Title: To Catch a Thief
Author: Ann
Feedback address: darandkerry@yahoo.com
Date in Calendar: 8 December 2006
Fandom: Karen Sisco
Pairing: Karen/Marley
Rating: PG
Summary: The FBI asks Karen for help in capturing an elusive jewel thief, but neither the request nor the result was what she was expecting.
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DW06

Disclaimer: Karen Sisco and its all characters are property of Jersey Television. No infringement intended.

Note: Written exclusively for the FemSlash Advent Calendar::Dead of Winter 2006.

Special Thanks: To Debbie for the beta and wonderful suggestions, but especially for providing a much needed sounding board.

To Catch a Thief
by Ann

“Karen, Amos wants you in his office ASAP,” Phil informed his colleague. “And a word of warning, there are a couple of FBI agents with him.”

Cringing, Karen asked, “Do you have any idea what it’s about?”

“No, I’m just glad it’s you and not me,” Phil offered with one of his patented little boy grins.

Glaring at the other marshal, Karen stood and began the short walk to her superior’s office, wondering what the rest of the afternoon had in store for her.

“Karen, this is Agent Morris and Agent Carrington. They’d like to talk to you about one of their cases. It seems they believe you can help them persuade Detective Novak to work with the FBI for the next few weeks or so,” Amos explained to the marshal the moment she stepped into the room.

Karen almost stumbled at the mention of Marley’s name, but she schooled her emotions and walked further into the room. Taking a seat in an unoccupied chair, she turned her attention to the agents.

“If you want Detective Novak’s help, then you should be talking to her and not me,” Karen said in a controlled voice while thousands of butterflies were making valiant attempts to leap out of her stomach.

Agent Morris frowned at her response and moved to the nearby window. Staring out at the city, he replied, “This is a very touchy matter, Marshal Sisco, and frankly, I’m not in favor of enlisting an outsider’s help, even if she is a member of the law enforcement community. The problem is that we have no other choice. Every one of our efforts to infiltrate a suspected thief’s inner circle has failed, and Sergeant Novak is our only hope.”

“And again I ask. Why are you talking to me instead of Novak?” Karen questioned the man, clearly confused with where the conversation was heading.

Agent Carrington looked at the marshal and replied, “Like I said, it’s a very sensitive subject, and we think it would be better if a friend approached the detective. When you hear the whole story, I think you’ll agree.”

Nodding her head for the agent to continue, Karen sat motionless in her chair while Agent Carrington detailed the situation. Several times, she had to bite down on her tongue to keep from asking the agent if he was truly insane, and when he finally finished, a long, heated debate ensued. Against her better judgment, and only after the agents had eventually agreed to her terms, did Karen agree to talk to Marley.

Leaving Amos’ office, a mentally exhausted Karen headed straight for home. She had developed a severe migraine talking with the agents and had decided to take a quick nap before talking to Marley. So, on arriving home, she’d gone directly to the couch, pulled off her shoes, and settled down to sleep.

An hour later, deep in slumber, Karen never heard the key in the door nor the steps of her lover moving to sit on the edge of the coffee table. She only opened her eyes when she felt the faint brush of fingers across her cheek, and Karen looked up at the smiling face.

“Hey sweetie, you didn’t answer your phone so I thought I’d drop by to check on you. Are you feeling ill?” Marley Novak asked in obvious concern.

Closing her eyes, Karen leaned into the touch and silently wished she had never met Agents Morris and Carrington. Why did her professional life always have to interfere with her personal one? Why couldn’t she be Marshal Sisco during the day and just Karen at night?

Knowing better than to prolong the inevitable, Karen slowly sat up on the couch and motioned for her lover to sit next to her. Once the lovers were settled, she recounted her meeting with the agents.

“I’ve got a very interesting proposition for you, courtesy of the FBI. They’ve asked me to approach you and discuss the possibility of you working for them to catch a suspected jewel thief. It seems they’ve tried using undercover female FBI agents, but none of them could get anywhere near the suspect. Due to a particular situation in your background, the FBI believes you would have no problem infiltrating the thief’s circle of friends,” Karen explained as she leaned her head on her lover’s shoulder.

