Precious Time

Sitting through the funeral was one of the hardest things that Carlos had ever done.

He stared blankly at the closed coffin, not really hearing the Priest as he spoke. He stood with the rest of the congregation, and closed his eyes as the casket was lowered into the ground.

"Goodbye," he whispered as it disappeared from site. He turned and walked away from the crowd.

********************************************************

"So, are you in, or out?"

Tiffany Chambers looked at the other person at the table, regarding him coolly. She thought for a few moments, weighed her options, then nodded. "I'm in," she said as she tossed a poker chip to the middle of the table. "Raise you fifty."

The other person coughed lightly. "Too rich for my blood…I fold."

Tiffany smiled as she laid her cards down and collected the large amount of money from the table. "Night's getting' late, and I'm quitting while I'm ahead."

"Hey," the other person said as he looked at Tiffany's cards. "You only had two jacks?"

Tiffany nodded. "Yeah, I bluffed."

"You bitch."

Tiffany snorted softly. "Sore looser." She got up from the table, grabbed her coat, and headed for the door. "I bid you all a fond adieu."

"Hold on," someone said. "I wanna talk to you for a second."

********

Tiffany sat on the railing that ran along the back of the house, lit a cigarette, and leaned back slightly. "What did you want to talk about?"

Detective Jason Habyre smiled at her. "During the bust today…"

"Yeah?"

"When you were counting the drugs…"

"Yeah?" Tiffany said as she took a drag from her cigarette. "Look, Jason…why don't you get to where you're going, and cut out the scenic route."

"I saw you pocket some of the precious."

Tiffany tensed slightly, but stayed where she was. "You saw me pocket some of the drugs?" she asked. She jumped to her feet when he nodded. "I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Cut the crap, Chambers," Jason said. "I just want to know if I saw what I think I saw."

"What the hell are you, IA?" Tiffany stabbed her cigarette out in a large ashtray. "Get a life, Jase," she said in a low voice, "cause if you told anyone what you think you saw, then I might just get pissed at you."

Jason watched as Tiffany walked to the patio door, opened it and went into the house. He then lit a cigarette, turned, and flicked the match into the back yard.

********************

Tiffany closed her eyes as the wind brushed lightly through her hair. She heard a vehicle approach, glanced over her shoulder to confirm who the visitor was, and then looked back over the city below her.

The silver pickup stopped a few feet away, and a tall man got out. He walked across the rooftop parking lot, and took up position beside Tiffany.

"Pretty impressive, isn't it?" she asked, motioning to the city below them.

"It certainly is," Texas Ranger Cordell Walker said. "Any luck?"

Tiffany smiled as she looked out at the city. "It was easier than I thought. Jason Habyre asked me about the precious that I…uh…borrowed."

Walker's eyebrows went up in mild surprise. "That was quick. You just took that yesterday." "I know," Tiffany finally turned away from the Dallas skyline. "I wondered why he invited me to the poker game last night. Guess he couldn't wait to see if I'm dirty." "Are you sure you still want to do this?" Tiffany shrugged lightly. "Well, I don't like the Internal Affairs feel that it gives me, and I'm not overly interested in being a Serpico, but other than that…" Walker took a step back from the guardrail. "If you're not one hundred percent behind this, then tell me now." "Let's just say that I'm 95% behind this, and leave it at that." Tiffany smiled. "Besides, it might be interesting to pretend to be dirty for awhile."

********************

"Tiffany Chambers? Are you sure?" Detective Jason Habyre nodded. "I saw her pocket it. She basically admitted it last night." "I don't know," the other man said slowly. "Smells like IA." Jason laughed. "Oh, trust me…Chambers is the last person that would go IA." He paused. "I think we should see if she's like us." Detective Harry Kilner laughed. "Like us? You mean dirty?" "Dirty…rich…ambitious…" Jason said with a shrug, "take your pick."

