Author: Trom DeGrey
Willow pulled the black Caprice into the Department parking lot and shut off the engine with a sigh. It had been a shitty morning. She was running on a grand total of four hours sleep and had been called out to a drive-by shooting first thing. Vice had been called in because the situation had obviously been gang related and the rest of her morning had been filled with writing "I don't know," and, "I didn't see nothin'," in her notebook. Willow also hated the thought of working with Homicide. She rubbed at the tension in her neck. "I need a nap," she muttered.
She grabbed her notebook as she got out of the car and straightened her tan suit jacket. Willow smiled as she reached the front of the parking lot and spotted Tara's blue Mustang parked next to her Jaguar. Tara was lying back against the windshield and casual was the order of the day. She had on the rattiest pair of tennis shoes Willow had ever seen and jeans that weren't too far behind. Willow choked when she got close enough to see Tara's heather grey t-shirt. It had a leering yellow smiley face and underneath in black, it said, "Nice Tits, Sweetie."
She moved up next to Tara and smothered her giggles. Despite the reflective blue sunglasses she wore, it was obvious by her deep breathing that Tara was asleep. Willow leaned closer and allowed herself a detailed study of her face. Tara had a few larger pores on her cheeks near her nose. There was a thumb-sized spot above her right eye that looked a shade darker than the rest of her skin. Her cheeks were pink with early afternoon sun and Tara's chin was red and angry looking with a quarter-sized scab in the middle of it. I get an up-close and personal of your imperfections and I still think you're beautiful. Willow raised her left hand and ran her thumb along Tara's jaw line, stopping just short of her battered chin. When she saw Tara's eyelids flutter and then open, she moved her hand away with a small sigh.
"Hey," Tara rasped. She stretched languidly and then smiled. She found she liked waking up to the sight of Willow.
"I cannot believe you're wearing that shirt in public," Willow said and finally gave in to her laughter a little.
Tara sat up, grinned her lopsided grin at Willow and pushed her sunglasses on top of her head. "I figured you might need a laugh this afternoon," she said. "Did you get any more sleep?"
Willow produced her keys and deactivated the alarm on her car. She fanned herself with her notebook as she leaned against the door of the Jag. "Oh god, what a morning," she groaned. "I might have gotten another hour or two," she admitted. "It was getting called out to a drive-by before I'd even sat down at my desk this morning that's kicking my ass at the moment."
"Let me guess," Tara said, laying back and rolling on her side to face Willow. "A street full of people and nobody saw a thing."
Willow nodded and looked down to study her tan flats. It kept her from tracing the curve of Tara's full hip with her eyes and from concentrating on the bruise just above Tara's collar bone that was peeking out above the neck of her shirt. "You sound like you know the drill," she said.
Tara studied Willow for a moment before answering. The pants suit was tailored, respectable but sexy in a way Tara remembered thinking her freshman algebra teacher was sexy. Reserved but undeniable. Willow's long hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, the afternoon sun highlighting the copper in it. She's beautiful. Willow also looked exhausted. "Seen it too many times," she finally said. Tara reached behind her and then sat up, holding a folder out to Willow. "Your pictures, my dear," she said. She swung her legs around to the side of her car, facing Willow and flipping her own ponytail back over her shoulder.
Willow looked at the folder and frowned. "Do you have time for lunch?"
Tara put the pictures back on the hood of her car and nodded. "Sure. What'd you have in mind?"
Willow snorted. "Anywhere but here," she grumbled. "Let me see if we've lucked out and the manifests we wanted have come in. Lt. Giles was supposed to request them for me this morning." She pushed off from the Jag and started walking toward the station house. She looked back when she realized Tara was still sitting on her Mustang. "Not coming in with me?"
Tara snorted, put her sunglasses back over her eyes and stretched out on the hood of her car again. "Not unless I'm going in in cuffs."
Willow reached around to her back and produced her handcuffs. She cocked an eyebrow as the sun glinted off them. "That can always be arranged," she said in a low voice.
Tara looked over the top of her sunglasses and arched an eyebrow of her own. "I'm definitely beginning to like you, Willow."
Willow replaced her handcuffs on her belt, reactivated the alarm on her car and laughed all the way into the station.
Tara watched her go, appreciating Willow's lithe grace as she bounced up the steps and jogged through the doors to the station. She chuckled. "I am in so much trouble," she said with a sigh.
Ten minutes went by and Tara could feel the sun beginning to burn her cheeks. She gave a passing thought to going in and looking for Willow, but was saved when she saw her come bounding down the stairs. Tara watched and fought to keep the grin off her face. Hmm, someone's not wearing a bra.
Willow waved a large manila envelope as she walked up to the Mustang. "They came in," she said. "Do you mind driving?"
Tara shook her head and opened the passenger door with her remote. Once they were both settled inside, she handed Willow the file full of pictures. "Nothing seems to be coded, but it doesn't exactly say who's who in the ledger. I recognized some names, but I don't know any port inspectors."
