Friendship Closes It's Eyes

By tuna.dc

 

The alley was dark. The man dragged the woman back into it forcibly and slammed her against the brick wall of the building. Her head smacked hard and she slumped down toward the ground. Off in the distance, the festive sounds of a carnival could be heard. The ending trail of bright lights stopped just outside the alleyway. The woman tried to scream, but his hand was over her mouth. She could taste the salty, sweaty skin. It made her sick. The sound of in-coming police sirens pierced through his heavy breathing and her sobbing. He forced himself on her as she cried in muffled tones.

"I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid anymore," he mumbled breathlessly as he continued his brutal assault.

The sirens were closer now. He grabbed the money from her purse and left her lying in a bloody, beaten heap and ran.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Twelve enjoyable, yet exhausting, days after the wedding, Chris pulled the Jeep into the familiar driveway. Rita groaned as the car came to a stop. "I need a vacation from my vacation," she mumbled as she stared straight ahead.

"Come on, Sammy," Chris began, still as energetic as ever. He went around to her side of the Jeep, opened the door for her, and pulled her out by both arms.

"Chris!" she said tiredly, fighting his pulling all the way.

"There's still one more official thing I have to do."

Rita groaned. "And what could that possibly be? You took 55 rolls of film in Hawaii," she said, reluctantly following him. "I hope it's not another picture."

"Ah, no. How could you forget, Sam?" he said, holding out his hand in disbelief. She took it with some apprehension. "You usually get off on these traditional things." Chris took her around to the front of the house. "I need to carry you over the threshold," he said, unlocking, but not opening the front door. "And I didn't just take pictures over there, or have you forgotten already?" he asked sarcastically, raising his eyebrows.

Rita shook her head and smiled. "You know, you don't have to do this. I'm sure the whole neighborhood is watching us right now. Don't you feel a little ridiculous? It's the middle of the afternoon."

"So?" he said, dragging out the 'o.' "I have to do this. Otherwise it's bad luck or something," he added, taking a step closer to her.

"Are you sure?" she asked one more time.

"Yes, I'm sure. Come on, gal," he shouted. Picking her up in single swoop, he headed up the single step to their front door. Carefully, he turned the knob, opened the door, and walked in wearing the biggest, silliest looking grin on his face.

"You are something else. You know that, don't you?" Rita asked him as he carefully set her back on her feet. He leaned in and gave her a little kiss, and she quickly reciprocated.

"But you love me anyway, don't you?"

"Yes, I do," she said as her eyes scanned the room. "Looks like everything's OK in here, huh? Everything's still standing."

"Yep, I'm sure Harry and Fran loved taking care of the place. It probably made their last two weeks," Chris said. "I'll go get the luggage," he added as her headed back outside. Rita went looking from room to room.

As Chris headed back to the Jeep, he heard a familiar voice. "So, how was the honeymoon?" Web Webster called out to him as began walking over.

"Great, Web, absolutely fantastic," Chris said, meeting him halfway between their properties, extending his hand to his neighbor. "How's everything in the neighborhood?"

"The same. It's been quiet. Pretty nice weather too, not too hot at all," the older gentleman said with a smile. "You know that captain of yours is a very nice fellow. He knows a lot about baseball, doesn't he?"

Chris let out a laugh. "Yeah, he does," Chris paused, "The two of you must have had a lot to talk about, huh?"

"We had a few beers together out back. You know I can ramble on about sports forever," Web explained.

"Yep, I've noticed," Chris said with a grin. "So who ya' pickin' to go all the way for March Madness, Web?" Chris asked as he walked back to the Jeep and started pulling out the suitcases.

"Everyone's going with Duke, I think. But 'cha never know. There may be an upset along the way, right?" Web said, lifting up a suitcase to give Chris a hand. (NOTE TO READERS, ESPECIALLY JUDY...I ACTUALLY WROTE THIS LINE BEFORE DUKE LOST TO CONNECTICUT IN THE FINAL!)

"Yeah, you're right about that. A lot can happen when 64 teams get together. Don't worry about those, Web. I can get them," Chris said, referring to the bags.

"Nonsense. You're still technically on your honeymoon. I'll just give you a hand to the front door and then you two can get back to where you left off over in Paradise," he said with a chuckle. "That was one great wedding you two had. You left kinda early, though, didn't you?"

"Yeah, we had to catch a plane." Chris carried the majority of the bags, with Web following behind. "Why, did something happen after we left?"

"Well, once the band took a break, everyone just seemed to kinda take over the microphone, telling stories about the two of you. I don't know when I ever laughed so much in my life. Between the people you work with, and your friends and family, I just don't know, one story was better than the next," Web described. "They must have been going till 2 or 3 in the morning," he said fondly, laughing a little harder.

Chris tried to act a little irritated, but apparently the reception was a hit, and that was the main thing. He was glad that everyone had a good time. Rita opened the front door as they approached and grabbed a suitcase out of Chris' hands. "Hi, Web. Come on in," she said, inviting him to enter.

"Hi, Rita. How was Hawaii?"

"Absolutely terrific. And you were right about the restaurant choices. Thanks for the info," she said, giving him a warm hug as soon as he set down the suitcase.

"It sounds like the reception was a success, even though we left early," Chris began to relate.

"Really?" Rita asked, looking to Web for clarification.

"Everyone started telling stories about you two. The punch line became, 'and then Rita said...' I never figured the two of you could get into so much trouble. It's a good thing you're cops, cuz if you were on the other side of the law, Palm Beach would be in big trouble."

Rita gave Chris a look as he just stood there and shrugged his shoulders. "I guess the reception was a real event, so to speak, huh? Maybe we shouldn't have left early."

Chris shook his head. "No, I think we did exactly the right thing and left at exactly the right time." He gave her a wink. "Web, can I get you a beer or something?" Chris asked as he motioned for him to sit down. "I'm not exactly sure what's in the fridge, but Iíll bet there's a bottle or two."

"Nah, I'm not staying that long. I just wanted to be the welcoming committee, you know," he said with a laugh. "It's good to have the two of you back home."

"So, has anything exciting happened? Did we miss anything?" Rita asked.

"Hmm, let me see. Nah, I don't think so. I think the murderers took some time off while you were gone. They figured if they couldn't get caught by the two of you, why bother. There was a bit of a ruckus over in Little Cuba, though. But I don't think anyone got killed. It was in last week's paper. Listen, I'll let you two get settled. Welcome home," he said kindly as he headed for the door.

"Thanks, Web. We'll talk to you soon, OK?" Chris said, as Rita showed him to the door.

"I'm sure of it," Web replied with a wave as he left.

Rita closed the door and watched their neighbor head back over to his house. "He is such a nice man."

Chris watched her closely as she was watching Web. He already knew what she was up to. "Oh, no, no. I know that tone," Chris said, shaking his finger at her.

"What tone are you talking about?" she asked as she turned, giving him a smile.

"The 'I need to find him a nice woman' tone," Chris said, followed by a 'ha'.

"That's not what I said."

"That's what it sounded like," he answered, turning his back to her as he waited anxiously for her reaction.

She walked over to him, slid her arms around him, then pulled him close for a hug. He looked at her suspiciously. "The tone worked for me, didn't it?" she asked, running her lips lightly along his cheek.

"Mmmhmm," he answered, diving in and stealing a quick kiss. "You do have a point there." His hands roamed up and caressed her back. His kiss made her body shudder like a gust of spring wind, bringing with it the lure of a warm summer, yet surprisingly cool, exciting, and refreshing. Quickly and intensely it spread from his lips to her lips, and rippled through the rest of her body. The feeling quickly subsided but left her desperately wanting more.

"This is OUR house now," Rita began, accentuation the word 'our'. She teased his lips softly before continuing, "And OUR life together," she added, continuing to brush her lips against his.

"It always has been OUR house and OUR life together," he answered, his lips forming a smile. "We've been making the house payments together to prove it, remember?"

"You know what I mean," she whispered. She continued playing with his lips, darting in and out, top to bottom, before deciding to nibble and suckle on his lower lip. She knew it drove him mad. She could feel the warm breath from his nose and mouth and hear him make a deep sound in his throat. She knew she had him now. She took her thumbs and ran them softly over his cheeks and felt him form a smile beneath her touch, as his hands continued their slow ascent, burying themselves into her hair, drawing her closer all the while.

Rita kept her lips gliding over every inch of his face, moving inch by inch from one precious piece of his skin to the next, as if she were detailing it for a map, claiming it all as her territory. He was happy to let her explore.

Chris tried to remain somewhat restrained, but each time her lips came near his, he made sure he captured them, if only for a brief embrace, before letting her continue. His hands roamed the back side of her body. He knew these parts intimately, but even now, every time they made love, it always seemed new. He loved every curve and every smooth, firm line. There definitely was something special about Rita. He knew that the first moment he had met her. And things just kept getting better with each passing day.

Her kisses became more sensual, her lips venturing up his neck, then behind his ear lobe, as her fingers curled through his soft, fine hair. Rita wanted to drive him crazy with desire and knew she was succeeding as she heard his breathing intensify. Her tongue caught the tip of his ear lobe right as her lips closed around it and she began to suckle it tenderly. Lightly, she nuzzled along the sensitive skin she found there, breathing cool air onto the warm, moist area. Chris exhaled deeply. She pulled back, just for a second, to see his face. His mouth was open and his eyes had darkened.

"I don't want this honeymoon to ever end," he said raggedly as his hands glided up her arms, reaching her shoulders.

"Me either," she managed to respond before she captured his lips one more time. She drove her tongue into him, sending a new shock wave through his body. He pushed the loose blouse she wore off her shoulders, revealing a tight, form-fitting T-shirt underneath. They stayed locked in the kiss, deepening it again and again. He moved his body closer to hers, pressing his arousal against her. She felt it immediately and pressed her own body tightly against his in response as her blouse slipped to the floor. Chris' hands went back to work, meandering softly, painfully slowly, back up her arms, lightly squeezing and sliding his fingertips over her supple skin. She broke the kiss and gazed into his face, her emerald eyes locking with his.

When his fingertips reached her shoulders, he pulled back the material of her T-shirt, revealing her milky white skin. She watched as he closed his mouth, ducked his head down, as he began kissing and nibbling her shoulder. Her hand came up and held the back of his head as she turned to kiss the side of it. Chris was just getting started as he gradually worked his hand down her body, pausing to caress a breast through the tight cotton material, then continuing lower still, to swirl around onto her stomach, before slipping down into her jeans. The heat from his hand radiated through her like a laser. She felt herself slipping under his loving spell again. His lips worked their magic along her shoulder and then up and down along her neck. He was coming at her from everywhere now.

When he got closer to her ear he whispered, "I gotta have you, Sam." He brought his hand up out of her jeans, his short fingernails lightly scraping her skin, then he made quick work of her T-shirt. She inched closer to him, letting him know that she wanted him just as badly as he wanted her. Their hands clasped together and he began to back up, leading her toward their living room sofa. Before they sat down, Chris reached down and unhooked Rita's bra, letting it fall to the floor. Her hands tugged his T-shirt, lifting it up over his head. He raised his arms up and watched her every move. When his shirt had been deposited on the floor, he moved in slowly, wrapping his arms around her, and kissed her deeply. She matched his move as well as the kiss. Together, they seemed to flow backwards onto the cushions of the sofa. Chris balanced on one arm as she slid underneath him, to get more comfortable. Her hand reached for his jeans, to undo the clasp. He pressed closer to her, to help her with her task. She fumbled with it for a minute, then felt it open. Next, she released the zipper and pushed his jeans to the floor. She reached for him tenderly and heard him let out a deep sigh that resounded through her against her lips.

In a glorious instant he was inside her, the two of them melting together, becoming one all over again. Their skin lightly misted with sweat and desire, their closeness bonded by love. Everything in unison, their breathing, their movements, their total passion for each other, resounded deep within their hearts.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was the middle of the night, still pitch dark in their bedroom. Chris shifted his body, letting his arm slowly fall to rest where he thought Rita was. His arm came down onto a cool, empty spot on the bed. He ran his hand over the spot. Her side of the bed was empty...she was gone. He began to wake up, realizing in his subconscious that she wasnít there. He braced himself up on one elbow first, running his free hand over the bed. Nope, he wasn't dreaming, she wasn't beside him. Now he sat up and tried to scan the darkness. "Rita," he called out. There was no reply. He ran his hand over his face, urging himself to awaken, and started to get up out of bed. A slight chill zipped through him, so he grabbed the comforter off their bed and wrapped it around his body. He shuffled down the hall toward a tiny shred of light coming from the living room. Maybe she had had a bad dream, or she just couldn't sleep. He knew both things could be possible, having known her for as long and as well as he had. He took a deep breath, which turned into a yawn as he got nearer, hoping to wake himself up a little more. She apparently hadn't heard him coming. She was sitting on the sofa with her legs tucked under her body, hunched over a bit, sipping a cup of hot tea.

"Sammy?" Chris said, still shrouded by the dark hallway.

She looked up at him with wide, panicky eyes. He noticed right away that something wrong.

"Rita, what is it?" he asked, coming closer.

"I didn't mean to wake you up. I'm sorry."

"What's wrong? Did you have a bad dream or something?" he asked, standing right in front of her. He was just about to sit down when she shook her head no. He saw her tremble and immediately sat down beside her and wrapped her inside the comforter with him. She was like an ice cube. "Sammy, are you sick?" he questioned. ďYouíre shivering!"

"I think so. Must be the flu. I've got the chills."

"We need to get you back to bed then," he said, trying to warm her up.

"No," she stretched out the word. "I don't want you to get sick too," she said as she attempted to push him away.

"OK, I think you're delirious now, too. If you're sick, you need to be in bed," he began with a small smile. Not letting her pull away, he held her tight, continuing to radiate his own body heat against her. "Rita, this is where the 'in sickness and in health' part comes in. You were at the ceremony thirteen days ago, weren't you?"

He could tell that she was trying to smile, but it quickly disappeared as tears began to well up in her eyes. She let out a sniffle then mumbled, "I didn't think it would happen so soon."

Chris pulled her closer, resting her head against his chest, and placed a kiss on top of her hair. He laughed a little. "Rita, we've been in intimately contact with each other for how long now? I'm bound to catch it, it's no big deal. You don't die from the flu." He could feel her body tremble with fever. "Right now we need to get you into bed," he said sternly. "Can you walk OK?" But before she even answered, he picked her up to carry her down the hall. "Good thing I had practice on this yesterday," he added, trying to lighten the mood.

He laid Rita gently onto the bed and covered her up, then went into the hallway, got two more blankets from the linen closet, and brought them into the bedroom. As he tucked the extra blankets around her, he noticed her eyes were still damp with tears. Chris took his thumbs and brushed her tears away. "You're gonna be fine. It's just the flu," he tried to reassure her. "You need to get some rest now, OK?"

Rita nodded. As Chris turned to leave the room, she called out to him, "Where ya going?"

He spun back around as he stood in the doorway. "You don't think I'm gonna sleep next to you, do you?" he said with a grin. The expression on her face turned from worry to sadness. Chris let out a 'ha'. "I'm just going to shut off the lights and check to make sure you turned off the stove. I'll be right back. Close your eyes and get some sleep." Rita closed her eyes as he left the room.

Chris went back into the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge for himself, and sat down at the table for a few minutes. He was pretty tired himself and kept yawning as he drank down the bottle. He was trying to convince himself that he wasn't nervous about her being sick. "It's just the flu. You know it's going around," he mumbled to himself. But the last time she had had similar symptoms, she nearly died from the chicken pox. He knew he was in for a long night now. Finishing his water, he tossed the bottle into the recycling bin. He turned off the lights and walked back to the bedroom. Rita appeared to be sleeping, but as soon as Chris walked in, she called out to him.

"Is everything OK?"

"Yeah, everything's fine, except that you should be asleep," he said, thinking she must have been keeping track of how long he'd been gone. He put his hand to her forehead to see if she had a fever. "I brought you some flu medicine. Do you want think you can sit up a little and take it?"

With his help, she managed to drink down the liquid, then she quickly shrank back into the warmth and softness of their bed. "Thanks," she quietly said.

Chris set the medicine on the nightstand beside her, walked around to his side of the bed, and crawled in. Rita shivered again, so he drew her close to his body to warm her up.

"You don't have to do this, Chris. I'll be fine. I don't want you to get it too," she began her minor tirade again.

"Shhh," he whispered. "You need rest and warmth, and that's exactly what I intend to give you."

They both finally drifted off to sleep, though neither one would get much substantial rest.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris woke up repeatedly through the night to check on Rita, who bounced back and forth from being a furnace to being a freezer. It did seem like she was getting some sleep, and for that, he was grateful.

At 5:30 AM he finally decided to get up. Rita was still sleeping, so he was careful not to disturb her as he went into the kitchen to make some coffee, before heading into the bathroom for a shower. By 5:45, he was all set to go to work. He yawned as he watched Rita toss and turn, then went back through the living room to check outside for the morning paper. It had arrived. Good thing, he thought to himself, it would keep him busy for another twenty minutes or so. Pouring himself another cup of coffee, he sat down on the sofa, armed with the paper. He turned on the TV softly and changed the channel from Romance Classics to ESPN. Rita and her movies, he smiled thinking about her. Twenty minutes later, he dozed off himself. It wasn't quality sleep, but it was needed sleep.

