“Police! Stop where you are!”
Frannie heard the shout, then the pounding of footsteps running toward her. She had just enough time to twist and shift her weight so that instead of pushing past her, the person running from the police tripped and fell face first onto the pavement. Before he could start to get up, she had a knee in the guy's back to hold him in place as the officer chasing him caught up.
She kept her attention on the perp, who'd hit the ground pretty hard if the lack of a real struggle was any indication. Of course, the fact that she dug her knee in harder when he tried to move might have something to do with it too. She'd feel bad for him if it weren't for the purse he was still clutching in one hand.
The small crowd that had gathered parted for the officer, but Frannie stayed where she was, focused on the perp. She didn't ruin a pair of hose and possibly break the heel on her shoe for him to get away.
“Well, what do we have here?” Frannie cringed inwardly at the familiar voice. Of course it was Peretti, one of the biggest jerks in the precinct. “You catch him all by yourself?”
“You mind cuffing this bozo and reading him his rights so I can go?”
“You telling me how to do my job, Vecchio?”
Frannie counted to ten in her head before answering. “Just figured you'd want to get this guy down to booking, that's all.”
Peretti moved to cuff the guy, and Frannie quickly got out of his way, but stayed close until he was safely secured, and his rights had been explained.
“You still here? What, waiting for me to thank you? Or maybe you want to take this scumbag in, get the credit for the arrest?”
Frannie just rolled her eyes. “You going to need a statement from me, or am I good to go?”
Peretti snorted derisively. “I have it from here. Pretty sure I've been at this a lot longer than you.”
Frannie didn't bother to reply, walking away with as much grace and dignity as she could with a broken shoe. Bad as Peretti was, she had no desire to wait around for his partner to show. It wasn't until she rounded the corner that she let herself start grumbling about chauvinistic cops who were stuck in the dark ages.
Why had she wanted to join the force again?
Frannie was asking herself that again as she finally clocked out a few weeks later. The arrests had been solid, the case against the drug dealers they'd brought in air-tight, but the last two days leading up to the arrests had been all hands on deck with almost no breaks, and she was exhausted.
All Frannie wanted to do was go home and sleep for a week. Unfortunately, she wasn't sure she'd be able to sleep if she tried. So if sleep was off the table, her next choice would be food, preferably something with real nutritional value. The precinct's vending machine fare and quickly eaten pizza washed down with cold, bitter coffee had been enough to keep her going, but now that she was off the clock she realized she was starved. She could go home, but she preferred her food guilt- and lecture-free, at least today. Luckily, there was a diner on the way that would work perfectly.
Frannie was pleased to find an empty booth in the back, and quickly settled in, ordering some hot tea before looking over the menu. She'd been here often enough to know that while it was all typical diner food, it was well-made and filling. She gave the waitress her order after she brought Frannie her tea, then settled back into the semi-comfortable cushions of the booth, eyes closed, holding the warm cup in her hands and enjoying the relative silence of the diner.
She wasn't so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't hear the door open, but she didn't pay much attention to the comings and goings until a shadow fell across the table. Frannie looked up, expecting the waitress and surprised instead to see a familiar and friendly face.
“Elaine Besbriss! It's been forever.” She stood and gave Elaine a quick hug, then gestured for Elaine to take a seat, which she did.
“Frannie Vecchio. It has been too long.”
“What are you doing in this neck of the woods?” Frannie wondered.
“Had an interview near here, and remembered this place. The food still decent?”
“I mean, it's not as good as home, but it comes without any judgment, so that evens things out.”
“How is your mom?” Elaine asked, chuckling.
“How long do you have?”
“However long my order takes.” She settled back in the booth. “Dish.”
Frannie caught Elaine up on her family, but avoided her own life. Elaine, however, wasn't having it, and told her so.
“You're talking about everyone but you,” she said. “What's going on?”
“You ever question your life choices?”
“Constantly,” Elaine replied with a small smile. “Are we talking personal or professional for you?”
Frannie thought about it for a second, then decided to go ahead and say it. “I'm not sure I'm cut out for police work after all.”
