This post picks up at the beginning of chapter 3, or about 7800 words This is a complete but short chapter.
Remember, this is a Draft 0, unedited, simply writing as quickly as the story comes to me and making myself accountable by putting the words here.
Tom drove down the busy street, his hands tight on the steering wheel. Ash was silent next to him, her eyes staring straight ahead.
"I'm starting to understand why the chief partnered me with you," Tom said. "I've only been here for a year and don't know you all that well."
Ash kept looking out the window, watching the late-night crowds and lights, listening to the sounds of the late-night city. It always soothed her and made her feel safe, even when things started getting tough.
Tom looked at her and shook his head. "Look, I'm not one to let rumors or second-hand advice cloud my impressions of a person, but you've got to give me something."
"We headed to his apartment?" Ash asked, trying to deflect the questioning.
"You hungry?" Tom asked, more of a statement of his own hunger as he pulled the car to the curb. "I'm sure you've been to better places, but this place is one of my favorites. It reminds me of home, in a way."
"Where's home?" Ash asked, genuinely curious.
"A small town in upstate New York; my parents ran a restaurant," Tom said as he got out of the car, "This place reminds me of it."
Ash stopped on the sidewalk next to Tom as he looked at the small windows and diners sitting inside. The lights were dim, and the window's decals were wearing at the edges. "Do you like Teriyaki?"
"It's Seattle," Ash started, then paused. "Yeah, but there's a great ramen place down the street."
"No, this place has great noodles also, and the owners are friendly," Tom said.
"Like your parents?" Ash said with a slight smile.
"Yeah." He smiled back.
Tom and Ash entered the restaurant, and the smells of soy sauce and ginger greeted them. The small room was not crowded, and the tables had several feet between them. A handful of the ten or so tables were occupied, and tom lead ash to a small table near the back. A few people were standing in line at the counter.
"What do you want? Tom asked.
Ash looked at the menu and said, "You pick; I'm fine with anything."
"Are you a sharer?" Tom asked, a smile forming at the edge of his lips.
"Sure, I'll share," Ash said.
Tom ordered for them, and the waitress soon brought them a couple of glasses, pouring water in them at the table.
Ash leaned back in her chair and surveyed the restaurant once more. The decor looked like it was a long-time resident of the city, and she wondered how long it had been here.
She saw an open seat next to an old man reading a newspaper. The old man looked up from his paper and smiled at her before returning to the news. Ash looked around the room, taking in the sights and sounds of the restaurant. She always loved coming to small places like this; there was a sense of community that she didn't find in other places. She wondered why she'd never been to this one.
A different waiter carrying a tray of dishes came to the table and placed a large plate of chicken teriyaki, a bowl of vegetables in a light broth, and two bowls of rice. He then placed two plates, with small bowls in the center, in front of the pair.
Their table was the furthest from the other diners, and ash was facing them, with tom facing the hallway towards the bathrooms in the back. Between the two of them, they instinctively positioned themselves to have complete surveillance of the areas of the restaurant.
Tom looked at ash, who was busy surveying the room again, and said, "I guess we're both used to this."
Ash nodded, her eyes still scanning the restaurant. "It's second nature."
After a few minutes, Ash realized that tom had been watching her instead of eating. She turned her head to look at him and found him staring at her intently.
"What?" she asked, a little self-conscious.
Tom shook his head and smiled. "I started as a cop, didn't know anything else. Well, I didn't want anything else." He paused, surveyed her face, then picked up his chopsticks and grabbed some chicken while he finished. "From what I hear, you had a successful tech business, and I'm curious how you go from that to this." He motioned with his hands as if the entire line of police work surrounded them.
"It's not something I talk about." She ladled the vegetable soup into her bowl and picked up her spoon.
"You started on patrol, like everyone else, right?" Tom said, getting a little more forceful in his tone.
"That's right," Ash said. "And I worked hard these past five years to make it to detective." She mirrored Tom's tone.
"I'm not doubting that in the slightest," Tom said as he chewed this food, holding a hand. "But you had partners in the past; it's policy. How did you get along with them?"