Chris woke up at 7:23 and wondered where he was for a moment. Then he remembered and got up to check on Rita. She was still asleep. He bent down and checked her forehead. It was still warm. Walking back to the kitchen, he decided to make her a little something to eat. He found the container of oatmeal and carefully followed the microwave instructions. He also boiled water for some tea. While he waited, he walked outside to the backyard, cut off a few blooming flowers, brought them inside, and put them in a glass of water. He found a tray and carried the small meal into the bedroom.

Chris set the tray on the nightstand while he leaned down and placed his cool lips on her hot forehead. He kissed her softly and ran his fingers through her hair, then quietly called out her name. "Rita, Rita, hey, can you wake up?"

Rita stirred, slowly opening her eyes, then looked up at him. Her head was still throbbing. "Chris, what is it?" she managed to ask, attempting to sit up. "What time is it?"

"How're you feeling?" he asked her, trying to smile a little.

She reached up and ran the back of her hand along her forehead. "Oh, I'd say miserable. I gotta get up though. What time is it?" she repeated, trying to sit up again.

Chris wouldn't let her. "No, you're not going anywhere today, Sam. You've got a fever and you're staying right her in bed. It's almost 7:30. I made you some oatmeal and tea. Do you think you can try to eat?"

"I'm so hot right now," she said, sitting up a little more and throwing off the covers. "How could I have possibly caught the flu in Hawaii?"

Chris chuckled. "Don't forget we started this little honeymoon in Wisconsin. Maybe the polar climate just doesn't suit you." He reached around and brought the tray from the nightstand onto to her lap. "Oatmeal and tea," he said proudly. "I sprinkled some brown sugar on the oatmeal for you, too."

Rita mustered up a smile for his thoughtfulness, especially after seeing the flowers. She knew they were only from the backyard, but the caring sentiment was very evident. "I have so much work to catch up on," she began, thinking about the two weeks she'd been gone already. "I really should go in for a little while."

"Nope, no way. I can take care of things. What's so important anyway?" he asked, sitting down beside her on the bed.

Rita finished a few mouthfuls of oatmeal. "I'm working on this report for the police commission. They wanted it before the wedding, but I just didn't have enough time, with the Kurkowic case and all," she said, pushing the oatmeal away. Her face soured at the thought of eating.

Chris pushed it right back toward her. "Try just a few more spoonfuls, OK? You need to eat something."

Rita picked up the spoon but didn't take any at first. "I promised them I'd get back at the report right away."

"What needs to get done?"

She set the spoon down next to the bowl and felt her forehead. "It still needs some research added to it. I found a web site that had just what I needed and bookmarked it on my computer. All the notes are under RLLpcom.doc."

"Is that RLL as in Lance or RLL as in Lorenzo?"

"Whatta you think?" she said, rolling her eyes at him. Chris grinned mischievously back at her. She knew he was trying hard to cheer her up and take her mind off being sick.

"Good. I'll get right on that this morning then," he said brightly. "That is, right after I get you all set up for today."

Rita wasn't exactly sure what he was talking about. But then again, she wasn't sure of anything at the moment, except trying to live for another minute. "What are you talking about?" she asked, before attempting another spoonful of oatmeal. She made a face as she swallowed the warm concoction down.

Chris watched her down it and nodded his approval. "Hang on, let me show you," he said as he got up and left the room. A few minutes later, he came back with the TV, VCR, and a handful of tapes. On his next trip, he brought in the portable phone, a carafe of orange juice, some vitamin C, and Echinacea pills, too. Then he headed for the bathroom, returning moments later with an armful of cold and flu remedies, along with several boxes of Kleenex and a small garbage can for the used ones. One more trip brought a handful of magazines and three cheesy paperback romance novels.

Even though she felt miserable, Rita had to laugh as he piled all the things around her.

"There, I think you're all set now!" he concluded.

"I'm not an invalid, nor will I be here long enough to get through all this stuff, Christopher."

"Well, I don't want you getting out of this bed, except to use the bathroom or to get something to eat or drink. Is that clear?" he said sternly.

"Yes, sir," she replied. "I'll be fine. You'd better get going to work. You don't want to be late on your first day back."

"The boss will never know," he said, grinning at said boss. "I'll stop home at lunch time."

Rita nodded and managed another smile then Chris started to leave. "Chris?" she called out.

"Yeah?" He turned in the doorway.

"Thank you. I love you."

"Your welcome and I love you too. But I'm not giving you another kiss till you're no longer contagious," he joked. She looked at him sadly, which prompted him to walk over and give her a tender kiss on the forehead. "I'm kidding about the kiss, but I do want you to stay in bed. Call me if you need me."

Rita nodded and gave him a smile, then she closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris burst through the palm tree doors, greeting everyone with his famous grin and a big hello. Everyone congratulated him, then questioned him about where Rita was. It was rather unusual to see Chris arriving before Rita. After years of working in the department together, everyone knew Rita was always the prompt one, not Chris. He tried to explain that she had the flu, but no one was buying his story.

Finally, Cap walked out of his office and broke into the melee. "All right, come on now. What's going on out here?" Then he spotted Chris in the center of things. "I should figured it was you, Lorenzo. You know, we heard enough stories about the you and your wife at your reception to last a lifetime," Cap began, with a glint of mischief in his eye.

Chris eyed him suspiciously. "I heard."

Everyone gathered around let out a laugh.

"So where is the bride, Lorenzo?"

"Believe it or not, Cap, she has the flu. She woke in the middle of the night with chills and a fever. She wasn't doing any better this morning, so she's home in bed," he explained. "She said I would be in charge," he added with a grin. The small crowd let out a moan then began to disperse, getting back to their duties.

"She's got a fever, huh?" Cap asked, now showing some fatherly concern.

"Yeah, I think so. I didn't take her temp, but she was warm. So I made her some breakfast and got her all set up to stay in bed all day."

"You know, Franny's a nurse. Maybe I should call her and send her over to check on Rita."

"Thanks, Cap, but I'm sure she's sleeping by now. And that's all she really needs, just rest. She'll be fine. I'm gonna check on her all day long, I promise."

"OK, good. Just let me know if you need anything, anything at all. We'll be right there for you guys, you know that, right?" Cap babbled on.

Chris grinned. "Yeah, Cap, we know. We'll be just fine." Chris glanced over to his desk then toward Rita's office. "I think I'd better get started and see what I can plow through today.

"Yeah, OK. Remember, you take care of Rita first. This stuff can wait," Cap reiterated.

Chris nodded then headed into Rita's office. He glanced at his desk as he walked by, but figured his stuff could wait. He knew he'd be helping Rita out the most if he could at least make a dent in the stacks and stacks of files that were piled on her desk. He stood in the doorway momentarily and breathed a heavy sigh then took off his suit coat, depositing it on one of the chairs, and headed for the desk chair. Sitting down, he rolled up his sleeves and loosened up his tie. He grabbed the top file and quickly scanned it for some sort of clue as to what exactly he needed to do with it. He started reading and was getting more and more interested, when a knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. Tre and Geoff stood there, waiting to be greeted and invited in.

"Hey, you guys. Come on in," he motioned to them. "Where have you been?"

"What's this? You're the head of the household and the new head around here too?" Geoff asked jokingly.

"I'd say Ďtemporarily yesí to both." Chris grinned as they came into the tiny office and sat down.

"Where is Rita, anyway? Did she find someone else in Hawaii?" Tre asked.

"Nah, wait. She found someone in Wisconsin, right?" Geoff added with a laugh. "She hooked up with a dairy farmer, didn't she?" Geoff continued as he and Tre had a good laugh at Chris' expense.

Chris just listened and watched them have their fun.

"Hey, did you really pose as a male dancer?" Geoff asked, still apparently intrigued by the wedding reception stories.

"Yeah, and that thing about getting audited, no way, right?" Tre added.

"And Rita wanted some guy's ear for a trophy?" Geoff said in disbelief.

Chris scowled at the two of them.

"That was one hell of a reception. Probably the best one I've ever been at," Geoff said, starting to laugh again. "You and Rita are pretty incredible." They still hadn't let Chris get a word in edgewise.

"Are you two just about finished?" Chris asked, acting slightly irritated. They nodded and smiled at him. "Rita's sick today. She's got the flu, OK?" he told them, letting it hang in the air as a question. But they waited for him to answer their questions. Chris finally gave in. "Yes, I posed as a male dancer. My name was Rocky. I did try to date a woman who audited my tax returns, and the ear thing was just an undercover gag. Are you satisfied now?"

Tre and Geoff looked at each other and nodded then let out their contained laughter. After a few minutes, they regained their composure.

"So, how was the honeymoon?" Tre asked in a more serious tone.

"It was great. Everything was perfect," Chris said happily. Geoff and Tre could tell by his enthusiasm just how content he was. "What's been going on here?"

"We're working on a homicide from last week," Geoff began. "Actually, we plan on wrapping it up today. The suspect has been in custody since Saturday. We need to finish searching his apartment for a missing bullet, but he has already confessed to the murder."

Chris listened carefully. "Good, maybe you guys can help me sift through this mess then," he said, referring to Rita's desk. "I'd like to get this stuff taken care of so Rita can relax and get better."

"She's pretty sick, huh?" Tre asked.

"She's got a fever, chills, the whole nine yards. I know she's itching to get back here, but if I can get everything done, then she won't feel so anxious about it. She really needs to just rest."

"Maybe she's faking it, for more time off," Geoff suggested.

"No way, man. This is Rita we're talking about, not Chris," Tre joked.

Chris shook his head. These two were practicing their Laurel and Hardy routine and he was getting a headache. He'd had enough of it and then some. Plus he was getting nowhere listening to their comedic drivel. "So, when you two get the case wrapped up, come see me," Chris said, giving his attention back to the paperwork.

"Geoff can," Tre began, "I have court this afternoon, and you know how Donovan is."

Chris looked up and nodded. "Yeah, I've been there myself. Well then, it's just you and me, Geoff. And Tre, any spare time is mine today and tomorrow. I mean it."

Geoff and Tre rose from their chairs. "Damn, I hope Rita gets better quickly. All marriage is doing to you is making you a crab!" Tre said.

"We'll be here, Chris. You can count on us," Geoff said with a smile as the two of them left the room.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris stayed cooped up in the office for the better part of the morning until Cap came in around 10:30 with a cup of coffee for him.

"I thought you could use this," he said, putting the cup down in front of Chris.

"Thanks, Cap," Chris said, barely glancing up at him.

"You're welcome," he replied, then he cleared his throat. Cap apparently wanted his attention.

Chris took the hint and looked up. "Cap, did you want something?"

"What'cha working on?" he asked, starting out with idle chatter.

Chris missed the signal and leaped into a discussion about what he was actually working on. He told Cap that he'd been fascinated for the past forty or so minutes by the report Rita had started on old murder cases. He hadn't exactly figured out the point of her research or where her notes were going yet, or even what they were intended for, but the report had grabbed him in some way. "The cases are from way back, actually. It's really interesting. I remember how Rita got so drawn into the case of Jasmine. I think she's got some kind of link to the past. Homicide is definitely in her blood. She's absolutely tenacious," Chris continued on. Then he began to think Cap wanted to know what he was up to work-wise, so he shifted gears. "I've also completed Rita's weekly reports, plus I've started on her police commission report, even though I don't quite understand it. I've got some questions written down to ask her at lunch."

Cap looked at him, impressed. "I think you've just found a new respect for your wife and what she does around here, haven't you?"

Chris grinned. "Well, I knew she did a lot, even before she made Looey. But yeah, I guess I am impressed. She really devotes herself to everything, heart and soul." Chris knew first hand how she devoted herself to him.

"Yes, she does," Cap said, staring at Chris.

"So, what exactly did you need, Cap?" Chris asked, trying to change the subject. "Is there something you wanted me to do?"

"I just wanted to see what you were up to, see if I could help you with anything."

"I think I have everything under control, unless there's something you specifically want me to do. Geoff and Tre are finishing up on a homicide, so I figured I'd just plow through Rita's mess," Chris explained.

"It's fine, Chris, just fine." Chris got a little worried when Cap called him by his first name. "How are you doing, anyway? Are you glad you're back here? I mean, we really haven't discussed the OCB thing at all. And then with the wedding, well I was just wondering," Cap rambled.

"Yeah, I'm OK. I think this is where I need to be for now. Maybe not forever, but now is good," Chris paused. "I never did apologize or thank you for being so understanding during that whole thing, did I?"

"No need to. I can understand the pressure that you were under. I'm always here for you, you need to remember that."

"Sure, Cap," Chris said, now wondering just exactly what was going on with Cap. "Is everything all right with you and Fran?"

"Yeah, everything's fine. Whatta ya talking about?" Cap said, turning the conversation away from himself for some odd reason.

"Cuz the same thing goes for you, Cap. Anytime you need us, we're both here for you. You've been so great to us, Cap, both you and Frannie. We'll never be able to properly thank you."

"Ah, forget it. I was talking about you. I want you to be happy here, Chris. Understand?"

Chris was still stumped. "I'm fine, Cap, really."

Harry got up to leave. "Listen, I don't know exactly how to say this, Chris," he began.

Chris watched him closely. "What, Cap? Tell me."

"I'm working on something for you. I think you need a little more of a challenge around here. I don't want to see you get burned out."

Chris' face formed a tiny smile. "It's OK, Cap. I'm all right for now, really," he added for emphasis.

Cap stood in the doorway watching his detective for a moment. "I know, but I still want to do this. I think it's important. It's something that's gonna have to be done sooner or later. I guess I'm glad you brought it to our attention," Cap explained. "I just want you to know that I'm working on it. Nothing may break right away, but seeing you in here working on this stuff all morning, well, it just made me realize that we're not utilizing you to the fullest. And that's not good for you or the department."

Chris grinned. "I appreciate it, Cap. I mean it. It's nice to know that you stand behind us and stick up for us at every turn. I guess that's why you're the captain," he said with a laugh, lightening the mood in the tiny office.

Cap smiled back at him. "Maybe you're right, Lorenzo, maybe you're right."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was nearly noon when Chris stuck his head in Cap's office to tell him he was going home to check on Rita and might be gone a bit longer than an hour. Cap nodded his approval, giving him carte blanche for the time he needed.

Chris pulled the Jeep into the driveway and went into the house carrying Palm Beach's finest chicken noodle soup. He entered the kitchen through the sliding patio door, found a bowl and spoon, then carefully ladled the delicious smelling, steaming, soup into the bowl. Next, he grabbed the tray he had used that morning and carefully placed the bowl, spoon, and some saltine crackers on it. He was just about to take the tray in to Rita, when he stopped and set it back on the table momentarily while he stepped outside to cut a few more fresh flowers to brighten up the tray. When he came back in, he found a small vase under the sink, filled it with warm water, and placed the three flowers in it. He stood for a moment, looking at the place setting, then smiled. It was now 'parfait' in his mind.

Chris walked slowly down the long hallway toward their bedroom, being careful not to spill any of the soup. The door was open and he could see Rita sitting up a bit, looking through a magazine. She managed a smile for him as he came through the door.

"Good afternoon, Sunshine," he greeted her with a grin as he walked in and set the tray on her lap. Rita sat up a little straighter. "Have you gotten any sleep?" He felt her forehead, she was still rather warm. He placed his cool lips to her forehead, giving her a tender kiss.

"Hi," she said with a slight rasp in her voice. "I slept a little. Actually, I just woke up. I heard the Jeep pull in," she said, now beginning to sound stuffed up, like a head cold was settling in. She still looked miserable.

"Good, that's what you need, rest and lot's of fluids. So I brought you some Schlieman's chicken noodle soup. Cap says it's the best in town."

"Harry would know, wouldn't he?" Rita rubbed her eyes a bit then reached for the spoon. "I still feel awful. This head of mine will not stop throbbing," she added as she scooped up a spoonful and blew on it to cool it down. "I can't even smell this."

Chris just grinned. He didn't have the courage to tell her that she not only sounded terrible, she looked terrible too. So terrible, he thought, that she was actually cute. Maybe it was just because he was so thrilled to be able to take care of her so completely for a change.

She noticed that he was grinning at her. "What? Chris, what is putting that grin on your face?"

It quickly disappeared. "Nothing. Sorry, I was just thinking about a joke I heard this morning, that's all," he said, trying to evade the topic.

"I need some humor here, tell me!" she said, slowly sipping at the soup.

Now Chris was caught. "Well, it was actually just more stories about the reception. Everyone is talking about it. I think they all know our life stories now. I don't know if it was such a good idea that we left early after all."

"Oh, it can't be that bad," Rita said, nibbling on a saltine.

"Just wait till they start asking you all about the undercover cases you've worked on. I'm telling ya, Sam, it's like they pulled out our personnel records and broadcast every sordid detail. It's actually a bit embarrassing," he said as he pulled the lapels of the suit coat he wore a little tighter around him.

She laughed softly. "I think you're exaggerating."

"Like hell I am! Eat your soup," he commanded. "I'm gonna fix myself a sandwich. Do you want anything else?"

"Some more tea would be great," she said, still attacking the soup.

"One tea for the lady, coming right up. And then we'll get you all medicated for an afternoon of resting, OK?"

Chris tapped her nose gently and headed back to the kitchen to make himself some lunch and to start the teakettle boiling. He had just put the finishing touches on a lavish sandwich and was pouring the tea into an insulted mug, when he heard a rumbling noise coming from the bedroom. "Rita, you OK?" Maybe one of the books had just fallen to the floor, he thought. "Rita," he called out again as he made his way down the hall.

When he got to the bedroom, he saw the tray leaning precariously on the nightstand. The sheet and blankets had been furiously pushed back. Rita obviously had made a run for the bathroom. Chris felt horrible for feeding her, just to have her get sick. He walked over to the bathroom and quietly knocked on the door. "Rita, honey, you all right?" he whispered.