Silence ensued until Marley finally asked, “And exactly what situation might that be?”

Karen reached over and lovingly took Marley’s hand in hers. Looking down at their joined hands, she replied, “Your college roommate is the thief’s lesbian lover. She recently moved to Miami and bought a club near the beach where the two spend most of their time. None of the FBI agents were able to befriend the couple, but Agent Carrington seems to believe that you may be able to rekindle an old friendship.”

In a very small voice, Marley asked, “Joan Arnold is in Miami?”

If Karen hadn’t been so close, she would’ve never been able to hear the hurt so clearly projected in her lover’s whispered voice. Suddenly, realizing the significance of this former roommate, Karen found yet another reason to curse the FBI and their plan.

“Marley, is Joan the woman who hurt you so badly?” Karen asked softly, matching her partner’s tone.

No reply was forthcoming; however, Karen detected the slight nod of Marley’s head, confirming her suspicions about the Arnold woman, and she made a silent vow to make sure Joan was prosecuted to the full extent of the law for any and all crimes the marshal could charge her with.

Realizing that Marley wasn’t going to add to the conversation, Karen decided to continue explaining the details of the plan. Maybe her lover would be able to focus on the aspects of the possible assignment instead of her first love. Karen quickly adjusted their positions so that Marley’s head was now resting on her shoulder before beginning her explanation.

“Agent Carrington wants you to team up with one of his agents and pretend to be a couple. His plan is for you and her to go to the club and find a way to casually run into your ex. He doesn’t care how many times you have to frequent the club as long as you make contact with Joan Arnold and her partner. Agent Morris figures she would want to talk about old times, and then, the agent could look for anything that would incriminate her lover,” Karen briefly outlined the FBI’s plan to catch their suspect.

Marley appeared to be contemplating the plan until, suddenly; she stood and bolted off the couch, leaving a stunned Karen sitting alone. Moments later, Karen went after her lover and found her in the bathroom, hunched over the toilet. Quickly wetting a washcloth, she moved to sit on the floor next to Marley, holding her lover’s hair back and waiting for the vomiting to stop.

Spent, Marley rested her head on the edge of the toilet seat, and Karen gently wiped her lover’s face and neck with the cool cloth. Several minutes later, a shaky Marley was able to climb to her feet and rinse her mouth out with water at the nearby sink.

Karen placed her arm around Marley’s waist and assisted her lover to her bed, and lying down beside her, she pulled her near. Whispering words of comfort, Karen was soon able to soothe her lover into a peaceful sleep; the marshal, however, remained vigilant, trying to figure out the best way to diplomatically tell the FBI to go to hell.

After disposing of several different possibilities, Karen finally settled on just telling the agents ‘no’; actually, she’d decided on ‘hell no’ when she realized she couldn’t tell them to fuck off, but that was just a case of semantics. Satisfied with her decision, Karen closed her eyes and joined her lover in the land of slumber.

When the marshal awoke later, she found herself in the dark and alone. Cursing herself for falling asleep, she hurried into the dimly lit den where she found Marley sitting on the couch flipping through the television channels. Karen stood watching the detective for several minutes before finally walking around the sofa.

“Hey, why didn’t you wake me?” Karen softly asked her lover.

Extending her hand in invitation to join her on the couch, Marley replied, “You needed the sleep. I know you had a migraine earlier, but I kind of took center stage with my upchucking. Good thing I had some spare clothing over here because the shower I took while you were resting was just what the doctor ordered. I think I can safely talk about the FBI’s plan now without puking my guts out.”

Karen didn’t hesitate crawling into the detective’s arms and lightly kissed her lips. Smiling, she said, “I’m glad you’re doing better, but I still think we should tell the agents to take their plan and shove it.”

“Oh, I’d love to, but I really need to do this. I’ve managed to avoid Joan for the past fifteen years, and all that’s accomplished is to make the hurt grow and fester, as evidenced by my earlier reaction to the news that she’s in town. It’s high time that I faced her, although, I’d rather it not be on the arm of a fake partner, but there’s nothing I can do about that aspect of the plan.”

