The morgue was cold. Tara expected that. But not how cold the entire facility was. Banks of oversized metal lockers lined against three walls, and she tried hard not to stare at the ones with tell-tale labels in the little slot above the handle.
Detective Lockley was there to greet her, as were two people in lab coats whose names she forgot as soon as they were introduced. From the coroner's office, and looking nothing like Tru Davies, or Quincy for that matter. She mentally berated herself, it was no time for trivial jokes. The serious, business-like technicians led the small party toward a body locker at the end of the left hand wall. It would be all the way to the end. The label above this locker door didn't have a name, rather it was a series of alphanumeric characters. Even in death, we have our own identification numbers.
"Are you okay?" Detective Lockley asked gently.
Tara wanted to scream "No!" She didn't ask for this, and she knew what she was about to see would stay with her the rest of her life. But she thought about the teenager who had no family to settle her affairs, and whose body had to be identified by a co-worker she had only a passing friendship with. She didn't want the young life to end in such an undignified way. She closed her eyes and covered her face with both hands, taking the deep breaths that did nothing to steady her nerves.
She should have agreed to Willow's offer to accompany her, but she didn't want to drag her new ... lover, they were lovers now, and the thought settled her a little ... into her mad morbid circus.
"It'll only take a minute," one of the technicians said. "She doesn't look too bad, considering."
Tara heard, didn't need to see, Detective Lockley shoot him a stern look, hushing him.
She opened her eyes finally, though her hands balled into fists at her side. "I'm ready."
Tara expected a loud clang, but the locker door opened with a soft whoosh. The body tray slid out smoothly and the technician unzipped the black body bag in one quick motion.
Nothing, no matter how much you prepare for it, can erase the stark chill that overwhelms you at the sight of a face in deathly repose. She didn't want to look, yet couldn't tear her eyes away. She thought Katrina would look peaceful, but she looked like she was in agony.
Detective Lockley touched her reassuringly on the elbow, and that brought her back to her senses. "Yes, that's her," she confirmed, for the record.
"Thank you, Tara. I know how hard it is. I've done this many times and it doesn't get easier," the detective said. "I'd like to speak with the techs here for a moment, are you okay about waiting for me outside?"
Tara looked down the length of the room, and the claustrophobic compression of the lockers between her and the door. "I'll wait for you to finish, if that's alright?"
Detective Lockley nodded. It wasn't unusual for family and friends to need support to exit the facility. "I'll be quick." Turning to the technician, "She has bruises on her neck and face," her clipped tone indicating she expected an explanation.
"Yeah, the bruises are all over her arms too and there are punctures on her back. I told the M.E. about them," the technician confirmed. "Will you be at the autopsy?"
Kate Lockley sighed. "I have to be."
Since the coroner's office was near the station house, she met with the two detectives at the precinct. Taking her statement took longer than Tara expected, the detectives were thorough and probing, asking the right questions but letting her come to the conclusion herself. They were also open with her, informing her that Katrina was seen talking to Spike, the owner of the GlamKat a few hours before her death. Whether this had any bearing on the case they could not say.
"What is this Suite that Mr Wilkins seems to occupy, that is so important to everyone we speak to?" Detective Gunn asked.
"He owns the whole building. The Suite is the penthouse where he has his private offices and accommodation," Tara answered.
"But 'going to the Suite' seems to have some significance beyond going to a meeting with the boss," he continued.
Tara suspected she knew why they were asking, and she had to tell the truth. But she still hesitated. "Is this relevant?"
"According to Katrina's roomie's statement, she was nervous about going to the Suite that day. From what we gathered, it wasn't her first time, so why the nervousness?"
"What are you implying?" Tara asked.
Detective Lockley returned with three cups of coffee. "We want to know a little more about the club, how it works, you know. This is an investigation into a suspicious death, not a crackdown. We may be vice, Tara, but we know the difference," she interjected.
"I think for the purposes of your investigation, whatever goes on in the Suite is by mutual consent. I honestly can't say what happened to Katrina, because I wasn't there, but she never mentioned anything, and there were never signs of abuse," she said. It was common knowledge that Mr Wilkins lavished attention on certain young and ah, vivacious employees. Sometimes it involved sex, and of course was narcissistic and smacked of favoritism. But to his credit there were no repercussions for those who didn't want to go so far.
They didn't ask was whether she herself had been summoned to the Suite. It was something she never wanted to reveal and lord, she hoped the topic was never raised with Willow.
The detectives turned to other lines of questioning. "So I understand you used to work as a hostess and dancer but you're more of an administrator now?"
"I'm sort of semi-retired from performing. I'm taking a part-time degree in law and have been lucky enough to be involved in the business aspect of the organization. Am I part of your investigation?"
"No, no," the detective reassured. "We just want to build a better picture of everyone we talk to."
The flurry of activity lasted for a week, then everyone tried go about their business as normally as they could under the circumstances. The coroner's report was gruesome reading. It was not suicide: traces of blood and "other bodily fluids" were found. Katrina died of a drugs overdose but was not self-inflicted. The investigation was turned over to Homicide.
The first that Tara heard about it was when a new detective swaggered into the club and demanded access to information already passed to Detectives Lockley and Gunn. Unlike the vice squad duo, this new detective was pushy and unfriendly, treating his interviewees with thinly disguised contempt.
"I know you gave a statement to the goonies, I want you to tell me again," he hissed at a distraught April, while Lily was trying to reason with him.
"May I help you?" Tara was glad she was walking by and heard the commotion.
Lily glared at the thin, sour man. "He's harassing her."
"You're obstructing police inquiries, you bitch," he scowled.
Tara knew it was time to bring out the diplomatic guns. "I'm sure it's a misunderstanding, Mr -?"
"Rayne. Detective Rayne, Homicide," he muttered curtly.
Her interview with Detective Rayne was disagreeable. He was brusque and cagey, seeming to want to make her feel dirty. He was more focused on trying to discredit Katrina than trying to find her killer. She recounted everything she knew and was relieved when she closed the door after him.
The only bright spot in her otherwise gloomy world was Willow. Her heart sang whenever they talked on the phone, and soared when they saw each other. Willow was busy at work, the end of the year meant it was time to tally accounts and close deals so the revenues were recorded in the year's books. They found time whenever they could, and if they couldn't spend the night together Willow's voice was still the last she heard before falling asleep.
Tara thought she had never been in love. Truth was, she had never not been in love with Willow. It was so natural to gravitate toward her lover whenever they were in the same room, and she felt Willow's eyes follow her always. Willow still came to the club. Tara would sit with her, their fingers playing with each other softly, sometimes not needing to talk. Willow drank less now, which Tara was thankful for.
"What do you do over the holidays?" Willow asked one night, after they had made gentle love and were relaxing in Tara's deep bathtub. Aunt Marie's home had only a tiny, grimy shower stall and she made sure that her own bathrooms were full of bath oils and luxury.
"It's one of our busiest seasons. Lots of office parties and celebration. But that's for floor staff, for office staff it's usually fairly quiet. Why?"
Willow made a small hill out of the pile of bubbles floating on the surface of the water. "Remember I wanted to go skiing?"
"After Christmas? Most people will be recovering from the bingeing and we may have the slopes to ourselves."
"You read my mind. How do you do that?"
Tara splashed a few bubbles on Willow's head. "Magic. I can see the thought bubbles over your head."
Willow leaned forward and found Tara's lips. The kiss which started easy and relaxing turned more urgent and soon after they found themselves stumbling into the bedroom. They didn't get too much sleep that night although their bodies and spirits were energized by the euphoria of coming together.
Just as well, considering the news that greeted them the next morning.