DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
SERIES: Part of the Post Peekskill Series; sequel to Catching Up
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
It's sure nice to be home, thought Natalie Greene as she strolled up the west side of Central Park. It was a beautiful fall day in the City, and Natalie, fresh off a three week assignment in Prague, was making the most of it. She turned up the path towards the Great Lawn, when she heard some familiar tones.
"Would you get the fuck over here, you little rodent." Natalie looked over to see a miniscule tan animal running high speed circles around the benches and trash cans. Nearby, a striking brunette woman in a leather jacket was waving a leash and glowering.
"Hi Jo, do you need some help?"
"Natalie, you're back, how was Prague, great to see you, now could you try and corner the dog."
Natalie lunged, snagged the tiny creature by its collar, and picked it up. It bared its teeth and growled.
"Whoa," Natalie said, holding it out at arm's length. "Not the friendliest of life forms."
"Here, let me take her," said Jo. She clipped the leash on the animal and put it back down on the grass. "Sit." The dog started digging furiously throwing up a small cloud of debris.
"What it that?" Natalie asked.
"The bane of my fucking existence," Jo replied.
"No really, what is it, a water rat?"
"I wish. It is miniature toy teacup Chihuahua. Monica brought it back from her last trip to Mexico. It's a 'housewarming gift' for me and Blair. Apparently it was the favorite pet of the Aztec kings. I now know why the Aztecs liked to kill themselves."
"That thing got through customs?" Natalie wondered.
"Can you believe it? I told my captain to put a call into JFK."
"Jo, I thought you said it was a 'her'." Natalie pointed to the animal which was now vigorously humping the base of the streetlight.
"Jesus. Stop it Bella." Jo pulled the dog away from the lamp. "The vet says it's a female but she does that all the time."
"So what I'm gathering is that, 'Bella', is it, is disobedient, ill tempered and oversexed. Sounds like the perfect pet for you, Jo." Natalie opined.
"Nice, Nat, nice."
The two women started walking with Bella in tow. A placid golden retriever passed by. Bella lunged and yapped, straining ferociously at her leash and once again baring her teeth.
"Sorry," said Jo to the golden's startled owner.
Natalie laughed. "I'm picturing Blair strolling down Central Park West with this mammal, if 'mammal' is the right word for something the size of a tuna sandwich. It must ruin her image."
"That's the freaky part, Nat. Whenever Blair walks her, she is perfectly behaved. They go out dressed in these matching angora sweaters and Bella prances around like some goddamn show dog. Blair thinks I'm hallucinating when I tell her what a nightmare she can be."
"Wow," Natalie said. "Maybe it's some Aztec thing. The dog channels the personality of the person holding the leash."
"Could be," Jo agreed, chuckling. "Hey, if you're not doing anything right now, come by the house. We finally finished the last of the tiling. The place looks really good."
Jo and Natalie walked up the tree lined side street to a three story brownstone with a dark sandstone stoop. They opened the front door and, let off her leash, Bella dashed inside barking.
"Are my girls back?" A voice floated melodiously down from the top of the stairs.
Jo put her finger to her lips. "Stand behind the door," she whispered to Natalie, "we'll surprise her."
Blair Warner, hair slightly damp and adorned in a white kimono with a red sash, regally descended the staircase leading to the entryway.
"Hello darling. I have a treat for you," Blair said in a low voice.
"Me too," said Jo.
"Jo," Blair husked. "Do you realize that this is the first Saturday in months that we don't have a contractor, workman, or landscaper around?"
"Uh, I guess."
"Well then." Blair pulled off the sash and opened her kimono to reveal basically everything. "Surprise!"
"Surprise!" Natalie shouted at the same time as she emerged from behind the vestibule door.
Blair shrieked. Natalie blanched. Bella barked.
The figures stood in a frozen tableau for a moment. Blair broke the spell by rewrapping her kimono, grabbing her sash and fleeing back up the stairs, followed by the dog. "Merde!" Blair cursed rarely and only in French.
