Title: Ode to the Cliche
Spoilers: Just about every episode
Disclaimer: Characters do not belong to me, they are the property of Ryan Murphy, or Touchstone, or Buena Vista or maybe all three, no copyright infringement is intended or inferred. I'm not making any money from them and I make no claim to them whatsoever.
Warning: F/F so if you're under 18 or living somewhere backward, please don't go on!
Feedback: Yes please!
Samantha McPherson was a hardboiled private investigator. At least that's the way she thought of herself and was probably justified considering all the hot water she'd been in over the years. As a teenager, she'd used her considerable talents to pursue a career in investigative journalism, but all that had changed one fateful night. Real life got in the way of innocent ambition, as it so often did. And real life was never pretty. By the end of her senior year she'd been working for a seedy divorce investigator, tracking down unfaithful husbands and photographing cheating wives caught in the pursuit of cheap hotel dalliances. She didn't miss the writing. Instead she was too busy dodging the occasional bullet that came her way from the still-outstanding contract on her life by the local organised crime syndicate - Big Dick should have been far more discrete with that hooker. Once she'd even busted the mayor. Three mistresses and a pension fund scandal. And
instead of gloating about it in an editorial column, she'd gloated to his face as the police dragged him away. It was infinitely more satisfying. So she'd learned how to tap phones and tail people, how to recognise an alias or a liar at ten paces, and how to always expect the worst from people. She never wanted to be taken for a sucker again.
Now she owned her own agency - McPherson Investigations. It was a single office in a building that had been crying out for decades to be demolished. She had a battered desk and a couple of equally battered old chairs. Most importantly, she had a trusty laptop and a good dental plan, and that was all she needed. On this particular Tuesday in November, she was going through photographs of Great Danes. Spotted ones, brown ones, brindle ones, fat ones, skinny ones, big ones and well, bigger ones. She was searching for the one in a photograph she had propped up against the phone. It was of a judge's wife with her apparent mistress: a blonde bombshell, shown only from the back, with a tawny Great Dane on a leash. All the evidence judges were handed on a plate every day, she mused, and the only things this old bastard could give her was a single blurred photograph and his hunch. Sam sighed. She rubbed her eyes and looked up at a knock on the door.
"Sam?" Ah, someone who didn't snarl 'McPherson!' with all the ambient affection of a debt collector. This may just be someone she actually wanted to see today.
"Come in, it's unlocked." She called back.
A young woman in her early thirties entered. She was about five feet two, would have been lucky to be nine stone and took a size four shoe, all this Sam's jaundiced eye recognised in a second before she stood with a warm smile.
"Lily!" She rounded the desk and enveloped her old friend in a hug. "It's so good to see you! How are Dex, Rex, Tex, Max and little Sugar?" Releasing her and guiding her to the overstuffed chair in front of her desk, she noted the circles under Lily's eyes and the slightly hesitant manner. Not good, she thought. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" she asked. "I can already tell this isn't just a quick 'hello'."
At that Lily's eyes filled with tears. "Oh Sam, I'm so sorry, I haven't seen you in months and now here I am on your doorstep and it's not even a social visit. I feel like I'm taking advantage of you." The tiny brunette was really on the edge, and Sam reached across to take one of her hands to calm her down.
"Ssh, honey, it's okay. Just talk to me." She pushed a box of Kleenex across the table. Lily took two and blew her nose rather loudly before looking at Sam with watery eyes.
"I feel so stupid, it's probably nothing..." Sam had heard that a thousand times before and knew where this was going. "And I know I'm just being paranoid, but it's about Josh."
Sam felt a shaft of anger. Josh was cheating on Lily, the bastard. Once a player, always a player. "Tell me what's going on." She prompted, trying to cover the ire in her voice with gentleness, failing and just sounding weary instead.
"He... he's been working late." The oldest story in the book. The mayor had been working late. That accountant last week had been working late. The obstetrician-gynaecologist had been working late, and whilst that last one had turned out to be true, he'd still been taking the mornings off to fool around with his tennis instructor. "And then he tells me that he's going bowling with Sugar Daddy, but last night Sugar rang to ask where he was." Double indemnity, thought Sam, oh she was going to string Josh up real good.
The private investigator that Sam had worked for as a teenager always took this time to soothe the distraught spouse, saying things like "If you don't have any proof, why don't you wait until we find some before you decide that he/she is guilty?" Whereas Sam believed that if your spouse was sitting here in front of her that the odds showed that you were a lying, cheating dog. She had no time for niceties.
"What an pig." She told Lily.
"Sam, when we stereotype animals..."
"But he's a dog."
"Okay, he's an ass!"
Lily, who had been listening to Sam be judgmental for close to two decades now, sighed, and let it go - which was a new talent she'd been cultivating. "Oh, Sam, if you could just find out where he's been going."
"Don't worry, Lil, I'm on it." Sam gave her the only reassuring line in her repertoire.
"How much do I owe you?"
Sam hesitated. She had three bills printed on red paper stuck to her fridge, and her cat was getting used to being fed by the neighbours, but she knew that Lily and Josh had never managed to find financial security. And if Josh was as guilty as her instincts told Sam he was, Lily was going to need every penny to buy food and shoes for their five boys on her own.
"Don't worry about it, sweetie. Friend's rates."
"No, Sam, I couldn't..." Lily protested.
"Why don't you wait and see what turns up, and then we'll discuss it." Lily may have been one of the most stubborn people that Sam had ever met, but then she had never officially met herself.
"Don't mention it."
Sam's apartment consisted of a single main room, with a bathroom tacked onto the side that resembled a shoe box moreso than a shoe cupboard in size. She had a television, a couch that folded out into a bed - something she rarely bothered doing - a kitchen corner that was functional - if making coffee was the only function you ever wanted to perform in it. She also had a weathered coffee table and a single window with a great view of a brick wall. She lounged on the couch, the floor covered with photos of Great Danes and half-heartedly flipped through the channels on her TV. As a teenager, Sam had always envisioned that by this time in her life she would be in New York, writing for the Times, living in a fabulous city apartment and having many witty and well-connected friends. Life's a funny old mistress at times, and instead Sam was living two suburbs in the wrong direction from her parents and the most well-connected friend she had was her cat - if the bi-annual litters of kittens were anything to go by. If Sam wanted to pinpoint the moment that all of her dreams had shattered and her life had changed forever, she didn't have to think too hard. She knew exactly when the moment was, and even now, as she flipped onto the Criminal Investigation network a reminder was blazed into her retinas.
