Sample Chapters of Credo’s Hope

Chapter One

Blood smeared the mattress where Bibi O’Dell had fallen after she’d been shot. Given her occupation, hooker, and her drug of choice, meth, I wasn’t surprised when she told me to go stuff myself after I asked who’d pulled the trigger.

“C’mon Bibi, can you at least give me a hint?” I watched as the paramedics struggled to lift her from the mattress to their gurney. She was a hefty woman, weighing in at close to three hundred and fifty pounds of unhelpful dead weight.

Bibi slapped one of the men on the hand. “You watch where you’re puttin’ those hands or I’m gonna charge you for my services.”

I’ve known Bibi for almost five years, and I’ve arrested her more times than I’d care to count. I reached in, grabbed one enormous leg, and hefted it onto the gurney. Unfortunately, not much of the rest of her made it that far. “Why can’t you be a skeleton like all the rest of the meth users?”

Bibi paused mid-complaint and fixed her bulging fish eyes on me. “You callin’ me fat, Detective Wolfe?”

“Not at all. I’m saying if you were a competent meth user, your leg wouldn’t weigh more than I do.”

Bibi shifted her gaze to one of the paramedics. “She callin’ me fat.”

I moved to her midsection and wiggled my gloved hands under her until they were smashed beneath her butt. “All right everybody, on three.” All six of us heaved her onto the gurney, and I quickly retrieved my hands.

Bibi held out her hand, palm up. “That’ll be fifteen dollars.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Excuse me?”

“Fifteen dollars for services rendered. You can’t put your hands on my butt and not expect to pay for my services. I’ll sue your ass for lack of payment. Me’n your captain are on a first-name basis, you know. Just let me call him, then see what happens, uh huh.”

I looked around at my sergeant, Kate Brannigan, who raised her hands and grinned. “Don’t get me in the middle of this; it’s your problem, not mine.”

Unfortunately, my captain probably was on a first name basis with Bibi. I slid my thumb under the cuff of my glove to peel it off, then reached into my pocket and pulled out two crumpled bills, a ten and a five. Bibi would be out of commission for a while and I really couldn’t begrudge her the money. I grinned as I handed her the bills, then pulled off the second glove.

Kate laughed as she peeled off her own gloves and took one last look around the room making sure we’d collected all the evidence we might need if the case ever went to court.

I followed the gurney out into the living room and threw the gloves onto a pile of overstuffed black trash bags. Nearby, a cat lay sprawled on a sofa, his green eyes lazily tracking my movement.

“What’d you see, fellah?” I walked over and ran my fingers through his fur while he rolled onto his side and batted me with his paw. Kate’s cell phone rang and I watched as she slid it out of her pocket and stepped outside. The cat batted my hand one last time, then flipped off the sofa and hit all four living room walls before racing full tilt into the kitchen. He did a few circuits around the countertops and finally landed next to a sink loaded with plates full of rotting food.

When I followed him in, he sprang from the counter onto the refrigerator, then disappeared back into the living room. I walked to the refrigerator and opened the door. Putrid air spilled out and I held my breath long enough to look inside. A carton of curdled milk, some old carrots, stale bread, and an open can of beans were the only items on the otherwise bare shelves. I quickly shut the door and followed the cat, holding my breath until I was out of the kitchen and back in the living room.

Kate returned, trailed by Jack Dougherty, a patrol sergeant on the Southside. Jack came over and held out his hand. “Hey Alex, I haven’t seen you since Bonnie’s last softball game. Where’ve you been?”

Bonnie is Jack’s 7-year-old daughter, and I’m Alexandra Wolfe, a detective in the Special Crimes Unit of the Tucson Police Department. I nodded towards Kate. “If my sergeant’d give me some time off, I’d have you guys over for a barbeque or something, but no…”

Kate walked into the kitchen and said over her shoulder, “I’m actually doing the world a favor, Alex.” She scrunched her nose at Jack. “Have you ever tasted her cooking?”

Jack reached up to scratch beneath his thinning hair. “Unfortunately, yes.”

Kate finished her inspection of the kitchen and pulled a notebook out of her pocket. “Anyway, Alex, I need you to talk to the neighbors, see if they saw or heard anything unusual last night. See if you can find out if Bibi is actually living here with the Michas or if she was just here to work. If she was working, I want to know if the Micha’s little girl was here too.” She scribbled something in her notes, and I grinned at Jack as I headed out the door. He threw me one of his little-boy smiles before he turned to follow Kate into the bedroom.

