Author: Trom DeGrey
Tara stared at her phone. She had tossed and turned the better part of the night and had finally gotten up and come into her office before the sun was up. She had fiddled with paperwork most of the morning and was now well into her third pot of coffee. The lack of sleep and surplus of caffeine had her jittery and grouchy. She stared at the phone some more.
She knew Willow would be at her desk by now and all Tara had thought of since leaving the club last night was finding a way to apologize. She reached for the black receiver, but let her hand fall to the side of the phone. She twisted the black cord around her index finger.
"Just call her," she muttered. She reached for the phone again and then drew her hand back, setting her chin in her hand. She didn't like feeling this conflicted. "How is it, thirty minutes I should still be chuckling over has thrown me for such a loop?" she wondered aloud. "Maybe it's because you were such an incredible jerk," she mumbled. Tara let go of a gusty sigh. "How badly have I fucked things up now?" she said as she reached for the phone again.
As she laid her hand on the receiver, it rang. Tara nearly jumped out of her seat. She stared at the offending contraption as it rang two more times. It's her. She took a deep breath and picked up. "Blue Skies Investigations."
There was a long moment of silence and Tara wondered if her intuition had been wrong. "Willow?" she asked uncertainly.
"We need to talk," Willow replied in a business-like tone.
Tara paused, unsure how to proceed. She tried to apologize again. "Willow, I want -"
"I'm at my desk. I don't want to get into this right now," Willow interrupted.
Tara's shoulders slumped and she squeezed at the bridge of her nose. "Okay," she murmured.
"Can you meet me for lunch?" Willow asked.
"Of course," Tara replied.
"How about the Jade Dragon again?"
Tara frowned. "Um, okay," she said, wondering why Willow would pick such an out-of-the-way place from both the station and her office. Would you want to be seen with you after what you pulled last night?
"12:30?" Willow said.
"I'll be there," Tara replied and jerked the receiver away from her ear when the line went dead without a goodbye. She hung up the phone with a heavy sigh. "Why am I so skilled at making my life difficult?"
A half block from the Jade Dragon, Tara parallel parked behind a black Chevy Caprice and got out. She scanned for Willow's car and frowned when she didn't see it.
She was shocked when she found Willow at the back table they had had dinner at a few nights ago, sitting with Papa Yu across from her. He was teaching her to use chopsticks. Tara watched from the doorway for a moment, enchanted by the look of concentration on Willow's face as she attempted to pick up a piece of sesame chicken. Willow frowned when she dropped it and Tara heard Papa Yu chuckle. Willow allowed him to adjust her hands on the sticks and with his encouragement, she tried again, this time successfully getting the chicken into her mouth. Papa Yu applauded and Tara smiled.
He looked up, spotted Tara by the door and waved her over. "You're late!" he called. "Lunch is getting cold!"
Tara shook her head and crossed the room, taking the seat Papa Yu vacated. She pulled the plate of vegetables in ginger sauce over to her. She looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you," she said and hoped her eyes conveyed the full measure of her message. He patted her on the shoulder and walked back to the kitchen.
Tara took her first tentative look across the table and smiled. Willow was once again focused on picking up a small piece of chicken, the tip of her tongue peeking out from between her lips. Added balance, Tara thought. Willow managed to get it half way from the plate to her mouth before it dropped with a splat.
"No wonder Asians are so little," she mumbled, looking down at her ivory shirt to make sure none of the sauce had splashed on her.
Tara chuckled. "You'll get the hang of it," she said and then ducked when Willow looked up at her, not quite ready for the scrutiny of those green eyes. She studied her own food for a moment and then took a deep breath. She looked up again, but Willow was busy unrolling a fork from her napkin.
Tara studied her for a moment. She had seen her in work clothes before, but Tara was taken by just how beautiful Willow was this afternoon. Her suit jacket was a dark green and it set off her copper hair that was pulled up in a twist. A few tendrils were loose, framing her narrow face. What little make-up Willow wore accentuated her smooth skin and large eyes. Tara sighed and shook herself.
