If You're Gone
Authors Note: This is the second ATF piece in my Lili arc. It delves a little into to the boys, a lot into Ezra and Lili, and their relationship. Its a sequel to Faces from the Past and will make more sense if you read that one first. Thanks as always to Rhonda for being a wonderful beta, and Celeste and Hilary for their encouragement. Again, dont own, just borrowing them for a bit. "If Youre Gone" belongs to Matchbox 20. "There is No Arizona" belongs to Jamie ONeal.
To fans of my first two stories: If you sent me feedback, I apologize for not responding. My email address contained a typo and I never saw what you sent. I thank you for anything you might have said, and hope you shall keep reading. ~* Becca
Summary: Lili and Ezras friendship is well on the mend. But when another man starts to show interest in Lili, will Ezra show his true feelings, or risk losing her again?
Size: Approx 134K
"Billy, be careful," Mary Travis yelled. "Dont run on the wet concrete."
"Okay mom," Billy replied, opting instead to cannon ball into the pool, completely splashing JD and Buck. Mary shook her head and poured herself a refill on lemonade.
"Thanks again for having us all over," she said to Lili, who was putting out a fresh platter of fruit on the table full of food.
"Nonsense," the brunette replied, smiling as she watched Buck and JD playing with Billy in the pool. "Im glad for the company."
Vin had disappeared a while ago, in the direction of the barn. Lili guessed the quiet sharpshooter was feeling a little claustrophobic in the pool area, which was partially enclosed. It had been two weeks since the men of Team Seven, including her college classmate and friend, Ezra Standish, had affected the FBI agents rescue from a serial killer when the sting she was working went wrong. Since then, the FBI agent and criminalist had developed an increasing friendship with all these men. So, when the time came to open the pool that came with her adobe ranch house, she could think of no better way to say thank you then to have them and their friends over for a pool party and cook out.
Ezra had helped her expand the guest list to include AD Travis and his wife Evie; their widowed daughter-in-law, Mary and her son Billy; Nettie Wells and her niece Casey, who was seeing JD; and Nathans girl friend Raine. Raine, Nettie, Mrs. Travis, and Mary had insisted on helping her with the food, which was a palatial spread. There was green, potato, Caesar, pasta, and seafood salad; three fruit platters; various vegetable arrangements; cold cut sandwiches; potato chips in six varieties; dips and dressings; and on the grill: hotdogs, burgers, steaks, chicken, and sausage. She had also made lemonade, ice tea, and provided a selection of soda and adult beverages. Nathan had been pulling grill duty for a while, with Vin helping until he had disappeared. Now AD Travis was giving him a hand. Chris, Josiah, and Ezra had been entertaining themselves with cards, while Casey worked on her tan and Buck, Billy, and JD hammed it up in the pool. Lili smiled as she watched everyone, having a good time. Denver was finally beginning to feel like home. In fact, she felt more at peace here and now than she had in years.
For one thing, she had her old friend back in her life. She thought that was a friendship lost forever when he shunned her in Boston, and she counted her blessings that someone had seen fit to give them a second chance at friendship. Of course, if Lili were to be completely honest with herself, she wished it could be more. Ezra P. Standish was the first person after her older brother Billy died who had meant anything to her, and it had taken no time for her to fall for him. Even with the shunning, she still carried him in her heart, through her triumphs and her tragedies, through lovers and other varied friendships, she always unconsciously measured the people in her life against him and Billy, and only once was she not under whelmed. But, then again, in her mind, her friend was a knight in shining armor and her brother a saint.
Another thing Denver had brought her was some solitude. Billy had raised her during their parents negligence, and there were three rules for life he had taught her. Always be prepared to take care of yourself, because few others will. Always finish what you start, and be conscious of and appreciate your privacy. Privacy, and her need for solitude had been ill met in Washington. To make the commute into work whenever she had been called had facilitated a townhouse in town. Her horse, Berowne, was stabled at a farm in an outlying community, and she had hardly seen the animal, who was young and an affectionate baby when she had first purchased him, barely broken, as her own twenty-fifth birthday present. So, she had been trapped in the city, surrounded by too many people. Here, her ranch style adobe had its own barn, pool, and a good thirty acres of pasture backing up to the hills. She could be at work in thirty minutes, and be alone when she wished.
