Where You Live

After Officers Maslow and Neely return from the morning's incident on the road, it follows them.

14 Division

a time

"Best quote"

"I liked that guy better when he was tryin' to take a nap on the highway," Dominick complains, sitting against the edge of a desk after getting out of the interview room with Zane Daniels before his questioning was taken over by somebody from Major Crimes; apparently the guy is connected to some big-time art thefts. Once he was actually in custody, he froze up, refusing to explain the circumstances that led to him stealing a car and leading them to chase.

Dominick tosses a miniature basketball (not his) against a wall in what's been an uneventful one-sided game of catch. This round, it falls to the floor and wanders under an absent detective's desk. He doesn't lament the loss. "Never trust a guy with frosted tips," he advises Officer Neely, or, at least, assumes he does, twisting his head over his shoulder to ascertain whether or not he's talking to himself.

As the day keeps rolling, so will their duties, taking them away from the case of the tired thief with a strange gold object in his trunk, but it lasts as long as Dominick complains about it and as long as Anna has a task. "Any hits?" He starts to feel the absence of the toy basketball, becomes restless — ever more restless for every ignored call and text on his phone — and stands straight to move behind Anna. Unintentionally, he looms.

"Mmm, mm." A soft negative, less official than her usual and attributed to the level of concentration despite the unproductive tedium of the continued zero results scrolling between a single finger. It nearly clicks in perfect time to some obsessive pendulum, offset by the gentle gnaw of her teeth against her thumbnail. A couple had been broken in the attack against her in the park and each fingernail seems varied in length now. "Though the Art Gallery of Ontario has a few Bill Reid gold and silver Northwest Coast boxes, not discs." She stretches a leg out in front of her; the only restless sign of having not stood up for quite some time. "Wanted to do some Pre-Columbian medallion digging…" Shoulders shoot up and down in a shrug of her uniform— and some kind of record for how long she's managed to keep her colors on. "It's very— " Affecting a tone and a rather whimsical sense of peril, she turns over her one shoulder to recite, "'What's in the box?!'" only to find not only that she immediately regrets the stupidity but that her superior office is directly behind her. Eyes widen then dip conservatively as she slips back around in her seat and diligently clicks the mouse.

Just as Dominick purposefully does not do a very good job of trying to hide his smile at Annabelle's recital, a young tech winds his way through until he reaches the station she's is set up at; he's carrying an square object in a suspiciously sized paper bag and appears harried and entirely fed up with his day thus far. He sets the thing down on a corner of the desk heavily, removes the wooden box, opens it, and lets the round gold … thing glimmer all it wants in the open air.

"You're the one who's doing the computer thing, right?" he starts in without greeting. "Looking up if this thing's a piece of art? Will it help you if you look at it? Good, 'cause this thing is freaking me out. Just, like, log it into evidence when you're done, okay?" He starts to scurry off, his feet stuttering along the floor as he thinks to stop and add, "Oh, and it's real gold."

As their rarely seen colleague — he can't, really, be called a colleague in any earnestness — hurries back the way he came, Dominick eyes him with all the concern of suspecting someone might have a grave undiscovered illness of the mind. The look quickly vanishes, replaced by the uncomprehending squint he gives the gold circle. "That," he announces dully, "is what's in the box." Pause. "I don't get it."

Dominick's phone buzzes. He's poised to be irate. Glancing at the screen, he proves himself correct. "Just— " Distraction sets in, into the grooves of his forehead. He steps back, head down, prepared to deal with his determined caller. "Go log that into evidence before someone steals it to sell it for more than their pension. Or worse, before someone asks why we have it."

Already a bit aghast at the tech's flabbergasted entrance and exit, Annabelle's trapped looking from the disc to Dominick's phone with a bit of undisguised— something. It's gone. Zen and official, the officer struggles to rise faster than possible, chair knocking against the station desk. Swooping in on the piece of peculiar evidence slows as she squints at its golden design before, slower, twisting an elbow over to knock the box closed as delicately as she can. A word comes to her lips and escapes lifelessly through a breath when she looks over at the distractedly creased face of the other officer. Instead, the box is addressed. Slipping the edges of the paper bag under its back corners, she jimmies one thing inside the other and clasps hands around the crinkly material with a careful lift.

A stroll through the station is common; being done even now by half a dozen others, with more on the way. But for Annabelle, there are particular gauntlets. Maneuvering past the arrangement of desks towards the stairs for evidence collection is one of them. So, she walks with her head down, regretful every second to not have hair to fall over the disfigured side of her face.

Every item logged into evidence collection is done so with the signature of the person admitting it; the box and its gold disc are admitted under the authority of Officer Annabelle Neely.

After she leaves evidence, the box tucked away on a shelf until it's examined or returned to its proper home (the owner of the stolen Elantra having denied knowing what the police were talking about), her signature remains behind, evidence, itself, that she was there.

A record in history.

While the clerk in evidence collection enters data into a computer, the traditional pen-and-paper log smoulders beyond her notice.

Words are burned until they're nothing but empty loops, singed paper, and ash. Annabelle Neely burns. Annabelle Neely alone.

* * *

Officer Maslow leans against his car in the clean light above the crowd of patrol and regular cars outside in the secure lot, his ankles crossed and shoulders hunched. No one would be surprised to see that he's on his phone, if they were paying any attention to him. Shifts changed; most from today's shift are already gone on their way for the evening while he lingers back, his mouth pulled taut and his brows drawn down. "I get it, but you're gonna have to get off my back if you want results," he's telling the person on the other line. "Unlike some people, I'm not a miracle-worker." His eyes narrow until they almost disappear. "I don't know about any goddamn man's stick. Jesus," he mumbles the latter curse, " — sorry. Branch."