“More like bad weeks, months maybe." She sighed deeply. "I'm just getting tired of all the bull, you know?”
Elaine studied her for a minute. “Did I ever tell you about the talk Lt. Welsh and I had when I was having trouble deciding about where I wanted to go after graduation?” Frannie shook her head. “He knew I was going to have a rough time of it at his precinct, and that there wouldn't be much, if anything, he could do, since he wouldn't be my boss.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He didn't tell me anything, just asked me a couple of questions. First one: Why did I want to be a cop?” Elaine held up a hand before Frannie could protest. “Not meanly, he wasn't being discouraging. You know better than that. No, he wanted me to really think about it and answer the question honestly.”
Frannie nodded. “So what did you say?”
Elaine shook her head. “I think the better thing is to ask you – why do you want to be a cop, Frannie?”
“I mean, lots of reasons. To do good, to follow in Ray's footsteps, a little, but don't you ever tell him that. But mostly because I think I can make - well, not the world, but this bit of Chicago a better place.”
Elaine smiled. “Okay, so then here's the next question. Can you do that where you are?”
“Right now?” She sighed again and shook her head. “Doesn't feel like it.”
“So why stay there? You want to help people, but does it have to be those people? I mean, it's your home turf, so I get it if you say yes. But if not, why are you still there?”
Frannie thought about that for a minute before answering. “I guess I don't want to give up.”
“Not giving up if you just change locations,” Elaine replied. “This life isn't easy, this job isn't easy, you knew that going in. But that doesn't mean making yourself stay where it's harder than it should be.”
“Is it really that different where you are?”
Elaine shrugged. “Not gonna lie and say everything's rainbows and puppies. But it was a clean slate, which was something I didn't know would help until it did. And my lieu cares more about solve rates and solid arrests than what I've got in my pants, so that helps too.”
Frannie thought about that, about how a clean slate might be a nice thing. Before she could ask anything else, though, the waitress at the counter called Elaine's name. She waved an acknowledgement, then gave Frannie a wry smile. “I need to get going. This was just supposed to be a coffee and sandwich run for me and my partner.”
“I'd ask if I could tag along with you, but honestly, I'm so beat after today that I don't think I'd make a good impression.” Frannie said.
Elaine chuckled knowingly. “I hear that. Go home, get some shut-eye. But you're welcome any time. Seriously.” She pulled out her wallet to hand Frannie a card. “Give me a call. Even if you don't want to try and transfer, it would be great to get caught up.”
“I'd like that.” Frannie reached over to give Elaine a quick hug. “And you'll have to come by Ma's for dinner some time soon. She'd love to see you.”
“I know better than to turn down an invite like that,” she replied as she picked up her order and started toward the door. Frannie watched her go, then sat back down, turning Elaine's card over in her hand. Today was turning out better than she could have hoped.
What followed was really nice. Sometimes a phone call was all they had time for, but there were occasional lunches and even a few dinners at the Vecchio household. When Frannie finally made it to Elaine’s precinct, she was pleasantly surprised to find that while the Vecchio name was known there, it was spoken in much more respectful tones than at the 27th. Elaine’s colleagues had questions for her, which considering how crazy the time Ray (and Ray) and Fraser had been partners was expected. She was amused to hear some of the rumors that had flown around, especially during Ray’s time undercover. But they definitely respected Ray for his time in Vegas if nothing else. It was nice.
It was also nice to be seen as more than just Ray’s kid sister. She was asked about her work and a couple of the guys even sympathized with her; everyone had crappy stories about their rookie years.
Frannie wasn’t sure about moving, but she did enjoy her visits. She was a familiar enough face now that she got smiles and hellos from a lot of folks in the bullpen, and a trail of followers if she brought in a tray of baked goods. It was definitely nicer than the begrudging thanks she got at the 27th, and the veiled implications that the treats were her main contribution there, rather than policework.
Given that, the lack of any real greeting, or even interest in the tray she was carrying, alerted her that today, something was up. She set the cookies and brownies in the breakroom, taking a few seconds to shake off the snow before heading out to find Elaine for their lunch date. The bullpen was bustling, more than usual, and Frannie could sense the tension in the air.