Finally, with the retirement of Agent Anthony Wharton, she was free of anyone who knew about her past., the time she had spent fresh out of the Academy as an undercover operative. They didnt know how many times she was in deep cover for months, with only her partner, Jesse Morgan, to keep her from forever losing hold on her own identity. They didnt know how she and Jesse had crossed the line and became lovers. Plus, they didnt know how he had taken a bullet in the chest to save her life, a move that had crushed her and caused her to leave undercover work behind for the safety and singularity of a Crime Scene Investigators life.
"I fold," Larabee said. He laid down a pair of twos.
"Me too," Josiah Sanchez added, flopping down his own three of kind sixes.
Ezra grinned slightly, before setting down his own hand, which held nothing. "Gentlemen, it is your turn to collect the drinks." His friends shook their heads and prepared to get up when three beers appeared from behind them to be set on the table. The two turned to find Lili sitting there shaking her head.
"Id think youd have learned not to play with him by now," she said, sitting down between Standish and Sanchez. The long white cotton dress covered her legs, leaving her sandal-clad feet sticking out. Her hair was a little windblown, and Nettie had stuck little white blossoms from one of Lilis plants into her hair. The image reminded Josiah of an angel. Ezras thoughts leaned more toward Shakespeares Titania, the fairy queen. Chris was too busy gazing at Mary to notice.
"Well, Lili," the oldest of the three men said, "sometimes it can be fun to lose. Especially when we are only playing to determine who fetches the refreshments." The profiler smiled appreciatively and took a draw of his Heineken. "Perhaps youll join us for a hand? You have been working too hard, you should relax a bit."
The southerner took on a slightly paler shade, remembering back to their college days.Boston University, 1989
"I fold," a dejected Ezra Standish said. He groaned when Lili laid down her hand, straight nothing. He had at least had two pair. One of these days, hed learn to stop playing her.
"Your turn to buy the pizza, Ezra," she laughed, putting the cards back in their keeper, before picking up the psychology book they were both studying from. "And we had best outline chapter four, or Professor Macintosh will kill us."
Lili noticed her friends color slip. "Gentlemen, I do not believe that would be a good idea. My strategy tended to make Ezra peevish in college," she said with a laugh. Noticing a certain blue eyed Texan had not returned, she added, "I need to go check on Berowne. His water trough has been leaking and the new one hasnt been delivered. Can you guys hold down the fort for me?" She smiled softly, set her own lemonade down on the table, and walked over to the gate in the wall she had seen Tanner slip out of earlier.
She followed his footprints in the grass until she came to the barn, exactly where she expected him to end up. Like all of Ezras teammates, the man intrigued her. Standish had told her little of his past, only that his childhood had been hard and that he had spent time in the army. However, in their brief acquaintance, she had sensed other things about him. He seemed older than he was, having lived more in his few short years than most men do in a lifetime. Yet at the same time, there was an almost innocent quality to him. He reminded her of the images at New Years, of baby time and old time. She also noticed he didnt like to be fenced in. The part of him that seemed wild needed to be able to run free.
She paused at the door for a moment before going in. The loft window allowed light to enter, then dissipate into dimness. She saw him standing near Berowne, stroking him on the nose and speaking to him softly. She wasnt sure if he knew she was there, until she heard the soft drawl. "Hes a fine horse."
She walked further into the cool building. "He is. Im lucky enough to be his human," she replied. The sharpshooter chuckled slightly before reverting to his usual silence. "I didnt mean to disturb you. I was just concerned when you didnt come back."
"Got kinda crowded in," he answered. He pulled a carrot stick out of his pocket and fed it to the roan. "Thought Id get some air."
"I know the feeling," Lili concurred, sitting for a minute on a bale of hay. The ATF agent glanced at her, an eyebrow quirked up in surprise. "In Washington, people are all stacked up. I rarely had room to think. Thats what I like about Colorado. I can have some space, go into the mountains, and ride whenever."
"Yeah," he said. "Just get away sometimes."
"I used to do that in Boston, when I knew Ezra. Id tack a note to his door, then take off to one of the little hamlets to camp. Walden pond, sometimes," Lili said. "I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately..."
"And not, when I came to die, discover that I hadnt lived," Vin finished.
"You know Thoreau?" she asked, standing and brushing off her skirt.
"I read a bit of him in high school," the sharpshooter responded, giving Berowne another thoughtful scratch.
