“Your name is Female?” he asked, leaning back in his worn leather chair.
She knew this was coming. It’s been like this her whole life. Even when she tried to open her first bank account. The look on the teller’s face was a mixture of amusement and horror, but it was worse whenever she applied for a new job. Always the same thing; Is that a real name? or What were your parents smoking when they named you that?
“It is,” she answered.
What else could she say? Her name was Female.
“There has to be a story behind this one.” He reached for the stump of an unlit cigar and tucked it between his teeth as he waited patiently for the explanation of a lifetime.
“My parents couldn’t agree on a name when I was born so the hospital just put Female on my birth certificate,” she began explaining with the usual nonchalant shrug. It was an old story and one she had told a million times. “The hospital told them how to change it once they thought of a name, but they never did. My grandmother changed the pronunciation to Fem-A-Lee and nicknamed me Emalee, so that’s what I go by.”
“Are you an only child?” he asked her with a smirk that promised a full-blown breakdown before the interview was over.
“No, I have four siblings.”
She was sure she was blushing, she always did. How did a person explain a family with names while you had a title? Emalee could see the humor in his eyes growing stronger and silently vowed if he didn’t wipe that expression of wait until I tell the boys this one off his face, she was going to punch him.
“Do they have names or did your parents just number them?” She found herself gripping the arms of the chair a bit tighter. If he laughed she was definitely going to thump him a good one, but she had to contain her anger, she needed this job.
“No, they all have names. It’s just me my folks couldn’t decide on.”
“Okay,” he finished, putting the cigar back into the overflowing ashtray as he leaned forward again. He was amused, she knew it, but he was also tactful and let the subject drop as he picked up her application and continued reading.
“You majored in Cinema Photography at NYU with a minor in Journalism and a recent graduate of the police academy. That’s a unique combination. You were on the Dean’s List twice and graduated third in your class. Impressive, but doesn’t mean much in this line of work. So, tell me Miss Peker, why do you want to work for the NYPD?”
“I need a job, but besides that, I find solving crimes interesting and I’ve always had a passion for mystery. I usually have a story figured out before the final chapter. That’s the main reason why I went to the academy. I want to help solve the crimes and put the bad guys behind bars.”
“Real life is a lot different than books,” he commented, looking up at her under unusually long eyelashes.
She knew women who would kill to have eyelashes like that, her sister Michelle especially. Being a pale blonde, the color managed to fade her eyelashes and brows into her freckles. If it wasn’t for Cover Girl, she’d disappear into the background all together.
“I understand that, Captain Sweeny. I didn’t mean that I expect to solve any cases, at least not overnight.”
Damn it Emalee, shut the hell up, she snapped to herself. Why was it the filter between her brain and her mouth always seemed to malfunction when she was nervous?
“Well, you do have an excellent eye. These are really quite good.” Thank God for my portfolio, she thought, it spoke volumes while her tongue slowly tried to slip back down her throat.
She had to admit though, she was a very good photographer. Granted, most of her stuff has been landscapes, family portraits and a few freelance shots for a small advertising agency, but they still showed what she was capable of. With her journalism degree to back her up, she was able to determine what should be added to the photos to make them stand out and pop.
“Well, you have passed the background search and City Hall seems to be impressed by your skills and degrees.”
This was it, she thought, it sounds good, but was she getting her hopes up for a giant let down?
Sweeny leaned back in his seat and slipped the cigar stump back between his teeth, which she now realized were stained yellow. He’s not that bad of a guy, she surmised quickly. Mid to late fifties, shaved bald head and a pasty pale, too-much-time-indoors complexion, but his green eyes held a gleam of friendliness in their stern stare and the crinkles beside his eyes showed that he liked to smile and laugh.
