Donnie entered the alley and stood close to Tara. He lit up a cigarette that briefly interrupted the almost absolute darkness. "Here, use just a pinch and she should be out like a light until morning. You know what papers to look for," he said blowing out a cloud of smoke and handing Tara a small glass vial.
Tara coughed lightly, taking the tiny bottle and spoke in a small, almost inaudible voice. "Are you sure this is safe I don't want to hurt her."
Red listened from her hiding place. "Too late sweet heart," she thought bitterly.
Donnie laughed a mean little chuckle and grabbed his sister's arms. "Ain't that just sweet, for you to worry about her like that. You just do what I tell you to do. I spoke to the Kraut this morning and we've got till the end of next week. Either your little detective finds the stone or we do, or else..." He lightened his hold on the blonde and modified his voice to a sickeningly and fake, sweet tone. "Sis... we've waited all week and have nothing to show for it and Faith..."
"What about Faith?" Tara quickly asked.
"You do care about her, don't you?" he asked lifting his sister's chin with his thumb and index finger. Tara nodded. "Of course you do, well you know she's been of no help to us for almost a year now and we just got her a new foreign doctor who's loves to experiment with these cases. It seems that just this week he tried something new and it didn't go too well."
Tara's voice raised in fear, "What happened Donnie?"
Donnie kept his tone soft and somber. "She's not well, she might not survive another 'experiment' Tara, but we'll be left with no choice if we don't get that stone. So you decide where your loyalties lie... I know how 'close' you must be to Faith, it would be such a shame..."
The way Donnie had said the word 'close' made Red's fist clench in anger. It seemed like the Maclays were full of surprises tonight.
Tara was nearly in tears. "Donnie please... I'm doing everything I can..."
Donnie patted her arm. "Well then... do more." He said squeezing the hand where she held the glass vile. He threw out his cigarette and snuffed it out with his shoes. As he walked with smug look on face out of the ally Red had to fight with the urge to come out of hiding and knock the man's head off his shoulders.
Tara remained in the ally for a few more seconds quietly sobbing. Eventually she realized that she had to return, before arising any suspicions, she wiped her eyes, bit back her tears and headed back to the detective's house.
Red came out of hiding and quickly scurried towards the opposite direction that the blonde had taken. She skipped a few back fences and just barely beat the blonde to the house. When the blonde entered Red was sitting on the couch casually reading the paper.
The detective's blood was boiling, but she was dammed if she was going to show it. Tara Maclay had played her for a sucker for the last time. She folded her paper and turned to the blonde. "Hi. What took you so long?"
The blonde avoided the redhead's eyes. "Oh... would you believe they were out of flour? I had to go to the store that's like three blocks down, but they were closed."
Good thinking and you're not even breaking a sweat. Red thought, while her bottom lip quivered just little from the tension building in her body. "That's too bad, you seemed to have your heart set on that pie," she finally managed to say in a calm tone, following Tara into the kitchen.
Tara busied herself right away. "How about just soup and sandwiches?" she asked, still not quite meeting the other woman's eyes.
Willow forced a tiny smile. "Sure," she answered briefly out of fear that the choking feeling she was having in her throat would soon affect her voice. She went to the icebox and retrieved a beer downing it all in almost one gulp before trusting herself to speak again.
"I'm going to check out something tonight so I'm going to call one of the gang to keep you company. I might be gone for most of the night."
"You don't have to bother one of the guys. I'm sure I'll be fine by myself," Tara said quickly, like Willow had expected.
"No. We still don't know why someone broke in here the other day and I still have no clue who those hooded wise guys were either, so no argument. I'm not leaving you here alone," Red said in a no nonsense tone. Enjoying just a tiny bit of guilty pleasure in seeing Tara look uncomfortable upon hearing the last sentence.
Willow made the call and Anya showed up about an hour later. Red took her out in the hall, closing the door behind her. "Thanks for coming. Listen those files that Giles got on Donald Maclay are still at the office right?" she asked in hushed voice.
Anya answered in an equally low tone."Yes, they're in the black filing cabinet. Why? Do you have something new to go on?"
