Working Class
An errand to pick up the errand girl. It's not exactly a triumphant reunion for either officer or mentor.

Grange Park, Toronto, ON, Canada


"Do you want… pants."

Unabashedly only a block behind the back of the blocky blue art school, the crisp pre-dusk death rattle of daylight defines a handful of lanky, drug-skinny bodies draped against the metal fence leading into Grange Park. A natural chill gushes down on the streets with the loss of the sun, though the base temperature holds fair enough — perhaps not quite fair enough to prescribe the dangerously high-cut shorts and skirts and comparatively low-cut necklines of these women. With the coupling, it's almost amazing that the two shreds of clothing don't cancel each other out, meeting halfway across tight torsos. One smokes, an arm laced through the fence as she stares, seemingly inattentive to customers, at the bushes inside the park's barriers; though her eyes are painted smoky, she's fervent and alert.

Though there are several pairs of questionable heels among them, none allow them to rise higher than the brunette. Five eight and plus, in her strappy black pumps, her legs are a sight and a half, with short-shorts unable to do them any good, and the soft mesh of maroon fishnets accentuating her lightly brown skin. Little mystery's a recurring theme in the wardrobe: the fingernail thin straps of her surely undersized printed tank-top flash the lace of a bra as red as her stockings, covering her breasts barely more than the neckline of the tank itself. The— fake— gold necklace's sole purpose seems to be to draw glimmering attention to the padded swell of her cleavage.

Like the others, she leans her trim form into the bars, set for waiting, batting inquisitively keen eyes at any car that dares drive even a mark under the speed limit.

Sooner or later, a car ambles along that fits the bill.

Dark, new, gleaming like a beacon under the streetlights.

The dim illumination, just enough to glint off of certain gold jewelry, reveals the car to be a deep shade of maroon. It's the kind of clean, nondescript, solid car that might make the girls a bit nervous, with their trained eyes, but it's not a Crown Vic, the former standard in unmarked police vehicles; this slick lurker could be anyone.

The dark interior tells next-to-nothing about its driver as the vehicle slides gradually up to the curb, molasses slow, its closest window — passenger side — navigating down just a quarter of the way, beckoning. C'mere.

A rustle amongst the women — like animals in the wild they speak a private language in glances, in tiny shifts of their overly exposed bodies. Only the look-out on the bushes stays uninterested. It's a miniature blonde with heels as long as her neck and breasts defiantly large that swaggers forward, pausing at the window to graciously align those breasts with the crack in the window before she glances in through.

"Don't be shy, stranger," she coos, as much invitation as subtle warning.

Through the rectangular sliver of the open window is a pair of eyes — pointed and lighter than the general dark haze around him, settled on the blonde under lazier hidden eyelids and hanging, sterner brows. The interior of the car's cut off from full view, but as a gesture of good faith, the driver buzzes the window down a few inches. That, or he wanted a better view out at the woman's graces.

In plainer view, he's wearing a rumpled, athletic jacket with white stripes up the arm. An equally sporty, over-sized grey sweatshirt is sprawled between his seat and the passenger side, which is littered with an unwelcoming array of crumbs and an empty potato chip bag.

"Oh, I'm not shy," he tosses out in what would be a playful jibe if he didn't sound so bored. He tips his head toward her — and a little to the left. "No offense but— " One hand on the wheel, he leans toward her too, gives a so-what twinge of a smile and looks out the window toward the fence, pegging the tall one. "I like brunettes. It's nothing personal. You know. Do you uh— " He winces and furrows his brow up tightly, but it's not out of any stumbling or nervousness — it's a simple stretch toward politeness, a wholly casual air threaded throughout. "You think you uh, could call your friend over? Yeah. The one with the legs."

Business is as business does; after a subtle scan of his car, the blonde shifts her weight, pink and green painted eyes lacking in offense as she twists to regard her fellow sisters. A crooked, long-nailed finger tags the brunette, who rolls herself off of the fence by her shoulders. Her crisp stalk, on those long legs, holds less natural bounce; she glides on barely-there heels, straps lacking in support, made up for in what appears to be the curvature of hard muscle in her ankles and calves. No heroin-fed twig, this one. As the blonde thrusts her arm off of the car, strutting to meet halfway, she taps her twice on the arm just above the elbow, murmuring low, "Careful— " then half a sardonic smirk, "You're gonna come out of this one smellin' like the snackfood aisle."