********************

The morning sun was just peeking through the curtains when the aroma of fresh brewed coffee filtered its way into the bedroom. Tiffany sniffed a few times, inhaling the delicious scent, then rolled over and opened her eyes. She stretched lightly, luxuriating in the feel of the silk bedsheets. She heard a small noise, and looked up to find Carlos Sandoval leaning against the bedroom doorframe. He had a mug of coffee in his hand, and he was watching her intently. "Into voyeurism now, are you?" she asked playfully. "You never know," he said cheerfully as he stood and walked over to her. He took a sip from the mug, then offered it to her. She took a drink, then fell back against her pillow. "Up, up, up," Carlos said. "You have a busy day." Tiffany took the coffee again, downed over half of the liquid, then got out of bed. "Do I at least have time for a shower?" she asked innocently. "Oh, I think you might…" "Hey! Wait a minute!" Tiffany interrupted. "What's going on here? It's Saturday…my day off!" She headed back for the bed and climbed in under the soft sheets. Carlos smiled at her. "Yes, it is Saturday. And do you remember what is happening today?" "Yeah…I'm gonna sleep in…that's what's happening. Wanna join me?" Carlos walked to the head of the bed, and crouched beside it so he was looking into her face. "What comes to mind when I say these three things: airport… Houston… 9:15 am flight." Tiffany's eyes went wide, and she jumped out of her bed. "Damn it, Carlos! Why didn't you remind me." Carlos sat on the bed and laughed. "Because, if I reminded you, I wouldn't get the fun of seeing you panic like this."

********************

Meet with FBI agents who originally asked Tiffany to go undercover to get bad drug steeling cops…..

********************

"Your boyfriend's an ex-cop." "Oh, for fuck…" Tiffany turned away in annoyance. "Jesus, Harry," she said as she turned back. "What does that have to do with anything." "I think you're working for Internal Affairs." "Internal Affairs?" Tiffany glanced at Jason. "And what do you think?" Jason shrugged. "I'm not sure yet. It is kinda suspicious." He started to count points off on his fingers. "You're sleeping with and ex-cop…who happens to be a PI now. You're chummy with Rangers. Up until three days ago, I never saw you do anything remotely crooked." "Yeah…well, I've never seen either of you two do anything crooked," Tiffany pointed out. "How do I know that you're not Internal Affairs?" "This is getting us no where," Harry said. "Tiffany, excuse us…we have to have a little chat." Tiffany got up from her chair. "You two are very weird," she said as she went to the back of the bar. She smiled to herself. Those two are nearly falling over each other to get me to join them.

********************

Stereo played Thunderstruck by ACDC, Tiffany hummed along with the hard music. Carlos winced slightly. "Uhh…could you possibly turn that down?" Tiffany rolled her eyes as she lowered the volume. "Honestly Carlos, you need to get a broader taste of music." "My taste in music is fine," Carlos said. "At least my music is listenable." "Listenable? Is that even a word?" Tiffany teased. "Besides, haven't you heard? If you're ears aren't bleeding, then it isn't music." "Charming," Carlos muttered. He reached out and changed the radio station, smiling in approval as a song came on. "There, that's music." "Carlos," Tiffany said pleasantly. "If you don't change that station back, then I am going to slam this car into a wall." Carlos put his hands up in mock defeat, and laughed as he change the stereo back to it's original setting.

********************

Tiffany parked her car in front of the old warehouse, got out, and went to the door. She tried the doorknob, and finding it unlocked, entered the building.

"Hello?" she called out. She jumped as a shadow passed in front of her. "Okay, this isn't funny," she said as she reached for her gun. She pointed it at the shadow. "Move out into the light, nice and slow…hands where I can see them."

The shadow moved into the light, and its features became recognizable.

"Jesus," Tiffany said as she lowered her weapon. "You damn near scared the life outta me."

"That was the idea," the man said, and instant before he reached behind him and pulled out a small gun.

Tiffany raised her own gun quickly, and fired, but she was a fraction too late. Pain erupted in her shoulder and her body swung back from the impact. She straightened, put her hand over the wound, and looked at him with surprise as she sunk to her knees.

"I can't believe you shot me," she whispered as she tried to raise her gun. The man reached out, took the gun from her useless hand, and stepped back. "Fuck."

"Nothing personal," the man said as he aimed again, and fired. The bullet entered just below her ribcage, causing her to scream out in agony.

Tiffany fell to her back, and stared at the ceiling of the warehouse as her brain tried to catch up with what was happening to her. Somewhere, behind her pain, she could hear Carlos' voice telling her to close her eyes…play dead. She willed herself to obey.