"Willow -" she started.
"So, what's our next move?" Willow interrupted, popping a large piece of chicken she never would have attempted with the chopsticks into her mouth.
Tara slammed her hand down on the table. "Dammit, Rosenberg! Would you let me apologize?" she snapped.
Tara swallowed and her temper immediately cooled as she watched Willow's face become oddly still. I think this might be bad.
Willow set her fork down and chewed slowly. She watched the play of emotions from anger to nervousness skitter across Tara's face as she herself counted to ten three times. I will not let her get to me, Willow promised herself. This job has to be done, but it will be on my terms. She swallowed and took a deep breath. "Are you done?" she whispered.
Tara slumped and ran her hand through her hair. "I didn't mean to yell," she said.
"I don't want an apology, Maclay. I want to know why. Why did you feel it necessary to test me like that?" Willow said and sat back out of the ring of overhead light.
Tara winced at Willow's use of her last name. So, we're back to that. You deserve it. She sighed and refused to give in to her own instincts. She had put Willow into a vulnerable position last night. She would leave herself open today. No walls. She still wanted and needed to trust Willow.
"Willow, I don't know you very well," Tara said. "I wanted to see how far you were willing to go. I wanted to know how much I could count on you." She sighed and squeezed at the bridge of her nose. The headache she had been fighting since last night finally broke through and roared across her skull. "And I'm a pervert," she admitted.
Willow barked out a laugh from her darkness. "Joke ended up being on you, didn't it," she said.
Tara looked up and smiled a small fatigued smile. "Yeah," she rasped. "But I also know where you stand in my trust department now."
Willow leaned forward at this. "Oh?" she said. "Where's that?"
Tara shrugged and looked down at her food. "Complete," she said. Let her see. She raised her head. "Total. I don't know why, but I was safer with you last night than I ever have been before in my life." She looked back down at her food and pulled a fork out of her napkin. "And don't think that isn't screwing with my head either," she muttered as she speared a bamboo shoot.
Willow leaned back again, watching Tara eat. That was unexpected. She looked at Tara in her grey short-sleeved turtleneck, knowing her mark was hidden underneath it. But I can't let you back in that easily. "So, how do I learn to trust you then?" she asked.
Tara's fork paused mid way to her mouth and she glanced up at Willow. "I don't know," she admitted and put her fork down. "All I can ask is that you give me that chance."
Willow looked up at the ceiling and sighed. I really hate this. She leaned forward again and picked up her fork. "I don't see where I have a choice," she said and jabbed a piece of her sesame chicken.
"I promise I'll make it up to you," Tara said.
They locked eyes for a moment and Willow saw an amount of sincerity in Tara that she hadn't been sure existed before now. "That's going to take a lot of work."
Tara nodded. "I'm used to hard work," she said. "And this case it too important." And for some reason, you're becoming too important for me to blow this off too, she admitted to herself.
Willow twisted a piece of chicken round and round in the caramel colored sauce. Why do I have the feeling this is going to be the most dangerous case of my life? She looked up at Tara, whose eyes reflected a guarded hope. And why do I have the feeling you'll change everything? She looked back down at her plate and sighed. "So, what is our next move?"
Tara felt the breath she was holding seep from her lungs. "I thought we could talk about that," she said.
"Oh, does that mean we're a team now?" Willow said caustically and winced slightly at her own tone.
Tara frowned. Another shot you deserved. "Willow, I'm going to need your help with that," she said. "I've been on my own for so long..." She looked across the table with pleading eyes.
Willow sighed. "I know, Tara, and I'm sorry. I was just lashing out," she said. "Let's start making a plan and we can hash out things between us as we go."
Tara nodded. "Okay," she whispered. "Can I ask you a question?"
Willow stiffened, but nodded, certain that something about her behavior last night was going to be brought up.
"Why did you want to come here for lunch?" Tara asked. "It's out of the way from my office and your station house."