“You won’t be,” Karen answered cryptically.

“I won’t be what?” Marley asked in confusion.

Turning to face her lover, Karen replied, “On the arm of a fake partner. *I’m* going to be your partner in this plan.”

Surprised, Marley questioned, “How in the world did you manage to talk the FBI into an operation where no agents are involved?”

“I pointed out that it would be obvious that the agent wasn’t from Miami, and the suspect might be suspicious. I also explained how you and I have worked together on several cases, and that we’ve become close friends,” the marshal responded while snuggling closer to her lover.

“Did you explain how close?” Marley asked, pulling Karen impossibly closer and sliding her hand under her lover’s shirt to rub her back.

“Oh, that feels good. Um, no, I didn’t let on that we are extremely close, but I did suggest that you move in with me to complete the illusion,” Karen moaned her reply.

Smiling, Marley said, “You mean we get to play house for real without worrying about what anyone will think?”

Climbing off her lover, Karen extended her hand and responded, “That’s exactly what I mean, and there’s no time like the present to start taking advantage of this little assignment.”

Taking the marshal’s hand, Marley happily followed her lover into the bedroom.

The next morning, the two women reported directly to Amos’ office where Agents Morris and Carrington briefed them on the assignment. Karen and Marley were to report back in a couple of days to discuss each encounter with the suspect and her lover; it was also decided that the marshal and detective would take no action against the couple, but instead, just report all suspicious behavior.

“Okay, ladies, tonight is the night. We can’t afford for you to blow it. You’ve got to be convincing as a couple. Do you think you’re ready?” Agent Morris asked the women.

“Agent, when Marley and I enter that club, everyone is going to think we’ve been an item for months,” Karen promised the skeptical man.

Marley could only nod in agreement as she was busy biting on the corner of her lip to keep from laughing.

At eight o’clock sharp, the two women pulled into a space across from the club, and Karen turned toward her lover. “You sure you’re ready for this?”

“Honestly, I’m not entirely sure, but having you here makes it a lot less scary,” Marley replied, taking Karen’s hand in hers.

“Okay, let’s do it,” Karen offered, and the two women climbed out of their car and crossed the street hand in hand.

Entering the club, Karen turned toward the bar and found a couple of seats at the far end where they would both be in position to see anyone approaching. Marley breathed a sigh of relief when she realized that she would more than likely be able to spot Joan before Joan could spot her.

Karen ordered them both a beer, and the bartender nodded as she moved to the other side of the bar. Whispering into her lover’s ear, Karen teased, “The prerequisite to work here must be stunning good looks. The bouncer and the waitresses are gorgeous, but our bartender is a real looker.”

Grabbing her lover’s hand, Marley cautioned, “Well, you’d better make sure you only look.”

“No problem, my dear. I only have eyes for you,” Karen replied as Marley rolled her eyes at her lover’s uncharacteristic sappy tone.

“Well, as I live and breathe, if it isn’t Marley Novak,” a voice boomed from over the detective’s shoulder.

Marley immediately tensed and gripped Karen’s hand tightly, relaxing only when Karen placed her free hand on her lover’s thigh. Swiveling her stool, the detective came face to face with the woman who had broken her heart almost a lifetime ago.

Dressed in a tight fitting black t-shirt tucked into a pair of faded jeans, Joan appeared to a patron of the club instead of the owner; however, she still looked as hot as ever. There was no sign of gray in her dark hair despite the fact that she was several years older than the detective and nearing the dreaded milestone of forty. Just as they always had, her deep green eyes looked right into Marley’s soul.

Grinning, Joan asked, “Aren’t you going to say anything, string bean?”

Marley cringed inwardly at her old nickname but managed to keep a straight face and reply, “Hello, Joan. How’ve you been since you graduated and kicked me to the curb?”

Karen silently applauded her lover for not only remaining cool, calm, and collected, but also for the ease in which she answered her old flame. The sarcasm was appreciated as well and wasn’t lost on the other woman either.

“Oh, please. Tell me you didn’t really think I was going to stick around waiting for you when I had my whole life in front of me. Besides, if you recall, you weren’t the only fish in my sea back in those days,” the tall brunette responded as she motioned the bartender over to their side of the bar.

