In the break room she passed the dented vending machine and set her backpack in a chair. She quickly cleaned out the black coating in the coffeepot and reloaded the machine. Soon fresh coffee perked. She moved to the machine and fished her credit card from her pocket. She chose crackers and a chocolate bar.
As the machine burbled, she washed the mugs in the sink and wiped down the counter. She chose the most generic mug, guessing it didn’t belong to any individual. There were few transgressions worse than taking a man’s coffee mug.
When Mazur reappeared she was sitting at a table, eating the chocolate bar and sipping coffee. Beside him was a tall redhead. She was early to midthirties with pale freckled skin, and she wore skinny jeans with a loose white blouse tucked only on her right side and brown cowboy boots. The identification badge hanging around her neck read Detective Jane Palmer.
Palmer and Mazur were an interesting mix. While Mazur appeared to be by the book, Palmer looked as if she didn’t mind bending a rule or two. She was fit and, judging by her straight posture, proud of it.
“Dr. Hayden,” Mazur said. “This is my partner, Detective Jane Palmer.”
Detective Palmer extended her hand to Kate. “Pleasure to meet you. Sorry I missed you at the autopsy this morning. I was stuck in court.”
Kate shook her hand, noting smooth palms and trim French-manicured nails. No sign of a wedding ring, but a gold-and-onyx college ring winked on her right hand. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“I hear, and can now smell, that you know how to make coffee,” Detective Palmer said. “That’s a prized commodity in this shop.” She moved to the counter and picked up a blue Disney Frozen mug. “And you clean. I could marry anyone who cleans.” She paused to sip. “And makes great coffee.” She nudged Mazur hard in the ribs with her elbow. “Why don’t you ever make me coffee? You’ve been here six months and not one cup for me.”
Mazur shrugged. Six months. So he was newer to the team than she’d realized. Perhaps the cool reception they’d received wasn’t just a product of her presence. He was an outsider who’d brought in a Fed. She’d bet money his hire had sent ripples through this department, and though he was still in the proving stage of the job, he didn’t seem to care about winning points with his associates. His heart was not rooted to this squad or this city.
“What’s your secret to a great cup of coffee?” Detective Palmer asked.
“Cleaning the pot and machine,” Kate said.
Detective Palmer laughed as she shook her head. “Who’d have thought?” Palmer’s phone chimed with a text. She glanced at the words and frowned. “Dr. Hayden, you’re the wordsmith, right?”
“Forensic linguistics is my specialty.”
“What do you say to a guy who texts, I might have time this weekend to see you?”
Each detective had his or her own style of breaking the ice. While Mazur appeared easygoing and patient, Palmer used humor to build alliances. “Might? Does he have a job that keeps him on call?” Kate asked.
She cocked a brow. “He’s an accountant.”
“It’s not tax season.” Kate stared at Palmer. “You know what he’s saying.”
Palmer nodded, eyes narrowing. “But how do I respond?”
“Tell him, ‘Making plans and with luck we might catch up. Have a great week.’ And add an emoji. A smiley face.”
Palmer typed the words, then hesitated. “The smiley face isn’t my style.”
“Dating 101 over?” Mazur asked as he filled a paper cup with coffee.
Palmer shrugged, pushed a few buttons, and slid the phone in her back pocket. “Just because you don’t care about a love life, Mazur, doesn’t mean the rest of us live a monastic existence.”
He stiffened a fraction as he filled his own cup. “The other detectives and cops are headed into the briefing room.”