"You might say that. I need you to keep a close eye on Tara, don't leave her alone for a second. Do whatever you have to do to stick to her."
Anya raised her eyebrows. "She can't be trusted? Aha! I knew it, but no one ever listens to me. Don't worry boss I'll stick to her like glue to macaroni, sans the cheese."
Red nodded and left for the office in a hurry she had remembered seeing something in the files that could help her fill in some of the blanks about what had happened back at the alley. Her heart was broken, but her head was working double time. She would get to the bottom of this strange, never-ending barrel if it killed her. The funny thing was, it very well could.
Red did what she did best, put her emotions on hold and worked until something gave. She made a few late night calls and promised a few favors in return for the services she needed. It was three o'clock in the morning and she was driving back from outside of town, she stared at the closed file resting on the passenger side of the car with a blank expression. It was her best clue so far, she just had to untie some hidden knots and then she would have the case solved, she could feel it in her bones like she felt the chill of the early morning air.
The sun was up by the time she reached the office. The redhead read through the file thoroughly and tried recalling every word that Tara had spoken to her about the events before and after her mother's death. A bulb came on in her head and her decision was made, she was heading south. The detective brought her team up to speed, everyone knew their part and agreed. Giles got ready to travel with her and stopped by the house for the bag that Anya had packed for the detective.
The worst part for Willow was having to call Tara and fake words of affection so that the blonde wouldn't suspect what was really going on. She told the blonde that she gotten a lead that might take them to the stone and she had to go to Chicago personally to check it out. When Tara had tried getting more information, asking what the lead was exactly and why Chicago, Red had given the blonde the run around answering with veiled messages and assuring her that everything was working out and that she would be back in a couple of days with some good news.
Tara had said 'I love you' and Willow had answered back a choked "Yeah, me too," before hanging up and throwing the phone across the room.
"Lies all lies! Try putting me to sleep when I'm hundreds of miles away!" Red yelled in to the empty room.
Tara managed to get away for a few minutes and told her brother about the latest happenings. Donald Maclay was not pleased and he was more than a bit suspicious. He was going to find out what the detective was up to one way or the other.
Red and Giles drove as fast as they could, hardly resting and taking long turns at the wheel. Red was silent and more stoic than usual, the ex-agent noted, she seemed almost like a woman possessed. Red got little sleep, hardly touched her food when they stopped at the roadside diners and had seemed to forget how to practice the age-old art of conversation. But Giles knew his boss and friend well, when she was ready to talk, she would, in the mean time, if what she needed was to drive like mad woman and get south as fast as their four wheels could take them, then that's what she would get.
Tara worried and unsettled and it showed in her every feature. There was something that Willow wasn't telling her, she was sure about it, something was wrong. Two days had passed and Willow had only called once, again keeping her answers short and vague.
The blonde tried getting information from the detective's friends and they all seemed to have something to do or somewhere to go whenever she started asking questions. They all tried to act normal, but the blonde knew that something was definitely off.
Donnie knew it too in the fourth day he picked up Tara to take her to lunch. They sat on one the end booths in the diner. He looked nervously around him to assure himself that no one was listening in. "Tara where in hell is that bitch?" he asked in a low angry tone.
Tara stiffened in her chair. She hated this situation and having to answer to Donnie of all people. "Chicago..." she answered nervously.
Donnie sneered. "Bull! I have friends in Chicago and she's not there. They would know."
Tara shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "She said Chicago. That's all I know and her friends aren't saying different."
"What the fuck is she up to?" Donnie seemed to ask mostly himself as he lit up a cigarette and scratched his head. "Time is running out. Try to find out something the next time she calls. Be good for something at least once in your life," he spat out in contempt before storming out of the diner.
Tara sat with her shoulders slumped forward and her hair falling in front of her face. "Oh Willow what am I going to do?" she asked in a tiny whimper, covering her face with both her hands.
Miles away Red and Giles were closely watching 'Happydale' asylum and waiting for nightfall when they would strike.
