Alex and I went to work the next morning and were immediately assigned to a case.
Another undercover, which would've been just fine if we both weren't itching to wrap up the Ross case.
And we couldn't work the Ross case while we were trying to smoke out a couples' therapist who was scamming his patients out of their money.
So we had to report to Agent Lacey, who apparently really liked working with us, and along with her and Agent McHale, we jumped into this next thing with both feet.
The good news was that we once again got to pretend to be married. And I got a great deal of satisfaction from pulling off that little ruse.
The bad news was that this time we had to be a bickering husband and wife.
Thus the need for couples' therapy.
Although it didn't turn out to be so bad.
We actually had a lot of fun with it. The biggest challenge was to keep from laughing while we were arguing with each other.
What was even better was that we were once again working out of town.
And true, it was Port Jervis. Not exactly the excitement capitol of the world.
But it did mean that we were once again in a hotel, and this time on the Bureau's dime.
The four of us worked well together, but I wondered why McHale was suddenly working with Lacey when last summer she'd spent most of her time on Stahl's task force.
And after two weeks into the assignment, when the four of us had called it quits for the day and had descended upon the local Red Robin for dinner and a few beers, I finally decided to ask.
"So what happened with you and Stahl? Some kind of falling out?" I asked McHale.
She and Lacey, each of them mid-bite, both stopped and stared at me.
I was caught off-guard by their reaction, so I glanced at Alex to see her response.
She shrugged at me and took a sip of her beer before looking back at our colleagues.
"Why, what did you hear?" Lacey asked carefully.
"Um…nothing," I replied. "I was just curious."
"Did Stahl say something?"
"No," I said again.
But of course, now I was dying to hear the story.
I couldn't imagine what had happened, because McHale seemed like a dependable agent to me. She didn't seem like a risk-taker, or one to push the envelope. But she was smart and she worked hard.
"Don't worry about it," Alex told them.
"Yeah, it's no big deal. I was just making conversation."
"So you really don't know?" Lacey asked, although this time she seemed amused by that fact.
I shook my head and then watched as Lacey pointedly reached over and grabbed a hold of McHale's hand.
I think that it probably took several seconds for the implication to permeate my brain, but Alex picked up the slack in the conversation.
"So Stahl assigned you two to start working together because you're in a relationship?" she questioned.
"Yes and no," McHale answered.
"Aren't you married?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said with a nod. "But my husband knows. It works okay for us. We agreed to stay together until the kids were out of the house. He's still my friend. But sexually…"
"You don't have to get into details," I interrupted quickly.
And it wasn't that I had any problem with them being gay.
I was fine with it.
But gay or straight, I had no interest in hearing about the details of Agent McHale's sex life.
She laughed at me and I was glad that she'd taken my statement for what it was rather than as an insult.
"You know, I thought you two were supposed to be these great detectives," Lacey teased. "You spent two weeks with us in White Plains, and now two weeks here and you didn't have any idea?"
"Maybe you two should go undercover next time," Alex joked. Then she went back to her initial question. "So Stahl knows?"
"She…knows," McHale said hesitantly.
I watched her as she glanced apologetically at Lacey and then looked back at Alex. Something was still going on here.
And then I had it.
"You were dating Stahl before Lacey," I suggested.
"Maybe you are a good detective after all," McHale said with a broad grin. "Yes, I was with Stahl for more than a year. We broke up last spring."
"Last spring…around the time of the Hassan case," I stated.
I didn't mind bringing up that case with them. It was obvious that we knew about the case so it would almost look more suspicious if we studiously ignored it.
"That's right," McHale said with a nod. "She was under a lot of stress and…I don't know. Maybe I just didn't know how to deal with her when she was like that."
"Like what, exactly?" Alex asked, and even though her tone was casual, I wondered if she was going somewhere with it.
Did she suspect Stahl of being the mole?
Did she think that was the cause of her undue stress around that time?
Or was she just trying to get a feel for the whole dynamic of the task force?
"She decided that I was cheating on her," McHale said. "She even hired a private detective."
"How did you find out?" I asked her, although my real question would've been more like so she thought that her gay lover who was actually married to a man was cheating on her with another woman?
"Banta," McHale said. "He made a joke about it because of the guy's name."
"What was it?"
"Dick Buster," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Yeah, so you can imagine he had a field day with that one."
"How did he find out?" Alex asked.
"I don't know. I didn't ask him. Honestly, I was so ticked that she would have me followed, that I never even considered asking him."
"And what's even worse is that Stahl was cheating on her," Lacey added, tipping her head towards McHale. "Talk about the pot calling the kettle black."
"Wait," I said, waving my hand between us. And yeah, so I'd had several beers by this point, but they'd opened the gate on this one, so I was going to get all that I could. "So Stahl accused you of cheating on her while she was actually the one stepping out?"
"Uh huh," she replied with a nod.
