2007-02-18: As Real As Sewer Gators


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Summary: Mara and Judah discuss the Squaring the Circle case over coffee at Starbucks.

Date It Happened: February 18th, 2007

As Real As Sewer Gators


Detective Damaris sits alone at a table for four with pages and photos from a file spread out in front of her and two cups of coffee. One for herself, and one she took the liberty of ordering for her partner. Provided he's on time, it should be cooled down just enough to drink. She sips on her venti caramel mocha with whip and soy milk and carefully draws a pattern on a napkin as she peers at a crime scene photo.

Starbucks isn't high on Judah's list of Ideal Places to Discuss Casework. For one thing, it's noisy, and for another, it's public; he'd much rather work in the stuffy solitude of a break room with only a stale egg salad sandwich, his usual lunchfare, to keep him company. Even the janitor's closet back at the station is preferable to this. The tall, balding detective maneuvers his way through the late morning crowd, careful not to elbow or bump anyone unnecessarily as he attempts to make it to Mara's table without making eye contact. When he finally arrives and takes the seat reserved for him, his face is creased with a vaguely irritated expression, though he wisely makes no complaint about his partner's choice of venue.

"Thank you," Mara says without looking up. "I know this isn't your first, second, third, or twentieth choice for places to meet, but I needed my coffee." Sure, the half-Brit will discuss the merits of tea until she's blue in the face, but only after she's had her morning coffee. "I met with Marx yesterday about his case. I'm not sure what to tell you, Jude." Finally, her eyes lift and she meets his gaze with absolutely no sign of hesitation or apprehension.

"Well," Judah observes quietly, "you've had forty-five minutes to think about it while I battled the subway." He pulls his coffee across the table and removes the plastic lid, turning it over and setting it aside on a discarded napkin. Maybe it's cool enough to drink, maybe it isn't—he doesn't want to take the chance. It can stand to get a little colder.

"Marx's theory is strange, but… I'm not sure I can entirely discredit it." Dark hair bounces slightly as the detective shakes her head. "He thinks that the victims were convinced to kill themselves via some sort of mind control over the phone."

The idea is almost laughable, but Judah doesn't so much as crack a smile. That probably isn't too surprising. "Mind control?" he repeats in a gentle voice that's more appropriate for correcting the pronunciation of a small child than it is for speaking with an equal. "I hope you told him that he's working himself too hard."

"You might be at liberty to mouth off to someone from the DA's office, but we both know I'm walking the line." Mara only holds Judah's gaze for a moment longer before dropping it back to her work. "I don't know what to believe. There's so many things that have happened lately that people just can't explain anymore. And in all three cases, there is no discernable reason for the victims to have killed themselves. So maybe it isn't some sort of phone hypnosis, but I don't think it's a simple case of suicide either. There's just too many similarities."

"How do you know this isn't just a copycat case?" Judah asks. "As you said, the crime scenes all have a number of unique things in common, and it's the unique things that usually make the evening news. This is New York." He pauses to blow on his coffee, seemingly perplexed by the ripples that spread across the dark surface. "Most of the women in this city are sad and lonely—just look at you." Judging by his tone, the comment isn't meant to be hurtful; he wouldn't have even made it if the feelings of other people weren't so alien to him. Mara should know. "If you were going to kill yourself, would you do it quietly in your bathtub, or would you turn yourself into something that's front page worthy?"

Despite telling herself on numerous occasions that nothing her partner says can truly shock her anymore, Mara is always proven wrong. She looks up and stares dumbly at Judah. "Pardon me?" The request for clarification is rhetorical. A filler to give her a moment to repeat all the information back and process it. "First of all, I'm not sad or lonely. And second, if I decided to do away with myself, I'd trick someone else into doing it for me. Let a perp shoot me or something."

"Yes, I can see it now: Officer Slain in Starbucks Standoff. If that doesn't make Fox, I don't know what will." Finally, Judah raises the coffee to his lips and takes a tentative sip. "Why is it so difficult for you to believe that these are suicides, Damaris? Devoted wives and mothers are susceptible to depression just like the rest of us. Next you'll be telling me that Virginia Gray is a victim of this mystery caller as well. After all, she was stabbed in the chest—with her own scissors, no less."

"Stop talking to me like I'm losing my mind, Jude." Mara's expression isn't hurt so much as it is serious. "Why is it so difficult for you to even entertain the notion that these aren't suicides? You can't hide a suicidal depression from a loving and devoted family. You just can't."

"According to who? You?" Annoyance is beginning to creep into Judah's tone, but he's doing an admirable job of keeping his expression on the neutral side. "Stop being sentimental. Mind control is as real as sewer gators."

"For someone as brilliant as you are, I would think you would be capable of looking beyond the nose on your face." Mara hides her own annoyance behind a sip of coffee. "Give it a week, Jude. Work with the theory that it could have been murder for one week. If we can't find any new evidence, we'll tell Marx there's no point in keeping the case open."

"You wouldn't be so adamant about this if it wasn't important to you." This is as close to a 'yes' as Mara is going to get. "Don't expect me to put the other cases on the backburner—we haven't been able to bring in Gray's son in for questioning, and I'm still waiting for Tamara Brooks to turn up dead in a gutter somewhere." Judah fixes his partner with an even stare. "I don't need to tell you to keep Marx's theory between us, right?"

"Of course not." Mara leafs through some papers and pulls up a new sheet, a fingerprint analysis. "I'm planning on tracking down this guy to see if he sold these women the necklaces they were wearing when they were found. I'll let you check every gutter between here and Chinatown for the Brooks girl if you want to tag along."

"Sure," Judah says, "I'll be the Poncho to your Cisco Kid." Why not?

"You're too good to me," Mara chides her partner.

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