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
She woke to pale sunlight filtering through blinds, and Chakotay’s arms holding her close. As she shifted she felt his lips pressing kisses to her shoulder and his fingers walking upward along her torso.
“Good morning, laztana,” he murmured like rough silk, and she caught her breath and arched into the deft, exploratory touch of his hands.
Later, they took breakfast in a café down the street, and it was with regret that she reminded him it was Monday and she had to return to work. Chakotay saw her to her apartment, and she had to tear herself away from his kiss so she could go upstairs and freshen up.
“Well, ain’t you a ray of sunshine this morning,” Madeline commented with an arch of her perfectly-plucked eyebrow as Kathryn sailed into the agency an hour later. “You go out dancin’ with that nice Detective Riker on the weekend?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Kathryn gave her a quirk of the lips.
“Hate to put a gum in your works, honey, but you got a client.” Madeline jerked a thumb behind her. “Some minxy lookin’ dame. Wouldn’t tell me what she’s after.”
“Thank you, Madeline.” Kathryn hung up her coat and pushed open the door to Dix’s office.
A woman sat in the visitor’s chair, a curl of smoke rising from the cigarette in her elegant hand. Her back was turned to the door. But Kathryn had no trouble recognizing her.
She closed the door carefully, walked slowly over to the desk and sat down. Her heart was kicking up and her palms felt clammy.
“Mrs Otxoa,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
Seska gave her a glinting, green-eyed smile. “I see you know who I am.”
“Good. I do hate to waste my time, and you’ve already taken up too much of it. So I’ll get to the point. Keep your nose out of my business, honey, and we won’t have a problem.” She leaned in close, silk stockings slithering as she crossed her legs. “And stay away from my husband.”
Seska stubbed the cigarette onto Dix’s desk. Kathryn watched the ash-black hole burn into the mahogany and raised her eyes. She felt cold inside, all the dreamy, lingering warmth from Chakotay’s embrace sucked away like smoke through a chimney.
“Seems to me you have no claim on your husband anymore, Mrs Otxoa,” she stated. “And as for your business, I wouldn’t lower myself to get involved with the likes of you.”
Seska tossed back her perfectly coiffed head and laughed. “Well, aren’t you a little firecracker? I can see why he likes you.”
She lit another cigarette and regarded Kathryn through smoke-slitted eyes.
“Don’t kid yourself though, honey,” she said. “My Chakotay loves the ladies far, far too much to be true to one little dolly, even if she is as cute as a bug. Did he tell you how he got his tattoo?”
Kathryn crossed her arms. “He said it was a family tradition. He got it when his father died.”
“Of course he did.” Seska smirked. “Truth is, sweet cheeks, he was drunk and did it on a dare. Family honor makes for a better story though, huh? I bet it made your little heart melt.”
Seska stood in one smooth motion and leaned in close. The expensive smell of her French perfume reached out unseen hands that circled Kathryn’s throat, but she held her ground.
“My husband made a mistake coming to you,” Seska said. “A mistake my Tommy will make sure he’s going to pay for. So if you have any brains in that pretty little head, you’ll stay out of this. Don’t worry. It’ll all be over soon.”
“What do you mean, all over?” Fear clutched at Kathryn’s insides. “What have you done to him?”
Seska’s smile widened. “Oh, cookie, you really are sweet on him, aren’t you? That’s too bad.” She patted Kathryn’s cheek. “Don’t worry, though – Tommy’s only gonna rough him up a little, teach him a lesson. Of course, if you happen to let any of this slip to your detective friend – well, there’s no telling how rough Tommy might get.”
Blowing a kiss over her shoulder, Seska sauntered out of the office. Kathryn sank into her chair before her knees could give out, staring at the flickering bulb in the desk lamp.
“Madeline, I need your help.”
The secretary poked her head around the doorway. “What can I do you for, hon?”
Kathryn was kneeling by one of the filing cabinets, riffling through a drawer. “Do you know where Dix keeps his files on the Cuzzo family? I need a list of all their haunts.”
“What for?” Madeline frowned at her.
“They’ve kidnapped my client,” she said, clipped as a cheap haircut. “I guess they’ll be holding him in a secret hidey-hole of some sort. A warehouse maybe, or the back of a garage.” She glanced up at the wide-eyed secretary. “Please, Madeline, they’re going to hurt him bad. I have to find him.”
