Author: Trom DeGrey
A midnight blue Triumph Speed Triple pulled into the alley across from the warehouses Tara and Willow had been observing earlier in the day. None of the street lights reached into the alley and the rider parked the motorcycle behind a dumpster, further concealing it. The rider, all in black, pulled off a polished helmet, unleashing a long blonde braid. Tara peeked around the dumpster to make sure no one else was in the alley.
Satisfied that she was alone for the moment, she put her helmet on the seat of her bike and pulled a black ski mask from the pocket of her leather riding jacket. She tucked her braid down the back of her shirt and covered the top of her head with the mask. Tara edged to the end of the alley and looked out. She checked up and down the street and pulled a monocular from another jacket pocket. She scouted the area around the warehouses, checking for guards on the ground or up on the roof. After a few moments, she decided everything looked clear.
Tara tucked the monocular back into her pocket, pulled the ski mask down and then sprinted across the street into the darkness between the two warehouses. She promptly slammed into a previously unseen dumpster with a resounding clang.
Tara lay flat on her back, hoping she was seeing stars and not the circling flashlights of alerted guards. Several deep breaths helped clear things and Tara sat up. She shook her head and looked up at the offending metal cube. "Son of a bitch," she muttered. "I bet that leaves a mark."
She got up gingerly and did an internal inventory. Hands, feet, arms and legs? Check. Bladder? Still in control. Brains? Slightly scrambled. Par for the course. Tara gave her breasts a squeeze and then nodded once. "Everything where it should be," she whispered and tiptoed around the dumpster.
When she reached the far end of the buildings, Tara peered out and saw the loading dock leading up to each warehouse and the entrance doors next to them. They were both well lit, causing Tara to frown. She leaned back into the darkness and considered her options. It would take her at least a few moments to pick the locks and get inside, leaving her badly exposed in the overhead light. She looked back up the length of each building and saw that all the windows were well out of reach. She sighed and picked up a rock. It was all she could do.
The entrance to the warehouse on her left was closest, so Tara hurled the rock at the light above that door. She leaned back, waiting for the clatter of breaking glass. She looked back around when all she heard was a dull thud. Her rock was lying on the loading dock. She had missed completely.
"Oh, hell no," she muttered. She found another stone and took careful aim. With a grunt, she let it fly and watched the light shatter with a rewarding crash. Tara ducked back into the darkness and stood still, listening for shouting or someone running toward her. She waited for a few long minutes, but heard only the rolling splash of the nearby river.
She ran from her hiding place and quickly mounted the steps, pulling out her lock pick kit as she went. Kneeling down in front of the lock, she inserted her tools. Tara swallowed a curse as she struggled with it. She was out of practice.
Finally, she heard the bolt turn. She breathed a sigh of relief and slipped inside.
Two of the Bartelli trucks were parked inside and Tara looked in the cabs. She found both empty and walked around to the back. She considered the amount of noise she might make if she raised the doors on the back of the trucks and finally decided to just open them a crack and see if there was anything inside. "I've been too noisy as it is," she whispered. She produced a small flashlight from inside her jacket and lifted the back door of the first truck a few inches. Empty. The second truck was also empty and Tara lowered the door with a frown.
She walked over to a crate, one of only a handful sitting around. The top was ajar. She moved some of the packing material around and shined her flashlight inside. There was nothing there either. She sighed and went to the other crates, but none of them were open and Tara wasn't willing to make the noise necessary to pry the lids up.
She found the stairs at the back of the room and proceeded up. The second and third floors were also nearly empty, causing Tara blow out a frustrated breath. "What the fuck?" she muttered.
The top floor held only a long table with eight metal chairs scattered around it. Tara's light landed on a door at the back of the room. "Hello, what do we have here?" she whispered. She tried the door. Her heart beat a little faster when she found it locked. She put the flashlight in her mouth and produced her kit again, making much quicker work of the lock.
Tara grinned as she opened the door and found herself in a small office lined with filing cabinets and a small metal desk dominating the center of the room. "Jackpot," she whispered and pushed the door closed behind her. She flipped off her flashlight and double checked the blinds covering the two small windows. Tara then turned on the desk lamp.
