Author: Trom DeGrey
Downstairs, Willow took one look at Tara on the Triumph and had second thoughts. The bike seemed to be custom built for her body. Tara's every curve and line flowed from the pegs, over the gas tank and up to the handle bars. Willow blew out a shaky breath. "Maybe we should take my car," she suggested. I haven't had enough sleep for this.
Tara grinned and pulled on her helmet. "Not in that neighborhood," she said. She patted the seat behind her. "C'mon, Willow. I promise safety and fun. No wheelies."
Willow sighed and pulled on her own helmet. She climbed onto the back of the bike, put her feet up on the rear pegs and wrapped her arms around Tara's waist. She was pressed from thigh to chest up against Tara's backside. "This is a little tight," she gulped as Tara started the motorcycle.
Tara swallowed her first thought. I bet you are. She turned her head and grinned. "Could be worse." Or better depending on your point of view. She turned back around and wiggled her butt back further between Willow's legs. She muffled her chuckle when she heard Willow gasp and reached back to pat her thigh. "Just hold on and we'll be fine," she said. She felt Willow give her middle an answering squeeze. Tara's smile broadened and they pulled out of the parking lot.
Tara's riding held some urgency, but she stayed true to her word and Willow felt safe on the back of the motorcycle. Comfort, however, was hard to come by. Willow watched the streets slip by over Tara's right shoulder and tried to focus on anything other than the vibrations pulsating through the seat from the engine and the feeling of her thighs surrounding Tara's hips. She even tried a breathing technique she had learned from the Department psychiatrist. Eventually, she gave up and turned her head, resting it on Tara's upper back. She gave in some to her raging hormones and groaned, hoping that Tara couldn't hear her. She jumped when Tara put her left hand back on her thigh again. Willow bit her lip, but soon recognized it as the comforting gesture it was meant as. She put her head back down and tried to think of anything other than her situation and the woman she was with. She allowed herself her favorite daydream of flying through a cloudless summer sky, but frowned when it soon turned into riding the twisting canyon roads outside the city with Tara. Willow sighed.
She raised her head when Tara moved her hand and turned them north on Westchester Boulevard. "Just where the hell are we going?" she asked over the hum of the engine.
"He hides out in the old high school in the Ryerson District," Tara replied.
Willow turned her head and laid it on Tara's upper back again. That information was the splash of cold water she needed. There were a lot of good cops on the force that refused to go into the Ryerson District. In public, the area was a political hot point for both the Mayor and the Chief of Police. They excelled at making noise about cleaning the neighborhood up, but behind closed doors, both men acknowledged that the area was a no-go zone. Cops especially, entered at their own risk. Willow had been there once and thought it was as close to Lord of the Flies as you could get in America. She suppressed a shudder.
Tara reached up and patted Willow's hands. Ryerson was a dangerous place for anything living, but she knew it would be especially brutal if any of the gangs in the area got their hands on a female cop. Tara swallowed at the fear in her throat. "I won't let anything happen to you," she whispered, knowing Willow couldn't hear her.
Several more minutes passed as they sped into the worst parts of the city. The streets seemed equally deserted, but there was a different kind of life teaming here, a dark energy that made both women shiver. Tara was glad when she finally spotted the former FDR Senior High School.
The large brick building was on a corner. She pulled into the alley next to it and killed the engine. "Keep your helmet on," she said. They both got off the bike and Tara pushed it behind a large double dumpster that didn't look or smell like it had been emptied ever. Willow scrounged up a battered tarp that was probably someone's house on cold nights and the two women covered the motorcycle.
They jogged together down the alley until they came to a window. It was too high for either of them to see in. Tara bent over and pointed to her back. "Go up there and check it out," she whispered.
Willow stared for a moment, unsure of how to climb up onto Tara's back. Tara gave an impatient gesture. "Just go. You can't weigh that much."
"I'm sorry, Tara. I'm not exactly an expert at mounting another woman's back in the middle of an alley at three in the morning," Willow huffed.
Tara snorted. "Prep school kid."
Willow's frown was hidden by her helmet. She put both hands on Tara's back, then hiked her leg up and planted her knee across Tara' shoulder blades. As she transferred her weight forward, Tara didn't compensate fast enough and both women slammed into the brick wall, Willow face first.
"Oof!" she grunted.
"Sorry," Tara gasped. She steadied herself against the wall. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Willow whispered and regained her balance. She adjusted her helmet and pulled her other leg up onto Tara's back. She reached up for the window sill and used it to pull herself into a standing position. She looked down at Tara, bent at the waist and wobbling underneath her. I've lost my mind, she thought.