The Micha’s house was one of two built inside a rectangular fenced yard. I stood on the porch and watched the ambulance pull away with Bibi before I walked around the weeds and knocked on the door to the second house.

Peeling paint on old houses has always fascinated me, and while I waited for someone to open the door, I played with the jagged pieces of old paint clinging to the door jam. The surrounding boards were loose, so I jiggled one up and down and ended up pulling out an old nail that had worked its way clear of its mooring. Just as the nail screeched free, the door opened a tiny amount, allowing an ancient woman to peer out at me through the crack. Her eyes immediately focused on the nail, which I quickly tried to hide in the palm of my hand. She opened the door a little wider and held out her hand like a schoolteacher asking a recalcitrant student for their wad of gum. I handed it to her and she took it with a short shake of her head. Balancing her weight on the doorknob, she stepped out onto the front stoop, leaned down to aim the point of the nail at the now vacant hole and wiggled it back into place.

“Um, sorry about that.” I pointed to the nail. “I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Wrinkles lined her face, but her smile radiated warmth and old-world charm. “That’s fine, Dear, I understand. Can I help you?” She stood bright eyed and erect, hands clasped in front and shaking a little from age, which I guessed to be somewhere in the late eighties.

“Yes Ma’am, I’m Detective Wolfe, from the Tucson Police Department.”

“Yes, Dear, I saw the badge on your belt. And that big gun. It’s a Glock, isn’t it?” She pointed to the Glock .40 I wore in a holster on my hip.

I blinked stupidly and fiddled with my badge. “Well, yeah, it’s a Glock.”

“I thought so. I used to help my husband clean his guns. I just love the banana smell of the gun oil, don’t you?”

I stared at her. “Yes Ma’am.”

Her gaze traveled down to my legs, “You have some of my paint on your trousers you know.”

“Oh, um, sorry again.” I grabbed the flake as I mumbled my apologies. The chip crumbled and I watched the tiny pieces float to the porch. “Anything else?” I looked up at her and waited to hear about spinach caught in my teeth or gum stuck in my hair.

“No, Dear. You have a wonderful day now.” With that, she went back into the house and closed the door.

“Alex, have you gotten anything yet?” Kate walked towards me with her cell phone up to her ear. “Casey’s on her way. She wants to know if the neighbors saw anything so she can have some ammo when she tries to talk to Bibi again.”

“Yeah, I was talking to Mrs.…” I fumbled for my notebook and shuffled through the pages as though looking for a name. “Look, give me a few minutes, then I’ll come over to give you an update, okay?”

Kate nodded and pointed to her watch, telling me to hurry it up.

I gave her the thumbs up and knocked again, quickly stuffing my hands into my pockets while I waited for the door to open. When no one answered, I knocked louder, then pushed the doorbell, listening intently for the shuffle of old lady feet. I impatiently watched a spider walk around a web that was suspended between the porch light and the side of the house. When she started on her second round, I raised my hand to knock one more time. I stopped short when I heard a toilet flush inside.

“Oh just great.” I tried to escape down the steps, but the door opened and the old woman peered out.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Dear. I had to have a bowel movement, and at my age, when nature actually tries to work like it knows it should, I never argue.” She raised white eyebrows and blinked as though this was a normal daily conversation she’d have with a perfect stranger.

I crossed my arms and wondered how I could transition from that opening to the aggravated assault of a hooker next door.

“Um, yes Ma’am.” I shuffled my feet as I ran through a litany of possible sentences, none of which quite fit as a segue between proper bowel behavior and the bloody bedroom.

“Can I help you, Dear?” The old woman smiled and nodded slightly as though trying to encourage a small child.

“Yes Ma’am.” I felt brilliant repeating that every few seconds. I finally pointed to the ugly green shack. “I was wondering how well you know your neighbors over there?”

“Oh, the Micha’s? What a lovely family. I rent to them, you know.” She beamed as though she’d bestowed a mansion on the little family. Her loosely braided hair was wrapped around her head several times, and the combination of snow-white hair over sapphire eyes was incredible.

“Have you talked to them lately? Or seen anyone talking to them?” I stood there with my pen poised, hoping she’d say “no” so I could go on to the next house in the neighborhood.

