet streaks on his cheeks and his eyes were bloodshot.

Dobson introduced us, pointing to the younger, tear-stained one. “This is Gabe Williams. And this is his brother William.” William Williams. Someone’s parents had either a rude sense of humor or a total lack of creativity.

I nodded and showed them my badge. “I’m Detective Striker, Glendale PD. I’d like to talk to you, Mr. Williams.”

There was some confusion about which Mr. Williams I was referring to, but I shifted my eyes to the younger man and that seemed to clarify things.

“Don’t want to talk to no more policemen,” the young man whined, his eyes filling with tears.

“I know we’re a pain in the ass, Mr. Williams, but this is important.”

“He already told what he knows, Detective,” William said, putting his arm around his brother.

“I understand. But sometimes in the re-telling, a witness remembers something and that something could be important. A girl is dead and we need to find out why.”

The elder Williams seemed to think about it for a few moments, and then he turned to look his brother in the eyes. “Gabe, this policeman is a boss policeman. You need to talk to him. He wants to help find the bad guys.” He was talking to Gabe as though Gabe was ten years old.

“Mr. Williams,” I began, talking directly to the older brother, and trying to be as sensitive as I could. “Is your brother developmentally delayed?”

Williams nodded, his eyes still on Gabe’s face.

So I’d have to approach this carefully. I didn’t want to upset Gabe, but, like my dealings with Barry Alexander, I needed to press the capabilities of the witness. Anything he saw could be important.

Gabe sniffled, looking at me through pools of tears. “Policemen are my friends.”

“Yes, we are,” I agreed. “Just tell me about your morning, Mr. Williams. What time did you come to work?”

“I’m never late,” he said, pride evident in his voice.

Dobson spoke up. “Indeed, he’s not.” He’d moved to the chair behind his desk. I was standing, but I hunkered down a little so that I could look the seated Gabe Williams in the eye.

“That’s great,” I said with a friendly smile. “So you were here on time. What time was that?”

“I work from six in the morning until two-thirty in the afternoon. I get half an hour for lunch and two fifteen minute breaks. I always punch the time clock.”

“You’re a good worker. What do you do around the store?”

“I clean up spills so nobody slips. I have a mop. Do you wanna see?”

“I’m sure it’s a very nice mop, but I can’t look at it right now.” He looked a little disappointed at my response, but I went on. “You also take out the trash, right?”

He nodded.

“Did you take out the trash this morning?”

He nodded again, and this time a big tear rolled down his face. He didn’t attempt to wipe it away, and it landed on his uniform apron silently.

“What happened with the trash?”

“I got the big trash cart and gathered up all the garbage. There’s a lot in the mornings. I don’t think the night customer service person cares as much as me.”

“Too bad. So you got the garbage?”

“Yeah. And I took it outside. The dumpster has high walls, but I’m strong, so I pulled myself up to look inside.” He leaned forward to tell me conspiratorially, “Sometimes you find stuff in the trash. People throw out some neat things.”

“What did you find when you looked inside?”

“There was that girl!” With that, he sobbed and put his hands over his face. “She was asleep in the trash. Someone told me she was dead. She had a flower on her T-shirt.”

“A real flower, or a painted-on flower?”

“A real one. A rose. The floral department has lots of roses. They smell pretty, but not in the trash can.” He sniffled and dropped his hands.

“I agree,” I answered. “What did you do when you saw her?”

“I screamed and screamed, then ran inside and called 911. You’re supposed to call 911 when something bad happens.”

“That’s right. Did anyone else look into the trash can?”

“I think Roger did. I dunno exactly.”

“Okay. Did you see anyone near the dumpster when you went out to empty the trash? Someone in a car, maybe, or standing nearby?”

Gabe shook his head. “No.”

I patted him on the knee and stood, addressing his brother with my next remarks. “We may need to talk to him again, but I think that’s all for now. I’ll need his street address and phone number.”

“He lives with me and our aunt.” He gave me the address and phone number and I wrote them down in my book along with a few other notes.

“Thanks.” I looked at Gabe and gave him a small smile. “I’m sorry you were upset.”

He sniffled and wiped his cheeks. “That’s okay. Policemen are my friends.”

“That’s right.” I turned to Dobson. “I need to speak to Tymon.”

We walked out onto the loading dock and found Tymon having a smoke. I introduced myself and Dobson left us alone. Tymon was a heavy-set man with the face of a brute, thick eyebrows, ruddy, pockmarked cheeks, and a full day’s growth of beard. He wore a store uniform—black apron over a forest green T-shirt and black jeans. His arms were thick with muscle, even while his belly bulged his apron. He smoked with thumb and forefinger, aggressively drawing smoke in and blowing it out.

“So tell me about seeing the dead girl.”

“I ain’t got much to say. Gabe came running in like his tail was on fire, and I slowed him down enough to find out he’d seen something in the dumpster. He was dead-set on calling the cops, so I figured it was some crazy shit. I went out and looked.”

“What did you see?”

“Duh. A dead girl and a lot of garbage.”

I was a little irritated at the “duh” remark, but I let it go. “That’s it? No one loitering about? No purse or wallet nearby?”

He looked uncomfortable for a moment, then his face cleared. I was onto something. “No. I didn’t see nothing else.”

“Are you sure?”

His eyes went shifty. “Of course I’m sure.”

“You realize that withholding information or evidence is a crime.”

He began to sweat, and he took a last long puff on his cigarette before he tossed it on the ground with all the other used butts, and ground it out with a booted foot. “Well… now that you mention it, I might have found a purse. But I figured it was just part of the trash.”

I thought as much, and I was glad I didn’t have to strong-arm him. “Do you still have it?”

