I T WAS MARIEL'S turn to sit down, rather surprised and rather quickly, as Tina turned and pulled off the bloody shirt, exposing a finely sculpted back. Spread across her shoulders were firm lines of muscles and the columns running down her lower back stood out in relief, a testament to her well-toned body and apparently excellent work-out regimen. The scientist blinked, noting with intrigue the fact that Tina hadn't been wearing anything under the t-shirt. Wait, she missed this point earlier? Hello, Mariel.
With casual grace, the detective walked over to the low chest of drawers and rummaged through them, pulling out a black t-shirt. Glancing back over her shoulder at Mariel, she spoke before putting the shirt over her head.
"Layla should be here any time. Want something to drink?"
The young researcher swallowed. Something to drink. Yes. That would be good. Very good.
"Uh..yeah..that'd be great thanks."
Tina turned fully dressed again and reached behind her neck, freeing her long hair from the shirt collar before moving into the kitchen, smiling briefly at Mariel before opening the refrigerator. Looking inside, she turned back towards the living room, calling out to the scientist.
"Well, looks like I've got beer...and..."
Mariel got up and walked to the doorway, leaning against it as the investigator looked back inside at the mostly bare shelves. With chagrin, Tina turned and smiled.
"...more beer. Sorry. Oh, and water."
Mariel chuckled and came forward, assessing the situation before she reached in and grabbed two oatmeal stouts. Setting them on the counter, she rummaged through the detective's drawers, finding a bottle opener while commenting with a smile.
"You know, Tina, you really should go grocery shopping once in a while. Buy a few things to eat...you know, that sort of thing."
Tina just smiled and shrugged her shoulders, reaching for the offered beer and taking a drink before she spoke.
"I'm not much of a cook. I eat out mostly."
Mariel just nodded and said nothing more, taking a drink of beer as the buzzer to the detective's apartment rang. She followed Tina into the living room and sat down again on the one chair, watching as the investigator went over and spoke into the intercom.
Mariel heard a chuckle come through the intercom before a tinny response.
"Et tu, Brute?"
The detective smirked and pressed the button for a second and then turned to face Mariel. She took another drink as the scientist spoke in a question.
"What was that all about?"
Tina smiled and shrugged before responding.
"An old joke. I always know it's her though so it's safe."
Mariel was immensely curious about this woman. What was she like? What type of woman would Tina go for? She was looking forward to meeting her even though the thought of one of the detective's old girlfriends was not a particularly appealing one. She took another drink and stood when Tina opened the door.
Walking into the room with a bag was a shorter woman with a big smile on her face. She had darker smooth skin, her hair falling in long curls on her shoulders. With deep brown eyes, she was slightly built, not much taller than Mariel. Wearing casual leggings, a sweater, and a brown leather coat, she had an exotic beauty all her own. But what the scientist noticed most was that smile. Bright, open, and honest. She greeted Tina with a friendly peck on the cheek before turning her eyes to Mariel, her expression one of pleasant interest.
"Hi...you must be Mariel, I'm Layla...nice to meet you."
With a grin, the woman held out her hand and the scientist smiled back, putting her beer down to shake it. Layla had a curious accent that Mariel couldn't quite place, but it sounded very melodic. Mariel liked this woman right away, her unassuming personality coming out quite naturally. The researcher felt at ease immediately.
"Nice to meet you too."
Layla smiled back widely and nodded, setting her bag down on the table before going into the kitchen and getting herself a beer. Tina just leaned her good shoulder against the living room wall and smiled, watching both women. Coming back in and taking a sip of her beverage, Layla came to stand next to Mariel and looked over at the detective with a slightly devious smile on her face as she nudged the scientist with her elbow.
"She's a mysterious one, isn't she? Lord only knows what goes through that gorgeous head of hers sometimes, eh?"
Mariel laughed as Tina narrowed her eyes and smirked over at Layla. With another drink of beer, Layla pointed her bottle towards the door.
"Now, Tina, don't you have someplace to be. I've got to work here without you hovering over me..."
They all chuckled as the detective's eyebrows raised in mock indignation.
"I do not...'hover'."