Willow stared for a moment. "You're kidding, right?" she said. Tara looked confused and shrugged her shoulders. Willow shook her head and laughed as she put her fork down. "Well, one, I liked the food," she said as she adjusted the napkin in her lap. "Two, I like Papa Yu," she said, eliciting a smile from Tara. "But most importantly, we're right around the corner from Bartelli Trucking and just a few miles south of the docks."
Tara blinked for a moment and then slapped herself on the forehead. "Where will my thick-headedness end?" she asked, causing Willow to laugh again. "So, did you have an idea?"
Willow sighed. "Actually no. I was hoping you might have an idea of how to proceed," she said.
"Not a problem! Leave it to me, the queen of improvisation. Trust me," she said, but paused when Willow arched an eyebrow.
"I am trusting you," Willow said. "Please don't make me regret it."
Tara felt her chest tighten at Willow's seemingly simple request. She knew she had made many others regret crossing paths with her, but Willow was the last person Tara wanted to disappoint. "I won't," she rasped.
They finished their lunch in silence and Willow looked up to see an Asian woman emerge from the back followed closely by Papa Yu. She was impossibly tiny with a shock of white hair streaking through her left temple. "Is that Mama Yu?" she murmured.
Tara turned back and saw the couple approaching. She turned back to Willow and nodded with a grin. "Hold on to your hosiery, sweetie. She makes Papa look like a stodgy English librarian," she whispered.
"You get up and give me hug!" the little woman demanded of Tara when they reached the table. Tara complied immediately and Willow stifled a giggle. It was strange to see Tara tower over anyone. "Introduce!" Mama Yu demanded.
Willow got up as Tara introduced her as her "new friend". She stuck out her right hand but quickly found herself engulfed from the chest down in a bone crushing hug. "Nice to meet you," she gasped.
"Papa says you make her laugh," Mama Yu said after she released Willow. "That means I like you already."
Willow smiled. "Well, I really like it here," she said.
Both the Yu's nodded, satisfied with her answer and not recognizing the dodge in it.
"How have you been feeling, Mama?" Tara asked, running a hand up and down the other woman's arm.
Mama Yu frowned. "Hot flashes are gonna kill me," she said.
"Or me," Papa Yu mouthed from behind her. Willow and Tara both suppressed a smile.
"My mother had awful hot flashes," Willow offered. "She started taking Vitamin E and Feverfew and that seemed to help."
Mama Yu looked thoughtful for a moment and then wrapped Willow up in another hug. "I like her even more," she said.
"Me too," Papa Yu muttered, but not quietly enough.
Mama Yu released Willow and turned on her husband. She began berating him in Mandarin and shaking a finger at him. He put up both his hands, trying to sooth his wife and talking as quickly as possible, but this only seemed to incense her more and Papa Yu began backing toward the kitchen, Mama Yu in screeching pursuit.
Both women laughed when the Yu's disappeared through the kitchen doors. Tara pulled some money out of her pocket and left it on the table. "Shall we hit Bartelli's?" she said.
Willow nodded and started for the door. Tara followed a few steps behind and admired Willow's form in a long skirt with a sensible side slit and wide, three inch heels all in the same forest shade as her jacket. She sighed, thankful that Willow was giving her another chance and thankful that they hadn't touched on the sexual tension that had nearly burned her alive last night. Maybe it was just an act. Tara wasn't sure how she felt about that possibility.
"Where's your car?" she asked when they got out onto the sun-drenched sidewalk.
Willow pointed to the black Caprice. "I'm on duty, so I took that one," she said.
Tara's eyes lit up. "Great," she said. "Can we take it instead of my car?"
Willow shrugged. "Of course."
Once they were settled in, Willow asked, "Any reason you wanted to take this one instead of yours?"