"I have Walden in the house, if you want to borrow it," the lady said, using a hose to fill Berownes trough. "Its a book on cassette, I hope you dont mind."
The quiet agent was surprised. He had borrowed a couple such books from the library, along with paper copies, to help himself with his dyslexia. "Thank you," he said.
Lili smiled. Ezra hadnt told her about the dyslexia either, but she had seen a note he had received from the Texan and recognized the signs. "Your welcome. Remind me later and Ill get it for you. I had better be getting back." She left him there, figuring hed come back in his own time.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had seen the Texan slip out the gate in the low wall surrounding Lilis deck and pool, and knew he had headed for the barn. He was beginning to read the moods of the sharpshooter eerily well. So, when she excused herself to the barn for a bit, he smiled. She had always been a consummate hostess. Sanchez was right, she had spent the entire day too focused on everyone elses needs. The undercover agent sighed and stopped shuffling the cards as she returned. He could see she had on a version of her poker face today, the one he had called her hostess face. But, under it all, he saw the exhaustion showing. The criminalist had been working insane hours for the past two weeks, with three ATF busts, five FBI operations, and seven DEA stings going down, on top of the normal caseload her staff was under. Being the professional that she was, she never left anything to her staff without checking up on it. All of it had started the day after the lady came off her role undercover in the Graham murder case, and Standish knew she was probably ready to drop. He stood up as she headed around the pool, checking on Casey as she walked by, moving once again to check the food. Taking her elbow, he found her unresisting as he steered he towards a deck lounge. She sat down and looked at him.
"Lili," he said. "Youre tired." She was about to protest, so he put a finger to her lips. "Dont lie to me, its written all over your face. Take a rest, I shall go assist the other ladies with the refreshments."
She sighed as he unhooked her sandals and slipped them off her feet. But, taking a load off did feel wonderful, especially on the padded lounge. The morning after Team Seven had helped her take down Martin Graham, she had planned to sleep in and go into the office for a half-day. Unfortunately, the phone had rung at five am. She answered wondering who the hell was calling her this early, only to hear the voice of Steven, her assistant. Two FBI cases had broken and they were needed ASAP.
The forensics specialist had groaned, muttered a few choice words, and rolled out of bed. Looking down she saw she was still dressed. She didnt even remember getting into bed. Looking at her closet door, she noticed the absence of a garment and realized Ezra must have carried her in to bed. Shaking her head, she stripped out of the slept in suit and hit the showers doing about ninety miles an hour. Once she was out, she threw on jeans and a t-shirt, followed by a ball cap and her shoulder holster. They wanted her ASAP, to hell with the dress code. She finished off the look with her FBI/CSI windbreaker and badge, with a pair of old sneakers. She grabbed her purse, stopped in the kitchen to leave Falstaff some food, then headed for the door. At least at that hour, there had been no line at the coffee shop where she got six espresso shots to go.
Lili closed her eyes as she relaxed on the lounge, listening to Buck, JD, and Billy playing Marco Polo in the pool. The breeze wafted the scent of the grill over her way, the sun warmed her skin, and the flowers around the area gave a perfumed aroma. Relaxing slightly, she was soon asleep.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah Sanchez watched as their hostess finally took a load off, napping lightly on her chaise lounge. The profiler guessed that even if she wouldnt allow them to see it, she was dead tired. Nettie and Mary both looked over at her from their place at the table with Josiah, clucking softly about high stress jobs. The undercover man, true to his word, was over busily replenishing the drinks and setting anti-bug tents over the food. It never failed to amaze Josiah how many layers there were to the undercover man. While he came off disinterested to strangers, he changed to someone completely different around his friends. Someone caring and kind, and willing to do anything for them.
The CSI agent was the same way. He had seen her go into crime scenes with no trace of humanity visible, exuding the cool detachment of a scientist. However, he had also seen her talking to friends with such joy and generosity in her spirit, he almost couldnt reconcile the two. Shaking his head, he excused himself and went to help Nathan at the grill.
+ + + + + + +
"Mr. Dunne, get your hands away from that potato salad," Ezra said, swatting JDs hand with a roll of paper towels.
"Ow, Ez, that hurts," JD responded, pulling his injured limb back. "Why cant we eat?"
