You'll Lose A Good Thing
Scotty had never been one to keep many personal effects scattered out on his desk.
He supposed he might've, if he'd had a normal job. But here in Homicide, his desk was merely a place to stop and refuel before he dashed off to wherever else he needed to be. It didn't define him. Didn't represent him in any way. It was just a desk, with a handful of pens, a couple of coffee mugs, and a few belongings stuffed in the drawers and largely forgotten. He'd always liked it that way, for a variety of reasons.
Tonight, he'd discovered a new one. It made packing up and getting out of there that much less of a hassle.
As Scotty had anticipated, Stillman was surprised to see him volunteer for the opening in Northwest. "Just takin' one for the team," he'd said, with a forced grin and a silent plea for the boss not to press the issue. And Stillman hadn't. Though he'd taken a long moment to study his detective over the rims of his glasses, the lieutenant mostly just seemed relieved to have the difficult decision taken out of his hands.
So, without further question or comment, Stillman requested Scotty's signature on a handful of forms, thumped a rubber stamp across them, and then it was done. A final handshake. Words of thanks that barely scratched the surface. And then the numb, slightly relieved emptiness as Scotty left the lieutenant's office. One that still enveloped him now as he dug around in his desk drawers and tossed their meager contents into an empty evidence box.
His workday had passed in a nearly-emotionless haze. Mercifully, he'd spent most of it out of the office and on his own, gathering evidence and helping build their case against Bridget Sorenson. His last case, of the hundreds he'd helped solve in Homicide. And he wasn't even going to be there to witness the eventual confession.
Scotty hadn't breathed a word of his decision to any of his co-workers. Waited until now, just past midnight, to come in and pack up his desk. He couldn't face the squad's searching gazes and sorrowful farewells, or the big send-off he knew they'd doubtless have planned given enough notice. Boss would break the news in the morning, and then Scotty's phone would blow up with calls he wasn't going to take and texts he wasn't going to answer. Not yet. Not until he'd figured out how the hell to explain it to them.
He supposed he should've at least told Lilly face to face. Surely he owed her that much. But what could he say? She wouldn't buy his "taking one for the team" bullshit any more than Stillman had, but she wouldn't let it go as easily. She'd poke and prod and press as relentlessly as she would in the interview room. And when she'd broken him, when his feelings were out in the open, spilling and slopping all over the place, she'd blink, back away from the carnage, and look at him with pity in her eyes. Pity. That was the last thing he wanted.
So he couldn't tell her the real reason he was leaving. And any other words that might have been appropriate…thanks for everything, take care of yourself, goodbye…tears flooded his eyes just thinking of them. The lump in his throat swelled to gargantuan proportions. No. There was no way he could've said a damn thing to her.
Well. That was that. His desk was empty, and the box was almost that way. Just a couple notebooks, his gym bag, that fly ball he'd snatched from Vera's outstretched hands at the Phillies game and taunted him with ever since, the extra shirt he kept in the bottom drawer for all-nighters, the spare set of keys he thought he'd lost…and that was it. That was all he wanted to take with him. The rest of the stuff — the pens, the coffee mugs, the notes he'd taken on the King job — he just left it there. He didn't need any reminders of his old life tagging along into his new one.
Despite his pain, despite his anger, he couldn't help but wonder, as he slid the box off the desk and headed for the exit, how Lilly would react. She'd be mystified, definitely. Hurt, more than likely. But, detective that she was, she'd figure it out. And surely she'd come to the same conclusion he had. It was for the best. If she wanted to give things a go with Saccardo, then she didn't need him hanging around mucking things up for her.
When he reached the door to the office, Scotty paused for one last look around at the place that had been his professional home for the last six years. Then, with a sigh, he switched off the lights.
Who knew? Lilly might even miss him.
But not the way he was going to miss her.
Lilly's head throbbed in time with her steps the next morning as she stashed her belongings in her locker and headed into the kitchen. Stillman's deadline from the brass came and went yesterday with no news, so whoever was leaving, Lilly was sure they'd find out today. Her stomach churning, she poured herself a cup of coffee and tried not to think about it. There'd be a flood of pain no matter who left, whether it was she who'd be packing up her desk or someone else. But right now, since nothing was set in stone yet, she could dam it up. And so she did, forcing a smile as she stepped into the squad room and greeted her co-workers.
"Maybe it was you," Vera sulked from across the office. "You happen to eat a cinnamon roll this morning?"
Lilly blinked her confusion. "No…" She almost wondered how he could think about food at a time like this, but it was Nick. Of course he was thinking about food.