“Oh,” said Madeline, then as light dawned, “Oh. You and him –”
“That doesn’t matter now,” Kathryn cut her off. “Just help me, please.”
She slid the hairpin into the lock and jimmied it cautiously until she heard the click. Holding her breath, Kathryn slipped back the bolt, cracked open the door and edged inside.
It was dim and musty inside the warehouse. Boxes were stacked floor to ceiling – a fact she was thankful for; they provided cover – and a single naked bulb cast shadows through the cavernous space.
Madeline had told her this was where the Cuzzo family was rumored to conduct most of its shady business: storing fenced goods, retooling stolen cars, even temporarily hiding the bodies of unlucky souls who’d crossed them. The warehouse had been raided a number of times over the years, but Madeline claimed there was a bent copper on the force who warned the Cuzzos whenever he got wind of an upcoming search.
As she tiptoed further into the enormous room, Kathryn heard a thwap! followed by a masculine groan. Eyes going wide, she flattened herself behind a stack of crates, peeping cautiously around it as the sounds were repeated.
Her hand slid into her pocketbook and gripped the butt of her Beretta at the sight before her.
Chakotay was strung up by his wrists to a butcher’s hook set into the ceiling. He was bare from the waist up, and his body bore the marks of a thorough beating. His head was hanging and she couldn’t see what shape his face was in, but from the blood dripping from his chin, she guessed it wasn’t good.
Two mobsters faced him. Tommy Cuzzo, dressed in a flashy pin-striped suit, leaned against the wall and watched while the other, stripped to shirtsleeves, was working Chakotay over. The second man landed a fist to Chakotay’s left side and Kathryn flinched. From the lack of reaction, she guessed Chakotay was nearly unconscious.
She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t very well go in shooting – it was two to one, and who knew how many others might be lurking in the shadows? – and in any case, she couldn’t carry Chakotay out of here. Kathryn worried her bottom lip between her teeth. If she had the time, she’d run for Will Riker’s help, and damned be Seska’s warning…
As she dithered, the man doing the hitting bent and picked up a bucket of water, sloshing it straight at Chakotay’s chest. From his hiss and the way his head jerked up, Kathryn figured they wanted him awake for more punishment. But just as the rowdy boy drew back his fist, Tommy pushed away from the wall.
“Call it off for now, Frankie,” he ordered. “We got ten minutes to get downtown. You can finish up when we get back – he ain’t going nowhere.”
Frankie shrugged, scooping a towel up from the floor and wiping his bloodied knuckles. “You got it, boss.”
She watched them slouch their way through a door at the rear of the warehouse. As soon as it swung shut behind them Kathryn burst out of her hiding place.
“Chakotay!” she cried, one hand on his face, tilting it into the light. “Oh God, what have they done to you?”
He flinched, swollen eyes half-open. “Kathryn… what are you doing here?”
“Saving you,” she tried to smile. She looked up along his bound arms. The hook his wrists were suspended from was far too high for her to reach.
“No,” he put heat into his voice. “You have to go before they come back. If they find you –”
Kathryn dragged over a crate. “And if I do, they’ll kill you. Hold still.”
She climbed up carefully, lifting his bloodied arms and easing the rope over the hook. As soon as his support was gone, Chakotay slumped, crashing to his knees on the concrete floor.
Kathryn knelt at his side, cradling his face. “I think your nose is broken,” she offered.
He gave a weak smile. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Can you walk?”
“I can try.”
She gathered up the shirt and suitcoat he’d been wearing, grimy from the grease-streaked floor. Chakotay heaved himself to his feet with the help of the crate she’d used to stand on. “Okay?” she asked him, slinging his arm over her shoulder.
He nodded faintly.
“My place is just around the corner,” she said. “I’ll take you there to clean up, and we can figure out our next move.”
“You cannot,” he protested. “It’s too dangerous, laztana.”
“I don’t care,” she whispered. “I’m not leaving you. Now move.”
She’d closed the blinds, only switching on a table lamp that gave her just enough light to see what she was doing. Chakotay sat on the edge of the settee, still stripped to the waist. Kathryn had pulled over a low table that she was using to hold bowls of water, cloths and bandages.