One of the last ones of their shift out, Anna exits the building dabbing at the corner of one eye. A round of searching, paperwork, and transcription like that is enough to dull a few tired senses. One-eyed, the other's sight jumps to the figure of Dominick against his car. Her finger drops and her vision reverts; she can see her car, and her superior officer slips back to her periphery. Either, or both, his agitation and a sense of decorum could have lent him a bubble of privacy, but Anna's not parked far and she instead chooses to lower her head and beeline straight to her two-door.

A distant recognition of a presence in the lot lowers Dominick's voice, but the pitch heightens a second later in a rash outburst of disbelief. "What?" he virtually accuses the phone with such vehement incredulity that he spins right around — and only then notices that the presence in the lot is Officer Neely. Pressing his free hand to his forehead like a visor, he leans elbows onto the top of his car and makes a concerted effort to be quieter. The words are hurried, and he keeps shooting ambiguously pointed looks in Anna's direction, however; finally, interrupting her already short trip to her car, Dominick bursts into her path with his phone clutched in his fist, a man on a mission.

"You— " He sets in, his tone immediately ambiguous except for its intensity. He notices his overbearing demeanour, helped not at all by the fact that he's pointing at her around his cell, and hauls back; his pointing hand lowers in stiff increments until, phone and all, he stuffs it into the pocket of the loose jeans that have replaced his uniform, almost the same dark blue. "… You logged that box into evidence earlier, right?"

Heels clacking, Anna turns sharp enough to make a drill sergeant proud, rounding on Dominick with a brief flare of concern living and dying in her eyes. Accusation— or at least, its sound— shrinks her shoulders down, but as that only straightens her back, she winds up standing an inch or two taller. One hand that lies across the roof of the car above the driver's door has its fingers curl, scraping gently on an old but hardy paint job. "Yes, I did, sir," she replies without hesitation nor need to think back a second. Split-second, her gaze jumps with its own accusation to his hidden phone before returning promptly, and neutrally, to him.

No surprise; he didn't seem to expect her to say otherwise, and hesitates within an awkward space now that he has the answer. Dominick seems pulled elsewhere, even while standing still. "Good," he replies, approving, if curt. "Good." He gives the officer a small, off-kilter nod, presented as if he's never given the plain polite gesture before in his life and is not yet an expert. His hand shifts in his pocket; the phone. His words, perhaps surprisingly, come off more naturally: "Have a good night, Neely," he says and heads back toward the station. He looks over his shoulder to add with a hint of a smile around his words, "Take it easy."

"Goodnight, sir," delivered easily enough, but for the high rise of Anna's eyebrows following him out. Not that she means it any less, even when turning quickly enough as if to deny herself a trace of his smile. Yanking the door open with practice for its tight frame, she glides a long leg inside and then follows with a thump. Skipping her scarred reflection in her rearview mirror, she focuses below on a beaded string on which dangles a bronzen charm. As she rocks the car into gear, the three tiny chimes hanging from the charm flutter musically.

BE THE CHANGE is carved into the bronze.

Right now she'll settle for being home.

* * *

Slam. The box marked with today's date and today's case number drops harder than perhaps intended on the nearest hard surface in evidence collection, where Dominick is in a hurry to uncover the piece of art — the disc within a box within a box.

Funny, though; he slammed it hard in his hurry, but it feels awfully light.

He rifles his way into the container with all the speed of a child opening a Christmas present; he's not alight with merriment, however, nothing but grim and grimmer when he sees nothing but empty corners looking back at him.

If anyone logged it out, there's no record. Neely logged it in, as far as he could tell from the damaged papper, corroborated by the computer record, and that was that. She'd have no reason to lie

Exercising his jaw stiffly, Dominick presses his palm under his nose and drags it slowly down, taking a step back with a hand on his hip. The same hand shoves into his pocket. He hovers over REDIAL, glances sidelong down a row of stored items from old cases. He can hear the clerk, chatting with someone near the exit, complaining that her shift is supposed to be over. He chooses text, grimacing.

It might take a bit longer than I thought. I have to track it down.

« There's a way to do that. To find the tree, you must first find the branch.

Dominick's eyes don't have room to roll, they're so narrowed, but the sentiment is shot down at the screen just as well. As he prepares to thumb in a sarcastic response to the cryptic message, his head jerks up as if he heard a noise; it's only his own sudden thought, alighting in his eyes with a sense of purpose. He tucks the phone away; he'll update when he discovers whether his idea is a crapshoot or not.

"Night, Betts!" he waves to the clerk on his way out, putting on a smile.

* * *

Annabelle's Place



Left to her own devices past the responsibilities of the police constable, Annabelle Neely sits centered within a room that lets living and office co-exist with certain compromises at each intersection; a couch, next to a lowered table on which sit accoutrements of business practice, a window with shutters, a bookshelf succinctly organized, a filing cabinet perch for a clock that's currently covered by a towel. The lone pillow from that couch has been stolen, repurposed underneath the fold of Anna's feet as she keeps her back straightened and her eyes closed.

Energy, thought— relaxation— radiate from the smooth patterns of her abdomen. In, and out; she breathes and counts those breaths but lets them be. A knee ache, a back itch: none of these exist. Just breaths and—


Anna's breath holds in waiting against eyelids that flutter but do not open. Abruptly, an eye cracks open. She espies work items on the low table surface in front of her. She forces her sight gone.