While he could hear some noise coming from inside the bathroom, he didn't make out any vocalizations. He decided she'd ask for his help if she needed it, so he went back over to the bed, fluffed up the pillows, and fixed the coverings as he waited for her to come out. He took a few bites out of his sandwich. Man, she really has a doozy of a flu bug going, he thought as he waited.

Rita finally opened the door and slowly shuffled her way back to bed. She ran her hands through her hair, and as she neared the bed, she reached down and grabbed it, to steady herself. "Ohhh," she moaned. "I'm getting worse, not better," she added, practically falling into the bed. Chris quickly set down his sandwich and moved in to cover her up.

"This too shall pass," he said, trying to lift her spirits. "You want to try a little more soup?" She managed to give him 'the look' despite how horribly close to death she felt.

"I just gave what little bit I had to the commode and I'd rather not make a return visit anytime soon," she said, somehow finding her sense of humor through it all.

Chris gave her a warm smile as he tucked the blankets around her. "I've got the tea here too. Maybe that will settle your stomach a little."

She thought she was hallucinating. He sounded just like her precious mother. She glanced at his caring face. "You are too much. Where'd you come up with that?"

"Ah, Grandma Rose, the queen of healers, don't cha know?" he explained. "When you feel bad, that's what you need the most, a little TLC, right?"

She mustered up a smile for him.

"Listen, I've got this flu formula that I think you should try. It says it'll make you drowsy, but you're not going anywhere anyway, right?" he said, pouring the red concoction into the tiny plastic vial.

"You're the doctor." Rita sipped the medicine down, making a face as she swallowed. "Why is it you can't taste anything good when you're sick, but you can always taste the bad stuff?"

"That means it's working," Chris replied as he handed her the hot cup of tea. "Here, at least drink a little bit. You need your fluids."

"Were you a nurse in a previous life?" she asked as she took the mug and sipped at it.

"Maybe, I don't know. All I know is I like taking care of you," he said with a smile as he ran his fingers through her hair then kissed her cheek softly, to comfort her even more.

"Well, you do it very well."

Chris sat down on the bed beside her. He decided to change the subject to try and take her mind off how miserable she felt. "I started reading through your report on the old homicides this morning. It's very good."

She brought the cup away from her lips and formed a smile. "I'm writing it for the National Police Review. The police commission asked me if I would submit something for publication."

"Why didn't you tell me about it before?"

"I'm not really that far into it, actually. And I'm not sure I'll complete it, either. There's still so much I have to do and the deadline is fast approaching. Now, with me being sick, well, it's just gonna set me further behind."

"Maybe we could tag team it?" he blurted out. "I mean, if you want me to help, I'd be glad to give it a shot," he let the thought dangle between them.

Rita watched his expression closely. Chris looked entirely serious. "Really? You'd want to do this?" she asked, truly surprised by his interest and his offer. He never ceased to amaze her.

Chris nodded. "Yeah, yeah I think I'd like to try." He stretched out his legs on the bed and took her in his arms. "I need to start exploring all my options, see what else is out there, what I might be missing. Maybe this Lieutenant thing would be the ticket. I'll never know unless I try, right?"

Rita was more than surprised by his reasoning, but she totally agreed with him. "I think it would be great if you want to help. We'll be co-authors!" she said enthusiastically.

"Are you sure? You're OK with this? I mean, I don't want to steal your thunder or anything. I'll just be glad to help and get some experience, you know?" he said, staring into her eyes.

"I think it's a great idea. I would love your help and most of all, I would love to work with you on this. I think it's perfect," she said, cuddling up next to his warm body.

He smiled and kissed the top of her head, but Rita missed seeing the complete look of satisfaction on his face. She had closed her eyes and begun to drift off to a somewhat peaceful sleep. The best place she could ever be was right there in his arms.

Chris sat quietly, thinking about his life and how it was so much more wonderful with this woman he loved so dearly beside him. He could tell that she had drifted off to sleep. The flu medication must have kicked in. Carefully and quietly, he got up then tucked the blankets a little more snugly around Rita. He wrote her a brief note telling her to stay in bed and that he'd be home early, then set it on the nightstand. Silently, he gathered up the dishes and set them on the lunch tray, then he took them into the kitchen, setting them on the counter. In a flash, Chris was out the patio door, locking the door behind him, satisfied Rita was all set for a quiet afternoon.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Back at work, things were humming right along. Tre and Geoff wrapped up their case then gave Chris a hand with some necessary paperwork. Chris, in the meantime, dived right into Rita's report on past homicides. Rita's groundwork was amazingly detailed but there were still two additional cases she hadn't dug into yetóthe Mather case and the Reynold's case. Chris went to the files and pulled out whatever he could find. The Mather homicide had occurred in 1978 and the Reynold's murder was in 1973. Both crimes remained unsolved to date.

Chris buried himself in the homicide files, reading and rereading entry after entry, looking for any clue he could find. After awhile, he decided he needed more information and went downstairs to the records room. There, he hoped to find additional information, including any actual evidence related either case. He retrieved three rather large boxes of evidence, hauling them back upstairs to Rita's tiny office. Item by item, he went through each box, carefully looking over everything, comparing them to the detailed notes in the files before him. Everything looked remarkably in order. He wondered how much time Rita had spent doing the same kind of work when she looked into the Jasmine case. No wonder she had nightmares back then. It was going to take a great deal of thought and deduction to shed any new light on these two cases. Chris decided on another approach. Opening up his laptop, he began to put his own thoughts to 'paper.' Maybe after he'd read what he wrote, he'd have more of an understanding. The only sound from the tiny office was that of Chris tapping away at the laptop keyboard.

It was nearing 4:30 PM when Geoff knocked lightly on the half-closed door. "Sorry, I'm late, Chris. I got hung up a bit. Is there anything you want me to do?" he asked, standing in the doorway.

Chris looked up from the laptop and quickly came back to reality. "Oh hey, Geoff. Everything come out OK with the evidence?"

"Yeah, we found the bullet. It was buried in the wall behind the headboard of the bed. We figure he moved the room around, because it didn't match up at all with where we found the body," Geoff explained, taking the seat across from Chris. "So, what are you working on? We got another case or what?"

"No, these are some old cases that Rita and I are doing a paper on. It's pretty interesting stuff, two unsolved homicides. I'm trying to look at all the evidence right now for anything that might have been missed."

Geoff shook his head. "Sounds cool. I didn't know you guys were into that kind of stuff."

"Well, it's more Rita than me. But I gotta tell ya, it's pretty fascinating once you start digging into it."

Geoff smiled. "I know this is gonna sound sappy, but that's what I love about working with the two of you. You guys are so on top of your game," he said sincerely.

"Stop it, we're libel to get fat heads over comments like that," Chris said with a laugh. "Well, Rita would appreciate it. She's the one who started all this," he said, motioning to the files. He glanced at his watch and saw it was almost 5:00. "Wow, this afternoon went by in a hurry. I think I'll take this stuff with me and go check on Rita. Why don't you head out for the day, too. We'll pick up on all this in the morning."

This made Geoff happy. "That's great! One of the kids is having a birthday tonight. I'm sure Connie will appreciate having me home early for a change. Thanks, Chris," he said, rising. "You know, you'd make a great lieutenant yourself."

"Get out of here, all right," Chris commanded with a grin. "See ya tomorrow." Geoff left and Chris began to pack up his files and the laptop. Just as he scooped up everything, Cap came by and saw him.

"You're taking work home, Lorenzo? Come here, let me check to see if you have a fever too." Cap said jokingly.

Chris grinned. "I'm fine, Cap. It's just a whole new me, I guess. This marriage thing has done wonders already, hasn't it?" he kidded back.

Cap chuckled. "Hey, you're not bringing it home for Rita to do, are you?"

"No, sir. I just figured I could work on it at home tonight and still be there for her. Is that OK?"

"Yeah, that's fine. Just remember, she's the top priority. Make sure she's getting enough fluids," Cap said, heading for the doors himself.

"That's my plan, Cap, all the way, thanks. You have a good night," he said, turning off the light in Rita's office and heading out himself.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris was glad that he brought his work home. Rita's flu was now turning into a full-blown cold. All he could really do for her was keep feeding her liquids, try to get her to eat something, and give her medication when it was time. Fortunately, she spent most of her time sleeping. Not wishing her 'bug' on anyone, least of all her newlywed husband, Rita practically begged him not to come too close, but he did anyway. He spoiled her rottenly, which warmed her heart, but she dreaded giving him what she had.

So, to make Rita happy, Chris took his materials into the kitchen and fixed himself some dinner before pouring through all the material again. Both cases were tough because according to the records, the detectives could find no witnesses and had no leads. The Mather's case was the toughest. The crime had been committed in broad daylight, in a bustling neighborhood, and yet no one had claimed to see or hear anything. The Reynold's case was a high society, late night, behind-security-fence, murder. It stood to reason that no one would be around to witness it. But still, someone out there knew something. Chris poured over names, facts, and places again and again. He replayed the scenarios in his mind, using the evidence he had to work with.

It was nearing 1 AM when Rita woke and decided to get up and get some blood flowing to her extremities. She walked down the hallway into the kitchen and saw Chris had fallen asleep at the kitchen table, one hand still clutching a file, the other, a pencil. She smiled as she watched his chest rise and fall peacefully. Walking over to the counter, she grabbed a Kleenex to wipe her runny nose. Chris must have heard her shuffle by and he slowly opened one eye, then the other, as he picked his head up slowly off the table.

"Hey, you," she said through her stuffiness.

"What are you doing up?" he asked, squinting to get a look at the time on the stove clock.

"I think the flu part is gone. Now it's just a miserable head cold," she explained. "I just needed to get up and move around a little. Don't worry, though, I'm going right back to bed and try to sleep through this."

Chris gave her a soft smile. She did look a little better, not quite so pale, and her sense of humor was returning. She went over to the refrigerator and got herself an apple then sat down next to him as she began to eat it. "Looks like your appetite is returning. Do you want me to make you anything?"

"Not at one in the morning. The apple's fine. So, what are you working on?"

He inhaled deeply, continuing to wake up. "I'm pouring through the files on the Matherís and Reynold's cases."

"Have you found anything yet?"

He shook his head. "Not really. This Mather case is the one that is really bothering me. I can't believe no one saw anything. It just doesn't fit. A young man gets shot in broad daylight, on a fairly commercial street, and there are no witnesses? I think I may go talk to Detective Brodley tomorrow. I figure the case happened back in 1968, maybe Brodley was smoking something back then," he said with a joke.

"Dale Brodley has been on the force for 47 years, Chris. I hardly think he was smoking anything," Rita said with a smile. "He was Scotty's partner for years. They are both so clean they squeak."

"So, he just somehow overlooked hundreds of possible witnesses? Come on, Sam, there's nothing in any of his reports. Good detectives don't make oversights like that."

"Do you know what was happening in that neighborhood back in 1968?" .

He shook his head. "I guess not, I'm not following you, Sam." He waited to hear her explanation.

"There was an influx of Cuban refugees to the area. A lot of people didn't like that."

Chris let out a chuckle. "I've been pouring through this stuff all day long," he said, shaking his head. "How the heck did you even know that?"

"I've done some research on it already, remember? It's the same principle behind the Reynold's case. The focus of the report is the relationship between Cuban refugees and homicides. I wasn't necessarily looking to solve two old cases," she explained.

Chris vigorously rubbed his hands over his face and eyes then ran them through his hair. "I guess I should have asked you why you were doing this report first. I feel like a fool."

"You're not a fool. I should have given you more background. I guess I just wasn't thinking too clearly twelve hours ago," she said, finishing her apple. "I do think it's a good idea to talk to Brodley, though, while he's still around. Maybe he'll remember something that will help us," she said, standing up. "I'm going back to bed. What about you?"

"I'll be there in a few minutes," he said, acting as if he were gathering up his materials.

She smiled s she watched him. "Goodnight," she said, knowing he wasn't going anywhere now that she had filled his mind with some of her insight.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next morning, Rita was no longer nauseous, but she was very congested and achy, and her fever still soared above the normal 98.6. She didn't think twice about even trying to get up and make it to work.

Chris, on the other hand, was up and moving about at his usual time of 6:45. He had never made it to bed, a fact that was catching up with him in the form of a sore neck. He made sure Rita was comfortably situated and made his way off to the station. He'd been at work nearly an hour already when Geoff and Tre strolled their way through the palm tree doors. They saw him sitting behind Rita's desk again and trekked in to see what was going on.

"It's about time you two showed up this morning," Chris began, "You know we don't work banker's hours around here," he added sternly.

"Yeah, well maybe you were just early for a change," Tre shot back.

Chris knew Tre had him on that one, so he let the silence hang in the air.

"So where's Rita? Still sick?" Geoff asked.

"Yeah, it's gone into a head cold now. She's still running a fever, though," Chris said, dividing up some files and handing each of them a stack.

"What's this all about?" Tre asked, looking over the folders.

"It's about what you're gonna do today. These are two old, unsolved homicides. I need you guys to look through the files and do some digging. Check out any leads you can come up with. You know, the usual."

Geoff started paging through his files immediately. "Excellent! We'll get right on this, Chris," he said enthusiastically. Tre was much more subdued, even looking a bit disgusted with the assignment.

"Is there a problem, Tre?" Chris asked.

Tre glanced at Geoff, who was still flipping through the files, then back to Chris. "No problem here. We'll get started right away," he said, forcing a smile as he stood up and headed to his desk. Geoff got up to follow his partner.

"Geoff, is there a problem with Tre?" Chris asked.

"Nah, he just hates getting a new assignment. In an hour or so he'll be fine. It's just the way he has to filter it in his own mind," Geoff explained.

"Yeah, OK," Chris said shaking his head, wondering where Geoff came up with this stuff. "Let me know if you need anything."

Geoff nodded and stopped in the doorway. "Hey, Chris, I forgot to mention this to ya yesterday, but you've got a bunch of messages out here. You might want to scan through 'em and see if there's anything important. It's been a couple of weeks, you know?"

"Yeah, you're right. I've been concentrating on Rita's stuff. I suppose I should check my own messages. Thanks, Geoff." Chris got up and went out to his desk. As he was skimming through his phone messages, Cap walked in and greeted everyone.

"Lorenzo, how's Rita doing today?"

Chris looked up and grinned. "Better, Cap, but she's still feverish, so she reluctantly agreed to another day of bed rest."

"Does she need anything?"

"Nah, she's got everything she could possibly need," he paused and shook his head a bit, "That is, except for me being there," he added with a devilish grin.

Cap scowled. "Well, one of you needs to be here doing some work, so that need of hers will have to wait till after five," he said, proceeding into his office.

Chris grinned again, just at the thought of Rita, but quickly turned his attention back to the messages that had indeed piled up in his absence. He sat down and began to make phone calls, starting at the top of the stack and working his way down. He propped his feet up on his desk as he waited on hold then started flipping through the rest of his messages. When he hit one particular message, he came to a complete halt, his smiling, happy face suddenly vanished. He re-read the words scrawled on the paper again and again then quickly sat up and hung up the phone.

Tre watched him closely from across the way. "Chris, anything wrong, man?"

Chris looked at the note again and stood up. "You guys just keep working on those cases. I gotta run down to the holding cell. I'll catch up with ya later," he said racing out of the squad room.

Geoff walked over from the coffee machine when he saw Chris leave abruptly. "What's going on?" he asked Tre. "Something up with Rita?"

"I'm not sure. He was looking through his messages, then all of a sudden, he gets this weird look on his face and says he has to head down to the holding tank. He told us to keep working on these cases," Tre explained.

"Let's get to it then."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris hurried down to the basement of the police station where the temporary holding cells were located. The message he had received was from his childhood friend, Dave, and it was three days old already. All it said was that he had been arrested, was being held for questioning, and that he needed a friend.

Chris walked up to the desk sergeant on duty. "Excuse me, Sergeant Morris, I need some help. I'm wondering if you're still holding a David Espinoza?"

"Let me check," the tall brunette woman replied from behind the counter. She punched some information into the computer then studied the screen. "Yes, he's been here since late Saturday night."

"I need to speak with him," Chris said urgently.

"I'll need you to fill out some paperwork first, Sergeant Lorenzo, you know that," she said, gathering up a clipboard and handing him a pen. "In triplicate," she added with a smile.

He grabbed hold of the clipboard and began to scribble out the necessary information. "What's the charge, anyway?"

"Rape and robbery." Chris stopped writing and looked at her in disbelief. "Is something wrong, Sergeant?"

He let out a deep sigh. "No way, there's no way," he said, shaking his head. "Has he had an attorney see him yet?"

She checked the computer one more time. "Nope, he's still waiting on the public defender. I guess they've been booked solid. He's part of the Cuban sting we ran over the weekend," she explained. "According to the statement, he was going to have his own attorney. But yesterday, he chose to have the public defender."

Chris furiously finished scribbling on the form and hastily signed his name, handing it back to the desk sergeant. He removed his service revolver and backup piece, handing them both over to Morris, for safekeeping. She placed the guns into a holding bin and buzzed Chris out of the waiting area, into the hall.

Chris moved into the secured area, waiting briefly before being granted permission to pass into the next area. Finally, he was ushered into a small room furnished with a table and two uncomfortable looking chairs. Choosing to avoid the chairs, he began pacing, waiting for his childhood friend to be brought in.