She dabbed gently at his split lip, her mouth tightening in sympathy at his wince. Once she’d cleaned away all the blood from his face, it didn’t look too bad. Apparently Frankie had preferred to take body shots.
“How did you find me?” Chakotay asked, his lips moving under her fingers.
Kathryn sighed. “Madeline and I figured out where the Cuzzos were holding you.”
“But how did you know?”
She met his eyes. “Seska came to see me.”
Kathryn took a breath, holding a cloth to the still-welling cut on his cheekbone. “She had some not very flattering things to say about you, Chakotay. She said you’re a ladies’ man and a liar.”
She felt the tips of his fingers on her wrist, guiding her gaze back to him. “And you believed her?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “She said you got your tattoo when you were drunk. And Will told me the two of you conspired to steal that money you’re so keen to get back… Chakotay …” Kathryn’s throat felt tight. “I don’t know who to believe any more.”
His fingers curled lightly around her wrist and she shivered as he brought her hand against his cheek, holding it there, his mouth tracing softly over her palm.
“I have never lied to you, laztana,” he said, his eyes holding hers. “And I’m not lying to you now. I love you.”
Kathryn inhaled sharply. “You’ll leave me,” she whispered. “Like everybody else.”
“I will never leave you.”
Chakotay’s other hand reached to cup her face, his thumb tracing over her lips.
“I love you,” he repeated, and his mouth took hers.
When she woke, dusk had drawn violet fingers across the rumpled bed, and her skin had cooled where the warmth of Chakotay’s arms had left it.
She was alone.
Kathryn turned over and buried her face in the pillow that still held a trace of his scent, fighting against tears. It took many minutes until she heaved in a breath, sat up and shook back her hair.
Her undergarments were strewn across the bedclothes and her skirt and blouse crumpled on the floor. Kathryn picked them up and shook out the wrinkles. She tried to block her mind to the memory of Chakotay’s fingertips easing the blouse from her shoulders, following the map of freckles over her skin with his lips. Of the way his big hands had bunched the skirt up around her hips as he moved between her thighs.
When the place was tidied she drew a bath, poured in a handful of mineral salts and sank into the tub with a snifter of brandy and a book. She topped up the hot water twice, staying in until her finger pads were wrinkled and her eyes growing heavy.
Still, she found herself restless in the bed that seemed too big for one, and she lay wakeful until the small hours.
It was the pounding on the door of her apartment that woke her.
“Okay, I’m coming, hold your horses,” she muttered as she pushed hair out of her face and tied a robe securely about her waist. “Do you have any idea what time it is –”
The words died on her lips as she opened the door to Will Riker and a uniformed constable.
“Kathryn,” he said. His hat was in his hands and he was shifting on his feet. “You’d better let us in.”
Wordless, she stepped back to allow him through.
“What is it?” she barely whispered.
“Miss Janeway,” Will said, flashing a glance at the flatfoot by his side. “Do you know the location of your client,” he consulted a notebook and pronounced carefully, “Chakotay Otxoa?”
She shook her head.
“Any idea where we might find him, miss?” asked the constable.
“No,” she croaked. “What’s the matter? What’s happened?”
“Seska Otxoa was found dead in an alley behind Turk Street early this morning,” Will answered. “We have reason to suspect her husband of her murder.”
Kathryn sat down hard on the sofa.
“Do you have any idea where he is, Kathryn?”
Will’s voice was gentle, but she was shaking too hard to appreciate it. Her fingers clenched around the glass of scotch Will had poured for her when she’d started gasping for breath.
“I don’t know.” She shook her head, lips pressed tight so she wouldn’t cry. “He – he was here yesterday for a while.”
“What time did he leave?” Constable O’Brien asked, licking the end of his pencil and poising it over his notebook.
Kathryn closed her eyes in humiliation. “I don’t know, exactly.”
“You don’t know?”
“I was asleep at the time,” she mumbled.
“Oh,” said the constable, looking confused, then, “Oh.”
She risked a glance at Will’s face. He’d smoothed it out like a linen tablecloth, his blue eyes cool. There went her only ally.
Kathryn straightened up and set the empty glass on the side table. “Why do you think Chakotay did it?”
The constable, at least, looked somewhat sympathetic. “There was a witness, miss.”