"Unsolved: the Kennedy High Cheerleader Murder Mystery!" the headline blazed. Sam sighed and switched it off. She knew the story only too well, and if she wanted to study it again, she had a preferred method. She reached for the black journal that lived under her couch and pulled out a crumpled and faded newspaper article. It was from the Zapruder Reporter - she had written it herself, nearly a decade and a half ago and it was the last she had ever written. Sam lit a cigarette and inhaled thoughtfully. She scanned the article, never having to read it properly, as she knew the words off by heart.
"It would seem that this reporter was mistaken in her defence of Brooke McQueen... The former queen of Kennedy High, having absconded in the middle of the night... Evidence of a damning nature now unveiled by homicide detectives from the crime scene itself points to... The shocking murder of Popita Fresh now seems certain to..."
Brooke McQueen. Straight A Student, Head Cheerleader, Homecoming Queen, Prom Queen, Former School President. Above reproach and as pure as the driven snow. Sam's unassailable step-sister had by all indications murdered a fellow cheerleader and then gone on the run. When they'd first found Popita Fresh dead from suffocation in the Physics lab with a pom-pom shoved down her throat, Sam had leapt to Brooke's defence. She'd believed everything the blonde had fed her - the tears, the protestations of innocence, and Sam had been outraged that the police would even suspect her. But as the homicide detectives closed in and revealed that the pom-pom had in fact been Brooke's, the blonde had declared her guilt by running out. The family had been devastated. Sam had been completely bewildered, and had never understood why Brooke had chosen that particular night, of all nights. Hurt and betrayed, she had written that scathing editorial and quit the paper the same
day. That was the day her life had changed, and she'd never looked back. Except over her shoulder - she did that a lot, one had to when there were still a couple of random wiseguys taking pot-shots at you now and then.
Sam refolded the piece of paper and put it back into the journal, returning the book to its place under the couch. She retrieved the blanket from the floor, opened the window for Satan, her cat, who had been named after another slut she had once known. She switched out the lamp with a sigh. She wouldn't sleep much tonight, she never did after remembering.
The Hillside Country Club where Josh worked as a caddy hadn't changed much, except that many of its clientele were now looking older. Ironically, this was partially Lily's fault - she'd launched a campaign against the environmental damage caused by golf courses some years back and it had been picked up by the national media. As a result, the game was on a steep decline with younger generations, and Sam could see just as many electronic wheelchairs as golf carts as she gazed through the telescopic lens of her camera at the goings on around the clubhouse. She found the tall, formerly lean form of Josh Ford lounging in front of the caddies' shed, drinking a beer. At one time Josh had played this course and had prided himself on a twelve-handicap. Now his only major handicap was the beer belly he was currently so conscientiously nurturing. She made sure the picture she took was the most unflattering she could manage. It was an old trick of hers' - somehow the betrayed spouses felt better seeing their worse halves looking terrible in the incriminating shots.
She had been trailing Josh all morning. He'd gone from his and Lily's apartment straight to the local diner, where he'd lingered over a slice of pie and a cup of coffee, talking to a waitress. Sam had made a note of that and then lost Josh for twenty minutes after she was distracted by a Great Dane in the park opposite. By the time she found him again, he'd finally arrived at the country club - late for work by her watch, and she'd watched him on and off all day. Lily called her at lunch and told her that Josh had just rung to say he'd be late again that evening. She knew that his regular finish time should be five-thirty so she estimated that she had just enough time to get another coffee before the interesting part of her day would begin.
Sure enough, at five-forty Josh slipped out the side gate that served as the employees' entrance. He got behind the wheel of his battered Ford and headed west. Sam stayed a steady four cars behind him. Somewhere close to Hollywood, he turned into a large industrial block and Sam parked outside, watching as he walked toward a building with a banner proclaiming "Bitz 'n' Pieces Studios" in peeling green paint above the entrance. He disappeared inside. A studio was not what she had been expecting. She waited ten minutes and then followed.
The large, warehouse-like building was split into several smaller spaces. The first one she tried had a film being shot in it. At first she couldn't tell if the man was Josh, having never seen his naked ass before. Whoever he was, he was a blonde - she could tell that much, and a natural one at that. If it was Josh, she considered, then she would have not only photos to show Lily, but a whole movie as well. She watched for a few minutes, fighting the urge to laugh, before the director called 'cut' and the guy finally sat up. It wasn't the former footballer, and she found herself bizarrely relieved. She slipped back out again.
The second studio she tried was a photographic company. There were about a hundred people crammed into a very small space, and she couldn't see much of what they were shooting. She lingered at the back, trying to give the impression that she had a purpose in being there, and found herself next a table of photographs of women's hands. They were for some kind of moisturiser or something like that, she supposed, and then frowned as something caught her eye. Before turning away, she picked up two of the photographs and surreptitiously slipped them into her jacket. She wound her way through the crowd toward the action and peering around a tall redhead, she found Josh, and for a moment was puzzled. He was sitting on a stool on the set and from above a photographer was taking shots of the top of his head. She glanced at the folder under the redhead's arm. It had a logo for Kojak's Hair-loss Clinic for Men on it. This time she couldn't stifle the chuckle. Josh looked up and directly at her. His expression was startled as he recognised her, before the photographer smacked him across the scalp.
"Keep your head down!"
Sam withdrew and slipped outside, leaning against the wall and lighting a cigarette. A few minutes later the door opened and Josh appeared beside her. He could still be cheating on Lily, she thought, this was only one day's work. Where had he been the rest of the time? But after so many years as a private investigator, Sam had found that she simply knew, just by looking at someone face to face, if they were guilty or not. It was as though a sixth sense tingled and told her that she was talking to a liar and a cheat. Which Josh wasn't, she realised.
"Lily sent you after me, didn't she?" For a man whose IQ was inarguably under eighty, Josh could be quite perceptive at times.
"She found out I wasn't working late?"
Sam nodded again.
"And that I wasn't bowling with Sug?"
The nodding was starting to make her neck ache so she shrugged instead.
"Sam, did she think I was cheating on her?" Josh looked stricken. She decided to throw him a bone.
"No, she didn't know what was up. I thought you were cheating."
"I was just trying to make some money. I wanted to buy her something special for her birthday."
"Couldn't you have just told her what you were doing?"
"I wanted it to be a surprise. Besides, it's kind of embarrassing."
"I can see how having a roomful of people taking photos of your bald spot could be a little uncomfortable." She admitted. "But is this it, Josh? There's a lot of unaccounted-for time according to Lily." Sam had to be sure, she'd once almost been involved in his cheating ways. Looking at him now, she couldn't believe she'd once kissed him, however briefly.
"If I don't tell you, I kind of get the feeling you'll find out anyway, won't you?" Josh was actually blushing now.
