Welcome To The Harem

An Office Romance (Part 5 of 7) by Scifinerdgrl
Summary: This is my attempt to explore what Reyes could have been thinking when she got involved with Brad Follmer. This story takes place between her arrival at the New York Field Office (after graduation from the FBI academy in 1995), and her first meeting with John Doggett in 1997.

From: Scifinerdgrl
Date: 1 Oct 2002 12:55:15 -0700
Subject: NEW: An Office Romance (7/10)
Source: atxc

An Office Romance, by Scifinerdgrl Part 7

A swarm of tiny lights dancing against blackly silhouetted trees
directed Brad to the crime scene. He pulled up behind a row of
parked black-and-white police cars and switched off the engine.
"Ready?" he asked, turning to face Monica. She clenched her jaw
and nodded. "Got your flashlight?" he asked, reaching into his
pocket for his. She shook her head and sighed. "In the glove
box," he instructed. "I keep an extra." She fiddled with the
box for a moment, her tentative motions proving ineffectual. In
the darkness he could hear the frustration in her breathing. He
leaned over, pushing hard on the reluctant box, and withdrew a
tiny flashlight. "Here," he handed the light to her. "Use this
for now." As she reached for it, her hand brushed against his,
causing him to inhale sharply. When he recognized the musky
scent of recent sex he exhaled just as sharply and withdrew to
his side of the car. "Let's go," he ordered, and opened his

The scene was much as Monica had imagined: men in dark suits
speaking officiously to each other and to the coroner...
latex-gloved men and women bagging tiny samples... yellow tape
demarking a perimeter... Brad marched toward a gray-haired man
with a clipboard. He thrust out his hand, forcing the older man
to juggle his clipboard and pen to shake his hand.

"Brad Follmer, Special Agent in charge of Crimes against
Children," he announced, pumping the man's hand vigorously.

"Andrew O'Reilly, violent crimes," the man answered. "A.D.
Williams called you?"

Brad put his hands on his hips and surveyed the scene over
O'Reilly's shoulder. "Yes," he said, "We've had a case with
similar injuries."

"A child?" O'Reilly yelped. "Really? This body is very badly
brutalized... I can't imagine..."

"You'd be surprised what our office sees..." Brad said
nonchalantly, still scanning the scene.

O'Reilly nodded toward Monica and asked, "Is she one of yours?"

Brad followed O'Reilly's nod and saw Monica stepping lightly
through the crowd, closing the gap between them. "Yes, she's
mine," Brad confirmed. "Trainee. I want her to see this."

O'Reilly put his hand on Brad's shoulder and said grimly, "No,
you don't." Brad shook off his hand and walked to Monica's side.
"This is Agent Monica Reyes," he said. Monica smiled demurely
and bowed her head, but before either she or O'Reilly could
speak, Brad added, "We'd like to see the body now."

O'Reilly checked Monica's reaction, and she seemed to be
following Brad's lead. "Okay," he said resignedly and led them
to it.

Monica took three deep breaths, letting out each one slowly,
before turning to face the body. As she approached, she felt a
sense of tragedy, of violence, of loss... but not the evil she'd
expected. Brad watched her closely as she squatted next to a
woman collecting strands of hairs with tweezers. "May I touch
it?" Monica asked. The woman pulled a pair of latex gloves from
her pocket and offered them to Monica. Brad lowered himself to
her level as Monica struggled with the stubborn latex. She felt
childishly helpless, and looked pleadingly to Brad for help. He
smiled and said, "Latex has a mind of its own."

She responded, half-laughing, with a bright-eyed smile, then
laughed aloud as the first glove slid on.

"See?" Brad cajoled. The other glove went on effortlessly, and
Monica smiled gratefully at Brad. She had no idea how he did it,
but he always seemed to make things easier for her.

Reyes examined the marks on the victim's head and hands, noting
that they were similar to those on the dumpster baby. An oily
black fluid on the victim's shirt piqued her interest. She dipped
a finger into it then sniffed. She drew her head back
instinctively, crying out, "bile!" Someone quickly swabbed at the
goo and bagged it as she watched. She turned to look at Follmer.
"This is an exorcism, alright... same as the other one. Can we
observe the autopsy?"

"I'll see what I can do," he answered.

She looked over the body, the man's clothes were disheveled and
stained, but not bloody. She reached into the man's shirt pocket
with her clean glove and withdrew a small white object. She held
it to her nose and smiled knowingly.

"Garlic," she said. "Definitely an exorcism, but maybe not an
official one." She turned to the investigator looking on. He was
tall, and from her lowered position he seemed even taller. "No ID
on him?" she asked. The man shook his head and pursed his lips.
Monica pursed her lips, subconsciously imitating him. "Hmmm," she
hummed briefly. "And you don't know yet what killed him" Again
the man shook his head.

She stood up, and Follmer stood up, positioning himself behind
her. "You don't sense anything?" he whispered into her ear, his
lips barely moving.

She turned around. "No, not a thing. I think this exorcism was

"Successful?" Brad repeated skeptically.

Nodding, Monica said, "The evil's gone. The wound's are like that
baby's wounds, but the sense of evil -- that's not there."