“A Mr Cuzzo reported seeing a gentleman fleeing from the alley, which is located behind one of his family’s establishments. When he went to investigate, he found Mrs Otxoa’s body. Her neck was broken.”
“Tommy Cuzzo?” Kathryn said faintly. “You believe that – that gangster?”
“We searched the scene,” Will told her. “We found a cufflink with Mr Otxoa’s initials on it.”
He dug into his breast pocket and held out his open palm. Kathryn didn’t need to look to recognize the little enamelled stud.
“He could have lost that anywhere,” she protested.
She didn’t know what to do. Tell Will that Tommy Cuzzo had beaten Chakotay half to death earlier that same day, and it could be seen as a motive for murdering Cuzzo’s girl. The fact that Cuzzo’s girl was Chakotay’s deceitful wife only made it a thousand times worse.
Will tucked the cufflink back into his pocket and leaned forward, taking her hands. “Kathryn,” he said in a serious voice. “If there’s anything you know, you need to tell us. If you know where he is…”
She shook her head.
Will sighed and got to his feet. “You think of anything, you come to the station. Okay?”
“Okay,” she mumbled.
He turned back at the door, faint reproach in his blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, Will,” she couldn’t stop herself from blurting.
“Me too,” he said quietly. “Take care of yourself, Kat.”
Their footsteps creaked the boards outside her apartment door. The minute they’d faded, she dressed in haste and hurried to her office.
“I fixed the lamp for you.” Madeline tilted her head at the steady glow illuminating the notepad Kathryn was scribbling on.
“Yeah. The bulb was on its way out. You want coffee?”
“Oh.” Kathryn blinked into focus. “Sure. Thank you, Madeline.”
“You got it.” Madeline shut the office door on her way out.
Two minutes later she was back.
“This came for you,” she said, handing Kathryn a folded slip of paper. “Street boy said a big dark fella paid him fifty cents to hand-deliver it. Said he looked like he’d been in a right bust-up.”
Kathryn stared at the note. “Thank you,” she said absently.
As soon as Madeline had closed the door, she unfolded the paper with trembling fingers.
You must be very confused right now, and I would not blame you if you never want to see me again. But please give me the chance and I will explain everything.
I will be waiting for you at John’s Grill on Ellis Street tonight at eight. Please come, laztana.
She folded the paper carefully and placed it on the desk in front of her.
“Good news, I hope?” Madeline asked as she bustled in with a tray of coffee.
“I don’t know, Madeline,” Kathryn said. “I honestly don’t know.”
There was never any question, in truth, that she would meet him.
He was waiting in the shadows outside John’s Grill, the collar of his trench coat turned up and his hat tugged low over his face. Raindrops spattered his shoulders as he pushed away from the wall.
“Laztana. You came.”
He reached out a hand but Kathryn shied away, averting her eyes from the sorrow etched on his face.
“Let’s go inside,” she said, curt.
They found a small table in the darkest corner of the bar and Chakotay ordered martinis. Kathryn wondered if she would ever drink a martini again without thinking of him.
Her hands were folded on the table. This time, when Chakotay enclosed them in his, she kept still.
“Did you kill Seska?” She forced her gaze to his. “And please, don’t lie to me.”
He nodded slowly. “Yes, I did. I killed her.”
It was a kick in the stomach. “Why?” The word came out like a moan, or a sigh.
“I went to confront her, to get the money back,” Chakotay said, quiet as a whisper. “She pulled a gun on me. We struggled, and she fell awkwardly. I heard a snap –” He broke off, looking sick. “I didn’t mean to kill her. It was an accident.”
She studied his face.
“It’s the truth, laztana. Please believe me.”
“I believe you,” she said softly, and turned her hands palm-up to wind her fingers through his. “But Chakotay, you need to go to the police. Tell them it was an accident.”
He shook his head. “The police will never believe an immigrant, Kathryn. Do you know what it was like in New York? Whenever there was trouble, the police came looking for anyone whose skin was too dark, or whose accent was too foreign. They were in league with the Irish, who blamed immigrants for all crimes.” He pushed a hand through his hair, disarranging it. “There was a street war between the Irish and Italian families in my neighborhood, and people died. Yet the only ones ever arrested were people like me.”
“That’s terrible,” she said. “But the police here aren’t like that. Will isn’t like that. Let me take you to him.”