"Joy," the brunette's quip steals the side of her mouth, all she spares from the sultry smile drawing her in towards its intended target. Dropping from sidewalk to the spare inches of pavement between it and the car's side, her heels click in a swift one-two. From her vantage point, it takes an extra lean to tip her face towards the sliver of window, eyes deeply shaded by lashes that cloak them: the shine is on the curl of her lips, red, and the soft click of her necklace spilling out of her breasts to knock against the window akin to an invitation.

"Hey," she purrs to the car's dim interior, a naturally low voice suited to smokiness, muggy with the heat of her intention to make husky normally benign words, "What seems to be the problem?"

His window rolled up again to just a few inches, the slice of a gaze that meets the newest face is not exactly the same that was bestowed on the blonde.

For starters, he sizes her up through opaque, completely mirrored sunglasses, the style screaming 'bought at a dollar store and salvaged thirty years later at a thrift store'.

The driver pulls the ludicrous sunglasses down his nose at the same time, and the same ultra slow pace, as the electric hum of the window rolling down. He's revealed to be leaning his elbow dramatically over the steering wheel, twisted beckoningly toward her, patching their juxtaposition together like something out of an 80s music video.

" — officer," he finishes her question. "What seems to be the problem officer. Didn't I teach you better than that? Ugh." Officer Dominick Maslow throws his sunglasses abruptly onto the wide dash of the car, where they probably break. "You had to say it. It was too perfect to pass up. You had to say it and ruin my lines," he complains, utterly vague between irritated and joking. "I had a whole bit planned. Fine, whatever, get in."

"O— officer…" Dropping from between garishly painted lips, the stammer's not so much an acknowledgment of his correction as of his identity. Thickly scrunching in a quest for her eyes to meet her nose, Officer Annabelle Neely's forehead smacks the top of the car's side door, the thin thump not adequately describing the force required for her to look her training officer in the eye. "Oh gosh…" spills out below a breath, not so heated but with the hot lava of embarrassment— luckily, she's wearing too much make-up for it to show.

Bucking up with a tight swallow and little sniff from her relaxing nose, she sways back, hooking the car door to allow herself space to swing her long legs in more woodenly than the alter-ego that dressed her. Once she's engaged in sitting, her impractical shorts make a strong bid to fuse with her underwear, flashing her superior officer with the last of her he hasn't managed to see yet.

Picking self-consciously at the hem, she skirts a glance out the window; the blonde's watching. Lifting against the seat, Annabelle pulls one foot under her to turn in towards him. The other shoe crunches against the plastic of something discarded on the floor. "One girl's with a John right now," with a toss of her head far more flirtatious than the business-like composure of her tone. "Got the license."

A tiny hint of tremulousness beneath betrays her— no; it's hope. The chance that he'll take the bait and leave it at that. But resignation sits enthroned on her face. Subtle, at dusk, but there: the half-frozen expression of a woman waiting for the punchline to hit, before the inevitable wait between the next one. She's guarded, but ready to bounce.

Like her left breast, basically all red lacy bra by now.

Her — former? — mentor decisively doesn't look at her once she's secured in the car after the first once-over of all that skin Annabelle self-consciously bares. Dominick apparently doesn't care much about the other girl in the car with the john whose license she snagged, because he bypasses it completely. "It's nice to see you, Neely, just not that much of you." Actually, he doesn't sound wholly thrilled about the first part, either. The chance to pull a prank was just the silver lining.

He tosses the amorphous grey sweatshirt in her direction. In its absence from the area between the seats, voila: the technological cop gear — radio, computer — that comes part and parcel with the car is revealed.

"I see you've moved up in the world. This park is new, prime real estate you're cornering in on." A flash of a white smile at least tells of his humour, and maybe more — maybe a hint that maybe it is a little nice to see her — then: "I remember when it was hooker-free." His penchant for such jokes may not have gone anywhere, but the officer seems considerably more begrudging these days; it's in the lines on his brow, the heavier, darker hang of his eyes.

Proximity, and Dominick shuffling in his seat to dismiss the pose he'd prepared, reveal that his pants are the dark polyester of the standard police uniform and that the hem of his coat bulkily overhangs his police belt. He uncomfortably struggles out of his jacket — one layer on so many others, it must be a hundred degrees — and throws it in the back seat. The car rolls away from Grange Park. "Change of plans. You're riding with me tonight."

A twinge of regret balls up in her throat, but Annabelle's deft catch of the sweatshirt secures her acceptance of her place as the prank. Moving on. As he adjusts, she refuses to watch his undress a single bulky layer as sternly as he ignored her near naked chest: one she cloaks now, shrugging with near feline contentedness into the warm, pleasingly shapeless garb — all offset by the prompt diligence she means to apply in front of him, twisting back to face the windshield, one heel joining the other on the car carpet.

