Forging Alliances

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: Thanks to Canthlian, James Walkswithwing, and Rebecca for reading this over for me. Extra thanks to Rebecca for the title. Extra thanks also to James, as this is once again set in hers and Wolfling's "Horses of Different Colors" universe. Despite that fact, and the fact that this series is a spin off of Myths and Revelations, I've tried to make The New York Connection stand alone as a series. I'm pretty sure I'm failing, but I have tried. *g*


"Guns at ten paces in a karaoke bar," Stella shook her head in disbelief as they walked down the hall toward Mac's office. "Of all the places I'd expect the old west to crop up again, that isn't one of them."

"A place like that is about showing off," Mac said reasonably. "Grandstanding. And in a city like New York, you have to expect that someone is going to take it a few steps too far."

Stella shot him a look that Mac wasn't sure how to interpret. "Please. Tell me you haven't been to a karaoke bar," she said, holding up her hands in an echo of the plea. "After dog shows and roller jams, I'm not sure I can take much more."

Mac suppressed a smile. "I haven't been to a karaoke bar," he said dutifully. They reached his office and he pushed open the door, holding it for a moment as he and Stella stepped inside. He was about to go on when he caught sight of the stack of evidence boxes next to his desk. For a moment he frowned, but when he stepped closer to check the label, memory returned. "Good! They're here."

"What're here?" Stella asked, frowning. She stepped up to read the label herself, but the frown only deepened. "Mac, this case is ten years old. What is it doing in your office?"

Opening the top box, Mac absently set the lid aside and pulled out the inventory for a quick review. "I got a call from the FBI. They asked me to look into it again."

"The FBI." Stella raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Given that this evidence was logged by the NYPD and sent to you, who are with the NYPD, I'm going to take a wild guess that this is, and always has been, an NYPD case. Why is the FBI interested? And why do you care that they're interested? Don't you have enough to do already?"

Mac looked up and met her eyes for a moment. "Well, it wasn't the FBI in general. It was an FBI agent in particular. And it's not this particular case so much as it is an FBI case that seems to have a connection."

"Is that case ten years old, too?" Stella asked caustically. Mac paused. She cast her eyes skyward for a moment. "It is. You're hopeless. Was this FBI agent at least pretty? Please tell me I can chalk this favor up to sex appeal. At least then I'd have some hope for you."

"He," Mac corrected. "And I wouldn't know. We only spoke on the phone."

Stella paused. "Did he have a sexy voice?" she asked hopefully.

Mac laughed a little. "Stella, he called from L.A. at four fifteen in the morning. Most of the NYPD had been giving him the runaround for hours, and all he was asking for was a copy of the case file."

"So you thought you'd dig up all the evidence for him." Stella folded her arms across her chest and nodded at the pile. "Are you going to pay to ship it out to him yourself now?"

"Of course not." Mac rested his hands on the edges of the open box. "I just thought the evidence would give me a better feel for the case. You and I both know how much never makes it into the official reports. This case is unsolved; who knows what could be important?"

"You already work too hard on the things that are your responsibility," Stella said, sighing. "And now you're taking on cases that aren't? Mac, it's too much. You need to get a life. I know you aren't happy being alone; how are you going to find someone if you're locked in your office all day and all night?"

This again. Mac suppressed a sigh and squared his shoulders a little. "I like to work. It's...satisfying. And finding someone isn't as easy as you seem to think."

Stella snorted. "I didn't say it was easy, I just said it was harder if you were locked in your office. You can't win if you don't play the game."

"When it comes to this game I'm playing with a handicap," Mac said dryly. "You know that."

Taking two steps backward, Stella closed the door of Mac's office without looking. "You can't tell me that all centaurs are perpetually single," she said, quirking an eyebrow. "For one thing, you'd have gone extinct pretty quickly if that was the case."

"Lone stallions don't have much to do with perpetuating the species, Stella," Mac said. He ran a hand over his head and sighed, thinking involuntarily of the herd that had been his until he was fourteen. He'd never had much interest in leading them, but that hadn't made him any less of a threat to his herd stallion than the other colts his age. So out they'd gone, him and a few others, some as young as eleven. Mac had actually been older than was normal when he was delivered to one of the herd's usual set of foster parents.

Stella waved his statement off. "Whatever. Perpetuating the species is beside the point."