"Because, I wish to allow Lili to rest for a small duration more," Standish replied, helping Nathan and Orin Travis place the grilled meats in the heating dishes their hostess had set up earlier.
"Huh?" JD said.
"He wants her to be able to sleep a little longer," Tanner answered, coming up behind the young agent. "Need any help?" he asked Ezra.
The southerner shook his head. "Lili has clearly taken care of things exceedingly well. Give her ten more minutes JD, then we shall eat."
JD mumbled something about tyrants under his breath as he went over to talk to Casey. Vin shook his head at the youngest agents boyishness while chuckling softly over Ezras mother hen act. He glanced to where the lady lay sleeping. Nature in repose on a calm summer day, radiating sunlight and beauty where she lay. Not that Vin had any designs on the lady in question. In fact, she reminded him of someone he barely had any memory of, his mother. Something in her quiet strength and dogged protection of her friends touched on the few precious memories the Texan had of Emma Tanner.
Mary, Nettie, and Evie had also been sent to sit and relax, leaving AD Travis, Nathan, Raine, and Ez on food duty. Buck was still entertaining Billy, while Larabee had gone to fetch his sniper. The man in black had stopped on the way over to the food to chat with Mary. JD and Casey were still talking over on another set of lounges. Just then, Billy came running up.
"Miss Raine, come here, you have to see this!" Billy said, exuding excitement. He took Raines hand and led her over to the table where his Mom was sitting. Nathan quirked an eyebrow, as Buck came by grinning. Leaning over he whispered something to Ezra, who smiled and relayed the news to the rest of the team and AD Travis. Then the undercover agent looked towards JD and tipped an imaginary hat. JD nodded and suddenly swept Casey up into his arms, carrying her over to where the rest of the ladies sat.
"What on earth are you doing?" Casey squealed as JD sat her down in yet another of the padded chairs around the table.
"Ladies," JD said. "Your wait staff will be with you shortly." With that, he, Chris, and Billy headed back over to where the food was.
"Brilliant idea, Mr. Wilmington," Standish said, as Buck and Billy began putting glasses of lemonade and tea on a tray for the ladies. He checked to make sure everything was under control, then headed over to where Lili was still dreaming. He paused, looking at the peaceful expression on her face, hating to have to wake her. He reached out and gently placed a hand on her cheek, brushing hair out of her face. "Lili, time to wake up." He watched as her eyelids fluttered open. "My dear, it is my job to provide you transport over to the rest of the ladies." With that, he swept her into his arms, allowing himself a grin as she slipped her own arms around his neck. He carried her over to the last of the chairs around the table and deposited her gently in it. "We shall return with libations and sustenance for you in a minute." With that he hurried back over to the food table.
"But...but. but..." the lady agent tried. She shook her head. Lost cause. Soon the guys came bearing plates of food for the ladies, before pulling over chaise lounges to eat on themselves. Laughter and jokes flew as everyone enjoyed the food. After dinner, Billy fell asleep on one of the lounges, and it was decided it would be a good time to call it a night. Lili made sure everyone took home huge doggie bags, while Raine, Nettie, Casey, and Evie helped her put away the leftovers. The guys cleaned up around the pool.
"Lili sure knows how to throw a party, huh?" JD said. He was pulling the trash bag out of the can to carry it to the curb.
"That she can, kid," Buck said, cranking down the umbrella over the dinner table. "That she can."
Lili walked out of the house, looking for Vin. He was wiping down one of the tables. She handed him the book on cassette and was treated to a kind smile.
"Go home," Lili said. "I can get anything else tomorrow."
Chris nodded, and bent to pick up Billy. Buck took the trash from the kid and disposed of it quickly. Josiah helped Nathan carry the last hot platter in, before they and Raine took their leave. Nettie, Vin, Buck, Casey, and JD also headed out, followed shortly by Chris, Billy, Mary, and the Traviss. Soon, only Ezra was left. He followed Lili into the living room, where she dropped on to her leather couch. The southerner took a seat in one of the matching chairs and enjoyed the companionable silence of the moment. She hadnt turned on the lights, so the room was bathed in the dimness of late afternoon.
"You start a new case Monday, dont you?" she asked. Ezra nodded thoughtfully, watching as her expression changed freely. Her eyes were still closed, but her face expressed everything. Her brows drew together in a look of consternation and worry. "I hope it will be easy."
