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"How do you like being a cop?" her neighbor asked as they sipped iced tea out on her postage stamp-sized balcony overlooking the other half of the canal below.
Sam shrugged. "It's okay. I'm trying to get a transfer over to Homicide." Anything to get away from Dwyer, who by that time had become a real nuisance.
"I never see you with any guys," Keri mentioned.
"No time." And, after putting up with Dwyer's continual harassment, even less inclination.
"You could change your hair." She nodded toward Sam's ponytail. "Put on some makeup, dress up a little. You've got a great body. Very earthy. What are you, a size eight?"
"Ten. Twelve if the top isn't roomy." She looked down at herself and grimaced. "I'd trade it all for a size two and the chance to go around braless."
Keri chuckled. "While I'd love to be stacked like you. Why do we always hate ourselves?"
Sam had left a little later not knowing much more about Keri than she had before, but from that day on her neighbor treated her like an old friend. She'd invited Sam over for dinner a few times, and then they went to catch a movie together. Sam was just starting to like having a woman friend when Dwyer had finally pushed her too far by cornering her and nearly raping her, and she filed a formal complaint against him with IA.
The grilling Sam had taken on that particular day had left her angry and sick. One of the IA cops had insinuated that by not reporting the earlier abuse, Sam had been giving Dwyer "silent permission" to harass her. She'd been forced to take four vacation days off while the complaint was filed and investigated. She'd stopped at a liquor store for orange juice and vodka, intending to get thoroughly drunk as soon as she got home. When she met Keri in the stairwell, she invited her inside to celebrate the disaster.
Keri hadn't drunk much, but she'd listened while Sam bitched her way through four screwdrivers and two straight shots of Stoli. Finally she'd taken the vodka away and put it in the freezer.
"You need to do something else besides sit here and be miserable about a man," Keri said.
Sam, who had never been much of a drinker, had been enjoying her first real binge. "Like what?"
What happened after that had told her all she ever needed to know about Keri Lewis, and a week later had ended their friendship in a spectacular scene in front of most of Sam's coworkers. These days Keri took special pains to avoid her, but Sam still could never walk past her neighbor's door without feeling guilty. She'd tried to apologize, too many times, but that had only made the situation worse.
The phone ringing woke up Sam two hours after she'd gone to sleep, and Garcia's secretary told her to report in for a shift change. Tired but resigned to one of the downsides of being a cop, Sam dressed, nuked a cup of leftover coffee, and headed out the door.
She'd almost made it to the stairwell when she heard Keri behind her. "Samantha. I thought you were working nights."
Sam closed her eyes for a moment, forcing a smile onto her face and turning. "I was. Now evidently I'm not. How are you, Keri?"
"Same old me."
A doll maker might have fashioned Keri Lewis from porcelain and golden silk. A small, hard smile displayed her pearly teeth, only slightly less dazzling than her big green eyes. The sienna suede jacket, pencil-legged faded denims, and white tank top were too severe for her cameo looks, but as Keri put it, she preferred leather over lace.
"I tried to call you," Keri told her, "but someone changed their number."
"I forgot to give you the new one." No, she hadn't. "What's up?"
"I'm subletting my place for the summer while I close on a house. Girl named Christian. A little wild-looking, but she paid the deposit in cash. She's moving in this morning." A car horn sounded downstairs, and Keri glanced that way. "That's my ride. I won't be back here again." She gave her a thorough, insulting once-over. "It's been interesting."
"Yeah." Sam almost held out her hand, but decided a smile was less offensive. "Good luck with your new place." She didn't flinch as Ken's palm connected with her cheek, and she didn't try to hit back. "I'm sorry."
A petite girl carrying a purple beanbag up the stairs stopped to watch.
"No, you're not, you bitch. You love this." Keri stepped forward as if to hit her again; then she swore and stalked past the girl standing with the beanbag on the landing. Before she started down the stairs, she looked back. "I hope one day someone gives you what you really need, Samantha, and takes it away from you the minute you start enjoying it. Just like you did to me."
Sam watched her hurry down the stairs and out to the parking lot, where she climbed into a black sports car.
"Well." The girl came to stand beside her. "I'd say she's pissed at you."
Sam gave her a sideways glance. What she had thought was a blue wool skullcap was actually the girl's hair. Silver rings pierced her right nostril, left eyebrow, and middle of her lip, and a black tattoo of a Chinese character graced a spot on her neck. Her fingernails were bitten down to the quick, and there were dark bruises on the knuckles of her right hand.