The noise proves to be more than a one-time occurrence.

THUMP turns into rustling; rustling turns into scratching, as sharp and shaky as a tree branch against a windowpane in the breeze. It is outside Annabelle's door, however, that the noise persists, low to the ground, seeming to hover there with intent, trying to press and squirm into her peace. Scratch. Scratch.

With a serenity borrowed from her previous position, Anna rocks back onto the pillow, and her heels by proxy, to roll up onto her feet. They're bare. When she rolls a palm across the top of the table in front of her as if for balance, her hand is not. The gun sticks weirdly out of the back of her gym shorts when put. Slipping far quieter than the noise that disturbed her to the door, she aligns both hands against the front door and leans to the peephole.

The hallway appears as peaceful as Anna's solitude was meant to be within her home. The second she seeks out the noise, it ceases to exist. The peephole's particular curvature lets her see a skewed version of the world outside of her apartment for a fair distance left and right, up and down… down; there, a dark smear at the edge of the peephole's ability, placed on the floor.

Special delivery?

Finger scrapes metal. She realizes her hand's drifted to her gun and, in the big picture of speckle in front of her apartment on some random night, she rolls her eyes at herself and forces her grip to loosen. In retaliation, the door's hauled open harder than might've been strictly necessary, hand instead bracing in a rub against her forehead.

Random speckle, meet familiar memory.

The dark woodgrain.

The particular size and shape. It sits neatly on her veritable doorstep.

She knew the weight of it, delivering the same box to evidence collection.

Details need no sharpening in Anna's mind; she sees the box and believes — perhaps of its twin, but certainly of its legitimacy. So then, everything pertaining to the appearance of her apartment building hallway leaps to the forefront of importance over the box itself. Signs of presence, recent or current. She palms her door wider and twists to spy for its front in case of note. Aware of one elderly neighbor, whose calendar would see her currently not at home, Anna backs up into the interior of her apartment just barely, toes flexing, to snatch her phone from a little nook nailed to the wall beside the door.

The station's rung as she skirts the dark wood to investigate further down the hall.

The hallway is exactly as it would be any other night.

If anything besides the box has been left behind, it's the lingering snap and crackle in the air; the energy after a lightning storm. Last she knew, it was calm outside. Hot — BEAT THE HEAT! as the poster at the station broadcast — but clear.

The phone line nearly crackles itself, moody.

"Officer Neely," she reports in when, through the crackle, the line also connects. "I need you to put me through to Major Crimes." A toe pokes at the carpeting like it could dig for that electricity while she crosses a defensive arm over her chest incase of the same.

After the polite "right away!" Anna meets on the station line, the crackle clears, and a woman answers the next line, sounding harried. "Major Crimes Division."

"Ma'am, this is Officer Neely from the 14th Division. There was an ornate wood box registered as evidence for case # 3216-A, Detective Moran's, related to major art thefts in the area, and I believe that a similar item has been delivered to my personal address." Eyes skater over to the dark grain then away. "I'd like to know how the detectives in charge prefer I proceed."

"Delivered?" The woman is bewildered, but hardly sounds as though she has the stamina to care. A long night over at Major Crimes, it seems. "Please… hold a second." The line goes blank for a more than a second, but only a couple. A different, younger female voice takes over. "This is Detective Holland. Moran's partner. He's out. You got another box?" she asks to confirm, or— perhaps to express her skepticism. "We got no reason to believe if it's any harm, so… I gotta figure this is some kinda prank." Or threat. "Just hold tight, keep it outta the way. We'll come to you. Neely, right? What's the address?"


"818 Broad…" Anna slips, bumping her elbow painfully into the wall when a second side glance reveals the empty spot where the box used to be. "…. view…" she murmurs, gliding a foot carefully forward. Her elbow shaking out, she casts a look over her shoulder then up at the sole door or escape between her and where she'd left the dark wood clue: her elderly neighbor's apartment, conveniently 'empty'. "You know what," she passes into her phone, lowered eyebrows the sole sign of exasperation refusing to come through into her voice, "Prank seems pretty on line. You guys are worked. I can monitor things tonight."

Throughout, she picks her way back to her own apartment door, slipping inside.

"If there's another box out there, we need to be on it…" Holland insists, a searching tone coming through given the off-duty officer's turnabout.

Is there another box out there? It certainly seems gone now, truly without a trace.

Back to the proposed serenity of her apartment.

A glisten, from her filing cabinet; bright and bold, laid next to her shrouded clock, a gold, disc-shaped slab, as if it is waiting for her, as if it has always been there.

"I understand," assures Neely, resting her shoulder against the paneling her phone'd normally sit in, "I just don't want to waste your time on what could be a— " but as tuned to her surroundings as she was before, it's difficult not to feel a disturbance. Unconsciously twisting to look the other way, her filing cabinet swings into full, golden-topped view. Her hand starts to swing up in exasperation, despite the contrarily serious flash of instinctual fear in her eyes. "Welcome back to work joke."

As hard as her hand slaps against her thigh in that falling frustration, what's left of the hairs at the back of her neck twinge with the disconcerting feeling of intrusion. Personal. Her thighs rub uncomfortably together.

"Someone's been in my apartment," she states boldly into the phone. Not how she feels: bold.

Riled straight from distraction to focus, her mouth a thin line, Anna groggily — but determinedly — slides on sneakers next to her and backs right out of her previously zen zone. Through she's clutching to her phone like a lifeline, a prevailing sense of driving displacement means that she makes it down several hallways to the elevator before realizing she's not sure when she hung up.