Annnd… touch-down. There it is: the joke. She's so busy staring determinedly at the re-enforced, police-grade glass, once breaking character to grope down and massage a heel-strained ankle, that flashes of white go missed. The car starting catches her by surprise and she jolts forward without a seat-belt. A palm catches her on the dashboard as she turns to him, whip-fast stirring her prettied hair where it's been done-up not in garish whore style but well, "I'm— " then back towards the vanishing horizon of prostitution.

She clearly doesn't want to argue, but confusion stirs her tongue till it spills. "Sir," 'sir' sounds like a relic from the past. Back when his humor had no strings attached to his forehead. Or when, on paper, Officer Neely was destined for a rocketing career, stinking of promise — and not cheap perfume. "If I don't show up there again tonight…" A whore-corner stake-out, addressed with as much seriousness as an international drug bust. Pursued lips spread, and her eyebrows dig individually, rocking her forehead unevenly. She crooks a thumb back, "You're going to be blacklisted from prowling that corner…"

Focused as he becomes on the same reinforced glass, Dominick doesn't see her last line coming — though he didn't express any particular concern in the first place, just a faint twitch of his eyebrow at that 'sir' — and Annabelle catches him by surprise. His mouth pulls into a smile. It butts up against a rough swathe of half-shaven facial hair and falls. "My favourite corner," he laments, deadpan. "And I'm so good at prowling. Maybe I'll drop you back off when we're done." He moves the car along the ever-busy Queen Street, his grip on the wheel tighter than it has to be.

"You know that strip in Chinatown that you were at the other day— the part with all the little massage parlours?" So vague, it's likely Annabelle knows more than he does about the incident. He just described half of Chinatown. "Well, it seems like you had a good eye for whatever was going on over there. So we're going to patrol over there." He's really excited about it, can you tell.

"Yeah." Her memory's better than his description. A few streets passed and the weight of his words sinks eventually in. Nodding succinctly, Annabelle pinches two fingers over her eyelids, securing a good clutch of lashes before she yanks them right off. "I told command I thought a couple of places were moving women instead of just hiring them," she recaps, plucking the other set of eyelashes off with quick practicality. "Honestly," a bashful, uncertain glance along her gray-robed shoulder finds him, measures the man and his stubble against an old snapshot. She risks flatly, "I thought they'd moved me to Grange just to make me be quiet about it."

A twist of one heel, then the other. She's since buckled, but she's not strictly comfortable in the seat, her shorts keeping her ever attentive — and half-wedgied. Bunching the sweatshirt up into her lap helps some. It's baggy, and she's mostly skin and muscle.

An air of duty settles over her, hands pressed slightly too stiffly— too strongly— into her lap, but nothing can lift the cling of embarrassment, lingering like a bad stench, or a ball of lint that, once plucked, always floats back.

"They might have," Dominick answers, lending no weight to his own personal opinion of the likelihood or unlikelihood, going on with a steady stream of practicality. "But command doesn't want this area to blow up with a bunch of out-of-control prostitution-related crimes and have more upstanding citizens complaining about the city's prostitution laws all over again. They probably want all the help they can get on this. And you're sharp." A compliment that doesn't get to sit long before he adds with slightly more life: "Look, they let me use a shiny car." They're almost at Kensington Market, before Chinatown, when he thinks to ask— stretched out like a foreign phrase he learned two minutes ago and paired with a hyper-speed glance at Annabelle's legs— "Do you want… pants."

Over at him, then back out. Annabelle's sharply defined gaze holds not long for any detail inside the car; she may be physically out of sorts, but no bunching or chafing will stop her from performing in the line of duty — even as strangely curly as that line may currently appear. D'Arcy… Baldwin…

If she feels his look across her red-checkered skin, it goes unmolested. She doesn't move, doesn't glance over. Scanning the Toronto night life, she replies evenhandedly, "Car that dropped me off left with my bag in it." Her tongue skips the 'purposefully' from 'left', left without pants — gun or back-up.

Dominick's already slightly dour countenance hardens. He can clue in between the lines. He doesn't voice his opinion over Officer Neely being left by her colleagues, but it's there in the stoic clench of his shadowed jaw, not taking being 'left' in the same category of joke or thrown-into-the-pit work experience lesson that he's known for. But he's quiet, except for: "You know, I think some'a those knockoff stores in Chinatown are open late." Or back to 14 Division, but they're almost at Chinatown now… "You could probably bargain 'em down to two bucks for a pair of pants." Looking like that.