"What's missing now?" This from Jeffries, who'd just arrived.
Kat rolled her eyes. "His cinnamon roll."
"Well, it had to be one of you." Vera's peevish gaze darted around the room.
"Don't look at me," Kat replied without looking up. "You know I don't eat breakfast."
"Like that'd stop you."
"Y'know, I'm not the only one who steals your snacks." Kat fired a glare at Vera. "Scotty took your cheese danish last week. Ask him."
"I will when he gets here. First thing." Vera plopped down in his seat and took an unhappy sip of coffee.
Looking around at her colleagues, Lilly felt like crying. They were all trying so valiantly to act normal, to pretend it was just like any other day, but she knew the lead-like heaviness in her stomach had to have taken up residence in theirs, too. Vera and Kat's bickering had a razor-sharp edge to it, Will seemed even more pensive than normal, and Scotty…well, she'd get a read on her partner when he arrived. She glanced at the clock. It wasn't like him to be late. She knew he hadn't been sleeping well; maybe it had finally caught up with him.
Stillman emerged from his office, and Lilly's heart leaped into her throat. He scanned the bullpen over the rim of his coffee mug, but his expression betrayed nothing.
"We ready for Bridget Sorenson?" he asked.
"Ready," Lilly replied. Once they'd traced the hood ornament back to Bridget, the rest of the dominoes fell. There was a pretty convincing case against Ellie's sister. Mostly circumstantial, though, and not airtight, so they needed a confession.
"Good. Take Miller with you and get what we need." Without waiting for a response, he disappeared back into his office, and Lilly swallowed a sense of chagrined relief. It seemed the elephant in the room would be getting a bit more comfortable.
Glancing toward Kat, Lilly stood up and started to gather her things. If this was indeed her last case, or Miller's, then they were damn well going to get that confession.
There were times, upon beginning an interview where the case was all over but the shouting, where Lilly couldn't wait to nail their suspect to the wall. When stolen freedom was about to come to an abrupt end, and a murderer would finally pay for his crime.
And then there were other times, times where she almost felt sorry for the suspect. Where getting a confession brought no joy. No satisfaction. Just the quiet sense of completion that came with closing a case, of doing right by the victim.
Watching Bridget Sorenson study her folded hands on top of her kitchen table, an untouched cup of tea just off to the left, Lilly wasn't sure yet which category she'd fall into. She stole a glance at Miller; Kat had interviewed Bridget before, and in the depths of Miller's cocoa-brown eyes, Lilly caught a glimpse of disappointment. A smidgen of hope that maybe they'd gotten it wrong. That maybe Bridget hadn't really killed her sister, and the real doer was still out there.
But the evidence didn't point in that direction.
"Thanks for seein' us, Mrs. Sorenson," Kat said as she flipped open her notebook. "We're makin' real progress on Ellie's case. Just had a couple more questions for you."
Bridget nodded, her eyes never leaving her white linen tablecloth. She seemed to know what was coming.
"That hood ornament we found," Lilly said quietly. "The one from Ellie's car."
"We traced it back." Kat turned a page in the file. "Wanted to see what it had been up to all these years."
"Had quite the journey," Lilly continued. "The guy we met at the car show said he bought it from a shop in Allentown, and that owner got it off a guy who bought it at Big Ed's Big Pawn in Jersey."
"We talked to Big Ed yesterday," Kat finished softly. "And he says he got it from…you, Mrs. Sorenson. Sold it to him in June of '72. Says you told him you found it by the side of the road."
Lilly slid the photo of the hood ornament in front of Bridget. "So either this hood ornament, this beautiful, mint-condition woman with wings, who was modeled after your sister…it either had a hell of a lot of luck out there in the elements for ten years until you just happened to find it…or you had it all along. Waited to pawn it until the heat was off."
"Can you explain that to us?" Leaning back in her chair, Kat folded her arms across her chest. "Or would you rather tell us how your sister's suitcase ended up in the basement of your parents' old apartment in Kensington?"
Bridget's eyes widened, darting from Lilly to Kat and back again.
"We checked,"Miller said. "The address where we found the suitcase is where you girls grew up. Our line of work, somethin' like that's usually not a coincidence."
"Must've been hard. Losing your sister so soon after you lost your parents." Lilly kept her voice soft. Sympathetic.
Bridget, though guarded, allowed a small nod. "Ellie was all I had."
Realization dawned, warm and certain. "And as long as Ellie stayed here in Philly and married James Fleming, you still had her."