"How do you know you didn't sense the murder's evil? Someone who
kills a child..." Brad started.

"No, you have it wrong. It wasn't murder. It was an accident, in
both cases," she said authoritatively. "I think the exorcism was
so violent it killed the victims, but it wasn't intentional..."
She looked down sympathetically at the body and shook her head
gently. "Nobody meant to hurt him... they were trying to save

They started walking back to the car, their heads bowed in
conversation. "Go on," Brad urged. "What makes you say that?"

She stopped and waited for him to turn to face her. Squinting to
see his face, she asked, "You're sure you want to know?" She was
relieved to see that he seemed genuine, so she continued.

"The burn marks from the holy water? Some are what you'd expect,
but others are in the wrong places. And tonight I found garlic --
that's all wrong. Garlic is for vampires. And the bruising, on
the baby, and on this man? Too repetitive... Some things fit,
others are, well... amateurish."

"Amateur exorcism?" Brad asked skeptically.

"Officially, the Church controls exorcism, but they are so
reluctant to do it that lay people try it. But they wouldn't do
more than one case..." She looked into his eyes resolutely.
"We're looking for a self-educated, free-lance exorcist. Probably
Catholic, but not necessarily. Could be Orthodox Greek, or even

"Whoa, slow down!" Brad ordered. "Take me through this step by
step. I'm not saying it's not possible, but you're taking some
leaps here..."

"Not leaps," Monica said defensively. "I know what I'm talking
about here -- my master's degree was in ritual, and I'm familiar
with most forms of exorcism. It's part of the rituals of several
religions. This evidence fits with what I know about exorcism,
well, at least partly."

"Okay, I'm sorry," Brad said, taking a deep breath. "It just
doesn't fit with what *I* know. Explain it to me..." He lowered
his head slightly to look more directly into her eyes. "Please?"
he pleaded.

Sighing deeply, Monica continued, "There are several sacramentals
in the Catholic exorcism -- holy oil, holy water, incense, and
the medal of St. Benedict. If it's an official, exorcism, and
especially if it's a difficult one, all of these would be used.
But in both of these cases there's no evidence of any of these
except the holy water. And unless there's something under this
one's clothes, no marks from a medallion. The bile could be from
ingestion of holy oil, but he would have been anointed too -- he
would have been anointed FIRST, in fact. Yet, there's no evidence
of external application of holy oil..." Monica took a deep breath
and studied Brad's face. He seemed overwhelmed, curious, and a
little awestruck. "Should I continue?" she asked defiantly. With
a raising of his brow and a subtle nod he encouraged her.

"Now, the Greek Orthodox Church relies primarily on prayers, but
they may use holy water if the victim is unbaptized, or oil if
they believe the victim may be mentally ill. But, like the
Catholic Church, they would *not* use garlic or physical force.
The only way physical force would be used is to restrain the
person... These repetitive injuries could be from a kind of
seizure as the exorcism progresses, but that's something that
only happens in the movies." She smiled apologetically but
continued. "There's a kernel of truth in that, but it's really
very, very rare. The Islamic exorcism allows for beating, but
only as a last resort. And they don't sprinkle water -- they have
the victim bathe in water seen by the evil eye..."

"The Jewish exorcism stories involve the breaking of glasses, and
I didn't see any cuts on the baby -- we probably won't find any
on this victim either... And then they's the Wiccan potion, which
includes garlic, but also includes several other ingredients.
They, too, use oil, but they don't believe in spirit possession
of humans, only of spaces...

Brad held up his hand, interrupting her. "I get the picture." He
flashed a smile. He was clearly impressed with her knowledge.
"I'll arrange for you to be at the autopsy."
"You won't be there?" she asked, somewhat panicked.

"Do you want me there? You obviously don't need me," he answered,
putting his hand on her shoulder. "But if you want me to come
with you..." she nodded as he said this. "Okay, I'll be there
with you," he assured her.

On the drive back to Brooklyn, Monica filled Brad in on her
studies of mythology, ritual, and religions of the world. He'd
seen her transcripts from Brown -- very impressive grade-point
average, even with a crushing course overload -- but had not
given them much thought. Until this night he'd only paid
attention to her course work at Quantico. She seemed not to be
paying very close attention to the route they were taking, and he
suspected she wouldn't have recognized it anyway. He took
several wrong turns, deliberately adding twenty minutes to their
trip, selfishly wanting to extend this rare opportunity to listen
to her enthusiasm. Periodically, his eyes glazed over as his
mind rested, delighting in her intelligence, enthusiasm, youth,
and spirit. He could listen to her talk all night. A brief
silence made him snap to attention.

"Am I boring you?" she asked worriedly.

"No, no!" he jumped to her ego's defense. "Fascinating! I'm
sorry -- I did drift off for a minute... but no, you're not
boring." He beamed at her. "You're never boring."

She blushed. "People sometimes find my interests a little...
odd... After I graduated, and I didn't have my classmates around
me, I've started to feel a little," she paused to think of the
right word, and he looked at her with concern. "Well... a little
out of place."