Natalie put her hand over her face. "My eyes! My eyes!" she cried.
Jo, convulsing in laughter, managed to stagger to the couch in the study off the entryway hall where she collapsed in a heap.
"Blair, please let me in. I'm sorry, really. I had no idea that was going to happen," Jo pleaded.
"Go away. Go far away. And take Natalie with you." Blair's voice came from behind the door of the master bedroom.
"C'mon Blair, that's not fair. Nat didn't know what she was walking into. You may have traumatized her for life."
"Her?" What about me?" The voice exclaimed. "Tell you what Polniaczek. That's the last time you're ever getting some unexpected afternoon delight."
"Blair, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. It was an accident," Jo said. "Please talk to Natalie. She feels terrible. We don't want her to believe that she is unwelcome here."
The door opened a crack. "I hardly think that what I did can be considered unwelcoming," Blair said archly. "All right. Send her up."
Jo beckoned to Natalie, who ruefully crept up the stairs and knocked on the bedroom door. "Um, Blair, it's Natalie. Um, are you decent?"
Jo bit her hand to stop the guffaw.
"Come in Natalie," Blair said solemnly.
Natalie entered Jo and Blair's bedroom. Blair was sitting stiffly on a loveseat dressed in a three piece charcoal gray wool pantsuit with a black cashmere turtleneck pulled to her chin.
"Gee Blair. Nice outfit. Don't you think you could find some happy medium between porn star and Amish?"
"You are on very thin ice, Greene," Blair uttered darkly.
"I know. I really am sorry Blair. Jo shouldn't have let me drop by without notice," Natalie said, perching beside Blair on the love seat and casting a wary eye on Bella, who was nestled in the dog bed in the corner of the room.
Blair's façade softened a little. "Oh nonsense, Nat, we love it when you come by. You're always welcome, you know that."
"Thanks," Natalie said. "Anyway Blair, there's no need to be embarrassed. After all, we lived together for nine years. I've seen it before. Maybe not with quite the same marketing effort, but you know what I mean."
"I guess," Blair conceded.
"And it was funny," Natalie declared. "You have to admit that it was funny. Let's see a smile, c'mon, c'mon," Natalie urged, pulling at the corners of Blair's lips.
Blair mouth twitched slightly. "It had its amusing aspects," she said primly.
"So we're good?"
"By the way, Blair," Natalie said as she stood and walked toward the bedroom door. "You know that I'm as straight as an arrow, but I gotta say, Jo's a lucky woman."
Blair flipped her hair a little. "Why Nat, you are perceptive."
Later that night, when Blair returned from her committee meeting, Jo greeted her at the door wearing nothing but a camouflage vest. An hour or two after that, all was forgiven.
As Chair of the Event Committee, and Chief Executive Officer of the Warner Foundation, the event's main sponsor, Blair had assumed that she might have some modicum of power. Apparently that power did not extend to getting Boots St. Claire Perlmutter to shut up.
"Now Blair, we simply must commit to the seating arrangements. Do you really want me to reserve a place at Table 1 for your 'girlfriend'?" Boots gestured in air quotes.
"Yes, Boots, I do. Jo will definitely be there," Blair said between gritted teeth.
"Blair, I know that being a lesbian is all the rage these days but don't you think that this imaginary relationship is taking it a little too far?"
"It is not imaginary," Blair huffed. "Jo and I live together in a fabulous West Side brownstone off Central Park. We have sex. We have a dog. We are a couple." Blair's irritation led her to reveal more that she normally would. Bella was a fairly intimate detail.
"All I know is what I see, Blair. And in the six months I have been on this Board, Jo has yet to appear at any of the Foundation's gatherings, events or soirees. That's a strange way to treat ones 'partner'." Boots gestured again.
"I swear Boots, if you use air quotes one more time, I'm going to break your fingers," Blair threatened.
"Temper, temper, Warnsie," Boots simpered as she returned to reviewing the seating plan.