"It should be," he said. He couldnt tell her the details of the operation. However, he and Larabee had had a short talk about it the evening before, on their way to the Saloon. The case was going to be deceptively simple. Then again, he knew that those were the cases that often had layers hidden, only to be revealed by one of them ending up in the hospital. "Well be fine Lili Grace, I assure you."
She nodded slightly and said nothing. Standish studied her, seeing the pale tint to her normally tanned olive skin. The droop in her normally perfect posture was also telling. She was at the end of her strength. He knew she had never really had a chance to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Martin Graham before being thrust into a period of insane work. He also knew that Lili had been digging through the cold case files in her possession ever since she had started this job, in her free time, occasionally asking his opinion. He wondered if she had gotten more than ten hours sleep in all of the last few weeks. She had been just like this in college, whenever something had her attention, she would forgo all natural human necessities and comforts until she was satisfied she had completed the task or dropped. Always finish what you start.
"Lili," he said softly.
"Promise me youll take it easy this week. Get some sleep, or youll be of no use to anyone, not to mention the deplorable state of your lab when Steven gets through with it," he asked, watching her grimace. He knew she felt affection for her young assistant, and he was excellent at the crime scene itself, with eyes like an eagle. In the lab, however, he was a virtual bull in a china shop. "I feel I had best take my leave, Lili Grace."
Her eyes shot open. "Cant you stay just a while longer?" she asked, a faint pleading in her voice. It drew the man up short.
"Lili," he said, moving quickly to sit beside her. "Lili, what ever is the matter?"
She sighed heavily and dropped her head into her hands. "Its just been a very, very long week. Some of the cases I worked..."
The undercover agent sighed, hating to see her like this. He knew she needed this, and he would do anything to oblige her. "One of them...one was a kiddie porn ring. We had to do evidence on where they made the tapes...had to watch one and document it for evidence. It was the most awful, disgusting thing...." He put his arms around her, pulling her into his arms as she began to weep quietly. "Sometimes my job really sucks."
"Yes," Ezra said. "Sometimes, I wonder why anyone sane would subject themselves to what we do. We get shot at, people try to bomb us. We put our lives, our hearts, and our souls on the line, and nary receive the thanks of our ungrateful nation." He felt her chuckle mid sob. "But then, Lili Grace, I think of the guys like the gun runner I put away two weeks ago, who wont be able to sell weapons to another street gang. I think of the men like Martin Graham who wont be able to kill again cause you had the guts to face them, the people who your work and my work helps keep off the streets, and I know we do the work of angels."
"Ezra," came the slightly quivery voice.
"You are seriously full of shit," she said. Sitting up, Lili took a proffered linen hanky and wiped her eyes. "But, thank you."
+ + + + + + +
Monday evening, Lili left work early. Things had gone quietly all day, and she trusted Steven to finish writing up the reports from last week without destroying the lab. Besides, the next day would be awful. Usually, half days were not, but instead of going home after lunch tomorrow, she had made an appointment with a psychologist Josiah had recommended to her. She had called the anthropologist at home Sunday night to see if he knew anyone. She hadnt used a shrink since she had been undercover, but she recognized the signs of burn out. The combination of the child pornography case and Martin Graham had her exhausted and on edge.
Pulling up to her house, she headed in, throwing her attaché case on the counter. "Hello Falstaff," she said, reaching down to pet the kitten. "I know, Mommy does work too hard." She continued petting the kitten as she pressed the button on her answering machine.
"Agent MacKenna, this is SAC Donaldson. District Attorney called to say that Graham pled today and was sentenced to life without parole. Good work again." Beep.
"Lili, this is Steven. Dont worry, the labs fine. Johnson from the DEA wants to know if we can do a chemical analysis test tomorrow for him. Call him in the morning." Beep.
"Lili." She stopped petting the cat as the Georgian drawl came over the machine. "I was just calling to check on you today. I cant really be reached this week, but I will try to call you if I can. Talk to you soon okay." Beep.
She sighed and set the cat down. She headed for the bedroom, stripping off her pants suit as she went. Tossing the suit into her dry-cleaning hamper, she pulled on a pair of jeans and a green sleeveless tank top. She added riding boots over cotton socks and looked at herself in the mirror. Dark circles under her eyes showed through her makeup, and her hair seemed to be permanently limp. Shaking her head, she left her room and passed quickly through the house, exiting through the back kitchen door. Just heading for the barn made her feel better. She hadnt been able to ride Berowne for almost two weeks and that was way too long.