“Of course, Dear. Reina used to come over every day for tea and cookies. She hasn’t been here in a few weeks though. I imagine it’s because she and her uncle and his friends are taking tea together now that he’s moved in with Ms. Micha and Reina. Is that all you needed, Dear?” She started back into her home and I glanced over to where Kate was standing in front of Reina’s house.

I put my foot up against the door so the woman couldn’t disappear inside again. “Um, could I come in for a minute?” I needed to ask about the uncle, but I didn’t want to scare her by pushing my way in. “For some tea I mean. It is tea time, isn’t it?”

Her face brightened into a ball of sunshine, and she motioned me into her tiny living room. “Oh my…yes, of course it is. Where are my manners? I would love to have you for some tea.”

I stepped inside and she pointed to a couch nestled in a little alcove to the side of the room. “Please, take a seat there by the window while I put on a kettle of water.” She slowly stepped to the sink and held a cat-shaped kettle under the faucet. The cat’s head tilted back while the water gushed down its throat. She put the kettle on the stove and shuffled over to a tray that held a pink china teapot and several small teacups. Her hands trembled as she carried the tray back to the kitchen and set it on the tiny kitchen table.

I studied the room while she set up the tray. A beautiful cherry-wood side-table held a picture of a handsome man in a World War II uniform. The soldier stood next to two children who were leaning up against his legs. Under the table, an antique Indian rug lay on the floor in front of a cloth-covered sofa.

I sat as instructed and watched the old woman as she moved around the kitchen gathering sugar and spoons and various other teatime paraphernalia. The water was taking forever to boil and I got up and paced to an old spinet piano, impatiently pressing one of the yellowed keys.

“Do you play, Dear?” My hostess finally shuffled towards the couch with the tray of tea and cookies.

“No Ma’am.” I went back over to sit on the couch. The teacup felt warm as I took it from her and I waited for her to take her chair. When she’d finally settled, I figured I could ask my questions without seeming rude. “You said Reina used to come over for tea until her uncle came. Reina’s the seven-year-old who lives there?”

She sipped her tea and nodded. “She is, and we always have a wonderful time when she visits.”

“Have you met her uncle?”

“We’ve not been properly introduced, no, but I have waved to him once or twice. He seems like a nice young man.” She thought a minute, then said, “He’s never actually waved back, but Reina does. She is such a sweet little girl.” She looked at me over the rim of her cup. “Do you think Reina might start coming back for tea anytime soon?” She sounded so wistful that I didn’t quite know what to say.

“Mrs.—actually, I’ve never gotten your name.” I balanced the teacup on my knee so I had my hands free to write her name in my notebook.

“Mrs. Highland, Dear. My husband was Horace Highland, of the Cincinnati Highlands. Have you heard of them?”

“No Ma’am, I haven’t. Mrs. Highland, could you describe Reina’s uncle to me?”

Kate chose that second to walk by the window, and she did a double take at our little tea party. She caught my eyes and her eyebrows rose up into her shaggy bangs before she shook her head and disappeared from the window.

Mrs. Highland put one finger up to her saggy cheek. “Well, let me see…my Horace was five feet eleven inches tall, and when he walked into the door at the Micha’s home he would hit his head on the light fixture to the right of the door. He always told me he was going to raise that light fixture so he wouldn’t hit his head. One time he hit it so hard I had to take him to the doctor to get stitches.” She reached down to straighten the picture of the soldier so lovingly displayed on the coffee table.

I stared at her, wondering where this was going and hoping I could pull her back to Reina’s uncle.

She squinted at the wall behind me, trying to see something that wasn’t actually there. “Now, Dear, when Reina’s uncle went into the house, he walked right under that fixture. His hair brushed the bottom, and he didn’t even have to duck. That’s how tall he is.”

A slow smile spread across my face as I studied the old woman. Mrs. Highland had more smarts than I was giving her credit for. Excited that I might have a credible witness, I reeled off all the other questions I was hoping she’d be able to answer.

“How about the color of his hair? Did he wear it long or short? And was he fat? Thin? Anything else you can think of?”

She chuckled. “Slow down, Dear. I’m 92 years old, you know. I haven’t gotten to be this age by rushing through the details of my life. Here, have another cookie.”

I snuck a quick look at the window and saw Kate and Jack peeking in, stupid grins on their faces. “Um, no, thank you. They’re great though.”