Chakotay’s smile was sad. “They are all like that, laztana. Do you know the things they accused me of? I was questioned one day, when some money had gone missing from a restaurant that was owned by the Irish. They claimed I had stolen it to give to a German man, a Nazi, to help him disappear. I fought against the Nazis during the war, but they accused me of being a collaborator.” His shoulders slumped. “I hoped America would be a fresh start for me, but I will never be trusted here. I’ll never be accepted.”
“Oh, Chakotay.” Kathryn freed a hand to cup his face. “I trust you.”
“And I love you.” He leaned his cheek into her palm. “Kathryn, come away with me. We can go to Mexico and make a fresh start together.” His eyes warmed and he raised their joined hands to his lips. “We can run away to Tijuana, where there are golden beaches and palm trees. We’ll watch the jai alai and make love in the afternoons.”
His lips moved over the inside of her wrist and she swallowed a sigh. “And dance into the night to the mariachi bands?” Her lips trembled on a smile.
Chakotay was smiling too. “Yes. And we’ll marry and make beautiful children and be happy for the rest of our lives.”
There were tears in her eyes. “I want to, Chakotay. I want it so much.”
“Then come with me. We can leave tonight.”
“I can’t,” she said through lips stiff with pain. “My life is here.”
“You are my life,” he said starkly.
She was shaking her head. “I’ve tried running away, and it didn’t solve anything. Chakotay…” she tightened her fingers around his, “you’re in trouble, but I can help you. If you’ll just come with me to the police –”
“No.” He let go of her hands, and hers fluttered, grasping for something she couldn’t hold onto.
Chakotay pushed back his chair and stood, looking down at her with an ache scrawled across his face.
“I cannot stay, and you won’t go,” he said. “So this must be goodbye.”
Kathryn realized there were tears on her cheeks, though she hadn’t known she was crying.
“I guess it is,” she said, even though she felt like something was choking her.
He looked at her for a moment longer, then turned away. She watched him push through the door and turn out onto the street.
“Wait,” she whispered, and before she fully realized it she was moving, rushing after him.
The rain had set in, a thick mist that fuzzed the streetlights into haloed glows and the tires of passing cars swished like a brushed cymbal. She could see him up ahead, collar turned up against the drizzle, defeat written in his hunched shoulders.
“Chakotay,” she cried.
He turned, and she found herself running, heels snicking on the wet pavement. When she reached him she came to a halt. The rain mixed with tears on her face.
“What is it, laztana?” Hope lit in his eyes. “Have you changed your mind?”
Struggling not to sob, she shook her head slowly. “I just couldn’t let you go without knowing how I feel,” she barely whispered.
She took a step closer and raised her trembling hand to his face. She traced the lines of his tattoo, one last time.
“I love you,” she said. “I’ll always love you.”
Then he was kissing her, desperate and starved, his arms clutching her close as though he’d never let her go. She knew she would have to be the one to end it. So she gentled the kiss, turned the passion into something so tender and sweet that it hurt, and she stepped back out of his arms.
“I’ll never forget you,” she said. “Goodbye, Chakotay.”
Kathryn could see the struggle written in his eyes, but he held himself straight.
“Until we meet again, laztana.”
She made herself stand still, watching as he walked away from her until the rain and fog grew too thick to see him anymore. Then she pulled her coat close around her and turned for home.
~ THE END ~
A little trivia, if that’s your bag, baby:
* Basque-Americans used a code based on the Basque language during World War II. While I wanted Chakotay to be a recent immigrant in this story, I liked the idea of him being a codebreaker (and in the Basque resistance, which is pretty damn close to Maquis).
* Otxoa is a common Basque surname, pronounced otsoa. It means ‘wolf’.
* Eddie McGrath, the Irish mobster whose money Seska absconded with, ran the waterfront in Hell's Kitchen in the 1940s.
* The song playing on the radio in chapter 2 is Sarah Vaughan’s ‘A Lover’s Concerto’.
* The bar featured in chapter 3 is where Sam Spade encountered the Maltese Falcon.
* Dixon Hill, Madeline the secretary, and the Cuzzo family are all characters in Picard's holoprogram featured in 'The Big Goodbye', which I guess makes this story meta cubed, since it's a fic based on a holoprogram in a TV show.