Burn Our Horizons
Summary: “My uncle’s the best PI in San Francisco, and he trusts me to run this joint. So what d’you say you give a girl a chance?”
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Riker, Seska
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Star Trek universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: I received a tumblr ask prompt from @ailtara for a 1940s noir detective AU, with Janeway as the suave PI and Chakotay as the hapless sidekick. However, I decided to stay true to the noir genre, so there won't be any slapstick or hijinks within.
She burns like the sun
And I can't look away
And she'll burn our horizons make no mistake
- Muse, Sunburn
and I’ll hide from the world behind a broken frame
The bulb in the desk lamp was flickering again.
“Madeline?” Kathryn called.
Silence reminded her that the secretary had already left for the day. She pushed herself out of the desk chair and went into the outer office. Maybe Madeline kept spare bulbs in her desk drawer.
“Excuse me, miss?”
The voice was a man’s, lightly accented. Kathryn shut the desk drawer and straightened up. The visitor filled the doorway, blocking out the dim light from the corridor.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
The man moved closer and shut the door behind him. Now that he was illuminated under the warm ceiling light, Kathryn studied him. He was tall and broad-shouldered. His skin was deeply tanned – Turkish maybe, or Spanish. He had a tattoo above one eye. She had never seen anything like it before.
“I’m looking for Dixon Hill,” the man said. “Is he in?”
“Not right now, but if it’s about a case, I can –”
He had already started turning away. “I’ll come back tomorrow.”
“Wait,” she said. He turned back, eyebrows raised. She moved out from behind the desk and offered her hand. “Kathryn Janeway.”
“Chakotay Otxoa,” he answered, politely shaking her hand.
Kathryn ignored the dry warmth of his palm, the strength in his long fingers. “That’s an interesting name, Mr, uh,” she fumbled, knowing she’d never pronounce it correctly. “Where are you from?”
“San Sebastian. Look, miss, could you tell me when Mr Hill will be back?”
“About two weeks,” she replied. “He’s on his honeymoon.”
A flicker of despair crossed the man’s face.
“As I was about to tell you,” she went on, “if it’s about a case, I can help. Why don’t you step into my office?”
“Your office?” Now there was amusement in those chocolate-dark eyes. “Mr Hill must treat his secretaries well.”
“I’m not his secretary,” she said shortly. “I’m his niece, and while he’s away I’m in charge of this agency. Now, if you please…?” She gestured to the half-open door behind her.
“Miss, it’s cute that your uncle lets you play detective while he’s on vacation, but I need a real private dick, so if you could recommend someone for me…”
Kathryn leaned a hip against Madeline’s desk. “You could try Nicky Finnegan over on Leavenworth Street.”
“Thank you.” The man turned for the door again.
“Although he’ll drink your money away before you can blink.”
The man turned back to her with a sigh. “Anybody else?”
“Sure. Daniel Macfarlane in the Sutter Building.” Kathryn examined a fingernail. “That’s if you don’t mind putting up with the sermons. Used to be a Catholic priest, you know? Still trying to save souls, I guess.”
This time the look on the man’s face was exasperation.
Kathryn flicked a glance up to his eyes. “Or you could try me. My uncle’s the best PI in San Francisco, and he trusts me to run this joint. So what d’you say you give a girl a chance, Mr, uh, Ox-toe?”
“Otxoa.” The man was looking at her properly for the first time, eyes hot as her morning coffee. “But call me Chakotay.”
“Right this way, Chakotay,” Kathryn said, and swivelled on her heel.
The chair creaked as she spun it lazily on its base. She had her neck resting on the lip of the backrest, head tilted all the way back staring at the ceiling. A crack was spidering its way across the plaster and in the corners there were cloudy patches where the damp had seeped in.
Snatches of jazz puffed toward her from the Warfield Music Hall down the street, bringing with them the smell of rain. The lamp flickered on the desk. In the outer office, the novelty cuckoo clock Uncle Dix brought back from Florida last winter gave a discordant wheeze.
It was eleven o’clock on a Friday night, and everybody in the city was out there living.
Kathryn dug a heel into the threadbare carpet to stop the chair’s rotation and leaned her elbows on the desk. In front of her was a cheap writing book with yellow pages filled with her own handwriting: her notes from the interview with Chakotay.
She thought about the way he’d lounged in the chair on the other side of the desk, crossing one long leg over the other and resting his folded hands on his knee. His hands looked capable, long-fingered and calloused like a carpenter’s. Kathryn had reminded herself that her attention should be on the words he was saying and not on girlish fantasies about what those hands might feel like, cradling her own, touching the small of her back as they danced.