“Let’s see, where was I? Horace was five feet eleven inches tall with the most handsome full head of brown hair you would ever want to see on a man. I would cut his hair every Sunday after church. He would sit out on the front porch there, where your friends are waiting for you.” She pointed out the front window towards Kate and Jack, who quickly ducked out of sight. “I would bring out the scissors and clip his hair so that he was the most handsome man in Tucson.

“Now, Reina’s uncle could stand to have his hair trimmed by someone who loves him. It’s completely black, and he puts it up into a ponytail. If he were a girl, people would say she had beautiful, thick, black hair. Sometimes he even braids it.” She stopped and took a sip of her tea. “He’s a young man, but his friends are all different ages, and they come and don’t really stay very long. He looks too young to really be Reina’s uncle…about twenty I’d say.” She picked up a cookie and dipped it into her tea. “Do you have children, Dear?”

“Uh, no…no kids. So the uncle looks about twenty? Do you know what his name is?”

“No, Dear. As I said, we were never properly introduced.”

Kate chose that minute to knock on the door. Mrs. Highland put the rest of the cookie on her saucer and began to push herself up out of the chair.

I jumped up and went for the door. “I’ll get it. I think it’s my sergeant who’s been waiting for me to give her some information.” I opened the door on a very bemused-looking group. Kate stood in front of the door with her hands on her hips. Jack and my partner, Casey, stood off to one side. I hadn’t realized I’d been in the house long enough for Casey to drive from the hospital to the scene.

Kate moved slightly so she could see Mrs. Highland, who was walking towards a cupboard in her kitchen. “We thought you were probably getting some important information since you’ve been talking so long.” Kate stretched out the last three words to make sure I wouldn’t miss her point.

Mrs. Highland called across the room, “Invite them in, Dear. There’s plenty of tea for everyone, and I can open another bag of cookies.”

I walked over to where she was standing in the kitchen. “I don’t think they have the time to stay, Mrs. Highland, but I’ve really enjoyed talking with you. If I have any more questions, could I come back to see you?”

“Of course, Dear. I’ve had a wonderful time.” She paused. “Is there anything wrong at the Micha’s? I couldn’t help but notice the ambulance earlier in the day, but I didn’t want to intrude.”

That was a tough question. The little girl, Reina, might be fine physically, but if she’d witnessed the shooting, who knew how messed up she was emotionally? I hedged a little. “Well, a woman was hurt, and Reina’s in the hospital with some minor injuries from a dresser accidentally falling on her, but I’m sure she’ll be fine in a little while.”

Worry lines deepened on her forehead, but innate good manners kept her from asking any more. She nodded once. “Well then, would you please let Reina know I miss seeing her for tea? She brightens up an old woman’s day so.” She smiled and pushed a strand of loose hair back into one of her braids.

I thought about all of the blood in the little bedroom and the sad little house next door. “I’ll tell her, Mrs. Highland, and I’ll be sure to tell her you’d like to see her again.” I went back to the group at the door and we all walked out. I gently pulled the door shut behind me and the four of us walked out towards our cars.

Casey leaned up against her Ford Taurus. “You didn’t tell her Bibi’d been shot, did you?” Bibi’d had the misfortune of being the third hooker in a month to turn a trick and get shot for her troubles.

“No, I didn’t think she needed to hear the details. How’re Bibi and Reina doing?”

Casey’d just taken a drink from a bottle of water, and when she couldn’t answer right away I turned to Kate, who was checking a pad where she’d written a set of notes to herself. Kate was a handsome, middle-aged woman whom most men and quite a few women followed with their eyes whenever she crossed a room. She combined a blonde ponytail and stylish make-up with a bad-ass temper that took everyone by surprise.

Kate glanced up at Casey, who reached into her back pocket and took out her notebook. Casey sighed and started briefing us on what she’d learned. “Let’s see. The dresser fell on top of Reina, the little girl who lives here, and the corner hit her stomach pretty hard. The doctor wants to keep her in the hospital a while to make sure she doesn’t have any internal injuries. I wasn’t able to talk to her, and her mother—” She flipped through her notebook until she found what she was looking for. “Susanna Micha is her mother. She refuses to say anything, so I’ll go back later today or tomorrow.”

She dropped the hand holding the notebook to her side. “Bibi was shot twice, once in the shoulder and once in the leg, but we may’ve gotten lucky on this one. She has some really distinctive bite marks on her left breast that the two earlier victims didn’t have.”