And there it is, Chinatown. Buildings featuring English signage are suddenly replaced by Chinese lettering and Chinese words in English lettering. Dominick remembers to flick the police radio back on, after shutting it up lest it busted him with a prostitute earlier, and the chatter calling for a car north of here might as well be from another country. The further they roll into the neighbourhood, the more neon it becomes, signs lit up with every shade of tantalizing flashing, strobing, and animation that technology can buy, even some of the shoddiest looking storefronts boasting some manner of bright sign. The many markets and tourist-aimed gift shops are closed for the evening, causing dark gaps in the street's rows of businesses. At first the streets seem empty, but the further they get from the rest of Toronto — only seconds behind them — the livelier Chinatown becomes.

Except for one couple emerging from a dumpling house, every person on the street is Asian. Shops upon shops, one almost identical to the other, contents almost identical to designer brands but with prices like $7 instead of $70; nothing is as it seems. There's no telling if the young men milling about bicycles on the sidewalk, bandanas and hats on their heads, clothes all loose and low, laughing and arguing almost simultaneously, are just youths making a usual ruckus in the night or if they're members of one of the predominant Chinese street gangs. Just as there's no way of knowing, from an untrained eye, if the 'Holistic Massage and Spa' is a medically sound establishment or a rub-'n'-tug joint, or if the 'Exotic Massage' across the street is municipally licensed and legal or decidedly not. Then there's the vague 'Relaxing Massage'; all bets are off. Even the nearby salon advertising foot rubs, though closed, looks a little suspect given its environment.

Scooting lower in the seat, heels jammed against the front of the floor and the start of the dash's underside, Annabelle, squinting unhappily, wiggles her hand down in through the sweatshirt's gaping collar. An adjustment here and there; her shoulder trying to block the view while simultaneously squeezing an already uncomfortably pinching bra together to create a gap. After a couple of seconds, fingers surface with a small tan half-circle boasting the colorful words racktrap. A license, a couple of dollars, peek out from inside.

Self-consciousness flakes off as soon as she rises in the seat, racktrap pressed against the window, forgotten, when she turns to rap a couple of knuckles in the direction of 'Holistic Massage and Spa'. This is the job. "That's one of them."

"Subtle," Dominick says, and it's initially rather unclear if he's talking about the contraption Annabelle pulled out of— somewhere— or the 'spa' glimpsed past it through the window. The latter is a fairer bet, given the slight wry tone of his voice and the fact that the establishment is still clearly open beyond the time most actual spas bother extending business hours. He drives past, conveniently slow thanks to a van that pulls out in front of them, navigated by a tiny old man squinting to see where he's going. "Bless our elders," the officer mumbles, squinting himself to check the place out.

It looks quiet, but, again, looks can be deceiving: a lanky man loitering against its wall, first seeming homeless in the way he seems like part of the landscape, happens to be eyeing the Holistic Massage and Spa — and everyone, and every car, who so much as nears it — more than casually.

"Seen that guy before." Annabelle's memory marks targets like the sight of a rifle even in the sometimes deceiving neon glow, overlapping a thousand times. Though, the second later, where she, too, squints, nose against to the glass of the window, offers a silent maybe she fears to voice. With a slight squeak of plastic, her hand drops to the door latch, encircling it. "I didn't get the feeling," a slight flinch for the evidence weak suggestion of 'feelings', "they had cleared with the local gangs. Which could be a whole other problem for the neighborhood. Especially the girls." It holds such affection, such affiliation, as she drops her hand to loosen the door.

Her 'feeling' has solid enough reasoning behind it — all things considered, in these parts — that it goes unquestioned or poked at. This time. The older officer just gives one gigantic sigh that begrudges the entire neighbourhood at this particular minute. "The Asian Organized Crime Task Force— " it speaks volumes enough that there is such a specified task force for the area, "should be dealing with all this," he complains, only to refute himself with unfortunate logic. "They have to know there's something to know before it gets on their radar… they're so damn busy." It's a tricky area, any task force working with gangs in Chinatown. That's where they come in, patrolling for signs of trouble to report back. "… something'll probably burn down by then," he comments idly, squinting again at the sharp-eyed lurker before eyeing Annabelle's grip on the door. "You thinking of joining the holistic sex industry there, Neely?"