Before Marley could reply to the comment, the bartender had made her way over to them, and Joan didn’t waste any time laying one on the woman, who in turn, gave back as good as she got. The battle of tongue hockey lasted several minutes before Joan finally released the other woman’s lips. Gazing into the bartender’s eyes, she stroked her face lovingly and asked for a beer in a sweet, sexy voice.

Karen and Marley watched the exchange carefully, each wondering if the bartender was the suspected jewel thief, or if Joan was still the same two-timing bitch from her college years.

“So Marley, what brings you to Miami?” The club owner asked in a casual tone as if the kissing display she had just put on was an everyday occurrence which Karen believed was probably not too far from the truth.

Remembering how the FBI agents wanted her to answer, Marley calmly replied, “I live here. I’m a detective with the Miami police department, and this is my partner, Karen. She’s with the US Marshal’s office. So, the question is, what brings you to Miami?”

Throwing her head back, Joan let out a rich, full-bellied laugh, clearly amused at Marley’s response. Her mirth finally trickled down to a chuckle, and she countered, “Oh Marley, I see you’re still as direct as ever. I’m not a bit surprised you chose to go into law enforcement; everything was always black and white to you.”

The arrival of Joan’s beer put a halt on the current conversation, but she invited Marley and Karen to join her at a table in the corner. Kissing the bartender once again, she said, “Baby, when Pam gets here, come join us.” The woman known only as ‘Baby’ agreed, and the detective and marshal followed the club owner to the other side of the establishment.

Joan took the seat against the wall, leaving Marley and Karen no other choice but to take the chairs which would put their backs to the activities of the club. Both women reluctantly settled into their seats, and Marley rephrased her earlier question.

“So, why Miami?”

Grinning, Joan replied, “It’s well known that the older folks come here to retire, so why should they have all the fun? Besides, I love the climate and the beach, the club is doing great, and I’ve got a nice sized boat docked at the local marina. What more could a person ask for?”

“Retirement? You’re kidding,” Marley replied, intrigued that a woman like Joan would be satisfied to live out her life in one place.

Turning uncharacteristically serious, Joan responded, “No, actually I’m not. In fact, you’re going to be happy to know that the wish you made the day I walked away from you is finally coming true; I’m dying.”

A stunned and speechless Marley watched as the bartender joined them and took the seat next to her former lover. The two women shared a sweet kiss before Joan turned her attention back to her guests.

“Marley, I’d like for you to meet the love of my life, Angela. She’s the only woman who’s been able to tame me after all these years. We’ve been together for five glorious years,” Joan introduced her partner with a smile.

Marley snapped out of her dazed state and offered greetings to the other woman; thankfully, she had the presence to introduce Karen, too. The four women chatted briefly about the city, but no mention was made of Joan’s earlier revelation until Angela was called back to the bar.

Smiling sadly, Joan said, “Thank you for not asking any questions about my health while Angela was here. She’s really having a tough time accepting it. In fact, if it were up to her, we’d still be flying from state to state and country to country looking for a cure. I can’t tell you how much money we’ve wasted in hopes that some doctor somewhere would offer us a different medical opinion.”

Noticing how her lover was struggling with the news, Karen took the initiative and asked, “What’s your prognosis?”

Sighing, Joan shrugged and replied, “I’ve got an inoperable brain tumor, and not one damn doctor can give me a definite time frame. Basically, I’ve got anywhere from six months to two years. Now you can see why I wanted to find someplace to settle down and enjoy whatever time I have left.”

Clasping her hands together, Joan added, “Okay, enough of the morbid talk. Why don’t you two join me for dinner? I’m sure Angela can use a break, and I’d really like to visit with you and catch up on old times. We haven’t made any friends since we’ve arrived in Miami, and I’d like to think that we could bury the hatchet and start again as friends. What do you say, Marley?”

Karen squeezed Marley’s hand letting her know that she’d go along with whatever the detective decided. Marley returned the squeeze and replied, “That’d be great.”

A smiling Joan excused herself to make the necessary arrangement, leaving the two women alone at the table, and Karen took the opportunity to check on her lover.