She took Kate’s left forearm in her right fingers. “It kind of looks like he bit her once like this.” She lightly pinched the arm with her hand in a horizontal position. “Then he turned his face ninety degrees and bit her again in the same place.” She turned her hand and pinched the arm again at a ninety-degree angle.

Kate nodded. “I’ll give Dr. Neelan a call. He’s probably the only dental forensics doc who’ll drop what he’s doing and go to the hospital today to document the bites. My guess is Bibi won’t stay long once she needs her meth.” She turned to me. “She’s being just as stubborn as the earlier victims, refusing to tell us anything. Did you have a nice cup of tea?”

Jack waited next to Kate listening to our conversation. I always seemed to amuse him, and right now, he had his tongue in his cheek trying to hide his smile. I grinned right back at him. “Yes, I did as a matter of fact. She’s a very nice old lady who happens to have a pretty good lead on who our shooter might be. She says the little girl, Reina, used to come have tea, until recently, when the girl’s ‘uncle’ moved in.”

I walked over to the front porch of the Micha’s house and stood under the porch light. The top of my head was only a few inches from the bottom of the sconce. I turned and stood there, smiling out at them. Kate frowned and held out her hands, palms up, while Casey squinted at me with a strange look on her face.

Casey finally asked, “Are you okay?”

“The uncle, or the man who claims he’s her uncle, is about my height, because he was able to walk under this light with only the top of his hair touching the bottom of the fixture.” I proudly put my hand between the top of my head and the fixture. “He’s got beautiful, thick, black hair that he wears in a ponytail and she thinks he’s about 20 years old.”

Kate blinked. “Beautiful, thick, black hair?”

I walked back to the car. “Yup.”

Kate grunted and turned to Casey. “Okay, I want you to go back to the hospital and try again to interview Reina’s mom. I know she’s not being cooperative, but ask her about this so-called uncle. Alex, you continue to canvass the neighborhood. Talk to the neighbors, see if anyone heard the shots or can maybe identify this guy. I’ll call the hospital, give them his general description, and ask the nurses to call me if he shows up. I’ll meet both of you back at the office later this afternoon.”

Casey and I nodded and watched as Kate got into her car and left.

Jack patted me on the back. “Hey, good seein’ you two again. I’m working midnights starting Monday, so call me sometime when you’re workin’ nights and we can grab some dinner. See ya, Case.”

We watched him walk back to his car. I waved as he drove out of the little compound. “Lunchtime.” I reached into my car and got a bottle of hand disinfectant. I squirted a little onto Casey’s hands, and then poured some onto my own.

Casey rubbed her hands together and put her foot on the bumper of the car to wipe her hands on her socks. “Yup.”

The two of us always ate at the same little diner because we’d gotten tired of deciding where to eat everyday. We took one last look around the property and headed off to lunch.

Chapter Two

Casey was already seated when I walked into the Mom and Pop greasy spoon. Our friendship had begun ten years earlier when we’d helped each other get through the police academy. She has short, sometimes self-cut, dishwater blonde hair and scars on her face from a bad bout with teenage acne. She’d also inherited her mother’s genes that said she could eat all day, every day, and not gain a single pound. She wears a size “A” cup, prefers it that way, and wouldn’t wear make-up even if Mary Kay herself showed up at her front door every morning and offered to paint her up. The major differences between us are that I have brown hair instead of blonde, and I inherited my grandmother’s size 36C chest.

Marlene, our regular waitress, brought a glass of iced tea for me and a cup of coffee for Casey. She held out two menus. “You girls gonna eat today?”

Just as I started to answer, Casey’s cell phone rang with Kate’s distinctive siren ring. She opened her phone and talked for a few minutes, her face growing cloudier by the minute. She caught my questioning glance and motioned for me to wait. I looked up at Marlene. “I think we’re gonna need a rain check for lunch, Marlene. Thanks anyway.”

Marlene humphed and walked away grumbling, “Coulda’ saved me the trouble of bringing the drinks if I’d a known you was gonna leave as soon as you got here.”

After a few minutes, Casey snapped her phone shut. “Kate talked to one of the nurses a few minutes ago. A man matching the uncle’s description is at the hospital right now talking to Reina’s mom. We need to get there before he leaves and arrest his ass.”

“Arrest his ass for what? We don’t even know if he’s done anything yet.”

“I don’t know. Maybe we’ll come up with something after we talk to him.”