"And you weren't cheating," I clarified. "Other than on your husband who was fine with it."
"Right," she said with a smile.
"Wow. You guys are blowing my mind."
"Not as much fun as White Plains when Eames was blowing your…"
"Hey!" I shouted, interrupting her dirty joke.
But then we all started laughing.
"You know I wasn't really doing anything," Alex said as she struggled to contain her laughter.
"Oh yeah, we know," Lacey said dismissively. "Sorry, that was inappropriate of me."
"It's fine," I assured her. Then I looked at McHale. "So if you don't mind me asking, what happened a month ago that caused Stahl to start assigning you to work with Lacey?"
"That's when we started dating. Or, actually a little before that, but that was when Stahl found out. She said that she didn't think she could work closely with me anymore."
"Because she still has feelings for you?"
"I guess," she said with a shrug.
So that would explain the personal issue that Stahl was talking about…the thing that had caused her to pass on meeting with Beemer.
She was upset over the idea that McHale had moved on to someone else.
But did any of this have anything to do with Ross?
I didn't see how.
It took us ten more days to finish the case in Port Jervis and then we headed back to the city.
We needed to meet up with Maas again. We'd been out of town for almost a month, so in the mean time, we'd only communicated briefly via pay phones.
But we weren't going to bother him on a Sunday evening, especially when we didn't have anything specific to report.
And neither of us could bring ourselves to go to my apartment, either, so instead we paid a visit to Logan.
We hadn't seen him in more than month, the night that Beemer had been killed.
"So what do you want?" he asked when he opened the door. "Me or my spare bedroom?"
"Maybe we want you and your spare bedroom," Alex joked as he let us into the apartment.
"Now you're talking my language," he replied. "As long as I get to be in the middle."
"In your dreams," she retorted. "But we did think that we'd bend your ear awhile about this case."
"Unless you've got plans," I added.
"I do now," he said as he headed for the kitchen. He met us back in his living room carrying three bottles of beer. "Okay, let's hear it."
So the three of us spent the next two hours going over everything that we knew about the case.
Alex and I had rehashed it so many times that we thought it might help to get a fresh perspective.
"So is Banta back at the federal building?" Logan asked after we brought him up to speed.
"He should be. He's probably been back for a couple of weeks."
"I'm guessing that he'll be your first priority tomorrow."
"Definitely," I agreed.
My cell phone rang and interrupted the rest of what I was going to say. I didn't recognize the number on the display.
"Goren," I answered.
"Bobby. It's Denise."
And why is it that even though I haven't done a thing wrong I still felt instant panic when she said her name?
I mean, I haven't even spoken with the woman in more than a year, and even then it was business-related.
It had been more than five years since she last asked me out, and like I told Alex, I'd never actually gone.
But now, here I was sitting on Logan's couch with Alex's leg pressed up against mine.
And yet my blood had run cold at the introduction.
"Um…hi," I said hesitantly. "What can I do for you?"
I was painfully aware of the fact that Alex and Logan had both stopped talking and were staring at me intently.
"I think it's more what I can do for you."
"Not on the phone. I need to meet you somewhere."
"I don't think that's a good idea."
Understatement of the year.
I knew damn well that it wasn't a good idea.
"It's important," she insisted.
"Bobby, who is it?" Alex asked me.
I held up my finger to Alex, silently asking her to wait, while my brain scrambled for an acceptable alternative to a covert meeting with Denise.
Although it was actually painfully obvious.
"I'll send Eames," I told her. "Where?"
"Eames?" she questioned.
"Just tell me where," I repeated.
"Oh, um…okay. The back entrance to Central Park Zoo. Can she be there in an hour?"
"That's fine," I said, and then I hung up.
"You'll send Eames?" Alex questioned with more than a little irritation. "You'll send Eames where? Who was that?"
"It was Denise," I told her. I completely ignored Logan and just held her gaze. "She said that she has information, but she didn't want to tell me on the phone."
"So I'm going to meet her?"
"I didn't think you would like it if I went to meet her."
"Why not?" Logan spoke up. "Who is this Denise person?"
"The chief's secretary," Alex told him.
"Oh," he answered in a knowing voice.
"No, not oh," I insisted in annoyance. "There's nothing there. I don't know why in the world everyone thinks that there is. Or was. Whatever. But it's nothing."
"It's fine, Bobby. Really," Alex said, resting her hand on my leg.
It seemed as though she'd garnered a little more confidence in our relationship since the last time Denise's name had come up.
Or maybe I was just being overly paranoid.
Either way, she nodded at me encouragingly.
"I don't have any problem meeting with her," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," she promised. "Are you coming with me?"
"Yeah," I said with a nod. "But I'll stay back and just keep an eye on things."
"Good. You'll see. Everything will work out fine."
"Yeah," she agreed, and then she smirked and added, "But bring a shovel. I may need help hiding the body."