Blair's anger stemmed from the fact that Boots had identified the one nagging flaw in her turbulent but fundamentally blissful relationship with Jo. Jo, for whatever reason, never managed to show up at any of the Warner Foundation functions. At first Blair thought that it was because Jo was reluctant to publicize their relationship in the workplace, but as Blair had been dragged to every Twenty Fifth Precinct picnic, bowling tournament, and Super Bowl Party, that didn't seem to be the case.
Then Blair thought that Jo might be uncomfortable in her new role as part of the Warner family. But that wasn't it either. For some reason Jo and Blair's relationship had caused a definite thaw between Blair's parents as they competed to see who could be more supportive of the couple. David treated Jo as the son he never had, taking her to ballgames, consulting on car purchases, and, in one horrifying moment that Blair would like to delete from her memory, flipping through the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue together. Monica had spent months working with Jo and Blair on the renovation of the brownstone and dropped frequent hints about her desire for a grandchild. While Blair had heard enough about homophobic parents to realize how lucky she was, she couldn't help but be a little annoyed that her parents' conversion to family values only occurred when Jo came on the scene.
Jo's truancy certainly was not due to any fear of public events either. From Eastland on, Blair had seen Jo appear before enough graduation audiences, councils, student groups, rallies, conventions and the like to know that, when she wanted to be, Jo could be an incredibly charismatic and powerful presence.
No, Blair decided, when it came to this small thing, Jo had just gotten lazy and complacent and Blair had let her get away it. Well that was stopping right now.
Blair dialed her mobile. "Jo?"
"Hey, babe, how's the meeting?"
"I'm here with Boots," said Blair.
"That bad, huh," Jo replied.
"We are finalizing the seating chart. I need to make sure that You Will Be There." Blair enunciated each word coldly and carefully.
"Boots still thinks I'm a figment of your imagination, eh? Yes, Blair, as I have said 10,000 times before, I will be there," Jo replied wearily.
"No, really Jo, I'm serious this time. This event means a lot to me," Blair declared.
Jo lost her attitude. "I know it does, gorgeous. I swear on Bella's life that I'll show up."
"That doesn't give me any comfort," Blair objected.
Jo laughed. "I promise, Blair, I promise."
Captain Michael Chow of the Twenty Fifth Precinct read over the reports with satisfaction. It might have been due to her fancy schooling, but Detective Polniaczek's case write ups were concise, grammatically correct and free from errors in punctuation or spelling. Others may not have thought so but, to Captain Chow, the attention to detail was telling.
Chow saw the object of his admiration come into the station house. "Detective Polniaczek, may I see you for a moment in my office."
"Yes sir. What's up?"
"Detective, as you know, the results of the Lieutenant's examination will be coming out soon."
"I know sir. I have hopes."
"Detective Polniaczek, I have no doubt that you passed with flying colors. Depending on how well you did, though, I have a proposition for you. You see," he continued. "If you score in the top 2% and are recommended by your commanding officer, you are eligible for the Special Cases Unit. If you agree and you meet the minimum score, I would like to recommend you."
"That's quite an honor, Captain Chow, thank you."
"Jo," Chow said, changing his tone. "I want you think about it. For a lot of officers, a lieutenant's stripe means a nice desk job with regular hours and low risk. Special Cases isn't that. You would be dealing with some pretty nasty people, going undercover, and working on cases with national or international implications. It's a big and dangerous job."
"I should talk to Blair," Jo considered.
"You should talk to Blair." Chow agreed. "I won't deny that the fact that you are a woman is a plus, but what is more important is the fact that you are a fine officer with an unusual mix of book intelligence and street smarts. The Unit could definitely use you. But if it doesn't fit in with your life plans, I will understand."
"Thanks a lot, Captain. I'll definitely let you know. Anyway, maybe I didn't pass the test."
"Maybe," Chow said.
"By the way, Captain, you remember that I'm leaving early today. Right?"