As the street lamps sped past them, Brad watched the traffic and
measured his response, a sigh telling Monica he was thinking.
"Monica... I don't know what to tell you. The FBI has a kind
of... corporate culture, and I can see that your beliefs will
give you some grief." As they pulled to a stop at a red light he
looked into her face and said tenderly, "You bring something to
the FBI that nobody else can bring. Expect to be challenged --
we're all skeptics here -- but I know you can meet the challenge.
You've proven yourself to me, and that's not easy," he smiled.
Before she could smile back the light turned green and he faced
the road. They drove the rest of the way to her apartment in
silence, although both of their minds were roaring with
conflicting emotions.

After stopping the car, Brad turned and said officiously, "Now,
keep your cellphone on ... I don't know how much notice I'll be
able to give you before the autopsy. I'll let you know as soon
as I know, okay?"

"Yes," she said softly. Putting her hand on his forearm, she
said "Thank you," with deep sincerity that told him her words
were about more than the autopsy. She leaned toward him and
brushed her lips against his cheek. "Thank you for helping me
get through this week." She quickly withdrew and opened the car
door. "See you at the autopsy," she said cheerfully.


The insistent ring of an electronic alarm told Brad Follmer that
he had passed the entire night without sleeping. He slapped it
vengefully and rolled over, putting his head in his hands. He
still had no solution for the question that perplexed him: How
to separate himself from Agent Reyes while still being able to
see her. After much agonizing he finally admitted to himself the
dreadful truth -- that he was smitten. As long as she seemed not
to return his feelings, he was sure they would pass, that his
infatuation would be fleeting, and that he'd look back on it
years later and laugh. He wasn't laughing now.

He padded to his closet and stuffed his gym bag. His handball
game was the only thing that could save him now. In the past, he
was able to slap away other uncomfortable feelings as he sent the
hapless ball slamming against the walls.

After his game, his opponent, one of the few members of this gym
who could hold their own against him, breathed heavily and
slapped him on the back. "Have you made a deal with the devil or
what? That was some game!"

"Jeff," Brad said as they made their way to the locker room.
"Can you keep a secret?"

"Sure.. what is it?"

Brad waited until they were alone in the hallway then whispered,
"I have a thing for a co-worker. I just can't shake it! And I
think she may feel the same way."

"Whoa..." Jeff responded. He knew the FBI's rules, and from his
own experiences on Wall Street he also knew the reasons for those
rules. "Don't go there, buddy. Don't even think about it!"

When they got to the locker room Brad threw open his locker door,
making a loud slam against the cold metal. He sighed deeply.
"Jeff, I don't know... I don't know if I have the willpower...
I've been attracted to lots of women at work. This one's
different." He sat on a bench, pulling off his shoes and socks,
and as he hunched over his feet his voice took on a strained
tone. "I'd feel the same way no matter how I met her..."

Feeling helpless, Jeff looked down on Brad and put a hand on his
shoulder. "Like I said... Don't go there. Don't even think
about it."

"Too late," Brad said, standing up to finish undressing. "I
can't stop thinking about it."

Jeff continued looking down, and saw the truth of Brad's
statement. "Let's schedule another game for tomorrow. You need
to get your mind off of her."

Brad wrapped a towel around his waist and started for the
showers. "Okay, it's worth a try," he said dejectedly.

Monica only half-listened to the Shaolin monk's instruction on
The Way, chi breathing, the power of chi... After hours of
lectures at the FBI she wanted some action, and started fidgeting
as the master droned on. The master noticed her disinterest, and
intentionally let his voice slip into a strict monotone, and his
Chinese accent grow stronger and stronger. Monica continued to
feign attention.

Finally, the monk said, "You are interested in harnessing the
power of chi?" Monica nodded. "Why?"

"I need..." she started, then stopped when she realized she
wasn't sure what she was seeking. "I'm not sure. Control?
Inner strength? Focus? I need to be able to sense evil without
being overwhelmed by it..."

The monk's face was impassive, making Monica squirm. "I need...
no I want... an inner peace, or an inner strength... to do battle
with evil. I'm an FBI agent, and..." She suddenly sensed the
inner peace and strength of the monk, and felt an overwhelming
urge to confide in him. "And I need to deal with the evil within
myself," she added.

The monk smiled knowingly. "A warrior needs the power of chi,
for just such reasons. Whether you pursue Shaolin Kung Fu or
not, you are welcome to learn from us."

Monica's face broke into a bright-eyed grin. "Thank you, sifu,"
she said, bowing her head.

"You tell me you have begun learning to breathe. You have been
missing an important element: meditation. You will start
learning now."

Monica's purse rang out an objection, and she smiled
apologetically. "My cellphone... I'll just be..." The sifu
looked displeased but Monica pulled the criminal from her purse
nevertheless. She blushed as she said, "Hello?... Brad! Of
course... I'm ready. But I'm not at home." She gave him
directions to the monastery then returned the phone to her purse.
"I only have twenty minutes," she said. "Will that be enough

"For true instruction, you will need to set time aside, making
your learning the most important thing."

Monica's heart sank. "That was my boss... I was kind of
on-call. I don't know if I can make a commitment like that."