"But when she meets Rick Rodgers," Kat continued, "suddenly she's not stickin' around for you anymore. She's off to New York to make her dreams come true. Leave you in the dust."
"Ellie was a fool." Bridget's blue eyes sparked. "She had everything. Everything. A good job, a rich fiancé who adored her, who came from a good family. She had everything, and she—she threw it away."
"Threw you away," Miller added. "Got it in her head that she could write books, and the next thing you know, she's ditchin' everyone who loves her and runnin' off to New York City with a guy she barely knows."
"I know what that feels like." Lilly sought Bridget's gaze. "I know what it's like to get left behind. More than I wanna admit."
"And Ellie was gettin' ready to do that to you," Miller said. "You didn't have a choice. You had to stop her."
Bridget shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. When she spoke, her normally strong voice was small and faraway. "She had everything…she had everything…"
Bridget watched her baby sister flip the turn signal of that gorgeous car the Flemings had given her. That beautiful silvery-blue Eagle that made Bridget feel like a million dollars every time she got to ride in it. Dinner made her feel that way, too; Ellie had taken her to some posh restaurant she'd never even heard of, let alone been inside, and told her to order whatever she wanted. It was on her.
"Dinner was good," Bridget ventured.
Ellie glanced toward her, blue eyes twinkling, and swatted her with a glove. "Oh, get off it. Dinner was phenomenal." Both girls dissolved into giggles.
Except Ellie's giggles quickly changed, and suddenly Bridget noticed a tear diving down her cheek.
"What's wrong, El?"
Ellie gave a sheepish smile as she brushed away the tear. "Nothin', I'm just…I'm really going to miss this."
"Oh, I'm sure James will let you off the hook every now and then to have dinner with your big sister."
Ellie's smile froze on her face. She looked like a puppet. "Bridgie, there's something I need to tell you. James and I…we broke up."
Bridget gasped, her hand flying to Ellie's arm. "What? Why? What happened?"
Ellie kept her long-lashed eyes on the rain-soaked road ahead. "There's someone else."
"Oh, honey, of course there is. Rich men always have a side dish." Bridget chuckled. "But you'll have so much money it won't even—"
"It's not him who has someone else, Bridgie. It's me."
Bridget blinked. "You?"
"Rick? Your friend from work?"
"Yes." The word whooshed from Ellie's lips in a happy sigh, her dimples framing a love-struck smile. "He adores me. And I him. He's wonderful. I—I can be myself with him. He understands me, in a way that no one else does."
"Does James know?" Bridget's voice was sharp; she hoped it would cut through her sister's gushing. Force her to face reason. Maybe it wasn't too late.
"He knows there's someone." Ellie's hand fluttered in the air, then lit back on the steering wheel. "He didn't want to know who. You're the only one I've told." Large blue eyes darted toward her. "And there's more. Rick and I are leaving. Tonight. For New York."
Bridget couldn't have been more astonished if Ellie had told her she had a dinner date with President Kennedy. "Tonight? El, are you out of your mind?"
"Yes!" Ellie's laughter reminded her of the church bells at the cathedral of her childhood. "Yes, Bridgie. I'm out of my mind in love with Rick Rodgers. We quit our jobs, and we're going to New York. My suitcase is all packed. I'm meeting him at the train station in an hour."
"What…what will you do? How will you live?"
"Rick has some money saved up." The click of the turn signal punctuated Ellie's words. "And he won't have any trouble finding a job at another law firm. He doesn't want me to have to work. He wants me to be able to just…write."
Bridget frowned. "Write?"
"Write. Write novels. Mystery novels, mostly. I'm already published."
"You're what?" Who was this girl, and what had she done with Ellie?
"But now that I'll have time to focus on it, I can get really good. I've got ideas, Bridgie, so many ideas, and now I'll finally be able to get them all on paper before I burst."
"But…you wouldn't be working if you married James, either," Bridget protested.
"No, Bridgie, I wouldn't. But James doesn't understand me. He never knew about my writing, and he'd have thought it a foolish waste of time if he did."
Bridget didn't disagree with that assessment, but she decided to keep quiet. "And I suppose Rick doesn't think that."
"Oh, no. He thinks it's fantastic. He loves me. All of me. For who I really am, not just who he thinks he can turn me into." That disgusting, moony-eyed look in her eyes again. The look she should have for her fiancé. The one who'd given her everything. Who wouldn't yank her away from all she knew and make her start over in some tiny, cockroach-infested apartment in New York.
"You know how poor we were growing up," Bridget spat. "And now you have a chance to be rich. His family loves you. And you'd just throw that all away so you can write dime-store paperbacks?!"