"It's less conspicuous than mine," Tara said. "It's why I should go in and talk to them instead of you." Tara put up a placating hand at Willow's frown. "Just hear me out," she said. "If this Fin is shelling out the kind of money Anya says he is, the more forgettable we are the better. He may have paid them to tell him if someone comes snooping around. Let's face it, Willow, a blonde is much more common than a redhead like you. If we're in a non-descript car and some less than memorable chick comes along asking questions, they're much less likely to be able to find us."
"You're not less than memorable," Willow blurted out. She frowned as she felt the blush sweep across her face.
Tara stared for a moment and then grinned her lopsided grin. "Well, I'm not sure if that's good or bad," she murmured. "But you know I'm right," she said.
Willow nodded and started the car. "It's up to you then," she said.
"I won't disappoint," Tara said.
At Tara's direction, Willow parked far enough up the street that she could see the door, but the car wouldn't be readily visible from inside the lobby of Bartelli's Trucking. Willow watched Tara walk down the sidewalk, appreciating the sway of her hips in her navy blue slacks.
She sighed and squeezed the back of her neck. The conversation had gone better than she'd expected and even though she wasn't about to tell Tara - in fact, she hated even admitting it to herself - Willow knew she had already begun to trust her again. There was something about Tara that Willow couldn't seem to fight. As dangerous as she felt certain things would become, safe was the first word she thought of when it came to Tara. Willow was thankful that they hadn't even hinted at discussing the sexual tension that had boiled between them last night. She decided to chalk it up to being in an S&M club again and dropped the subject from her conscious list. No sense in dwelling on it. It was just a job.
She wiped at a bead of sweat behind her neck as she watched people moving down the street and the occasional person going into Bartelli's. She frowned when her stake-out reached the ten minute mark and considered turning on the car to run the air conditioner. Just as she was reaching for the keys, Willow saw Tara emerge from the office building.
Tara put on her sunglasses and walked back up the street, flashing Willow a wolfish smile when she was nearly to the car. Willow started the Caprice and turned the A/C on high.
"I just have a frightening amount of charm," Tara crowed after she pulled the door shut.
"Could have fooled me," Willow shot back with a smirk.
Tara snorted. "Okay, I deserve that from you," she admitted. "But," she said, holding up a finger, "not only did I find out someone named Fin did rent three box trucks from them for three months, I found out where the warehouses are too."
Willow's eyes widened. "How'd you find that out?"
"One of the trucks broke down last week and Bartelli's mechanic had to go get it," Tara said. "A little batting of the eyelashes and he told me where it was."
Willow grinned. "So, either you really do have a frightening amount of charm or that guy was really hard up, huh?"
"Hey!" Tara protested. She crossed her arms in mock indignation. "I think I'm offended."
Willow grinned. "Well, while you're thinking about it, why don't you fasten your seatbelt and tell me where these warehouses are so we can go check them out?" Tara chuckled and gave her the address as she reached for her seatbelt.
A ten minute drive ended with Willow parking the car in an alley across the street from the warehouses. She shut the car off with a sigh. Tara had been fiddling with the radio the entire time and it was driving Willow crazy. "Open up the glove compartment," she said.
Tara did so and pulled out two small pairs of binoculars. "Cool," she said and handed a pair to Willow. "Do you want to be Cagney or Lacey?" she asked.
Willow smirked and took the offered binoculars. "Just watch the warehouses, you goof," she said.
For the next half hour, they did just that. The warehouses were busy, bustling with movement and the three trucks making several trips in and out. Unfortunately, the loading docks were on the far sides of the buildings and neither of them could see what was being put into or taken out of the trucks. Willow blew at her damp hair in frustration in the increasingly muggy interior of the car. She looked at her watch.
"Do you need to go?" Tara asked.
Willow frowned and nodded. "I still have some paperwork to do and a witness to interview," she said.
Tara put her binoculars back in the glove compartment and took Willow's. "Take me back to my car," she said. "I'll come back and keep an eye on things. I'll give you a call or something tomorrow."
Tara breathed a sigh of relief when Willow readily agreed. She had a plan and it didn't involve the good detective.