"I've also been recording back-up vocals for the Hanson reunion." He looked slightly nauseous.
Sam laughed out loud.
"I promised him, Lil... You'll need to ask him yourself." Sam had the phone wedged between her ear and her shoulder as she hung her coat on the back of her desk chair. "I swear he's clean... what?" she pulled the two hand photographs out of the pocket and put them on the desk. "No, I told you, friend's rates, besides it got me away from the Great Danes for a while..." She sat down and held up the first of the photographs so she could study it in the dusty sunlight filtering in from the tiny window behind her. "Yeah, me too, Lil' I'll see you then." She hung up.
The hand was pale and almost perfect. At the studio she had seen something that peaked her interest and now, when she looked closely, there it was. On the skin between the thumb and index finger was the faintest puckering of a scar. It was very faint, but visible enough that she knew that this model would be rejected for the job. The four fingers were closed together, but she knew that if they were separated, she'd be able to see scarring between each of them, as well. The blemish was a surgically precise line, as though something had been removed long before. Something like webbing. Sam raised an eyebrow and put the photograph down, picking up the second. The instant she'd seen this one, she'd known. And looking again, she knew she'd been right. The second hand, beyond the shadow of a doubt, belonged to Brooke McQueen.
Sam stubbed out her cigarette and gazed at the door in front of her apprehensively. She should be out searching for blondes with big dogs, but she hadn't been able to stop herself coming here instead - the Cherry mansion. After another moment, she rang the bell.
A liveried butler answered. "Yes?" he looked her up and down with distaste. His expression raised Sam's hackles.
"My name's Sam McPherson. I'm an old acquaintance of Mary Cherry's from school, and I was wondering if I could see her." She lounged against the door frame, and laughed inwardly at his grimace.
"Just a moment, please." He stepped back, closing the security door as he went and Sam heard it click as he locked it. A few moments later it opened again, and he gestured her inside, obviously against his better judgement. "This way." He led her to a sitting room and indicated that she should wait. She chose a particularly delicate-looking antique chair and flopped into it, lifting one leg over the arm.
"Uh, Sam McPherson?" Sam looked up to see the blonde Texan standing in the doorway. "Tah what do Ah owe thah pleasure?"
"Okay, where's Mary Cherry?" Sam asked.
"Huh?" The blonde woman standing in front of her frowned, but not before Sam caught a glint of something in her eye.
"I said, where's Mary Cherry?" Sam repeated. "BHo!"
Mary Cherry's identical twin sister shrugged. "Ah don't know what you're talking about."
"Sure you do. Mary Cherry would never have called me 'Sam', or suggested that meeting me was a pleasure. Now where is she?"
BHo glanced nervously over her shoulder.
"Lookit, Momma Cherry's says to me, Baby Honey Chile, that sister of yours is thicker than Nana Cherry's clotted cream and Ah cain't be leaving Cherry Cherry Enterprises to her. We needs to git rid of her and put you in her place." Sam struggled to decipher the words through the collision of accents. "Tell her Ah tole ya and Ah'll hurt you bad."
"Look, BHo, all I want is to know where she is." A thought occurred to her. "You didn't have her killed, did you?"
"Hell, no. She's dancing at a club downtown. The Dirty Tumbler. She does the lunchtime strip."
Sam didn't like this area. Big Dick was a law unto himself in these parts and practically every time she ventured here someone tried to shoot her. She pulled the collar of her jacket up to her chin and tried to look inconspicuous - the problem being that people who buried their chins in their collars like that always looked more conspicuous. Finally she found the Dirty Tumbler. A drunk sitting out the front offered his services to her as she stepped over him and into the darkened bar. Why were these places always dark, even at eleven in the morning, Sam wondered as she waited for her eyes to adjust. Finally she looked around and spied her quarry immediately, sitting at a corner table sipping some kind of drink.
"Mary Cherry!" She called as she approached.
The Texan jumped out of her chair and spun around. She was wearing a couple of strategically placed scraps of red satin and a red cowboy hat, her costume for the noon show, no doubt, and for a moment Sam was distracted by the swinging motion of the nipple tassels on the bra.
"Well, if it ain't Spam McFearsome!" The Texan drawled. "What are you doin' here? Looking for some poor wronged lady's cheatin' hubby?" This time it was definitely Mary Cherry.
"BHo told me I could find you here." Sam explained, pulling up a chair at the blonde's table and sitting down. She pulled out a cigarette and lit it. "I must say I'm surprised to find you exotic dancing, I was sure you'd end up a serial killer."
"BHo? That skanky, usurping piece of trash!" Mary Cherry sat back down with a thump, the movement causing the tassels to catch Sam's eye again, but not before she saw an odd look in Mary Cherry's eye at the mention of serial killing.
"She sends her love." Sam tormented, unable to help herself.
"I'm gonna git her!" Mary Cherry spat. She took a gulp from her drink, which had been served in what was indeed, Sam noted, a dirty tumbler. "What do ya want with me anyway?" She eyed Sam suspiciously.
Sam pulled out the hand photo. "This'd be yours, wouldn't it?"
Mary Cherry peered at it. "Where'd you git that? Ah didn't even git that job. They said they could see the scars." She looked down at her hands. "BHo never had webbing. They said it skipped a twin. Momma Cherry said..."
"When did they take this?" Sam interrupted her.
"Huh?" asked Mary Cherry, stopped in the middle of her diatribe. "Oh, yeah. A week ago. A big studio complex out west."
"Bitz 'n' Pieces." Sam muttered. "Look, were there a lot of girls there that day?"
"Hundreds of us. You can hardly see them, Ah reckon they were jealous of my mah natural beauty and staggerin' talent."
"Uh, yeah." Sam was trying to get to the point. "See anyone you know there?"
Mary Cherry was silent. The look on her face told Sam everything she needed to know before Mary Cherry shrugged. "No-one that Ah can recall."
"Dammit Mary Cherry, where is she?" Sam began to lose patience.
"Look Spam, Ah really don't know what you're talking about." Mary Cherry was edging backward and Sam sprang out of her chair and leaned forward, planting both hands firmly on either side of the table.
"Where's Brooke?" She hissed.
Mary Cherry opened her mouth to deny it, but changed her mind at the look on Sam's face. "Okay, Ah might have seen her a couple of times, but Ah ain't gonna tell you where she is."
"How long's she been back in town?"
"Ah don't know, a month or two, maybe." Mary Cherry was distracted, looking over Sam's shoulder. Sam spun round and saw a tall, thin brunette hovering at the door. At first she didn't recognise her but then the woman's hazel eyes widened in shock and Sam gasped.