"Yes, Detective. You have made it abundantly clear that if you are late to Blair's function tonight, certain parts of your female anatomy will be run through some sort of meat processing device," Chow replied.
"Thanks, Captain," Jo grinned.
"If you and Detective Lewis could just run out to Queens and pick up the witness statements in the Singh case, then you can leave after that."
"That's great Captain, I really appreciate it," Jo said.
"Blair, the place looks fantastic."
"Thanks, Tootie, I am so glad that you and Jeff could make it."
"Are you kidding, we wouldn't miss this for the world. 'One Hundred and Fifty Years of Women Painters presented by the Warner Foundation.' It is inspiring."
Blair looked around with satisfaction. The venue did look wonderful. The reception was being held in the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The temple was beautifully lit as always. Adorning the room were giant banners of works featured in the exhibit which covered artists from Mary Cassatt to Georgia O'Keefe to Helen Frankenthaler. Blair was particularly proud of the emerging artists section which featured, among others, a recent graduate of Eastland.
"So Tootie, how is Jeffie the Fourth?" Blair asked warily. Jeffie the Fourth, the latest in the series of Tootie's cats, had had an unfortunate run in with Bella at Tootie and Jeff's barbeque in New Jersey a few weeks ago.
"The stitches are coming out tomorrow," Tootie replied a trifle coolly.
Jeff laughed. "Man, that dog was fierce. I never saw Jeffie the Fourth treed by anything one third his size before."
Tootie poked her husband. "That's not fair. He was blindsided. It was a sneak attack, like Pearl Harbor."
Blair flinched. "Again, Tootie, I 'm so sorry. I don't know what got into her. Send me the vet bill please."
Tootie smiled. "That's all right Blair. I'm just a little embarrassed that Jeffie the Fourth didn't hold his own a little better. By the way, where's Jo?"
Blair looked at her watch. "She should be here any second. She called me from Queens a while ago and said she was on her way back."
"Goddamn bridge traffic!" Jo cursed, pounding her fist on the dashboard.
"Jo, do you want to put on the siren and lights?"
"Nah, Benny." Unlike many of her peers, Jo had a policy against using sirens for personal purposes. "Tell you what though, just drop me at the subway station at the next corner and I'll take the train in. It'll be faster anyway."
The radio crackled. "All units, all units, Code 10-32, man with gun reported at 5454 Queens Boulevard. Code 10-32. Proceed with caution."
"Shit," Jo said.
"Listen, Jo, we aren't officially on duty in this area. We don't have to report," Benny pointed out.
Jo sighed. "No, let's go. I still have some time. I can be late for cocktails."
Blair, sitting on the dais between the Mayor and the head of museum, as dessert was being served, looked out for the hundredth time at Table 1. There sat Tootie and Jeff, Natalie and her current squeeze Vikram Pindar, an Asian studies professor at Columbia, her parents, Monica and David, safely separated, and one empty chair.
She promised, Blair fumed. I definitely heard the word promise. I know what happened. She told Benny that it would be just one beer and then they got into an argument over which ridiculous Yankee did whatever and before you know it she has blown me off again. Blair had long since given up on the cell phone. Twenty three increasingly vitriolic and vivid threat messages were enough.
This is it. She is simply not getting away with this. Blair knew deep down that she would find some way to forgive Jo, but at this point she couldn't see how, particularly when she saw Boots pointing at Table 1 and making that circular finger around the temple "you're loco" gesture.
"Ms. Warner. Let me congratulate you on a really impressive exhibit."
"I appreciate it Mr. Mayor," Blair said to the dark, intense man beside her. Will no one tell him to lose the comb over? "I am so glad you could attend."
"My pleasure," he replied. One of Mayor's aides came up to his seat and whispered in his ear. The Mayor's normally grim visage got a little grimmer. "I am sorry Ms. Warner, but I am going to have to leave a little early. There has been an incident."
"Nothing too serious I hope?" Blair asked.
"Unfortunately, yes. A police officer has been shot in Queens. It was fatal."