As the elevator starts to open, so does the door to the stairwell: a creak, a thudding shuffle of multiple footsteps; anything could be danger. An intruder.

It's simply one of her neighbours who steps out first, glancing over his shoulder— perhaps regretting letting in the visitor who's coming along several paces behind him. The neighbour doesn't quite hold the door before carrying on his way; as it automatically moves to swing in, the visitor's hand moves to catch it, slapping it with a palm.

Curling, dark hair is the first sight— his head is downcast. His shoulders are a familiar strong but drooping set; the pinched brow, heavily drawn down; Dominick strides into the hall, focused on what appears to be nothing more than a small, cracked, forked twig in his other hand, which he has held out like a shabby dowsing rod. Looking up to reclaim sight of his surroundings, he's clearly stunned to see Anna, his heavy-lidded eyes managing to go round and wide and uncomprehending, his face going entirely slack followed by utterly tense, hardly shy of suspicious. Gruff, inconvenienced by in his surprise, "What are you doing?"

Arms crossed, the last of what had been a strained look for her neighbour drains from Anna's face, unshackling her expression from any lie like relief or comfort at the sight of someone like Dominick. Gym shorts make her skittish legs even longer. In a tank-top, arms are bare and full of goosebumps and the cold of her gun still wrinkles the material in back, hiking everything up. A wave of her hand gestures the phone, or towards a hallway, down which she casts a kind of fevered yet disinterested look. Many times in tiny instants, lips move or firm for pieces of unwanted words and, in the end, she merely says, "Air," in a flimsy little declaration and curls away from Dominick straight into the confining metal of the open elevator. She jabs at L.

"Air" is so far from any expected answer that it's an abstract concept, and Dominick stares uselessly at her, wholly unlike the intelligent, thinking adult he's capable of embodying (sometimes). He has the wherewithal — and determination — to follow Anna, however, suddenly jogging to careen inside the elevator with her.

Realizing he's holding a twig, of all things, he hastily stuffs it in his back pocket. His observation skills kickstart; already, he's noticed her demeanour, and now he glances down along Anna: tanktop, gym shirts, sneakers… gun; no lewdness to his watch, only realization, which he should have came to about twenty seconds earlier. "You live here," he states. His words slow and calm, even though they're disjointed. "Did something— what are… what happened?"

Oh, Jesus— someone other than the devout Buddhist Anna might have said then; felt, at least, when she springs her hands to the sides of her heads to quickly tame both hair and emotion when it's obvious she's not being left alone. Tiny bits and pieces of composure, like lint in the laundry, cling when she bids them so she's able to roll her chin around and look him in the eye when he states, when he asks. "It's nothing— sir. It's not important."

She goes as if to brush back hair longer than it is. Fingers curl awkwardly and then drop in stunted shifts. She manages to suddenly look very cold as haze and adrenaline are pared back. "I overreacted." Words said almost immediately regretted; she snaps teeth into her upper lip as if they could be taken back, or to stop more; more that might incriminate her somehow.

The elevator reaches one floor down and Anna bolts forward to press the 3 for the floor she made Dominick abandon in odd apology.

Not that the elevator much cares at this point. It's going down.

Watching Annabelle with growing uncomfortableness, for hers, Dominick edges to the far side of the elevator. He crosses his arms, as if casually, but under the circumstances — which he, for one, is still not exactly clear on — he only looks more uncomfortable. "Overreacted…" he repeats quietly, as if that too is an abstract word. He peers at her, making an effort not to be intrusive, but he has a pressing concern keeping him here, more solid than the elevator doors. With his forehead heavy and one brow more pressed, his stare is off-kilter, a good deal more glowering in action than his intention. "I have to tell you something, Neely," he says seriously, a note of misplaced frustration seeping in. The cross of his arms breaks apart for him to gesture slowly. "That box disappeared from the station, earlier, and I'm trying to track it down."

She'd stopped breathing. It comes out in a gush when his purpose is told; Anna turns with a snap of heels completely foreign to her old, floppy sneakers. A kind of vengeance fights for dominance in her eyes, another in the string of odd, unbelievable things Dominick has butted up against tonight since entering. It's gone, though, too soon, with no trace as she utters, "It's possible it's here, sir." Weight anchors every one of her syllables, the tics of her expressions — or lackthereof — and the quiet way she accepts how this may sound. "I thought it may have been a duplicate, but if you're saying the one is missing, then there's a good chance that it was in this building." A breath— in— hovers; she hovers. Easily, Dominick can read the moment before a question; easily, the moment it dies and she turns naturally away to see the floor count down again and a half.

Dominick, regardless of his initial bouts of confusion since he first spotted Anna in her own building, seems to accept this news right away. He doesn't say as much — his belief that she's telling whatever truth she knows is spoken in the somber edge to the lines of his face and the way he ploughs on. "Was? Where did— " he starts without incredulity, but gives his head a hard swerve to one side. "Never mind." He recalls the phone, and it's abruptly more pressing. "Did you call someone about it?"

"Major Crimes. Moran's partner answered." Nevermind also that Anna stares at the elevator numbers like they're the ones asking while she responds as a scolded school-child. The phone's twisted between her fingers.

"Okay," Dominick replies, slow. Patience with Anna (it exists, it does!) mingles uneasily with impatience with the situation. He needs to find that goddamn box and what's in it. He eyes the elevator buttons himself. "Here's what we're gonna do. Call back and tell— Holland? Holland— it was a false alarm. I dunno why this thing showed up here, but whatever the reason, it's a stupid reason, so we're gonna take care of it ourselves."