Willow nodded and pulled out a sheet of paper from the envelope. "This should be a full list of names of inspectors. I asked for it along with the manifests," she said. "I just got manifests from the last two weeks. I figured that would be more than enough to look through." Tara nodded in agreement, but Willow didn't see. She was already too busy comparing names from Tara's pictures to her list.
Tara drove west across town, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel to the rolling piano coming out of the speakers as Willow silently studied the pictures, occasionally putting a red check mark next to a name.
Willow looked up suddenly. "What are we listening to?" She liked it, but it wasn't something she had expected to hear riding around with Tara. It went from jazz to classical to almost new age, with an alluring energy all its own.
"Little Death Orchestra," Tara replied.
"Say what?" Willow said.
Tara chuckled. "Little Death Orchestra," she repeated. "A friend of mine from England sent it to me." Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Willow bob out of rhythm for a moment before going back to the work in her lap. Tara grinned.
She pulled up in front of McTaggert's and shut off the engine.
Willow looked up and took in the bar and grill they were parked in front of. "Huh," she said, "I've never been here."
"Best beer in town," Tara said. She flashed Willow a crooked grin, knowing what was coming.
"Tara, I'm on duty," Willow chastised.
"I know," Tara replied. "They do have good food though. Plus, we can snag a booth and spread all this stuff out." She let her smile curl around to the rest of her face.
Willow shook her head and tucked the file into the envelope. She grinned. "Are you really going in there wearing that t-shirt?"
Tara looked down at her chest and then up at Willow. She gave her her most innocent look. "Well, they are nice, aren't they?"
Willow barked out a laugh. "Let's go."
The place was about what Willow had expected from it's outside appearance. It was dark inside despite the bright afternoon. A bar took up most of the left side and booths lined the right wall. Willow spotted a pool table and a handful of high stools with rickety tables at the back of the room along with two dart boards. They settled themselves in a booth toward the back and Willow quickly scanned the menu. She ordered a Philly cheese steak and water to Tara's appetizer and beer.
"Well, what have you come across so far?" Tara asked after their waitress had left.
Willow dumped the pictures and the list of inspector's names out onto the table. "Three so far," she said, pointing out the names. "Why don't we start looking for these guys first and see if we get any hits." She pulled the stack of shipping manifests from the envelope and handed half to Tara along with a pen.
They worked in silence for a while until their food arrived. Willow moved her half of the paperwork aside and dove into her lunch. Tara watched for a moment, astounded that such a thin woman could devour food the way Willow was.
Willow looked up, her mouth full of bread and cheese and steak and onions and peppers. "Hm?" she grunted.
"I'm just trying to make sure I don't get my hands too close," Tara said with a raised eyebrow.
Willow rolled her eyes and went right back to her sandwich with gusto. Tara grinned and munched on a mozzarella stick. She liked the thought of Willow not being self-conscious around her. Definitely not first date food.
After their lunch had been cleared away, Tara flipped three of her manifests around and pointed to the names that they had found in Fin's ledger. "All the same company," she said.
Willow rifled through her half of the paperwork and looked at a couple of matches she'd found. "Me too," she said. "DRM, Inc. I wonder what that is."
Tara shrugged. "If you believe these manifests, they ship produce from South America. I kinda doubt those crates I saw had bananas in them though."
Willow nodded in agreement. "We need to track down this DRM, Inc."
"Where do you want to start with that?" Tara asked. "I can check it at the street level."
Willow nodded again. "I'll run it through our database first and then make some calls if need be. Do you want to meet up for dinner?" she asked. She kept her head down and busied herself with putting all the papers back into the manila envelope. Please say yes.
"Sounds like a plan," Tara said, fighting the smile that threatened to run roughshod over her face. "Where at?"
Willow thought for a moment. "How about we enjoy Misha's for a change?"
Tara chuckled. "7:30 enough time for you?"
Willow nodded and left some money on the table. "Let's get this thing moving."
Tara frowned at the framed picture she'd picked up from Anya's desk. Tara was looking over at Willow, both of them decked out in leather and rubber, her body language betraying nervousness while Willow displayed barely suppressed rage. Tara shifted, uncomfortable with the feelings the photo brought back. She regretted it. Tara rarely regretted anything, but she regretted testing Willow the way she had. She looked up when the door across the room opened.
"Are you comfortable?" Anya demanded.
She looked every inch the Head Mistress. Dressed from head to foot in black rubber, the outfit looked like a police uniform from a futuristic porno, complete with shiny badge, hat and handcuffs. The five inch stiletto boots and disturbing amount of cleavage on display only added to the effect. If I wasn't already in deep shit with Willow, I'd ask her if she had an outfit like that one. Tara smirked.
"Actually, this chair needs some more lumbar support." Tara continued to flip the frame in her hands. "I thought this was going next to your bed."