Ellie looked wounded. "I'm not throwing anything away. I—I'm just…I'm finding out who I am. What I want. What I was meant to be."
Bridget's head was spinning. "And where the hell does that leave me?"
Ellie blinked. "Why, you can come visit. Of course you can. Anytime."
"Come visit?" Bridget's vision blurred. Her heart was in her throat. She couldn't breathe. "Come visit? I'm the only family you have left, and you're telling me I can come visit?!"
"I can't just live the life you want me to live, Bridgie." Ellie blinked back tears. "I've tried doing that, and it doesn't work. I—I have to be with Rick. This is happening, and I know it's sudden, and I know you're angry with me…but he's my soul mate."
"Oh, please," Bridget spat as the car pulled up next to her apartment. "There's no such thing as a soul mate."
Unbuckling her seat belt, Ellie reached over and patted Bridget's knee. "You only think that because you haven't found yours." The light from the street lamp illuminated her sanctimonious smirk. "But when you do, you'll understand. When you're in love like Rick and I are, you'll do anything. Go anywhere. All that matters is being with the one you love."
Something snapped inside Bridget at these words. After all they'd been through together, her sister, her baby sister, her best friend, the only family she had left…she was leaving. Just like that. She was throwing it all away like a wad of used chewing gum.
"You can't throw me away," she shrieked. "You can't just throw me away!" Reaching across the space between them as though possessed, Bridget gripped Ellie's slender neck and started to squeeze.
"I was surprised at…how quick it was." Bridget's voice was a barely-audible monotone; her vacant stare fixed on the cuckoo clock on the wall above Lilly's head. "And when it was over, I put her in the passenger seat. Drove around for hours. I found myself on a steep hill overlooking the Schuylkill, so I put her back in the driver's seat. Took her suitcase out. I can't for the life of me think why. And then I put the car in gear and tossed her purse onto the gas pedal. It was…slow at first. So slow I was sure it wouldn't work. But…then it did. It crashed through the trees and then just…disappeared. Into the water. Barely even a splash."
Finally, Bridget's wet eyes focused on them. Sad. Pleading. Despite what she'd just confessed to, Lilly's heart ached for her. She knew all too well the pain of being abandoned. Left, for some brighter, shinier future on the other side of the fence. She knew.
But that was no excuse for murder.
"She threw me away," Bridget stated flatly. "She was all I had, and she threw me away."
Kat's eyes were a curious blend of understanding and righteous indignation. "So you did the same to her."
Lilly stood up and fished the cuffs from her back pocket. "Bridget Sorenson, you're under arrest for the murder of Eleanor King…"
"We got her, Boss." Lilly leaned from the doorway into Stillman's office. The lieutenant looked up from his paperwork, and she stepped inside to briefly recap Bridget's confession.
"So what, she kept the hood ornament as a souvenir?" the boss asked.
Lilly shook her head. "Came off the car while it was crashing through the trees. Bridget wasn't lying about that. She really did find it by the side of the road. Held onto it until the heat was off."
"I assume the car's still at the bottom of the Schuylkill, then?"
"Bridget remembers where she sent it over," Lilly replied.
The lieutenant nodded. "I'll send the dive squad out this afternoon."
"Did she explain anything about the suitcase?"
"The apartment was where Bridget and Ellie grew up. It was vacant at the time of the murder, and Bridget knew the trick to getting in through the basement window. She hid the suitcase behind a false wall; said she and Ellie used to play princesses down in the basement when they were kids. That was their dungeon."
"All right, then. Good work." With a slight smile, Stillman slipped off his glasses and laid them on the pile of paperwork in front of him. And with that, Lilly knew. He had bad news for her. The deeply etched lines around his mouth and the tightness of his lips confirmed it. The sorrow in his blue-gray eyes, the look that told her he would give anything to spare her what he was about to tell her.
"Close the door, Lil."
She did so, her heart pounding, her stomach twisting itself into a macramé of knots. This was it. Incredibly, unbelievably, she'd just closed her last case. She was the one he'd chosen. She was sure of it. Why else would he look so sad?
With a deep breath, she turned to face her boss and swallowed hard. Whatever news he had to deliver, she'd take it. Whatever was best for the unit. For the department. Protect and serve, no matter where that happened to take place. She could survive this. She could.
She lifted her chin. She was ready.
Stillman rubbed a hand over the top of his head, looked deep into her eyes for a moment as though steeling himself, and her, for the news.
"Scotty's taken the job in Northwest Detectives."