Judging from the amount of paperwork on Elaine's desk and the combination of concentration and frustration on her face, Frannie guessed she'd be flying solo on lunch. But that didn't mean she wasn't going to at least say hello.
“So I'm no detective, but I'm betting you're tied up here for the foreseeable future,” Frannie started, a smile on her face and no judgment in her tone.” She held up a hand before Elaine could answer. “But I'm thinking if you don’t have time to go out, you should have five minutes for some homemade goodies. They’ll make that terrible coffee go down easier.” She could see Elaine waver, and decided to bring out the big guns, or in this case, a foil-wrapped caramel brownie she’d hidden in her purse. “Hand delivered and everything. Biggest, gooiest piece in the batch.”
Elaine smiled, and a bit of the tension left her face. “I could definitely use the break,” she said, taking the package from Frannie’s outstretched hand. “But only if you have some too,” she added, motioning for Frannie to take a seat.
“You think I didn’t taste test everything?” Frannie asked as she shifted the chair closer to the desk. “Some detective you are, not noticing the ten pounds I put on over the weekend.”
“You look exactly the same,” Elaine laughed as she leaned back, rolling her neck from side to side. “You know you burn it all off, between helping your mother, walking that poodle, and all the crap jobs you get at work.” She finished unwrapping the brownie, took a bite and closed her eyes, a blissful smile on her face. “This would definitely be worth the ten pounds, though.”
She took another bite, washing it down with what had to be cold coffee based on the wrinkle in her nose, before asking, “Okay, so condensed version of our lunch gripe. What’s the worst thing going on at the 27th right now?”
“Other than the usual bitching about the colder weather and snow making their jobs harder?” Frannie shrugged. “Mostly same old same old. They give me the stuff they don’t want to do, mainly retyping reports or answering the crazies hotline. I did get to go on an interview a couple of days ago, but I think they gave it to me as a joke.”
“Hey, at least it got you out of the office. What made it a joke?”
“It was a pet store robbery, which is apparently beneath everyone else. You know The Purrfect Pet over on Lacey?”
“The one that nice older couple runs?”
“Yeah. Been there for as long as I can remember. I think Ma still plays bridge with Mrs. Rossi sometimes. Anyhow, they called in a robbery. You think that would get someone interested in the case, but I’m not sure it would have been taken seriously at all if I hadn’t heard a couple of the guys arguing over who had to haul their fat butts out in the cold to do the interview and offered to do it for them.”
“What was stolen?”
“Not much. No cash, not that they ever have much on hand – the Rossis are real careful about that. And no one was hurt, thank God. But they’d just gotten in their holiday shipment of dog and cat collars, and every box was taken.”
“Yep. Now you see why nobody cared. Which I get it, there’s bigger crimes going on, but still. What kind of jerk deprives poor, helpless animals of presents, and right around the holidays too? I had planned on going in this weekend to get a new collar for Ante – something real pretty, lots of rhinestones.” She sighed. “I mean, I get that dogs don’t know when Christmas actually is, but it’s the thought, y’know?” She sighed again. “Enough about that. What's got everyone here hopping? Big case?”
“Yeah, and frustrating. You hear about the diamond heist a couple of days ago?”
“Who didn't? I don't know who made a bigger stink about it in the news, the mayor or the store owner.”
Elaine tilted her head in agreement. “Well, it isn't the first robbery. Or at least, that's the newest theory. There have been minor jewel thefts happening over the few months. All small time stuff, all over town, and up until now, they seemed totally unrelated.” She patted the stack of files on her desk. “I've been going through the other case files, looking for a connection.”
“Not so far, but I'm sure there is one, if for no other reason than none of the jewels have been found for any of the cases. Plus, none of the usual suspects have panned out, nobody's fencing anything anywhere near here... it's like they vanished into thin air.”
“Ugh. I don't envy you this one.”