"Or someone." A steelier defensiveness towards Chinatown's people, utterly wiped from her face as her lips part questioningly in her turn to him. Shoulder to the window like she means to ram the barricade, she freezes with the door latch tipped down, precarious. Even the slight inching of the door lets in an ambient buzz of electricity and humid, potential heavy, air. "Uh… you want me to… ?" her head tips, eyebrows inching high for meaning over a steady gaze certain, solid, in purpose. There could be no other reason she's here than for eye-candy, whomever for, assures the make-up slathered cheekbones of the top-of-her-class constable. But what she might've completed verbally becomes lost to trailing as her eyes flicker down to the warm fit of the grey sweatshirt. "Oh…" she concludes with a sheepish tug of her mouth, flashing a couple of teeth in its wayward grimace. "Right." Grappling for the bulkier article, she yanks it up and off, re-exposing skin and bra straps.

Preoccupied with making sure the car is properly stopped and considering, Dominick and his heavy forward gaze miss any visible sign of the Annabelle's inner thought process. "You— " The movement of the grey fabric and flash of skin and red under-things might as well have smacked him in the face. He swerves his head back around and pinches the bridge of his nose, digging dull thumbs into his eyeballs.

"Christ, Neely. I'm not sending you out like that in gang territory beside a joint that might be moving girls, what the hell kind of track do they have you on? No, this is what's gonna happen. Three things." He counts them out one digit at a time now that his hand clutches the wheel again. "One, we watch this place to see what kind of traffic it's getting — in or out. Two, you're gonna buy some pants. Three, we're gonna patrol the blocks all around here. In the car. Then maybe if it seems fortuitous and I'm not too hungry for Chinese food at that point, then, maybe you can waltz out in that get up and tell me if that idiot over there is a pimp or guard-dog."

The door closes with a soft clap. Annabelle's downcast eyes are a stormy train-wreck of intersecting embarrassment— always tonight— and hope, of elevating something more than her cleavage. Sliding until her back thumps into the seat, she attempts a casual roll of her neck, cracking it twice before straightening to stare with utmost diligence out the window.

Dominick sets off to knock things off his list one by one. He doesn't start in the order he gave Annabelle — three comes first, sending them on an all and all uneventful cruise around several blocks of Chinatown. While Dominick previously expressed that Annabelle deserves to have more clothes on, he clearly hasn't experienced how uncomfortable it is to sit around for any extended period of time in short-shorts.

Suspicious activity is lurking around every corner, but it's all a bit too around the corner to nab anybody, bringing them back to the street featuring the welcoming 'Holistic Massage and Spa' sign. It looked quiet before; it looks quieter now, the lurker out of sight. As soon as they become reacquainted with the street, the electric sign turns off.

He parks up the street a distance; the 'spa' is well in their sights, but far enough away that the returned presence of the new maroon car shouldn't draw too much attention. It also happens to be in front of one of the small 'designer' clothing stores, its storefront window easily admitting a view of neatly organized racks. Distracted momentarily by digging his phone out to eye it irately, he snaps to attention to comment, glancing the way of the dimmed 'spa', "Looks like it's going to be a quiet night. We'll sit on the place for awhile." He bobs his head toward the store, giving Annabelle a vague, brow-raised expression. Pants, right?

An eyebrow as good as one of the neon signs still blinking non-discreetly in the vicinity. To his vaguest notion, Annabelle's off on the cue, hauling back on the door latch and excusing herself out onto the fashion miracle of heels thinner than a slice of finger. Legs unfurl first— the long stretch of skin and fishnet sweeping out from street to the cut-off of the car door as if a reel stolen right out of a film. Lithe, she rises, from strap-cradled ankle to knee, thigh, and— the lumpy mediocre gray of the sweatshirt she put back on during the around-the-block.

It's gotten progressively chillier, and she's not out here to make an impression — yet; instead, she creates two disjointed ones. Anyone watching her unfold out of the car, cash in hand, would have plenty of fuel for assumption. Luckily, it's quiet. Fortunate, too, since she desperately needs to peel her shorts out of her crotch.

Under the shade of her silky hair, she spares a glance towards the so-called spas as she strides, sans stripper swagger, for the knock-off store. 'Quiet' nights aren't always so kind to certain businesses.

Dominick doesn't witness the majority of Annabelle's escape from the car or the escape of her shorts from anywhere else. It's not that he can't multi-task while keeping an eye on the shady building — he's doing just that with his phone, instead.

As the half-scantily-clad police officer makes her way to the store, a trio of the young men who had been hanging around earlier saunter down the street. Their presence alerts Dominick to a different split of attention; with Annabelle out and about such as she is, she's unfortunately a prime target for unwanted attention. He knows the cocky swagger of the youths all too well; they could be the kind of violence-fueled kids who think they own the street and everything on it.