Red downed one drink after another lost in her thoughts. She said 'I love you', ain't that rich? "Hit me again Mack." How did my life suddenly become some nickel and dime, suspense novel?
The bartender poured the detective another double and wondered what could've happened to the woman to have her looking so miserable. "At this rate you'll be polishing off that bottle faster than 'iron gut Amos' sittin' there at the end of the bar," he said in a teasing yet scowling manner.
Red, raised her hand in a silent warning. "I don't need a sermon tonight Mack, if you don't want to pour my drinks just hand me the bottle." I'm sick of this so-called 'case'. I'm done. Mickey, the robed weirdoes, the mystery shooter, and the Maclays can all just kiss my loaded barrel. I'm making this stool my permanent address. Let em' come in here and get me, if they think they can.
"Red there's a call fer ya," the barman said to the somber looking detective.
Red shook her head. "I don't want to talk to anybody," she said tersely.
"They said to tell ya that, 'sleeping beauty' is awake?" Mack insisted.
Red looked up from her glass with a curious expression and took the line. After having a long mostly one-sided conversation with Giles Red sat back down on her stool with and audible thump. She seemed to be in deep thought for a long while; she shrugged her shoulders. "That clears most of it up, but not everything... bah! It's just as well," She said flatly to one at all and returned to her drinking.
A worried looking barman interrupted Red's apparent 'sulking party' for one. "Hey lassie... why don't cha tell ol' uncle Mack what happened to get yer arse affianced to that there 'pity stool'? listenin' is my second specialty, you know."
The detective downed the last of her scotch and thought that maybe it would be good to talk. She felt like she had some demons to exorcise or they would end up eating away her insides faster than the strong spirits she was so eagerly ingesting. " Well you see Mack it happened like this..."
The detective finished her tale and still didn't feel any better about the situation or her self. She felt like a world-class chump. She figured that that's how Dempsey must have felt when he kissed the mat for the first time in his life and lost the title. It was a long fall down from the top of the world and that's how she had felt ,'at the top of the world' when she had held Tara Maclay in her arms. Now all she felt was empty.
Red raised her glass and downed her drink, trying to make the lump in throat die a watery death.
Mack watched the P.I and shook his head. "Look here, this be the last drink I serve ya lass. One more and ye'll be hitting the floor. And since when are ya the kind to sit and wait around to be 'clipped' by anyone?"
"Since I just don't give a horse's ass..." Mack's face turned red and he interrupted the P.I in mid-sentence "Now hold yer horse's arses and heads too while yer at it. I've known ya since you were just a wee tyke holding on to yer father's hand. I used to give ya piggy back rides when you wore out yer uncle and I'll have none of that attitude..."
A light seemed to go on in the redhead's brain "Mack... that's..."
"I didn't say I was finished. Now no more of this self-pity. If you're in trouble get out of town while things cool down or find a way to fight. Don't you be like yer uncle, he got himself a nice bullet shaped hole in the gut over some girly-girl too. Now ya pick yerself up from that stool, stop thinkin' from in between yer legs like ol' uncle Johnny and take of business like ya always do."
Red smiled as recognition and an idea finally filtered through the murky waters in her mind. She squared her shoulders "skirt troubles..." checked her piece for bullets "ol' Uncle Johnny..." straightened her tie "you're so on the money Mack" she said, leaning over the bar and planting a kiss on the bartenders cheek, plus a light smack and a pinch for good measure before storming out of the smoky bar.
After finishing her tale Mack had inadvertently made a comment that could very well lead the redheaded detective to the missing pieces of the puzzle that she had so desperately tried to put together over the past two weeks.
She searched box after box and finally found the one she was looking for, she retrieved the postcards and headed for her father's former bedroom she, looked through his desk and found the letters neatly stacked, she read trough them carefully noting the dates, until she found 'the one'. She was excited now. She rushed to the kitchen and searched for lemons, at last she found one almost hidden in the last corner on the vegetable tray.