She opened file drawer after file drawer, shocked to find most of them empty. What little she did find where only receipts for things like office supplies and furniture. "What the hell is going on here?" she muttered.
Tara sat down at the desk and rifled through it, finding it also basically empty except for pens and pencils. She ducked down and looked under the desk. "Finally," she said and pulled a ledger from a hidden shelf underneath. Tara pulled her mask up and opened the book.
"Anya would shit if she could get her hands on this," she murmured with a chuckle. The first several pages were nothing but records of what were obviously bribes. Tara recognized the names of various councilmen and a few local business owners on the list. Dates and amounts were carefully entered next to each name. She shook her head. Fin hadn't even attempted to put the names in some sort of code. "Amateur," she muttered. She produced a credit card-sized digital camera from inside her jacket and started snapping pictures.
She flipped further and found the records for expenses. The fees for the trucks and the warehouses were listed as well as payment to various employees. Tara took more pictures.
When she came to the last page of entries, she froze when she saw one name on the roster. Tara leaned closer and gritted her teeth as she felt her rage boil up and over. Her hands were shaking as she took the last picture.
Tara replaced the ledger in its hiding place and flipped the desk light off. She sat back in the chair for a moment, breathing deeply and trying to decide what to do next. She knew she should look through the other warehouse, but she also knew Dawn wouldn't be there. There had been too much activity during the day for Fin to risk someone seeing her or any other girls he may have gotten by now, and this new information was burning through her gut. She wanted to go straight to Willow.
Tara replaced her camera and pulled down her mask. She raced down the three flights of stairs and through the loading area. Tara slowed long enough to peer cautiously out the door before running out and into the darkness between the warehouses. She avoided the dumpster this time.
A quick check of the street and Tara was across and at her bike. She stuffed her mask into her pocket and pulled on her helmet. The Triumph roared out of the back of the alley and Tara was on her way across town, heading for Willow.
The trip took half the time it would have during the day and Tara soon found herself in the elevator leading up to Willow's floor. She wiped the sweat from her face and gritted her teeth again. I hope she'll want to go. I hope she'll want to go tonight. I'm going one way or the other. She ran when the elevator opened and pounded hard upon reaching Willow's door.
Willow nearly fell out of bed she awoke with such a start. She sat halfway up for a moment, trying to figure out what had frightened her awake. She jumped again when she heard the thumping at her front door. She looked over at her clock. 2:27. "What the frilly heck?" she said and got up.
She pulled on her ivory silk robe and tied the sash as she scampered past the living room and down the entry hall. "Who is it?" she demanded when she reached the door.
"Willow, it's Tara. Let me in."
Willow frowned and unlocked her door. She couldn't tell if Tara was angry or scared. She stood back as Tara rushed in. Willow immediately noted that she was dressed all in black and carrying a motorcycle helmet. She quickly shut the door. "What's going on? Why are you dressed like that?" she asked. "And what happened to your chin?"
"What did Harris tell you?" Tara demanded.
"Huh?" Willow said. "What do you mean, what did he tell me? I already told you that. He gave me the name Fin and said it might have something to do with a white slavery ring."
Tara shook her head, exasperated. "No, did he tell you why he went to you? Did he tell you who told him about it?"
Willow shrugged. "He said he got it from a very good source."
Tara nodded. "And who is Harris' best source?"
Willow snorted. "Himself," she said.
Tara reached into her jacket and produced a small digital camera. She turned it on and flipped through to one picture in particular and handed it to Willow. "Exactly," she said.
Willow studied the photo. It was a book with a list of names. She glanced up at Tara. "What am I looking at?" she said.
"It's a ledger from the office in one of the warehouses," Tara said. "It's full of the names of people getting paid by Fin."
Willow looked back down at the picture and then at Tara's outfit again. "Tara! Did you break into those warehouses tonight?" she yelled.
Tara met Willow's eyes, blinked twice and said, "No." She reached for the camera. "Willow, look, if you'll just zoom it in -"
Willow yanked the camera away from her and stomped toward the living room. "I cannot believe you!" she thundered. "We can't work together if you're just going to run around breaking the law behind my back. I should take you in for this!"