We went back out to our cars and I followed hers as she dodged in and out of heavy morning traffic, trying to make good speed to the hospital. When I caught a glimpse of a motor officer with a radar gun hiding behind some bushes along Speedway, I checked my speedometer and knew he’d caught me going about sixty in a thirty-five. He holstered the radar as I flew by and pulled in behind me on his brand new Harley. I could tell he didn’t recognize my unmarked car, and when he switched on his lights and siren, I sped up just to mess with him.

I glanced in my rearview mirror and smiled as I recognized the bushy mustache flowing out from under a red, bulbous nose. I rolled down my window, stuck out my left hand, and waved at him with one finger.

He gunned his engine and pulled up beside me, angrily pointing his gloved hand towards the side of the road. I turned to grin at him and was rewarded by an unmistakable twitch of the mustache. He backed off, and Casey and I made it to the hospital in record-breaking time.

My partner, who has the stamina of a Greek Olympian, figured taking the stairs would be quicker than waiting for the elevators, and I reluctantly followed her into the stairwell. At about the third flight, I started to grumble between breaths. “I don’t know…why you insist on running…up five flights of stairs…when there’s a perfectly good…elevator staring us in the face.”

After what seemed like a Herculean effort on my part, we finally exited onto the fifth floor. I followed Casey to the waiting room and tried to control my breathing as I stationed myself next to her just inside the door.

As we stood there, two sets of eyes instantly fastened on the badges and guns attached to our belts. They quickly registered the inconvenient fact that we were cops, and without hesitation, the mother and uncle sprang from the couch in unison with such precision, I had the absurd impression they were tethered at the waist.

Understanding flashed across the uncle’s face, and he looked frantically around the room for another exit. He fixed on us again; the cords on his neck stretched tight as he reached down and picked up a sharp-cornered coffee table.

I had exactly one heartbeat to brace myself. A bellow came from behind the table and the mother took up her purse and fell in behind the uncle just as he charged straight for us.

Casey took her heartbeat to push me sideways, and I watched as one blunt table leg caught her in the throat and a second speared her in the stomach. She’d shoved me just enough so that I was caught in the middle of all four legs and had just enough time to brace my shoulder against the table to soften some of the impact. The table dropped to the floor as the two attackers fled out into the hallway.

When Casey slumped to the ground holding her neck, I knelt beside her to help. Her eyes blazed as she grabbed the front of my shirt and wheezed through gritted teeth, “Get those assholes!”

I’d worked with her long enough to recognize that look. What she’d meant to say was, “If you waste one more second checking on me while they get away I will tear you limb from limb.” Relieved that she was still among the cranky, I sprinted out into the empty hallway.

The door to the stairwell clicked shut and I shoved against the exit bar and followed them onto the dimly lit landing. I took the stairs three at a time as two sets of feet pounded down the steps in front of me. I still had one flight to go when I heard a door slam open on the ground floor. By the time I reached the bottom, they’d completely disappeared.

Getting back to Casey was foremost on my mind, so I grabbed the stair railing and started the long climb back to the fifth floor. She stood at the top of the stairs holding her neck, trying to follow me in case I needed help.

I pushed her back into the hallway then steered her towards the elevator. “They’re gone, and I’ll be damned if I’m going up or down those friggin’ stairs one more time. Come on, you’re going down to get checked at the E.R. whether you want to or not.”

Her voice sounded raspy. “I’m fine.” She tried to pull her arm out of my hand but I grabbed on tighter.

“You’re not fine until I say you’re fine, so just shut up and walk.” I knew she hated going to doctors as much as I did, but I was not a happy camper at the moment and didn’t feel like arguing.

We headed to the emergency room where one of our friends, Maddie Carmichael, greeted us as soon as we walked through the door. Maddie was a cheerful R.N. in her early thirties who stood five foot four and weighed about two hundred pounds. Her bright purple scrubs hung on her with the style of a tarp over a barrel, but her soft white skin was a wonderful contrast to her hazel eyes and spiked, orange-tinted hair.

“Hey, guys. I wasn’t expecting to see you today. You here for business or pleasure?” She grabbed me in a hug, then noticed Casey standing behind me holding her neck. Eyebrows lowered in concern, Maddie reached up to pull Casey’s hand down. A red, rectangular imprint of the tip of the table leg discolored the left side of her neck.

I pointed to Casey’s stomach. “She’s got one on her stomach too, or at least on her ribs or something. I haven’t seen that one yet.”