He’d slung his coat and hat on the old oak credenza and accepted her offer of a bourbon, and when she’d settled into her chair and smoothed down her skirt she’d prompted him, “Tell me a story.”
And he’d moistened that full lower lip and said: “I need you to find my wife.”
Kathryn swirled the last drops of bourbon in the bottom of her glass. She was kind of grateful that Chakotay had led with that bombshell. It’d reminded her of who she was and what she was here for, which was the job and not some silly romance. Not that she should’ve needed a reminder.
She picked up her pen and pulled the notepad closer.
“So your wife is missing?” she’d confirmed.
Chakotay had nodded. “She disappeared three weeks ago.”
“You thought about maybe calling the police?” she asked, dry as a martini.
His gaze dropped to his folded hands. “Seska wouldn’t want that. It’s … complicated.”
“Isn’t it always?” Kathryn had scratched a couple of notes on her pad. “Tell me what you know.”
“We had a place in Brooklyn, right near Prospect Park,” he replied. “I came home from work one day and she was gone. She’d taken all her things. Left me a note,” he reached into his pocket for a crumpled scrap of paper, which he tossed on the desk before her. “Said she was sorry things hadn’t worked out between us.”
Kathryn had put down her pen and fixed her stare on his face. “So we’re not talking about a kidnapping here, huh? Your wife left you high and dry and you want to win her back.”
“Not exactly.” Chakotay shifted his shoulders – nice, broad shoulders under a cheap suit he made look expensive, she noted. “She took something of mine. That’s what I want back.”
“No love lost, then?” She’d picked up her glass, tapped her fingernails on it, inhaled the smoky scent of bourbon. “What did she steal from you?”
“It’s not important.”
She noticed that his accent deepened when he got uncomfortable, dips and shadows in the cadence of his voice like the ebb and flow of traffic in the street below.
“Okay, I’ll accept that for now. Tell me about your wife.”
So she’d listened to the tale he’d woven, the oldest tale in the book. Boy immigrates to America looking to make his fortune, finds he’s been sold a fairy-tale and the streets of New York aren’t paved with gold. Down on his luck, he meets a beautiful girl; they fall in love and marry after a whirlwind courtship. He goes to work for her daddy, who’s a self-made man, and everything’s dandy until one day he comes home and the girl is gone.
She didn’t believe a word of it, no matter how soft and mellow the voice that told the story.
“She left you in Brooklyn,” Kathryn had mused, “so what the dickens are you doing all the way out here in San Francisco?”
“Seska took a train out here. I have a friend at the New York depot who helped me track her. She used her married name to book a room at a hotel on Market Street but she never checked in. The trail has gone cold – how do you say it? I have no leads.” He had leaned forward then, long fingers splayed on the mahogany desk, his eyes holding hers. “Will you help me, Miss Janeway?”
“I’ll help,” she had found herself saying against her prickling instincts. “And call me Kathryn.”
The smile that broke across his handsome face made her heart flip over like a fish on a skillet.
They met at noon the next day in the lobby of the Hotel Whitcomb on Market Street, the last address Chakotay had for his missing wife.
Chakotay’s face was blank as a paper bag as Kathryn walked up to him, her heels clicking on the parquet floor. She shot him an inquiring eyebrow.
“Seska could not afford a place like this,” he muttered.
Kathryn looked around at the marble columns, the wood-panelled ceiling and crystal chandeliers. The bellhops were dressed better than the congregation at St Boniface. A piano tinkled softly.
“We already know she didn’t stay here,” she shrugged. “But it’s a place to start. Did you bring the photograph?”
He patted his breast pocket.
“Good. May I have it, please?”
He handed it over and Kathryn looked at the photograph. Chakotay’s wife was beautiful – no surprise there – with dark auburn hair and a milk-tea complexion. Her eyes were green and calculating.
Kathryn glanced over at the hotel desk. The clerk behind it was late-thirties, bored, reading a copy of Sport magazine. His boot-polish black hair gleamed under the light of the chandelier. She thought for a moment, then pulled out a couple of her hairpins to let a curl or two fall loose and unfastened the first two buttons on her blouse.
Chakotay’s eyes went wide, then dark and smoky. “What are you doing?”
“Just play along,” she said. Then she arranged her features into a mask of distress, grabbed Chakotay by the elbow and hurried him over to the desk.
