Passing in the Night, part 2

It didn't take much to get me onto the police force. They were so floored by my transcript from NYU that they barely paid any attention to my doctored birth certificate.

It looked like I was going to be Officer Sandburg.

****

I met Simon Banks at the Police Academy. He was watching the day we were practicing hand-to-hand combat.

"Sandburg. Brown. Square off."

After some dodging and feinting, I knocked him down with a move that surprised not only him and the instructor, but me as well. Where the hell had that come from?

"Nice work, Sandburg." Simon Banks removed his ever-present cigar and grinned at me.

"Uh... Thank you, Captain."

"I want to talk to you. Al?" He glanced at the instructor.

"Sure, Simon. Sandburg, you're dismissed. The rest of you ladies hit the showers."

"Yes, sir." Slightly out of breath, I followed the Captain out of the gymnasium.

"Where'd you learn moves like that?"

"I don't know, sir. I'm serious," I assured him when his raised eyebrow told me he begged to differ.

"There was nothing in either your high school or college paperwork that suggests you took ROTC."

"I didn't." He'd looked into my file?

"Might your father have taught you something?"

"I never knew him. He was killed on Iwo Jima." I could have kicked myself for letting that slip, possibly giving away my real date of birth, but Captain Banks simply nodded.

"A lot of good men died on that island. An uncle, then?"

I couldn't prevent a laugh at the thought of Aunt Rebecca's husband teaching me anything other than how to cover a ship's network of pipes with asbestos. "No, sir."

"Hmmm. Well, your reaction to Brown's advance was definitely military."

"I watched a lot of war movies, Captain Banks." That made him laugh. "That's all I can think to explain it. Is it... is it important, sir?"

"No. I was just curious. Hit the showers. You don't want to be late for your next class."

"Yes, sir. No, sir. Thank you, sir." I breathed a surreptitious sigh of relief and hurried to the locker room.

But after that, whenever I turned around, he seemed to be watching me, his expression thoughtful.

Even after graduating from the Police Academy, I would run into him, and I would wonder what it was about me that he wanted to learn.

****

I was assigned to the 15th Precinct, along with Henri Brown. Because we were rookies, we weren't partnered together, but after work, those times when Naomi was having a decent day and I didn't have to hurry home, we would go for a beer with his partner, Joel Taggart.

They were good men, and after two years on the force, I trusted them where I wouldn't trust some white cops.

Maybe it was because they were a minority. Maybe it was because in the two years we'd been on the force together, I'd never left them hanging. For whatever reason, I knew they had my back, even though I was queer.

I kept that aspect of my life to myself, but they learned about it one evening when I went to a bar after I'd clocked out.

I couldn't even say I was hoping to get lucky and get laid. I hadn't had sex in so long it felt like I was dating my right hand. The problem was every time I thought I was getting close to someone, he'd turn out to be not the one I wanted - too needy, too kinky, too ... too.

I was in the men's room, contemplating the glory hole, trying to convince myself that sticking my dick in it wasn't an act of desperation. I'd seen the young man who was in the stall. He wasn't bad looking, not that it mattered.

Just then, two men entered.

"Jesus, Sandburg!" The hissing of sibilants made it sound like a tea kettle. "What are you doing here?" It was Joel Taggart.

"Uh... "

"Are you part of the bust?" Henri Brown. They were working nights out of Vice. Gay bars being busted was a fact of life - they could be shut down just for selling beer.

"Uh... " I felt my face go up in flames.

"Fuck, man, you better get your honkey ass out of here!"

"Yeah, man. Split! We'll tell Inspector Todd the can was empty."

"Thanks." I didn't say anything else, just grabbed the guy who'd been sitting in the john and slipped out the door, dragging him behind me and collaring another couple of young men who were heading in our direction.

"Hey!"

"Move it!" I hustled them out the back door, not offering any explanations. Just as it was closing, I heard the front door being smashed open, and a high-pitched voice squeak, "Don't nobody move!"

The next day I thanked Joel and H again. "I'm serious, man. You saved my ass. And my badge."

"Forget about it, Sandman." H had called me that ever since commencement, when the mayor of the city had given a speech that was so dry it had put me to sleep. "You've been there for me when it counted."

"Yeah, but... " I'd jumped in to help him when some bigoted assholes thought the color of his skin meant he shouldn't be a cop.

"Doesn't matter to us what butters your biscuit. If we hadn't seen you there last night, we'd never have guessed."

"I just got one question for you. Don't you like dark meat?"

My jaw dropped, and all I could do was stare at Brown.

"I mean, you never made a pass at either one of us."

"Did you want me to?"

"No. But... "

"H, you're making my head hurt."

He laughed at me, and I flipped him off.

"The thing is, Sandburg," Joel remarked, "you've got enough going on being a Jewish cop. A queer Jewish cop... " He shook his head and laughed. "Just don't start decorating the squad room, okay?"

"Oh, what? You're fond of antique ugly? You're a sad, sad man, Taggart." But I was relieved to know I hadn't lost their friendship.

****

I was in the locker room, changing after shift, when Brown walked in.

"Where's your partner?"

I scowled at him. "O'Neill's gone for the day."

"I heard he's gonna try for detective again."

"Yeah. If he doesn't get it this time... What are you doing in here? Your shift's already started. I'd have thought you'd be with your partner."

"He's in the can. I thought I'd talk to you while I could."

"You want to talk to me?" I flirted my lashes at him. "Why, Officer Brown, darlin'! Are you gonna ask me out?"

"Asshole. Listen. What's up with you, Blair?"

"What do you mean, 'what's up with me'?"

"Captain Banks has been asking questions about you."

"Shit. About... " I thought of the night that gay bar had been shut down. H shook his head, and I blew out a relieved breath. "Then why?"

"Dunno, but he's with the Cap right now. Whyn't ya go see?"

"Yeah." I shut my locker and spun the combination. "I think I will."

Simon Banks was just exiting the Cap's office. He was dressed in civilian clothes.

"Ah. Sandburg. I was hoping I'd run into you."

"Yes, sir?"

"Are you in a hurry?"

"No, sir."

"I'd like to buy you a cup of coffee, then."

We walked around the corner to Rosie's Diner. Cops ate breakfast there before shift, dinner there after shift, and coffee any time in between.

"Two coffees, Rosie. One black, one regular."

"How did you know I take my coffee regular?"

"I know a lot about you, Sandburg." He pointed to a booth in the back, and waited until I went first.

I slid onto the vinyl seat and folded my hands on the table. My mouth was dry, and my gut started to twist into a knot. "Is something wrong, Captain?"

"Should there be?"

"Police captains don't usually invite patrolmen for a cup of coffee. And they don't generally know how their subordinates take their coffee."

Babs, the older waitress, approached just then, and put two glasses of water before us. "Rosie's makin' a fresh pot."

"Thanks, Rosie," he called, and she gave him a wave to let him know she'd heard him.

Babs turned her smile on me. "Hi, Blair. We got blueberry pie if you want?"

I shook my head. I'd have blueberry stains all over my teeth, and that was the last thing I needed to worry about during an interview with someone in the upper echelons.

"When you gonna ask me out, sugar?"

"Ah, Babs, I can see it clearly. We go out, I fall in love with you and let you have your wicked way with me, and then you leave me for someone taller and break my heart."

She grinned and fluffed her hair. "That's the truth, sugar." She sashayed back behind the counter.

Captain Banks laughed softly.

I picked up the glass and took a small sip, determined this time not to say anything.

"I've been looking through your files."

Fuck. This was it. He was going to tell me he'd learned I was too young and would boot me off the Force.

Naomi was doing better, but going back to work was out of the question, even if she'd been given the green light by her pulmonologist. She had to stay away from any place where smoking was allowed, which left out the Starlight Lounge and every bar and restaurant in the city of New York.