Layla put on a serious face and nodded, reaching down and grabbing Tina's leather jacket to hand to her.
"Right...see you in an hour or so?"
Tina let her eyes catch Mariel's, seeing the gentle amusement and level of comfort that told her the scientist would be fine. With a smile, she set the half-empty beer on the table and shrugged into her jacket.
"That works. I'll grab some carry-out for dinner."
Mariel nodded, smiling at Layla before finding Tina's blue eyes with her own. She spoke with a light tone of voice.
"Sounds great...see you then."
Tina smiled at her before reaching into her coat and pulling out her keys as she walked over to the door. Opening it, she turned back to both women, thinking that leaving them together to talk was perhaps a dangerous proposition. With a raised eyebrow, she spoke in a low voice.
"I do not hover."
Layla and Mariel looked at each other and affected a serious expression before turning to Tina, both of them nodding and saying nothing. The detective raised her eyebrow higher and gave them both a look, before smiling and letting the door close and lock behind her.
Layla turned to Mariel and looked her over, her brown eyes sparkling as she took another drink. With her charming accent, she put her beer down and took off her jacket, rubbing her hands together before speaking.
"So, let's get you dressed, eh?"
* * *
Mariel found herself essentially stark naked standing in the middle of Tina's living room while the detective's old girlfriend assessed her with a critical eye from where she sat on the futon. She supposed that she should feel uncomfortable given the surreal experience, but instead decided to live a little and go with it. Taking a drink of beer, the woman spoke.
"You know, you're really beautiful, makes my job pretty easy. You'd look great in everything, dear. Tina had better keep an eye on you tonight."
Mariel blushed and came over, sitting next to Layla on the futon, dressed only in a pair of light blue silk panties and lace bra. With a shy smile, she took a sip of beer and peered over at the large duffle bag Layla had situated between her legs on the floor. Clearing her throat, the scientist spoke quietly.
"Thanks...uh, did Tina mention that this is my first time...I mean, that it's my first case like this? I'm a little out of my element here."
Layla looked over at the younger blond warmly before letting her hand press against Mariel's arm, her voice sincere.
"Relax, Mariel. You'll be fine. Tina told me the general idea last night. I suspect if you follow her lead, there won't be anything to worry about, eh?"
Mariel watched as Layla reached into the bag and pulled out various clothing items. With a soft voice, the scientist spoke again.
"I trust her. Besides, how hard could it be to follow her lead? She's pretty, uh..."
Layla looked over at Mariel and smiled, a low chuckle coming from the gentle woman.
"Confident? Yeah...she's always been like that. That's what first attracted me to her. She has that...self-assured thing down real well, you know?"
Mariel smiled and nodded her head, knowing exactly what Layla was talking about. With another sip of her beer, she caught the woman's brown eyes with her own and spoke again, her voice a bit unsure.
"So, what do I need to know here? I'm not completely sure what I'm doing."
Layla paused and looked at her, knowing Mariel was speaking about more than just tonight's adventure. She knew enough about Tina to know right away that there was more to this than just a case. Her brief conversation on the phone and today's assessment made that perfectly clear to her. They were old souls, all of them somehow connected in an immutable bond. Layla liked to think of herself as a visionist, sensing things beyond what was on the surface. She 'felt' things, 'knew' things. And right now, she had a pretty good idea of what was unspoken. With a serious voice, she let her brown eyes directly look into Mariel's, taking in the depth of golden green.
"Trust your heart, Mariel. It knows everything, remembers everything."
The scientist glanced down at the floor before turning to look at the woman who had once been close to Tina in a way she was finding herself wanting. She couldn't explain it, couldn't begin to analyze it with her rational psychologist mind. All she knew was that she simply had to be around Tina, had to work with her, had to follow her...it was crazy and completely beyond logic. She hardly knew this woman a day and already, she felt like she had known her for lifetimes. With a quiet voice, Mariel spoke.
"A..friend once told me that there are some people we meet that have always been part of our lives...um, even our past lives. I know it sounds crazy, but she said that there are people we keep meeting over and over again, lifetime after lifetime, and there's an instant connection because we've always known them. That's pretty out there, isn't it?"