After a few minutes, Chris heard the shuffling of footsteps out in the hall, then the door suddenly swung open. A tall, thin man with black hair and tan skin entered with his head hung down. Chris looked directly at him, waiting to make eye contact with him before speaking. When the door abruptly shut behind him, David Espinoza finally looked up and stared into Chris' eyes.

David looked very much the same to Chris, just as he'd always remembered him. It had been quite a few years now since he had run into him. After high school, they had simply drifted apart. Even though Dave's outward appearance remained the same, something about him seemed a bit different. Chris simply chalked it up to the ordeal he was going through.

Now it was Chris' turn to look away for a moment. "Dave, I'm sorry, man, I just got the message. I've been on my honeymoon," Chris began, forcing a proud smile. Dave's expression didn't change. He shuffled toward a chair, his legs and arms bound by shackles and handcuffs, and attempted to sit down. Chris moved in to give him a hand, and Dave forced a toothless smile. "How are you doing?" Chris asked, putting his hand on his old friend's shoulder.

"I've been better," he replied quietly, putting his head down.

Chris sat down across from him. "I'm really sorry, Dave. I would have been here sooner, I just didn't know," Chris said again. "But I'm here now and I'll help you in any way I can. I heard you haven't seen a lawyer yet."

Dave shook his head no. "They said someone might be available today."

"Do you want a public defender or should I contact someone for you?" David remained quiet, which was highly unusual. "Dave?" Chris questioned. Still no reply. Chris leaned forward on the table. "OK, well, can you tell me what happened? How'd you get arrested for rape and robbery?"

"It really smells in this place, you know?" he said out of the blue, as he looked around the small room.

Chris exhaled deeply. This wasn't the place for David Espinoza. His mind wandered back to his childhood, remembering the kind of person that he knew was David Espinoza.

(FLASHBACK)

"Hey, kid, what's your name?" the young Hispanic youth called out from across the street, as he straddled the banana seat of his bike.

Chris looked up from the carport where he had been fiddling around with whatever he could find. His grandmother didn't have too many things of interest to a twelve-year old boy, but Chris had found a few tools and was just about to go to work on the Lawn Boy grass mower she had. He didn't answer the other boy at first, just stared at him.

The other boy guided his bike over to the curb and called out again, "Are you a new kid? What's your name?"

Chris took a few steps out of the carport and stood in the glaring hot Palm Beach sun. He squinted. "I'm Chris and yeah, I'm new." He turned and quickly walked back under the shaded protection of the carport. Chris' friend-making skills were sorely lacking.

But David Espinoza was unique and would not give up. He figured after two sentences, he was no longer a stranger. He dropped his bike in the short driveway and walked up to greet his newfound friend. "I'm David. I live down the block. I thought Gramma Rose lived here." he added, looking toward the house.

"You know my grandma?" Chris asked, shocked, as he knelt down to 'operate' on the lawnmower with a screwdriver.

"Sheís everyoneís gramma around here. Whatcha doing?" David asked, bending down along side Chris.

Neither boy saw Grandma Rose poke her head in the side doorway. Chris had been with her for three days now and hadn't left the yard. He was overly obedient, unemotional, and quiet in everything he did, as if he was afraid of what fate would await him next if he messed up here in Palm Beach. Not that he had messed up with his mother or father, but the fact that they sent him here caused the twelve-year old boy to wonder.

Grandma Rose didn't know a lot about raising boys, but she realized that her grandson needed the chance to just be a boy for a while, the time for carefree play and even to cause a little harmless trouble. He needed to stop being treated like an adult, being left alone to fend for himself most of the time, to stop having to decide important things for himself, things he shouldn't have to decide at the age of twelve. She hoped she had gotten him in time and she thanked God for allowing him to be a part of her life now. With some discipline and lots of love, there was hope in her heart that he would turn out just fine.

Chris' mother, her daughter, had no interest in having a son, and his father had tried, but just didn't have the time or the skills. She had thought long and hard about taking him in herself, and the last straw had been at Christmas, when Ana had brought him down for the holiday. Christopher had been a naturally outgoing and happy child, but each time she saw him now, he was becoming more stoic, showing very little emotion at all. That Christmas Eve, he told he that he no longer believed in anything anymore, and that left her feeling very sad.

When she found out how his grades had begun to slip in school and that he now kept almost totally to himself, not having any friends, she had heard enough. She wanted the boy to come live with her. Money didnít matter, custody didn't matter. Christopher's life was at stake here. He was at a crossroads, and the thought of him failing in life made her miserable. It had taken her nearly six months to convince Ana and Benny that she could do this, and that more importantly, she wanted to do this. Finally, they both agreed and she took Chris in with open arms and an open heart.

Grandma Rose' face lit up brightly when she had noticed the young man on the bike circling across the street. If Chris wouldn't make the first move to make a friend, maybe this boy would. Her heart nearly skipped a beat when she saw him come up the driveway. A smile painted its way on her face as she turned from the doorway and headed inside to finish a few things inside the house.

"I wanna see how this engine works," Chris said, taking out screw after screw.

"Can I help?" David said enthusiastically.

"Sure, I guess," Chris said, handing over the screwdriver to David, to give him a turn.

David took it from him and kept talking. "So, is she really your gramma?" Chris nodded affirmatively. "Are you just here for a vacation?" David persisted.

Chris put his head down a little. "No, I'm living here now," he said softly.

"Hey, cool! Then we can be friends all the time," David said, not even bothering to ask about Chris' parents, which was what Chris was dreading. His head shot up and that famous Lorenzo grin beamed brightly. ďHow old are you?" David asked.

"Twelve, what about you?"

"Me too! I wasn't sure we'd be the same age. Everyone says I' m tall for twelve. Are you gonna go to Bucknell School?"

Chris shrugged. "I don't know yet. My grandma says I should just get settled for a few days first. Is that where you go?"

David had finished loosening the final screw and the engine fell through to the cement floor with a thud. He looked at Chris and they both laughed. Grandma Rose heard it too and came back to the doorway.

"Chris, what are you doing?" she asked, sounding just concerned enough.

Chris looked at David and then to his grandma. "Just fixing the lawn mower for you, Grandma."

For now, she'd buy his story. "It has been making some funny noises lately. Just be sure to put the tools back when you get done, OK?"

"I will, Grandma." Quickly, he got to David to help balance the engine and hold it while he tried to put it back in place. In a few short minutes the machine was back in working order.

"Hey, you wanna ride bikes or something?" David said as they stood wondering what to do next.

"I don't have one."

"Come on," David said, heading toward his own bike, "My brothers all have one. You can borrow one of theirs for now. Hop on, we'll ride down to my house."

Chris glanced toward the door. "Just let me tell my grandma," he said, still trying to act responsible. David nodded and picked his bike up off the cement. Chris dashed inside the screen door and called out to his grandmother. "Grandma, Grandma," he yelled.

Grandma Rose appeared from one of the bedrooms. "Yes, Chris?"

"Grandma, is it OK if I go over to Dave's house? He said I could use one of his brother's bikes and we can go riding. Is it OK?"

She smiled. "Sure, Chris, just be home by five for supper." She watched his emotions soar. "And stay in the neighborhood! I don't want you going too far, all right?" she added.

"I promise, Grandma!" He turned to head outside then suddenly stopped and ran back over to give her a long hug. "Thanks, Grandma," he said softly, while she stroked his hair.

"Go on now, the afternoon's wasting away," she said, breaking off the hug.

As he headed out he hollered back, "And we fixed the lawnmower too!"

(END OF FLASHBACK)

David's voice suddenly startled Chris back to the present. "I'm not even really sure why I got arrested in the first place. I guess someone picked me out of a line-up. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," he paused. "I'm just glad you finally got my message. I knew you'd help me out."

Chris cleared his throat. "So, exactly where were you when you got arrested?"

"Down in little Cuba at the Spring Festiva. You know, they have it every year. Everyone goes down there. It doesn't matter if youíre Hispanic or not. It's just a party," David said, now opening up even more.

"What exactly happened?"

"One minute everyone around me on the street is happy, laughing and dancing, and the next minute, two cops bust into the group I was with and grab me. They said I was under arrest. Some white woman had gotten raped in some back alley. Someone pointed me out, and they hauled me off and brought me down here. They arrested a whole bunch of us. You know, just cuz we're Cuban. They said they were running a sting."

"What about the friends you were with. Will they swear you were with them at the time of the rape?"

David turned his head away from Chris. "That's part of the problem. I wasn't with any friends. I went to the festiva alone. It was just a group of people having some fun. I couldn't even tell you their names. And nobody knows anyone down there, Chris, you know that. At least not when the cops are around. I don't think any of them got picked up."

"OK, well, what about the woman? Do you know her?"

"I never heard of her, I swear, Chris. I don't know her. I heard them say her name is Stacy Johnson. I don't know anyone named Stacy. I'm really scared, Chris. I don't know what to do and you're the only person I could think of to help me. You were always there for me," he said with a smile.

"I seem to remember that went both ways," Chris said, putting his hand on top of David's, which were sitting folded on top of the table. "The first thing I'm gonna do is find you a lawyer to get you out of here. And then I'll do some investigating." Chris stood up. "Will you be all right in here for another night if need be?"

"Yeah, I can make it."

"All right, let me get working on this."

"Thanks, Chris. I'm gonna owe you big time for this one," David said, watching Chris as he exited the room.

Chris stood at the doorway for a moment, watching David as the door closed tight. His head bowed down in shame and sorrow. Chris studied his friend closely for any sign of relief. There wasn't any. That's when his gut started reassuring his mind that David Espinoza had nothing to do with whatever had happened in little Cuba. Now, all he needed to do is prove it.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The short drive from the police station home was filled with childhood memories for Chris. From that first chance meeting at his grandma's house, David Espinoza and Chris Lorenzo were bound for a long lasting friendship. They had been inseparable in nearly everything, from school and athletics, to girls and cars. They shared everything and were always there for each other. One of the hardest days of Chris' life was when he left Palm Beach for college while David stayed behind to go to the local community college. They promised to keep in touch, but each had committed themselves to different, busy lifestyles, and no matter how much they tried, fate had taken them down very different paths.

Chris pulled into the driveway, turned off the ignition, and sat for a moment, lost in thought. He shook the memories from his head and reminded himself that work was over now and he had Rita to look forward to for the evening. Well, taking care of her, anyway. That brought a grin to his face as he opened his car door and headed inside. As entered through the patio, he was pleasantly surprised to see Rita up and about, dressed in sweat pants and one of his Michigan shirts, and standing by the stove cooking up a storm.

"What's this?" he said, turning his look of surprise into a smile.

Rita turned toward him when she heard his voice. "I'm starving!" She still sounded a bit stuffed up, but the color had returned to her face.

He walked over to her, putting his arms around her from behind, and gave her a hug as he kissed the back of her head. "I would have made us dinner," he whispered into her hair. She must have even taken a shower, he noticed, as he inhaled the scent of her herbal shampoo.

"I didn't want to wait that long," she replied, continuing to stir something on the stove.

He released her from his grasp. "Then you must be feeling better too, huh?" he asked, moving backwards toward the table. "And I gotta tell ya, Sam, you certainly look better in that shirt than I do." He watched her every move, amazed at how good she looked, even in baggy clothes.

She shifted her face just enough for him to see her smile. "Yes, I am feeling better and I hope you're hungry for pork chops."

"Whatever is fine," he said, going over to the counter to select a bottle of wine.

"I've got green beans almondine and garlic mashed potatoes, too. I'm sure I won't be able to taste anything, but I've had the weirdest craving for them all afternoon," she said as she watched him open the wine bottle.

He grabbed two glasses from the cupboard and filled them, handing one to Rita before drinking down a long swallow from his own. Then he silently proceeded to set the table.

Rita noticed his quiet mood. "So, what's happening at the shop?"

For now, Chris wanted to avoid the topic of David Espinoza. "I've got Tre and Geoff helping out on the two old Cuban cases since we've got no new homicides right now. Business is mighty slow. We just might be able to get that paper done after all."

Rita smiled. "That's good, right?" she said, nodding affirmatively.

"It's great that there are no new homicide, yeah," he said, placing the silverware next to the plates.

"So why aren't you happy?" she continued prodding as she went back over to the stove to turn the chops.

Chris sat down at the table. "I got to my own messages today."

She put down her cooking utensil and went over and sat down beside him. "What's up?"

"Remember me telling you about David Espinoza?" he started.

She struggled with the memory for a second, then recalled, "That was your childhood mechanic friend, right?"

He grinned a little. "Among other things," he said, nodding, pleased that she had remembered.

"You got a message from him? Oh wait, he heard about the wedding and was mad because you forgot to invite him?"

Chris shook his head no. "I wish it were that simple. He got arrested on Saturday down in Little Cuba."

"For what?"

"Rape and robbery," he said quietly before taking another long sip of wine. "The message has been sitting on my desk since the weekend. He used his one call to get in touch with me. Some friend I turned out to be, huh?"

"You didn't go in to work till Monday, Chris, come on. Then I ended up being sick. Anyone would understand all that," she said, trying to make him feel better.

"Well, he's been sitting in jail waiting for nearly four days now. There's no way he could have done this." Chris changed the subject a little. "I've been trying to run down some witnesses or any evidence all afternoon. You know, things haven't changed down in Little Cuba in what, twenty years now? All cops are pigs, all Cubans are criminals. I thought maybe things would have gotten better by now. Everyone's afraid to say anything, no one saw anything. It's all hush, hush. It took me nearly two hours to find a lawyer to get him out on bail, but he still won't released be till sometime tomorrow. It's like 1968 all over again. I just don't get it. He's just as American as you or I. He was born right here in Palm Beach. His parents were third generation Americans. He doesn't even have an accent. But because his skin is a little darker and his last name is Hispanic, people always assume he's a criminal," Chris ranted as he shook his head in disgust.

"Feel better now?" she asked with a grin. He smiled back.. "David's not married? How about his family?"

"He got divorced a few years back, his ex-wife moved to Houston. They never had any kids. Both his parents are dead and his brothers and sisters are scattered around the state. I think he's the only one who still lives here in Palm Beach," Chris explained.

"I hate to ask this, but are you sure he's innocent?" she said, grimacing.

"I know David, Rita. I know he's not capable of this," he said seriously. "He says he was with a crowd of people when it happened. I just have to find a witness or two to corroborate his story. They were having their Spring Festiva. You know, it's like a huge block party. He didn't know anyone there personally, but he says he was with about eight people."

"Did you clear your investigation with Brodley before you got started?" Rita asked, making sure he was following proper channels.

"Yes, I did. Thanks for asking, Mom," he said with sarcasm in his voice. "Actually, I talked to Cap and he said he'd clear it for me."

"I guess it's a good thing that we don't have any open cases then, huh?" she said, heading back to the stove. Chris' mind drifted back to the past as he sipped at his wine. He never noticed when Rita came back with their dinner, setting the food on the table. "Earth to Chris!" He finally looked up at her, giving her a smile. "Dinner's ready."

"This looks good, real good," he said as he began to eat.

Rita knew that he was way too involved with this case, and she knew she'd never get him to pull back from it now. After all, she'd be doing the same thing if it were one of her friends. She watched him carefully.

Chris was lost in his thoughts again, oblivious to anything else, as he mindlessly shoveled food into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed by instinct as his mind took him back to 1975.

(FLASHBACK)

"Grandma, do I have to go?" Chris asked as he walked into the kitchen for some breakfast.

"This isn't a vacation, Christopher," she said a little sternly. Then she noticed the look of fear he was trying so desperately to hide. Walking over to the counter where he was reaching for a bowl, she gave him a little hug then turned him around to face her. "You're not scared, are you?"

He pulled away from her, his clear blue eyes nearly pierced clear through to her heart. Surprisingly, his face showed no emotion at all. No, it wasn't fear he was experiencing. He turned around again, standing on his tiptoes this time to reach a bowl.

"Christopher?"

Finally grabbing the bowl, Chris walked over to the table without saying a word. He pulled the chair out just far enough to squeeze into it then filled the bowl with Wheaties. Next, he carefully poured milk over the cereal and began to eat.

Grandma Rose watched him curiously all the while. This boy was used to getting just about everything he wanted. Everything except what he needed most--love and discipline. He had a streak of stubbornness in him, all right. She had no clue where that came from. Smiling to herself, she went over to the table and sat across from him. "Are you gonna walk to school with David?" she asked.

"David's got a bike," Chris began between mouthfuls of cereal, "he's gonna ride."

"Ah, so you want a bike too, huh?" For a brief second, she saw his eyes light up, but at twelve, he was getting a bit more suspicious. He realized getting something meant giving something in return, especially where Grandma Rose was concerned.

"I don't need a bike, Grandma," he said, still playing the martyr.

He was going to be a hard sell for Rose this morning! She decided to take the honest and direct approach with him, which, she would soon learn, meant more to him than anything. He thrived on the truth. Maybe it was because in his short life he'd already been lied to way too often.

"Christopher, I know this isn't easy for you and it's OK to be scared. But you do understand that you came here to live now, right?" He nodded. "You know you have to go to school."

Chris had his comeback ready on this one. "But you said I could get used to everything first," he nearly pleaded.

"It's been two weeks already, Christopher. I don't want you to fall behind."

"But I took the tests and they said that I was right in line for sixth grade," he carried on.

"Taking the tests is one thing, Chris. Now you have to keep up with the work. I just don't understand what you're afraid of. I know you're a good student. I've got your last report card, 4 As and 4 Bs. That's very good. This school won't be that different."

