This is something I’ve been playing with a bit lately, between other projects and deadlines. A new mystery series idea. A sort of mystery/suspense police procedural, with the usual slow-building romance taking place over a few books. And it’s set in my hometown in Norway, so a foreign setting for those of you who live in the US.
Rather interesting, as a native Norwegian, to put myself into the head of someone who doesn’t “belong” there the same way I did, growing up. Challenging, but fun.
The glob of tobacco-laced spit flew through the air and hit my cheek with a splat.
I fisted my hands in the pockets of my furry jacket, digging my nails into my palms deep enough to hurt, and willed myself not to react, but al-Fasi must have seen the flinch. He grinned, showing off a set of brown teeth.
“You sleep your way into that job, phudi? Nice ass like that—”
The rest of the words disappeared in the sound of a fist hitting flesh. As the man sagged between the two uniformed police officers, Detective Johansen shook out his hand. “Get him outta here before he wakes up and I have to hit him again. Book him for facilitation and sexual trafficking, and throw in assault on a police officer. That should keep him off the streets for a while. Maybe give his girls a chance to get away.”
The officers nodded. “See you, Anja,” one of them told me as they dragged the limp body toward the police car parked at the curb. “Nice outfit.” He grinned at me over his shoulder. I gave him the finger, but he didn’t see it, being busy wrestling the limp pimp into the back seat of the cruiser.
“Friends of yours?” Johansen asked, arching a brow.
I glanced up at him. Way up; he’s a head taller than me. “They’re out of Central.”
He nodded. “Your first name’s Anja?”
He sounded surprised. I wasn’t. Anja is a pretty traditional Scandinavian name. I’m not your traditional Scandinavian female.
“Short for Anjali,” I said.
He tilted his head to examine me. “That’s Indian, isn’t it? I thought you were Pakistani.”
Huh. So he wasn’t as clueless as I’d assumed. Most people wouldn’t know the difference. “I’m both,” I said. “My mother is Indian, my father Pakistani. That’s how I ended up with an Indian first name and a Pakistani last name.” And a strange combination it was, too, to people who understood the two cultures involved.
Johansen nodded, but didn’t say anything else. Maybe he didn’t understand the finer points. No reason why he would, being neither Indian nor Pakistani.
I added, “They won’t, you know.”
“The girls. They won’t get away. They don’t know where to go. By tomorrow, most of them will be back on the street working for other pimps. Some of them worse than al-Fasi.”
“It’s better than nothing,” Johansen said. His eyes—clear blue, like the neon sign blinking on and off a block away, bright against the darkness—lingered on my cheek for a second. “You OK?”
“I’ll live,” I said. It had happened before, after all. It would probably happen again. That didn’t make it any more pleasant when it did, but at least it hadn’t come out of the blue.
Johansen reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, which he proceeded to wet by scooping a handful of snow into it and melting the whole thing between his hands. When the fabric was soaked, he reached for me. I stepped back, quickly. So quickly that my heel slipped on the icy ground and he had to take my elbow to keep me from falling. Instead of thanking him, I snatched the dripping wad of fabric out of his other hand, my cheeks burning.
He wiped his palms against his jeans before shoving them in his pockets. “Why do I get the feeling you don’t appreciate my gallantry?”
I put the handkerchief to my cheek and rubbed. The icy cold was like a slap in the face. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. Just that it isn’t necessary.”
Johansen cocked his head. “How d’you figure that?”
“The others will think I can’t take care of myself. Youthink I can’t take care of myself. That’s why you think you have to step in and—”
“Whoa. Whoa!” He raised both hands, palms out. “That has nothing to do with it. I’d do the same if he talked about Martinsen’s ass. A cop’s ass is off limits.”
“If he’d talked about Martinsen’s ass, Martinsen would have hit him,” I said, lowering the handkerchief.
My cheek was clean, or so I hoped, but chances were Johansen probably wouldn’t want his handkerchief back. Not soaking wet like this. And not with tobacco juice and spit all over it. Considering al-Fasi and the kind of people he associated with, the piece of cotton was probably soaked through with all sorts of nastiness. Germs and STDs and the Ebola virus, even. I made a mental note to take a shower when I got back to the station. One with plenty of antibacterial soap. “Any reason we need to keep this?”
Johansen shook his head. “Toss it in the trashcan over there, and let’s go. Get the reports written up and filed so maybe we can catch a nap before they send us both back on the streets.”
That’d be nice. Not that he was headed back onto the streets after this. He was a detective. He had more interesting things to do. I was the one who’d be going back to patrol duty now that the adventure was over. And while being taken off the roster to help vice with this sting had been exiting, it had also been difficult and wearying. A little time to regroup before I went back on patrol would be welcome. Even if it was just enough time to shower and catch a nap and eat at a table instead of in the car for a change.
Johansen added, with a glance at me, “You probably wanna get out of that getup, too. No offense, but looking at you makes my head hurt.”
I was wearing thigh high boots with sky high heels, and a skirt no bigger than a Band Aid. Skin tight and barely long enough to cover my panties. If my mother had been here to see me, she’d have fainted.