The beautiful roan lifted his head and knickered when Lili entered the barn. She walked over and began pulling down tack off the self. "I know, boy, I know we havent been able to go for a walk in a while." The horse nodded agreement. She began brushing him down, smoothing out his coat to make the saddle more comfortable for him to bear. As soon as she had finished, she set the currycomb on a shelf next to the stall and took the saddle blanket up. Soon, she had Berowne saddled and ready to ride. Leading him outside, they walked out of the gate that separated the house, barn, and exercise yard from the pasture land and small section of woods that were part of her property. Closing the gate behind her, she mounted the horse, and let him get settled with her weight. "Where do we want to go today, boy?"
Berowne couldnt believe his lady was saying that. Usually, they just cantered around in the pasture near the gate. She only let him make suggestions when she was upset, and he knew just what his lady needed. Using his head to indicate, he pointed towards the woods.
"Sounds good, Berowne," Lili said. Like an escape. "Lets gallop, shall we?" She spurred the animal and the two took off at a fast pace for the trees.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was sitting at his desk, his cell phone by his side . He had been up late Sunday night, going over the information they had on their new target. The man seemed a small catch, but Standish had been in this job long enough to know that anyone trafficking weapons was someone they needed off the streets.
He had called Lili early this morning, making himself get out of bed at 7:00 in hopes of catching her, but she was already gone. Probably left for work at 6:00 AM knowing her. He shook his head, worried about her. He knew she was still hurting, and his fears were confirmed when Josiah Sanchez had called him late last night. He thought back on the conversation.
He had been in his kitchen at his townhouse, doing his few dishes, when the phone rang. "Standish."
"Brother Ezra," the deep voice boomed on the other end of the line.
"Good evening, Mr. Sanchez," the southerner replied, drying the last plate and setting it on the drain. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I just thought I would suggest you getting in touch with Lili sometime this week. We spoke about half an hour ago, when she called, asking me to refer a psychologist," the older man replied. "I wouldnt normally divulge that to you, Brother, but she sounded so fragile, I thought you needed to know."
Ezra sighed now, trying to decide if he should call her again. He couldnt go see her, and he couldnt talk on the phone long. He went under cover tomorrow, deep, to break into this mans confidence and he knew he had to get the woman out of his mind. He hated that. Before, when he had been Atlantas FBI maverick, there was no one he had to worry about. Even now, he knew his friends would back him, and he would be there for them. But, she had no partner. Only her young protégé assistant, Steven, and bless the boy, but he was still wet behind the ears. Sighing, he vowed to try and call her again tomorrow night, when he got home.
Take care of yourself, Lili Grace. I dont want to lose you again.
+ + + + + + +
She had ridden for over an hour, not stopping for anything. Berowne was thrilled to get out and run, and Lili had let all her thoughts and her stress go, concentrating on her and her horse. But, it was time to go in, the sky was darkening with an impending storm, and her stomach was growling. She tended to Berowne, then headed inside. She could either eat left over food from the cookout, order a pizza, or go out. Realizing she hadnt been to Berellis since her dinner with Ezra almost three weeks ago, Lili decided to get dressed and go. She grabbed a quick shower to wash off the trail dirt, then headed to her closet. She pulled out a black skirt with pink flowers, added a lace camisole and a three-quarter length gray cardigan. Even though it was warm out, Berellis was usually cool, and she wasnt planning on patio dining in the rain. Her Jeep Cherokee was in the shop again, having the storage area altered to hold some of her gear, so she grabbed the keys to the Shelby off the counter, picked up her purse, and headed out.
The drive took about twenty minutes, and the criminalist was pleased to see an immediate and close parking space. Smiling at the first good fortune she had been dealt this week, she locked the Shelby and headed into the Bistro. Orlando looked up as she walked in. "Signorina MacKenna, you neglect us too much!" he said.
"Orlando, I have been working entirely too hard," Lili replied. "Table for one in non-smoking tonight my friend."
"Signore Standish will not be here?" Orlando asked quirking an eyebrow. The lady caught the implication and laughed.
"Orlando, Ezra and I really are just old friends. Hes working," she said.
