Chapter 2: New York Winters
Made a wrong turn
Once or twice
Dug my way outBlood and fire
Welcome to my silly life
Pink - Fuckin Perfect
The locker room was freezing, the chill from the air was putting goosebumps all over Grace's skin as she pulled the jade green sweatshirt down over her body. She had left Flack's in the early hours of this morning while he had been still sleeping. Flack's body had been splayed out on his stomach, his arm resting upon her chest holding her against him. It had taken a few minutes to extract herself from his embrace, there wasn't a chance in hell Flack had wanted to let her go. She'd managed to redress herself in record time because of the cold and had made it into work in time for the early shift she was on.
Three hours of crossing the 'T''s and dotting the 'I''s on her reports had warranted some form of break so she had gone to get coffee only to slip on some ice on the way back from the Starbucks across the street and spill the entire cup upon her white silk blouse. Lucky she always kept a back up outfit in case of dumpster diving mishaps.
Grace was balling up the shirt between her hands when Stella stepped into the locker room, clad in her outdoor attire rubbing her own hands together to keep warm.
"I didn't think New York winters could get much colder." Stella exclaimed as she came to stand next to Grace, twisting the combination lock attached to her own locker.
"Me neither." Grace said as she tossed the coffee stained shirt inside. "Damn ice is lethal though, I've slipped on it twice today already. Fell right on my ass the first time, spilt coffee on my new shirt the second."
"I was going to say I haven't seen the jade shirt in quite a while, it brings out your skin tone." Stella complimented with a smile as she stripped off her gloves, one slipped from her fingers and dropped to the floor.
"Working with you is like having a talking copy of Cosmo magazine." Grace teased as Stella crouched down to retrieve her glove.
Stella's gaze shifted to the green rucksack in the bottom of Grace's locker as her fingers enclosed upon her black glove. There was a moment where the silence waged between them. Grace pursed her lips together tightly as she rubbed the back of her neck. Stella rose to her feet, her eyes still taking in the expression on Grace's features as the other woman exhaled deeply.
"I understand." Stella said sympathetically. "You still need to have an escape route."
"Just in case." Grace told her quietly. "I know it's been three months but I can't forget what it feels like to be trapped in a situation like that, even now."
"There's no shame in that." Stella reminded her, taking Grace's hands and pressing them together between hers as if in prayer.
"I know." Grace uttered as she met Stella's gaze. "I tell myself that every single day."
"Your a strong one Grace, you can't let what he did break you." Stella told her, releasing Grace's hands and unzipping her jacket.
"Never." Grace promised before clearing her throat and casting a small smile at Stella.
"Thanks for getting me out of that situation. I know we've never talked about it but I appreciate what you did, telling Mac." Grace clarified, watching Stella as she hung up her jacket inside her locker. "It was the right thing to do."
Stella closed her locker at the same time as Grace slipped a twenty from her purse and slipped it into the back pocket of her grey pinstriped trousers.
"You weren't listening to me, it was time to bring out the big guns." Stella spoke with honesty as she met Grace's gaze. "I saw how bad it was getting and I knew sooner or later it would be too late."
Grace rubbed up and down her right arm at the phantom bruising that had set off the chain of events that landed her where she was standing right now. She knew Stella had saved her life that day. She hadn't been listening to the other woman when she had begged her to leave Will Hamlin. Seeing her wince that day in the Trace Lab when Danny had clapped her on the back had been the final straw.
Stella had walked into the locker room intentionally while the other woman was getting changed and seen the purple finger marks from when Will had held her down to push the stub of his cigarette into her skin in punishment for being with another man.
Grace had never told Will who she turned to the night she thought he had cracked one of her ribs and she would never tell Flack that the reason her shoulder was peppered with burn scars was because of what had transpired between them.
"I just never said thank you, so here's me actually saying it." Grace told her before shrugging away the awkwardness. "I think I owe you a coffee. Starbucks? My treat."
"Since you offered." Stella said with a grin as Grace took out her black woollen coat and slipped into it before she began to fasten the buttons.
"Watch out for the ice, I like my coffee in it's cup." Stella called after her as Grace reached the locker room door.
Grace let out a laugh before waving a hand at Stella to say goodbye.
The crime scene was covered in snow, including the area that was meant to be the pavement. Grace found herself letting out a growl of exasperation as she tread as carefully as she could towards the pile of garbage at the bottom of the concrete stairs that led from the office building. She had lived in New York her entire life and she still hated winters. She had lost count of the amount of times she had fallen on her ass or been assaulted with snowballs over the years.
The group of snowboarders were already being interviewed by Flack and another Detective she didn't recognize. Grace shivered, glancing at the metal railings that lined the concrete steps. Why anyone would risk breaking their neck snowboarding down a set of stairs was beyond her.