“That’d be nice.” As long as he wasn’t planning to get me out of the getup I was wearing himself. That mention of his head hurting…
“C’mon, then.” He put a hand on my back. When I stiffened, he sent me an exasperated look. “Gimme a break, Officer Azad. We have two blocks to walk to the car, through the closest thing to a Red Light District this town’s got. You’re sure to get propositioned, and I don’t feel like hitting anyone else tonight. Just pretend you’re spoken for until we get there.”
“No problem,” Johansen said. “I wouldn’t dream of taking advantage of you.”
Of course not. There are fraternization rules, for one thing, and for another, he’s a detective while I’m a lowly patrol officer. And then there’s the racial issue: he’s native Norwegian, while I have the black hair and dark eyes of my South Asian parents. I was born here, and I’m a citizen with as many rights as anyone else, including Detective Johansen, but people—some people, anyway—still look at me and see a foreigner. I hadn’t yet figured out whether Johansen was one of them, but it didn’t matter anyway, because my mother would kill me if I had anything to do with him. She’s still hoping I’ll fall in love with a nice Pakistani boy and settle down and give her lots of grandchildren, and that I’ll give up this crazy idea of being a cop.
So I let him keep a fake-possessive hand on my lower back on the walk to the car. I even let him open the passenger door for me and help me in, although I was almost certain he did it as an excuse to watch my legs as the skirt rode up to quite indecent heights. By the time he’d walked around the car and gotten in on the driver’s side, I’d yanked it down as far as it went, but between you and me, it wasn’t far enough.
Johansen put the car in gear and we rolled away from the curb. “Don’t worry about it, Azad,” he told me. “Nobody thinks you’re a girl just because you’re wearing a skirt and a pair of heels.”
Right. “In case it’s escaped your attention, Detective, I ama girl.”
He glanced at me, another quick flash of blue. “No, Azad. You’re a police officer. Even dressed like that.”
He looked down, at the more than indecent expanse of my thighs between the top of the boots and the bottom of the skirt. The skin was pebbled. “Shit,” he added, as if he’d just now realized it. “You’re not wearing anything under that skirt.”
“Of course I am.”
“You know what I mean.” Without slowing the car down, he wrestled out of one side of his coat and then the other, and pushed it over to my side of the car. “Put this over your lap.”
“I’ll be all right,” I said, although I did it. The sheep fur lining was wonderful against my cold skin; thick and heavy and warm from his body.
“It’s winter. Why the hell would you go outside with no pants on?”
“I’ve got the skirt.”
“If you can call it that.” He scowled at it, but by now it was decently covered, and I was nice and warm under the sheepskin jacket, so I didn’t mind so much. “It’s cold out there, Azad. You can’t go wandering around Oslo
at night without stockings.”
“I was supposed to look like a street walker,” I reminded him. “Easy access, right? And it was only for a couple of hours. I’ll be all right.”
He grumbled, but didn’t say anything else, just concentrated on maneuvering the car through the streets of downtown, over to the east side, where he’d drop me off at the Central precinct before heading up to his own even more rarified home base with KRIPOS, the Norwegian Criminal Police Organization. No ordinary precinct for Hot Shot Detective Johansen.
Although that was actually rather unfair of me. Not the appellation—he was a hot shot; one of those up-and-coming detectives there was a whole lot of buzz about within the organization—but if he thought me beneath him, he hadn’t let it show. He’d been nice, if strictly professional, throughout the couple of nights we’d worked together. In fact, I suspected he’d been the one who’d picked me for this temporary assignment. My lieutenant had told me I’d been requested specifically, and if it hadn’t been by Johansen himself, it had been by someone at KRIPOS.
So mostly it was my own envy talking. Johansen had everything I wanted, including my dream job, and I was tired and feeling out of sorts about going back to my regular duties tomorrow.
But I kept my mouth shut and my jealousy at bay the best I could. None of it was his fault; he’d been nice and polite throughout. My feelings were my own business.
Johansen was busy driving, and as the minutes passed, I got sleepy in the warm car under the warm jacket. My usual shift was three to eleven, and these couple of days of working through the night had upset my internal balance.
But we’d done what we were paid to do, and had put the bad guys behind bars. And I’d gotten an opportunity to work with a detective from KRIPOS, putting me—I hoped—that much closer to my goal of becoming the first Pakistani-Norwegian female detective in the prestigious police organization.
By the time we reached the offices of the Central precinct, I was half asleep, and Johansen had to touch my arm to get my attention. “Azad? We’re here.”
“Sorry.” I blinked hard, feeling a blush creep into my cheeks. Way to go, Anjali. Fall asleep on the job; that’ll show him you’re detective-material. “Thanks for the ride. And the loan. Here you go.”
I pushed the warm jacket at him. By now, the car was toasty from the heater, and he hardly needed it anymore. I didn’t either, since he’d taken me all the way into the underground garage and it was just a few steps to the basement door into the building.
As I was wiggling out, trying not too flash him, he told me, “You did a good job, Azad.”
“Thank you.” I managed to get to my feet and yank my skirt back down.
“Don’t thank me. You did the job, and you did it well. I’m not sure we could have caught this asshole without you. I’ll make sure your lieutenant knows.”
“Take care of yourself out there.” He put the car back in gear. I took the hint and closed the door. And then he drove away while I walked the few steps to the door and let myself in.
# # #
So what do you think? Worth working on, or not something that should see the light of day?