Sixteen or seventeen at the most. Sam knew their landlord didn't run background checks on sublets. "You're Keri's tenant."
"Chris." She rubbed her head, revealing one small ear that had been pierced from top to lobe with studs and more rings. "You'd be the numb-cunt bitch of a cop who lives across the hall?"
Sam coughed to hide the laugh that was startled out of her. "Is that what Keri called me?"
"Lady, that's the nicest thing she called you." Chris sat down on the beanbag and hugged her knees. "I like it up here. If someone's going to break in, they'll hit the first or second floor, right? No way they're going to climb three flights."
The kid thought like a cop. Or a thief.
"Wait till you have to carry down trash, or haul up furniture," Sam warned her. "Then you'll be wishing you were closer to the ground." Maybe she'd run a background check on the kid, see what her story was.
"I'm using Keri's stuff until she gets back from her trip," Chris said. "Looks like a diner in there, doesn't it? All you need is pie under glass and a fat waitress carrying around a pot of coffee." She sniffed the air. "Do I smell French roast? Maybe there's a little extra a supernice neighbor would be willing to share?"
With a sigh Sam handed her the Styrofoam cup she held. "Enjoy. But I wouldn't get used to having Keri's stuff. It's expensive; she'll be back for it."
"I've got some things." Chris curled her hands around the cup and shifted, making the beanbag scrunch under her weight. "Lots of people around here throw out perfectly good stuff, too. I already scored a bag of clothes and shoes from the Dumpster." She sipped the coffee and grimaced. "Sugar, ugh. I take it black. I know—beggars can't be choosers. Anyway, the clothes are guy stuff, but most of it's wash-and-wear, and I can cut it down to my size."
"Better wash before you wear."
Chris squinted up at her. "I'm a poor beggar, Officer, not stupid."
"It's Sam," she corrected. "How old are you, anyway?"
"Why?" Chris stood and picked up her beanbag. "Do you have to be of age to drink coffee?"
"Then I'm twenty-one, Officer." The ring in her lower lip glimmered. Her smile was pure lightning, there one moment, gone in a blink. "See you around."
Eighty-seven men and eleven women were assigned to Fort Lauderdale Criminal Investigations Division, but only six of those worked homicide cases, with Sam as the only female officer in the unit. She and Harry had volunteered for a permanent assignment to the graveyard shift, as it allowed the other homicide detectives—all of whom were married with children—to work mornings or afternoons.
With half the murders in the city being committed at night, Sam and Harry ended up with the lion's share of Homicide's caseload.
Homicide was one of seven units under CID, with only six detectives allocated to investigate an average of twenty murders each year and to assist the Violent Crimes Unit, as they worked ten times as many cases. As a result, the squad room was one of the smallest within the department. Detectives routinely used their desk time to reduce the endless piles of paperwork or interview witnesses and gather information via phone. Now and then a detective from Juvenile Crimes or Auto Thefts would wander in to steal some of the dark brew from the five-gallon coffeemaker that was never allowed to run empty, but the atmosphere within CID could hardly be called social.
Some blamed murder, others the chilly management style of the captain of CID, Ernesto Garcia.
Sam viewed working in the squad room as a necessary evil. She didn't like the tight maze of desks that had been crammed into a space designed for half as many, or the fact that Garcia had renovated the one interview room in Homicide to serve as his personal office. Still, it was fairly quiet, and only rarely did she and Harry run into Garcia or the other four detectives working day shift.
Today was an exception, as Lena Caprell's body had been discovered by the Beach Patrol thirty minutes before Sam and Harry went off duty.
"Overtime, must be nice," Jeff Peterson called out as Sam went to her desk. He was a short, slim weapons fanatic who had moved to Homicide to wait for a range instructor slot to open up at the police academy. "What are you pulling down now, Harry?"
"More than I get," Ortenza, Peterson's partner, grumbled. The father of four, he'd been in a bad mood all month, since the day his wife informed him their fifth child was on the way.
"Quit your bitching," Harry said in a genial way as he ambled over to the coffeemaker. He didn't drink the dark brew, the caffeine of which interfered with his breathing medication, but kept a hot pot on the table to heat water for the decaf tea his wife supplied him. "Sam, you coffeed out?"