“Are you okay, honey?”

Marley turned to her lover and said, “I’m absolutely floored. Here I was prepared to go on hating this woman for the rest of my life, and I find myself feeling guilty for making that remark so many years ago. I never meant that I wanted her to die, Karen. I was just so upset and hurt that she was leaving me.”

Moving her chair closer to the other woman, Karen made an attempt to reassure her lover. “Marley, Joan knows that. I think it was the only way she knew to break the news to you. She doesn’t seem like the type to want anyone to feel sorry for her so I think her use of humor and sarcasm gets her through the whole ordeal.”

“I know. It’s just that I can’t believe she’s dying. I always thought she would be the one person to figure out a way to cheat death,” the detective replied, shaking her head as if in denial.

Deciding to temporarily distract her lover from her current mood, Karen glanced around and whispered, “I’m willing to bet if Angela really is the person the FBI is looking for, she fenced the goods and used the money to pay for Joan’s consultations.”

“Shit. I had forgotten all about the case,” Marley answered in an apologetic tone.

“That’s understandable, but we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do about Angela,” Karen explained to her lover while watching the woman in question serve a patron at the bar a long-neck beer.

“Oh, Karen, can’t we just tell the agents we don’t want to do this anymore? I don’t want to be responsible for taking away Joan’s lover just when she needs her the most.”

Pacifying the detective, Karen offered, “Why don’t we enjoy our meal and discuss things when we get home?” Marley smiled at the mention of their temporary living arrangement and agreed with the marshal’s suggestion.

The four women enjoyed both the meal and the conversation during the next few hours, and they even made plans to go out on the boat the next day. As the marshal and detective were leaving, Joan asked Marley if she could ever forgive her, and Marley replied that she already had. The two women embraced each other, and neither could control their emotions as the tears slowly slid down their respective cheeks.

The drive back to Karen’s house was made in silence, but the marshal maintained contact with her distraught lover through touch. The minute the two women stepped inside the house, Marley finally fell completely apart, and Karen was there to pick up the pieces as she slid to the floor with her lover, holding her tightly and whispering words of comfort.

Thirty minutes later, Karen helped Marley from the floor and wrapped an arm around her as she ushered her into the bedroom. Removing her lover’s clothes, she pulled the covers back, and the detective crawled under the sheets without protest. Quickly divesting herself of her own clothing, Karen climbed in behind Marley and took her protectively into her arms. Sheer exhaustion overtook both women, and sleep finally prevailed.

The next morning found the two women entwined together. Karen was the first to rouse, and she smiled when she noted that she could barely tell where she began and Marley ended. When her lover awoke a short time later, Karen took advantage of their position to remind the detective just how much she cared for her.

Hours later, they both re-awakened at the same time, and neither expressed a strong desire to get out of bed, but the two reluctantly decided to have some breakfast before meeting Joan and Angela at the marina. Kissing her lover, Karen offered to whip up a couple of omelets while Marley took her shower. The detective gratefully accepted with yet another kiss.

Their timing was perfect as they pulled into the marina just as Joan and Angela were getting out of their car. Noting the older model SUV, Karen made a mental note to pay close attention to the other two women’s jewelry, clothing, and general assets. If her suspicions were correct, most of the women’s money truly did go toward Joan’s medical expenses.

All four boarded a sailboat that had definitely seen years of use, and despite a brief stint of what could only be described as uncomfortableness, it didn’t take long for the two couples to relax and enjoy an afternoon of sailing.

Marley couldn’t get over how much Joan had changed. Of course, the combination of aging and finding out she was dying had to have been an eye opener for her old lover, but Marley chose to believe that Joan would have voluntarily made the changes in her life despite the outside influences.

The couples parted company at dusk and promised to get together for dinner the next evening. Karen and Marley picked up a pizza on the way home so that they could sit and relax before discussing each other’s thoughts of the day.

The empty pizza box and soda cans sat prominently on the coffee table while the two women stretched out on the couch. The taller Marley lay with her back to the sofa, holding the shorter Karen in front of her. A comfortable silence ensued with each woman reflecting on their afternoon with Joan and Angela.

