It was the end of September before we caught a real break.
And I don't mean in the bootleg liquor case. Alex and I wrapped that one up a week after my birthday.
Vice was mad as hell that we stole their bust, but Moran absorbed the heat for us.
"They were in there for two months before you guys got there," he'd told us as he sat across the table from us at a diner in North Bergen. He'd replaced Maas again at the progress meeting that took place the week after the bust. "If they couldn't break the guy in that much time, then that's their problem."
"Alex managed to find a portion of the shipping address," I'd explained him. "That put us on the right track."
"And it was Bobby who earned Tony's trust," Alex had deflected. "Without that, we would've never had access to his office."
It didn't hit me until later that I'd called her Alex in front of Moran. I had a feeling that maybe we weren't being as slick as we thought about the reality of our relationship.
But Moran had just looked at me thoughtfully for a minute and then gave me a nod.
"Nice work, Goren," he'd said gruffly. "Now where are we on the Ross case?"
And at the time, we didn't have much to report.
We were so inundated with phone records that I was seeing numbers in my sleep.
But then we found it.
Or rather, Alex found it.
"Look at this," she said to me.
It was a Friday evening and we were sitting on the couch together. I had the computer resting on my lap, and she was leaning against me with her head on my shoulder.
As she spoke, she reached out and touched the screen, pointing out a series of phone numbers.
The records we were currently looking at belonged to Isabelle Mullins.
"She's um…" I mumbled.
"Uh huh. And that's…"
See, we'd been under surveillance for six months.
And people thought that we spoke in code and broken sentences before.
They should see us now. We could go on for hours without a verb in sight.
But what our conversation meant was that she'd spotted an abnormality in the phone records of Isabelle, who was an employee of the NYPD's Human Resources department.
As we analyzed the data further, we found that in February and March, nearly every weekday around noon, Isabelle had placed a call to a payphone.
"What do you want to bet that…"
"Uh huh. Do you…"
Our theory was that someone had called her but hung up before it went through, prompting her to call the payphone.
And I didn't know who she was.
Maas hadn't brought us personnel files, because he'd said that he didn't want to do that until we could narrow down the field.
So I didn't know if Isabelle was a sixty-three year old grandmother or a twenty-two year old straight out of college.
But the fact that she made regular calls to a payphone, probably on her lunch break, and definitely during the time that Ross would have been working undercover, well…let's just say it sounded the alarm.
I wanted to know more about her and what she was up to during that time.
Because was it a coincidence that Stahl and Beemer had known about my time in Tates?
That information shouldn't have been anywhere but in my personnel file, something that this person would obviously have access to.
"We need to…"
"Sure," she replied with a shrug.
She got up from the couch and picked up the computer from my lap. She was careful to keep the screen facing away from the camera on the bookshelf as she closed the files and shut it down.
These little precautionary measures were like second nature to us by now.
"Let me change and we can go out to dinner," she told me.
"Why would I want you to change?" I said playfully as I stood up and put my arms around her. "I love you just the way you are."
She chuckled at my lame joke and slipped out of my embrace. I watched her walk down the hall and into the bedroom, where I knew that she'd change clothes in the blind corner.
I had to wonder if our voyeurs knew that we knew, since we never made love in the bed, or on the couch, or anywhere else that was visible.
And she never changed clothes in the bedroom unless she was in the far corner.
They probably thought that she was the biggest prude ever.
If they only knew…
"Okay, I'm ready," she said as she came back down the hall.
Her hair was swept up into a ponytail and she'd changed from her shorts and t-shirt into jeans and a sleeveless top.
Sometimes it really struck me hard just how beautiful she was.
"Are you sure you want to go out?" I asked her, and I couldn't resist pulling her back into my arms. "We can stay here…order in…"
I danced a step or two with her and then dipped her low and whispered, "And we could spend some quality time in the bathroom…"
She laughed as I swung her back up to her feet.
"What has gotten into you?" she asked, shaking her head at my sudden exuberance.
"I'm just not sure if I want to share you with the rest of the world."
And yeah, I was only teasing.
We were going out so that we could make a call to Maas and arrange a meeting.
But part of me meant what I said and I was suddenly swamped with a sense of longing.
I wanted to pull out that hair band so I could feel the silky strands of her hair in my hands…
I wanted to make love to her in a real bed while she gazed up at me with those honey-colored eyes…
I wanted privacy again.
Instead, I settled for running my hand over her smooth ponytail.
Once we were out on the street, she took my hand and suggested that we go to Sal's for dinner.
"That's fine," I agreed.
"What's going on?" she asked me quietly. "You were happy and then…you weren't."
"I think this is just getting to me," I admitted. "I knew that it would take time, but…it's been six months. And we're still being watched. And we don't even know for sure by whom."
"There has to be more?" I asked, even though she was right.
There was more, although it stemmed back to what I'd already said.
"Okay. You don't have to tell me," she replied casually. "Yet. But I have ways of making you talk."
"Is that supposed to be a threat?" I asked, my mood lightening once again.
And maybe it was because even though we were in public, no one was paying any attention to us.
Or maybe it was just her.
"Call it what you will," she said with a smirk. "But you know I'll get it out of you."
We turned the corner and stopped at a payphone that was outside of a drug store.
I was still holding her hand, and before she could move to make the call, I pulled her toward me, grabbing onto the other hand as well.
"Sometimes it's just frustrating," I began. "We have to hide in our own house. I want to be able to be spontaneous instead of calculated. I don't want to have to think about every word that comes out of my mouth. And sometimes when I look at you and it just hits me that you're so incredibly beautiful…I want to be able to make love to you in our bed or on the living room floor…or in the kitchen."
"Never let it be said that you don't have a way with words," she said softly, and her cheeks were flushed from my vivid description.