Chris sulked and picked away at his soggy cereal. He was in a no-win situation here. Grandma Rose was not going to back down like his mother or father, and certainly not like any of the household staff had over the years. In fact, just the opposite.

Rose stood up from the table, apparently through with talking for the moment. Well, almost. "Finish your cereal, Christopher, then gather your things for school, because that's exactly where you're going today."

Chris watched her walk away and began to finish his breakfast in earnest. When he finally finished, he put the dish in the sink and went to gather up his things. Coming back into the kitchen, he set his stuff on the table and called out, "Grandma! Grandma?"

Rose came back into the kitchen to see him waiting by the back door.

"I'm all set to go. I'll be home right after school, OK?"

"Come here, you," she said with a smile. Chris did as he was told and she gave him a hug. "I know you're nervous, but everything will be just fine," she said as she released him.

"I know. And David's gonna be there, too. I'm sorry, Grandma."

"I love you, Christopher," she said.

"I love you too, Grandma," he replied with a grin, giving her another hug.

"Why don't you go have a look outside in the carport," she said with a smile.

The grin on his face was replaced by a look of curiosity as he quickly made his way outside to the carport. He stopped in the doorway, frozen in shock, as he spotted the brand new bike that stood waiting for him in the carport. Finally, he turned back to see his grandma waiting a few feet behind him.

"You're gonna be late if you don' get going soon," she reminded him.

"Grandma, you're the best," he said, his grin returning full force. He dashed over to the bike, admiring it for another few minutes before finally getting on board. As he pedaled it out of the carport, he saw David waiting at the end of the driveway. Turning back one more time, he waved to his grandma. "Thanks, Grandma," he shouted, and with one last wave, he glided down to greet David.

(FLASHBACK ENDS)

"Chris? Hey, Chris? Yoo-hoo, Christopher Robin!?!" Rita shook his shoulder to snap him back to reality. "Are you hanging out with Winnie-the-Pooh or what?"

"Huh?" he said, shaking his head back to the present.

"Boy, you must be taking some trip down memory lane," she joked, clearing away some dishes.

Chris quickly stood up to give her a hand. "Here, Sam, let me take care of cleaning up. You're still not 100% yet," he reminded her as he took the plates out of her hands.

She smiled as she watched him clean up the mess she had created. "So, are you gonna tell me or what?"

"Am I gonna tell you what?" he said, running the water in the sink.

"What it was that had you lost during dinner," she said, moving closer toward him.

His face was virtually expressionless, but as soon as he felt her near him, he reached out and scooped her into a much-needed hug. "Just thinking about my grandma," he whispered to the top of her head as he placed a tender kiss in her hair.

"And maybe about David too?" He didnít answer. "Do you want to talk about it?" Rita looked up, attempting to see his face.

Chris gave her a little smile. "I'm OK, Sam. I'll just be glad when you get back to work. It's just not the same without having you there."

"I think I'll go back tomorrow. The worst is behind me, it's just a cold now."

Finally breaking off the hug, Chris tried to shoo her out of the kitchen. "Why don't you go lay down and rest for a bit. I'll get this cleaned up and join you shortly. Maybe we can watch a movie together?" he let the question hang in the air.

"Iíll go see if there's anything on."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The next morning, the Palm Beach Duo walked through the familiar doors of the police station together. Everyone greeted Rita with hugs and smiles and she warmly returned each kind thought, taking time to chat with just about everyone in the department. Once she had discussed the honeymoon with everyone, they began to tell her about the now infamous wedding reception. She listened to story after story, sometimes in shock, sometimes laughing until her sides hurt. Chris stood back and watched his wife revel in it all. He should have married her years ago, he thought to himself. Each time she caught his eyes in the distance, he melted all over again, and he wondered if she had looked at him like that all along. Why had it taken him so long to notice? Grinning back at her, he headed over to his desk to get started on what would be a full day's work.

Rita eventually broke away from the crowd and headed into Cap's office. Harry had been listening with the entire staff earlier, but had gone into his office when the reception stories started. She knocked softly on the door frame, and he was on his feet before she could enter.

"Hi ya, Cap," she cheerfully greeted him as he came around the desk and enveloped her into a big hug. "Careful there, I still have a cold."

"Cold, schmold," he said as he gave her an extra squeeze just to emphasize the point. . "We've missed you around here. We've missed you both."

"The feeling is very mutual," she said, pulling back but still holding on to his hands. "I want to thank you again for everything. We both do."

He let go of her hands and gestured his own through the air. "For what?"

"Well, for everything, watching our house, all the gifts, all your time, your patience, just everything. It's a 'blanket thank you' I guess," she said with a smile, taking a seat in front of the desk.

Harry sat back down behind his desk. "You're welcome. But I've been through this with Chris already. Both of you can stop, OK? Franny and I are just glad to help out any way we can."

Sill smiling, she attempted to chance the subject. "So, what's going on around here?"

"It's been rather slow. Chris has been taking care of most everything leaving me free to catch up on my own reports. He's doing a great job."

"It's OK then if the two of us work on that rape case? I know it's a little out of our jurisdiction, but it would mean a lot to Chris."

Cap didn't answer right away. "Just how involved is Lorenzo in this thing, anyway?"

"The suspect is a childhood friend, but they haven't had much contact with each other since high school," Rita explained. "It's only natural for him to want to help."

"Can he be objective?"

Rita nodded. "Do you need to ask?" she said with a convincing smile.

"Am I detecting another reason for you to be involved too, Lieutenant?" Cap was nothing if not perceptive.

"You know, you're good at this 'captain' thing," she began. "Actually, yes. You know we're working on a paper for the police commission on two old homicide cases concerning Cubans?" Cap nodded. "I just think this might fit in somehow. That, and I'll make sure that Chris stays objective," she added, raising her eyebrows.

Cap had to chuckle. "So, what's your plan?"

"I think we'll follow through in the direction that Chris started. I'll let Tre and Geoff continue looking into the two old homicides, and Chris and I will pursue the David Espinoza angle."

"I guess everything's under control then, huh? OK, then, quit sitting around here and get to work!"

Rita gave him another smile then headed for her own office to get going on her business for the day.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris went down to the holding cells about mid-morning to make sure David would be released on schedule. Amazingly, there were no hold ups and David was going to head straight home to take a shower and get some honest-to-goodness sleep. Chris told him it would be a good idea for him to lay low. He assured him that he would check every possible lead to get to the bottom of this whole thing and that he'd be in touch with him soon.

Tre and Geoff were busy digging into every dark corner they could find on the Reynold's and Mather's cases. They were putting in maximum hours trying to turn up something new.

Chris came back upstairs to the homicide department just before lunch and saw Rita sitting in her office with her nose buried in her laptop. He walked in and plunked himself down in the chair across from her. "Hey, Sam. What's up?"

She looked up, giving him a smile, then back to the screen to finish whatever she was reading. After a moment, she turned her attention back to Chris, and simply stared at him in admiration and astonishment.

"What?" he said with an unknowing grin.

"Christopher, you amaze me," she said, still wearing the astonishment on her face.

"Well," he said, clearing his throat. He was trying to appear modest because he had no clue what he'd done to amaze her.

"I just finished reading your so-called Ďnotesí on these cases," she began. "It's incredible! Fantastic! The work you've completed is just wonderful. These aren't just notes, Chris. You've got superb insight and this is exactly what we need. I think you should take credit for this article yourself, that's how good it is." She watched his face for a reaction, and he grin from ear to ear.

"You really think it's that good?"

"Yeah, I do. I couldn't have done any better myself. It's exactly what this article needed, a police officer's perspective, and you've captured it perfectly. I printed out a copy so Cap can take a look. Is that OK with you?"

"Ah, sure, if you really think it's that good," he said with a questioning tone in his voice.

"It is that good. I think you're gonna be pleasantly surprised. Then Rita changed the subject abruptly. "Did they release David?"

He nodded. "Yeah, he's going home for now, to rest, take a shower. I told him we'd be in touch."

"What's your plan for the rest of the day?"

"I want to talk to Brodley, then I'll go from there, I guess. I need to get his background on this."

"You know that's not gonna be easy."

"I know. Brodley's not exactly the biggest fan of Cubans, is he?" Chris said. "I still can't believe some of the things in his reports. He should have been suspended for at least a dozen of his written comments. Talk about being a racist. I know Scotty wasn't like that at all. It's a wonder those two could have been partners for that long. But maybe that's why Brodley is still a detective and Scotty is enjoying a captain's pension right now."

"Well, times change. Maybe people do, too."

"Maybe, maybe not. I don't think David's changed."

"I'm gonna try to track down his ex-wife, OK?" Rita said.

Chris nodded. "That sounds like a good idea. How 'bout lunch first though?"

"That sounds like a great idea," she said, heading for the door.

Chris stood up and chuckled. "You must be feeling better, Sam. Your appetite is back!"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Rita jumped on the police computer right after lunch to begin her search for Maria Espinoza. She found a listing in Houston and placed the call.

"Hi, I'm trying to reach a Maria Espinoza," Rita said.

"This is Maria Espinoza," the female voice replied.

"Ms. Espinoza, I'm Lieutenant Rita Lorenzo with the Palm Beach Police Department. I'd like to ask you a few questions about David Espinoza." Rita hated doing phone interrogations because she was unable see the person's facial reactions, and her years of training and experience had made her an expert at reading the clues in a person's face.

"But I'm not married to David any longer," Ms. Espinoza explained.

"I know that, Ms. Espinoza, but I still need to ask you some questions. Do you have a few minutes?" she persisted.

"Is David in some kind of trouble?"

"He was arrested for rape and robbery." There was silence on the line. "Ms. Espinoza, are you all right?"

"Yes, yes I'm fine. Is David all right?"

"Yes, he's fine. He's out on bail. May I ask you a few questions?"

"Sure, but I'm not sure what I can tell you. I haven't seen David in almost five years now."

"I understand. I'm just trying to find out what kind of person he is. What kind of husband was he?"

"He was a good man. He worked very hard, all the time, trying to get ahead."

"Was he ever abusive to you, physically or emotionally?"

"David was always working. He had three jobs mot of the time, he was never home. That's why we ended up getting divorced. I couldn't stand living like that and David wasn't about to give up working. I wanted a family and he had no time for it," she explained.

Rita listened carefully as Maria avoided directly answering the question. "Did you ever see him hit anyone? Did he ever harm you in anyway?"

"No, I never did."

"Well, thank you for your time, Ms. Espinoza. I appreciate your cooperation."

Ms. Espinoza promptly hung up the phone.

Rita held the phone in her hand and thought through the conversation she had just had with David's ex-wife. She hadn't told Rita everything. Again, Rita was annoyed that she couldn't interview Maria face to face. If she could have seen her facial expressions, she knew she would have been able to get more out of her. There was something Maria just wasn't telling her. She hung up the phone and wrote down a few notes for herself.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris drove down a street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. All the houses looked the same, rather small, stucco, white structures. Near the end of the block he saw the address he was looking for. Dale Brodley worked third shift. Normally, Chris would have waited and talked to him during the shift change, but he wanted to talk to Brodley off police premises. He thought he might get a more honest response from Dale on his own turf.

Chris walked up the sidewalk and knocked on the front door. The elderly officer responded slowly to the knock, finally opened the door, squinting from the glaring sun. "Lorenzo? Is that you?"

"Yeah, Dale, it's me," Chris began. "I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes if I could. Would you mind?"

"Ah," Brodley breathed heavily, "can't it wait till I head into the shop later on? You woke me up here in the middle of my down time," he explained.

"It's important, Dale," Chris persisted respectfully.

Dale turned, quickly glancing around at the surroundings inside his house. Just as quickly, he turned back and opened the door, letting Chris in. "Yeah, come on in. It's always something important in this business," he muttered.

Chris entered behind Brodley, who picked up a blanket off the sofa, crumpled it up into a ball, then sat down near it. He motioned for Chris to have a seat in a nearby chair.

"So, what is it that's so important?"

"I wanted to talk to you about the Espinoza case."

"That one was what, over a week ago already?" Brodley said, scratching his head.

"Not quite, but close enough. It was a robbery/rape case down in Little Havana," Chris said, trying not to give too much away.

"Yeah, those Cubans, they're always up to something," Dale said ignorantly. "We ran a whole bunch of them in that night."

"Whatta ya mean?"

"What I mean is they're always causing some kind of trouble, that's what I mean," Brodley said, irritated by Chris lack of understanding. "They have been since they got off the boats."

Chris ignored the racial innuendoes for the time being and decided on another line of questioning. "What can you tell me about the victim?"

"Blonde, gorgeous, young, naïve. She shouldn't have been down in that neighborhood."

"What exactly was this naïve woman doing in a back alley?"

Brodley didn't like Chris' assumption. "The way I figure it, she somehow got coerced or dragged back there. She hasn't been able to say. She' still in shock."

"That's funny, cause I've got a witness who says she walked back there of her own free will, and she had a smile on her face when she did. That doesn't sound like coercion to me, does it sound like that to you, Dale?" Chris said, making up the lie just to gauge Brodley's reaction.

Brodley didn't answer at first, and when he did, he didn't bite. "What's your interest in this anyway, Lorenzo? It's not a homicide. You personally involved here or what?" Brodley was catching on quick.

"I'm always personally involved when it comes to justice, Dale. You should be too."

"I gave up on justice a long time ago. I've seen too many things I don't care to even remember."

"We all have, Dale, but you gotta stay clean and honest, ya know?"

"Are you saying that I'm a dirty cop?" Brodley said, standing up.

Chris stood as well. "I'm not saying anything, Dale. I just want to get to the truth here. I don't want to see someone innocent wind up in jail. Not just because he's Cuban." There, Chris had let out the reason he was there.

"Ah, so that' it. You know Espinoza, huh? Maybe you ought to check him out a little further. We didn't arrest him because he was Cuban. We arrested him because he was our suspect. The woman all but ID'd him."

"She didn't pick him out of a lineup?" Chris asked angrily, knowing from the arrest report there hadn't been one.

"No, she was too distraught," Brodley began, "But she described him to a tee, right down to the jeans and green T-shirt he was wearing."

"That was what made him your suspect?" Chris said, turning his back in disgust, "Because she described his clothes? For crying out loud, Dale, it was a festival down there. She probably saw him out on the street. I'm sure no one else down there had on jeans and a green T-shirt, right?" He spun back around and glared right at Brodley.

"She pointed him out to officers on the scene," he said defensively.

Chris shook his head and let out a laugh of disbelief. "So the arresting officers took a rape victim for a stroll through a festival? Why didn't your guys take her to the hospital?"

"I guess they felt the suspect was close by and the victim agreed to it," Dale said, trying to defend the officers' lack of judgment.

"Thatís not procedure, did you report them?"

"Hell no! The way I see it is we got a rapist off the streets," Brodley said, getting even angrier now as he moved toward Chris, "before we had another victim for homicide," he added snidely. "You afraid you're gonna be without a job soon, Lorenzo? Is that what this is all about?"

"Brodley," Chris said, right in his face, "why don't you crawl back under the rock you came from." He held his stare for a second then walked out.

(FLASHBACK)

The taunts aimed at David seemed harmless to Chris, at first. In fact, most of the time the meaning behind them was lost to a twelve-year old boy who was still trying deal with the fact that neither his mother nor his father wanted him to live with them. To Chris, David had it all, two parents, lots of brothers and sisters, a regular life with a house, a family, a dog, and lots of love. All the things he longed for, David seemed to have.

One Saturday in mid-November, Grandma Rose took the two boys shopping at a local mall. Knowing how they longed for their independence, she gave them each some spending money and told them she'd meet them back at the center of the mall at 3:00.

Chris and David were delighted with their freedom, and especially delighted at the added benefit of a bankroll. They went off in search of fun, heading straight for the arcade. The place was bursting with kids, standing in lines waiting for 'Pong' and 'PacMan'. David motioned to some unused pinball machines and Chris followed happily. They decided to take turns on one particular machine, to see who could beat the other's score. Before long, a couple of girls from their class wandered over to watch the two boys. David had been soundly beating Chris, but Chris, his skills steadily improving, was not trailing too far behind. The girls joined in the fun, and soon, Chris and one girl had teamed up to take on David and the other. The day at the mall was turning out to be a dream come true for both boys.

As noon approached, they decided to treat the girls to lunch at the McDonald's located just outside the mall. The girls were eager to accept the invitation, and the foursome hoofed it over to the golden arches. Lunch went off without a hitch, though David and Chris began to feel the stares, and a little tension, from some nearby teens. Once they were finished eating, they left the restaurant. The older teens followed them at a distance.

The foursome reached a small grove of orange trees and sat down to talk for awhile. Little did they know that trouble lurked close by.

The teens that had followed them came up and began taunting them. Most of it was aimed at David, but the foul-mouthed teens soon began to insult Chris, and even the girls, just for being with David. Chris watched David closely. His face was virtually expressionless and he was doing nothing to defend himself. Chris finally had enough and stood up to the older boys. Then David stood up too, but instead of preparing to fight, like Chris was, he just walked away, back into the mall. The teens continued yelling insults and throwing dirt chunks at David as he walked away. Then they finally got bored and headed off, leaving Chris with the two girls. When the girls asked Chris why David had walked away, Chris just shrugged his shoulders, he couldn't give them a reason. They decided they needed to get going, leaving Chris to go find David and his grandma.

It was nearing 2:45 when Chris headed toward the center of the mall. He still hadn't found David, but he didn't want to be late in meeting up with his grandma. When he got to their meeting place, he saw his grandma sitting next to David, waiting for him. Chris walked over to them and neither he nor David said a thing. The long ride home was a quiet one.