The clerk’s bored expression morphed into mild alarm as they approached. “You okay, miss?”
“Please,” she uttered, breathless, and thrust the photograph of Seska at him. “You have to help me. It’s my sister – she’s gone missing.”
The clerk glanced at the photograph. “Never laid eyes on her before, miss. I’d remember too. She’s a looker.”
“Oh, please!” Kathryn let her eyes fill with tears. “She said she’d be staying here, but I haven’t heard from her since she left New York. This is her husband. We’re very worried about her.”
The clerk shifted his stare to Chakotay. “This is your brother-in-law?”
“Yes. Please,” Kathryn leaned on the counter, elbows close to her side to enhance her modest cleavage; from the way the clerk’s gaze dropped, she figured it was working. “Could you just check the ledger? Seska Otxoa. She was supposed to check in three weeks ago.”
The clerk frowned at Chakotay. “You let your old lady travel across the country without you?”
“He doesn’t speak much English,” Kathryn interrupted. “My sister –”
The clerk opened the ledger, flipping back pages. “There’s a reservation in her name, but she never took the room. I’m sorry, miss.” He handed back the photograph. “If I were you, I’d go to the cops.”
Kathryn let her shoulders slump. “The police have been no help. They think she’s a loose woman who ran away.” She let a small sob escape.
The clerk leaned in confidentially. “You ever thought maybe your brother-in-law … you know?”
She blinked. “No. What?”
“Bumped her off?” The clerk flicked his gaze to the man behind her and back to her face. “He don’t look at you like a brother, all I’m saying, miss.”
That rattled her, but she recovered quickly, pulling indignation around her like a cape. “Then I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself, sir! Excuse me,” and she snatched back the photograph and turned on her heel, grasping Chakotay’s elbow to drag him with her.
Outside on the rainswept street, Chakotay slipped his hands in his pockets and smirked at her. “That was some act, Miss Janeway.”
“And it would’ve worked if you hadn’t been looking at me like … like…” she trailed off, waving a hand between them.
“Like I’m holding a torch for you?” His smile broadened.
She huffed in annoyance and refused to credit the warmth spreading through her chest. “Just keep your eyes to yourself from now on, Mr Otxoa, and we won’t be having any problems.”
“You learned how to pronounce my name,” he said in that mellow voice that reminded her of warm brandy on a winter’s night.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” she said, tart as green apples. “Come on. I have an idea where we can try next.”
The bartender plonked two generous tumblers of whiskey on the countertop. “Bit early in the day for you, isn’t it, Katie?”
Kathryn tipped her glass to him. “Sun’s on the way down, Joe.”
The barman chuckled, wiping the inside of a glass with a rag. “You heard from your Uncle Dix?”
“Got a postcard from New Orleans. He and Aunt Ruby are having a blast.”
“Ah, that’s good to hear.” Joe set down the polished glass. “You going to introduce me to your friend?”
“That’s why I’m here. Joe, this is Chakotay. He’s from New York, and he’s looking for his wife. We think she might’ve run into some trouble down this way.”
The bartender clasped Chakotay’s bronzed hand with a broad Irish paw and shook vigorously. “Missing wife, you say?”
“She ran out on me.”
“Ah. So she wants to stay missing.” Joe’s eyes slanted over to Kathryn and back again. “You sure you want to find her? Could be you’re looking for a fresh start.”
“Not without the money she stole from me,” Chakotay said.
Kathryn arched an eyebrow at the bottom of her whiskey glass. Money, was it?
“Must be some dame,” Joe commented. “You don’t strike me as a patsy. So what is it you think I can do for you?”
Kathryn pulled the photograph of Seska from her pocketbook and placed it on the bar. “Odds are she’s in the neighborhood. You seen her around anywhere?”
Joe sucked air through his teeth. “Can’t say I have, and I’d have noticed.” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “The word is Tommy Cuzzo has a new girl, though, seems to fit her description. Heard tell the pair of them are running cons down in the International Settlement, fleecing all the GIs of their serviceman’s pay.”
“Tommy Cuzzo?” Kathryn set down her whiskey with a thud and turned wide eyes to her companion. “Your wife is shacked up with a mobster?”
Chakotay had that blank paper bag look on him again.
“You mind giving us a minute, Joe?”
The bartender tipped his chin and Kathryn slid off her stool and hooked Chakotay by the elbow to drag him over to a booth.
“All right, mister.” She flattened her hands on the sticky-ringed table top. “You’d better start talking. How much money did she take, and where did it come from?”