How odd, Blair thought. I seem to be breathing, moving, talking. No one is pointing at me. No one is calling for an ambulance. So why can't I feel anything? Why is my brain suddenly outside my head?
Blair watched herself say goodbye to the Mayor and leave the dais to approach Table 1. She watched herself speak to Natalie and Tootie and saw their hands fly to their mouths and their eyes tear up. She watched as her father put his arm around her shoulders and her mother slumped back in her chair.
Blair's brain reconnected with her body. She wished it hadn't. It was a place of pain and fear.
"Are they sure it was Jo?" Natalie asked.
"They haven't released the name."
"So maybe there's hope!" Tootie exclaimed. "We should pray."
"Go right ahead Tootie. But it won't do any good. I know Jo. It's just like her to get herself killed to avoid coming to one of my events."
"Blair, that's a terrible thing to say!" Monica protested.
Hysteria was setting in. "No mother, really. This is typical. She promised that she'd be here. That she would support me. That we would be together. That we would have this life, this incredible life with each other. Then she goes and does something that takes it all away. It's pure spite, I'm telling you," Blair declared angrily, pushing down her sob.
Tootie grabbed Blair by the upper arms. "Blair, honey, please calm down."
"Why?" Blair snapped.
Natalie, who had been standing beside Tootie, suddenly broke into an enormous grin. "That's why," she said, pointing over Blair's shoulder to a frazzled looking Jo standing at the entrance to the hall and scanning the room anxiously.
Jo ran up to the group. "I am so, so sorry Blair. An officer was killed. No one I know but I just couldn't leave right away What?" she said as she noticed the faces of her friends. "What?" she repeated turning to Blair, who was regarding her with narrowed eyes.
Blair said nothing, but simply grabbed Jo hard by the wrist and pulled her rapidly away from the tables.
"Hey, where are we going? Yo, lighten up on the death grip there, Blair, you're hurting me."
"I don't care."
"Oh, hey there, Boots," Jo proffered as she was quickly dragged by Boots and her husband, Howard Perlmutter, a sixty year old investment banker with age spots on his scalp. Boots issued an annoyed sigh.
With a protesting Jo in tow, Blair stormed out of the Temple of Dendur, through the Hall of Armor, up some stairs and into a secluded area known as the Astor Court. A security guard came up. "Excuse me this section is oh hello Miss Warner."
"Hi Gerald. Do you think you could give us a minute?"
"Sure. Take your time."
Jo looked at Blair in amazement. "You know the name of every security guard in this place?"
"Of course. Now sit down," Blair said, plopping Jo firmly on the bench.
"What's this about Blair?"
"I thought you had been killed," Blair said simply.
Jo grimaced. "Really, why?"
"The Mayor said that an officer had been killed in Queens. You are an officer, you were in Queens. Do the math."
"And you didn't even wait for a name? Pretty quick to get rid of me aren't you, Blondie?" Whoops. Jo recoiled at her girlfriend's scorching glare. Blair was clearly in no mood for jokes.
Blair paced for a minute. Jo kept silent.
"Jo, why don't you come to any of my Warner Foundation functions?"
Can you say non-sequitur, Jo thought. "What?"
"Why don't you come to my public events. Are you ashamed of us?" Blair asked.
"Blair, you know that's not true!"
"Then why? The work excuse won't wash by the way."
"How about the 'I don't want to be with boring, tedious snobs' excuse?" Jo offered.
"Why do you think Blair?" Jo said seriously. They knew each other very well.
"Because you imagine you might die."
Ouch. That was a little harsh.
"Jo," Blair continued. "I know that you sometimes have this insane idea that I consider you some kind of phase. That our life together is just an opening act for me. That I am still waiting for my real existence to begin, the one that you think I'm supposed to have, with the husband and the children and the summer house and all that crap. And I also know that, since you realize that I will never voluntarily leave you, you think that the only way I can move onto this next stage is if you are out of the picture. I think that somehow, in your warped mind, the Foundation is part of this post-Jo world that you aren't supposed to be a part of."