Later that evening, after David had gone home, Chris decided to tell his grandma about the incident. He explained the whole situation, telling his grandma everything about the arcade, the lunch, and the older boys. He even told his grandma that he stood up ready to fight for David, remembering that she had once called them noble for standing up for each other. But this time, David had simply walked away, leaving Chris to deal with whatever happened alone. He told her he didn't understand why David did that.

"Fighting isn't always the answer, Christopher. Sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do."

"But they were making fun of him, Grandma. They were swearing and everything!"

"They wanted to push you boys, that's all, Christopher. Don't you see?"

Chris put his head down, trying to understand. "What I saw was David leave. He left me there alone."

Rose knew that her grandson was learning some harsh lessons. "That sounds awfully unfair on your part, Christopher. You weren't really alone."

"The girls weren't gonna fight!"

"No, but it sounds to me like those teens didn't want to fight either. They just wanted to tease."

"David just gave up, Grandma, he just left," Chris paused, then added, "like everyone does, I guess."

Grandma Rose smiled to herself. "So that's what this is about--you? Christopher, not everyone leaves. I'm not ever going to leave you. I'll always live in your heart. Just like your parents and all the friends you make. Don't be afraid to let people in because you can't stand the pain of losing them."

"But it hurts when they leave."

She motioned for him to come closer and he walked into her waiting arms. She hugged him tightly. "Christopher, look at the big picture. Donít always think of yourself, think of others and what they're going through. Then draw your conclusions. Everyone has a reason for their actions. Do you understand?"

He nodded. "I think so. David walked away because getting into a fight with those kids would probably have just gotten us hurt physically. There was no reason to fight just because they were being stupid. And I guess Mom and Dad knew I'd be better off living here with you."

She smiled at his understanding. "David knew they wouldn't hurt you, and that once he was gone, they would stop. He told me that he felt bad that he left you," she paused, "he could see the hurt on your face. And your parents love you very much. It's hard for them to not have you near them, but they love you enough to let you come here. Just think how hard that had to be for them."

Chris nodded his understanding. "David shouldn't have felt bad cuz he left me, but leaving the girls was another story!" Chris flashed his famous grin and Grandma Rose laughed.

(END OF FLASHBACK)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Something still wasn't sitting right with Rita, so she decided to go talk with David Espinoza herself. She wanted to learn a little bit more about him and hear his version of what happened that night. David was living in a rundown area of the Palm Beach, just on the outskirts of Little Havana. It was quite different from the neighborhood Chris and his grandmother and David and his family had lived in. David must have fallen on some hard times, she thought, as she pulled up to his apartment building and headed inside.

Rita found his room number and knocked on the door. She heard some rumbling around inside and could tell that someone had come to the door and was probably peering out at her through the peephole. Finally, she heard a voice, "Yeah, whatta ya want?"

"David Espinoza?"

"Yeah, what is it now?"

Rita held her badge up to the peephole. "Lieutenant Lance, Palm Beach PD. I'd like to ask you a few questions, please."

She heard the chain lock slide open, then the door opened. David greeted her with a smile. "You're Chris' wife, aren't you?" he asked, knowing that Chris had talked about his partner, Sergeant Lance.

Rita smiled in return and nodded. "Yes, yeah I am," she said politely. There was something she liked about David right away. He had a very friendly aura about him.

David held out his hand to 'officially' meet her and she took it graciously. "Congratulations," he said, cupping her hand with both of his. He was so genuine and warm. "Chris is definitely one lucky man, and he's a very good man, too," he added.

"I will agree with both of those sentiments," Rita said with a laugh.

"Can I get you anything?" David asked. "I know the place is a mess. It's just a dump, anyway. I'm between jobs at the moment," he explained. "Please, sit down."

"No, I'm fine, thanks," she said, taking a seat. "Would it be OK if I ask you a few questions about your case? Chris and I are working on this one together."

"I don't mind at all. I'll tell ya anything I can. What would you like to know?" David said, sitting across from her.

"Well, maybe you can start by telling me about that night, where you were, and what happened."

David nodded . "Sure. I went down to Fiesta alone. I didn't meet up with anyone specifically, but I ran into some people I knew and we gathered near the east end of Ernesto Avenue. There was a stage and music down there. We had a few beers then stood around talking and listening to the music."

"How far would you say you were from the Picadello Alley?"

"About a half a block , I guess. Around the corner anyway, within five minutes."

"And you never left Ernesto Avenue or the group of people you were with?"

David laughed a little and flashed a grin. "I was drinking beer! I had to find a bathroom once or twice, I guess."

Rita returned the smile. "And where were the restrooms located."

"Down Ernesto, near the corner," he remembered.

Rita jotted down some notes for herself. "David, would you mind if I asked you about your wife and your marriage? It's kind of routine in an investigation like this. It would help a lot."

David tossed his head from side to side. "No, I guess I don't mind. If it helps, hey, why not, right?"

"How long have you and your wife been divorced now?"

David scowled, trying to remember. "I think almost five years."

"May I ask why you divorced?"

"I was never around, I was always working. My ex, well, she wanted kids and we just never had time," David explained.

"David, have you ever been in any trouble with the law before now?"

Suddenly, there was knocking on the door to David's apartment. "Yo, David, let me in, man. It's me, Chris."

David smiled at Rita, got up from the sofa, and opened the door for Chris. Chris nearly pushed David aside, grinning at him, then he noticed Rita, who was smiling back at him. She was slightly annoyed at Chris' arrival because she wanted to question David alone.

"Hey, Sam. I thought I spotted your cruiser out front. What's going on?"

"She's interrogating me," David replied, closing the door while playfully tapping Chris in the stomach. "I think she's a better cop than you!"

Chris laughed. "I don't think that, Dave, I know it."

Rita was still smiling at Chris, who grinned right back at her. "I just had a few questions I wanted to ask David," she said.

"So, any deep, dark secrets, Amigo?" Chris asked.

"Not since we were twelve and hung out together," David replied with a grin of his own. "I've got a lot from back then, but you already know all of them."

"Did you two really cause all sorts of trouble?" Rita asked, lightening up the mood from her original line of questioning.

"I only got into trouble after Lorenzo here moved into our quiet neighborhood."

Chris rolled his eyes. "Excuse me? You and your brothers were the number one hoodlums on the block, as I can recall. How many times did you ruin Mrs. Morales' flower garden, anyway?"

"Was it my fault she planted those blasted things right on the path we used to ride to school?"

Rita enjoyed their playful banter, as the boyhood memories flooded back between these two old friends.

"Yeah, she kept planting new flowers and you kept destroying them. Did anyone ever win that battle?"

"Yeah," David laughed, "she did! She finally put up this fence around the flowers. I didn't know it was there until one day, I went crashing through it. My bike got munched and my knees got skinned up pretty bad. So she came running out of her house and told me that it served me right. I learned my lesson quick."

Chris turned to Rita. "See, he was the trouble maker."

David hadn't forgotten Rita's last question. He used the short spurt of silence to turn the topic back to what she had asked. "He's right, Rita, or should I say Lieutenant? I am the troublemaker, and to answer your question, yes, I have been. About three years ago I was working at a factory down in Lauderdale. I got into a fight with the foreman and he pressed charges against me. I had to pay a fine, and I lost the job, too. I'm sure it's still on my record somewhere. You may as well know, I don't have anything to hide."

Chris was a little shocked, but Rita just continued her questioning. "What was the fight about, David?"

"What is it always about?" David said defensively, knowing that Chris would understand his meaning.

"I don't understand," Rita said, first looking to David, who turned away, then to Chris, who briefly made eye contact with her.

"I do," Chris said. "You OK, man?"

"Yeah, I'm all right," David said, avoiding eye contact with either of them.

"We're gonna head out then. If you need anything, you call me. Or if you just want to talk, call. All right?" Chris said.

"Yeah, I will."

"We'll be in touch. I'll talk to you for sure tomorrow, man." With that, Chris ushered Rita out of the tiny apartment to the street out in front.

"Do you want to explain that?" Rita asked.

"I will," Chris said, escorting her to her car. "Are we done for today?"

Rita was slightly annoyed. "Not quite."

"What I mean is, I'll meet you at home. We can discuss it there."

Rita met his icy-blue gaze with her own emerald-green stare. "I'll head right over and see you there."

"See ya," he said, changing his serious expression to an infectious grin in no time flat. He knew it would drive her mad all the way home.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

And the race was on! Rita drove fast, almost recklessly. She want to hear the rest of David's story and find out what Chris was keeping from her. It annoyed her he opted to wait to tell her until they got home. Chris was speeding home, too. Partly just to push Rita harder, have some fun with her, and partly to buy himself some time, so he could figure out how to tell her the whole story.

Chris snuck into the driveway first, then Rita came to a halt in front of the familiar home. Before he was even out of the Jeep, she had made her way up the driveway and was waiting at his car door. He grinned at her from inside the Jeep, opened the door and announced, "I won! I got the driveway first!"

Rita was not amused. "I wasn't racing, and I want some answers!"

"Oh, you weren't, huh? What about that red light I saw you glide through over on West Street then?"

"Quit changing the subject, Chris. You only know I went through that red light because you went through it first," she fired back, with a tiny hint of a smile. She was up to playing his game. He stepped out of the Jeep and swallowed her into a massive hug. She smiled and let herself forget everything for the moment, except him. It was warm and calm and safe there in his arms. After a few moments, she realized he was stalling. "Just when do you think you might be ready to tell me?"

He pulled back and gave her his 'puppy dog' look. "How 'bout a nice, long walk on the beach. I think it's story time."

She gave him a tiny peck on the lips, which he quickly returned. "I like the sound of that."

They quickly changed into casual clothes, and fifteen minutes later, left their house with an old blanket to sit on. They made their way through the neighborhood, stopping a few times to chat with some new neighbors. By the time they hit the sand, Chris had become very quiet.

"What deep, dark secret do the two of you share?" Rita asked, figuring out the ending already, but not knowing the entire plot.

"You know me better than I know myself," Chris replied with half a smile.

"Not quite. There are still a few blank spots here and there. But that goes both ways," Rita said, cuddling close to him and returning the smile.

He wrapped his arm around her a little tighter, just to let her know how much he loved her. "David and I have been through a lot together. All this has brought back so many memories. There's no way he could have done this."

"Chris, you haven't seen him in years. You don't know what he's been through."

"Oh yes I do, Sam."

"I think it's time you start telling me."

Chris picked out a spot and spread the blanket over the sand, and they both sat down. "The first day I went to school, I got into a fight."

"Let me guess, you were the new kid?"

"Something like that," he paused. "It actually may have been over the ridiculous clothes I wore back in the 70s, or the fantastic lunch my grandma made me," Chris laughed, recalling the deli-type sandwiches she would whip up. "David tried to stop it and he ended up in the middle of things. I got the bloody nose and he got the black eye. We'd only been friends for like, two weeks and he stood up for me like that. That's when I knew he was gonna be a friend for life. "

"So you're basing his innocence on a childhood initiation of sorts?"

Chris laughed a little and shook his head. "No, that was just the beginning. There's a lot more to it."

Rita stared toward the ocean, allowing the cool evening breeze to push the hair away from her face, revealing her classic beauty. Chris studied her profile. She was beautiful in every way. He knew that she'd wait forever for him to tell her whatever was on his mind. She would never pressure him. He reached his hand up and ran his fingertips lightly over her cheek, turning her peaceful stare into a smile. As she turned, their eyes locked, and she knew he would tell her everything.

"I think that report I was helping you with came so easily to me because I've experience that same sort of situation as a kid. What David meant when you asked him what his fight was about is that it was because he's Cuban. Whatever he goes through in life, good or bad, it always comes down to him being Cuban. In school, the teachers always would say, 'David, you're smart for a Cuban.' When he excelled in baseball, it was because he was a Cuban. And when something went wrong and someone needed to be blamed, it was always David, cuz he was Cuban. At first, it was just adults who made those comments. But somewhere down the line, the kids started to pick up on it." Chris leaned back on his elbows, closing his eyes as he struggled with he memories. "David could never just be himself. It's like he always had a label. And cops like Brodley just perpetuate the whole stereotype."

"Doesn't that happen to all kids?"

"Not like this, it doesn't. And it never ended. It stayed with him from junior high to high school and it's still happening now. David's whole life is based on the fact that he's Cuban and there's nothing he can do to change it. Nothing."

Rita turned to face Chris. "There's more you're not telling me, isn't there?"

Chris nodded. "Grandma Rose was so upset when I came home from school that first day. I thought she'd never stop holding me tight. She made me tell her exactly what happened. I thought she was mad, and she was. It just wasn't at me. When David came over about an hour after school, she just about crushed him with a hug, too. When I went to bed that night, she told me that what David and I did, sticking up for each other, was good. She said it was noble and she was proud of both of us."

Rita listened quietly to every word as she inched closer to her husband, leaning her head onto his shoulder. "Your grandma taught you so much."

Chris gave her a faint smiled and continued his story, "The next week or so, things were was pretty calm. I started to make more friends and everything seemed to be going great for me. Living with my grandma was the best thing that ever happened to me." Chris got very quiet and lightly kissed the top of Rita's head. "After school one day, I looked around for David and he was no where to be found. His bike was gone, too. I figured he just had to get home quick for something, so I hopped on my bike and started for home. I took the alleyway, like we always did, and up ahead, I saw a group of kids. I slowed up to see what was happening. These kids were beating up David. His bike was mangled up in a scrap heap, and six of our 'so-calledí classmates were kicking and stomping on him. He was lying in a heap on the ground, trying to protect himself. I dropped my bike and screamed at them to get away. I remember one of them turned and laughed at me and told me to join in. I ran closer and pulled him off and sent him flying. I reached out and grabbed another guy and did the same thing. The other four realized what was going on, so they forgot about David and started to beat me up. Two of David's older brothers showed up just in time and evened up the odds real quick. That's when everyone scattered. I didn't get beat up too bad, but David spent two days in the hospital with broken ribs and a concussion."

"Why were they beating him up?"

"Because he parked his bike next to one of theirs," Chris said in disgust. "You know, mixing Cuban blood next to American blood wasn't a good thing. After that, a reason didn't really matter. They'd make up a new one every day. If David was ever alone, they'd find him, and they'd hurt him bad. His brothers and I had to shadow him constantly. I got into so many fights, that's all I was doing, fighting. It started to affect my schoolwork. Grandma Rose knew what was going on and while she didn't want me to stop helping David, she also knew that continuing like that was destructive to me as well. She got together with David's parents and they talked about some options. That's when David and I started going to St. Richard's."

"Chris, there's nothing you're telling me here that gives me anymore insight into David. I know it affected you directly, but I think what happened to both of you is fairly common. Kids do it all the time."

"Thereís more...it didn't end with us going to St. Richardís, but I think it stopped for a while. They let up on him a little, and most of the time, no one talked about what was happening. And then we got to high school." Chris sat up straight and positioned himself to look directly at Rita. "David met a girl. They started to meet secretly. She was Palm Beach High Society and two years younger than we were. Her brother was in our class. It was nearly two months before anyone found out about them. By then, the girl was pregnant," Chris paused. "I heard about it too late, and David nearly died. They did every terrible thing imaginable to him. His brother and I found him in a cemetery. They had dumped him there as another message. I went and visited him in the hospital three days later, after he came out of the coma. He told me that he'd never lay eyes on another 'white' girl again."

Rita saw the sorrow in his eyes and wrapped her arms around him in a comforting hug. "Why didn't you tell me all this before?"

"Rita, I had never seen someone hurt that bad. I don't know how he survived. Maybe I just wanted to forget it ever happened, too. Our friendship was never really the same after that. I just didn't know what to say to him anymore, or how to help him, and we just drifted apart. Then I went off to college," he paused and the silence grew between them. "I know he'd never rape a woman," he finally finished as Rita shivered in his arms from the cool night air. "You cold?"

"I'm OK."

Chris disregarded her answer and peeled off his sweatshirt, insisting that she slip on. She did so willingly. As she slipped the hooded sweatshirt over her head, she breathed in the scent of his after-shave that still lingering in the warmth that now surrounded her.

"I know if this ever goes to court, David's past will come out. He'd never make it through a trial. What he's had to live through is enough for a million lifetimes," Chris explained. "I need to find the person who attacked that woman. I need to clear David's name."

Rita didn't feel like arguing with him, especially over a case that dealt with a close friend. There was something about this whole situation that she didn't like. Call it gut instinct or women's intuition. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but there was something more to this whole situation. She'd look into it more in the morning. Right now, she found herself drifting off to sleep, snuggled close to her newlywed husband, knowing that she was safe and secure in his arms.

Chris held her close in silence for a long time. He could tell by the way she was breathing that she was very relaxed and almost asleep. As the last bit of daylight clung to the sky, he whispered, "You awake, Sammy?"

"MmMmmmm.," she answered softly.

"I love holding you. I love being with you. I can't imagine my life without you."

Rita sat up a little straighter, still wrapped tightly in his arms. "I love being held by you. I love being here with you, and I will never be without you."

"Why do you think it' not that way for everyone?"

"Whatta ya mean?" Rita asked, gazing up at his face.

"Why doesn't everyone have a someone, like you and me?"

"Maybe some people don't look hard enough or long enough. Or maybe they just don't try hard enough when they do find someone," Rita explained, trying to understand it herself.

"Maybe," Chris said, giving her half a smile. "It's like the people who need someone the most, end up alone."