Chakotay looked pained. “I thought you would not need to know,” he said, accent thick and smoky. “I never suspected that Seska would take up with gangsters.”
“It seems there’s quite a lot you didn’t suspect about her,” Kathryn said, voice frosty. “If I’m going to help you find her, you need to tell me what’s going on.”
He placed his hands over hers on the table and she went still. His touch was careful, the slow stroking of his fingers on hers mesmerising.
“Kathryn,” he said, and she looked up into those dark eyes. “I’ll tell you what you need to know. But not here.”
Damned curiosity. Her mama had always said it would be the death of her.
Well, what did mama know? She’d always thought Kathryn would grow up respectable. Maybe she’d be a teacher or a secretary, marry a nice man and settle down in the suburbs.
If mama could only see her now. A spinster trying to do a man’s job in the city of fog. A spinster who’d found herself drinking dark sweet liquor from a bottle without a label, alone in a hotel room with a married man.
Then again, maybe mama wouldn’t be all that surprised.
Chakotay’s hotel room was poky and cramped with mismatched furniture, its one redeeming feature that the light was too dim to make out the rising damp or the shabby, curling wallpaper. A cracked washstand stood in a corner near a ticking radiator. Kathryn perched gingerly on the only chair, crossing her legs neatly and trying not to think about the fact that this man, this big handsome stranger, laid his head on the pillow not two feet from her.
Chakotay settled onto the cheap counterpane and looked down at his hands. They dangled between his knees, one holding a thick glass tumbler half-full of the – what had he called it? – patxaran.
Her voice broke the silence, hot and defiant. “You’d better start talking, mister.”
When he spoke his voice was treacled with the liquor he’d just tasted. “This is a traditional drink from my country,” he mused. “It reminds me of home.”
“You said you’re from Spain?” Kathryn asked.
He shook his head. “The Basque. When the Nazis occupied my country, I joined the Resistance. I spoke good English, so I became a codebreaker for the Americans. My family died during the war. After the liberation of Europe, I came to New York hoping to make my fortune.”
“I’m sorry about your sad story,” Kathryn said tightly, “but what does that have to do with your wife?”
He glanced up at her and she couldn’t read his eyes. “I came here with no money, nothing but the shirt on my back. I am an educated man, Kathryn. I believed America was the land of opportunity. But nobody wants to employ an immigrant. The only work I could find was … not strictly legal.”
“I see.” She did, too. It was a hard-luck story she’d heard many a time.
“As it turned out,” Chakotay said, “there was something else I was good at other than breaking Nazi codes. I was good at cards.”
Kathryn smoothed down her skirt and tried not to wiggle in impatience.
“I had a big win one night at a gambling den in Hell’s Kitchen – I took Eddie McGrath for almost eight thousand dollars. I planned to use the money to invest in the hotel business, but Eddie made it clear he wanted the money returned. He threatened Seska’s life.” He paused to run a hand through his hair, disarranging it. A lock curled over his forehead. “My marriage is … not what I had hoped for, but I could not let her die for my mistake. I intended to meet him and give back the money but before I could, she stole it and disappeared.”
Kathryn’s fingers loosened on her glass. “So what you’re telling me is that your lady wife has managed to steal money from the Irish mob and use it to get cosy with the Sicilian Mafia, and you’re the knucklehead stuck right in the middle?”
Chakotay nodded grimly.
“Holy mackerel,” she whistled. “Chakotay, this is some bad business.”
“Kathryn.” Chakotay leaned forward, taking her glass from her hands and twining his fingers into hers. “I should never have involved you in this. It could be dangerous for you.” He sighed. “Perhaps you should leave. I will find another investigator. A man, perhaps; someone with experience.”
She watched his fingers enveloping hers and thought about watching him walk out of her life, maybe into peril.
She couldn’t do it.
“No,” she said and curled her fingers closer over his, hesitating before she brought her gaze up to his. “I don’t want to leave.”
The worried frown still creased his forehead and she wanted to reach up and smooth out the distorted lines of his strange tattoo.
“Are you sure?”
She felt breathless. “I’m sure.”
Chakotay’s eyes melted into a smile. “Thank you, Kathryn,” he said, and brought her hand up to press his lips to her knuckles. The wave of warmth that swayed through her made her snatch her hand away.
“But I have some ground rules,” she said, brittle and sharp. “You follow my lead – no running off half-cocked. And when we recover your money, I get ten percent.”
Chakotay straightened up, the smile lighting up his face. “I agree to your terms.”