I needed this job for the Major Medical, if nothing else.

The coffee arrived, and I brought the cup to my lips.

"You didn't tell me you'd been to Peru."

"Excuse me?"

"You spent four months in Peru."

"Well... yes, I did. I was on a field trip with Professor Stoddard for the anthropology course I was taking."

"What part of Peru were you in?"

"Uh... Iquitos, on the Peruvian Amazon."

"Did you go south? Anywhere near the Chopec Pass in La Montana region?"

I opened my mouth to tell him 'yes', but nothing came out. I swallowed, then said, "Why are you asking me this, Captain?"

"A friend of mine traveled to Peru. I haven't seen or heard from him in a few years. His name is Jack Pendergrast."

I knew that name. Again, I could tell him nothing.

"Jack and I were in the Army together." He began to talk about Pendergrast, about their tours of duty in the Pacific Theater during World War II, in Korea during that conflict. "He saved my ass more times than I like to recall. I owe him."

"He sounds like a swell guy, Captain, but ..."

"You can't tell me anything. I understand. Look, would you mind if we got together for coffee every now and then. I'd like to talk to someone about him."

"He had no family you could talk to, sir?"

"No. He had a... No."

I wondered what Captain Banks was going to say.

"It's sad, I know, but you having been in Peru is about as close to him as I can get."

"Well... well, that would be fine, Captain."

"I don't bite, I promise." He studied my eyes, then smiled, and I realized he hadn't had a cigar in his mouth the entire time. "And maybe I can get O'Neill off your ass. Babs! Bring us a couple of slices of blueberry pie. And don't be stingy with the whipped cream!"

****

That was the start of our friendship. We'd meet at least once a week for coffee and a slice of blueberry pie, and he'd tell me about Jack Pendergrast, about how he'd taught at a military academy for a time, then quit to do... something else.

"He always could be a close-mouthed son-of-a-bitch," Captain Banks had chuckled. I'd looked up sharply, but there had been no malice in his expression.

I talked about Peru and what it had been like. I never told him that I had met Jack Pendergrast, if only for a short time. At least, I assumed it was a short time. And I never mentioned that there were almost three weeks that I couldn't remember.

When I first had the idea about taking the test to become a detective, I brought it up to him, and when I got my detective's badge I didn't know who was more proud, Simon or Naomi. And he offered his help if I should ever need it.

A year or so later, he left the force and opened Banks, his own security agency. He provided men to guard banks and art museums, and the occasional bodyguard. He, himself, kept his hand in by doing some private investigating.

We still got together every other week, and he'd tell me about his men and the jobs they handled, but it was Megan Connor, Simon's secretary, who whetted my curiosity about Jim Ellison.

Megan was an Australian transplant who'd come to America to become a Radio City Rockette. A bad break had left her leg unable to bear the stress of a dance routine, and she'd found herself out of work. She'd fallen in love with Manhattan, though, and she'd stayed, putting herself through secretarial school and getting the job with Simon.

On this particular day, I'd come to see him about something I was working on. Normally, I would have waited until our regular meeting at Rosie's, but this case had been driving me nuts. Now I was pretty sure I had a handle on it, and I'd wanted to share that with Simon.

Banks seemed to be empty, but then I heard something in the break room. I strolled down the corridor and gazed in to find one of Simon's younger guards. He must have been going off shift because he was dressed in casual clothes.

"Well, hello, Gabe."

He jumped and almost spilled some coffee onto his jeans. "Blair. Detective Sandburg." He put the cup down and smiled at me.

"You can call me Blair. I was looking for Simon, but finding you is even better." I'd seen him checking me out whenever I stopped by, so I flirted with him. "Are you busy?"

"Oh, I... I... " He was breathless. "No. I was just... "

"Want to have dinner with me?" I hadn't been on a date in forever, he was cute, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

"Oh, yes, I'd... "

I crowded him back until his knees hit the sofa and he sat down. I leaned over, gripped his biceps, and brought him back to his feet. I had just started kissing him, when there was a low wolf-whistle behind us.

Megan had walked in.

Gabe's arms, which had been around my neck, were withdrawn hastily, and he shoved me away. His face was beet red. "He... he started it!"

"Looked to me like you were enjoying it," Megan remarked.

Gabe sputtered for a second, then rushed out, pulling the door shut behind him.

"I thought no one was here. Where were you?" I asked ruefully.

"In the ladies room. So, that's why you've never made a pass at me."

"Are you upset?"

"Actually, I'm relieved. I thought I was losing my touch. Are you going after him?" She nodded toward the door that had almost hit Gabe in the ass in his rush to leave.

"No, I don't think so. If he's embarrassed to be seen kissing me, then I don't think he's the one for me." There hadn't been 'a one' for me in quite some time.

She looked thoughtful, and then her expression smoothed out. "You were here for a reason, Sandy?"

"I need to see your boss."

"Simon's at JFK picking up Daryl. He'll be staying for the summer."

Simon had been married for a short time just after he'd left the military. His wife Joan was a good woman from what he'd said, but she'd gotten ill and died.

Hearing about that frightened me. She'd been even younger than Naomi.

She'd left Simon with a toddler, and ill-equipped to care for such a young child by himself, he'd left Daryl with her parents, who lived in Cascade, in Washington State. He saw the boy on long school holidays, and in the summer, but the grandparents were getting older, and he was talking about having Daryl with him permanently.

"He's gonna be busy, then. Okay, I'll catch him another time. I just wanted to tell him his tip paid off. We picked up Joey Ten Thumbs last night."

"Nice going, Sandy. I'll let him know." She went to pour herself a cup of coffee.

"Thanks, Megan. I'll see you." I walked out of the break room.

"Psst." The door to the men's room was cracked open. "Psst!"

Curious, I sauntered back towards it. A hand snaked out, latched onto my arm, and dragged me into the bathroom.

"I'm sorry." It was Gabe. "I got nervous when Megan walked in. I don't want anyone to know... I... I do want to have dinner with you."

"Great. Where would you like to go?"

"Gabarino's? It's the theater district."

"That sounds fine." I'd taken Naomi and Simon to the Italian restaurant after I'd gotten my detective's badge. She'd loved the veal marsala. "Give me your address, and I'll pick you up around 6."

"No! Er... No. I'll meet you there, okay?"

That should have warned me, but he was cute, and I shushed the little voice in my head.

I really should have listened.

We sat down across from one another, ordered dinner, and he toyed with his breadstick, his water glass, his napkin.

"So tell me a little about yourself, Gabe." I tried the old-fashioned art of conversation.

"Oh, I was born, I grew up, I'm here in the Big Apple."

"But what happened in between."

"Nothing."

"Well, how long have you been in New York?"

"A while." The date was going nowhere fast.

"What's up, Gabe?"

"My boyfriend... "

"You have a boyfriend?" He refused to meet my eyes. I sighed. I hadn't really given much thought to the possibility that I might get laid, but a smidgen of hope had been there. It had been a very long time. "You're on the rebound?"

"Nnnno."

"Gabriel!" One of the most feminine-looking men I had ever seen stalked to our table. He was about 5'4", wearing a skin-tight jumpsuit, and his face was made up with grease paint. "You bitch!"

"You followed me?" Gabe's expression was a mixture of indignation and excitement.

"Reggie told me, but I didn't believe him! I had to see it for myself. I rushed right over from the club... You... Our place. Our table. How could you?" The little queen turned to me. "And how could you?" Tears streaked his face with eyeliner. "You brute! Breaking up our home... "

"We were just having dinner... " I tried to defend myself, unsure exactly how I'd gotten into this predicament.

"Dinner now, bed later," he sneered.

"No, really... "

"Oh, what? He isn't good enough for you?"

"Excuse me?" I blinked.

