It didn’t take long for the aroma of freshly brewed coffee to fill the kitchen. The last four minutes had seemed like an eternity as the seconds crept by. I could acknowledge that waiting for the coffee to brew before meeting Dianna in my dining room was stalling. I didn’t want to face the reality that Alex had gone through with the transfer. He had said that he was going to, but he was pissed at me for Atë grabbing him as leverage. I apologized, but I took Dianna’s presence to mean he had not, and probably would never forgive me. It wasn’t really my fault. He was guilty by association. Forgetting the dangers I invited into the lives of those that I cared about was my fault.
I felt like Alex and I clicked from day one. He saw me for who I was and not for what the rumors said. He understood my dry and sometimes crass…and yes, sarcastic humor. I felt like I could talk to him. He wasn’t just another mortal. He wasn’t my lover. Truth be told, Alex was handsome, but I wasn’t attracted to him. He was handsome in the way a family member was…not my family. We tended to take things to the extreme, but most mortal families are different.
I trusted Alex with my life, and that kind of trust few had earned. I valued his opinion and had actually found myself occasionally listening to his advice. I thought we were…friends. Apparently, my friendship wasn’t enough to make him stay. One hiccup, and he just walked away. Okay, it was more than a hiccup, but it wasn’t like they hurt him. They just gagged, bound him, and threw a sack over his head. I thought he had been through worse, and this wouldn’t cause our partnership to cease. I had been wrong. Apparently, what I thought was a friendship had all been false. I was simply his job. Had drinking beer and watching football games been part of his duties? Maybe it was all to keep tabs on the crazy goddess who had seemed to be losing her mind.
I grabbed one of my favorite mugs and the one I used for guests, filling them both. I guess it was time to face the music. Dianna had already laid out mounds of paperwork, maps, and photographs around the table. She even had a mini projection device that showed the data displayed on her laptop across an entire wall.
“Okay, new handler, what’s all of this?” I motioned to the data.
“Our case.” Dianna gave me a smirk as she said it.
“No, shit. What’s the case?”
“It’s Alex.” Dianna’s face didn’t give away what he had to do with this case. Maybe it was one of his, and it was being pawned off on Dianna, just like I had been.
“Yes, he transferred. I know. What is this one of his cold cases? Are they punishing us both?” The last part sounded bitter. It stung to admit. A look of sadness peeked through her professional facade, and she looked away.
“What is it, Dianna?” I urged her to explain.
“Athena, Alex didn’t transfer. He didn’t go to another department or just quit on you. Alex is dead. He was murdered in his home last night. I…we need to find out who.”
“I’m sorry. He said he was going to quit, and I just thought he had finally gone through with it. Had enough of my shit and all that.”
Anger flashed in Dianna’s eyes. “Alex adored you. You obviously have no idea how much. You are the first woman that he has let in since Amelia died.”
I knew his wife’s name was Amelia, but he had never mentioned her death.
“I know he cares about me.”
“Athena, I know you are not that oblivious. My father was in love with you from day one. He was hurt when you started dating that local cop and then were smitten by your ex-girlfriend. It broke his heart. He had always hoped that you would notice, but you never did. My father loved you, and it got him killed. I wasn’t assigned to you. I chose to work with you because you are the only other person that I thought knew him as well as I did. I guess I was wrong.” She balled her hands into fists and started to pack the papers back into her briefcase so she could leave.
If she quit on me already, I would never hear the end of it. Shortest assignment in history, ten minutes in, and she was already quitting. Closing the gap, I extended my arm and attempted to lay a reassuring and apologetic hand on her shoulder. She pulled back as the hiss of air escaped her mouth. She acted as if I had burned her.
“Don’t you fucking touch me! He loved you, and you got him killed! It’s your fault, damn it! And now you won’t even help me…” Her words trailed off into sobs. I caught her as she began to fall and slowly brought us both to the floor, holding her as she cried wildly into my shirt, staining the silk. I realized that I had been a fool. I thought we were friends, but he was in love with me. He was always there for me, and now he was gone. He loved me, and it got him killed. On top of that, he had a front-row seat of me giving up my virtues and mooning over not one but two different people.
Fuck, I guess I really was a bitch.
“I know it doesn’t make up for my ignorance and can’t bring him back, but I am truly sorry. I did love your father. I just hadn’t given him the chance to be more. That’s my fault, and I am so sorry. I am sorry if I’m the reason he was killed. I can promise you one thing. I will not stop until I find out who killed him. I give you my word as a goddess.”
She looked up at me but didn’t look surprised.
“My father always called you a goddess. I just figured it was a pet name. I guess I never realized that he was telling the truth and that you are that Athena. I guess neither of us have been very wise.”
I managed a small smile as the tears spilled from my eyes and onto my cheeks. I knew my makeup was ruined. “Hey, that’s my line.”
My entire viewpoint changed as I sat there crying with her. How could I have been so blind?
“Athena?” Her voice sounded so small.
“Promise me that no matter what it takes, no matter the cost or loss of life, promise me that you will get whoever did this to my father.” She broke into sobs again.
“I promise I will find them. I will make them die slowly. They will beg for mercy that I will never give them. They will pay for what they have done. I vow it on my existence.”
I didn’t respond. What could I say? You’re welcome for vowing vengeance. It just didn’t seem right. So I said nothing and let my gaze wander to the photos that had fallen to the floor when we had. They were pictures of what was left of Alex. They had tortured and dismembered him. You could tell from the photos that he had died slowly and painfully. It was a bad way to die. I knew the agony he had suffered could never truly be expressed in a photograph. I knew how bad it would have been, and I wasn’t about to tell his daughter.
“Dianna, I know that you want to get right into this, but I have some calls to make. I am going to call some of my contacts and start going through all of this. You look dead on your feet. Go lay on the couch and rest. I will wake you as soon as I am ready to compare notes. Besides, you will do better once you have fresh eyes.”
I could feel her nod her head. She probably hadn’t slept since she found out and had been running full throttle since then. She had to rest if she wanted to help find out who had killed her father.
Slowly, I stood up and brought her with me. She wasn’t t a small woman, but her mortal weight was easy to lift. She started to protest, and I gave her a stern look. Be a good little mortal and listen to the goddess. I tried not to laugh at my internal monologue.
I was about to lay her on the couch and get her some bedding when the thought occurred to me. I always seemed to be carrying people…literally. Athena, Goddess of Bitches, and carrying people while they protest. It looks like I continued to collect random titles every day. For now, though, I needed to contact some old acquaintance and find out who the hells killed my partner. I may not have loved him in the same way that he loved me, but I did love him, and you don’t fuck with those that I love. You don’t if you want to live.