Willow looked inside and saw what was once a science lab of some sort. There were high counters in various states of decay throughout the room and the black boards at the front and sides of the classroom were littered with artistic gang graffiti. "Looks empty," she whispered down to Tara.
"Then climb in there and pull me up," Tara rasped.
Willow hoisted herself up through the window and into the room. She turned around and stuck her head out. Tara was arching her back. "I thought you said I couldn't be that heavy," she whispered, her smirk hidden by her helmet.
Tara looked up at her. "You aren't," she said, "but those shit kicker boots of yours hurt like hell."
Willow snorted. "Poor baby. Get in here." She pushed herself out of the window to her waist and reached down. Tara took hold of her hands and Willow started to pull.
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, won't you let your hair down?" Tara whispered as she tried to help by digging into the wall with her boots.
"Jack Sprat's wife needs to lay off the fat," Willow grunted. Her shoulders and back were screaming at the effort to pull Tara up. Willow planted her thighs and knees against the wall in front of her in an attempt to leverage Tara in.
"Fuck you, Rosenberg," Tara growled.
"You wish," Willow gasped as Tara was finally able to grab the window sill and pull herself the rest of the way up. Willow stepped back to give Tara room to climb in and leaned against one of the counters.
"This isn't exactly the best time to be flirting with me," Tara said as she hauled herself through the window. Her foot caught on the frame and she fell into the room, landing hard on her left shoulder. Tara lay motionless for a moment. "I bet that leaves a mark," she finally groaned.
Willow rushed over to her. "Oh my god, Tara, are you alright?" She flipped up the visor on her helmet and gingerly rolled Tara over.
Tara lay on her back and took a deep breath. She pushed up her own visor and moved her left arm around. "Nothing some ice and a couple of beers won't fix," she whispered. She winced when Willow helped her sit up. "This has not been my most graceful night."
"What did happen to your chin?" Willow asked.
"Let's just say there's a dumpster between those warehouses that probably has a pretty good sized dent in it now," Tara said wryly. "I'm glad I can't run very fast or else I would have killed myself."
Willow chuckled quietly and helped Tara to her feet. "It's always an adventure with you, isn't it?"
Tara stretched her arms and upper back. "Stick around long enough and you just might find out," she said. She looked around. "Let's go out into the hall and let me get my bearings."
The graffiti-lined hall was empty and Tara quickly pointed right. "He's up on the top floor. There's a stairwell this way," she whispered.
Unsure of who or what they might come across, they made their way as quietly as possible, stopping often to peek around corners and through doorways before they slipped by. They edged up the stairs around filth and the occasional passed-out body. At least they hoped each person was just unconscious.
They came out onto the fourth floor and turned left. Tara stopped them just before the last hall on the right. "He's down this way in the old Home Ec. area," she whispered. "There'll probably be a couple of gorillas at the door. Just let me sweet talk them. I've been here before." At Willow's nod, she flipped down her visor and turned the corner. Willow pushed her own visor down and followed closely behind.
As predicted, there were two hulking men standing on either side of a door that now only said Home. Tara walked to the guard on the far side of the door, leaving Willow standing in front of the other. He cocked his head at Tara, as if he wasn't certain of just what he was seeing. "What do you want, half pint?" he finally grumbled.
Tara threw a hard right into his gut and slammed her helmet up into his face when he doubled over. He went down in a heap.
Willow and the other guard stared in shock for a moment, but when he finally moved, lunging for Tara, Willow sprang into action. She reached up, grabbed him by the shoulders and jumped, slamming the top of her helmet into his face. Blood splattered from his nose and as his eyes rolled back in his head, he slid to the floor.
Willow stared at the lump of man on the floor at her feet. "What did I just do?" she whispered.
Tara pushed up her visor and leaned in close. "It's called assault, sweetie, so I don't want to hear another word about me breaking into that warehouse."
Willow flipped up her visor, incensed. "That was a shitty plan, Tara. What was I supposed to do? You should have said something," she hissed. The laughter dancing in Tara's eyes was making her madder by the second.
"If I'd told you, you would have tried to come up with something else," Tara said.
"Exactly," Willow snapped.
"And we'd still be down there arguing," Tara said. "Instead, we're standing here arguing." She leaned back and crossed her arms. "Look, Willow, Harris is right through this door. We came here because we're mad at him, remember? He played us both. He knows what's going on and he may even know where my missing kid is. Let's take this out on him, if for no other reason than we both had to watch him eat."
Willow sighed. She could feel her shoulders slump. "You're right," she whispered. "I'm just not used to breaking the law."
Tara grinned and patted her on the shoulder. "Stick with me long enough and all kinds of good habits will start to rub off on you," she said.
Willow rolled her eyes and pushed open the door. She gestured inside. "Age before beauty," she said. Tara harrumphed and walked in.