"Baby, no, it wasn't like that. I promise you."

"I know you, Gabriel. You tramp, you slut, you... "

"You weren't paying any attention to me." His tone was sulky. "What did you expect me to do?"

"I expected you to be at home after work. Waiting for me to come home from work. I'm going to miss the first performance! Now, get on your feet and march! I'll deal with you later. As for you... " He glared at me, leaned down, and snarled, "Go near him again, and I'll tear your balls off and stuff them down your throat. I may be small, but I'm mean!"

They left. I looked around to find myself the focus of interested eyes, and I felt color rise to my hairline.

There was a touch to my arm. It was the waiter. "The manager requests you not make a scene." He handed me the check and a bag. "Your dinner, sir."

I paid him. At least I was getting dinner. And Naomi would enjoy it. I walked out of the restaurant.

Gabarino's had always been a little stuffy.

****

The next time I paid a visit to Banks, Megan mentioned that Gabe had quit. "Just like that." She snapped her fingers. "Told me to mail his paycheck. What did you do to him?"

"Me?" Why did everyone think I was this Casanova? "He had a boyfriend!"

"Hmmm." She studied me carefully. "All right. I'll have to see if I can find someone for you."

"Uh... Megan, I'd really rather you didn't... "

But true to her word, she let me know whenever she came across a cute guy - at the grocery store or the movies or in the park.

"You don't even know if they're queer," I pointed out.

"It wouldn't hurt for you to ask."

"You saw what happened with Gabe."

"That was a complete and utter mistake. Which you engineered, all by yourself."

"Hey!" I protested.

"Now, there's a very personable young man behind the counter at Barney's... "

I found myself wondering what she was doing in a men's store, but refrained from asking. "Thanks, but no thanks."

"You keep telling me that."

"Any chance one day you're going to take me at my word?"

"No."

"Okay, but I'm going to keep trying."

****

It was a hot and muggy August day. I walked into Banks, loosening my tie and running a hand through my hair. I gave a fond thought to the short-sleeved uniforms I'd worn when I'd been a patrolman.

Megan looked up from her desk. "Hi, Sandy!" There was a little smile on her lips. "Simon's thinking about hiring a new boy."

I raised an eyebrow. After the debacle that had been Gabe, we'd come to a mutual agreement to stay away from Simon's employees.

"His name's Jim Ellison. A friend of Simon's was a friend of his. Jack Pendergrast."

I made a noncommittal sound. Simon hadn't talked about him in quite some time, and he still had no idea that I'd met Pendergrast briefly ten - jesus, it was already ten years? - ago. I wondered if I tried to talk about that time, if I'd finally be able to.

"Sandburg, you were here for a reason, or was it just to flirt with my secretary?"

"Uh... " It never failed to amaze me that even after all these years, Simon had no idea of my sexual orientation. "Actually, I do have a reason." I followed him back to his office and laid out the case I was working on.

"Ah. Those girls who are being stabbed. The Secretary Slasher?"

"That's the one." The bastard didn't really slash. He slid his knife between their ribs, then let them spill out of his arms onto the sidewalk and took a souvenir, a watch, a necklace, a ring. "This time our killer took an earring. With her ear."

"He's escalating."

"Yeah."

"I've been reading about it in the News."

"Yeah. Sam Samuels. He gave him the name." I ran a hand through my hair. "We're getting some pretty strange stuff going on this time. Would you believe a midget came in to confess? We don't know much about this son-of-a-bitch, but Dan Wolf was able to extrapolate from the placement of the wounds that he's about six feet tall. I told Mr. Kupperman that, and he puffed up and claimed he was a master of disguise. And when I refused to accept his story, he said I was prejudiced against little people. Asked if I would let my sister marry one."

Simon was struggling to hide a grin. "You don't have a sister, Sandburg."

"That's what I told him. He said that was a bigot's answer if ever he heard one."

He lost the struggle and burst into laughter. "Sorry," he was finally able to say.

"Yeah, well. Anyway, right now I'm hitting a blank wall."

"I'll have my boys listen for any information."

"Thanks, Simon."

He patted my shoulder, then glanced at his watch. "Damn. I've got a prospective employee coming, Blair."

"Jim Ellison?"

"Someone's been talking, I see."

"You know Megan. Look, I've got to get going myself. The Cap is planning a meeting about this clown." I smoothed my hair and straightened my tie. "Good luck with your new guy. Keep an eye out for me, Simon!" I opened the door and walked right into a chest. "Oops, sorry."

I trotted toward the subway entrance down the block and caught an uptown train.

****

Simon wasn't able to come up with a tip, but one of my informants was. The Cap decided that I would go undercover as the newest secretary in the insurance company where our killer worked in the mailroom.

I shaved my legs and donned a straight blonde wig and mini skirt, and found a padded bra in my size.

"Don't ask me about visiting a ladies lingerie department, Cap. It was an experience I don't want to repeat!"

I was also wearing something to cover my ribs. Joel had helped me rig up a gizmo with tape and fine wire mesh.

When George Wimbley tried to slide his knife between my ribs, he got a surprise. He got an even bigger one when I tossed him over my shoulder, straddled his hips and yanked his arms behind his back, and cuffed him.

I got off him and removed the wig, rubbing my scalp. His eyes goggled. "Damn. You was such a pretty woman."

Taggart and Brown looked away and coughed, and I growled at them. "Book this asshole!"

So we caught the slasher, when I went to tell Simon about it, I learned that Jim Ellison had got the job.

I'd met most of Simon's men at one time or another, but for some reason, I kept missing him.

"You ought to come by on payday, Sandy. I think you'll like him. He's very cute. His hair is short, but it's the kind of texture you just want to run your palm over."

"How do you know what it feels like?"

"What do you think? I made an excuse to see for myself."

"Forward wench. But how do you know he's... um... that he'd like me?"

"I'm trying to tell you, Sandy, if you'd let me get a word in edgewise."

I nodded and pretended to sew my lips shut.

"All right then, mate. This was a while back, four, maybe five years ago. I was dating a very nice gentleman who had a very poor sense of direction. He wanted to take me to the Copa, but we wound up ... somewhere else. I think it was called The Leather Jacket. It was a homosexual bar, but we didn't realize that until we went in for a drink. I happened to see our man Jim there. He was with a very handsome man who was all over him. And it was obvious that Mr. Ellison did not mind in the least."

"Very handsome, huh?" Well, that let me out. I did pretty well in the looks department, and I could even go up against handsome, but 'very handsome'? I laughed and shook my head. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"I'm not a gossip," she declared righteously, then laughed, spoiling it. "Why don't I tell him you're interested? I'm pretty sure he is. Every time I talk about you, his ears perk up."

"His... Yeah?"

"Mmm hmmm. You bumped into him the day Simon hired him, you know."

"That was him?" Now that I thought of it, that chest had felt really firm. I hoped she couldn't see how my body reacted to that bit of information.

"Yes."

"Megan," I cleared my throat, "I'm a grown man. If I want to ask someone out, I can do that all by myself."

She put a sheet of paper into the typewriter.

"I can."

She flipped open her steno pad and began to type.

"Uh... let me think about it?"

Megan paused in her typing. "Piece of advice, Sandy. Don't wait too long. He's very cute."

But it was the holiday season, things got busy, and there just wasn't time.

I stopped at Banks to drop off a tray of Christmas cookies. "Hellooooo! Where is everyone?"

Simon poked his head out the break room door. "The boys will be trailing in soon. Megan's gone up to Friedman's Deli to get the sandwich platter they do for us. Do I smell cookies?"

"Naomi made 'em." No one knew that my mother couldn't cook, much less bake. I made the cookies and said they were from her because New York City detectives didn't spend time in the kitchen.