Seeing her disappointment, the master said, "If you truly want to
learn The Way and the inner strength of chi..." Monica nodded.
"The universe will cooperate with your plans."

Unsure whether to believe in this concept, but consoled by his
encouragement, Monica grinned and sighed. "For the next twenty
minutes the universe is cooperating."

Later, Monica stood on the street corner waiting for Brad's car.
She felt stronger and more focused than she had since starting at
the FBI. When Brad pulled to the curb, he noticed a change in
her. She seemed calmer, more serene... He smiled awkwardly and
asked, "Are you enlightened now?"

She grinned, unsure whether he was flirting with her. Last
night's kiss seemed like a silly mistake now. Her brief
meditation had cleared her mind, and she felt cleansed.
"Starting to be... I'm coming back here for weekly instruction
in The Way."

"Dao," he answered knowingly. "Good for you."

As they drove out onto the Island Monica prattled on about
Chinese culture and religion, as Brad repeated to himself, "Don't
go there. Don't even think about it."

By the time of the autopsy, the victim had been identified. He
was a 19-year-old mentally handicapped boy whose fingerprints
were on record in Nassau county. Monica took her place at a
distance from the medical examiner, but he waved to her to

"Aren't you the agent who thinks this was an exorcism?" Monica
nodded. "Since when do retards need exorcisms?" The M.E. said
with disgust. "This ... this ...." he looked into Reyes'
innocent-looking eyes. "This sick-o ain't no man of the cloth!"

"I agree," Monica said calmly. "I think it was an amateur
exorcism." The M.E. and the other investigators looked at her,
slack-jawed. She nodded decisively and added, "There are too
many inconsistencies for this to be sanctioned." They continued
staring at her as she looked around at their faces, as if to say,

Brad interjected, gesturing toward the head. "What about these
bruises?" Everyone turned their attention the body, except
Monica, who looked gratefully at Brad.

Monica felt a sense of peace, both from her meditation and from
the body. Brad smiled at her for a short moment, then made a
point of not looking at her for the rest of the autopsy. But
despite his best efforts, the image of her face, nearly glowing
in its serenity, was at the front of his mind.

Afterward, as they were walking to his car, Brad remained
uncharacteristically quiet. After they'd buckled themselves in,
Monica looked expectantly at him, his hands on the steering
wheel, his eyes glued to the odometer.

"Brad?" Monica put her hand on his arm. "Are you okay?"

Lines appeared on his forehead. "Didn't that seem a little
routine to you?" he suddenly asked.

"I didn't notice," Monica replied, her eyes looking upward as if
replaying the autopsy.

"The M.E. didn't seem surprised by any of the discoveries. He
has all this anger toward the perp... yet..." Brad pursed his
lips and sighed through his nose. "It's as if he's seen this

Monica sighed and studied Brad's face. "I don't know what to
say. Maybe he's just very jaded..."

Brad studied her face with equal intensity to her stare. "You
may be right. You do have a good sense of people... but still
there's something..." he turned the key in the ignition. "I just
don't know." He pulled onto the road and they drove in silence
for a few minutes. They came to a major intersection populated
with restaurants. He slowed down and said, "Want to have lunch?"

She looked at him with surprise, and he turned in to a parking
lot before she could answer. "But... I am supposed to be..." she
stuttered, looking at her watch.

"It'll be quick," Brad promised. "I've eaten here before."
Before Monica could object, Brad thrust open his door and stood
next to the car, impatiently waiting for her to join him. She
sighed and followed him to the front door of a Chinese

As they were waiting to be seated, Monica studied the deep red
and polished gold decorations. Brad watched in amusement. "Do
you have a thing for all things Asian? or just Chinese?"

Monica was stunned. "I never thought of it before," she answered
thoughtfully. "I try to keep an open mind. I guess I like a lot
of things." She smiled, and he responded with an amused,
appreciative smile of his own. Monica was surprised and
flattered by the gleam in his eyes. And, she had to admit, a
little excited. As she was struggling to suppress her feelings
the hostess waved to them to follow. By the time they were
seated, Monica felt like her old self again, but she could see
that Brad's eyes had not lost their gleam.

She blushed over her open menu, and forced herself to breathe
deeply. "Monica?" she heard his voice asking gently. She looked
up to see the waitress waiting patiently for her to order. "Moo
goo gai pan," she said, a little flustered. "Steamed rice,
jasmine tea."

Brad handed his menu to the waitress, keeping his eyes on Monica.
"I'll have that too." Leaning forward on his elbows, Brad added,
"As you're the expert, I'll follow your lead."

Monica looked away then brought her eyes back to his, this time
defiantly. "You're the one who's been here before." Silently
she added, with as much mental power as she could muster, "Please
don't flirt with me. You're making this harder."

"Okay," Brad said, leaning back in his seat. He paused when he
saw her startled reaction. "Tell me what you know about ritual

"Intentional ritual abuse?" she clarified. "Very little. In
most cultures rituals are harmless, and even abusive ones

"Not rituals from cultures... I mean, cults... destructive
cults," Brad interrupted. "How do you know that what we've seen
is from an exorcism and not something intentionally harmful?"