Stubborn silence belies the more pronounced tapping that her once soft twitching of fingers has become. Utterly sincere penance fills her tone when she abruptly swings her hand up, bringing phone to ear. "This is Officer Neely again. Is Detective Holland available?" Silence. Anna rocks up onto her toes and back down. Halfway to landing, and as the elevator puts them at Anna's original destination, she announces one-sidedly, "Detective Holland, I'm very sorry about earlier. I must've dropped the call when I got spooked. Listen," her unoccupied hand twists into her tanktop hem but her stature remains tall— her voice clear of anguish except apology, "False alarm on the box. I don't—- I don't even know what to say — first day back. Paranoid about doing something wrong. Imagine I was just second-guessing whether I'd remembered to log it in or not."

What little humor she'd tried to creep in falls out during a pause so that she can seriously answer, "No, my apartment's clear." Pause. "Thank you." Nod. "Again, very sorry." Diligently, she listens to and echoes the goodbyes required by society before swinging her arm down. Without the phone call to keep her mouth moving, she looks almost lifeless.

Creases upon creases have wedged between Dominick's brows for enduring that little conversation, and that's from his side, not even engaged in it; he frowns, on the verge of saying something after Anna hangs up. Instead, he leans ahead and pushes the elevator button — several times — as if that will miraculously be the magic touch that spurs it where Anna wants it to go. He stands through a pause, hesitant to speak up while the other officer looks so without life. "You should get that air," he says. "What's your apartment number? Is it open? D'you mind if I have a look around? I'll make it quick, I don't mean to be a snoop, but you know, if this thing— or someone— if someone's lurking arou…"

The elevator doors slide open in the lobby. No one waits to enter except a dark, wooden box, opened up like a proud oyster displaying its gleaming prize.

"… around…" Dominick's hand reaches instinctively around near his low back. He's off-duty, but there might just be an off-duty weapon hiding under the fall of his loose, brown button-down.

Several answers on the verge of trying to sneak through Dominick's question tirade end in a loud hiccup when Anna espies the wayward box. While her superior officer, armed or off-duty or whatever he is, watches it, Anna's eyes snap shut. Hands jumping up near her ears, she silently squeezes all of her features in a quick expel of negative energies. Like a scream she can never quite form.

It's over fast. She's soon stepping forward, sliding a foot to block the elevator's door when she crouches for the wooden mystery box.

Dominick leans out of the elevator to look one way, then the other, seeing no one. The emptiness eases his hand away from his concealed firearm, but he frowns for lack of anyone to immediately blame.

It's not going to be that simple.

As Anna nears the box and its disc, she can feel that energy again. That charge. It's alluring, almost, rather than immediately warning, this close to the gold… some of which seems to be peeling in rare spots. Underneath, the object seems to be made of wood, not a solid metal.

"If this is someone's idea of a joke, I'll have them suspended," Dominick speaks up in a sudden expression of opinion — and overshooting of his own authority. Vengeance, here's your vengeance. For now, he steps out of the elevator, a hand restless in his back pocket. "Let's get this thing locked back up where it belongs." By which he means: he'll take it now.

Head gently tipping, Anna's finger unfurls idly to hover towards one of those peeling spots but, hearing Dominick's opinion, she reins it in without touching. Her hand slips away and she knocks it closed with mostly her knuckles. The box's abruptly jolted to her chest and she bolts straight up to stare at him, eyes urgent but mouth trapped shut as he continues to speak. Though it's offered him initially, any attempts to remove the box from Anna's grasp find her hands on top and bottom have clamped down quite firmly. "Don't. Please." A tiny little exhale. "Please don't hold it against anyone."

Dominick nearly grinds his jaw, his hands just touching the corners of the box without wrestling it from her possession. It takes him a few seconds to see Anna's situation in greyer hues; even when he does sigh out an understanding, it's questionable that he really gets it.

"Alright— you're right," he says, though, "we'll keep it all quiet. I'll sneak this back into evidence, where it will stay," he glances down briefly as if scolding the object itself, there, "No one even knows it's missing yet but me." Except those who stole it, one could assume. Dominick lifts his eyebrows, the disgruntled lines softening and vanishing 'till he nearly — still a bit of a stretch — looks boyish. Innocuous, at the very least, as he lets go and holds his hands out in dramatized pleading for the box, and he almost smiles. "Pret-ty please?"

Left with the box in her own power, Anna slides it closer to her, the wood pushing up against her chest; perhaps exactly opposite what Dominick intended with his gesture, and almost unconsciously done. "I should. It was my responsibility." Something else— there, in her eyes, before she gently lowers them to be hidden. The curl of her fingers against the grain's idle, though, not bothered, and her words more stalling than pointed. "When you went to check if it was there…" When her eyes lift, she's seen to be looking him up and down— off-duty. Or is it that she's merely avoiding his eyes by looking him elsewhere while seeking an answer slightly crueler.

Her superior officer would look more laid-back in his simple civilian clothes under more laid-back circumstances. His open-hands gesture slowly deflates and he spreads his palms over his jean pockets, at an unexpected loss. He just regards Anna flatly before a spark of wondering enlivens his eyes, and they narrow at her. "Wait. No. I'm pretty sure I'm an ass. You don't think I didn't trust you, do you?"