He hurried toward me and lifted the lid of the box, and helped himself to a Santa covered in green and red sprinkles. "Be sure to thank her, Blair. How is she, by the way?"

"Better, thanks." Occasionally, she'd have a relapse, and she'd spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. "I think after the New Year I'm gonna see if she can spend some time with my cousin Franklin. This is shaping up to be a really cold winter, and the air hurts her lungs."

"I have something for her. I'll be right back."

"Sandy!" Megan came from behind me. She wore her winter coat, and her arms were around a box bearing the logo of Friedman's Deli. "Happy Chanukah!"

"Merry Christmas!"

"Are those Naomi's cookies? Bring them along!"

I followed her into the break room. While she unloaded the box, I looked around the room. There was a Christmas tree in the corner with presents piled under it, a menorah on top of the small fridge, and pine garlands draped along the walls. A portable record player was stacked with what I assumed were Christmas records.

A few television tray tables that I knew Simon kept in the storeroom were scattered around for his employees' eating convenience, and I set the cookies down on one of them.

Megan had taken a platter out of the box and put it on the table, and now she was removing the plastic wrap that protected it. The sandwiches were cut into neat triangles and stacked high.

"Can you stay for the party?" She took out a container that held pickles and another one that was divided for different types of olives. Then she put jars of mustard and mayonnaise beside the platter.

"No, I have to be back at the Precinct." I'd been working the night shift for the past few years. "I just wanted to wish you and Simon Merry Christmas and give you your presents." I kissed her cheek and handed her a flat box.

"Tickets to Man of La Mancha! Sandy, thank you! I've been dying to see this!" She threw her arms around me and hugged me so tight I thought my ribs were in danger of cracking. I eased her arms off me, but she didn't notice. She was too busy petting the tickets. "I'll ask Evan."

"Who?"

"Evan. My newest flame. He's a sweetie. You have to meet him sometime. Just let me put these away." She ran out of the room, and I took the opportunity to take a sandwich. Then she was back. "And this is for you and Naomi." She took a couple of boxes from under the tree and handed them to me. I opened mine. It contained a yellow and black hand-knitted scarf.

"Thanks, Megan."

She pinched my cheek. "You gonna look so cute!"

I wrapped it around my neck. I was gonna look like a bumblebee.

"I knitted one for Naomi too, only it's pink and purple."

"I'm sure she'll love it."

Megan positively beamed. "So. Any plans for the New Year?"

"I've got the night off. Can you believe that? That's the first time since I've been on the force!"

"Nice. Do you have a date?"

"No. It's not an evening I want to spend with just anyone. I thought I'd go up to Times Square by myself and watch the ball drop." I helped myself to another sandwich.

"You're spending it alone?" Megan made clucking noises. "Chicken."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me, Sandy. Jim would go out with you in a minute. Why haven't you asked him? No, never mind, I don't want to hear any excuses. Men. Straight or queer, there's no difference."

"I beg to differ."

She smacked my arm.

"Hey!"

"Well, it doesn't matter. Jim is busy too."

My stomach clutched. Was he seeing someone?

Megan blithely continued, "He's working two jobs."

"Oh, well, there you go. We're both busy men."

"That may be, but as far as I can see, you're both only busy with work."

Simon came in, bringing that conversation to a halt, much to my relief. He was carrying two packages. "These are from me and Daryl, for Naomi and you."

"Thanks, Simon." I gave him a slim, flat box. He tore off the wrapping paper. "You're as bad as a kid!"

"Ah, Blair! Daryl is going to love this!" He held tickets for the first Knicks' basketball game at their new arena in Madison Square Garden on 33rd Street. "I love this! Thank you!"

"You're welcome." I set Naomi's present aside and opened mine. "Oh. Simon."

"Are they okay? Do you like them? Daryl and I found them in a used book store. I'm not too sure about the titles ... "

"Simon, thank you! These are... I don't have words!" The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, The Perfumed Garden of the Shykh Nefzawi, and best of all, Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night - a manuscript edition. They were all translated by Sir Richard Burton.

I stroked the covers and couldn't wait to get home to start reading them.

****

I hadn't been joking when I'd told Megan I would only take someone out on New Year's Eve if I were serious about him.

New Year's Eve had always been a special holiday to me. I'd talked Butch into sneaking out of the house and ringing in the New Year the year he and his mother had left.

This was the first New Year since then that I'd been in Times Square when I hadn't been working. It was... interesting.

The ball came down, and - as they said - the crowd went wild. There were noise makers and fireworks, but I'd been a cop too long not to recognize gunshots when I heard them.

I started shouldering my way through the crowd, heading east.

When I got there, the mounted cops had it under control. "Hey, Sandman!"

I groaned. I was going to shoot Henri Brown one day for giving me that nickname.

"Hi, Walt." We'd been in the same class at the Academy, but he'd always wanted to work the mounted detail, and he'd gotten transferred to it as soon as he could.

"Don't you ever not work on New Year's Eve?"

"I'm not on duty tonight!"

He glanced around at all cops. "So what are you doing here if you're not working?"

"I heard gunshots. What's going on?"

He snorted, a disgusted sound. "A couple of teenagers showing off for their girlfriends. We confiscated their fathers' guns. The 53rd's handling it. They're taking the kids to the Precinct, and their daddies will be getting a call shortly." His horse started to dance. "I'd better get going before Ben steps on your toes." He leaned down and extended his hand. "Happy New Year, Blair."

"Happy New Year, Walt."

The area was quieting down as the crowd thinned and people left to find a party or somewhere warm. The nip in the air was definitely becoming more noticeable. No sense in staying here attracting cold germs.

I went down into the subway and showed my badge to the old man in the token booth.

"Better hurry, Detective. The train'll be here in a minute, an' if you miss it, you'll have an hour's wait!"

"Thanks, Pop." I hopped over the turnstile rather than going through the gate and dashed down the steps to the platform. It was pretty empty. Across the tracks on the downtown side was a lone traveler. His back was to me, and he was staring up the track, looking for his train. I grinned. It was such a New York thing to do. Even out-of-towners did it after they'd been here a while.

In a moment of whimsy I was about to call, 'Happy New Year' to him, but his train pulled in, the doors slid open, and he stepped into the car.

And then my train arrived, and I forgot about it.

****

Whenever Megan would ask when I intended to ask Jim Ellison out on a date, I'd find an excuse why I hadn't, couldn't, would do it soon. Refurbishing the apartment I'd moved Naomi to as soon as I could afford it after I'd graduated from the Academy, getting Naomi on her flight to San Francisco to visit Franklin and his wife and kids, and the ever-popular swamped with work.

And so, before I knew it, we were into February.

I walked into the squad room and hung up my coat. My shift would be starting in about twenty minutes, and I figured I might as well get a head start.

O'Neill, the man who had been my partner when I'd been a patrolman, was holding court at his desk. He looked around when he heard the door close, and his expression soured when he saw me. He had made detective only a year or so before I had, and that was a wild hair up his ass.

He turned back to Monaghan and McGaffney, who were looking bored. "And I got another fucking murder case!" he groused. "A strangulation."

"I thought those were the kind you liked," Monaghan remarked innocently, surprising a laugh out of me. O'Neill was the kind of policeman who made 'cop' sound like a four-letter word.

"Not just before I'm gonna retire." He scowled at me. "The victim is a goddamned faggot! I could tell by the prissy way the apartment looked. His boyfriend probably decorated it. Doilies and shit like that. I bet they had a tiff." He stuck out his little finger and spoke in a lisping falsetto. "'Oh, precious, I don't like that color slipcover for the loveseat. It doesn't match the drapes.' As far as I'm concerned, that's one less homo, and the world is better off."

"So did you talk to the boyfriend?"

His scowl deepened. "Haven't been able to track him down."

"Hasn't been able to find anything to back his theory either," McGaffney muttered as he passed my desk.