"The point being?" Mac prompted, raising his eyebrows.

"You, life, dating! I know it's possible," she said, poking a finger in his direction. "It happened once before."

Mac dropped his gaze to the box of evidence and found himself looking at a black vinyl day timer. Silver wire binding. Gold embossed lettering. 95/96. "Claire was special," he said quietly. "I'm not sure if I could explain how special even if I tried."

"Mac, I know you loved her very much," Stella began gently, but he cut her off with a shake of his head.

"That's not what I meant. We'd been married for two years, together for four, before I worked up the nerve to tell her." He smiled a sad, rueful smile. "I might never have done it, but she thought I was cheating on her." When he looked up, Stella was wide-eyed. "I never told you that, did I? I told her I was working late one night when I was really going to stretch my legs. She came by the lab with dinner, wanted to make sure I was eating right. I wasn't here.

"She started checking up on me. Just on her own, carefully. She didn't want to make trouble for me, even if she was right, but she wanted to know. She knew I was lying to her, but she didn't know for sure what I was doing when I wasn't working, so she confronted me. Asked me if there was someone else. It was tell her the truth and maybe lose her, or keep on lying and definitely lose her...eventually."

Mac shook his head. "I was so tempted to lie. To buy myself time. But she deserved better than that." He smiled a little, remembering what came next. "It took some convincing, but once she saw it for herself she was so relieved. Relieved. A revelation that would turn anyone else's world on its head and she was just glad that we were okay. Absolute, instant acceptance. That's an unreasonably high standard to hold someone to and I know it."

"That doesn't mean you shouldn't try." After a moment Stella shook her head and pulled open the door to his office. She paused a moment before stepping through. "There are more important things in life than work, Mac."

"Sometimes that depends on the work you do," Mac responded, but she'd already gone, the door clicking shut behind her.

With an internal shrug, Mac pulled his phone across the desk and closer to where he stood over the evidence boxes. He glanced at the clock as he lifted the receiver. 3:30pm. Which meant it was the lunch hour in L.A., but he'd bet that Agent Eppes ate in his office. Pinching the phone between ear and shoulder, Mac dialed from memory and picked up the evidence inventory while he waited for the line to pick up.

"Eppes."

"Special Agent Eppes, this is Mac Taylor from the NYPD. You called me a few days ago about an old case of ours," Mac began, still scanning the inventory. This box seemed to be mostly paper. Date book, business files, insurance policies, that sort of thing.

"Detective Taylor!" Eppes sounded surprised. "Thanks for getting back to me."

Didn't think I would, did you? Mac thought. He supposed he couldn't blame the agent. A single phone call was easily forgotten, breaking the promises made therein easily rationalized. For most people, anyway. "I'm sorry it took me so long," Mac said aloud. "Given the age of the case, I'm guessing they had to dig the evidence out of the back of the storerooms."

"Evidence? All I asked for was the file." The last word was a bit distant, as if Eppes had let the received drop away from his mouth. There was a pause during which Mac could just barely make out Eppes asking someone for a half hour and then he was back, loud and clear. "I know I gave you my fax number."

"You did, and I can send that out before the end of the day." Mac put down the inventory and pulled open his desk drawer, withdrawing the case file and setting it on top of the desk so he wouldn't get forget about it later. "But I don't think you're going to get much more out of a simple report than the investigating officer's conclusions."

"That's kind of what I'm looking for, Detective," Eppes said dryly.

"Not if they're wrong. An arrest was never made for the murders of Evander Stefanos and Robert Davies. Chances are that the attack was just as random as the investigating officer thought, but if it wasn't, then it's the evidence that will tell us that, not the report."

"Okay, okay, that's great," Eppes said shortly, "but I've been told in no uncertain terms that the FBI will not pay to have it all shipped out here. Hell, even if they did, I doubt I could get it high enough in our analysts' pile to ever see the light of day."

"How fortunate, then, that you're in touch with a forensics expert in New York. He even has all the evidence in his office at this very moment."

There was a long pause. "You can't be serious," Eppes said at last. "It's not even your case."

"I'm curious." Mac pulled on a pair of latex gloves despite the fact that all this evidence had been thoroughly processed years ago and lifted the day timer out of the box.