Her gaze lingered on Flack as he tapped the end of his pen upon his notebook listening to the kid talk. He looked good this morning. He was fresh faced and bright eyed, his expression focused and intent as he scribbled down one or two of the things the kid said. His navy blue overcoat matched the colour of his eyes and the way the white shirt clung to his body underneath just reminded her of another reason she should have stayed the night.
She felt her skin beginning to flush hot at her memories of the night before, the dirty things his husky voice had whispered in her ear, the way he tasted on her tongue as his hands caressed every single contour of her body...
Grace felt a blush creep up her cheeks as her boot hit a patch of ice causing her to wobble for a second before regaining her balance. Clearly that was karma giving her a little clarity.
The camera she used to photograph crime scenes was already in her hands by the time Mac and Flack made their way over towards her. She snapped off a couple of pictures of the garbage bags surrounding the severed human foot before focussing on the dismembered limb itself. The wound track was ragged, whatever had been used to cut into the flesh looked like it had been serrated. She took extra care to get a shot of it before altering her trajectory.
"The flying tomato over there took a dip in the garbage while he was snowboarding and landed right next to the foot." Grace could hear Flack's broad New York recounting the story as the two of them took careful steps along the side walk.
"The rest of the body?" Mac questioned as they came to a halt a few steps behind her.
"Canvassing garbage receptacles in the area, City only picks up trash once a week on account of the budget cuts, place is turning into a Cess pool." Flack complained as Grace photographed a piece of bloody shredded gift wrap before holding it up for both gentlemen to see.
"Look what I found, got dried blood all over it." Grace said, pulling a face as the cute Santa's beaming up at her from the navy blue background.
"Looks like the foot was wrapped in it." Mac remarked as Flack's familiar ringtone chimed through the air, he fumbled with his pockets for a second before answering it.
Mac was already holding open a clear evidence bag for Grace to put the wrapping paper in.
"I wouldn't wanna unwrap that on Christmas Day." she commented, cringing as she used the tips of her gloved fingers to poke the gift wrap until it was fully encased in the plastic.
"Most kids ask Santa for a new bike or a scooter." Mac response, his lips twitching into a tiny smile.
"Danny and Hawkes just found an arm in a trash can a couple blocks away." Flack submitted into the conversation as Mac deposited the evidence bag along side Grace's kit.
"Was it gift wrapped too?" Grace asked, raising her eyebrows in mirth expecting a smile in return.
"Sorry Sullivan, I forgot to ask." Flack dismissed before turning his attention to Mac.
Grace took a deep breath and bit the inside of her cheek in frustration. She was reading too much into his actions, she decided. Flack was a grown man he understood that what the two of them had was just sex, her mind was playing tricks on her because she was overtired.
"You left again this morning." Flack said quietly from his position along side her as he tilted his head to look at the foot in question.
Apparently she wasn't as overtired as she thought.
"Do we have to do this in front of the foot?" Grace responded, gesturing her hand at the offending limb.
"It's not like it's hear gonna anything it shouldn't." he returned pointedly, frowning at her attempt to bring humour to the situation.
"My joke about the gift wrap was funnier." Grace conceded, looking through the lens of her camera before taking a another picture.
"I'm being serious." Flack informed her, the tone of his voice told her he was becoming irate.
The problem was when he was standing this close to her everything went to hell. She could smell the scent of his fresh aftershave and it drove the rest of her body crazy with memories of more intimate moments. Whenever he was in her proximity she felt safe and desired. He made her feel confident and sexy simply with his actions and sexy was not the way she wanted to feel at a crime scene, especially not when there was severed foot less than a meter away from her.
"Your crowding me just a little here." she told him without looking up from the camera.
Flack bit his lower lip in agitation, stifling the retort that was on the tip of his tongue as he took a step back away from Grace, crossing his arms over his broad chest. Grace inhaled the cold winter air deeply, letting it clear her head before she decided to address the situation.
"I've already told you the reason why I don't like staying over." Grace began cautiously.
"Forget it." Flack responded stubbornly. "We shouldn't be talking about this at work."
Grace rose her eyes to the heavens. God knew this was never going to be easy and for some reason today he had made it his mission to test her patience.
"Your the one that brought it up." she reminded him with more bite than she intended.
"Grow up and do your job." Flack snapped, instantly regretting it.
He hated the fact he was acting like this. It infuriated him being caught in this situation and the fact she was passing off their relationship as if it was nothing enraged him. How many times had the two of them leaned on each other during the years? To have it all boiled down to something casual cut him down to the core.
"I deserved that one." she admitted after a moments silence.
Yes you did. He thought.
"Lets just get on with the case." Flack said, his voice distinctly cold as he dismissed her attempt at peace offering.
"Today's going to be a long day." Grace muttered under her breath before clicking the button to take another picture.
Grace didn't realize how true that statement was about to become.