"Whether or not he was homosexual, he was still a human being, O'Neill. He didn't deserve to be killed, to die before his time."

He curled his lip. "What, are you a fag now too?"

"And if I was? You want to take it outside? In the alley?"

He backed off. He was taller that I was, and he had about twenty-five pounds on me, but still, he backed off. "If my hernia wasn't acting up, I'd mop up the squad room with you."

"Yeah, sure. Isn't your shift over? Go home, O'Neill. Your wife may have to put up with your bullshit, but I don't."

He left, grumbling as he walked out of the squad room and slamming the door for good measure.

I wasn't surprised when that case went cold after only a week.

****

It was the Monday before St. Patrick's Day, and I was at home having breakfast even though it was almost noon. I poured milk over a bowl of Frosted Flakes, then sliced a banana on top of it. The midmorning radio personality on WMCA was talking about the City gearing up for the Parade this coming Sunday.

The telephone rang. "Sandburg."

"We've got a homicide on Central Park West." It was the Captain. "Your team is on it."

'My team' was Joel Taggart and Henri Brown. Taggart had made detective about the same time as O'Neill had, and Brown a year after I did. There was a lot of bullshit in the locker room about affirmative action, but they were good men and had worked hard to get the position.

"Wait a sec, Captain. We're working the 4-to-midnight shift. Where's O'Neill?"

"He's in the hospital."

"His hernia?"

"Yeah. This is a priority." Which probably meant the victim had money or came from a prominent family. "As of this minute, you're on 8-to-4. Taggart and Brown have already been dispatched to the scene. Santini is out with the flu, so Wolf will be the coroner on this one. The man who found the body lives on the same floor, and I want you to talk to him." He rattled off the address, gave me time to verify it, then hung up.

"And a good afternoon to you too, Cap." I sighed and took a last spoon of cereal, then emptied my bowl into the sink and looked down at myself. I was in jeans and a flannel shirt. There were some errands I'd needed to run before I dressed for work. I guessed they'd have to wait.

I went to the bedroom. At least it was tidy. I always made the bed as soon as I got up. I changed into white shirt, a suit, and tie, and fastened my holster at my waist.

The temperature had dipped during the night, and I'd need my overcoat. I rode down in the elevator, worrying my lower lip. Why had the Cap put us on this case?

The subway didn't care if you were a detective on the job. There was another breakdown on the B line. I ran back up to the street and caught a Number 10 bus just as its doors were swinging shut.

"Let me off on 74th Street?" I showed the driver my badge, and he nodded.

There wasn't much traffic, and he caught every light. It wasn't long before he pulled up to the curb, and I got off in front of the 50 story building. There were a couple of black and whites parked in front of it.

"Excuse me, sir. Do you live here?" a young cop asked as I entered the building. He couldn't have been more than a month out of the Academy. "If you don't... "

His partner gave him a poke. "He's one of us. Hi, Detective Sandburg."

"Hi, Nixon. This your new partner? He's lucky. You're a good teacher."

"Thanks."

I turned to go toward the elevators.

"Detective Sandburg? He's the Sandman? But he's ... short!"

"Shhh!"

I pretended I hadn't heard.

"Detective Sandburg! Detective!" It was Sam Samuels, who reported for The Daily News.

"I'm busy, Sam."

"Aw, come on. Gimme a break. What's going on here?"

"I can't tell you. I'm just getting here myself."

"On your way down, then? Okay?"

A uniformed officer was by the elevator. I showed him my badge. "You'll need this, sir." He handed me a key.

"Thanks." I inserted the key in the slot and pressed the button for 50. The doors slid shut on the sight of Sam trying to get some information out of the uniform.

Another officer stood at the door to the penthouse apartment. "Detective." He opened the door, and I went in.

Henri was coming toward me. "Joel's in the big bathroom, Blair. Straight down that hallway and to the right. It's through the bedroom. That isn't where he was killed, though. There are two gouges in the carpeting. He was dragged. From one of the living rooms, it looks like. That's at the other end of the penthouse."

"Who called this in?"

"A Marc Addams. He lives on this floor, too. There are three penthouse apartments on this side of the building."

"Where is he?"

"I told him to wait in the study. That's... uh... " He looked blank for a second. "Geez, this place is huge," he griped.

"Never mind. I'll take a look at the body and then go find him."

"Y'know something, Blair? This place is almost too clean."

"You think someone may have come in and wiped it down? Well, I guess we'll see." Riley and Stephens, the Print boys, were already here. Maybe they would find something.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed. I'm gonna talk to the other tenant on this floor and see if he knows anything."

"One other thing, H. This building has almost as much security as Fort Knox. You might want to question the doorman, see if he saw anything, if anyone struck him as odd."

"Good idea. I'll let you know what I learn." He walked out of the penthouse.

I went down that hallway and to the right, and into the bedroom.

I blinked. The room was almost as large as the apartment that Naomi and I had had on Lexington and 3rd. There was an alcove with a daybed. Beside it was a long, low glass table standing on wrought iron legs. An armoire, which stood open, contained a television. Paintings of nude men in various poses, alone, in pairs, a quartet - arms and legs and hard, curved asses.

I shut my mouth, feeling like a hick in the big city for the first time.

The canopied bed had to be at least four feet off the floor. "Jesus! Is there a Sherpa around? This looks as high as Mount Everest!"

One of the two men dusting for prints glanced around and nodded at me. "Yeah, I know what you mean. You need a friggin' ladder to get into bed!"

"Unbelievable." There was actually a stepstool beside it.

"Say, I thought this was O'Neill's case?"

"He's in the hospital."

"His hernia?" The other shook his head. "He really oughta do something about that."

"The Cap said something about an operation."

They snorted and got back to work. O'Neill wasn't too well-liked.

I started to go toward the bathroom. In the corner by the door was a tall, leafy plant. I touched the soil. It had recently been watered. I dried my fingers off on my trousers and walked into the bathroom.

I blinked again.

I'd never seen anything like it. It was huge and contained a sunken tub large enough to comfortably host an orgy; the shower was separate. There were cabinets and closets, a sink topped with a marble counter and with what I was pretty sure were gold fixtures. I didn't think anything as mundane as brass would be permitted in this apartment.

The scent of death was heavy in the air. Joel looked up from where he crouched beside the corpse and nodded in somber greeting.

Sprawled over the john was a man who had been, at one time, very handsome, but now... his tongue was black and protruding. His cheeks were mottled. The whites of his eyes were dotted with red, the blood vessels having ruptured. Around his throat were the imprints of two brutal hands.

Joel rose and shook his head. "He must have pissed someone off to a very large degree."

"I'll say. It would have taken a strong man to overpower someone of his size." I figured he was about 6'2" and tipped the scales at 195, maybe a bit more. It didn't look like fat, either. The polo shirt he wore molded the muscles of his arms and torso lovingly.

"Dunno about that. I got the smell of alcohol. If he was drunk, a smaller man could have done it."

"It looks like he was attacked from behind. Notice the indentations at the front of his throat?"

"Yeah. And check out the back of his neck. Thumb prints?"

"Yeah. Dan will have to let us know after the autopsy." Joel handed me something. "His little black book?"

"Yeah. I found it in the night stand. Found some other things in there too. I swear to god I have no idea what a man would use those things for! And would you take a look at this?" He walked toward the counter beside the sink and began to lay down pieces of glossy paper. "This was buried underneath everything else."

The pieces were a professional photograph that had been torn again and again. It was like a jigsaw puzzle, and I helped him put them together to reveal the subject.

I caught my breath. His light brown hair was thick and fell in a disordered style, as if someone had run his fingers through those strands. I wanted to run my fingers through them to see if they were as soft as they looked. The eyes smiling up into mine were ice blue, but there was nothing cold about them. They seemed teasing. You know I can make you feel good. Let me show you how good.