Brooke turned and bolted back through the door and out onto the street. Sam took off after her, leaving Mary Cherry in her wake.
Sam looked left and right but there was no sign of Brooke on the street. Then she saw a disturbance near the far corner to her left. She sprinted down the block and sure enough saw Brooke disappear down the entrance to an alley on the other side. She crossed the street without looking and was almost hit by a car, the driver of which shouted abuse at her, but she barely heard. She reached the alley and went in without hesitation. Although, she probably should have hesitated, she thought a second later when she heard a crack and felt the familiar whirr of a bullet missing her by inches. She hit the ground and rolled behind a garbage can. After a moment, she cautiously peered out but there was no sign of anyone. She stood carefully and crept back out onto the main street, keeping an eye on every person she could see. No-one looked suspicious, and she couldn't see any of Big Dick's regular goons. Just a random shot, she surmised. She walked down to the end
of the street and over to the next block swearing under her breath. Her heart was still pounding from the shock and the running. She'd seen Brooke, been so close. She viciously kicked a can which hit a dumpster and bumped into someone coming from the opposite direction who seemed to be in a hurry. Sam recovered and pounced, landing bodily on top of her formerly blonde step-sister.
"Get off!" Brooke struggled against her but Sam had her pinned.
"No way!" Sam pulled them both to their feet. Now she had her, she didn't know what she was going to say or do. She should absolutely turn her in, but for the moment all she could do was stare. This was the first time she'd seen Brooke since the night the former cheerleader had run away. Brooke was older, her features had lost their youthful shine, but she was still the same Brooke, dark hair and all. Why was she back? Sam realised that was the crux of it. Why was her errant step-sister back now, after all these years. She had left her own father and Sam's mother devastated. Mac was never allowed to even mention her name. She'd put the family through hell, and Sam hoped they'd never find out that she'd been back in town. "Jesus, Brooke, what are you doing here?"
To Sam's dismay, Brooke burst into tears.
Brooke used the diner's napkins to blow her nose as Sam sat across the table from her, clutching her cup of coffee. "How'd you know I was here?"
"Long story." Sam shrugged.
"What are you going to do with me, Sam?"
"I don't know." Sam truly didn't. A very large part of her never imagined when she set off on this particular quest that she would actually find Brooke, she just followed the lead because it was habit. But here they were.
"Are you going to turn me in?"
"I don't know." Sam shook her head. She supposed she still would, but now the former blonde was right here in front of her, she wanted to talk to her first. "Why'd you come back?"
"It's been so long." Brooke smiled wetly. "I was homesick. Then I ran into Mary Cherry in Vegas and she offered me a place to stay."
"You're living with Mary Cherry?"
"She's been really good, trying to help me find work and stuff. I just thought maybe I could sneak back, I never meant for anyone to know I was here. I know it was stupid, but I just..." she trailed off.
"Huh." Was all Sam could think of to say. "Have you seen Mike or Mom?"
"God, no. I saw Mac from a distance, but I made sure she couldn't see me. She looks just like you."
"I think she looks like you." Sam commented. "Poor little thing."
They sat in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes.
"Sam, you know that I didn't do it."
"Don't!" Sam didn't want to hear that. She'd never believe that again. "Don't start. If you didn't do it, you wouldn't have run. I don't know why you did it, but I know you did." Sam began to think maybe she should just turn her in sooner rather than later.
"Sam, I swear to you..."
"I said, don't!" Now Sam was furious.
"Would you just listen to me?"
"No! Jesus Brooke, what do you take me for? I believed you. Just like I believed you when you said you didn't cheat on that bio paper. Just like when you told me that you didn't want to be adopted. Just like the night you left, when you said..." She stopped. "And all you've ever done is lie!"
Brooke sat back, stunned.
Sam stood and walked out, the need to make a dramatic exit winning out against her decision to take the blonde to the police.
The list sent by the Great Dane breeder's association was in the mail when she arrived back at her office, but she couldn't concentrate on it. She tossed it aside and stared out the window, tossing her Thai take-away into the garbage. The morning's events had left her without an appetite. She lit a cigarette instead, and looked up at a knock on the door. Maybe a new case. Something to take her mind away from what was happening in her life.
Brooke McQueen opened the door.
Sam sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "How did you find me?"
"Mary Cherry said you're a private investigator. She told me where your office was."
"No Sam, just listen." Brooke sat in the chair opposite her and looked her in the eye. "I want to hire you. I want you to help me prove who really killed Popita Fresh."
Sam drew in a breath, about to refuse and call the police. But she stopped. Her sixth sense wasn't tingling. Maybe it was because she had been so close to Brooke that she couldn't be objective. Or maybe it was because Brooke really was innocent, after all these years. She kicked herself in the mental shins. Don't fall for it again, she warned herself. But her mouth said: "Okay, I'll do it. But no family rates. You're going to pay my full fee for this."
"Anything. It's time for the truth to come out."
"So you want me to find out who killed Popita Fresh - other than you, that is?"
Brooke looked her in the eye. "No, Sam, I already know who killed her. I was framed and I want you to help me prove it."
Sam looked at her in open-mouthed astonishment. "What?" she asked eventually.
"Yeah, I heard you. You know who killed her?"
Brooke's expression was unreadable. "Yeah, I do. I've known since the night I went on the run."
"Then why, Brooke? For god's sake, if you knew..."
Uh huh, thought Sam. Obviously. "I think you'd better start at the beginning."
"OK. Two days beforehand, I had a fight with Poppy, because she'd started smoking pot and wasn't fit or co-ordinated enough to cheer anymore. She'd embarrassed us at the match against Washington. I told her in front of an entire corridor of people that unless she quit smoking I'd make sure she lost her spot on the team."
"Right. And that was the last time you spoke to her. Hell of a way to leave it."
"You think I haven't thought of that? Jesus Sam. I've had fifteen years to dwell on this."
"Right, sorry." Sam lit another cigarette. She didn't know if it was simply Brooke, or maybe it was her, but she suddenly felt as though they were fifteen again, bickering as they had always done.
"I wish you wouldn't smoke." Brooke wrinkled her nose.
"Get fucked." Sam replied evenly and smoothly. It was her standard response to anyone who said such things to her. She returned to the matter at hand. "So then on the night in question you go for a drive to clear your head - right?"
"It's such a poor excuse for an alibi."
"But it's what really happened."
"Uh-huh. No wonder the police want your ass."
"Sam, can we just get back to it?"
"Okay. The next morning, they find Poppy in the classroom, your pom-pom down her throat."
"But I didn't do it."
"Brooke, you had a public fight with her, it was your pom-pom and you don't have an alibi."