Mariel's voice was partly doubtful and partly wishful. Layla smiled gently over at the researcher, seeing the struggle between hopeful belief and that rigid logic most people held on to when they felt something that they didn't understand or that scared them. With a shake of her head, Layla put her hand on Mariel's and squeezed, her voice soothing and warm.
"Mariel, it's not crazy. I happen to know it's true. You'll just have to let your heart be your guide on this. Choices that come from there, right or wrong, are usually always worth making in the end. Trust in that and believe in yourself. And in her."
Mariel's eyes flickered at the woman's words, still not entirely convinced. Even though she would joke with her friends about past lives and all that New Age stuff, she never seriously considered it possible that any of it was true. Layla spoke like she knew the scientist. She'd never met the woman before and she was telling Mariel about making choices? As nice as Tina's old girlfriend was, Mariel wasn't ready to buy into everything hook, line, and sinker. But, it was a nice thought, that she and the detective had some connection. At this point, the scientist was ready to settle for any explanation that somehow managed to make sense of her feelings. Mariel nodded quietly as Layla handed over an article of clothing.
"Now, let's get you ready before our private detective friend shows back up, eh?"
* * *
"Are you sure this isn't a bit...understated or something?"
Mariel chuckled as she looked down at herself and glanced back over at Layla sitting at the table admiring her handiwork. The woman just smiled widely and shook her head, finishing her beer before she spoke.
"Trust me, honey, it works. You still look a bit...Midwestern, but I think you can pull it off."
Mariel smirked over at Layla and put a hand on her hip before laughing.
"Hey! How hard can it be?"
Layla chuckled and shook her head, brown curls swishing side to side as she let her hand rest on the table. With a smile, she spoke.
"Don't be too over-confident. You need to tone down the...attitude a bit to make it convincing. You don't want to question Tina in front of other people or they'll think something is up. Save that for in private. Besides, there are lots of benefits to your role, trust me."
The scientist came over to perch on the edge of the table, looking down at the brown-eyed woman with interest.
"Oh really? Like what?"
Layla got up and moved to the window, looking out at the setting sun wishing she could see the lake from Tina's window. Turning around, she crossed her arms over her chest and smiled. She liked Mariel, the young woman's genuine personality and charm were clearly evident. It's no wonder Tina had just growled at her on the phone when she had teased the detective about the necessity of going this far undercover. Definitely mixing business with pleasure, but then again, some of the best work could be done that way.
"Well, for starters, Tina's always going to know where you are so that means she'll either have her eyes or her hands on you at all times. Can't let anyone else try to snatch a beautiful thing like you up."
Mariel just laughed and waved her hand over at the detective's old girlfriend, feeling at ease with her.
"Oh, Layla, come on."
The woman just shook her head and continued, finding the blush on the scientist's face amusing.
"It's true. She's going to make sure you're well taken care of so someone else doesn't come along and catch your eye."
Mariel snorted as she stood, walking around in the apartment, getting used to her clothes. She had to admit, they felt a bit strange on a body that was used to cotton, but certainly they made her feel...different.
"Fat chance of that. So...besides losing the attitude, do I have to do anything special for her? I mean, to make it look real and all."
Layla walked over to the chair and grabbed her coat, smiling as she put it on. With a gentle nod, she spoke to the blond, the light from sundown falling on the scientist in a golden glow.
"All you have to do is let yourself react to her. Let yourself go where she takes you, follow as she leads, feel what she does to you. I think you'll be just fine, my dear."
Mariel was quiet as she watched Layla move towards the door. With a smile, the scientist walked over to her and put a hand on the woman's arm.
"Thank you, Layla. For everything."
The woman smiled back before pulling Mariel into a hug, patting her back before reaching for the door. She had a good vibe about this. With a delighted voice, she pulled back and smiled.
"You're welcome, Mariel. Have fun tonight."
The scientist nodded and smiled, letting her eyes fondly catch the woman's brown. Even though she had known Layla for less than an hour or so, she also felt some connection she couldn't explain. Just a gentle 'knowing' and comfort level that made the detective feel at ease. She spoke quietly.
"I really wish you could stay until Tina gets back."