She let go of my hands and instead wrapped her arms around my waist, resting her cheek against my chest.
"We'll finish this thing," she promised. "And then we'll do all of those things."
"I know," I admitted. "It just gets to me sometimes."
We held each other for another minute and then she pulled back and looked up at me.
"You know that you said our house, right? And our bed…"
"It is," I replied with a shrug. "I hope it won't end when the investigation does."
It was probably the most backwards way ever of asking about living together, but with the way that she smiled at me, I didn't worry too much about the lack of romance.
"You are going to fumigate, right?" she asked me.
"Good. So do you want to call, or should I?"
So I called Maas and we made arrangements to meet the next morning, and then the two of us went to Sal's for dinner.
After dinner, after two hours of looking at her in candlelight, I couldn't stand it anymore.
"Come on," I said when we left the restaurant. I guided her in the direction opposite the apartment. "There's no one following us."
"No," she agreed. "I don't know why they would. I mean, listening to us in the apartment is one thing. They just want to know what we know. But they'd have no reason to follow us to dinner on a Friday night. Not after all this time. We've earned their trust."
"Exactly," I said.
So I stopped at an ATM and withdrew some cash and then continued walking down 26th Street.
"Where are we going?"
Six blocks later, we came to the Hilton Garden.
"No one will ever know. And what difference will it make if they do?"
"If the NYPD finds out, then we're busted," she argued lightly. "We can't explain this away by stating it was part of an assignment. We're not on a case at the moment. And Maas knows that."
"The NYPD won't find out," I assured her, although I had to wonder if my desire was overriding my good sense.
Would they find out? And was I willing to risk our return to the department?
"We'll get two rooms," I said. "We'll just tell Maas that we needed a break from the cameras. He'll understand and so will Moran."
She looked at me for a minute and then broke into a smile.
"You are really good at this."
"There are other things I'm good at," I replied suggestively.
"Then hurry up and get a couple of rooms," she said. "I'll wait by the elevators."
Twenty minutes later, I had her right where I wanted her.
Naked on the bed with her eyes fixated on me.
And I planned take advantage of our seclusion.
I was going to take my time and worship every inch of her.
Morning came much too soon for my liking, but I wasn't going to be greedy. It had been a much-needed respite from reality, but it was time to get back to work.
We still had a mole to find and now we had a lead, and our night in the hotel had served to recharge my batteries.
We took the subway to a diner near the Brooklyn Navy Yard and went inside to wait for Maas to arrive.
We didn't have to wait long.
"Detectives," he greeted as he sat down. He was carrying a backpack with him, but he just set it down in the seat beside him without comment.
"Thanks for meeting with us so early," I said.
"I just hope your lead pans out," he replied. "I got what you asked for. The personnel files of the HR staff and a layout of their office. Can I ask what you're thinking?"
"There were daily calls to a payphone," Alex told him.
"Someone would find payphone calls if they pulled up my cell phone record, too," he said pointedly. "It doesn't mean that she's dirty."
"We're not saying that she is," I agreed. "But it's worth a closer look."
"Why the layout?"
"If it's not her, it may be someone who was using her phone after she'd left for lunch. The desks are all out in the open, right?"
"What do you know about Isabelle Mullins?" I asked him.
Because even though he'd brought us the file, first-hand accountings were always better.
"Nothing. I'd never heard her name until you asked about her."
"But you're fairly new to 1PP," Alex reminded him. "Surely you had to go by HR."
"I did," he said with a nod. "But if I met her, I don't remember it. And I looked at her picture in the file. I'm pretty sure I'd remember."
"She's attractive?" I asked.
I looked at Alex and she gave me a slow nod.
"That would make sense," she said.
"But what about…"
"Maybe. We should…"
"Uh huh. It seems more like…"
"I know, but I'd rather…"
"Detectives," Maas interrupted. He stared at us with open confusion and then shook his head and looked out the window. "We have got to get you two out of this assignment before you quit using words altogether."
"Sorry," I began quickly. "It's just that we have to, you know…"
"Abbreviate for the eavesdroppers," Alex supplied.
"Oh, I get it," he said with a nod. "But I've been married for eighteen years. My wife and I can't communicate that well even using whole sentences and an interpreter."
I barked out a self-conscious laugh and struggled to decipher the intent of his statement.
Was he suggesting that he knew something more was going on? Or was he just marveling at our uncanny ability to work together?
Maybe I was just being paranoid because only an hour ago, I'd had Alex up against the hotel room door. A last parting rendezvous before heading back into the fishbowl.
"Lieutenant," I began.
"Actually, it's captain now," he told us. "As of last week."
"Congratulations," Alex told him. "We hadn't heard. We're kind of…"
"Out of the loop," I finished.
He looked back and forth between us again and I had the same feeling that I'd had with Moran a few weeks back.
We weren't fooling anyone.
Although, no one seemed to be too concerned about it either, so I couldn't let it bother me.
"Captain," I began again. "Give us some time to go through this new material, and then we'll probably need to meet with you again. There are a couple of agents who seem to fit the profile as to the type who would be able to charm an attractive secretary into coming off information. We'll need to talk with them and maybe get some more details on their personal lives."
"You might have better luck with that yourselves," he said. "What kind of clearance do you have for the Bureau system?"
"Low-level," I admitted. "But I'm not sure how much we'd need to access the kind of basic information we'd be looking for."
"Although you know they'll be able to track file access," Alex said.
"Then do it so that it doesn't come back to you," Maas told us. He pulled out a twenty and put it on the table. He stood up, leaving the backpack on the seat. "Have breakfast on me and then get back to it."
"So you're going to bail us out if we get arrested for computer trespass?" I asked him.
"No," he said with a smile. "So don't get caught."