Then there was Louise - missing for nine days. All of his resources had failed to find her. He was at a loss - lost without her and worried that something bad had happened to her.
"Louie," Joe whispered with his head in his hands. "Louie, I miss you."
Morning sickness drained her; bouts of it forcing her to rush to the bathroom at all hours of the day, not just mornings. Certain smells sent her stomach reeling and there were days she thought her entire abdominal walls were being flipped upside down and inside out and would never be right again. Flashes of heat would unexpectedly soar up from her chest and flood her neck and face until she was gasping for breath. Barely at the end of her first trimester, she had already gained six pounds. She had another six months to go and if anyone looked closely, she knew they'd think she resembled a beached whale.
"Baby, baby, baby," she moaned as she rubbed her belly. "If you're a boy, you sure are doing your best to act like your Dad. He's a pushy pesty kinda guy, too, always demanding my attention. But let me tell you this: If you're a girl, you're taking after the wrong parent. Nobody likes a pushy girl. Take it easy down there, 'k? God! I wish I could have a beer!"
Milk and tomato juice had been constants in her daily diet, both liquids the only ones that settled her stomach and she alternated between them. She had always been a milk drinker; drinking it had been a piece of cake but tomato juice...
"Tag," she whispered his name. "I miss you. I really miss you."
She remembered that time at the bar when Tag announced they were getting married, the baby on its way and the tomato juice he made her drink instead of beer. She remembered that everyone had congratulated the two of them, their happiness that Tag was in love and not one of them surprised it had happened so quickly.
And she remembered how good it had been with him, the sex and the cuddling and the talks they had... the good feeling of being cared for, loved... And then she remembered how frightened she had been... the thought of marrying a man she had known for only a short time, carrying his child... too much too soon. She had instantly reverted to old habits - fight or flight. She couldn't fight him so she had fled.
And here she was - alone, pregnant, alone, missing him ...and alone.
Louise was running short of supplies and finally feeling better, she thought a trip into town would be just the ticket to rejuvenate her spirits. The old pickup truck she had borrowed needed to be run once in a while; she could visit with old friends... yes, this was a good thing to do.
Meanwhile... in the Kirkland police precinct, one Detective Joe Taggert was running on fumes. He hadn't slept well since Louise left; the case he was working consumed all his energy and if one more person told him that it was better to break up with Louise now instead of after they were married... Well, they were playing with fire 'cause he was ready to break somebody's damn head!
"Hey Tag," his captain said. "I need you to get down to the Issaquah station and interview the bozo they picked up this morning. He's not our perp but he's a person of interest; might know something about our guy."
"Where'd they pick him up?" Joe asked as he drank the last of his 4th cup of coffee in two hours.
"In the woods, south end of Lake Sammamish, a very irate woman called it in. Seems the bozo spent the night on her property."
"Lake Sam? That's a long way from the north end of Lake Washington where our guy was seen last."
"Tag?" his captain sighed with as much weariness and irritation as a precinct captain could show when the mayor and the governor both wanted his ass on a stick for not solving this case sooner. "Just do it, 'k?"
"On my way," Tag groused, heaving his 6'2" frame out of the chair. Two hundred pounds of aching muscles strained as he strode to his car. If he didn't get some decent sleep soon...
Even with all its growth, the Issaquah police precinct was still a citizen friendly place. The camaraderie on the day shift was renown, the officers and detectives long time friends, some of them family. The night shift was more distant but still a helpful lot and it was the squad car officers ending their night shift that had picked up the possible informant. They left a detailed report for whoever needed to know those details.
One not-so-helpful interrogation later, Joe Taggert knew he had didly squat. The person of interest was just another traveling guy who liked to camp beside lakes - Lake Washington two days ago, Lake Sammamish last night, Lake Union last week, probably Lake Chelan next month. "God! I could use a break," he groaned.
"If I was you, Officer, and I knows I'm not," the hobo said with deference. "I'd get me my information down by the grange. That's where folk gather and share what they know 'bout everything."
"The grange..." Joe mused. Kirkland was a fairly sophisticated little city... no grange, no farms, just yuppies but Issaquah... "Thanks, man," he smiled at the guy. "You've been helpful after all."
It was just the way he remembered it. His father had taken him down to the grange when he was a boy. The smells were the same - leather harnesses freshly oiled, the musk of fertilizers, that clean hay smell... and ol' Granny Madison's picture on the wall behind the ancient cash register. They had John Deere equipment in the backyard - that was new and ladies' garden tools with pretty flowers on them - definitely new. See's Candies were prominently displayed on the counter and damn if there wasn't a Starbucks concession!
There was the rich odor of roasting coffee, danish, muffins and giant cookies and tables to sit at and mingle a while. "Double tall latte," he ordered "and one of those blueberry muffins. Gonna eat it here."
Heading for one of the vacant tables, he couldn't help noticing the smaller woman with her back facing him. She was just about Louie's size... "Got her on the brain," he mused as he sat and stared at her.
And then she turned slightly...
And one Detective Joe Taggert's blood pressure returned to normal and he smiled.
Standing as quietly as he could, he left his coffee and muffin on the table and approached her, his hands reaching out to cover her eyes.
"Hello doll-face," he whispered. "Guess who?"
"Christ on a clamshell!" one Louise Rogers hissed. "It's that damn nutso cop!"
"In the flesh," he chuckled, taking hold of her arm as he pulled up a chair next to her. "I've missed you, Louie," he said softly, his eyes devouring her, one arm pulling her into his embrace, his other hand automatically cupping the slight roundness of her belly.
"You look good enough to eat," he murmured as he kissed her temple. "I might have to do that any second now."
Louise was stunned. She never expected to run into the father of her unborn child in the Issaquah grange of all places. She was speechless.
The emotions flew through her head. She hated him, right?
She never wanted to see him again, right?
She was pregnant because of him, right? Well, I enjoyed the sex... she admitted to herself and knew she hadn't taken any more responsibility for safe sex than he had.
He was a Neanderthal, right? I mean... he spanked me! He was a nutso cop, right?
"Do you hate me?" she finally asked. "Uh... for leaving without saying anything, I mean."
"Don't hate you, Louie," he said softly, his mouth itching to cover every inch of her. "Love you, love our baby, want you to come home, want to marry you."
"I can't marry you," she said stone-faced, determined to make him hate her and not understanding why she felt that way.
"Are you already married?" he asked, knowing she wasn't.
"Good. Than you can marry me and I'll give you and that baby of ours a last name and love both of you forever."
"This isn't once-upon-a-time and happily-ever-after, Tag. This is real life and real life means babies poop and spit up and expectant mothers get ugly when they're riled and have morning sickness and pee all the time and eat funny food."
"Sounds wonderful," Tag smiled and in front of a very interested but silent audience, kissed the mother of his child.
"You're not only a nutso cop," she said when she could breathe again. "You think you're Peter Pan. Real life isn't never-never-land, Tag."
"I've got a proposition for you, Louie," he said in his nutso cop voice. "Come home with me now... marry me... or I'll bare your pretty little bottom and spank you raw right here in front of God and company and within the hour, every living soul in Issaquah is going to know every detail of that spanking. Might even see your pretty red bottom in the paper tomorrow morning."
"You son of a bitch!"
"I knew you'd agree," he laughed and to loud applause, gently hauled her over his shoulder and walked out of the grange with a huge smile on his face and one hand patting her round bottom.