"I don't," she admitted.

He thought for a moment before speaking, then said, "I want you
to do some research. There needs to be a task force here, and
you should represent our division."

"Me?" Monica was flattered. "I'm so new..."

"There isn't anyone else I'd choose," he said matter-of-factly.
"On Monday I'm going to ask Williams to assign you to a task
force, if he forms one. And knowing how things work around here,
I expect he will."

"Okay," Monica said slowly. "Where do I do this research?"

"On Monday I'll take you on a tour of the libraries and show you
our database. You'll probably be under someone else's
supervision by Wednesday, so set Tuesday aside for homework."

Monica sighed and played with her chopsticks. She felt both
relieved and disappointed not to be seeing Brad after Monday.
Trying to avoid his eyes, she looked around the restaurant, this
time admiring not the Chinese decor, but the ceiling tiles, the
napkins, the salt shakers... A man was chatting heartily with a
woman, two small children seated between them... Another table
seated three women huddled in what looked like gossip. A man
came toward her, followed by two women. Monica suddenly realized
she was staring at them and quickly averted her eyes. As she
stared at her chopsticks, Monica felt a rush of warmth pass by
her, and her chopsticks seemed to vibrate between her fingers and
thumb. She turned to watch the people who had just passed by,
and the second woman turned to watch her. She smiled at Monica,
the golden yellow of her bleached hair perfectly matched by the
yellow glow of her eyes. Monica dropped her chopsticks and
started to hyperventilate, then remembered her training.

"Just a minute," she said, excusing herself. She followed the
woman to the cashier's station, feeling warmth and nausea
strengthening as she caught up to her. She stood behind the
stranger, eyes closed, breathing deeply, from her belly, as
instructed, forcing herself to empty her mind. The nausea
subsided, and as it did, a series of images flashed before
Monica's mind, showing her the anguish of a thousand tortured
souls. The last image was of the boy from the autopsy. She
opened her eyes and saw the woman leave the restaurant, looking
backward, victory in her yellow eyes.

Monica asked the hostess where the ladies room was, then
pretended to need to use it. By the time she emerged, she was
refreshed not in body, but in spirit. She was determined to
track down this evil that was permeating Long Island.

Through the rest of their lunch together the shop talk gradually
gave way to personal chat, and for the first time Brad did most
of the talking. His years in England, schooling in Princeton,
Los Angeles and drug investigations... Monica found it all
fascinating. By the time he dropped her off at Joe's station
Brad seemed more like a friend than a supervisor.

A new world awaited Monica at the station house. It seemed at
once grim and cheerful, old linoleum floors contrasting with
modern computers. Old cabinets, metal undercoating showing at
the well-worn edges, lined one wall, and a counter made from
blond wood in 1950s tinting supported an array of modern
equipment. "Can I help you?" a young, cheery woman asked from a
seat near the phone.

Shyly, Monica responded, "I'm looking for Joe Costello... he
invited me for..."

Jumping up, the young woman smiled and said, "You must be Monica!
Welcome!" She ran around the counter and grabbed Monica's elbow.
"The wives and girlfriends are in here," she said, leading her
toward the back.

Monica found herself in a workplace kitchen. Mismatched
containers sat on a formica counter, steam wafting from some,
creating a cacophony of aromas that Monica's very full stomach
did not welcome. Several women sat around a utilitarian table in
the center, their hands waving over their paper plates as if
conjuring. The conversation stopped as Monica stepped through
the doorway.

"Everybody, this is Monica," the young woman said proudly. Half
a dozen pairs of eyes instantly fixed on Monica, making her

"Hi," Monica said, shuffling her feet slightly.

An older woman rose and was instantly at Monica's side. She put
her arm around Monica's waist and ushered her toward the table.
"I'm Rosemarie," she said officiously. "Captain Williams is my
husband." She then proceeded with introductions, naming both the
wife or girlfriend and the man who justified her presence.

The final woman, closest to Monica, was named Teresa. She had
long, carefully primped, dark hair framing exquisitely applied,
if not tastefully chosen, make-up. She was quite pregnant, but
managed to lean to the side to offer Monica a limp handshake.
"Welcome, have a seat," she said. "We're all friendly here."
Monica smiled, thinking the woman's accent sounded like a parody
of a Brooklyn accent.

"You're not from around here, are you?" asked one of the women,
drawing disapproving glances from the others.

"No," Monica offered.

Before she could continue, another woman interrupted, "But you're
Italian, aren't you?"

"No," Monica said, laughing.

"Jewish?" another woman jumped in.

"No," Monica shook her head.

"Irish," another woman said hopefully.

Monica looked around the table skeptically. "Not Irish either,"
she said cautiously. "Why?"

Another woman snapped her fingers and said "Puerto Rican! Reyes,
right! That's Spanish!"

"No, I'm not from Puerto Rico," Monica said, becoming a little
defensive. She eyed the group cautiously and the women closest
to her leaned forward trying to read her face.

"Are you black?" a tentative voice said.

"I'm from Mexico," Monica said, and the women all leaned back in
their seats.