It's not Annabelle they beeline for. As three, they cut across the street to the sidewalk opposite. Who cares about late-night jaywalking — they're headed for the dimmed Holistic Massage and Spa. Dominick freezes inside the car, eyes pinned sternly. They vanish into the garbage-choked alley.

Only seconds later, the distant crash of glass rings out, muffled by a passing car stereo in the next instant.

Dominick skeptically climbs out of the vehicle.

With a click-clack, and high ping of a store bell, Annabelle returns to the streets from whence her clothes belong. Pantsless, she must've heard the disturbance, though her head cocks aimlessly without an affirmed origin. Swiftly do eyes catch Dominick's presence outside of the vehicle, and solid the stare waiting for instruction.

Dominick's car door shuts slowly behind him. Instruction is waylaid, then promptly sped up, by the stream of smoke that begins to gradually snake out from the back of the alley, winding and curling like a living thing. A sharp pop of glass cracking from heat strikes through the street as loudly as a gunshot. "Arm yourself, follow me," he instructs, pressing a button on his key-chain to pop the trunk of the car for Annabelle to access the small, standard armory within. He's jogging off ahead, twisting the small radio on his uniform's shoulder up to his mouth. "10-17 requested at Dundas West— " His voice is lost to the thump of his boots and the hum of late-night traffic.

The alley is becoming thick with smoke, but only above his head; he jogs under the trail of it to where the alley opens into a cramped corner on the left, fenced on either side of the building, housing trash bins and a purposeless window facing a wall. Purposeless, until now; something's clearly been tossed through. Flames lick the broken glass.

Arriving at the trunk sounding more like a tap-dancer than a cop, Annabelle's second priority fashions into her swinging her foot up onto the car back to yank on the strap. A shooting look at the billowing smoke sacrifices the second shoe; she snaps the thin black with a forceful twist, countenance stony to the wisp of concern in her eye rising as fast as the fire.

A Browning pistol's barely made it past the line before the trunk slams shut; safety's checked on the move. Jogging along onto the grimy alley of Chinatown on the mesh of fishnet, she hoofs it towards Dominick's new location. A cop and a prostitute walk into an alley… except now the prostitute's packing, and neither does she remain in a holding position, skimming along the alley, glancing back towards the front entrance in a needy but responsible pattern. "The girls— "

That there's no proof there's any inside fails to mar the conviction in her voice.

Dominick thrusts a hand out, his non-gun hand, weapon drawn. "Glass," is his blase warning; it scatters the pavement around his more protected feet. Every movement quick, not wasting time, the older officer eyes the window critically. His hardening expression, weighing options he'd rather not have to weigh, is just short of frowning. "The kids must've jumped the other fence 'n' ran." It's possible he could still catch them if he started running right now, but Annabelle's point is too damn solid. "Looks like the fire's just in the back room there." So far.

He takes off back up the alley.

The front door of the building cold pose a barricade— at least, a delay— but the second they reach it, it all but hits them in the face. A small, older Chinese woman in business attire rushes out, followed by two younger women, all in a tornado of rapid, alarmed chatter. No smoke streams out of the open door, which is a good sign; the dim interior glows a faint red all its own, ornate lamps shining through red glass shades on on lily-white walls, no sign of the burning cocktail. Dominick's "Is there anyone el— " is cut off by a panic-stricken string of Chinese, head-shaking, and waving of hands.

Not good enough. With a nod to the mismatched gun 'n' fishnets sight that is Officer Neely, he takes the lead on heading inside.

She enters behind him, pursued by compounding contradictions: she holds a gun half-mast, with a finger straightened off of the trigger. With difficulty, she keeps her pace from getting erratic, holding off on charging ahead with rattled willpower. Sharp eyes jump to each each of the place, trying to stay thorough even with a ticking— or rather, smoking— time-bomb. Checking, too, if haze appears, and where from. For the first few steps she minces, but then manages to ease into a regular gait through forceful prioritization. "The back— there," she surmises over a growing crackle of noise; supplies expanding in the heat of the fire.

And the door. Could it be behind the fire? Behind something they can't move themselves? It could be hidden.

A cycle funneling through her head, whirling as a storm-cloud above straight-forward police work. She trusts her superior officer; she follows him.

The air is warm, but it's only the normal, stifled atmosphere within the small building. So far, it's clear, although the eyes like to play tricks in the dim lighting meant to do just that. Dominick runs for the door at the back; from there can be seen doors to the left and right as well, half-open, revealing glimpses of pretty decor and massage tables — none of it on fire. He exercises caution with the door handle, hovering his hand near it before twisting. It's safe — he leads the way again. "Let's hope it doesn't get too hot!" Double-meaning. Fiery and troublesome. Plus, if it gets too risky, they'll have to sit on their hands and wait for the fire department.