"You know, or you wouldn't be asking like that," Ash said. "Look, you want to know all about me, but we both know you've heard all the rumors, gotten endless advice from all the other men in this department, and I'm sure Assistant Chief Nelson has filled you in..."
Tom put down his chopsticks and held up his hands. "All true." He said. Ash stopped talking. "But as I said, rumors and second-hand advice don't mean much to me." He paused again, putting his hands down. "Unless I can't get the real story from my partner."
Ash looked at Tom for a minute, then put down her spoon. "I didn't get along with my first partner. We butted heads constantly, and it got in the way of our work. My second partner was better, but we still didn't see eye-to-eye on everything. And my previous captain..." She trailed off, her face hardening.
"What about your previous captain?" Tom prompted.
Ash looked around the room, it wasn't quiet, but she was still weary of talking about her past in a place she'd never been before.
"I wanted this bureau," Ash said, lowering her voice. "Bad. I studied, got mentors, and professional coaching, did off-duty ride-along and volunteered for anything that would give me relevant experience. Everything so I could qualify."
"My company... I made advanced search and rescue systems, hardware, and AI-powered software." She paused, watching Tom's face. When she was satisfied that he was genuinely interested, she continued.
"My life fell apart and I lost... well, I gave up everything. It was a private company, but I did take raise funds and many investors pressured me to sell the company."
She ate a bite of teriyaki and a spoonful of vegetable soup. "My life was falling apart for a couple of years. It started with my brother's death, then my fiance's disappearance, and I just couldn't handle the stress of it all."
"My previous captain was one of the detectives that investigated both the deaths of my brother and fiance, even though his body was never found." She looked at him, somehow relieved by this sudden release of all that she was kept locked in.
Tom continued eating, his eyes urging her to continue.
"Anyway, I was cleared, obviously. But going through that loss and the investigation, combined with the investor pressure. I just couldn't take it." Ash stopped and put her spoon and chopsticks down.
She was breathing rapidly, and closed her eyes, beginning to slow her breaths. Tom waited.
"I fell off the wagon and regressed to my high-school party years... drinking, drugs." All that.
"A group of investors tried to force me to sell, but I didn't want my tech just handed over to some soulless bunch of money grubbers." She said. "So, I dismantled the company."
"What does that mean?" Tom asked.
"I did what they were going to do, but I controlled who got what," Ash said. I sold parts of the tech to different companies and then closed the company. I spent the next year in a haze."
Ash was finished but Tom continued to press her. "That's all terrible. I'm really sorry to hear that." He paused, genuinely sorry for her past struggle. "But, how did you come to be a cop?"
"The chief...Carter." Ash said, as if that answered Tom's question but he just raised his eyebrows and shook his head.
"What about her?" Tom asked.
"I lost my parents when I was born, and the Chief sort of took care of me as the foster care system raised me." She said.
"When I was in that haze, she helped me get out of it. She wasn't the chief then, obviously." Ash continued. "But when I finally realized that my purpose, the tech I created for search and rescue?" She said as if he may have forgotten.
"I love helping people, and when my fiancé disappeared, I pivoted my tech to search and rescue, and so a transition to a police officer felt right." She said.
"I guess part of me wants to be the one that helps victims get answers or tell their stories to those that survived." She said.
"So you became a detective," Tom said.
Ash nodded. "Even though I was cleared and they could find zero evidence to prove anything. the detectives on the case, including Nelson, believed I was responsible for my brother's death and my fiancé's disappearance."
"Why?" Tom asked.
"Money," Ash said.
"The sale of the business?" Tom asked.
Ash nodded, and Tom concluded, "The rumor is you walked away with millions."
Ash just nodded again. "Money doesn't matter to me." She said. "I know how that sounds, but if I could've continued working on that tech with my brother, no money would have made my life better."
"When I lost him, I lost my passion for the work. And when the investors kept throwing these massive offers at me, it just pissed me off, and I lost all desire to make tech any more valuable."
"So, yeah, I have a lot of money and a nice apartment. But I don't have my brother or my fiance. And I don't have the trust of my colleagues." She paused, "and I'm not sure I ever will."