"With our schedules, it could take us weeks to go through everything while we're on the phone," Eppes argued. "And don't tell me that you can do it by yourself. You don't know Esteban's case like I do; you might not realize what's important."

Mac looked over the stack of boxes. "Given the amount of evidence, I'm more inclined to say months, Agent Eppes."

Another pause and then quiet laughter. "Anyone ever tell you you work too much, Detective?"

"Constantly."

"Do me a favor. Keep ignoring them."

Mac smiled and sat down, pulling his chair up to his desk and the day timer that lay there. "It's not so much that I ignore them as that I don't see why it has to be a problem. If I hated my job, that would be one thing, but I don't. I enjoy it more than anything recreational I've been persuaded, blackmailed, or bribed into trying."

"My Dad says he wouldn't be on my case so much about relaxing if my job wasn't so stressful," Eppes offered. "He knows I love it, but he worries it takes too much out of me."

"In my experience, people burn out faster and recover slower when doing something they hate part time than they do when doing something they love all the time." Mac turned the pages in the day timer, glancing over the entries, more to get a sense of the man's schedule than to find anything out of place.

"Hey, preaching to choir here," Eppes said, a hint of laughter in his voice. "I just wish I could explain it to my Dad. Or at least convince him that what I do doesn't put any more strain on me than a paper deadline puts on my brother."

"They are different types of stress," Mac commented. He turned the page. A month before the murder. Coffee with Stephanie read one entry. 3:00pm. Jim. Re 1997 CanAm BTA conference. A quick websearch cleared that up. Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance.

"And different people are suited to handling those different kinds of stress." There was a pause and a rustling sound, like paper being shuffled. "Although I swear, a job where you're expected to handle armed raids and mountains of paperwork is asking too much of any man."

"If only the FBI could afford personal assistants," Mac said dryly.

Eppes laughed. "They can. For the right people. Field agents don't qualify, unfortunately. Not even lead agents. Times like this I miss being SAC."

Mac's brow wrinkled. "What happened? You don't strike me as the type to earn themselves a demotion."

"We've spoken on the phone twice," Eppes pointed out. "How can you tell?"

"The fact that you called me for the first time at 4:15 in the morning about a ten year old case was a hint." Mac smiled to himself. "You're a workaholic, Agent Eppes."

"Guilty as charged." Mac could hear the answering smile in Eppes's voice. "And you're doing me a huge favor, Detective. I think you can call me Don."

"Mac, then," Mac suggested. "You going to answer my question, or shouldn't I have asked?"

"Nah, it's okay," Don said, though his voice was subdued. "I was Special Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque office. I had to take a demotion to get transferred back to L.A. when my Mom got sick."

"I'm sorry," Mac said automatically. "I didn't mean--"

"Don't worry about it," Don interrupted. "She had a good life, even if it was shorter than it should have been. By the end, I think it was a relief for her to be able to let go."

A curiously pragmatic point of view, for a human. Mac wondered if Don hadn't been particularly close to his mother. But that was an excessively personal question. There was an awkward pause.

Eventually Mac seized upon his usual lifeline--work. "Evander Stefanos ran an import-export business," he said. "Is there any indication on your end that that might be involved? He had several appointments the day he was killed."

"I'll have to double check, but I don't think so," Don said immediately. "Even if there was an issue with the business, Stefanos's immigration had already been approved. Esteban closed the file almost a month before the two of them were murdered."

"Hmm. Odd," Mac commented. "It doesn't make sense for someone with a grudge against Stefanos to go all the way back to his immigration officer. Especially when the man had moved across the country."

"Yeah." Don sounded tired. "And it doesn't make sense for someone with a grudge against Esteban to track down his cases and take them out. Even if it did, Stefanos is the only one who's turned up dead so far."

"How far through his cases are you?"

A pause. "Almost halfway through all the cases for the year prior to his murder," Don said finally.

Mac nodded to himself. "You should probably check the rest of them, see if anyone else turns up dead. In the meantime, I'll fax you that file and take a look at some of this evidence, see if anything jumps out at me."

"Sounds like a plan," Don agreed. "I'll call you, say, Thursday, 5:00pm your time."

"That's fine."

"And Mac?" Don sounded amused again.

"Yes?" Mac couldn't help raising his eyebrows in inquiry.

"Work too hard."

Mac laughed. "And yourself, Don."

--End--