"You mean people like David?"

Chris nodded. "Yeah. From the first day I met him, that's all he wanted, a friend. I think he's still looking."

"We'll get to the bottom of this, Chris, I promise," Rita said, emphasizing the 'promise'.

"I know we will. Just like I know I'll always have you," Chris said, placing a kiss on the top of her head.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sometime during the night, Chris shot up out of bed. He felt like he was on fire. Rita woke to see him breathing heavily and peeling off the T-shirt he had worn to bed. He ran a hand over his sweating face.

"Chris, what is it?"

"I think I need to open a window in here. I'm burning up. Are you hot?"

Rita sat up next to him, putting her palm across his forehead. "I don't think it's the room, I think it's you, Sam. That germ didnít take long to spread, did it?"

He closed his eyes beneath the calming touch of her soft hand. For a brief moment he felt better. "I'm not sick. I think maybe I was just having a bad dream or something," he said, throwing back the covers, then standing up.

"Chris, you're hot and clammy, you have a fever. Come back to bed."

"I'm gonna get a drink of water," he said, walking out of the room and down the hall toward the kitchen. She smiled to herself at his stubbornness as she got out of bed to follow him.

"Let me get something for you," she said as she entered the kitchen.

Rita's voice startled Chris as he stood at the sink letting the cool water run. He took some in his palms and gently splashed his face. "I'll be all right."

"I'd say you're being stubborn," Rita scolded with her hands on her hips. "Look at you, you can barely stand up."

He gave her his own version of 'the look.' "I can stand up just fine," he said, turning around and standing up straight just to prove his point. "See?"

Rita shook her head defiantly and couldn't help but notice that his head was hung down and he had to lean back against the counter to help balance himself. "I think it's my turn to do some pampering around here. Now, come on back to bed," she said, putting her arm around his waist to help steady him as they made their way back to the bedroom.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris was in no condition to argue with Rita the next morning. He had indeed caught Rita's flu bug, and it was ravaging his body from head to toe. He could barely see straight, let alone sit up or stand. Even rolling over was painful. All he could do is lay very still on his back as Rita got ready for work. Before she left, she brought him some flu medicine, magazines, books, and the TV remote. She also took his temperature just to prove to him that he was running a fever. The thermometer read 102.

Chris let out a long, low moan when she told him what the thermometer said. "What? You don't believe me? Would you like to see for yourself," she asked as she stood above him, holding it for him to see.

He just kept his closed. "I don't wanna see it. I believe you, but it feels like it's higher than 102," he whined. "It's freezing in here."

Rita grabbed the two spare blankets off the chair in the corner of the room and without saying a word, unfolded them and carefully covered Chris up. "Do you want me to make you anything to eat?"

Another moan came from the recesses of his throat. "No!"

"Would you like me to stay home and wait on you hand and foot all day?"

"Would you?"

Rita chuckled. "'Fraid not, Sam. One of us has to bring home the big bucks."

"I woulda stayed home with you if you had asked."

"And believe me, you got an 'A' in Grandma Rose's TLC seminar. I, on the other hand, had Tom and Sue Lance and their 'you'd better be on your death bed to stay home' training. I'd be glad to get you anything you need, but I'm not going to stay home and watch you sleep all day. Sorry, Chris," she said, running her hand over his feverish forehead and cheek.

He looked so sad. "I know, I'm just looking for sympathy."

"That I'll give you. I know how horrible you feel. I' ll be home at lunch time and I'll even call you in a couple hours to check on you, OK?" She gave him a kiss.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Rita spent most of the day trying to track down the people that David was supposedly with the evening of the rape. Most everyone she talked to either wouldn't admit to being at the festiva or didn't want to swear to anything, and none of them wanted to be seen talking to a cop. David's list of 'friends' was turning into a bust.

Despite her busy day, Rita did manage to stop by the house to check on Chris around 1:00. He had been sleeping like a baby, so she didn't wake him, choosing instead to leave him a note saying she'd been by to see him, would be home as soon as she could, and that she loved him. It was nearing 6 PM when she finally returned to the office, intending only to pick up some case files to take home and work. She walked in to find Geoff still sitting at his desk, pouring through a stack of file folders.

"Hey, Rita! I thought you went home," Geoff began, looking up from a file.

"I was out trying to track down some witnesses on the Espinoza case. I just stopped back to get some paperwork to take home. What are you working on?"

"The Matherís case. I think I may be on to something."

Rita stopped in her tracks. "Really?"

Geoff let out a little laugh. "I said I may be on to something. I'm cross-referencing Mr. Mather to see if I can dig up any dirt on him. You never know, right?"

Rita smiled warmly and nodded. "You are right about that! Well, don't stay too late. Tomorrow is another day. And since Mather's has already been gone for thirty years now, another day shouldn't make much of a difference."

Geoff nodded and went back to his file while Rita gathered up her materials and headed home to her flu-ridden husband.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Back at the Lorenzo home, Chris was propped up in bed by a mound of pillows. The TV was on, an NBA game blaring out of the speakers. He lay there in a funk, simply trying to survive the next minute of this awful flu bug. The nasty germ had dug its unrelenting claws into him and didn't show signs of letting up any time soon.

Rita walked into the bedroom with a glorious smile on her face. Chris shift a little, trying to sit up better. His 'medicine' had arrived and he attempted to greet her with a small smile. Rita went over to the bed and placed her hand on her husband's fevered forehead. "Still warm, huh?" His puppy dog eyes followed her every move then came to her face as their eyes me, but he didn't answer her. "Did something happen to your voice, too?"

"Hurts to swallow," he mouthed, closing his eyes as the pain burned through his Adam's apple.

Rita was disappointed by that news. "Hmmm, I'll fix something for you to sip on that'll make you feel a lot better. Have you eaten anything at all today?"

"Just water, lots of it," he whispered, motioning to the 8 empty 1-liter bottles on the nightstand. "It hasn't helped, though."

She mustered up another smile for him as she ran her hands along his jawline, checking for swollen glands, but finding none. "Hang in there, Sam. I think you'll make it." Rita went to fix some broth for her poor, sick partner then went about straightening up the house. Chris drank down several cups and drifted back to sleep shortly after. Sometime during the night, his fever finally broke, and he woke up the next morning feeling a bit better, though his throat still burned and ached. He decided to stay at home at least one more day, and Rita headed off to work.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Strolling through the palm-tree doors of the homicide division, Rita spotted Geoff sitting at his desk, still wearing the same clothes he had on the day before. "Geoff, what's going on? Have you been here all night?"

Geoff ignored her question for now. "I finally found something!" he began excitedly. "I pulled in a few favors, and you're never gonna believe this."

"What am I not gonna believe?" Rita stood beside of his desk and waited.

"Not only do I have something in the Mather case, but I think I have a tie in to the Espinoza case that you and Chris are working on," he said proudly.

Rita had been reading over his shoulder, but stood straight up when she heard the name 'Espinoza'. "Are you serious?"

Geoff turned and smiled brightly. "I am totally serious. This is very interesting and I think you guys may have a real case against him now," he reported, not realizing that they had been working to clear David.

"What exactly did you find out?" Rita asked sadly.

"Well, it's bothered me from day one that Mather was killed in broad daylight but no one saw anything. I know it was annoying Chris, too. It just didn't fit. So, I started pouring through everything, every note and report I could find on the case. I came across this one," he shuffled through some papers, holding one for her to see. Rita looked at it briefly.

"So what's this? Half of it is censored," she said, not following his lead.

"Exactly. But who censored it and why? That's what I wanted to know. I tried to dig up something internally, but no one would give me any information. I realized that cops don't always have the answers, and I needed to find someone else who did."

"So who'd ya find?"

"I'm glad you asked. One of my old high school buddies works over at the Palm Beach Daily Herald. He's the editor, as a matter of fact."

Rita's smile increased 100%. Geoff was becoming a great detective. "What did you find out?"

"I sat down with the microfiche and wheeled my way through edition after edition. Then I found it," he said, pulling out a photocopy of an article written the day after Mather was murdered. Rita snatched it out of his hand and read it as Geoff continued, "It seems there was a rape that same day. A white man attacked a Cuban woman. There was only one identified witness, a seven-year old boy. He's briefly mentioned in this other article and then it just stops. No other information about that case ever surfaced again. But," he said, rummaging through to another photocopied newspaper article, "Check this out."

Rita grabbed it and noticed it was in Spanish. "Ah, my Spanish isn't too good. Did someone translate it?"

Geoff nodded. "Oh yeah, and this has just about all the answers we need. Mather was the one that raped the Cuban woman, the one the little boy witnessed. He didn't see who killed Mather, but he saw Mather committing the rape. My money says some Cuban probably did Mather in, but we'll never know. The little boy must have gone and told someone what happened and who did it."

"Let me guess, the little boy was David Espinoza?"

Geoff nodded affirmatively. "That's what's taken me most of the night. The records for juvenile witnesses are locked up tight. I used up at least three years worth of favors to get to the bottom of this one."

"How does this tie in to the present case?"

"That's where it gets a bit tougher. See, according to one article, the witness's statement was thrown out. I don't know if that's cuz he was only seven, because of the murder, or because the rape victim and the witness were Cuban," Geoff paused. "I also found out through the records that David had a lot of counseling as a youth, everything from anger management and peer mediation, to sexual dysfunction. All before he was 18. In my opinion, you don't necessarily become cured once you become an adult. And he's been involved in a few incidents that are noted, including one about seven months ago. I'm surprised Chris didn't know about those."

Rita began to wonder if Chris knew about any of this. "We still need something a bit more substantial, but this is good work. In fact, I think I will go have a talk with David now. It's time to find out what he has to say about all this."

"I'll be glad to go with you," Geoff said enthusiastically.

"Nah, that's OK. Why don't you go home and get some rest. You look beat."

Geoff didn't argue, and Rita praised him again for his outstanding work."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Rita drove over to David's apartment, her knocks dragging him out of bed. David answered the door wearing only shorts. Rita politely asked if she could come in, and David smiled pleasantly as he opened the door for her.

"David, I've got a few more questions that I hope you can answer," she began, watching him pluck a T-shirt from the sofa and throw it on over his head.

"Shoot," he replied as he sat down, still yawning.

"I understand that as a child you witnessed a rape. Is that correct?"

The smile instantly disappeared from David's face. "That was a long time ago, when I was only seven. I don't remember too much about it anymore."

"I know, I understand. But you did witness the rape then, is that correct?" she asked again.

"Yeah, but I had to go to counseling and everything," he said, acting a bit incoherent.

"How long did you go to counseling?"

"Most of the time I was still in school. It helped a lot. I stopped once I graduated from high school. It helped me get over what I saw. That woman, she was screaming over, and over, and over again."

David stood up and wasn't even looking at Rita now. She obviously had touched on a very private memory of David's. There was something strange going on here. She didn't know quite what to make of the situation, she just felt like getting out of his apartment.

"David, it's OK. I don't think I need to know anymore," she said waiting for him to acknowledge her again.

"How could I help her? I was just a little kid. I couldn't stop the guy. I ran," he said, finally spinning around to face her.

"I know," Rita said, "I know you ran and got help, David. That's exactly what you were supposed to do."

David snapped back to reality. He met Rita's eyes with his own. "I could never hurt anyone, ever, after I saw that," he said somberly. "I was afraid."

"I believe you," she replied. "That's all I needed to know. Thanks, David. I'll be in touch, OK?"

"Is that gonna help get me off, Rita?"

"We're working on it, David, I promise. We're working on it." With that said, Rita left.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was close to lunchtime when Rita drove back to the house to check on Chris and let him know about the morning's latest developments.

"YOU WHAT?" was Chris' loud reply to Rita's description of the morning's events.

"I went and talked to David about it. I wanted to see his reaction."

"Why didn't you let me know before you went over there?" Chris said, standing up and heading toward the bathroom.

"Probably because you were home, sick in bed, and I had a job to do," Rita said as she purposely followed him.

Chris spun around and stopped as Rita nearly rammed into him. "You know, I really hate it when you do stuff like that!"

"Chris, I'm a cop, it's my job. I know the risks. How many times have we gone over this?"

"That's not what I'm talking about."

Rita was not following his explanation as she waved her hands out to her sides. "Then what exactly are you talking about?"

Chris held back for a moment to collect himself, trying to quell the anger he could tell was building inside.

"Chris?" she questioned, shaking her head a little bit to prod him along.

He starred at her for a second.

"Did you know about this?" He turned away. "You knew? Chris? Are you telling me that you knew this about David? And what, you conveniently forgot to tell me? I thought you said you told me everything you knew yesterday?"

He turned back around. "I didn't know all of it. I didn't know he witnessed a rape that was tied to a murder. But I knew he went for all kinds of counseling. I never knew what for, and David never wanted to talk about it."

"So you have doubts about his innocence, then?"

Chris vehemently shook his head. "No, I know he's innocent." He walked over to the living room sofa and sat down. Rita followed him again.

"Is that because he's your friend or do you have some other information that you're hiding."

Chris let a throaty sound escape from his lips. "I guess I deserved that, and no, I don't have any information other than what I've already told you. He's had a rough life, and I know here," he said pointing to his heart and then to his head, "and here, that he couldn't have done it. He didn't rape that woman."

Rita watched her husband closely. He was still miserably congested from the head cold and flu he was battling. She knew he believed in his friend, but now, she didn't. Still, she didnít see the point in arguing about it with him right now. "Are you feeling any better?" she asked, trying to change the subject.

"Actually, yeah. I'm in the cold stage now. But that's good, right? That means it's on the downside?"

She smiled at him. "Yeah, that's what it means."

"So what are you gonna do this afternoon?"

The cop in him was just as strong as the cop in her. Neither one of them could turn it off for very long. "I think I'm gonna try to go see the victim, then go from there. Maybe she can shed a little more light on the rapist, something that would clear David, you know?" she added, hoping to make him feel better and to show him how much she believed in him.

"That'd be great," Chris said, letting out a deep breath.

"I'll start there and see what happens. I'll call you if I turn up anything," she said, standing to give him a kiss.

"Thanks, Sam," he said genuinely.

"Anything for a friend, right?"

Chris nodded, and with a kiss she was off, back to work again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Rita got the name and address of the victim, and after stopping to chat with Cap for about twenty minutes, she decided to head out to ask the rape victim a few questions.

Meanwhile, back at the Lorenzo home, or more specifically, the Lorenzo couch, Chris flicked off the TV and sat up. Something was gnawing away at him. It was just a feeling he was having, there was no other way to describe it. He paced around the house for awhile, even tried to read a book, but it was still there, in the back of his brain and it wouldn't let him go. He began to question his friendship with David. Then he began thinking about all the people he knew, starting with Rita, then Benny, and even Cap, and himself. Everyone had changed in some way over the years. Most of the time, it was for the better. But maybe it wasn't always that way for everyone. Maybe David wasn't the same twelve-year-old who just wanted a friend. Maybe he had changed, and not for the better. They weren't kids anymore and Chris hadn't seen him in quite a few years. Maybe he needed to open his eyes. And now, with all the things Rita had told him and the things he already knew about David, it all seemed to be stacking up against him. Then there was the victim. The woman had identified David. Suddenly, memories of another time in his life came flooding back to Chris.

(FLASHBACK)

It was high school and David had pretty much stayed away from dating anyone. He always told Chris that he never knew what to say to them or how to act around them. It was almost like he was afraid of them.

Homecoming was approaching quickly and Chris kept pestering him about asking someone to the dance. David put it off till he could no longer stand Chris' constant prodding.

"I donít know who to ask."

"Ask anyone. There are still plenty of girls who donít have dates yet."

"Any Cuban ones?"

"Very funny," Chris replied sarcastically. "Just ask anyone. There's got to be someone you've got your eye on."

David was preoccupied with a pretty freshman walking down the hall right in front of them.

"You cradle robber," Chris said, nudging his friend in the ribs as they continued on toward class.

"She's hot, and she's only two years younger than us. What' s wrong with that?"

"If I gotta tell you, you need to be held back a few grades," Chris joked.

"What's that supposed to mean? Cuz I'm Cuban?" David started getting upset.

Chris was surprised by David's response. "No, man, I never said that. That's not what I meant. Just that she's young, that's all."

"So you're thinking it's like Meg again, huh? I shouldn't have a white girl and knock her up again, right?"

Chris tried to quiet David down, his outburst was drawing a crowd. "Dave, that's not what I said. And you're being Cuban doesn' t have anything to do with anything. Settle down, OK?"

David mumbled something under his breath that sounded like, "I could have her anytime I want her, just like Meg. I'm not afraid." to Chris.

(END OF FLASHBACK)

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

What did he ever do before Rita? This was another perfect example of her love in action. She didn't beat him up over his obvious blindness that an old friendship was causing. She simply tried to point things out to him and let him come to his own conclusions. Now he needed to find her and apologize and thank her for being so understanding and caring. He finally began to realize that David Espinoza might be involved in this rape after all.

After changing into a pair of khakis and a purple T-shirt, Chris headed downtown to the police station to catch up with Rita. He had missed her by about fifteen minutes, Cap told him, as they headed into the homicide department together. Making small-talk, Cap asked him how he was feeling, and he lazily shifted his head to let him know that he was surviving. But Chris really needed to find Rita, and he rummaged through the notes on his desk for the address of the rape victim, finally finding the slip of paper it was on. He wanted to catch up to her and let her know that he finally realized that she was probably right about David. And he wanted to thank her for the time and patience she had granted him to come to that conclusion. He left the office without further delay.