He looked down at his boots, then back up at me. “I looked to see if anyone had left an ID in it, so that I could return it to the right person.” I gave him a skeptical look. “But there was no ID, just a card for some skin joint, some tissues, and a few bucks.”

“Do you still have the purse?”

“No. I put it in the other dumpster.”

“After taking out the money. Why let it go to waste, right?” The derision in my voice was clear, and I didn’t care. This guy could have seriously messed up the case.

“Well, yeah! It’s not like I live on Easy Street.”

“How much was in there?”

“Eighty bucks.”

“I’ll want that as evidence.” I held out my hand.

“Why? It’s just money. Ain’t got no value to that dead girl no more.”

“Turn it over, Tymon.”

He gave me a long-suffering sigh and reached for the wallet in his back pocket.

After I’d received the money, I carefully put it in one of the two evidence bags I had rolled up in my jacket pocket, and made sure that was all the information Tymon had to give. I pointed out that if he “remembered” anything else, he had better call me, and I gave him my card. He agreed, and shuffled off, irritation in his voice as he grumbled to himself.

I had the unenviable task of digging through the second dumpster for the purse, but the evidence was right on top. I gloved up my hands and grabbed it. It was a smallish, blue leather purse, a little beat up, but still serviceable. I looked inside, saw the tissues and a business card. The card was for a massage parlor just off Highland Avenue—a parlor that guaranteed “happy endings,” a sly term for prostitution. I jotted the name and address of the massage parlor in my notebook, then bagged the evidence. Piccolino sat in the dented cruiser not far from the black and whites. I paused long enough to ask one of the officers to call CSI and tell them the second dumpster needed to be gone over carefully.

Piccolino gave me a tentative smile through the windshield. She was wearing sunglasses to shade her gray eyes from the weak, cloud-shadowed sunshine. It was good to see her. I don’t know why. I guess I felt like we’d bonded a little over that spanking. I didn’t like the realization—I wanted to be alone on the case—so I put the sense of pleasant recognition aside for the time-being and opened the driver’s door to the car.

“I’ll drive,” I told her, gesturing for her to get out.

“I told you I won’t do it again!” She was adamant, but at a stern look from me, she got out of the car and walked around to the dented passenger side, muttering curse words and insults as she got into the seat.

“That’s about enough of that, young lady.”

“I’m no ‘young lady’ to you, bub. I’m a fully grown, mature woman. Just because you spanked me once does not mean you can treat me like a kid.”

“Point taken, so long as you don’t act like one,” I replied, starting the car and progressing through the parking lot. “Did you get the accident reported?”

“Yeah. It was embarrassing, to say the least. But they bought the ‘slippery pavement’ story. I guess I should thank you for backing me up on that.”

“I guess you should.”

Sarcasm dripped from her lips when she said, “Thank you loads, boss.”

I returned her venom with a cheery, “You’re welcome.” That really needled her, which felt good, small-minded as it might be. It was pleasant to get under her skin just as she did to me. And she was on my radar far too much, which I resented.

Her face was dark with a frown.

“Lunch?”

She licked her lips. I guess she was hungry. I realized that she had lovely lips. No makeup on them, just a nice shape and a soft pink natural tone. I wondered what kissing her would be like. She was a sharp-tongued woman with a load of confidence. Would she be as aggressive in a clinch?

I really had to stop thinking that way.

“I know a good bar on Brand Street. It’s kind of a dive, but their food is good and they give a cop discount,” I said.

“Joey’s?”

“Yeah. Been there before?”

“Lots of times. I don’t think I’ve seen you there, though.”

“I drop in for take-out, mostly.”

“Eat in the car?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re antisocial, Striker. You ought to get out more.”

I turned my head to look at her. She was serious, though I couldn’t see behind her reflective sunglasses. I looked toward the road again and didn’t say anything. Fact was, I wasn’t antisocial; I was cynical. You can’t see all the human filth I see every day and not feel suspicious and distrusting of your fellow man.

We got to the bar and started on our lunch of burgers and fries. Best burger in town, I thought, and she agreed. I was unjustifiably pleased that she liked what I liked.

She opened up a bit over lunch and asked some pertinent questions regarding the case. I realized I was thinking of her as “Angelica,” rather than a more professional “Piccolino.” It was irritating for about ten seconds, then I decided that, at least in my head, it wouldn’t do any harm. Out loud, though, was another thing. I didn’t want to give her an advantage over me. Although we weren’t adversaries, I still wasn’t sure of her. I think it was the intimacy over the spanking that caused the switch.

“So,” she concluded after I brought her up to speed, “we have a serial killer.”

“That’s a possibility.” I threw my shredded paper napkin on the age-darkened wood tabletop. “Once CSI examines her purse, maybe we’ll know more about the second victim.”

“I hope so. I hate mysteries.”

“You’re in the wrong department, in that case, Piccolino.”

She frowned. “Maybe. I know you don’t like me.”

It wasn’t that I disliked her. I would have chafed at anyone working with me. But I was also a good cop and knew that good cops work together with other good cops. So far, Angelica hadn’t had much of an opportunity to test her skills. “You’re abrasive,” I told her. “Maybe you ought to think before you open your mouth.”

“Wow. Don’t pussyfoot around, Striker. Tell me how you really feel.”

I shrugged. Her tender feelings shouldn’t be my concern. Nonetheless, I thought maybe I could have phrased it better. My turn to frown, though it occurs to me now that the frown was at myself more than at her.

“Let’s get back to the station. I need to turn in the new evidence and see if we have any more info to sift through.”

She nodded, and we made our way back to the station.

There was a new report in my email when we arrived.

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