Anya stalked across the room and shooed Tara out of her chair. She sat down heavily, her rubber outfit squeaking and groaning against the leather of the seat. "I take it with me," she said with a smirk. She watched closely as Tara wandered over to one of the plush velvet chairs on the other side of the desk, still holding the picture in her hands. "Don't get any ideas about taking off with that," she warned.
Tara shook her head. "No, no," she said, the frame never still in her hands. "Just asking. Speaking of asking…" Tara got up from the chair and went over to the window facing the club. The place was empty except for a bartender and someone sweeping the dance floor. "Do you wear stuff like that all the time?"
Anya rolled her eyes. "Of course not," she said. "I'm giving a tour later."
Tara turned and stared at Anya for a moment. "A tour?" She went back over to the chair she had abandoned, wondering where this story was going.
"Some foreign S&M group is going around to the different clubs in major cities on the West Coast." Anya shrugged. "Europeans, I don't know. They paid me good money for a before hours tour of the place and the whole group will be spending their money here tonight."
Tara grinned and shook her head. "Anya and the almighty dollar."
"Whoever said money can't buy happiness didn't have enough money," Anya said with a knowing nod. "Now, what do you want? Nice t-shirt, by the way."
Tara looked down. "Thanks." She looked up and grinned. "Willow liked it too."
Anya snorted. "I'm still a little surprised that she's the legendary Scarlet Witch."
"Legendary?" Tara leaned forward in her seat. "Do tell. She said she was only undercover for six months."
"She made quite a name for herself in six months," Anya said, the admiration obvious in her voice. "If people knew that little mark of yours came from her, you could pick your place in the S&M underground around here."
Tara leaned back, absently running her fingers over the purple bruise. A mild burning skittered through her, causing her to shiver. "So, it seems Detective Rosenberg doesn't do anything half way," she murmured.
"Well, no one knows the Scarlet Witch was the undercover cop that shut down the Kink," Anya said. "Except for me now, of course." She smirked. "I don't know if she came up with some kind of exit story or if she just disappeared, but she could step back into the world whenever she wanted and make lots of money for herself. Make sure you tell her that," Anya said, waving her hand at Tara.
Tara chuckled. "Okay, okay," she said. "I'll tell her." She looked back down at the picture again, wondering what Willow had done to earn such a reputation in six months. Especially cruel? Especially creative? Do I really want to know?
"What happened to your chin?" Anya asked.
"Willow got a little rough with me," Tara replied with a smirk.
"Liar," Anya scoffed. "The Scarlet Witch would only leave a visible mark if she wanted it to be seen."
Tara just shrugged. "You know me. I have a talent for finding trouble."
Anya nodded. "So, again, what do you want?"
Tara looked up at her and pointed at the desk. "I have something for you."
Anya opened the file folder in front of her and pushed the pictures around. "What's all this?"
"Fin's bribery ledger," Tara said. She grinned when Anya's eyes lit up.
"How did you get this?" she asked, but then held up a hand. "No, wait, don't tell me. What do you want in return?"
"DRM, Inc.," Tara said. "That's the name Fin is using to bring in whatever he's bringing in by ship. I need anything you can get me on that company, if it's even real. We also now know that Fin is working for someone else."
"How'd you find that out?" Anya asked as she turned to the flatbed scanner on a table behind her and began to scan the pictures into her computer.
"Harris is in that ledger," Tara replied.
Anya turned around sharply. "Xander Harris? The Weasel?"
Tara nodded. "He was the one that gave both Willow and I the name Fin in the first place. When I found his name on Fin's payroll, we paid him a visit last night."
Anya smirked. "Did you beat the hell out of him?"
Tara shook her head and mirrored Anya's smirk. "No, but Willow made him pee the bed. I guess I shouldn't be quite so surprised that she made a name for herself as a dominatrix."
Anya nodded knowingly. "It's always the uptight ones that make the best masters," she said. "They let out their repressed aggression, but can do it under total control. I'd love to watch her work."
Tara began to laugh. "I don't think I would," she said around her laughter.
"If that mark is any indication, I bet you'd change your mind pretty quick," Anya said with a sultry smile. Tara just shook her head and continued to laugh.
Anya finished scanning the pictures and got up to hand the file back to Tara. Tara took the folder and put the picture back in its place on Anya's desk. "You said DRM, Inc., right?" Anya said.
Tara nodded. "That's it. Just do me a favor though," she said. "Try to keep a low profile. Fin asked Harris who you were, but Harris was pretty scared at that point, so he lied and said he didn't know. I think it was a good move on his part. If you consider how much money they're paying out according to that ledger, you can just imagine how much money is coming in. We're talking about big leagues here. And we both know that the greater the amount of money involved the higher the ruthlessness quotient."
Anya nodded. "I'll keep that in mind," she said quietly. She watched as Tara left via the back stairs and then sat back down behind her desk. Anya thought for a moment and then reached for her phone. She stopped short when she saw the picture frame on her desk.
It was empty.