"You do know what 'being framed' means, don't you?" Brooke sighed. "I should never have never come back to town."
"Why'd you leave in the first place, if you were innocent?" Sam asked suddenly. She'd been wanting to ask since they'd first met again, but hadn't been able to until now. And why that particular night, she wanted to add, was it planned? Did you know that you were leaving when you... She didn't finish the thought.
Brooke just looked at her for a couple of moments. "Do you really think I could have stayed, Sam? Put the family through a trial like that without any hope that I would be acquitted?" She was beating around the bush, there was something else, Sam realised.
"That's ridiculous. What you did was irresponsible. Do you have any idea how Mom and Mike..."
"I know I hurt them. I saw them on the TV specials, Sam. But I was seventeen, and certainly going to be found guilty." There were tears in her eyes again. "I was scared, okay? I didn't want to go to jail."
Brooke was babbling, and she was obviously still hiding something.
"And once I was on the run, well, there was no way I could come back. I don't expect you to understand." Brooke blinked and took a deep breath. "And anyway, there was the phone call."
There it was, Sam thought, now they were getting somewhere. "What phone call?" She asked sharply.
"The night before I left I got a phone call. They told me they'd set me up, and they said the only way out was to run. To leave town and not come back."
"Someone called you and told you that?"
"Yeah. With all the evidence against me if I ran as well I would look so guilty that the police would practically close the case and they'd have gotten away with it. It was the final part of the frame."
"Why didn't you tell us, or the police? You just decided to run? To help with your own framing?"
"I was scared, Sam. They killed Popita, and they said if I ever told anyone they'd kill... well, someone I cared about."
"Jesus Brooke, are you serious?"
"Do I look like I'm joking? Sam, I never told anyone about this before." Brooke was as white as a sheet.
"So why are you telling me now?"
"Because it's time for the truth to come out, Sam, like I said."
"Who was it?" And Brooke told her. Sam frowned in disbelief. "Huh?" was all she could say.
Despite the fact that she should have been worried about being suffocated in the middle of the night by the woman she still wasn't entirely sure was not an infamous murderer, Sam insisted that Brooke stay at her apartment, rather than return to Mary Cherry's room above the Dirty Tumbler. If Sam had tracked her there, there was certainly no guarantee that the murderer wouldn't. She unlocked the door and pressed the light switch. Nothing happened. Damn, she should have at least tried to make a payment plan with the power company.
"Just a minute." She told the former blonde, and used the camera light option on her cell phone to locate the emergency candles which were one of the few provisions of any kind that she kept in the apartment. She lit two, and the apartment was bathed in a pale glow. "Come in."
Teenaged Brooke would have looked down her nose at the squalor which was the style to which Sam had become accustomed, but Brunette Brooke didn't seem to mind in the least.
"Does the couch fold out?" she asked simply.
"Yeah, but I usually don't bother. You take it and I'll sleep on the floor."
"Don't be ridiculous. It's your bed. I'll sleep on the floor. Believe it or not, I'm kind of used to floors."
"No, really. When Satan comes home she'll freak if there's a stranger just lying there on the floor." She remembered the time Harrison stayed over and winced. He still had the scars. "If it's me she'll just curl up on my chest."
"On your chest?"
"Yeah, it's warm and she likes it there."
Brooke was looking at Sam strangely. "Satan?" she asked. "Not as in Nicole Julian?"
Sam began to laugh. The idea of Nicole Julian curled up on her chest - made her stop laughing. Eeuw. "Uh, no. My cat."
The next morning when Sam awoke, Satan was curled up on the couch next to Brooke, sound asleep. Surprisingly, Brooke appeared to be intact. Sam left them there and got up to make herself a cup of coffee. She stretched and several vertebrae in her back made alarming popping sounds - sleeping on the floor hadn't been the walk in the park she'd assured Brooke it would be. She was still reeling from Brooke's revelation of the afternoon before. If it was true, then why and how? And how was she going to prove it? Fifteen years had passed. There wouldn't be any physical evidence. She needed some perspective, she realised. She needed to go back and put herself in the crime scene, to try and understand the motivations and reactions that had taken place that night. But first she needed to call her contact at the phone company.
She stepped outside so she wouldn't wake Brooke and dialled on her cell phone. "Mark? It's Sam McPherson... Yeah fine... Yeah I do, just a small one... Hey, that's so not true, I've talked to you and seen you when I didn't want something, like when..." Sam trailed off. He was right, she DID only call him when she wanted a favour. "Okay, I'm a bad, bad person. Can you help me anyway?.. Okay, I promise" She sighed. "How far do your records go back?.. Damn... Oh, I just need to find out about a call made fifteen years ago... Yep, fifteen... Yeah, I thought it might be... To the Palace on the night of October the second in 2001... I dunno, maybe from a cell phone, does that make a difference?.. Uh huh..." She felt slightly ridiculous. "Look, anything you can find you be great... Thanks Mark... yeah I will, I'll see you soon, okay?" She went back inside and sat on the coffee table, picking up a stack of Great Dane photographs, which she had been sorting into
ones that might have been the candidate, and ones that definitely weren't. This thing with Brooke was not helping her pay the bills, she mused as she looked at the sleeping former cheerleader. What she really should be doing is looking for the mistress - or tailing the judge's wife. But for some reason, she couldn't refuse Brooke.
"We need to go to Kennedy." Sam said to Brooke as her step-sister opened her eyes.
"Huh?" Brooke wasn't yet quite awake.
Sam, on the other hand, was now positively speeding from the dark syrup she'd concocted in her coffee pot. "I need to go to the crime scene."
"Wh... Why?" Brooke yawned and tried to push Satan away, who dug in with all four sets of claws rather than be dislodged from her comfy and warm sleeping place. "Ow."
"Yeah, she does that. Maybe she's pregnant again." The feline was particularly contrary when she was in the family way, and she did seem very disinclined to be removed from Brooke. She yowled and finally Brooke just gave up.
"Nevermind." Sam chewed the inside of her cheek. "Maybe we can get in after school gets out this afternoon."
"To the school?"
"But there's nothing there, Sam. The murder happened fifteen years ago. Besides, it would be a bit creepy. Shouldn't we just try and track down..."
"Not yet." Sam interrupted. "I don't want to go there until I know exactly how to handle this. You don't know Brooke, they're kind of... connected now, and going after them will cause a lot of trouble. Right now we have nothing but your word against theirs'. I need to think, and I need to think at the crime scene."
"You're still a freak, you know that?" Brooke asked.
"And you're a murder suspect who needs my help to exonerate herself. Insulting me? Not gonna help your cause. That dye job sure as hell didn't change the blondeness of your brain."