Tara followed her. "Willow, it doesn't matter how I got the information -" she tried, but Willow cut her off again.
"Doesn't matter!" Willow shouted. "You broke. The law. Tara! I'm a cop!"
Tara rolled her eyes. "Why are you assuming I broke in then? You don't have any proof," she pointed out.
Willow snorted. "Oh, right, I'm supposed to believe that the Anti-Bad Guy Fairy just came tra-la-laing along and dropped this information in your lap? And you just happened to be running around town at 2:30 in the morning dressed in black, so you thought you'd bring this to my attention?"
Tara grabbed Willow by the shoulders and gave her a small shake. "Will you stop your Super Cop routine long enough to take a good look at that picture?"
"What about trust?" Willow snapped. "What happened to that discussion we had this afternoon?"
Tara sighed. "I'm sorry, Willow. I didn't consider it a violation of your trust. I just did what I would have done if I'd been working on this by myself."
Willow shrugged her off. "Well, I consider it a violation," she said. "Does my opinion count for anything with you? And have you forgotten already that you aren't by yourself on this case?"
Tara threw her hands up in a gesture of exasperation. "Willow, I'm sorry. I can't change what I did, but I swear to you I was only thinking of our case," she said. "I knew you couldn't do this with me, so I did it myself."
Willow sighed and turned away from Tara. She walked down two steps into her living room and sat down heavily on one of her couches. She was upset, but not as enraged as she thought she should be. What the hell is going on with you? She broke the law. You should arrest her. She ran a hand through her hair and looked down at the camera she was still holding. "What am I supposed to be looking at?" she asked in a small fatigued voice.
Tara cautiously sat down next to Willow and moved the focus until it fell on the name Xander Harris and a large sum of money printed next to it. "His conscience got to him," she said. "That's why he clued you in."
Willow stared at the name for a moment and felt anger flare up in her belly. She handed the camera back to Tara and ran both hands through her hair. "He knew what was going on the entire time?"
"Looks that way," Tara said.
Willow took a shaky breath and tried to clear her head. He knew. He knew and didn't tell us everything. My god, what's been lost? How many other girls? What part of my sanity? She gave up on attempting to keep her self-control and let herself fall into the fury flooding her veins. "Mother fucker," she ground out.
Tara cocked an eyebrow, startled by Willow's language, but kept her thoughts to herself. A roller coaster of emotions had just run across Willow's face and Tara wasn't sure of exactly what was happening with her at the moment. She didn't want to push. She knew she was already skating on thin ice.
"Do you know where he is?" Willow ground out.
Tara nodded. "Yeah," she whispered and watched as Willow's face took on that odd stillness she had seen earlier at the Jade Dragon. "Do you want go now see him now?"
"Oh, yeah," Willow whispered back. "Give me five minutes."
Tara watched Willow disappear into her bedroom and blew out a breath. She frowned down at her camera, turned it off and put it back in her jacket pocket. She had disappointed Willow again. I just didn't think, she reasoned. C'mon, Tara, she deserves better than this.
Tara pulled off her gloves and touched her chin. She winced when a sharp pain ran through her jaw and she came back with a small amount of blood. Tara stepped up from the living room and walked across into the kitchen. It was all Formica and steel, with nothing out of place. She pulled a paper towel from the roll hanging up by the sink and ran water on it. Tara patted at her chin and resisted the urge to go looking through the cabinets. "Probably full of health food with unpronounceable Scandinavian names," she mumbled. She frowned at the half dollar-sized rust spot on the paper towel. "Definitely gonna leave a mark," she muttered. She found the trash can exactly where she thought she'd find it - underneath the sink. "So predictable," she whispered. "Of course, just when I think I've got you figured out..."
Tara left the thought unfinished and went back out into the living room to pace with anticipation while she waited for Willow. The wait was a short one. Willow came back out in her own all-black outfit. Black steel-toed boots, black jeans, a black turtleneck and a black leather jacket. Tara arched an eyebrow at the matte black motorcycle helmet in her right hand.
Willow looked down at it and shrugged. "I used to date a girl that had a bike."
Tara grinned and headed for the door. "Ooh, you'll have to tell me about her."
Willow rolled her eyes and followed Tara out.