I swallowed. "Who is this?" I didn't recognize my voice.

"Dunno, but for him," he gestured to the dead man, "to do something like this..."

"You're right. It doesn't seem logical the killer would tear up the photo, then stuff it in the night stand."

"Do you think he could be our killer?" He gestured toward the counter.

I bit back the NO that automatically came to my lips. I didn't know, and I couldn't let my little head interfere with my big head's thinking.

"There should be a number on the back of the photograph, along with the name of the man who took it. Professional photographers identify their work that way." I knew because I'd had some photos taken when I'd worked for Neil. As far as I knew, he still had the one of me in a white leather vest and chaps, lounging beside a black horse. He'd liked the contrast. "Joel, would you track down the photographer?"

"Sure." He found the piece and jotted down the information.

"I'll... uh... I'll take these pieces with me and put them together." I was afraid he was going to call me on taking the shredded photograph, but he just nodded, and I put them in my pocket.

"What about the names in his black book?"

I thumbed through it. "There are only male names in it. Interesting." Even more interesting were the notations after each name. 'Okay with threesomes.' 'Likes to be tied up.' 'Gives good head.' 'Only puts out after dinner and a trinket.' There was a star beside one name, and I figured this Jeff had to be something special.

"It looks like he's of your persuasion." He grinned, and I didn't take offense as I would have if O'Neill had been the one saying that.

"Doethn't make him a bad perthon," I lisped, then got serious. "It also looks like someone whose name begins with E did something to make him unhappy."

"How do you figure?"

"There's a ragged edge in here. A page has been torn out. And look at this." I showed him the gouges in a number of pages after that.

"I guess scratching it out wasn't enough."

"The problem is - is E his last initial or his first?"

"Who lists people in their address book by their first initial?"

"Naomi does."

"Okay, she's your mama; I'm not saying a word about that."

"Smart man. Okay. I'll have Monaghan run the names in this book as soon as we get back to headquarters, see if these men know of anyone with the initial E who was dating our victim."

"You think they were romantically involved?"

"Oh, yeah. You don't rip a page out of your address book because a friend pisses you off. Where's the small study? I'll question Marc Addams now. Maybe he knows something about our mysterious Mr. E."

"Follow the hall outside the bedroom door all the way around to the left."

"Thanks, Joel. Dan should be here pretty soon."

He shrugged and jerked a thumb toward the dead man. "He's not going anywhere."

"I guess not. See if you can find some contact information that will give us an idea who to notify." I turned around and walked into a tall man whose hair hung down his back in a tail. "Sorry, Dan."

"It's okay, Blair. Hi, Joel." He was carrying what looked like a tool box, and which actually contained the tools of his trade.

"Hi, Dan. Hi, guys."

The two men with the coroner waved but stayed put. They knew the drill. They'd wait in the hall with the gurney until he was ready for them.

Dan glanced over the body. "Handsome man at one time. Okay, I'll get started." He set the case on the floor and opened it. It was time for me to leave.

I followed the hall around to the small study. Small was a relative word. I'd seen whole families live in as much space as that small study.

Bookcases lined two of the walls. There was something about the books they held that gave me the impression they'd been chosen by the decorator with regard to only how they would appear.

A fireplace was against an inner wall, and framing it were two sofas. The opposite wall was made up of ten-foot high windows that opened onto a balcony.

Marc Addams was sitting in an easy chair, his legs crossed at the knee. He was gazing toward the door, but his eyes were unfocused - he wasn't seeing anything.

"Mr. Addams, I'm Detective Sandburg."

He blinked, refocused, rose and offered his hand, gave a polite smile. "Detective."

"Sit down, please. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me. What can you tell me about what happened here?"

"I found Randy's body. I called the cops." He shrugged. "That's all there is to it."

I stared at him and said nothing. He sat there, blank-faced, but I noticed his left thumb was picking at the cuticle of his middle finger.

"Can you give me a little more detail?" His expression remained blank. "All right. Suppose you tell me what made you come into this apartment?"

"I just... I hadn't seen Randy in a while, and I became worried."

"Detective Sandburg." Henri was standing in the doorway. I raised an eyebrow, and he jerked his head toward the hall.

"Excuse me, Mr. Addams." I met Henri in the hall. "What've you got?"

He spoke quickly and succinctly.

"Hmmm." I turned to go back into the study, and he caught my arm.

"Wait a second! There's more!" He continued filling me in.

"Thanks, H. Thank you very much." I gripped his arm, then returned to the study. "Mr. Addams, would you care to reconsider your response?"

"Excuse me? Why would I... "

"I've just been told that you were away for the last two weeks, you were not particularly close with the decedent, and if he died you would... 'dance on his grave and then piss on it,' I believe your words were."

He looked disconcerted for a second, then frowned. "So what? That doesn't mean I couldn't be concerned about him if he wasn't seen for a period of time."

"Mr. Addams. The last time the deceased was seen alive was Sunday evening when he returned from an afternoon out with a friend."

"Friend? Randy didn't have friends. He had sycophants and toadies. He mocked and tormented the people who worked for him... " For a second he looked as if he couldn't catch his breath, and he turned pale. "At work, I mean. He worked on Wall Street, you know."

"I didn't know that, but I do understand. I guess even a building this expensive won't guarantee decent neighbors."

"Exactly." His expression was relieved. "Lloyd - Lloyd Johnson, he owns the other penthouse - One of the reasons Lloyd is moving is because Randy was so condescending and disdainful to his fiancee.

"Then why did you go in to see how he was?"

"Okay, look. I... I had a feeling. Didn't you ever get one of those?"

"Actually, I can't say that I have."

"Oh. Well, I did."

"All right, let's set that aside for a moment. Was he seeing anyone with the initial E?"

"Are you kidding? Randy went through the alphabet repeatedly. The last guy he saw... " He stopped abruptly and looked away, obviously uncomfortable.

"We're aware the deceased was homosexual. Do you recall anyone whose first or last name began with an E... "

"No." It was too fast.

"... and who possibly angered him enough for him to tear out a page of his black book?"

"No." He met my eyes. "Do I need to call my lawyer?"

"You're not a suspect. At this point you're not even being held for questioning."

He nodded. "Is that all, then?"

"For now."

He walked toward the door. "By the way, does this mean I shouldn't leave town?" He gave what I assumed he thought was a jaunty smile, but which fell far short, and left the apartment.

People were watching way too many cop shows on television.

Entr'acte

I will be what they want me to be. They will see what I want them to see. -Amanda Gill

Mother was never without the golden locket that hung around her neck. Even when she went on stage as Medea, she wore it, tucked beneath her costume.

I had asked her once, when I was a young boy, what it contained. She told me that within it was a picture of the one she loved most in the world.

"Me, Mother? Me?" Because of course I knew that Father did not count for as much as I, and there was only the three of us.

"You were no more than two years old, my precious, and Mother held you to her heart."

"May I see, Mother? Please?"

"Not today, Christopher. The key is upstairs in Mother's jewelry box, and I am rather fatigued. Do you understand fatigued?"

"Of course, Mother." And I had proudly recited the definition from Webster's dictionary, "'A weariness from physical or mental exertion.'"

"What a clever, clever boy!"

"Will it be mine one day?"

"You are a boy. This is something young ladies wear."

"Please, Mother?"

"Perhaps if you find a young lady to give it to. Now, run along and play. Mother must rest for her performance tonight."

"Yes, Mother."

But I had gone up to the playroom at the top of the house, secure in the certainty that one day, Mother's locket would indeed be mine.

****

Somehow Mother never found the time to show me the picture in her locket. There was no way for me to forget about it, for it was always around her neck.

The years passed, and now there was no time for Mother to open the locket.