"Okay, Ms. Snippy. We'll go to Kennedy." Brooke looked at her. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"Again with the not helping your cause. Just have a little faith."
Sam hadn't been back at Kennedy High School since she'd graduated - it hadn't changed at all. She really didn't miss high school - even now the angst and self-absorption was almost palpable, as though the building had been so saturated in it over the years that it had become a corporeal entity in its own right. Every bloody teenager thought that he or she was an adult and understood what life all was about, but instead what they were living were embarrassing and childish parodies of life's real drama. Maybe that's why they had places like high schools, to lock all teenagers away in one place so they couldn't drive the rest of society crazy, Sam mused as she crept down the corridor. Brooke was a step behind her. Finally they reached the room that had been their physics classroom. Sam glanced at Brooke. She had been inside after they'd found Poppy, but at the time Brooke had absconded the classroom had still been sealed off. Her step-sister was looking
around apprehensively, as if she expected the ghost of Popita Fresh to suddenly appear.
"I still don't get why we're here." Brooke was almost whining.
"It's an investigator thing." Sam told her, opening the door. They went in. She tried to think like a teenager, tried to remember how it felt to be at high school, what was important and relevant to her back then. She pulled out a chair from one of the desks in the front row and sat down. Popita had been found slumped against the front row of desks, and the police had established that the body hadn't been moved from somewhere else to the room, which meant the action had taken place right here at Sam's feet. Poppy had been stoned when she'd died, probably one of them had held her down whilst the other did the deed. She tried to picture it. She felt pretty sure about the how of the deed, but she still had no way to prove it. But what about the why?
"Huh?" Brooke looked very jumpy.
"Why do you reckon they did it?"
"I don't know. I've tried to understand that for years now, but it just doesn't make any sense."
Sam tried to think what had happened to the pair after the murder. Had their lives changed in any way that she knew of? She hadn't really been paying any attention to them, or much else at school in those days. The shock of Brooke leaving had made her withdraw almost completely, and then she'd been working pretty hard in her new choice of career.
"Can we leave yet?" Brooke was looking slightly green.
Sam sighed. She wasn't any closer to a motive, she'd have to find another way to understand what had happened. "Okay." She got to her feet. Back out in the corridor Sam wrinkled her nose. One thing about these places, they always smelled exactly the same. Her eye fell on the glass trophy cabinet as they passed and suddenly she stopped, her jaw dropping slightly.
Oh surely not. No-one could be that callous, could they?
"What is it?" Brooke had stopped beside her. Before she could answer, they were startled by a sound. Kind of like a mop bucket being pushed along the floor. Dammit, the janitor. They really shouldn't be found here. They were thirty-something adults and getting caught hanging out in an empty high school was not going to be easy to explain. Particularly considering that one of them was wanted for murder.
"Quick, into the Novak." Brooke was there ahead of her and reached out, pulling Sam in behind her. They hid in a stall and held their breath.
They looked at each other in horror. Sam threw open the stall door and Brooke raced over and turned the handle. It didn't budge.
"Shit Sam, we're locked in."
Sam joined her at the door. "Here, let me try." Nothing. It was locked. It was not the first time they had been locked in the Novak, but that had been fifteen years ago.
"Shit!" Sam swore and leaned against the wall.
Brooke looked at her helplessly. "Now what?"
"We could bang on the door and get him to let us out, thereby risking the chance of you being recognised and having the cops called on us, or we can wait until morning." Her phone rang, she answered it. "Hi, Mark?.. yeah, thanks so much for that... you couldn't?.. They didn't?.. Oh okay. Thanks anyway... Dinner? I wish I could, but I'm kind of tied up right now." She looked at Brooke and shrugged. "Yeah, how about next week sometime?.. Sounds great, bye." She rang off.
"Who was that?" asked Brooke.
"A friend of mine who works for the phone company. I asked him if he could find out anything about the phone call you got that night, but it was too long ago."
"I was kind of expecting it. But I just thought it would be a start if we could prove that it took place."
"He asked you to dinner?"
"Yeah, I kind of haven't seen him for a while."
"Are you dating him?" asked Brooke. There was a sharp note in her voice.
Sam chuckled. "I think his boyfriend might object to that, if you get my drift." She grinned.
"Oh." Brooke chewed her lip. "Are you seeing anyone else?" she asked.
"Relationships tend to suffer at the hands of my work." Sam replied evasively. The truth was, she just plain sucked at commitment. She was a one-night stand kind of girl, picking people up in bars and always going to their place so she could slip out easily the next morning. There'd been one or two that she'd wanted to see again, but it had always ended dismally, and she hadn't been down that road for years now. Her stomach growled suddenly and she wished that she had been able to take Mark up on his offer. They had missed lunch and she was starving. 'I say we eat Carmen' a voice in her memory called out. She grinned despite herself. Her eyes fell on the picture of her old friend hanging on the honour wall of homecoming queens, and then she noticed the picture next to it - the winner of the following years' crown. She frowned.
"Brooke," she began.
"What?" Brooke tilted her head.
"Look." She pointed at the wall.
Brooke studied the wall and then turned back to Sam, her face white. "You don't think..." she broke off.
"I'm starting to."
Brooke and Sam stood next to the pouf. Sam had told Brooke her theory, and as shocking as it was, the former blonde had to admit that Sam's instincts might have been right. Outrageous and depraved, but it actually made some warped kind of sense.
"Maybe it was an accident."
"How do you suffocate someone with a pom-pom in an accident?" asked Sam.
"I mean, maybe they tried to talk to her first, maybe they tried to get her to do what they wanted, and when she wouldn't, that's when they killed her and decided I was the perfect patsy." Brooke suggested.
"Maybe." Sam shrugged. It didn't matter now. Popita Fresh was dead.
"Remember the night I left?" Brooke asked suddenly.
Sam looked away. She knew exactly what Brooke was referring to without even having to ask. Of course she remembered. She'd couldn't possibly forget - it had been one of the defining moments of her life. It had taught her something about herself that was integral to her personality, but she had chosen not to actively think about it. It still hurt too much. The fact that it still haunted her dreams was something she had no control over.
Fifteen years previously...
Brooke leaned against the bench and watched her finish cleaning her teeth.
"What's up?" Sam asked.
"I love you Sam." The then-blonde said sadly.
Sam put down her toothbrush and frowned at her, puzzled. After everything they'd been through, of course they loved one another. But they never actually said it. "Okay," Sam raised an eyebrow.
Then Brooke leaned over and kissed her, before turning and leaving without a word, leaving an astonished Sam looking after her. The next morning, she'd been gone.
There was a lump in Sam's throat as she surveyed Brooke. "I remember." She said. "I never forgave you."