Opening the door, Layla nodded, smiling back at the young woman who unknowingly captured the heart of her dark friend. With a shrug, she chuckled.
"Got soundcheck to get to...gotta get myself and my guitar over to Schuba's for the show tonight. Opening for Melissa Ferrick. Good crowd, eh? Tell that old detective that I'll call her next week."
Mariel's eyes conveyed the genuine warmth she felt for this woman from Tina's past. With a nod, she smiled softly at Layla.
With a wave, the petite singer walked out into the hall and smiled, her words coming over her shoulder in that soft indescribable accent of hers.
"My pleasure. Ciao."
* * *
Mariel leaned against the window sill, watching the rapidly darkening sky go from reddish oranges to navy in the transition. Her mind was elsewhere, thinking about the approaching evening and Layla's words. 'Feel what she does to you'. Hell, that's all Mariel had been doing since she met the investigator. Feeling everything was the easy part, knowing what to do next was the challenge. Sighing, she closed her eyes and let herself go with it, preparing her mind both for the job they had to do, and for Tina. She'd just wing it.
Tina walked up the stairs to her apartment, whistling a little to herself as she juggled the boxes of Chinese carry-out and her keys. With skillful hands, she unlocked the door and used her foot to open it, surprised to find the apartment semi-dark, the last bit of sundown casting a bluish glow inside. Layla was gone, that much was clear, but she could sense Mariel before her eyes picked up the scientist's quiet form leaning against the wall by the window. Without saying anything, the detective shut the door and went over to the table, dropping the boxes and her keys down before her gaze shifted back over to Mariel. She was noting the subtle change here, from the darkened room to the silent doctor.
With slow steps, Tina walked over to her dresser and clicked on the soft lamp, it's low glow sending yellow light in the room. Turning towards the window, she let her gaze flicker over to Mariel before she reached out and shut the blinds to the windows. Her booted footsteps were the only sound as she shrugged out of her leather jacket and walked over to the quiet scientist. With a low voice, she let her eyes fall on green.
Mariel let a little smile cross her lips before she stepped out a bit from the shadows. Looking down at herself, she lifted her eyes back up to the detective's and cocked her head a little to the side, holding her arms out and speaking with a light nervous chuckle in her voice.
"Yeah, I'm good...a little chilly, but good. Do you think this will work?"
Tina stepped back and gazed at the scientist's form, given full permission to look at Mariel with an admiring eye. Her hair was essentially the same, though perhaps a bit fuller, the blond-red lengths falling freely. Tina took in the rest of the scientist, glancing up at Mariel's face before letting her eyes linger down over the researcher's sleek body. Mariel wore a black leather bra and nothing else under a short, black leather motorcycle jacket, the expanse of exposed skin contrasting against the dark leather. A pair of tight, thin soft black leather pants curved over her hips and clung to the scientist's legs like second skin. Black boots completed the outfit. It was exactly what fit Mariel's personality, making the transition for their work easier. Neither too much nor too little, it was perfect. Any more and it would look contrived on the scientist, making her feel uncomfortable. Any less and it wouldn't be clear that Mariel was a part of the scene, making others suspicious.
Tina nodded, a smile coming to her face as she saw the slight blush travel up the scientist's neck and cheeks. She watched as Mariel shrugged and smiled a bit shyly.
"Thanks...it's certainly, um..."
She paused, unsure of what exactly the outfit was. Revealing, yes. Uncomfortable, no. She looked up into Tina's eyes, seeing cautious appreciation there hidden behind the detective's no-nonsense wall of professionalism.
"It's perfect. You look..beautiful, Mariel. Really."
It was the detective's turn to pause as she lowered her eyes and ran a hand through her hair as she looked up, watching Mariel walk over to the table and take a seat, a smile coming to her face as she raised an eyebrow. With an amused voice, the scientist spoke.
Tina chuckled as she ambled over to the table, pointing at the take-out boxes.
"Go on and grab something to eat while I get ready. I take it Layla had to leave early."
Mariel smiled and eyed the boxes before reaching over and grabbing a fortune cookie. She spoke as the detective walked across the room, her tall form moving in the dimly lit room with measured ease.