That earned me a glare from Casey and a worried look from Maddie. “All right, let’s get you into an examining room and I’ll let the doc know you’re here. What happened, anyway?”

Casey, always grumpy when she’s the center of attention, said, “I just got hit with a table and I don’t need a doctor. I didn’t want to come here in the first place. It’s no big deal.”

She climbed up onto one of the beds and Maddie partially closed the privacy curtain while I looked around the room trying to find Marcos, our quirky, bi-sexual, sometimes drinking partner whom I hadn’t talked to in a while. “Where’s Marcos?”

A loud, friendly voice called out from behind another curtain. “I’m here, Darlin’. Be out in a sec.”

Maddie shook her head. “He’s re-inserting a catheter tube into a guy who keeps pulling it out. I’d bet the guy would stop messing with it if he knew how much Marcos enjoys putting it in.” She grinned as Casey wrinkled her nose and I stepped away from his cubicle.

Marcos came out from behind the curtain, arms outstretched and ready for a hug. “How you been, Alex? I haven’t seen you in weeks!”

I quickly stepped back. “Get those filthy hands away from me or I’ll have to hurt you in places you aren’t gonna enjoy!”

Marcos belly laughed and grabbed me in a huge hug anyway. “I always use protection, Darlin’. You don’t need to worry about that. Besides, I’d love you to hurt me any way your little heart desires.” He licked his lips and shuddered.

Maddie laughed on her way to find the doctor for Casey.

I pushed his hands away from me. “Marcos, yuck! You are disgusting!”

He smiled at Casey, who watched the whole exchange with a wry look on her face. “Casey, are you going to sit there and let her insult me that way?” He turned back and slowly undressed me with his incredible Latin eyes.

My stomach did a weird little flip and I felt the blood rise in my cheeks. Marcos was a tall, lean, 28 year old god, with light-brown skin and a handsome, chiseled face. His chestnut, shoulder-length hair combined with his dark chocolate eyes always raised my internal temperature about ten degrees.

Casey coughed out a raspy semi-laugh. “Marcos, I think Alex would prefer someone who doesn’t have to take a daily dose of antibiotics just in case, if you know what I mean.”

“Ouch! I really resent your implications, Case.”

Maddie called out from across the room, “You mean you resemble her implications, Casanova. Alex has a little more class than to be with someone who ruts with anything that has two legs and a head.” She thought a second. “Well, actually, I really shouldn’t limit it to two legs, should I?”

Marcos’ mouth fell open as he cocked his hips coquettishly. “Maddie, whose side are you on anyway? I love Alex for her brains and her handcuffs, not necessarily in that order. Besides….” He looked me up and down again. “She really could hurt me in the most delicious ways.”

All the blood that had just gone to my cheeks drained into my nether regions and I wondered just how many diseases I might catch if I slept with him just once. I pushed that thought away and decided to sidetrack the conversation by pulling out my cell phone and calling Kate. When she answered, I said, “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”

“How about the good news.”

I thought a second. “Well, I guess there is no good news, so here goes. The uncle and the mother were in the waiting room, but when we walked in, he picked up a table and skewered Casey to the wall. We’re in the E.R. now, and Maddie’s going to get the doctor.”

“How badly is she hurt?”

“I don’t think too bad. He got her in the throat and the stomach, but she’s as grumpy as ever.”

“I assume the uncle got away?” She didn’t sound too pleased, and I really couldn’t blame her.

“Both he and the mother ran after they jammed us with the table. I took a second to check Casey and that gave ’em enough of a lead to get away.”

Maddie and the doctor walked over to Casey, and I told Kate we’d call her back after they checked her throat. All in all, the doctor said she was lucky. The table legs missed everything that might be considered vital. The worst problem she’d have was a sore throat and a badly bruised stomach.

Casey’s glare spoke volumes. “I told you so.”

Maddie and I exchanged knowing glances while Casey pushed herself off the bed. I wrapped my arm around her shoulder. “C’mon, I’ll get you home.”

Casey shrugged out from under me. “No, I’m fine. I’ve got a few interviews to do before I head back. I’ll see you later this afternoon.”

There’s no arguing with her when she’s in a mood so I followed her out to the cars. “Call me if you need something, otherwise, I’ll be back to the office late. I’ve got a score to settle with “Uncle” and now’s as good a time as any to start.” We parted ways, and I spent the rest of the day methodically searching for the man who had just become my “A” number one obsession for the week.