"Really," Orlando replied. "Signorina, my son Simon is in tonight, planning on dining alone. I believe you would both have a more enjoyable meal if you ate together."
Lili shook her head at the older mans attempts to match make. She really wasnt looking to date right now, but company did sound more appealing than dining alone. "Why not?" she replied.
Orlando immediately took her hand and led her towards the bar. A tall, dark haired man sat with his back to her, talking to Jason, the barkeep. "Simon, this is Signorina MacKenna, the lady I told you about," he said. Lili caught her breath as the man at the bar turned around. He was six feet tall, with wavy black hair and olive skin. His nearly black eyes seemed to bore into hers as they made contact. "Signorina, my son Simon, the attorney."
"Dad," the man laughed. "It is an honor to meet you, Miss MacKenna. You are my fathers favorite customers."
"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Berelli. Your father speaks highly of you," she returned,
"Simon, Miss Lili is dining alone tonight, something I simply can not allow," Orlando said. "I thought since you were also dining alone tonight, you might keep her company."
The attorney looked past his father to the lady, who smiled and gave a his-idea-not-mine-but-what -the-heck shrug. "All right, dad, why not?" he said, his dark eyes laughing.
"Excellent," Orlando said. He grabbed his son by the arm and steered him towards a table, Lili following along behind. "I shall have Marni over to get your orders, presto."
As soon as Orlando left them, Simon sighed and shook his head. "I do apologize, Miss MacKenna. Ever since my wife died, my father has been trying to set me up with every available woman my age that he meets. Youre his latest victim, Im afraid."
"Thats quite all right, Mr. Berelli. Please call me Lili, Miss MacKenna makes me feel old," she replied. "I am sorry about your wife."
"Thank you, and please, call me Simon," he said. "Its been five years since Rhonda passed away, and Dad thinks I should move on."
"She must have been lovely," the lady agent said. She took as sip of water, her own mind going back nearly seven years. Jesse...
"She was amazing," the handsome young man replied, his own eyes carrying a far off sheen. "Im sorry, I wont be much company if Im melancholy."
"No," she responded. "I understand. I lost someone seven years back. We werent married, but we were discussing it at the time."
"What happened?" Simon asked, than immediately changed his mind. "I am sorry, its none of my business."
"Its all right," Lili replied. "Im an FBI agent. He was my partner. He took a bullet to save a fellow officer seven years ago."
"Rhonda was killed in an automobile accident," he said. "It was unexpected."
"I wish I could tell you in a few years, it will get easier, but it still hurts," the brunette sighed softly. "Jesse was a great man, far better than I deserved."
"I always felt the same way about Rhonda. I remember when I met her."1989, Harvard Law School
"Is this seat taken?" the pretty voice asked. Simon Berelli looked up to see a lovely woman, with dark blonde and blue eyes smiling down at him.
"No, please," he said, pulling his backpack out of the chair in the lecture hall. "Have a seat. Im Simon. Simon Berelli."
"Rhonda Sawyer. Are you a first year?" she asked, plopping down and pulling out a legal pad.
"Yes," Simon said. "You?"
"Sure am. Have you found a study group yet?" she asked.
"No," Simon said. "Are you interested?"
"We started dating mid way through first term, and were engaged by the end of second year. After we graduated, I got on with the US Attorneys office here in Denver, and Rhonda signed on with the Domestic Violence center as resident council. Didnt pay much, but God she loved the job."
"You were lucky to have her," she said. She paused as Marni came to the table. "I think I want a large chicken Caesar tonight, Marni, and a Shirley temple."
"Ill have the penne rustica, and a glass of the house merlot. Thanks Marni." Simon said. "So what was he like?"
"Jesse was a saint," Lili laughed softly. "We met at the Academy. I dont know why he even wanted to be friends. I had been through an emotional upheaval, and I was a real shrew. But, he stuck by me, and was a good friend. We both ended up assigned to Washington. I was working in a different field in the Bureau than, and Jesse was my partner. One night we working late on a case, and something just clicked. We were together almost a year when he was killed."
"He sounds like a good man," he concurred, taking a sip of the wine Marni had dropped off. "So what do you do with the Bureau now?"
"I head the forensics department for all the federal law enforcement agencies here," Lili said. Her companion looked amused.
"Youre that L.G. MacKenna?" he asked. She nodded slightly. "I missed the cocktail party, I was in Seattle taking depositions on a case."