"Yeah, she said she had a gig. I liked her, she's very sweet. You know, I'm not really all that hungry, believe it or not."
And she wasn't, which was odd. She could only attribute that to nerves or the other half of Tina's chicken enchilada that she managed to talk her way into 'borrowing' from the detective's plate. After getting up and putting the boxes in the refrigerator, she sat back down and unwrapped the golden piece of baked pastry. Opening up her fortune cookie, Mariel pulled out the slip of paper and read it: 'The bigger they are, the harder they fall'. She smiled at the words and tucked the piece of paper in her jacket pocket before lifting her eyes to glance across the room, curious as to what the detective was going to wear but not wanting to stare.
Reaching behind her, Tina unclipped her gun from its perch on the back of her waistband and set it on the dresser before opening her closet door. Kicking off her cowboy boots, she knew that Mariel was fighting with herself about whether she wanted to keep her eyes on the detective while she changed or whether she should allow the woman her privacy. Tina smiled to herself and let the scientist puzzle over that while she stripped out of her jeans, throwing her Levi's on the futon beside her. Time to put some of her past to good use.
Mariel swallowed and glanced over at Tina for what felt like the millionth time, no longer able to fight the urge to see what the private investigator was going to wear. Her green gaze fell on the tall detective's form, standing in her living room in just a black t-shirt and black silk boxers. She saw Tina reach into the closet and pull down a pair of pants and a belt from the rack. With casual ease, she slipped the pants on, and reached back into the closet, picking up a pair of black motorcycle boots and some other items.
Turning, the detective smiled quietly over at Mariel before tucking in her black t-shirt from earlier. In bare feet, Tina walked over and stood next to the table, setting the boots on the floor and the items in her hand on the table. Mariel noticed now that the loose-fitting pants Tina was wearing were dark grey with a black stripe running up the leg. Clearly, these were the bottoms of a police uniform. The scientist let her gaze fall on detective's hands as they reached over and slipped the wide black leather police belt around Tina's waist. The investigator even put a nightstick in her belt loop for added effect and wise planning. Most likely the gun was not coming along with them tonight.
Mariel couldn't think of anything to say at the moment so she just watched as Tina knelt, pulling on her socks and boots quickly before rising again. Wow. At that moment, the scientist decided to silently thank the Chicago PD for not confiscating old uniforms. Tina looked positively commanding in it. Casual, yet it made a bold statement. Tina could wear something like this with the attitude to go along with it. It was perfect for their situation. She didn't need layers of leather to show off, she didn't need a sign around her neck proclaiming anything. The detective simply projected authority in stature and personality. It certainly worked for Mariel.
Tina's low voice rumbled as she grabbed her own fortune cookie and cracked it open, walking over to the closet one more time. She munched on the slightly sweet cookie while she pulled out her slip of paper, reading it with an amused smile on her face: 'The best things in life come in small packages.' Indeed. Reaching in, she pulled out a jacket and turned to face the scientist. With casual shrug, she put on a thick black leather motorcycle jacket of her own and let a lopsided grin come to her face. Walking towards Mariel, she stood tall and raised an eyebrow, her arms out to the side as she chewed the remaining bit of fortune cookie.
"So, what do you think? Does it work?"
Mariel chuckled and came forward, letting her eyes take in the detective's partially uniformed body. Black t-shirt, black leather jacket, grey police pants, black motorcycle boots, black leather belt, black hair, and blue, blue eyes. Oh yeah. It worked alright. Following this woman's lead all night was going to be a piece of cake. Keeping her mind on her job was another matter. Focus, Mariel, focus. With a smile, she tilted her head and looked up at the investigator, her voice playful.
"I think you and I are going to work this case, Detective Amphipoli."
Tina raised a dark eyebrow as she came over, letting her arm casually drape over the shorter woman's shoulder, leading her towards the door. With a smirk, she looked down into the scientist's eyes and winked.
"You got that right, Doctor Potidean."
Tina opened the door and ushered them both through it, smiling a little as the scientist kept close to her, ready to play their respective parts for tonight's information quest willingly. Out they went into the October chill in search of clues that would lead them closer to solving the mystery behind the string of disappearances in the city of Chicago. It was going to be a long night indeed.