The room was sprawling. A kitchen sat to the right, still in shades of 70's yellow and orange. A few couches and a recliner were nearest to them on the left, arranged around a state-of-the-art plasma TV. Willow arched an eyebrow. "That's even newer than mine," she mumbled. Dark curtains hung from the ceiling in the back left corner. Tara pointed and Willow nodded. They crept into the makeshift bedroom and stopped next to the bed.
Harris was sprawled out on his back in an orange Hawaiian shirt and grey sweats. His mouth was gaping open, allowing the occasional strangled snore to come out. Tara pulled her flashlight out of her jacket, flipped it on and pointed it at Harris' face.
His eyes flew open and he sat up until his forehead ran into the muzzle of Willow's gun. Tara gasped.
"Just relax, Mr. Harris," Willow drawled. He laid back down, his eyes wide with fear. Willow holstered her gun and turned on the bedside lamp.
He looked from one dark, helmeted figure to the other in confusion. "What is this? Blade Runner?"
Tara tucked away her flashlight and pulled off her helmet. "Not much of a Harrison Ford fan," she said.
Willow removed her own helmet. "I liked him in Witness," she said.
Tara frowned at her. "Of course you did, he was a cop," she said. Willow shrugged.
Harris breathed out a sigh of relief. "You two scared the hell out of me." He started to sit up again only to meet with the wrong end of Willow's gun a second time.
"I don't think so," she said.
"Would you put that away?" Tara said, wide-eyed. "I trick you into breaking the law once and you turn into Good Cop Gone Bad on me."
Harris fell back and shook a finger at them. "That's right! This is breaking and entering!" he screeched.
Willow replaced her gun in her right hip holster and leaned down. "I seriously doubt you own this building," she snapped. "She means beating the shit out of your boyfriends outside. We're not happy with you, Weasel."
He put his hands up. "What'd I do?" he whined.
Tara grimaced. "He hasn't even been awake for a minute and he's already sweating. No wonder you sleep alone," she said.
"Hey," Willow protested. "I sleep alone."
"We could change that," Tara purred and waggled her eyebrows at Willow's frown.
"What the hell? Are you two a comedy act now?" Harris said.
Willow leaned in again and shoved her helmet under his chin. "Joke's on you, Weasel. We know you're on Fin's payroll," she growled.
His eyes grew wide with fear again. "But I told you about him! You wouldn't even know something was up if it wasn't for me!"
Tara pulled Willow back and shoved her own helmet under his chin. "So, it's a him, huh? Why didn't you tell us everything then? Do you know where my kid is?" she demanded.
Harris was squirming now and the dark circle of sweat on his pillow was growing larger. "NO! I swear! I didn't tell you everything cause I don't really know anything!"
Tara pulled her helmet away. "Then why is he paying you?"
"What does anyone pay me?" he gasped. "Information. He wanted information."
"About what?" Willow said. She looked at Tara. "You know, I'm really starting to lose patience with him." She winked.
Tara caught on to the game and looked back down at Harris. "Hey man, I have no control over her. I think she's sick of being Miss Goody-Two-Shoes Cop. You better spill." Willow tapped her fingers against her gun.
He put his hands up in a gesture of surrender again. "Okay, okay," he said. "He asked about lots of stuff. I mean, I sat in a warehouse on the north dock for four hours one day answering his questions. He wanted to know where to find homeless girls in the city. He wanted to know who to bribe to get past customs and avoid having warehouses and trucks and stuff inspected. He wanted me to show him as many different routes in and out of the city as possible. He also asked about the Accountant. I don't know how he knew about her."
Tara leaned in again. "What did you tell him about her?"
Harris swallowed. "Nothing," he said. "I was pretty scared by then. He had this wild look in his eyes that freaked me out. Like he was about to go off at any second, ya know? I told him I'd heard of her, but she was very secretive. I didn't know who she was."
Tara breathed a sigh of relief and looked at Willow. "I don't like this. I don't like it at all," she said. "This is bigger than both of us."
Willow nodded in agreement. She turned her attention back to Harris. "Do you know what he wanted the girls for?"
He shook his head. "No, it didn't occur to me till later that it might be for white slavery. That's when I called you. Like I said, I was pretty freaked out."
"You weren't freaked out enough to not take his money though, were you?" Willow said, leaning down into his face again. He pushed back further into his pillow.
"Willow, wait," Tara said, pulling her away. "Harris, there were crates in one of those warehouses, but the only open one I saw was empty. What's he moving other than girls?"
"I don't know," he said. "It has to be coming in off boats though. Those were the inspectors he was most worried about." He eyed Willow for a moment and then pushed up onto his elbows. "There's something else," he said. "He's just the middleman. He reports to someone else."