“Swell,” she said, and reached for the bottle of patxaran.
She had refused to allow Chakotay to walk her home. It wasn’t late, and though she’d lived here for less than a year, she knew this city. Besides, she needed time to think.
If Uncle Dix was here, he’d know what to do. But Kathryn was out of her depth, and she knew it.
She needed help.
Kathryn made a sharp right on the corner of Polk Street and quickstepped toward the police station.
“Evening, Miss Janeway,” greeted the desk clerk. “You lookin’ for Detective Riker?”
“Yes, please.” Kathryn quickly finger-combed the waves in her hair as the clerk swivelled on her chair and yelled toward the office doorway behind her.
“All right, I’m coming,” she heard in return, and then Detective Will Riker appeared in the doorway. His jacket was discarded, shirt sleeves rolled up and the pomade was long gone where he’d forked his fingers through his hair. His Smith and Wesson hung in the holster strapped onto his service belt.
He stopped short when he saw her and a mile-wide grin split his face.
“Why, Kathryn Janeway, as I live and breathe,” he announced. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Hello, Detective.” She gave him a tentative smile in return. “I was hoping we could go somewhere private to talk?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” Riker swept out a gallant arm and Kathryn moved past him into the office. “And I’ve told you before to call me Will.”
Kathryn settled into the overstuffed armchair by Riker’s desk.
“Flora, honey, can you bring us some tea when you have a minute?” Will called to the clerk, then scooted his desk chair around toward Kathryn’s. “Well, this is a trip,” he grinned at her. “So what can I do for you, Kat? Everything okay with your uncle?”
“He’s fine, Will. I’m here on business, actually.”
Flora pushed open the office door with her hip, deposited a tray on Will’s desk and backed out, closing the door behind her.
“Cream and sugar?” Will asked.
“No, thank you.” Kathryn accepted the tea and immediately placed the cup and saucer on the filing cabinet beside her. “Will, I hate to ask, but I need your help with a case.”
“A case?” Will’s tone was amused but his blue eyes sharpened. “You got a cat missing up a tree? Want me to call the fire department?”
She gave him a colorless smile. “It’s a little more serious than that.”
“You dipping your toe with the big boys, Kat?”
“You know me, Will. A girl has to make a living. Anyway, about this case…”
Will leaned on his elbows, serious now. “Go ahead.”
She sipped her tea and wished it was coffee. That patxaran sure packed a punch, and she was a little more soused than she’d like to be. “I’ve got a man who’s come all the way from New York looking for his wife. Turns out she stole his money and ran down here to take up with Tommy Cuzzo.”
All the patient humour wiped itself from Will’s eyes. “Kathryn, he’s Mafioso.”
“I’m aware of that, Will. It’s why I came to you.” She hesitated, then placed a hand over Will’s. “If Chakotay doesn’t get his money back, he’s going to have the Irish mob after him.”
Will turned his hand over under hers. She wanted to pull away but made herself still.
“I told Chakotay I could handle it,” she said. “And I can, but I know you have access to information that I don’t.” She pulled the photograph out of her pocketbook and laid it on Will’s desk. “This is Seska Otxoa.”
Will picked it up, mouth flattened into a grim line. “This is Tommy Cuzzo’s moll, all right. Goes by Seska Ajeti. We’ve been keeping an eye on her. Couple of sailors came in a week ago complaining she swindled them out of their slush funds.”
He handed back the photograph and Kathryn took the opportunity to slide her hand from his.
“Seems they got fleeced at the Monaco, or maybe it was the Barbary Coast?” Will pulled a drawer out of the filing cabinet and riffled through it, coming up with a manila folder. “Yeah, here it is. The Monaco. I was planning to send a couple of boys down to keep an eye out, but maybe I’ll take a look-see myself.”
“I’ll meet you there at ten o’clock tonight.”
“Whoa, not so fast. This is police business, Kat. You’d do well to stay out of it.”
“Will,” she softened her voice and leaned forward, lips curved, “I’m already in it.”
Riker reached for her hand again and she let him take it.
“Kathryn, you gotta know I’m sweet on you,” he said, husky as gravel. “But this isn’t the kind of date I’ve been hoping to ask you on.”
She bit her lip and looked up from under her lashes. “Maybe it’s a start.”
He shook his head, chuckling. “Maybe it is, at that. All right, cookie. The Monaco at ten o’clock. Dress up nice. And, Kat – bring that little Beretta of yours. Just in case we run into trouble.”