The elevator attempts to shuffle closed against the hesitant blockage of Anna's figure. Through a zig-zag pattern, her eyes manage to meet his narrowed ones. Mouth thinning through the reassurance on her face, she shakes her head for no, nevermind. "Just curious if there were any late night hits on the thing's identity." Demonstratively, the box is lifted and then thumped back against her chest. "I'll just— put on some… pants, won't I?" A harried attempt at the funnies comes and goes as her eyebrows pop up and she backs towards the elevator's interior, tiredly eying those fascinating little buttons. "Since that's… kinda our thing…" has dropped to a low, surrendering mutter.

"I thought I had a lead through an old contact." Honest enough. But Dominick shakes his head dismissively of that lead— never mind that it's what led him here. With a twig. "If you insist," he says, straight-faced until he squints once, thinking to clarify, "… On going in. … We need a new thing." One corner of his mouth crooks upward, a hint of his own better humour. Turning to hold the elevator door-frame, he sways his way in after her. His near suspicious look to the elevator doors as they start to close might provide explanation for his accompanying presence: before the box appeared, he was going to look for lurkers around Anna's apartment, and that hasn't changed. He skirts a sidelong glance that doesn't quite try to find her eyes. "Are you sure you don't want me to take it?" he asks, but it sounds like an offer. "I have pants on already. Count your blessings for that, by the way. I don't look good in gym shorts. Very… eighties gym teacher. It's not pleasant."

Anna's squinting face of judgment respects his humorous endtag to that offer but her lips never manage to reach a smile — nor an affirmative. "At this point," she declares instead, "It would feel like a cop-out not to see it through." Once again, the elevator's lower half becomes her conversational partner so far as her eyeline's concerned. She leans in, taking a hand off the box to smack the correct floor number.

Dominick stands at the door of Annabelle's apartment, looking more a doorman than anything else, stationary. He was ready to spring inward, should her apartment prove to hide anything untoward, but it does not; it's as empty as it ever was, not a thing out of place. His glance of her living place is cursory, a professional eye, soon turned to the hallway. He's attentive, but partly caught in thought, chewing something over and over in his head.

This entire situation is less than ideal. It's even less than that for his mysterious phone-caller who needs that gold thing out of the police station, yet here's Anna poised to lock it back up in those walls.

He doesn't stop her. He helps her, a small ordeal that feels altogether like a shadowy smuggling mission, involving inching casually past Detective Moran before he makes it there first to see it suspiciously absent.

There it sits: a box in a box, on a shelf, behind multiple locked doors. Safe as it ever was.

* * *

Gold, melting and running through her fingers; gold, peeling off wood. Branches, reaching for her, lifting her up. When she dreams that night, this is what she dreams of, in-between whatever her mind concocts after the strange day.

The air is immediately hot again the next day; bright but grey, eager for rain. It's a long weekend, for those who have it off, and the city is joyous. The parking lot outside Anna's building is missing cars that are usually there, rarer vehicles have been added, and some bear flags; a testament to Canada Day weekend. A silver SUV idles in a visitor space across the lot from her two-door. A kindly-faced woman in her fifties, perhaps more, with long, sandy hair and a long, blue skirt hesitates near the SUV's passenger side, looking a bit lost and searching, as if she's waiting for someone who's late.

With a whine and cluck of old metal parts, the building's back door swings open, bringing a gust of expectantly warm air inside and Anna out. Purseless, her fingers dabble in her jeans' pocket for a set of keys, hindered briefly by the balance of a bulging reusable grocery bag in the crook of her arm. Whatever restlessness remains from the night before hides in the shadow of the heavily beat-up baseball cap she wears; its logo is faded long past recognition. Keys jangling upon discovery, they remain in-pocket while Anna scans the small lot. A trace of that waiting woman is noted, stored, pushed aside for more pressing, personal thoughts that guide her towards her own vehicle— then revisited slightly when she recants, slowing her pace to hike a few fingers up above her carried bag in a wave of welcoming but general non-interference.

That small gesture is grappled onto by the waiting woman, who takes it upon herself to interfere with a rush of politeness and goodwill. "Hi, hello, dear," she almost trips over her skirt in her sudden, cheerful hurry. Her voice is soft and Irish. She pushes the sliding door of the SUV open. "I believe this to be yours," she offers, leaning in; as her form, slightly stocky around the hips, straightens, it becomes vividly obvious that she is holding a familiar dark wood box in her arms. "It was over there, dear, by the door. I've kept it safe for you. I think it might rain."

Surprised by the sudden rush, Anna turns to look at her car then back to the woman in a quick, distracted, span that keeps disorientation on her face even through her flitting attempt to smile. Confusion rakes by a second time and she shifts, redistributing some of the overly crammed bag's weight, waits— sees. "You— " A sharp look to the indicated door then to the box, the woman's face; now, an intensified detailing of all the middle-aged wrinkles. She reflexively slides her weight back, blinking slow above weary dark lines. When she opens them, she's still blinking gold flecks out of the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry— " sounds like the fifty other beginnings of sentences that she almost starts with more than an actual apology, "Was there a— note?"

"No," the woman answers without a hitch in her cheer. In fact, the well-used creases around her eyes meet in sincere kindness as she steps forward, the box now neatly between her hands like an offering. "But it is yours," she adds with a note of question that she doesn't seem to beg an answer to; she believes it already, plain as day. "It belongs to you, dear. Especially today, of all days." Her sparse brows inch upward, encouraging, as she nudges the box toward Anna. "Are you all right, little bird?"

"I'm— ummm." Fine being the intent; she fumbles over a distinct desire not to quite lie to the woman, though neither to really reel her in to all this. Instead, the rustling of Anna's grocery bag interrupt her conveniently as she puts it down, reaching with one hand to lay a hesitant kind of claim on the box — with another guilty look around — and the other to fish out the phone from her back pocket. "Would you be willing to stay here with me a minute and describe to someone where, exactly, you found this?"