"Ahhhh" they said, relief evident in several faces.

"Well, at least you're Catholic," Rosemarie said with finality.
"That's good."

"Actually, I'm converting to Buddhism," Monica said cheerfully.

Silence greeted this announcement. Monica's eyes darted from one
shocked face to the next. "What?" she asked. "Is there
something wrong with that?"

Teresa spoke first. "Does Joe know this?"

"Sure, I've told him," Monica said innocently. "Why wouldn't I?"

One of the other women made the sign of the cross over her chest
then said, "It'll kill his mother."

"I wonder if that's the point," another said, seeming to forget
Monica's presence as she went into a huddle with the two women
nearest her.

"Speaking of Joe's mother," Monica jumped in. "Where's that
famous baked ziti?"

Rosemarie escorted Monica to a counter top populated by nearly
identical pans of pasta with red sauce and cheese. "Mine is this
one," she said, proudly gesturing to the one with the least pasta
left. "And this one is Joe's mother's," she nodded toward a pan
that was nearly intact.

Despite her engorged stomach, Monica helped herself to ziti from
both pans, then poured herself a coke.

Monica ate as much ziti as she could while listening to the women
talk about their pregnancies, their children, their sisters'
children... Finally Teresa turned to her and asked "So,
Monica... How many children do you want."

Monica forced down a mouthful of ziti and tried to decide on an
appropriate response. All eyes were suddenly on her. "I haven't
really thought about it," she said finally. "Two, I suppose."

"I thought Mexicans liked big families," a woman at the far end
said. The woman next to her slapped her, and the other women
looked down.

"It's a little early for me to be thinking about a family anyway.
I've just started my career, I just moved here..."

"You and Joe have only just met," Rosemarie added.

Monica blushed and stabbed her fork into some particularly tough
pasta. "We're nowhere near talking about children," she
answered, then popped the pasta into her mouth.

"I want five," Teresa said, jubilantly rubbing her swollen
abdomen. "Four more after this one, but we'll take what God
gives us." She smiled beatifically, looking to Monica for
admiration for her faith. Not finding it, she continued, "Frank
and I both come from big families."

"As does Joe," Rosemarie pointed out.

Suddenly several men marched through the doorway. "Monica!" Joe
shouted. He ran up behind Monica and wrapped his arms around her
chest, careful to keep them high and chaste. He nuzzled her
affectionately and rocked her from side to side. "You made it!"
he said into her ear, but loud enough for the others to hear.

Monica smiled and rocked with him. Despite her doubts about the
relationship, it felt good to be appreciated. She put a hand on
one of his meaty forearms and looked into his face. He smiled
and kissed her, not passionately, but with enough affection to
make the ladies say "ahhh," and the men say, "Joe, you old dog."

An Office Romance, by Scifinerdgrl Part 8

The men hovered over the kitchen counter, talking and laughing
between bites of well-loved food, as the women pointed out the
dishes that were to die for. Joe tossed his paper plate into the
trash then pulled a chair beside Monica. He sat down and put his
arm around her shoulders, pulling her toward him possessively.
She smiled uncomfortably but didn't struggle as he kissed her
cheek to a feminine chorus of "ahs." Encouraged, he pulled her
face toward him and gave her a long, passionate kiss. Monica
felt both exhilarated and embarrassed by the cheers and shouts of
"Get a room" that accompanied this second kiss. She was almost
grateful when her cellphone rang.

She fumbled for the phone then came up with it, triumphantly
silencing its ring. "Hello?" she asked, of course knowing who it
would be. She stood and walked to the hallway, listening more
than talking. "Okay, I'll be here," she said, and turned around
to see Joe following her.

"Your boss?" he asked, disappointment in his voice.

She nodded and put a hand on his arm. "Another case. On the
island. This one's an adult female, but with the same injuries.
He's picking me up in fifteen minutes."

"You'll miss John and Barb," Joe said. "Their kid is sweet too.
You'd like him."

Monica became quiet. "I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I wanted
to meet them. But I really need to go..." She started walking
toward the kitchen but he stopped her.

"Are you okay, Monica?" he asked, his eyebrows knit together in
confusion. "What is it?"

She smiled wistfully. He was getting to know her, and she liked
that. "I told you I'm converting to Buddhism, didn't I?"

His face blanched. "Well, I knew you were..." He stammered and
looked around, afraid of eavesdroppers. "No, I didn't think you
were converting... I mean, you're Mexican... Won't your family
be..." He stopped when he saw the determination in her slightly
pursed lips. They both sighed and studied each others' eyes.

"Joe, does it matter?" she demanded.

He thought for an instant then softly said, "Yes... it does."

Turning away, Monica said, "I have to get my purse." She rushed
toward the kitchen, said her goodbyes, then rushed back to a
stunned and confused Joe. "I'll wait out front for him," she
said tearfully.

Joe followed her outside, drawing the attention of the
receptionist. "There goes another one," she said to herself.

They stood in silence in front of the station for a few moments,
then Joe reached out and stroked her hair. "Monica," he started
tenderly. She turned to face him, revealing a face wet with
tears. "Monica, can we talk some more... after you finish?
Please?" He continued stroking her hair, looking tenderly into
her eyes.