She lay beside my father.

Jameson tapped on the door to my study, then opened it.

"John!" I was surprised to see John Hastings, my lawyer. We had gone to Harvard together and had lost touch after graduation, when he had been struck by wanderlust. He contacted me when he joined a prestigious practice in Manhattan, and since Peters, who had been employed by my father, was obviously becoming senile, I had no qualms in dismissing him and hiring my friend. I crossed the room and accepted his hand. "I am sorry, have I forgotten an appointment?"

"No." He seemed disturbed, not his wont.

"Would you care for a cup of tea, or perhaps some sherry?"

"Thank you, no. I'd prefer to get right down to business."

"That will be all, Jameson." My butler closed the door, and I gestured to a chair. "Please be seated, John. About what did you wish to see me?"

"I know this has been a difficult time for you, Christopher." He opened his briefcase and took out a document. "Your mother had this drawn up some time before she became ill. It's a codicil to her last will and testament."

I frowned at him. "Why was this not read at the same time as Mother's will?" The reading of her will had gone without a problem. Her artwork and first editions were given to friends and colleagues. Her costumes and bedroom furniture went to the Smithsonian.

All the money came to me, as did this house, the house on Long Island, and the Rolls Royce. I also retained complete control of the Amanda Gill Theatre.

Most importantly, I had her locket.

"My deepest apologies, Christopher. An inexperienced intern who had no business handling such papers. Rest assured, he's been fired."

I took the paper and scanned it, my throat growing tight.

"The locket is not mine?"

"I'm sorry, no. It is to go to Frederick Collins."

"Who?"

"Frederick Collins. Apparently, your mother had known him when she was quite young. According to this codicil, her final wish is that her gold locket be returned to the person who gave it to her."

The person who gave it to her?

"I... I see." Confused, I rose from my desk and walked to the window. Raindrops were hitting the panes, and I watched as they trickled down.

I had everything. Except the locket.

"Christopher, are you all right?"

I had crushed the paper.

I looked at it in my hand, drew several deep breaths, then forced a smile. "I beg your pardon. You were saying, John?"

"I know this is a difficult time for you," he repeated. "I'll give you a few days to come to terms with this, but then I will need to present the locket to Mr. Collins." He looked as if he were about to say more, but I scarcely noticed.

"Of course. Yes, of course." I returned to my desk. "I'll see that you have it by the end of the week."

"I'm sorry, Christopher."

"No need to be," I forced myself to say, and he looked shocked. "Oh, you mean for Mother's passing. Thank you."

"We're friends, Christopher. I could do nothing less for you."

"I am sure you must have a million things to do, John. Thank you for taking the time to come see me."

"Yes." He smoothed out the paper, returned it to his briefcase, and closed it. "I must be going."

I pressed a switch on the intercom. "Jameson, would you come see Mr. Hastings out?"

"Take care of yourself, Christopher."

"Of course. Good day, John."

"Good day, Christopher."

The door closed behind him, and I waited until I heard his car drive away from the curb. Then I threw the intercom across the room. It hit the wall and fell to the floor with a satisfying clatter. "Damn you, Mother! How could you do this to me?"

Well, I had dealt with Father, and I would deal with this.

The intercom lay broken upon the floor. I straightened my suit jacket, smoothed my hair, and strode down the hallway.

"Jameson, I just remembered I have an errand to run. Call a cab for me, please."

Within a few minutes he found me. "The cab is here, sir." He held out my overcoat.

"Thank you." I slid my arms into it, and he stepped away. "Oh, and see about finding a repair man. The intercom is not working."

The cab was at the curb, and I got in, uncaring of the rain. "Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, please."

I had no doubt that Tiffany's would have the perfect locket, similar in every way to Mother's.

After all, what did Frederick Collins need with a locket that contained a picture of me with my mother?

****

He was called Randy Beautiful. His fair, handsome exterior hid a spoiled, selfish core.

I chose Randolph to be the next player in my masterpiece. Although his trust was more difficult to obtain, I succeeded, and it was all the sweeter.

I refused to think how I had earned his trust.

It was Sunday, and we had just returned from the Museum of Modern Art.

Randolph was lounging on the loveseat in the informal living room, listening to The Beatles. The Beatles.

So bourgeois.

"Get me a Drambuie, would you, precious?" He did not know how much I loathed it when he called me that. I concealed my emotions well.

I went to the bar, filled a whiskey tumbler with ice from the refrigerator under the bar, and poured a very generous measure into the glass. This was his fourth drink since we had gotten home. I did not tell he that he had been drinking too much. I encouraged it.

The Beatles were singing, 'Can't buy me love...'

"That's bullshit. Isn't it?" Randolph's laugh was a trifle sotted. "Anything can buy love."

"Do you believe that?" As if I cared.

"I've never known any man who would love me without reservation," he murmured. He glanced at me through his lashes. "Even you, precious."

"I. Beg. Your. Pardon?"

"Oh, don't give me that snooty, old-money, blue-blood attitude. You look like you've got a poker up your ass. If I wasn't the first man to make you see fireworks when I fucked you, you wouldn't stay with me."

And Mother had said that I could not act.

"Do you think so little of yourself that that is all you have to offer a man?"

He did not respond to that. "Tell me, precious. What did you think of that security guard?"

"What should I think of him? He was simply a security guard."

"Oh, you are a snob." As though he himself were not.

I handed him his drink, and he took a sip.

"Ah, this is good." He savored the taste and relaxed against the back of the loveseat.

"Would you like me to massage your shoulders, Randolph?"

"Yes. I'd like that."

Indeed.

I went behind the couch and began to knead his shoulders.

"Mmmm." He relaxed and tipped his head back. "You have magic fingers."

I leaned over him and caressed his torso. The locket slid from my collar and grazed his cheek.

He reached up and took the locket in his hand, fondling the gold cover. "I never paid any attention... What's in here?"

"There is a picture of me in it when I was a child."

"Open it! I want to see what you looked like as a kid."

"I do not have the key upon my person." Actually, it must have been misplaced; I had never been able to find it, not even in Mother's jewelry box.

He continued to fondle the locket, and it was all I could do not to rip it from his hands.

I twisted his nipples, and he arched and hissed. The front of his trousers was obscenely tented.

"Oh, that's nice, precious. Don't stop." It was an order. Randolph never begged.

I added a touch of savagery to the twist, and he writhed under my hands.

"He almost caught us," he panted. "In flagrente, so to say."

"The guard? Yes," I said dismissively, but I stopped what I was doing. I had gone cold when I had heard the doorknob of the men's room rattle.

"I should have let him in. He used to... " He hesitated, then grinned at me over his shoulder. "He used to be a hustler. He was very talented. He could do things with his mouth... "

I shuddered. Randolph had made me do things with my mouth. The first time I had barely made it to the lavatory before I vomited.

"I wonder if he still can," he mused. "We could both have had him, Chris. Or both of us could have had you. You would have enjoyed that, wouldn't you?"

It was not enough that he debased me, but he must have someone else violate my body?

"Chris." He put down the empty glass, and unnoticed by him, it fell and landed on the plush rug. He reached for me, tugging on the chain to bring me down to his lips.

I pulled away sharply. There was a burning sensation at the back of my neck, but his words and my intent caused me to disregard it.

My hands encircled his neck and brought his chin up. His eyes were slitted and his face flushed with lust. I squeezed.

His struggles were ineffectual. He had had too much to drink.

I squeezed. And squeezed until panting, I straightened and looked down at the distortion that had been his handsome face.

"You were a fool, Randolph. A trusting fool."

I will be what you want me to be. You will see what I want you to see.

I walked around to the front of the loveseat, caught him under his arms, and dragged him into his luxurious bathroom.

####

The body had been removed, and Riley and Stephens were gone. A uniformed officer was left guarding the door.