"How do you know?" Tara asked.
"He kept saying how his employer would be very pleased with everything I was telling him," he said.
Willow and Tara exchanged a look full of worry. "What does he look like?" Tara finally asked.
"White guy, tall, athletic, light brown hair. Kinda boy next door. Like I said, freaky," he replied.
Willow pulled her gun yet again, causing Harris to fall back in his bed. She looked at Tara. "Are we done with him now?"
Tara shrugged. "He's all yours," she said and pulled her helmet back on.
Willow smiled an oily, evil grin at Harris and stuck the business end of her gun back in his face. His eyes got wider as she flipped off the safety and cocked the hammer. Willow's face crinkled in disgust as the smell of urine filled the small space. "Now, you're not going to lie to us anymore, are you Mr. Harris?" she whispered.
He shook his head and whimpered. Willow rolled her eyes, released the hammer and turned the safety back on. "I certainly hope it's bath day," she said and holstered her gun. She put on her helmet and pulled her jacket back over the holster. "Let's get out of here."
Tara pulled the door closed behind them as Willow bent down to check on their two earlier victims. "What got into you in there?" she asked.
Satisfied that the two guards were just in for a long sleep and a nasty hangover, Willow stood and sighed. "You know, I'd think you wouldn't continue to underestimate me."
Tara threw her hands up. "Excuse the hell outta me," she said. "I figured it was the rubber and whips that brought it out of you."
Willow swatted Tara hard on the ass. "Maybe you were wrong," she said and stalked off down the hall.
Tara watched her go for a few steps. Holy shit. What have I gotten myself into? She rubbed her stinging left cheek. And do I want to get myself out of it? She grinned and took off after Willow.
What in the hell am I doing? Willow thought. She's turning me into some sort of maniac! She looked over her shoulder when she heard Tara run up. "So, what now?" she asked, relieved her voice betrayed none of her internal panic.
Tara watched Willow for a moment, but quickly decided to let the moment go. "Well," she said as they reached the stairwell, "I can check the other warehouse or we could snoop around the docks."
"I might be able to snag some import shipping manifests through the Department," Willow offered, stepping over a prone body. "I'll need copies of your pictures though so I can narrow my search down to the inspectors on Fin's payroll."
"I can get those to you later today," Tara said, pushing open the door to the first floor.
"Promise me something," Willow said.
Tara rolled her eyes. "I promise I won't break into the other warehouse," she said, crossing her fingers behind her back.
"At least don't go alone," Willow said.
"Excuse me?" Tara leaned forward to get a good look at Willow's eyes hidden in her helmet. "Who do you think is going to go with me?"
"Me, of course," Willow retorted.
"No way," Tara said. "Roughing up some goon is one thing. Breaking and entering is something else entirely. Besides, if half the amount of money is involved that seems to be, these people will be all about shoot first ask questions later." They turned into the classroom they had entered from.
"So, why are you allowed to put yourself in mortal danger, but I'm not?" Willow demanded.
Tara turned and put her hands on Willow's shoulders. "Willow, I realize you're a very good cop, but I've lived on these streets. I know how to deal with this kind of sleaze at their level. Please, please don't argue this point with me."
Willow studied Tara's eyes for a moment. They were full of genuine concern. Willow sighed. She knew how to choose her battles. "Okay," she said. "But I want to know when you go."
"Deal," Tara said, releasing her shoulders. "Thank you."
Willow grinned. "Don't get used to it."
Tara jumped from the window first, checking to see that they were alone in the alley. She waved Willow down and they made their way back toward the Triumph. "I think we should talk to Anya again," Tara said.
"Can we go in through the back door this time?" Willow asked sarcastically.
Tara grinned. "I don't know," she said. "Do you have any green rubber outfits? I might want to see that."
Willow snorted. "Dream on, Maclay. I think we've already discovered that you can't handle me." She winced. Why the hell did I bring that up?
Tara was quiet for a long moment until they reached the motorcycle. "Maybe you just took me by surprise." She pulled the tarp off the bike and rolled it out from behind the dumpster.
Willow watched Tara crawl onto the bike and considered her almost noncommittal answer. Don't push your luck. Drop it. She settled herself behind Tara as the engine rumbled to life. "So, what are the odds of me getting one wheelie on the way home?" she asked. "A little wheelie!"
Tara chuckled, not certain if she was happy or disappointed that her neutral answer had garnered no response from Willow. "So, now you want a wheelie, huh? Always trying to keep me on my toes aren't you," she said. "Gee, Willow, I think I'm beginning to like that about you."
Willow put her feet up on the rear pegs and wrapped her arms around Tara's waist. She barked out a laugh. "God help me."