The elder woman gives Anna a confused look, so sincere as to be utterly pure. "Why would we do that, now?" As she encourages the box into Anna's hand, she steps in herself, her thin, age-cracked lips smiling and sweet, meaning to lay another encouraging hand on her elbow and tug her closer. "It's a day of celebration!"

A shock of discomfort and surprise stiffens Anna's arm before she can enforce it into scolding relaxation — or some stiffer semblance of it. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, ma'am," eyes flashing down find that she's been speed-dialing the station. Conflict wrestles over her face and her thumb jumps off, choosing a new path across the keys: Dominick Maslow. "But this is part of a police investigation." Her arm drags against the woman's grip, aiming to bring the phone to her ear.

"Oh, no, we mustn't do that!" The woman becomes distraught, bewildered. Her eyes are pale, seeming all the more when they widen. Too polite to grapple with Anna, however, she clutches her own hands to her chest.


Dominick answers almost before the last ring, by some miracle, sounding both disoriented and concerned. "Is that you, Neely?"

"Little bird, o' little bird!" the woman clutches her hands tighter, imploring, though still she smiles. "I wonder what thou doest, thou singing merry far from me," she recites, her gentle, Irish voice impassioned, "I in sadness all alone!"

Surprise exercises Anna's jaw wordlessly up and down the first few moments that she tries to respond to Dominick; his late answer giving her plenty of time to zone out of the call and into the behavior of the older woman. "Sir," is the word she does manage to procure before glancing self-consciously down at the hard wood clutched by her other fingers. "There's a woman here. She says the box from the Moran art theft case was left at my building. I'm in— " tremendous weariness flashes across her face briefly, dominating her expression so that she nearly has to pause, to stop and just breathe, "Possession of it now."

"Jesus— wh— I don't know what to tell you, Neely— " Dominick complains, frustrated more than shocked. There's a rustle and a vaguely meaty sound; he's likely slapped his hand to his face. "I— ? Bring it in? That clearly went so well last time. You know what— "

"O', little bird!"

Dominick's pause is made of distraction. He manages to put off questioning that. "I'll take it. That thing belongs in a goddamn safe."

"It's in possession, and you are in possession of it. I really must insist," the older woman's recital shifts seamlessly into this, and she holds out imploring hands once again, "you really must come along. Oh, you really must. Everyone is waiting!"

Wheels tread quietly along pavement as another, older van enters the parking lot, moving behind Anna with its blinker on as if it means to turn into one of the visitor spaces.

Anna's eyebrows swerve with the effort of keeping up with both people. "Come along— ?" Attempts to pry information from an already still talking woman. Fingers curl on the phone as she redirects there, mouth constantly half-open. "Sir, should I inform Detective— " It's almost pure idleness that finds her glancing over her shoulder at the other car; instinctively, she touches the woman's shoulder with a few spare fingers from the hand clutching the box to guide them both assuredly out of the other vehicle's path. "— Moran? I'm sorry, ma'am, if you could just wait a moment. Could I have your name— ?"

Oh, but she left her bag there. She turns left for it.

"It's Jean!" the woman answers eagerly, as if Anna's inquiry and shuffling of her out of the way means something entirely different. She must be coming along!

"No, no," the voice in her ear, now. "The less he knows, the better."

Jean's face brightens all over again. "Not Moran, it's Murray!"

Before the second the van behind Anna should turn — as the older woman still speaks — the sliding door abruptly gapes open. The vehicle's still moving when a man jumps out, and his boot-clad feet have barely struck ground before he's making a grab for Annabelle with both arms. Muscular arms, tightly wound in a t-shirt with fraying, white sleeves. She gets a flash of a dark goatee, knotted leatherwork and the scent of pine, forest, earth.

"I'm sorry— ?" A sentiment suddenly misplaced — meant for the woman — against the all-out batter's swing of the unusual dark wood box aimed for the aggressive flash of goatee in her sights. Ejected from against her ear, the cell-phone spins and clatters into the pavement. Anna's nostrils flare with unfocused certainty. Forest, earth: struggle, fear, and an accelerated heartbeat, all lending to the fitful paranoia that fueled her in the first place.

Even so, as she means to backpedal, she also reaches behind her for Jean — to push, propel — before risking a look to see if the older woman's safe.

The goatee's thrust aside, a stream of blood left in the wake of the corner of the box. The man stumbles sideways—

"Oh!" Jean takes in this ruckus with a shocked face. As Anna instinctively reaches for her, she instinctively reaches for Anna, so much so, in fact, that her arms seek to hug right around the young woman.

The man's stumbled against the van he emerged from, holding the inner edge of the open door. As his head whips around, so too does a mid-neck length of dark, slicked back hair. His face is narrow but sturdy and square of jaw, his eyes flashing with the natural anger that rises from being struck sharp and hard. He launches again at Anna, and Jean thus tries to pull her toward her open van.

"Come on, come on— " murmured encouragements or reassurances or just to say anything as she staggers alongside, in Jean's partial grip. "Sir!" In its many emotions, an indistinguishable target; either a warning for a stranger or a call to attention for a potentially disconnected superior. Instincts and training— things war in a muddled mess. Jean and her purposes slip and slide up against each other; she follows the woman enough to try and get the elder inside, pushing the marred dark box on her.

Jean is almost, if not quite, as muddled, shuffling unhelpfully this way and that and trying to make sure Anna gets in first. "We're in a bit of a hurry, aren't we!" Somewhere in the midst of it all, the box tumbles inside Jean's van and opens on its side, a glint of gold glimmering in the dimness of the vehicle's grey floor like a lure, a beacon.