She was vaguely aware that no important, life-altering thoughts passed through her mind as she gasped for air; no regrets, no wishes, no 'if onlys'. In fact, the only thought that actually occurred to her was that Carlos had been right…she should have backed out of this long ago.

The man crouched by her still body and put two fingers on her neck. He felt a faint pulse, shrugged, and then got back to his feet. Tiffany cracked an eye open, and watch as the man went to a corner, picked up a large can, and started to pour the liquid contents over the floor.

"Oh, shit," she whispered and tried to get up. Come on, body…MOVE! Panic started to overtake the pain when she realized that her body would not comply with her wishes.

The man turned, lit a cigarette, then flicked the match onto the floor. Flames sprung up, and quickly spread throughout the area. He took one last look at Tiffany, and then walked out of the building.

********************

Carlos turned away from the office window and went back to his desk. He looked at a few papers, sighed, and put them away in a folder. He stared at his computer screen for a few minutes then logged onto the Internet. Carlos checked his e-mail, and not finding a letter from Tiffany, logged back off. He looked up as the door opened and Trent entered.

"Any word?" Trent asked.

"Nope," Carlos replied. "No messages, no e-mail, nothing." He stood again. "This isn't like her."

"Maybe she couldn't get to a computer," Trent offered. "Or, it might be too dangerous for her to contact you right now."

Carlos nodded slightly. "That must be it. Man! I hate this case Tiffany is working on …it worries me sometimes."

"Oh, before I forget," Trent said, "Alex invited Jenny and me to dinner tonight…and she wants you to come too."

"Sounds like you're trying to change the subject."

Trent nodded. "Yep, I am. So…?"

"I don't know…"

"Alex insisted."

"Oh, well, if she insisted, then that's different," Carlos said. "Wouldn't want to piss off and Assistant D.A."

********************

********************

Cordell Walker held the phone in his hand, stunned by what he had just heard. He put the receiver down slowly, then turned to the group behind him.

Trent stood straight, concerned by the look on Walker's face. "What?" he asked, not really knowing if he wanted to hear the answer.

"There was a fire in an old warehouse downtown two days ago," Walker said slowly. "There was a body found…" He trailed off, not wanting to complete the sentence.

Jenny closed her eyes and turned away. She put her hand over her mouth to stop the protest that she was about to say. Trent put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. He looked at Carlos, saw the worry on his friend's face.

"Tiff?" Carlos asked in a soft voice.

"I'm sorry, Carlos," Walker said.

"Fuck," Jenny whispered. She turned to Trent, welcoming the feel of his arms around her. "No," she said into his chest. "It can't be."

Carlos was silent as he stared at the Texas Ranger. His mind reeled, and it took all his will power not to sink to the floor and cry. "Are you sure?"

Walker nodded. "We just got the identification from her dental records." He took a step towards the other man. "I'm really sorry, Carlos. If there's anything I can do…"

"Maybe later," Carlos answered, then turned and walked out of the room.

"Carlos," Jenny called after him.

"Let him go," Trent said.

********************

Carlos leaned against the side of the house, staring at the star filled sky. "We just got the identification from her dental records." The words echoed through his mind. That means she was burned beyond recognition. He shut his eyes tight against that image, but it assaulted him anyway.

He put his hands over his eyes and slowly sank to the ground. "Damn it," he whispered. "Damn it…fuck." He put his head back against the wall and closed his eyes as he suddenly became angry.

"Why did you have to do it, Tiff?" he asked. "You could have backed out, and let the Feds handle it. But no…you had to be the hero…and now you're dead!" He swung his arm back, pounding his elbow against the hard wall. "How could you be so fucking stupid!!"

He pulled his legs up, so that his knees where almost to his chest, and hugged them tightly. He rocked slowly back and forth as his anger eased. "I'm sorry, Tiff," he whispered. "Oh, God, please…make this just a bad dream."

But, he knew with certainty that this had not been a dream. Dreams were never this painful. Part of him wanted to just crawl into some crevice and die, but another part, the part that he now turned his concentration to, wanted to end that pain. That part wanted vengeance.

The End
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