A tiny, unlit office crammed with the usual desk and office supplies greets the police. Straight ahead, another door, tightly secured, practically painted shut; a haze seeps out weakly from beneath, not even enough to cough over.

A stream is slowly beginning to creeping up, however, through one of the floor's small, metal floor vents. If there's a vent in the next room, the smoke's flooding it. It's going down. And that's where the first scream comes from.

Annabelle arrows straight for the grate like she's been attached to it by a cord; pulled, she ducks to the vent, shouting, "Stay calm, stay low." If there's smoke, they have twenty minutes. If there's full-fledged fire— less. "Do you know where the door is?"

Not willing to bet on it, nor that they can hear her, she's up like a shot.

Stay calm. It applies to the officer as well. While her jaw tightens against a thick swell in her throat repulsed by the noise of screaming, she begins to case the room systematically from a corner down, blinking into a sitting mist of pre-smoke for creases in the wall or on the floor that indicate heavy object movement, or extra paneling. Swinging an arm behind her, she lodges the borrowed gun into the waistline of pants barely longer than the pistol's barrel, freeing her arms to wrap around suspect furniture.

The filing cabinet is guilty. The stocky hunk of metal isn't as heavy as it looks — paperwork, not high on the priority list. Behind it a narrow door, its upper half hidden by a large fabric hanging scroll painted with Chinese phrases.

Keeping his attention doggedly between on the more threatening door and Annabelle's progress — which he does not interrupt, a silent encouragement that she might as well go on — Dominick states a few select updates into his radio. "FD's on its way."

Twenty minutes — nineteen… — left for the girls down below. The firetruck would arrive on time. Sure.

A furl of smoke thicker and more acrid than the last rises from the vent. "Nah, back away, Neely!" he decides, choking back the urge to cough. "We'll let the fire guys handle it!" It's a begrudging decision; his brows are pinched harshly down for it; there's no doubt that he'd rather rush down, like Annabelle, and free those women from their smoky prison— but …


Another anxious scream from below. A female shouts and cries, followed by the angry, berating voice of a male above a clatter and violent thud.

"Never mind." Dominick surges straight for the not-so-hidden door along with Annabelle.

Heaving and dragging, fingers bent around the file cabinet's sparse purchases, the female officer's scraped room behind for her slim shoulder, so bare and unhindered by the bulkiness of a uniform. She's already rolled the encumbering sweatshirt down off her upper arm on one side, letting it hang unevenly, sleeve draping over her hand for a layer of protection between her and potentially heated contacts. Not even a hiccup for the moments she was called off; maybe she couldn't hear over the stutter of her own breathing, kept so far to just a harder than normal clearing of her throat.

Annabelle rams her shoulder and back into the filing cabinet with braced feet till her reaching hand— tests— then grasps the handle. A singular, tentative, instant. Smoke seeks any point to rise, and stairs—

It seems arrogant that the door's not locked. Annabelle doesn't linger on it. As soon as the twist occurs, she yanks, door mashing into cabinet, but the sliver's fair game for her slender figure. She slinks through and, mostly barefoot, hits the first step. Sweeping her hand behind her once she's balanced on the other side, she reclaims a handle on the gun, marking that male voice. The other hand rises to press the shielding cotton of sweatshirt against her mouth to stifle the noise wanting to hack out of her as the air thickens and crackles headily.

Quiet slaps of skin on stone— a flight— and then she's on a concrete floor in a basement once used to explain what 'dingy' and 'damp' mean, now engulfed in a contrary fight against flames. None flare up, immediately visible. A pathetic mattress lies like a disease victim, crumpled against one wall, waiting to be consumed.

It banks into a corner ahead: a doorway without a door. Something else, to which Anna approaches expediently, is keeping them inside.

It doesn't take a knowledge of the Chinese language to understand that the women trapped inside are being blamed for the fire— for the whole situation, against every ounce of logic. The voice reaching Annabelle, the man's rambling, enraged— he, himself, a trapped animal. Maybe he was too spooked by the smoke to try the door. Maybe he approached only to hear the cops shuffling around. Either way, there's no good conclusion. The place is burning. The cops are here.

He paces into the open doorway with his back turned to the quiet-footed officer, all angles and stringy hair. He's a lanky figure.


A huddle of women, all on the floor, all wearing clothes not unlike Annabelle's, all scared, none possibly over twenty-two, cringe up at him between coughing fits. A metal pipe, some piece of the basement itself, is caught in an irritated grasp of his hand, swinging back and forth.