"I meant what I said that night." Brooke said quietly.
"Did you do it because you were leaving?" Sam was finally able to ask the question that had plagued her for fifteen years.
"I did it because I loved you, and also because I knew I'd never get another chance."
"Try me." Sam suggested, only half-joking before she was silenced by Brooke's lips against her own. This time Sam didn't just stand there astonished. She responded by wrapping her arms around the former cheerleader, bringing them tightly together. By the time, fifteen years ago, that she had figured out that she loved and wanted Brooke too, the blonde had been gone. This time Sam was ready, and she wasn't about to let Brooke escape again. Brooke moaned and reached down to cup Sam's ass. Sam pushed against her, forcing them to back up until Brooke was against the bench. She stroked a hand up Brooke's belly to her breast. Brooke moaned again and leaned into the touch, her nipple already rock-hard. She broke the kiss and began to not-so-gently nip her way along Sam's jaw and down her neck, insinuating her leg between Sam's. Sam almost came as the thigh came into contact with her.
"Oh, Brooke!" she whispered and bent down to capture her lips in another kiss. She placed a hand on either hip and ground against her. Brooke cried out into her mouth and bucked. She frantically found the hem of Sam's shirt and reached up, lifting her bra out of the way, closing in on her nipples. Sam was panting, their movements together becoming frenzied, as her rational mind shut down and she reached for the button fly on Brooke's jeans. Brooke reached down as well and for a split second, Sam thought she was trying to stop her, but the former blonde was tearing at the buttons as well, trying to help her. Sam slid a hand inside, down to cup Brooke through her panties, which were drenched. Brooke gave a sobbing cry. She put one hand up the back of Sam's shirt, nails digging into flesh and the other tangled into hair, holding her to the kiss. Sam slipped a the tip of a single finger past the panties and began to stroke gently, but Brooke thrust roughly
against her, urging her inside. She quickly complied, pushing two fingers deeply into her, stroking and caressing as she did so.
"Sam! Oh god, Sam!" Brooke all but screamed as she clung to her, coming hard, spasming against Sam's fingers. They stayed immobilised as the quaking subsided, heads hanging down, gasping for breath. Sam honestly didn't know whether she'd come as well, but she thought she may well have done.
Suddenly Brooke began to shudder, and Sam pulled back in alarm, worried that she was crying. The hazel eyes were filled with tears, but Brooke was laughing.
"You have no idea how many times I've fantasised about that." She chuckled.
Sam grinned back at her. "Did I measure up to your fantasy?" she asked, only half teasing.
"It was so much better than I'd ever imagined." Brooke assured her, reaching out to bring their lips together again. "Oh, Sam." she whispered.
"Oh Brooke." Sam responded as Brooke took her hand and almost dragged her to the pouf in the centre of the room.
Several hours later, the janitor unlocked the door of the Novak on his round. When he returned to the completely empty room a few moments later with his trolley to give it a quick clean before the student started arriving, he sniffed the air with a frown. Hmm, he thought. It smells like sex in here.
As they walked away from the school still holding hands, Brooke asked "So now what?"
"I was thinking breakfast." Sam answered.
"That's not what I meant." Brooke grinned.
"If you're asking about the murder, I'm still not sure how to prove that..."
"I wasn't asking about that either." Brooke turned to face her. "I was asking about you and me."
"Oh!" Sam teased. "That. Well..." She was interrupted as a car pulled up beside them. The passenger door opened and a man sprang out, standing in from of them. It was Paul, Big Dick's primary bodyguard.
"Shit." She swore.
"Get in, Sam, both of you."
Sam panicked. "Look, Paul, this is my friend. She doesn't know anything. Let her go, and I'll come with you..."
Paul's hand was inside his jacket pocket, she suddenly noticed, and she was certain that it was holding a gun. "Get in." he repeated.
"Sam, it's okay, let's just do what he's asking." Brooke put a warning hand on her shoulder. They got into the car.
The Dick Mansion looked exactly like the house from the Godfather. As they stopped in front of the entrance Sam couldn't help remembering the gorier details of the movie and shivered. Paul ushered them in the front door and through to a book-lined study. Sitting behind a desk was Emory Dick.
Brooke shot Sam a shocked glance and Sam sent her a warning one.
"McPherson." He acknowledged with a nod. "And who do we have here? My goodness, it's Brooke McQueen. I thought you were still on the run. I don't recall hearing that you'd been exonerated."
"Emory Dick?" asked Brooke unbelievingly.
"That's Big Dick to you." He corrected politely.
"I don't think so," muttered Sam under her breath. "Look, Mr. Dick," she began, trying to be diplomatic, "Brooke hasn't done anything to you, just let her go. It's me you want."
"No, what I want is my beloved wife, April Tuna, and her four million dollar settlement back again." He replied. "But you are correct about Brooke. No harm will come to her, at least not from me. I'll arrange to have her turned over to the police."
Sam sighed in partial relief. It was better than the alternative. "Do you have anything to eat?" she asked, now. "You know, a last meal or something?"
He simply stared at her, and she shrugged, pulling out the last of her cigarettes and lighting it, pulling over his glass of scotch to use as an ashtray.
"I really wish you'd quit." Brooke muttered to her.
"Considering I'm about to die anyway, I don't think it'll make much difference now, do you?"
"Ladies." Emory brought their attention back to him.
A woman came in and went to Emory, whispering something in his ear. "Now?" He thundered. "Can't they wait?" The woman shook her head. "Excuse me for a moment." He bowed slightly to Brooke and Sam and left the room.
"Emory is a crime boss?" Brooke asked Sam, disbelievingly.
"Yep. It kind of fits when you think about it, though, doesn't it?"
"Sam, what about the twins?" Brooke hissed. "Do you think he knows..." She broke off as the door opened again and two identical young redheads walked in and sat against the desk, looking at Brooke who turned ghostly pale and clutched for Sam's hand.
"Brooke McQueen." One of them said after a few moments. "We told you not to come back."
"I know." Brooke acknowledged.
"You remember what we said we'd do if you did?"
"Sam's going to die, now, Brooke."
"They threatened you with me?" Sam found her voice and stared incredulously at Brooke.
Brooke didn't answer her, she just stared back at Sam, her panicked expression confirming the statement.
"It wasn't half obvious that you were the one person she really cared about." Observed the talkative twin. "Find your enemy's weakness and exploit it - Nicole Julian."
"And information is the currency of power." Added the other one. "Joan Crawford."
"You killed Popita Fresh." Sam said simply, looking back to her.
"No, not me. Emily did it, but she did it for me, so I could have her spot on the Bring It squad."