"So you think I have a death wish?" Jo asked.
"No. Just a vivid fantasy life."
Jo pondered this for a moment. "I dunno Blair. I don't think it's that complicated. All I know is that for me, what we have is so intense and so much better than anything I could have hoped for, that I don't want or need anything else. But you, look at you. Sitting up there with the Mayor and all. You need room to shine, Blair. Without me and my baggage. I only meant to give you some room to shine."
"But I just want you there," Blair whispered, eyes welling.
"Then I will be."
Blair didn't know what to say to that. Emotionally spent, she sat down beside Jo on the bench. They were silent for a moment.
Jo looked around. "This is a nice room."
Blair nodded her agreement. "It is based on a scholar's garden from the Ming Dynasty."
Another moment passed.
"You know, Blair," Jo mused. "All this talk about death has made me want to do something life affirming."
"What did you have in mind?" Blair asked slyly.
"Didn't Natalie's boyfriend Vikram write a book on Asian erotic art?"
"I think so."
"Well we are in the Asian Art wing. Maybe we can do some re-creations." Jo reached over and started to unbutton Blair's blouse.
A little while later, Gerald was making his rounds. He looked in on the Astor Court and his eyes widened. The Pompeiian pornography frescos had nothing on these two. He backed off, resolving to come back in an hour and to make a lot of noise when he did.
The following Sunday, Captain Chow and his wife were strolling through Central Park. Mrs. Chow started. "Heavens, is that a rat?"
Chow got a closer look at the creature before it ran off towards a bench where two women sat. "I don't think so dear. Unless the budget surplus is higher than I thought," Chow said, "rats don't wear tiny green loden coats."
Chow and his wife approached the women. "Detective Polniaczek, fancy meeting you here. You remember my wife Grace."
"Hello Mrs. Chow. Nice to see you again. This is my girlfriend, Blair Warner."
"Yes of course. We met at last year's Christmas party. That's a lovely coat dear. Is it Austrian? What a beautiful shade of green."
"Thank you," Blair said.
Bella arrived, barking. Captain Chow looked at the dog, looked at Blair and raised an eyebrow to Jo. "Don't ask," Jo said, shaking her head.
"What a darling puppy." Mrs. Chow bent down. Bella growled.
"Jesus, Bella, that's my boss's wife," Jo complained. "Sorry, Mrs. Chow. Here, fetch." Jo threw a marble sized ball towards the adjoining field and Bella scampered after it.
"Just a reminder Jo, the Precinct is gathering at 10:00 tomorrow for Officer Medvedev's funeral," Chow said.
"I know sir."
"Oh, and Blair, I want to thank you for your contribution to the Officer's Family Fund. That was very generous of you."
"It was nothing," Blair said.
Jo looked at her in surprise. "I didn't know you did that."
"It was nothing," she repeated.
"Jo, I am speaking a little bit out of turn, but I got an advance preview of the Lieutenants' examination results," Captain Chow announced.
"And?" Jo asked cautiously.
"The highest score in the City. By a mile. Congratulations, Lieutenant. Well, ladies, we'll leave you to your day. See you tomorrow Jo."
Blair looked at Jo with shining eyes. "Lieutenant, Jo, that's wonderful. What job do you think you'll apply for? Director of Historical Archives appealed to me. Oh Jo, you'll be off the streets. Thank god."
Jo inwardly winced. Maybe this wasn't such a good time to bring up the Special Cases Unit.
"I don't know Blair; I'll have to think about it."
"Lieutenant Polniaczek. It has a nice ring to it," Blair said, as she dropped her head on Jo's shoulder.
"Yeah it does." Jo pulled Blair closer and kissed her hair.
Shit. "Excuse me," Jo said, jumping up from the bench and running towards the field. "No! Bella! No! That's a police horse."
Blair's laughter mingled with Bella's barks.
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