She laid out the post cards carefully and sprinkled them with lemon juice; she smudged it in a little more with a piece of cloth and waited. 'Oh yeah!' she thought as the numbers started to appear on the formerly and seemingly blank paper. Now except for a few events almost everything made sense. Red sat in the living room staring at the letter and the postcards, remembering words from her father shortly before her uncle's death and Frankie's own accident. She recalled what she had just learned from the girl they had taken from the asylum and slowly but surely she started to see how the past and the present were now connected.
"Hey Red look, mail from Johnny," Frankie said excitedly waving around an envelope.
Willow smiled. "Great! What's that crazy Uncle of mine up to now?"
Frankie read quickly through the letter. " He's in love... again," the older detective said with a roll of the eyes.
Willow chuckled. "Who is it this time? A gipsy in Spain or an archeologist in Cairo?"
"A southern belle..." Frankie said in fake drawl, fanning his face with his hand and both he and his daughter burst out laughing. "Hey kid want to make the usual bet?"
Willow smiled. "Sure, betcha 1O that it lasts three weeks tops."
Frankie snorted. "You're a chump, I give it two. Do me a favor and add these post cards to his collection. I gotta go over to Carmine's for a meeting, you know these guys are punctual."
Willow nodded and took the two postcards from New Orleans, she took delight in getting these every so often from her 'wondering' relative. He always wrote funny messages on the back that were really addressed to himself, he used to say they were like his diary. That's why he sent Frankie and Red letters and the cards were for pasting on his wall or closet door. Willow glanced at the messages and added the cards to her Uncle's ever growing collection of places he'd visited on the wall.
Six months later:
"Hey Pop what's new?" red asked entering the house after a long day of working.
"Hey kid. Just reading a letter from your Uncle, he's still with that southern gal. Can you believe it? I think this time it's for real. I haven't gotten a letter from him that doesn't mention her since that day we made the bet."
Willow smirked. "Funny. I didn't think 'debutante' ladies were his type."
"Must run in the family," Frankie muttered under his breath, remembering Willow's mother. It was water under the bridge, but her memory still made his scars burn just a little.
Willow pretended she hadn't heard her father and quickly changed the subject.
A year later:
"Red, I think Johnny is in some kind of trouble he's not telling me about. I'm thinking maybe I should go down there and see..." Frankie told his daughter and partner with evident concern.
"What makes you think that pop?"
"I've called him a couple of times this week and he seems... I don't know, like jumpy or something. And I just got this letter and it's not like the one's he usually sends, he's talking about us when we were kids and the games we used to play... it's just strange, plus look at these postcards, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and L.A? He hasn't been in all these places that I know of and they're blank in the back. He always writes some sort of dumb message to himself." Frankie shook his head. "I also got stopped on the street today by Mr.Bogarty he says, he's got something for me from Johnny over at his shop. Now why would that be? I'm going over later today to find out. I don't know kid. My gut is telling me something is off."
Willow scratched her chin in thought. "All that is odd. If you want to take off for a couple of days I'll hold down the fort."
"Thanks kid. I got that Miller case to close, it should take about another week then I'll see about traveling."
Just before the week was over Jonathan Rosenberg was found dead of a single bullet wound to the stomach. The police found no significant clues and arrested no suspects in the case. Frankie Red led his own investigation and believed he was getting close to solving the case. He didn't share his suspicions or the facts that he had gathered with his daughter fearing for her safety. With the help of Mr. Bogarty and a mystery source he was close to bringing his brother's killer to justice, but destiny interfered in his path, three months after his bother's passing, Frankie Red met his own demise in a tragic car accident.
This had been a hard period in Willow's life. She had been deeply hurt by the close proximity of time in which both her Uncle and her Father had died. The redhead had been close to both men, they had raised her and they were they only family she had ever known. Her mother had not even bothered to show up at the funeral, she had sent an expensive looking wreath and a check instead. Red had gotten through the grief with help from her friends, who supported her unconditionally. It was in that time that she had learned to steel herself emotionally; she had thrown herself into her work and shut her self off from making any emotional commitments. The walls that she had built were strong and yet they had crumbled at one woman's feet and Red was now reliving the pain of the past coming back to haunt her and going through the pain of living with a brand new, open wound in her heart.