“We have a high homicide caseload in this precinct, and unfortunately, our last photographer left us suddenly for personal reasons. After twelve years of taking pictures of dead bodies and crime scenes, he decided it was time to move to Ohio. He left without even collecting the junk from his desk. My officers have had to fall back on taking pictures themselves, but it’s getting harder by the day and figuring out the equipment is tougher than it looks. We’re desperate so I’ll give you a try, but as a photographer. We don’t have time to train you in the field. I’ll give you three months to prove yourself but remember this is not a storybook. This is real life and it’s harsh and cruel. You’re going to see things that you wouldn’t imagine in your worst nightmare and you have to remain professional, let it roll off your shoulders and move onto the next case. Do you think you can do it?”
“I’m not squeamish and I’m not afraid, but I’ll agree, if it should prove too difficult I’ll let you know,” she answered.
She couldn’t help but wonder what she had just gotten herself into. Was it possible to allow the putrid side of reality to just roll off her shoulders, as he said?
“Honesty. I like that. In this office we move fast, and the pace is unpredictable. You could be called out to a stabbing one minute and an hour later to an overdose. You’ll have unpredictable hours and you’ll work in every weather condition known to man. For the most part, you’ll be on-call and you’ll be provided with what you need, including an officer to protect you while on scene. Whitley was our last photographer and was rather old fashioned. He left his darkroom behind, along with several cameras and enough film to last six months.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather use my own equipment and I do everything by computer. I don’t have a need for a darkroom, it takes too much time and I don’t like the quality of the photos.”
Seriously? A darkroom? she moaned. How old was this Whitley?
“I’m afraid you can’t use your personal camera or computer. Everything you use will be property of the department, but we can get whatever you feel most comfortable with, just give me a list of the equipment and we’ll requisition it. Your job in each case is very important, Miss Peker. Without good photos, we can’t get a conviction, and a killer could go free based on a simple photograph. Prosecution relies heavily on the evidence collected at the scene of the crime, including the pictures. We are the first line in what is often a very long investigation.”
He stood up and walked around the corner of the desk as he spoke, taking her eyes with him. She was still trying to figure out what she had signed up for, as he tucked his loose shirttail back into the waistband of his pants and reached for the doorknob.
Sweeny was much chubbier than he looked from his chair, and not as tall as she would have expected. Maybe five-foot ten or eleven and around two hundred pounds, maybe a bit more. He opened the door and glanced back to her. That was her cue to follow him, so she gathered her portfolio and shoulder bag, and quickly preceded out the door and into a large room filled with desks, ringing phones and large glass windows.
The area was reserved for the homicide detectives so there were no witnesses, prisoners, or whatever they were called, but there were a lot of men and women, nearly two dozen. Most of them were in suit pants and dress shirts, black shoes and loose ties about their necks. They all looked stern and rigid, and she couldn’t help but wonder if it was regulations to look like the characters from Men In Black. With a wry smile she mused, if a talking dog jumped out from under the desk, she was outta there.
A woman looked up from the phone she was talking on as Emalee passed her desk. She was very plain in appearance, no makeup or even lip gloss, her hair was bright red with shaved sides and a very short top. If it weren’t for the swell of breasts under her tight white shirt, Emalee would have sworn she was a male.
“I’ll team you up with Armstrong for now,” Sweeny told her as they approached a man sitting behind a cluttered desk, with his back toward them.
As if by instinct - though more likely he heard his name - he stood up and turned around to face them.
Oh my God, Emalee gasped to herself. Who is this Adonis and how do I get one for myself? This man was beyond gorgeous with dark brown hair, chocolate brown eyes and exquisitely chiseled features. His chin was covered with a soft dusting of brown hair and there was a small dimple in his chin to prove a wicked sense of humor. What was it her grandfather used to say? Clef in chin, devil within.
As he stood from his desk, Emalee found she had to tip her head back slightly to look up at him. He was tall and muscular, his white shirt strained against his chest, and his black pants hung across his hips in just a way, that made him look sophisticated with a bit of devil-may-care in the mix. She could stand there and look at him all day and never blink, but then she realized she was staring and the heat instantly began to burn her face and neck.