Dominick is behind his colleague of the night, keeping a fair pace back. His steps proceed more slowly; he, and his boots, are heavier, and he only has a polyester, insignia-clad bicep to bury his mouth and nose in as refuge against the increasingly permeating smoke.

The Chinese man hasn't spotted either of them yet. He's too busy listening to the sound of his own voice.

In a narrow second, Annabelle decides: no one can spare being slowed down by injury or extra weight. For a second time, she holsters the gun behind her back, lodged between thready jeans and the teeny strap of the thong she never expected to bill as 'work'. Flowing fluidly up as she steps strongly in behind the suspect, her arms leap around his front, encircling him against his pits. In a swift follow-through, both of her arms swerve around his back, thrusting his arms in an ungainly manner up and out, hands useless, while her own clasp securely behind his neck.

A push down urges him to submit, as does the shouted, "Police," entreats him to be smart and not fight. In the same instant, her chin jerks, eyes automatically seeking the trapped girls.

A wave of tenuous relief wash over the girls, followed by scattered, nervous reactions throughout the group: scared, thankful, wary of the police even now. It's ingrained.

Dominick plays catch-up in a few solid jogging strides. He gets down on a knee beside Annabelle and the man who, despite logic — not his strong suit in the heat of the moment, it would seem — does struggle. It's a pointless battle. The male officer swoops in to cuff him, but pauses before the act. Any adrenaline fading now that Dominick seems to feel more or less confident that they're in the clear (even if the air is not), his shrug is idle, casual. "Your guy, your collar," he says in the tone of half-heartedly arguing a fair point, or a eh, might as well. To him, it's nothing special. It's just logic. At least he has it. "You got 'im— ?" He gives the guy an additional shove to stay still.

Five eight of legs and muscle keeps the man's illogical struggles pretty much at bay. She throws her shoulder into it expectantly when Dominick approaches. To the gleaming offer of the handcuffs, her head tosses back, bangs flapping, "Yeah," as brief, if not as throw-away. Annabelle secures a knee against the man's forced arch of a back, supplying replacement for the hand she looses to snatch the cuffs. "I've always wanted to arrest someone in fishnets. Get them out of here." Seamless from stale joke to seriousness; the huskiness now in her voice far less sultry, interrupting in beats.

"You mean you haven't already?" A straight-voiced question indistinguishable between jest and, seriously, asking, given how much time she apparently spends in the fashion. Dominick gets up, hurrying to guide the women, some of whom are already teetering up to high-tail it toward the stairs.

"God-damn scum." His words, on the way past, are directed at the man on the floor now, or, at least, they're about him, unpleasant representation of humanity that he is— one of many met, in a job like this, and maybe that's why his voice lacks fire. Seen it once, seen it fifty times, sooner or later it's just a depressing truth of the world. Or he's just tired and hasn't gotten his Chinese food yet.

The group from the basement and the firefighters incoming nearly collide in the cramped office above and get cough-punctuated assurances from Dominick that everyone, as far as they know, are safe, and they can clear the girls out.

A blue-and-white from their division is parked outside as back-up, as much as to see what's going on and watch flames lick up from the back of the building, after an evidently unsuccessful attempt to track down the gang kids — their back seat is empty, until the hang-faced Chinese man is escorted to its unceremonious caged throne. Quite possibly, they have Neely's pants in their trunk. Now they ought to be eating their own.

The paramedics waiting outside — somehow, missing this perp walk by a woman in a sweater and fishnets — try to herd Officer Neely up with the uneasy bunch of girls, which is roundabout the time Officer Maslow strolls up, hands on his belt, smirking with an amusement that then disappears. Before he can say a thing, the not-so-quaint Holistic Massage and Spa goes up in a bigger burst of flames — something from that locked back room clearly combustible and spreading the fire. Over the organized chaos of the fire crew communicating with their guys inside to switch tactics, and after the narrowing of Dominick's eyes at it all, he turns again to Annabelle and says, "Glad to see you're not too rusty out here on the real job, Neely," unlike his ability to give warming compliments.

It's not easy to be discreet while constantly pulling the hem of your shorts down; so Annabelle is not discreet, though she's since discovered that the sweatshirt is better cover, easier to tug without a show. Nearly barefoot, she rocks back onto her heels, looking distinctly pointless after being shooed from personally checking in on every single one of the rescued girls — everyone saw how well that turned out. Grimacing at the climbing wall of crackling smoke, she responds merely, "Sir," in blank acknowledgment.

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