Trying to smile, but only managing a weak grin, Monica nodded.
He took her head in his hands and kissed each of her tear-stained
cheeks, then her lips. The softness of his kiss surprised her,
but she didn't respond in kind, even when he dropped his hands to
the line of her jaw. He pulled back and sighed. "Can I come
over later?"

"Sure," she answered. "Just call first. I don't know when I'll
be back."

Brad pulled to the curb, unnoticed, as the two lovers huddled in
intimate conversation. He bowed his head and took a deep breath.
I needed to see that, he thought. Vowing to keep that vision in
his mind every time he thought of Monica, he closed his eyes
tightly and tapped the horn.

Joe and Monica jumped at the sound of the horn. "Why don't you
call me when you get back?" Joe asked, stroking her cheeks with
the palms of his hands. "It doesn't matter what time.... anytime
is fine. Ma is staying overnight at my sister's in Staten
Island. She's helping with the new baby."

Monica nodded. "I'll do that. We do need to talk."

A wistfulness passed over Joe's eyes, and he bent forward to kiss
her. The kiss was tender, passionate, and sad, as if it might be
their last. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and hugged
her to him. A loud blast from Brad's horn interrupted them.
"I've got to go," Monica said.

"I know." He ran his hands over the last traces of her tears.
"Don't forget to call me."

Brad and Monica both sighed as he pulled away from the curb.
Monica glued her eyes to her mirror, watching Joe watching her,
until Brad made their first turn. Brad gritted his teeth and
made a point of looking everywhere but in Monica's direction
until a deep sigh caught his attention. He looked over to see a
tear dropping from her jaw onto her shoulder, Monica's face
staring straight ahead as if there were no tears.

"You okay?" he asked.

She sniffed and wiped away her tears. "Yeah," she answered in a
high-pitched voice. "Just time of the month, I guess."

He couldn't claim to know Monica well, but he knew women well,
and he knew a conversation-stopper when he heard one. They drove
the rest of the way in silence, yet their breathing revealed more
to each other than any words could have.

By the time they arrived at the crime scene both agents were in
full possession of their faculties and ready to face a new case.
They marched to the scene and found A.D. Williams looking over an
officer's notepad. "Brad," the older man nodded. "And this must
be Agent Reyes."

Monica nodded her acknowledgment then asked, "Where's the body?"

Williams' eyebrows raised in a silent question to Follmer, whose
eyebrows raised in confirmation. "Over here," he answered,
leading them to a culvert passing under a main road. "She was
dumped here, just as you see her now. Forensics has gone over
the ground near the body. You can get closer."

Stepping lightly over the leaves and fallen branches between the
road and the culvert, Monica felt a pull from the body. Where
she had expected to find nauseating heat and feelings of evil,
she found a serenity and coolness that was inexplicably
attractive to her. The body was bruised, with black fluid
staining the woman's blouse and burns disfiguring the woman's
face and hands. Yet despite these horrors Monica found only
beauty as she looked on the victim's face.

...until she realized she recognized her.

Monica looked over her shoulder, searching for Brad's face. His
back was to her, but she recognized him instantly, and instantly
felt anchored, safe, and a little excited. As if sensing her
feelings, he turned and saw her looking at him. He responded
immediately to her expression of concern and bounded toward her.

"What's wrong?" he asked, looking from Monica to the victim.

"This woman," Reyes started. "I recognize her."

"You know her?" Brad seemed shocked.

She shook her head. "No, I recognize her... from earlier today.
She was in that Chinese restaurant the same time we were."

Shock turned to astonishment on Brad's face. "You *recognize*
her? Where was she?" He searched the woman's face for familiar
features. Nothing about her rang a bell for him.

"She was..." Monica rose to face Brad, giving herself time to
think of a response. "She was at the register when I went to the
ladies room. I remember her." Brad's eyes narrowed as he
studied Monica's expression. She could see his skepticism and
whispered, "I felt something... evil... I followed her when I
sensed that."

Brad blinked a few times then glanced at the victim. "I don't
remember her," he said, shaking his head. How could he not
recognize her? Was he losing his touch? He looked at Monica's
face again, and everything else seemed out of focus suddenly.
She raised her eyes slightly to meet his, and his heart skipped a
beat. Yes, he thought, I am losing my touch.

Reyes interrupted his thoughts. "That evil... it's what I
noticed about her.... and now I don't sense it. In fact, I sense
the opposite." Brad's eyebrows queried her for more, and she
complied. "This body... there's no evil here, no trace of evil
at all. Not even the amount you'd sense in ordinary fallible
humans." Brad blushed and closed his eyes.

"What I'm saying is," Monica started with forced patience. "This
was another *successful* exorcism. In fact, even more successful
than the last one. He's getting better."

"Better?" Brad repeated. "The victim died!"

"Well... yes..." Monica stammered. "But, remember? The baby?
That baby was evil, still evil, even after he died... That's how
I found him."