"We tried to get her to just step down." Emily added, "But she was too stoned to listen."
"And as it turns out, after you left, Brooke, Emily got a spot on the team as well." Emma grinned.
"And you ended up as co-homecoming queens the following year."
"The reign of the McQueen had ended in disgrace with Nicole Julian and Mary Cherry reduced to Tuna-esque status via their association with you. We just stepped into the void."
"So now what?" asked Sam.
"Our brother's going to kill you, and as for Brookie here, we'll think of something." Emily shrugged.
The twins moved toward the pair, menace clear in their expressions. "Why don't you come with us, Brookie?"
"Leave her alone!" Sam demanded as Emma took Brooke by the arm and hauled her out of the chair.
Sam had barely gotten to her feet before an uppercut knocked her back down. She had forgotten they knew Judo.
She awoke as a splash of cold water hit her in the face. "Ms. McPherson." Emory was standing in front of her. Paul was putting an empty glass down on the table. "Perhaps you could tell me what happened here? And where is Brooke McQueen?"
"Ask your sisters." Sam felt her jaw gingerly.
"Em 'n' Em? What do they have to do with this?"
Sam came to a fast decision. "They were the ones that killed Popita Fresh. Now they're going to kill Brooke."
"I beg your pardon?" Emory raised his eyebrows at her.
"Trust me. You know from personal experience how good I am at finding out the truth. Besides they just confessed it to me and Brooke."
"Confessed?" Emory walked behind his desk and slid out a secret compartment. There was a recording device there. Emma's voice filled the room.
"No, not me. Emily did it, but she did it for me, so I could have her spot on the Bring It squad."
Emory pressed the stop button and looked back at Sam, a strange expression on his face. "Well, well." He said thoughtfully. "Paul, find the twins."
"Yes sir." Paul turned and immediately left the room.
Ten minutes later, Sam sat next to Emory in the back seat of his limo.
"Roger, Paul. I'm on my way." He turned to Sam. "They've taken her to the high school." He told her.
"It would seem as though my sisters appreciate the symmetry of returning to the scene of the original crime to do away with your step-sister."
They pulled into the empty parking lot and raced into the main building, coming a halt as they reached the physics classroom.
Brooke sat gagged and bound on the front desk, whilst Emma was fiddling with a Bunsen burner. Emily was piling flammable items around the former blonde.
"Stop right there, you soulless whores!" announced Emory, motioning Paul to take aim at Emma.
"Emory?" Emily dropped a text book. "We were just..."
"You killed Popita Fresh!" he accused.
The twins looked at one another. "Don't overreact, you kill people all the time."
Emory shook his head. "I've never killed anyone personally in my life." He sounded affronted.
"You hire someone else to do it. There's no difference."
"Actually, legally, there is a slight difference." He stated. "How could you both be so stupid?"
"We're not stupid." Emily countered. "We saw an opportunity and took advantage of it. And we got away with it."
Sam suddenly realised that if she thought Emory was going to defend his sisters, she was mistaken.
"When Father Dick decreed that the two of you were my responsibility I wonder if he ever knew what onerous burden he had placed on my young shoulders. I have tried for fifteen years to educate and care for you since he and Mother Dick died on their way back from the annual pilgrimage to Stonehenge, but you have only become more foul and heinous by the day. And now, I find that you have simply gone too far. So as a responsible civic leader, and a dutiful elder sibling, I must hand you over to the police. Paul!" He summoned the burly bodyguard to grab Emily as she made a move as though she was going to run.
"Emory!" shrieked Emma.
"Crying won't do you any good." Her brother admonished. He watched as they were taken from the room, and Sam saw his face split into a grin of satisfaction.
"Finally I have been divested of the back-breaking encumbrance of caring for those evil spawns of Lucifer." He sighed and turned back to Sam, who was untying Brooke. "Ms. McPherson, Ms McQueen, you are free to go. And, Sam, I'll call off the hit. But from now on, stay out of my business."
"No problem." Sam assured him, wrapping an arm around Brooke as they turned to leave.
"I can't believe he turned them in!" Sam was saying as she turned the key in her office dor, opening it for Brooke to enter first. She followed and promptly walked into her, not realising the now soon-to-be-blonde-again had stopped dead.
Mary Cherry sat in her chair, feet crossed on her desk. "Hi Y'all" she greeted warmly. She held a pistol, aimed at Sam's chest.
"Mary Cherry, What-?"
"When you said that you thought Ah'd end up a serial killer, you were wrong, Spam." Mary Cherry smiled thinly. "Ah'm a contract killer. And there's a cool hundred thousand on your head. Ah might have missed the other day in that alley, but this time it's over, Spam."
"Mary Cherry, the contract's been called off. We've just come from Big Dick's and..."
"Can it, Spam. Ya can't fool me." Mary Cherry grinned.
"No, really, Mary Cherry, I was there!" Brooke interjected.
"Outta the way, Brookie." Mary Cherry squinted, taking final aim.
The next few events happened in slow motion. There was the crack of the gun, Brooke shouting "No!" and flinging herself in front of Sam. Then there was a wet sound, as bullet hit flesh, and Brooke was thrown back by the force of the bullet, knocking both she and Sam to the ground.
"Oh God, Oh, Brooke!" Sam gasped, as blood seeped quickly through Brooke's shirt.
Police sirens sounded very close by and Mary Cherry swore. "Damn it! Oh well, next time." And with a crazy glint in her eye, she stepped over them both and walked off down the hall.
Sam sat on a planter outside the hospital, smoking a cigarette. Yeah, she'd promised Brooke she would stop smoking, but now was not the time.
"Sam? Samantha McPherson?"
Sam looked up, squinting in the sunlight. The devil was silhouetted in front of her. Nicole Julian.
"God, Sam! It's been ages, what are you doing here?"
Sam wanted to look over her shoulder and make sure there wasn't another Sam standing behind her - Nicole was smiling at her in genuine pleasure.
"I, uh, I'm seeing a friend."
"Goodness, is everything okay?"
"Yeah sure. She'll be fine, it was just a flesh wound."
"Oh, I'm glad. Hey that was great news about Brooke, huh? I saw it on the news, I suppose she can come home now, it'll be great to see her again."
"Er, yeah." Sam was bewildered.
"Anyway, I'd better get going, it was great to see you again." She stopped and looked off into the gardens shielding her eyes from the sun. "Where's that big dope gone? Spot! Spot! Oh there you are!"
Sam's jaw dropped as a massive, tawny Great Dane bounded up and sat attentively still as Nicole snapped a leash onto its collar.
"Oh well, I'll see you around." With that Nicole Julian walked away.