“Armstrong, this is Female Pecker, our new photographer,” Sweeny said, as the usual array of snickers echoed through the room, at the mispronunciation of her name. Even the Adonis looked amused, as he inspected her slender frame.
“It’s actually Emalee and my name is pronounced Pee-ker.”
She stuck her hand out for him to shake, praying it wasn’t sweaty.
“Nice to meet you Emalee, I’m Victor.”
She didn’t know about her own hand, but his was warm and firm, and she could feel a strange electricity shoot up into her elbow as her stomach did an odd summersault. Emalee couldn’t help but feel he knew the effect he had on the opposite sex, as the expression in his eyes took on a seductive gleam.
“I’m going to leave her to your capable guidance, Armstrong,” Sweeny said in a manner that didn’t reflect the amusement his staff was sharing. “Show her Whitley’s stuff and get her hooked up. Give me that list of equipment you need as soon as you can. It shouldn’t take more than a few days to get it, but until then, you’ll have to make due with Whitley’s stuff. Take her downstairs and get her an ID and sign her up for a phone. Once you get settled into your new office, Armstrong can show you around the place. I want you ready for the next call we get.”
Emalee watched as the captain walked back to his office, glancing around at the faces of people who suddenly seem to have more important things on their desks to occupy their time, then looking at her. It was the same everywhere. A woman with a strange name, seemed to always bring out the humor of the hidden high school moron in everyone. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but she was also born with the misfortune of being a stereotypical blonde, with a well-developed figure, and overactive metabolism to keep herself slim, regardless of how many bagels she ate. Fortunately, she had a very high IQ and a Master’s Degree to show she was more than a nice rack and a small butt.
“Come on, I’ll show you Whitley’s junk,” the Adonis said with a smile that made all her hidden places seem a bit moister than normal. “You’ll have your own office, but that’s only because you’re going to need it. We average between fifteen and thirty homicides a month so you’re going to be kept busy. Unfortunately, killings aren’t limited to a 9 to 5 schedule. Keep your equipment ready and with you at all times.”
They walked down a narrow hallway to a closed door, but she knew exactly where they were heading, even without reading the sign on the door that read, Do not open when red light is on. The smell of the film developer stung her nostrils and reminded her of her first year in film school. It was an odor you didn’t forget once you smelled it.
“Whitley left everything behind when he took off, so you have a few cameras and a lot of film,” Victor said as he opened the door for her to step in.
The room was dark, undoubtedly a bonus for looking at wet photos, but far from being to her liking, and she suddenly began wondering if she could requisition some color for the beige walls.
“Why did he leave?” she asked, trying not to stare at Victor as he moved closer to the desk, and absently picked up a few stray pictures. “I mean, there’s a lot of personal stuff here. It seems a little weird to just abandon all of it without a second thought.”
Emalee picked up a strange ceramic vase of green, yellow and blue and turned it over to see a scribbled inscription, to Daddy love Jack. There were pictures of what she assumed were family members, awards for photography, certificates and diplomas, even a pair of muddy boots in the corner, near an overstuffed filing cabinet, and a brown leisure jacket on the back of the chair.
“He didn’t leave the way you’re thinking,” Victor snickered softly. “His wife found out about his lover and he had to escape her wrath before she caught him. As the new proprietor of this wonderful establishment, you get the pleasure of packing up this mess, so the captain can ship it to him.”
“Wonderful,” Emalee snarled. “And can I also ship the stench to him as well?”
“I take it, you don’t approve of the odor of developing mold?”
Victor smiled picking up a plate, from beneath a pile of papers, and tossed it along with the green, half eaten sandwich into the trashcan.
“With the chemicals reeking through the walls, I’m surprised anyone in this building has enough brain cells left, to tie your own shoelaces.”
“Good thing we wear slip-ons,” he chuckled. “I guess after twelve years, we just got used to it.”