“Marley, I’ve been thinking. The medical expenses Joan has incurred would have to be astronomical. What if Angela did commit the crimes, but only to fund Joan’s treatment and subsequent medical consultations? Other than the club, the two of them don’t seem to be living high on the hog. In fact, it’s just the opposite; they appear to be living within their means. I think we should look into their financials tomorrow,” Karen suggested to her lover.

Moving her head to rest against Karen’s, Marley asked, “What are we going to tell the feds? We’re supposed to meet with them tomorrow, remember?”

“I’ll call Amos and postpone the meeting until the next day to give us some time to do a little digging. I don’t want to tell those guys anything until we know more about the situation,” Karen explained. Turning her head, she took advantage of her partner’s position to initiate a soft kiss which quickly escalated into much more, and soon, both women were on their way to the bedroom, leaving the pizza carton and empty cans behind.

By the time, they met up with Joan and Angela for dinner, a much clearer picture had been painted. Before the illness, both women had done very well for themselves, and the first couple of doctor’s visits had barely put a dent in their finances. It was on the third visit when the gap in the records became obvious. The insurance company was still kicking in their portion of the costs, but there was no record anywhere of the couple dipping into their accounts to pay the remaining cost. It seemed that the different doctor’s filed the insurance claim and received the company’s payment; however, it appeared that the remainder of the cost was not billed. It was almost as if the doctor had excused the debt.

Upon further investigation, Karen was able to piece together different anonymous donations to each doctor’s research fund which just happened to coincide with Joan and Angela’s visits. Of course, the evidence was highly circumstantial since there was no way to trace the money to the donor. Someone knew exactly how to make the trail disappear, and Karen’s money was on Angela who had a master’s degree in finance.

Dinner went off without a hitch, and Karen found herself totally enchanted with the two women. They were so much in love and had no problem with anyone and everyone knowing how they felt about each other, and there was no doubt in her mind that the illness had nothing to do with the attitude each woman displayed. She’d be willing to bet that in their entire relationship, Joan and Angela never once gave a second thought about other’s opinion of them.

Watching the two women, Karen made a conscious decision; when all this mess was over, she would open up about her feelings for this wonderful woman sharing her life. She loved Marley too much to hide the fact anymore.

Later, Marley climbed into bed next to her lover and asked, “So what should we say at the meeting tomorrow?”

“Pretty much the truth, I think. We’ll tell them we’ve made contact and have befriended Joan and Angela. I’ll give my observations about how the two aren’t living in the lap of luxury and explain how we looked into their financials. You can tell them about Joan’s condition and give the insurance report on the different claims, but don’t say anything about the doctor not billing Joan for the balance. Let them do their own digging,” Karen offered in response.

“But shouldn’t we tell them about the donations so that they won’t go snooping on their own?” Marley questioned, turning over to face the marshal.

Shaking her head, Karen replied, “No. We don’t want them thinking we’re butting into their investigation. Besides, they may not think to check into the donations aspect, but if they do, I don’t believe they’ll find out any more than we did.”

“So, we should just put the ball in their court?”

“Yes, it’s their game after all, but you and I will do everything in our power to act as a buffer between the agents and our friends,” Karen responded with a smile. “Now, let’s try to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a stressful day.”

Marley simply nodded her head and scooted next to her lover. Soon, both women were sound asleep in each other’s arms.

The meeting the next day went well, or at least, as far as Marley and Karen were concerned. Agent Carrington wasn’t thrilled to find that the suspect hadn’t done anything suspicious, but he was happy to have something to research. He informed the detective and marshal to continue the friendship with the other two women and to pay particular attention to any suspicious activities. Amos suggested meeting again on Friday, and all were in agreement.

So, Karen and Marley were given license to spend the next several days in the wonderful company of Joan and her lover, and today, Angela was teaching Karen how to sail while Marley and Joan watched in amusement as to how well their lovers got along.

Smiling towards the woman she had hurt so badly, Joan said, “Oh Marley, I’m so glad we could put our differences aside, and that you and Karen seem to get along so well with Angela. Maybe now, when it all happens, you know…”

Marley tried to interrupt her friend; tried to distract her morbid thought, but Joan quietly shushed her and held her hand up as if to say, ‘please let me finish.’ Nodding, Marley allowed Joan to continue.