Cap watched him from the doorway of his office and wondered what was going on now.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Stacy Johnson lived on the 8th floor of the apartment complex. Rita rode the elevator up, easily finding room 832, and knocked on the door. She knocked three times and was just about to leave when she heard someone on the other side of the door. The door opened a crack, exposing that the chain was still in place. Two blue eyes peered out from the opening.

"Ms. Johnson, I'm Lieutenant Lance from the Palm Beach Police Department," Rita said, holding up her badge for the woman to see. "I'd like to ask you a few questions. May I come in, please?"

The woman's eyes scanned the hallway and back into her own apartment and she hesitantly let Rita in. Rita smiled at her warmly, knowing from her training that rape victims were often overly fearful of new situations for a long time after their attacks. Stacy Johnson had been attacked only a week or so before, and Rita was very surprised to find her alone.

"How are you doing?" Rita asked politely.

"I'm OK," was all Stacy would say. She was acting very nervous and chose to remain standing.

"May I call you Stacy?" Rita began. Stacy nodded. "Maybe I can get you something? Some water maybe? Would you like something to drink?" Rita asked, moving toward the kitchen.

"No," Stacy nearly shouted. "I'm fine! What is it that you wanted to ask me?"

"Stacy, what is it? Am I making you nervous?" Tears began to fall from Stacy's eyes and Rita went to her and took her in her arms. "It's OK, you're gonna be all right, shhh," Rita said softly.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris drove the Jeep over to the apartment complex where woman lived. He thought he had cleared his mind from the gnawing feeling he had been having, but it was back again and stronger than ever. The apartment building was nearly in West Palm and with the hour nearing 3 PM, the traffic was getting heavier and heavier.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

While Rita continued to hold a sobbing Stacy Johnson in her arms, David Espinoza stepped out of the kitchen holding a gun on both women. It was too late for Rita to reach for hers, as David came closer and plucked it off of her skirt and shoved it in the front of his pants.

Stacy managed to sob out, "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, I'm so sorry. He said he would kill me."

"I understand, Stacy," Rita replied calmly. She turned toward David. "Now what, David? Hmmm? Got any plans? Are you going to kill us both?"

"I don't know yet, but maybe I will," David said coldly.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris sat at the stop light near 64th Street and Delaware Avenue wondering if the light would ever change in his favor. That strange feeling in his gut was growing by the second. He picked up his cell phone and dialed Rita's number. There was no answer. He ended the call and dialed her pager, punching in his own number. Maybe she'd respond to that. He shook his head and tossed the phone back into the passenger seat as the light finally changed from red to green. Something had to be happening to her. That's all he could think of. The ominous feeling was constant now.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Rita felt her pager go off. She absentmindedly had left her cell phone in the car. She wondered who was trying to get hold of her and tried to glance at the number, but the angle wasn't conducive to reading it without tipping it at an angle.

David stood holding the gun on the two women. Stacy Johnson shuddered in fear a few steps behind Rita. This man had already tortured her once and she was terrified of something worse happening now.

"David, why don't you let me give Chris a call. Would you like to talk to Chris?" Rita began, taking a step toward David.

David raised the gun up a little higher and ran his free hand through his jet-black hair. "I haven't seen Chris in years," he said, a little disoriented.

"I'm married to Chris now, remember? Why don't you let me call him and you guys can talk about old times."

"Chris is my friend," he said with the hint of a smile.

Rita nodded. "Yeah, he is. He cares about you very much, David. He wants to help you," she said, still inching closer.

"Just stay there! Don't come any closer!" he said, thrusting out the gun. Stacy let out a scream.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris pulled up to the apartment building and noticed that Rita's car was parked in front. As he made his way inside the building, he took his gun out of the holster and clipped his badge to the front of his pants. Some people in the lobby noticed his actions and steered clear. He waited patiently for the elevator, got on quickly, and rode it to the eighth floor.

Chris strode down the hallway, quickly finding room 832, then stood outside the doorway and listened first. He heard a loud thud and then Rita's voice.

"David, listen to me. You don't want to do this," she was saying. "Let me get you some help. Let's talk to Chris."

"I've had enough help in my lifetime. I'm sick of talking. What good did it do, anyway?" David's voice cried out. "Chris understood. We didn't need to talk, we were just friends."

Chris heard enough. He backed up, then smashed the door open with his shoulder and drew his gun on David. David quickly moved behind Rita, holding his gun to the back of her head. Stacy Johnson lay in a heap on the floor. The sight of David holding a gun on Rita, of all people, sickened Chris. But he wasn't about to back down.

"Drop it, Dave, or so help me God, I will blow you to kingdom come, friend or no friend. Put the gun down now and we'll work this out," Chris said, taking a few steps closer. His eyes were trained on David, but he glanced over to see that Rita seemed to be OK for the time being. She was waiting for some sign from him. She could feel the barrel of the gun pushing into the back of her neck, but David wasn't right up against her, he was slightly off to her right.

David didn't move.

"David, I mean it. Put the gun down," Chris repeated, the words echoing through his mind. He remembered saying those same words to Debra Bouchard. Only this time, he was in a position to stop the violence. He never had the chance with Debra. This time, his gun was trained on David and he'd pull the trigger if he had to. It wasn't his own life in jeopardy this time, it was Rita's. And he saw the same look of evil coming from David's eyes that he had seen come from Debra's eyes. He would not make the same mistake now. Friend or no friend, sickness or not, his wife's life hung in the balance, and he'd lay down his own life to protect Rita. That was just one of the vows he'd made to her.

"I did it, Chris, I did it. I don't know why, but I raped that woman," David sobbed.

"I know you did, David. It's over now. Gimme the gun." The sound of those words aloud again made Chris shudder on the inside, but he showed no fear to David or Rita. His eyes darted to Rita. They both knew that David wasn't going to surrender his gun. Rita's eyes motioned to the left and then down, signaling to Chris which way she would move so that he could get off a clear shot.

"I can't, Chris. I can't do that," David nearly shouted. "You always understood, you always were there for me. I'm tired, Chris, I'm just tired of the whole thing. Why can't anybody see that? I hurt those girls in high school, and my wife, and now this. I can't stop, even though I want to. You can help, Chris, right?" David sobbed again.

"If you put down the gun, David, I can help you. You gotta give me the gun."

David didn't budge. Just then, Stacy Johnson began to wake up, and Rita ducked to her left and fell to the floor. David, in fear, started to aim his gun at Chris. Chris got off a clean shot right to Davidís chest. The gun flew out of his hand and he dropped to the floor in agony.

Chris quickly knelt down beside him and David's dark eyes looked up at his friend. "I'm glad it was you. I can always count on you, you're my friend. You got me out of another one," David said softly.

Tears began to well up in Chris' eyes as he grabbed David's hand and squeezed it tightly. He glanced over at Rita, who was OK and attending to Stacy. She grabbed the phone and dialed 911.

"David, hang on man, an ambulance is on its way. You're gonna be all right, just hang on."

"It's over, Chris. All I ever wanted was to be like everyone else. But then I saw him hurt that woman. I never got that out of my head. I was afraid. I could handle all the other stuff, the slurs, and the fights, all of it. I never got that image out of my head. And then I started doing the same thing. I wasn't afraid anymore. I'm sorry, Chris, I am."

"I know, Dave, just hang on," he said, grabbing his hands as tight as possible.

David's stare remained focused on Chris. He didn't say another thing, but his eyes slowly closed shut.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was early on Sunday morning. Chris moved quietly about the aromatic kitchen preparing a delicious smelling, warm, and indulgent breakfast for his wife of one month. He crunched a piece of bacon as he put the finishing touches on a tray full of food and coffee, complete with a red rose. He grinned as he swallowed the remaining bite of bacon, picked up the tray, and carried it toward the bedroom. He set the tray on the empty side of the bed and casually went over to adjust the blinds ever so slightly to let the sunshine streak in across his beautiful wife's face. She was so peaceful as she lay there on her back, her hair cascading from around her face, splaying over the pillow around her head.

Rita's eyes fluttered open from the warmth of the light streaming through the blinds and filling the room. She smiled and took a deep breath, the aroma of bacon, cinnamon, and coffee bombarding her senses. More fully awake, she sat up, careful not to knock anything on the tray over.

Chris sat down beside her and kissed her fully and deeply, overwhelming her senses. Life just didn't get any better than this!

After a few satisfying moments, he tore himself away from her already flushed lips. "Eat your breakfast before it gets cold."

"You're so good to me."

"You better believe it. I just hope I can keep up this pace. We've got a whole lifetime to go."

"If you keep feeding me like this every weekend, I won't be able to get out of this bed."

"And that would be a bad thing?" Chris replied with a laugh.

Rita smiled. "You've got enough here for an army! I see you've inherited your father's cooking skills." She picked up a piece of bacon and crunched it down, then took a few sips of coffee. She watched him closely as he appeared delighted in her happiness, but she couldnít help but wonder if something more was going on inside his head. "Do you want to tell me why you keep doing this? Two weekends now of breakfasts in bed, and you're up at the crack of dawn every day during the week."

"I love you, that's why!"

She leaned over and kissed him "I know that, I love you too." She was still waiting for a real answer.

"It's been a month! We've been married for a month already," he said happily, trying to avoid discussing his feelings with her for the moment.

"Happy Anniversary! But I'd like the present here a little more if you would just talk to me. Tell me what's going on up there," she said, tapping on his forehead.

"We already talked about David, if that's what you're thinking. I know it's not my fault. He was sick and he needed help. I turned a blind eye and ignored all the signs for way too long. Maybe if I had just opened my eyes I'd have seen it sooner, and maybe I could've helped him . It didn't have anything to do with being Cuban for David, it was seeing that rape when he was a kid that sent him over the edge," Chris explained. "I did what I had to do to protect you. You are my first priority, nothing can ever stand in the way of that." She watched him closely but remained silent. Chris finally began to open up. "With you and Daniel on me all the time, I'll get over it," he started with a grin. "You both have been a big help, especially you." He shifted his head from one side to the other. Rita patiently waited for him to continue. "I don't know what I'd ever do with you, Sam."

"There's more, isn't there? It's not just about David."

"I guess it's a lot of things. I just have a lot on my mind, Sam. Thatís all, really. So many ideas floating around inside my head, and you're at the top of my list, as usual. This whole thing has taken me back to things my grandma told me when I was a kid, stuff about Benny and Ana. I've even been thinking about a conversation I had with Cap. Plus I haven't been sleeping too well, and you of all people should know what it's like to try and sleep when you have a lot on your mind. Everything will work itself out, it'll just take some time. And in the meantime, I'll be in great shape from all the early morning runs I've been taking!"

"Are you trying to convince me or yourself?"

He grinned. "Both." The grin gave way to a more serious expression. "You know, YOU are the most important thing in my life. I would do anything for you, I would give you anything, and I would lay down my own life for you. Nothing or no one will ever come before you, I promise. I love you so much, Sam."

"I know. I love you too," she replied, leaning in and giving him a kiss, "and I feel the exact same way you do," she added, then paused. "You sound healthy enough," she said with a laugh, shrugging her shoulders. "And you certainly look healthy enough," she added, trailing her eyes up and down his body.

"I am," he beamed with confidence.

"Then I think breakfast is over and play time should begin."

Chris slowly inched closer and closer to her, sweeping her into powerful embrace that left them both breathless. Finally, Chris broke off and stood, gathered up the dishes, and set the tray on a chair in the corner of their room. Next, he peeled off his T-shirt, tossing it at the foot of the bed, and crawled back onto bed and into Rita's waiting arms. His hands weaved into the billowy depths of her soft hair as he sought to bring her head closer to his own, cradling it as his lips moved over top of hers. He moaned with a deep hunger, as he tasted her.

Ritaís hands were outstretched at first, almost as if she didn't know how or where to begin touching him. Slowly ,they wrapped around him, lightly skimming the skin on his back, caressing up and down, then around to his stomach and chest, coming to rest upon him. She felt him shudder from her touch. His strength was more than the flesh and bone she could feel, but it certainly helped reinforce how much she could depend upon him.

His kiss was endless, dizzying, in fact, for both of them. Rita's arms now clung to his body, knowing that if she let go she'd wilt underneath him. He broke off from her lush lips to guide her backwards so that she was lying underneath him on the bed. She waited for him to come back to her. As he set her softly upon the pillows, his hands melded to the lilac silk negligee she wore, running them up and down the cool fabric that clung to her body. Her fingertips glided over his arms, down to his fingertips, and back up again to his shoulders. Then his lips went back to work, first meeting with hers again, now wet and parted, waiting almost impatiently to return the sensation back to him. She deepened the kiss on impact and boldly stroked his tongue, sending a shuddering feeling throughout his body. They experimented every kind of kiss they could think of, slow, soft, wet, deep, and sexy. Rita moved her body achingly close to his. Just the thought of him not touching her brought a feeling of emptiness to her soul. She needed him more than anything.

He could sense how she was feeling and he needed her as much as she needed him. His hand captured her breast, while his lips trailed over her cheek and neck, nibbling his way over every area that gave her pleasure while gliding slowly and sensually up behind her ear. His tongue darted in and out around the sensitive area around her earlobe, while his fingertips sought out the hardened tip of her breast through the silky material. In a low, quiet voice he whispered his intentions into her ear, causing her to smile.

Rita's hands went to work on his body, bringing him to a new level. Her tender touch felt magical on every part of skin she danced over. Her fingertips dotted and slid on his increasingly heated body, and she lavished soft, moist kisses on his shoulders, suckling on his sensitive skin, causing him to moan and call out her name softly.

In the soft, warm fragrance of her neck he buried his lips against her skin. His hands went to push off the straps of the negligee, revealing her more fully to him. His lips and tongue continued their journey downward, pausing momentarily to gaze at her face. She wore a look of complete contentment, her eyes heavily lidded, her entire body now releasing any tension, any resistance, succumbing to him fully.

His lips sought out the base of her throat, his kisses, now moist and devouring, made their way onto her chest, inching them along toward her breasts. His tongue darted around each one, teasingly avoiding the hardening tips. Rita waited longingly for him to devour her and he knew that his playing was driving her crazy. His fingers played on the area some more as he glanced up at her face. "You did say this was playtime, didn't you?" She groaned a little and arched herself to his soft touch. He sent his lips back to work. He nipped at the soft skin below each peak, causing them to swell and tighten even more. Finally, his mouth hovered over one rosy tip until he took her into his mouth for a satisfying suckle.

Rita moaned in complete pleasure. Her hands brushed through his hair, keeping his head so close. His hands now roamed the length of her body, down her hips and thighs, then back up to push up the negligee so that he could caress the soft skin of her stomach. His body hardened even more against her as he pressed into her thigh.

His hand traveled from her stomach, lower still, pushing past the panties she wore, finding her delightfully ready for him. She placed tiny, erratic kisses on the top of his head as his kisses moved farther down still, to the sensitive skin of her stomach.

"Please, Chris," she cried out.

He looked up at her impatient eyes and grinned. "Please what?"

"Love me, please, love me," she moaned, as his lips and hands continued their passionate assault on her body.

That was all he needed to hear. He loved her in every way possible, heart, soul, mind, and now body. He eased into her, slowly and rhythmically, she began to move with him, letting her hips move to the pace he was setting. Deeper and deeper he drove himself into her, and as he leaned down on top of her, she nipped at his jaw. Moving faster, he closed his eyes and tossed his head back. He began to feel the first signal of her release and heard her call out his name. He opened his eyes and saw the pleasure on her face as she came for him and then he followed with his own powerful climax. He buried his face in her hair and let out a satisfied groan.

Her hands lightly skimmed over his body while he pressed tender kisses against the side of her neck. One of her hands combed through his hair and came to rest on his shoulders. Her legs remained wrapped around his body. Neither of them wanted to leave this special moment.

"Have I told you how much I enjoy breakfast in bed?" Rita whispered against his chest.

"I thought this was playtime," Chris teased as he nuzzled against her neck.

"You can call it whatever you like," she murmured as her lips skimmed over his skin, "as long as it feels this good."

"How about the passing of germs?" he teased, followed by a 'ha.' She gave him 'the look.' Chris just grinned. "Mmm," Chris murmured, kissing her lips again "Like I said before, I just hope I can keep up this pace for the rest of my life."

"I don't think that will be a problem for either one of us. As long as love is involved, this is one game we both win."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~The End~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

May 1999

And so, what is ahead for our two favorite detectives? Even I don't know the answer to that one right now, but I think I still have some more ideas for stories, if you are still interested in reading. Please let me know?

A very big thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write and tell me whether you think these stories are good or not so good. I appreciate all the comments and take all your suggestions seriously. So thank you for the truth! That especially goes for T, who suggested a Cuban story line and Joy, who keeps making me smile.

Special thanks are also in line for Judy, who has done such a masterful job at editing, they read so much better these days and that's because of all the work she puts into it. And thanks to Linda & Lisa as well for posting these things.

And now, the characters of Chris, Rita, Harry, Fran, Donovan, Scotty Grandma Rose, Debra Bouchard, Benny and Ana are all the creations of Stu Segall and Stephen J. Cannell and their respective production houses. And also USA who let us have five years with all these great characters.

The following characters are all mine: Web Webster, Tre, Geoff, Connie, Mather, Reynolds, Dale Brodley, David Espinoza, Sgt. Morris, Stacy Johnson, Maria Espinoza, Mrs. Morales, Meg, Daniel and the Kurkowic name which only showed up once.

Again, please feel free to drop me a line. Write to me at tuna.dc@excite.com

 

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