Captain William Laiton called Detective Alexa Jamberson to his office. When she arrived, she found Detective Sofia Curtis already there.
"Oh, God," Sofia said to Laiton. "Is this really necessary?"
Laiton hushed her with a wave and a glare.
"Captain?" Alexa said. "What's this about?"
"Detective Curtis here," Laiton said, "has put in for a change of partner. Care to comment?"
Alexa looked sharply at Sofia.
"Why?" she said.
"You know why," Sofia said sullenly.
"What did you tell them?"
"Detective Jamberson?" Laiton pressed.
"She is a little headstrong," Alexa said. "And lately, she's questioned and opposed all my decisions. Making it difficult for us to work together. Nevertheless, I feel it would be not be in her -- or the public's -- best interest to separate us."
"For the same reason I requested that she be assigned to me. In spite of her recent willful and headstrong behavior -- exemplified by her defiant contravention of department policy, which led to her transfer to this shift in the first place -- Detective Curtis has shown herself to be a capable officer, and an invaluable asset to the county. In my opinion, she merely requires a strong, guiding hand to ensure she remains so. That is what I have provided. I am confident that, with time, I will ultimately be successful."
"Pretty good," Sofia said. "How long did it take you to write that?"
"Quiet, Detective," Laiton said. "Detective Jamberson, I'm inclined to degree. Detective Curtis? Your request is denied."
"You are dismissed. Both of you."
Captain Jim Brass sat in Frank's diner, speaking on his cell with Minerva Mannerly.
"We're not exactly back together yet," he said. "But we are talking again."
"It's progress, at least," Minnie said. "When'll you see her again?"
"This afternoon. After her shift."
"Good. Let me know how it turns out. Forgive me if I cut this short? Talking takes more energy than you think."
"No prob. Talk to you later. Bye."
Brass put away his cell, and signaled for the check.
Brass was just about to unlock his vehicle when he felt a sharp sting in the middle of his back, as if struck by a thrown rock.
"What the hell?"
He turned, and looked at the sidewalk. Whatever had hit him was not there.
He put his hand to his back.
His fingers found moistness.
He drew his weapon, jumped in front of his car, crouched, and peered back over the hood, weapon extended. Alarmed passersby scurried out of the way.
He looked at his hand. Yellow streaks stained his fingers and piece.
"What the hell?" he muttered aloud. "A paintball?"
Alexa pulled the vehicle into an alley and parked.
"What're you doing?" Sofia said. "Why are we stopped?"
"Meeting with an informant," Alexa said. "Relax. It'll be over soon."
Ahead, a truck pulled into the alley, and parked. Sofia looked over her shoulder. Another truck pulled up behind them, and parked as well.
"What the hell?" Sofia said.
She looked at Alexa. Alexa had her weapon out and pressed the muzzle against Sofia's midsection.
"Out!" Alexa said. "Now!"
Sofia and Alexa unbuckled and exited. The truck drivers, both of whom she recognized as goons from Pejic's warehouse, climbed out of their vehicles. They rushed Sofia, seized her by the arms, and pinned her against a wall.
Emir Pejic exited the passenger side of the truck ahead. Slowly, he walked slowly up to Sofia. Alexa crossed her arms and smirked.
"Damn you, Emir!" Sofia snarled. "I told you! It's over!"
Pejic drew a switchblade from his suit jacket, flicked it open, and put the point to her throat.
"You tell me?" he roared. "You tell me nothing! I tell you when it is over!"
"What are you going to do if I don't listen? Kill me?"
He lowered the knife, flicked away the top button of her blouse, and pressed the tip between her clavicles. A droplet of blood pooled up around the tip.
"Maybe I carve my initials in your pretty skin," he said. "Maybe I carve entire book. War and Peace. Hmm?"
"And you expect this charming repartee to win me back how?"
Pejic regarded her with amusement. He reached back with his free hand and snapped his fingers. Alexa pulled a PDA from her pocket, and handed it to Pejic. Pejic brought up a series of photographs and showed them to Sofia.
The first photo showed Jim Brass exiting Frank's.
The next one showed him at his vehicle.
The third one showed Brass with a bright yellow glob of paint on his back.
Sofia paled, and hung her head, shoulders sagging.
"Good, good," Pejic said. "I see you understand the situation."
Pejic grinned, and nodded to his goons. They released her. She fell to her knees on the alley floor. Pejic set the PDA down on the pavement before her.
"Tonight," he said. "Risqué De Paris. At nine."
Summary: #20 in the Sofia Couleur series. Pejic puts the squeeze on Sofia. Cameos by Nick Stokes and Catherine Willows.