“… maybe when the time comes Angela will have you two to turn to. It would mean so much to me to know that she wasn’t alone.”

Marley smiled gently, nodding her acknowledgment of the silent request, and then looked off toward the horizon, trying to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat.

When the week finally ended, Karen and Marley met once again with the FBI agents in Amos’ office for their next official report on the situation. When Agent Carrington asked for their assessment, Karen was the first to answer.

“We haven’t noted anything unusual at all. Neither the suspect nor her lover wears any type of jewelry. In fact, their dress is always casual, and neither seems the least bit interested in material things, um, except for their boat. Personally, and professionally, we believe that the two women have no involvement in any criminal activities.”

Clearly not happy with the marshal’s report, Agent Carrington turned to the detective, “Sergeant Marley, what do you think?”

Without batting an eye, Marley replied, “I don’t believe Angela Bowers is the jewel thief.” Then, staring into the FBI agent’s eyes, she challenged him. “Did you discover any collaboration of the ladies visits for medical consultations as we suggested earlier? Joan Arnold is most definitely a very sick woman and has been traveling to different locations seeking medical advice. Maybe, it’s merely a coincidence that the two of them happened to be in the same cities as the heists; maybe you’ve been wasting time concentrating on two innocent women while the real culprits are planning their next heist.”

The agent looked a little annoyed at the comments but, surprisingly, shared some new evidence with the two women. “We *did* check out the medical consults, and indeed Joan Arnold did have an appointment in every one of the cities where a robbery occurred, and, so far, there has been no evidence of a heist occurring in Miami. But, you have to agree, it’s a very large coincidence, and the consultations must cost a large amount of money…”

Angrily, Marley interrupted, “Money they may very well have earned by hard work and legitimate means; the club they run here is always full to the rafters, and Angela and Joan work damn hard to make it work.” The detective let her words run off, realizing that she was letting her emotional involvement show.

“Yes, well, there’s nothing more we can do at the moment,” Agent Carrington appeased, “but I’d like for the two of you to continue your surveillance for a few more weeks just in case something does turn up missing in Miami. Be sure to contact me or Agent Morris if you suspect anything.”

The two women looked at each other, shared a discrete nod, and agreed to call the agents should anything suspicious occur.

Stepping out of the building, Marley turned to her lover and asked, “What do we do now?”

“We enjoy the next few weeks off, we continue our friendship with Joan and Angela, and we help them anyway we can,” Karen answered, before grabbing hold of Marley’s hand to stop her movement. She turned the taller woman round so they were facing each other, and then continued in complete sincerity. “And, we don’t waste any more time hiding our relationship to our colleagues and friends. I want you to move in with me permanently.”

Grinning, Marley offered her hand and said, “C’mon lover, let’s go rent a U-haul.”

Returning the detective’s beautiful smile, Karen took Marley’s hand and walked toward the street. Once at the car she pressed her lover against the car door and took total possession of her lips; each women concentrated solely on the other; both grateful to be alive and well and deeply in love. Only time would tell how long Joan Arnold had left in this world, but both Marley and Karen were intent on being there through it all.

Sighing in contentment, Marley pulled back from Karen; there was something of equal importance she needed to say before taking her partner home.

“Karen, I can’t keep seeing Joan without telling her the truth. We have to tell her how we came to be in the club in the first place.”

Opening the door for her lover, Karen replied, “I agree, love, and there’s no time like the present. What do you say we pick up some Chinese and head over there now?”

Nodding, Marley kissed Karen lightly and moved to get in the car. Just as Karen was closing the door, Marley said, “No matter what Joan has to say; I’m going to be there for her until the end.”

Smiling, Karen replied, “We both will, Marley. And we’ll take care of Angela, too.”

Closing the door, Karen walked around the car and climbed into the driver's seat, and as she pulled away from the curb, she reached for her lover's hand.

Together, the two women headed toward the unknown, but this time they were truly together, and that’s all that really mattered.