"Trust me," the criminalist said. "If you have seen one federal cocktail party, youve seen them all. Tell me about your job."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra rubbed his neck irritably with his hand, wondering why the air conditioning in the damn building never worked right. He had a pinch in his neck, that just wouldnt leave, and he had read the same dossier page three times. Finally, in frustration, he threw the folder down on the desk. He wasnt going to get anything done until he got some sleep. Picking up his cell phone and the file, he threw both in his briefcase. Grabbing his jacket off the rack he and Tanner kept in their office, he headed for the door to the office. All he wanted to do was go home, get to sleep, and get up early enough to call Lili at some point the next morning.
I wonder what shes doing now.
+ + + + + + +
Lili continued to laugh over the story Simon had just told her, about a defendant who had ended up confessing on the stand thanks to the oldest trick in the book. "Definitely one for the Arent you glad theyre stupid? files," she giggled.
"Its not as good as that agent you told me about, who busted those guys by pretending to be a madam," he responded. Marni had cleared away their plates and come back with coffee and cheese cake.
"I really had fun tonight, Simon," the lady said, taking a sip of her coffee.
"Say, do you like symphony music?" Simon said. "Theyre doing a concert in the park tomorrow night at eight. If youre interested, I bet I could get Dad to pack supper."
"I have a...thing tomorrow afternoon, but that sounds fine," she replied. "Why dont we meet here, say at 7:30."
"Its a date," he grinned.
+ + + + + + +
Steven had come in early the next day, to work on a case his boss had been on a personal crusade over for the past week. He wanted to prove himself as capable in the lab, working on cold cases, as he was in the field. Only a year and a half out of the academy, Steven had initially been upset with a posting in Denver. He had wanted to stay in Washington and work under Agent Lloyd. So, when he heard that Lili MacKenna was replacing old Doc Felderman, he was thrilled. MacKenna was said to be Lloyds favorite protégé, as skilled as he was. If he couldnt study under Lloyd, she was the next best thing.
Reviewing the file again, Steven noticed a discrepancy in the notes that Agent Drake, Feldermans assistant before him, had made. Agent Drake hadnt lasted long in forensics. The man had a habit of getting sick far to easily. Steven had an iron stomach and was proud of it. Reading the lines again, he felt himself get more excited. No wonder the previous CSI hadnt made headway. He had forgotten a critical point of analysis. He stood quickly and set the file down on his desk in his overly small office. He didnt mind the size. The four other agents under MacKenna shared a bullpen maybe twice the size of this room, down the hall. He, at least, was part of the lab itself. He shucked the lab coat he wore, and hurried out the door and rushed through the lab, heading for the hall entrance. He needed to go pull all the evidence on this again, and redo the whole analysis. He was so deep in thought, he didnt see Lili step in the door in front of him until he ran full into her, sending both of them flying. She hit the floor with an "Oomph!"
Steven stopped breathing. Oh God, oh man, shes going to kill me. "Agent MacKenna, I am sooooo sorry."
"Its all right, Steven," Lili said, picking up her attaché case. "Accidents happen."
What the hell? Steven couldnt believe it. "About the Schulmaker case, I found something, I think. I need to rerun the chemical analysis on the whole lot of evidence."
"Great work, Steven," She replied, still smiling. "And I really think you can start calling me Lili." With that, she walked passed him into the office humming. Steven stared after her, confused. Ive died. Thats it, I am dead. No, cause Nicole Kidman isnt here. Thoroughly confused, he head off towards the evidence lock up.
An hour later, Steven was at the expensive computer, running an analysis on one of the pieces of evidence Drake had missed. Lili stuck her head out her office, surprised nothing had broken in the past hour. She watched as Steven cautiously changed to the next analysis level, and came to the realization that he hadnt broken anything in a week. She had to admit, the kid was excellent at fieldwork, and she had suspected that his seeming ineptness in the lab might be nerves over the change in boss.
"Steven," she said evenly, waiting for him to look up. "Steven, I have an appointment this afternoon, so youre in charge. Ill have my phone if you guys hit something I need to be in on." Steven nodded. "Youre doing a great job, Steven. Im lucky to have you."
She watched the smile spread across his face, before returning to her office. Yup, Im dead. This is heaven. Still grinning, Steven turned his attention back to the computer screen.
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