“You sure? I'd be happy to trade you.” Elaine pushed her open notebook toward Frannie, who started to push it back, laughing, but a thought stopped her.
“What is it?”
Frannie was silent for a minute, thinking, then shook her head. “Never mind. It's probably nothing.”
“What's probably nothing, Frannie?”
“I was just thinking, how weird would it be if our cases were connected?” She snorted. “It's stupid, right?”
“That depends. What made you think of it in the first place?”
“I was just thinking about rhinestones,” Frannie told her. “I mean, stealing jeweled pet collars isn't a big deal, right? Not like they're really worth anything, nobody's going to make a fuss about it. So you have that. And then you have stolen diamonds, which are definitely a thing to fuss about.”
“So you think it's the same people?”
“In this scenario? Sure. All they'd need to do is just replace the fake stones with real ones. It would be a way to ship real jewels right under everyone's noses.”
Elaine nodded, eyes wide. “And no one would know. Especially if you make sure you're only stealing pet collars in parts of town that you aren't stealing diamonds. Who would think to connect the two?” She smiled. “Frannie, you're a genius!”
“Come on, Elaine, it's crazy!”
“You know better than almost anyone that crazy in this town means it's probably right. Are you off for the rest of the day?” Frannie nodded. “Not anymore. Take some files while I find us some space to spread all this out, and get you access to a computer to check the 27th's files. We've got some jewels to find!”
Several hours and a seemingly endless stream of reports later, Elaine and Frannie thought they maybe had enough bare bones evidence to support their theory. “Definitely not enough to take to court, but I really think we're on the right track,” Elaine said with a tired smile.
“Now that is good to hear,” said a voice from behind Frannie, who barely stopped herself from jumping out of her chair in surprise.
“Lieutenant Darcy.” Elaine sounded nearly as flustered as Frannie felt. “I didn't see you, sir.”
“I'd say something about situational awareness, but if you've got a lead on this thing, I'll be more than happy to let the lecture go.” He raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest, waiting.
“You remember Officer Vecchio?”
The lieutenant nodded, both as an affirmative and a greeting. “You're stationed at the 27th, right?”
“Yes sir.” Elaine gave her a look to say more, but Frannie shook her head. Not her boss, not her turf, not her case. She could see Elaine fighting not to roll her eyes, but she went ahead and spoke.
“Frannie and I were talking about the cases we're working right now, and we think maybe they're connected. We were following up on it, seeing if it was worth bringing to you.”
“From what I heard when I walked up, I'd say it is.” He leaned a hip against the desk across from Elaine's, facing both women. “Fill me in.”
As Elaine did, Frannie watched the lieutenant go from dubious to speculative to possibly a little impressed. For all he looked nothing like Lieutenant Welsh – Darcy was younger, taller and thinner, with pale, freckled skin and short, pin-straight reddish-blond hair – his demeanor reminded Frannie of him. She could see why Elaine liked having him for a boss.
“Good work,” he said, giving them both a little smile. “There's a lot more legwork to be done, but it's definitely a solid idea, and the evidence you've found so far backs it up.” He turned his attention to Frannie. “Lucky for us you came by today. Interested in working the rest of the case?”
“For real? But I'm not a detective!”
“If your putting the pieces of this together pans out, and wasn't a fluke, it won't be long before you are. I can put in a call to the 2-7 right now if you want. It'd be good to have some inter-precinct cooperation.”
Frannie just stared for a minute, shocked, until she realized he was waiting for an answer. “Yes!” she said, much louder than she'd meant to. “I mean, yes, please,” she went on, calmer, “I'd like that a lot. Thanks for the opportunity.”
Her calm lasted until the lieutenant was back in his office.
"Elaine! I can't believe you did that!" Frannie said, grabbing Elaine's hands in hers and trying to keep her voice down.
"Giving credit where credit is due is all," Elaine replied, a huge grin on her face.
"I hope my boss sees it that way."
"If he doesn't?" Elaine squeezed Frannie's hands before letting go to pass her a file. "That might be your answer on where you need to be."
Frannie nodded, thoughtful. "You know, you may just be right."