Brad took her elbow and escorted her away from prying ears.
"Monica," he said in a low voice. "That's between us, okay?"
Her eyes widened into an expression of innocence that melted his
heart. "Monica," he repeated from the side of his mouth. "You
weren't supposed to be there... your name is not on the report."

Monica swallowed and looked into Brad's eyes defiantly. "But you
do believe me? That there really was evil there?"

He ran a hand through his hair. "Monica..." he started. "I
don't know what to believe." He looked into her eyes, meeting
her determination with an equal measure of his own. "I believe
that *you* believe it... And I believe it's possible that the
killer believes it. At this point, and this is only instinct,
mind you," he paused and took a deep breath. "Yes, I do believe
you. But I warn you, nobody else will."

Grinding her teeth, Monica struggled for words, but before she
could answer him, Williams approached.

"Agent Follmer, Agent Reyes," Williams nodded. "Well? Anything
look familiar?"

"The victim," Monica answered immediately. "I saw her earlier
today, in a restaurant."

Williams' head jerked downward slightly, turning his ear slightly
toward her. "You recognize the victim?"

Monica nodded. "Brad was there."

Williams looked at Brad, who grimaced and blushed. "We were
having lunch."

"After observing the autopsy of the second victim," Monica
offered. Williams turned to Brad again, this time accusingly.
Monica continued, oblivious to his reaction. "This woman..." She
noticed Brad's wary expression and slowed her speech. "When I
saw her, she was with two other people..." and she continued her
description for Williams, with no reference to evil.

Williams pursed his lips and looked from one to the other several
times before speaking again. "Agent Reyes," he said assertively.
"I'm starting a task force on this ritualistic abuse. These
crimes don't fit into any of our divisions. You'll be on it."
He turned and addressed Brad, "Her partner will be on it too."
Brad eagerly nodded his compliance. "Have them both come to my
office at 10 Monday morning," he ordered, then walked to the knot
of officers gathered around the body, talked to them a few
moments, then escorted one back to take Monica's statement.

In the car, Monica reviewed the evening's events, and when a few
silent minutes had passed, volunteered, "I don't feel comfortable
lying to a superior."

Brad grinned. "That's good to hear."

"I mean, lying to Williams."

"You weren't lying to him. You just didn't tell him things that
were unprovable," he looked over and studied her face. "I
appreciate your..." he thought for a moment, trying to choose his
words carefully. "integrity. But that was a special situation.
I was trying to protect you."

Monica sighed. "I know... I appreciate it, but I don't need

Hearing the resignation in her voice, Brad pulled to the shoulder
and put the car in "park." "Look, Monica... This isn't some
knight-in-shining armor thing. I'm just trying to ... guide
you." His voice became gentler as he added, "You have a lot of
potential, but there's a lot you need to learn." In the faint
light from a distant street lamp he could barely make out her
sigh. Instinctively, he reached for her hair and stroked it.
"You're going to be a damn fine agent," he reassured her. "The
way you recognized that woman's face..." He shook his head in
admiration and shifted the car into "Drive." "That was amazing."

After an uncomfortable silence, Monica asked, "I have a partner?"

Brad cleared his throat. "Well, not yet. I've been thinking
about who to assign you to. I have someone in mind, and I'll
call him tomorrow after church."

"He's religious?" Monica asked cautiously.

"Yes, very," Brad smiled. "Orthodox Jew. Devoted to his
family... Sends his kids to yeshiva, observes all the holidays."
He checked traffic then looked toward the passenger side. "And,"
he added significantly. "He takes Saturdays off. You can
continue your religious studies without worrying about being
called out on an assignment."

As the significance of Brad's words sunk in, Monica beamed at him
in appreciation. "You're arranging things so I can..."

"Sure," he interrupted, a touch of pride in his voice. "He's the
perfect partner for you."

Monica leaned back in her seat and rested her hands on her
thighs. "Thank you," she whispered.

He gulped and whispered back, "You're welcome."

They drove the rest of the way in a comfortable, easy silence,
and neither wanted to break the mood when the car stopped in
front of her apartment. Monica spoke first, "So, you won't be my
supervisor anymore... for how long?"

"Until this case is resolved at least," Brad answered, looking
ahead. "Depending on how many other victims show up, whether
this is some cult with multiple suspects, or whether other
unrelated crimes fall to this new unit..." He looked into her
eyes, which had become slightly dewy. "It could be months, even

She sighed deeply. "In that case, thank you for everything."

Brad's face softened and he leaned forward slightly. "You're
welcome. You're a joy to train." He swallowed, then added, "And
anyway, I've enjoyed your company."

"We'll still see each other, though?" Monica asked tentatively.

"A little," Brad tried to grin. "Hallways, meetings,
elevator..." A mist clouded over his eyes. "We'll still see
each other," he resolved.

Monica put her hand on his thigh, and asked a little
provocatively, "Can we see each other socially?"

Brad knew the answer should be "no," that he and Monica could
never date as long as they were both in the FBI, and he closed
his eyes, praying a silent mantra of "no, no, no, no, no..." He
opened his eyes to see her anguished face, her eyes reflecting
the pinkish light of the street lamps.

And he said, "Yes."

At that moment they heard a sharp rap on the passenger side