“I hope you won’t miss it when it’s gone. I don’t have any use for old fashioned hazardous waste.”
Victor leaned his hip against the edge of the dirty, cluttered desk and watched as Emalee continued to investigate the room. His long muscular arms crossed over his chest as he inspected her, taking in the blonde tresses that hung down her back, the slender curve of her waist and hips and the runner’s legs beneath the knee length burgundy dress. She was really quite beautiful, with dark blue eyes, a petite turned up nose and full kissable lips. But she looked far too innocent and delicate for the job she had just been hired for. How was this little cherub going to handle the grizzly reality of a homicide photographer?
“I suppose there’s no better time than the present,” she was saying, bringing him back to the moment and the subject at hand.
He smiled as she slipped her white sweater off her shoulders, revealing firm arms and the swell of her larger than expected breasts beneath the sleeveless dress. She was more than attractive, he thought, shifting his stance to hide the sudden swell pressing against his pants. She was breathtaking.
“Can you give me a hand here?” she asked, reaching up to the dusty drapes covering the single window to the office.
Victor came around behind her and reached above her head, and with a single jerk, removed the faded green curtain from the window frame. Dust and old cobwebs went flying across the bookcase, making Emalee backup into Victor’s strong chest, to avoid the cloud floating around them. She apologized softly and walked back to the desk, groaning at the sight of it through the sunshine, filtering through the dirty window.
“What should I do with all the negatives?” she asked, pacing closer to the stack of boxes in the corner of the room, eager to put some space between her and the Adonis watching her.
“I’ll have someone come and get them tomorrow. They should have been put in evidence with the photos.”
“And what about all of this?” she asked, waving her hand to the bookcases filled with magazines and old dusty books, causing Victor to laugh softly.
“You may just want to pack them and not look at what they are.”
“Why? What are they?”
“Whitley had a specific taste in sexuality. He found his lover through one of these magazines. It’s a big business, but his wife didn’t quite approve of his hidden desires.”
“Dare I ask?” she said as she picked up a worn magazine on the shelf nearest to her and eyed the cover.
It had two young males in nothing more than black thong underwear. One was chained to a stone wall with a full head mask covering his face, a thick link chain around his wrists and legs. The second man stood beside him, his hand on his lower abdomen, his two middle fingers inside the waistband of his captive’s black thongs. He held a leather flogger in the opposite hand as he smiled seductively to the man chained and bound in place.
“So, he was gay,” she surmised as she began flipping through the pages, stunning Victor into silence. “And he liked the perverted stuff as well. I’ve known people like that. My last boyfriend was really into the backstreet kink.”
She tossed the magazine to the cluttered desk with a nonchalant flip of her wrist, then wiped her hands together to clear the dust from them.
Emalee mentally patted herself on the back for the look the strong, handsome detective gave her. If he thought he could shake her into making some innocent, girly-kind of comment, he was sorely mistaken. She grew up with two hard-nose brothers, who would never have let her get away with acting like a frightened schoolgirl in front of a man, even if he was a Greek God.
“I suppose I need a few boxes, if I’m going to get things cleared up enough to find the floor. Any ideas how I can manage to get my hands on some?”
Victor found himself swallowing twice before he regained control of his vocal cords. This sweet looking angel, was far from being the scared rabbit she first appeared to be, when Sweeny introduced them, taking him completely off guard.
“There are always a few dozen floating around in the supply room, or in the alley behind the Tai restaurant, next door.”
“I think we should probably check the local areas first,” Emalee smiled, moving past the man as she stepped to the door. “Care to show me where the storeroom is?”
Victor had to fight the urge to laugh out loud, as he pushed away from the desk and followed her out of the office. This was going to prove interesting, he thought, glancing down to her buttocks as she hurried down the hallway ahead of him. The timid looking minx, was going to knock these ancient old cops flat on their asses, in a matter of days. And he was looking forward to each minute of it.