The man's almost as fast as he is strong, quick to make another grab, this time with one hand going for Anna's elbow. His other hand juts toward her with the calloused butt of his palm toward her stomach. His face is stitched together determination and cruel lines.

The dull, altogether too far away sound of Dominick's voice shouts ineffectually through the phone. Two syllables— Nee-ly!.

Anna's panicked shout for a foreign touch cuts off as she's rammed hard enough in the stomach to wheeze, doubling over with a frantic clasp of her hand at the open edge of the van's door. Letting herself fall back towards the vehicle's interior, she pedals a booted foot towards the indistinct vision— hers now blurry— of the man's knee. She tries to, wants to, rock sideways, grasping with the other hand for some purpose to pull herself around but the spasm fails to pass.

She can see her phone where it lies, open, on the pavement. But she can barely inhale.

The man pulls and pushes poor Jean aside on his path to Anna, dragging her out of her half-stumble into the van and onto the ground, where she immediately tries to clamber to her feet. He's smashed, in the midst, by Anna's boot — she hits the side of his knee, and he stumbles but grabs her by the shins, pushing, trying to fold her all up, stuff her in, keep her in. One van seems as good as another.

"Make yourself useful," the man spits through clenched teeth, "and help me get this door closed."

Pressing a hand to her own knee, Jean straightens, hobbling closer. "It doesn't have to go this way, lad, you needn't be so unkind," she insists in soft-spoken distress — yet she moves around the man to press her weight against sliding the door as he works on keeping the young woman in.

"Neel— ? " The distant voice cuts off.

Windmilling her ankles within the man's strength to try and keep anything between the door and its closure, Anna claws for unfamiliar curvatures within the van's interior at less than her best. Pain resounds in her paralyzed lungs; panic heightens the rest, clenching what might've helped her breath recover faster.

Jerking her chin up dislodges her baseball cap. Then, as hard as she was struggling, she lets herself be propelled in, yanking instead. A hand grapples for the driver's side headrest as she abruptly seeks to haul herself diagonally across the van's inside, driving for the front seat.

The man's mumbled curse and Jean's "oh poor dear" is nearly lost under the sounds of Anna's scrambling, the slam of the door, and the hard scrape of boots outside, running around to the driver's side door to fling it open. "She needs to come one way or another!" He's just shy of shouting. The parking lot is quiet, anyway; traffic's scarce, no one's around, and what's some impassioned shouting outside a Toronto building, on a weekend, no less? Now that her baseball cap's not in the picture, the man, leaning inside with a knee on the front seat, is grasping for her hair — that hair, so recently shorn. His other hand's fighting for purchase of something in his pocket.

Jean plasters herself against the opposite window, cupping her hands around her face against the glass. "No harm will come to you at the celebration, little bird!" She's optimistic but pleading, the struggle sincerely paining her to watch.

"Let— " It's her first breath back and, as the seat squeaks beneath her as she reaches halfway across the front nearly on mark with her assailant, Anna cuts off, deciding not to waste it except to inhale sharply against her will when her hair's targeted. Short, it slips in a grip, requiring aggression the man owns. "Nnn— sto— " NNNNNNNNNNNNK. No one in the lot, but she hammers down on the car's horn, accidental and then purposeful and then accidental again, in between clawing uneven, half growing back, nails at flesh.

The man startles, fumbling his every attempt when the horn first goes off; Jean ducks down like she expects it to shoot fire, then, from her crouched position, opens the passenger door and crawls in, shutting it behind her. "Shhh dearie," she lulls, "don't you understand you're the Conservator? It's a good thing! I don't understand why there has to be this fuss. Murray, don't hurt the poor girl!"

"Murray" is a more practical and hard-minded individual than the lady: he gives up scratching and tugging at Anna's head and shoves the back of her skull instead, wherever it may go, and flips the cap off a small, dark brown bottle. A stringent forest scent fills the vehicle, sharp and medicinal but not the drugs of modern pharmacy; it's herbal and hard to place, even as he splashes it at Anna, trying to assault her face with strong-smelling liquid that seeks to work inside her like chloroform. He's reaching for her face, her nose, he's climbing inside the van, a leather smell mingling with the rest from his vest.

NNNNNK from Anna's skull rebounding off the horn, secondary to her first desperate sob. Liquid's a strange assault and she sputters, eyes shutting dangerously as her head shakes. Murray's strong fingers against her nose, around her face, muffle a protest. In trying to push against him, she indiscriminately tries to aim for the back seat she was escaping from but she's tangled and confused. One hand shoots out and grabs for Jean's shoulder, somewhere between fighting and pleading.

On her shoulder, Jean's soft hand wraps over Anna's grip and tries to hold it there in an effort to soothe. It's such a small gesture, in the midst of the determined violence the man in the van pushes on her. His rough finger, looped with a cold metal ring, is under her nose, pushing up, trying to block her air and trap the strong fumes in; the substance is dizzying, assaulting to the lungs and persuasive: let go, let go.

Curtains sway and faces peek from her apartment building but no one comes for her.

Anna's fingers tighten compulsively against Jean's shoulder and then loosen. Frantic breathing of her panic attack being cut off leads to a second layer of panic even as that smell takes full root. Light-headed, she grabs for his fingers, for his vulnerable face— eyes— without being clearly sure where they are. Where she is. Where she's going to be, when she slackens, crammed between car seats, out of consciousness.

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