Tom could see the sadness in her eyes, and he felt for her. He knew what it was like to lose someone you loved, even if it wasn't in the same way.
They were finished with their food, and the bill came. Ash pulled out her card and handed it to the waiter, who walk away.
"I'm sorry," he said genuinely.
Ash just nodded and said, "It is what it is." She shrugged.
They sat in silence until the water returned, and they got their coats and walked through the tables to the door.
Out on the sidewalk, the chill had settled in the late-night air.
"Why do you stay?" Tom asked as they walked to his car.
"What do you mean?" Ash asked.
"I mean, why stay in a job where you're treated like that, where people still think you killed your brother? It's got to be tough?" Tom asked. "Why not pick up and move?"
Ash was quiet for a moment before she answered. "Two reasons." She said, and they got in the car. Tom started the car and pulled into the empty road. It was passed midnight now, and the streets were mostly quiet. A few people were walking on the sidewalks.
"This has been my home, my entire life." Ash started. "This isn't just the only place I know. It's the only place that's ever felt like home. Like I belong."
They drove through the streets for a few minutes, and Tom prodded. "And what's reason number two?" He asked.
After a short pause, Ash answered, "I guess I just feel like I need to prove something."
Tom nodded, understanding what that felt like. He'd been there himself. "I know what that feels like," he said.
Tom didn't offer comparisons or advice; he just listened and understood. Ash looked at him, and for the first time in a long time, she felt like someone she worked with actually cared about her, or at least cared about the truth about her and her intentions.
Tom was quiet for a few minutes and then cleared his throat. "What happened back at the Thaliards sort of makes sense to me now," Tom looked at Ash for a few seconds. She raised her eyebrows, and Tom continued. "Thank you for your backstory. Tell me what you observed."
Ash looked at Tom for a second, trying to figure out whether he was testing her. But she decided it didn't matter, and she answered his question.
"Well, Mrs. Thaliard seemed genuinely upset," Ash said. "But she also appeared to know exactly where the body was, and she was trying to protect her daughter."
"How so?" Tom asked.
"When Mr. Thaliard walked in, she blurted out that 'It was Danny', and his body was 'in the back truck,'" Ash said. "They're small details but it just didn't sit right with me."
Tom nodded, thinking. "The father also seemed off." He said. "What did you observe about him?"
"He was very controlling," Ash said. "Especially with his wife and daughter. He wanted to know everything that was going on and didn't want anyone else talking."
Tom nodded again. "I saw that too." He said. "What about the daughter?"
Ash paused for a second, recalling what she had observed about Harmony Thaliard. "She was upset, but I'm not sure it was because of her relationship with the victim." Ash continued, "She was lying about wearing the gown."
"How did you gather that?" Tom asked.
"Her dad said she was going to wear 'the blue one,' but harmony said she was changing into 'the silver one' then corrected and said 'silvery-blue,'" Ash said. "They were lying."
She continued, "She also said she had just changed into those clothes she was wearing."
Tom looked at her, surprised. "How could you tell?" He asked.
"The blouse she had on had stains under her arms; she was lying about that also," she said.
Tom nodded, taking it all in. Ash had been right about the family being involved, but he still wasn't sure how or why Danny.
"So, what do you think happened?" Ash asked after a few minutes of silence.
"I'm not sure," Tom said honestly. "But I think we need to get all this on paper..."
"Do you think any of them is capable of murder?" Tom asked.
Ash thought for a second. "People like that don't do the murdering," she said honestly. "But they can hire someone to do it for them."
"But why an ice sculptor?" Ash asked, "That doesn't make sense."
They arrived back at the precinct, and Tom parked the car; he looked at her and said, "It's paperwork time... partner." He smiled and got out of the car.
Ash smiled back and got out, too, following him into the precinct. They worked together, finishing that night's reports and organizing the files the other officers left on their desks; they had several new leads and a stack of notes from the patrol interviews.
For the first time in a long time, Ash felt like she was actually part of a team again. Maybe there was still a chance for her to prove herself after all.