Something about this case was gnawing at me, and I worried it as I stepped into the elevator. Joel and H were right behind me.

"Any luck with Marc Addams, Blair?" Joel asked.

"Hmmm? Oh, he's stonewalling." I turned the key and pressed the button for the lobby floor. "Tell me something. If you were caught in an outright lie, why would you stick to it anyway?"

Henri answered right away. "A woman." Joel poked his arm, and he coughed. "Of course, in your case, Sandman - a man." The two of them burst out laughing.

"Yuck it up. Assholes. But yeah, you're right. So. What woman is involved with the two of them?"

"Beats me." Joel shrugged. "All the names in our dead man's little black book are male, and the other address book I found in his desk just has family. The addresses are all in Maryland."

"Shit. Who's notifying?"

"The Cap will probably have Lieutenant Dawson fly down."

"Good. That's the part of the job I hate the worst."

The elevator came to a stop, and Joel and Henri stepped out.

"Uh, see you at the station, Blair." They took off, and before I could wonder about that, Sam popped up in front of me.

"What happened?"

"No comment." I strode toward the door. The doorman leaped forward and held it open for me.

"Who was killed?"

"No comment."

"When did it happen? And if you tell me 'no comment' one more time, I'll make something up!"

"Look... "

"Come on, Detective Sandburg. Gimme a break. Tell me something."

I ran my hand through my hair. "Okay, look. All I can tell you is the crime was well-planned, well-executed. Will that get you off my back?"

"You bet! Thanks!" He hurried off, scribbling in his notepad.

I didn't think what I'd told him could account for that amount of scribbling, but I had to get back to headquarters.

****

As Addams had informed me, the deceased had acquaintances and hangers-on but no real friends.

Except for Richard Lee, who seemed genuinely distressed, until I started asking questions.

"Can you tell me about his personal life?"

"I think not." He looked down his nose at me.

"Look, Mr. Lee. I need to get as much information about him as I can in order to find who did this."

"You'd like to know about his private life, wouldn't you? Who he was screwing, how much money he made, how he spent it and on whom. Sandburg. That's Jewish, isn't it? Whoever heard of a Jewish cop?" His eyes raked over my body. "I imagine you don't make very much. Everyone knows how tight-fisted Jews are. How do you feel, knowing that Randy had all that money, and that no matter how he spent it, there was always more?" His face was flushed, his lips were parted, and his chest was heaving.

I stared at him thoughtfully. Unless I was reading the signals wrong, he wanted what he saw when he looked at me, and he definitely wasn't happy about that.

"Mr. Lee, as you noted, I'm a cop. My religion and the amount of money I make have nothing to do with the way I do my job. I assure you, I don't get my jollies out of investigating the private lives of people who have been murdered, whether they're male or female." I handed him my card. "If you remember anything that might be germane to this case, please call me."

He hmphed but took my card.

When I got back to the precinct, the Captain called me into his office. He sat behind his desk, drumming his fingers on the polished surface. "Any luck?"

"Not just yet, sir. There are a couple of leads that we're pursuing... "

"Sandburg, I'm not the press!"

"Sorry, sir. Marc Addams - "

"The man who called it in?"

"Yes, sir. I've got a feeling he's hiding something or protecting someone. Detective Brown spoke with Lloyd Johnson, and it seems the three tenants on the penthouse floor shared a cleaning lady. Maria Hernandez."

"Well, then. Question her."

"We'll have to find her first."

"Do that."

"Yes, sir."

"Anything else?"

"Detective Taggart found a professional photograph that had been torn up. He's trying to track down the photographer. It might not mean anything, but then again... "

"I'm glad you're covering all bases. The Commissioner wants us to be very thorough on this." The Cap didn't look overjoyed.

"We always are, sir."

"Yes, well... " Commissioner Hawthorne was a thorn in his side and had been since they'd graduated from the academy together. "Now, I've just found out that the wake will be Wednesday evening. It's for the deceased's friends. His family is having the body flown to Maryland on Thursday morning."

"You're telling me this for a reason."

"I want you there. Maybe you can pick up something. You're good at that."

"I'll make sure my black suit is back from the cleaners."

"All right, that's all for now."

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, and say hello to Mrs. Sandburg the next time you talk to her."

"Yes, sir."

****

On Wednesday evening, I took Joel and Henri to the wake with me, hoping with the deceased right under their noses, we might have more luck, especially if we split up.

"You're gonna put us in for overtime on this, I hope," Joel groused.

"I'm gonna put us in for overtime, Joel." I couldn't blame him for being in a sour mood. The photographer was dragging his feet about releasing the name of his model, and the judge Joel had gone to for the court order almost seemed to be throwing up road blocks as well.

"Jesus!" Henri's mouth dropped. "I've never seen so many... " He shut up as he realized what he'd been about to say.

"So many what, H?" Joel asked tartly. "Men?"

"Uh... yeah." His complexion was dark, but I could still see his blush.

"I'll protect you if anyone gets fresh, H."

"Shut up, Joel. I can take care of myself."

"Knock it off, you two. Take different ends of the room, and keep your eyes and ears peeled. And try to... Never mind." There was no way they could appear inconspicuous. For one thing, their overcoats were plain cloth, not fur or cashmere as most of these men wore. For another, the color of their skin was bound to stand out.

I stood at the back of the room. Everyone was sitting in the forward chairs, and this area was empty. I was able to study the occupants without drawing their attention.

They were treating Richard Lee as if he were the bereaved. Everyone seemed to come to talk to him, shake his hand, touch his arm, before going up to stand before the coffin for a few minutes.

He stiffened, and I turned to see what had caught his eye.

I stiffened myself, and my mouth went dry. It was the man from the photograph. His hair wasn't as long as it had been, and his ice blue eyes had a chill that hadn't been in the photo.

Joel came over to me. "I guess I won't need to get that court order. You can go right up to him and ask him his name and why his picture was torn to shreds." He looked more cheerful, and I would have smacked his arm, but I was feeling pretty good myself.

To find him after all these years...

I shook my head. What was I thinking? I turned my attention back to the man from the photograph.

He stood alone, gazing toward the coffin, his expression indecipherable. Was he devastated because he would never be able to make it up with his one-time lover? I found myself drifting closer to him.

Just then, another man joined him, and they hugged. I stopped short, watching as they spoke, then signaled to H.

"Yeah, Blair?"

"See if you can find out who that man is, the one on the left."

"Will do." He strolled around the room and listened.

I turned back to the two men, only catching bits of the conversation.

"We weren't sure if you'd be here... "

"Not our worry... "

"I'll just say a final prayer... "

He followed the shorter man to the coffin, and I could see that something in the room was bothering him. I hoped it wasn't emotion. Maybe he had an allergy to the flowers. There were enough of them to make the room look like a greenhouse.

Because I was watching him so closely, I was aware when he began to list, and I got to him. He straightened and shrugged my hand off his arm, his irritation plain. I sighed and backed away, then noticed that H was trying to give me the high sign.

"What did you learn?"

"They're fairly close-mouthed, but I happened to hear that he's a working boy. A hustler." I nodded to let him know I was aware of what a working boy was. "His name is Jeff. All they're saying is that apparently he," H nodded toward the open coffin, "used his services on occasion."

"Any idea what his relationship is to the big guy next to him?" Had he and the deceased shared the hustler? I'd worked a threesome a couple of times, either in double-dicking the john or letting him have it from both ends. As a seventeen-year-old, I'd found it hot to have my dick in a tight ass while I kissed the escort who was fucking his mouth. I still thought the image was pretty hot, but as an adult, I preferred a single lover.

"What do you mean, 'big guy'?" H interrupted my thoughts. "They're the same height."

"No, they're not. The hustler is shorter than... " I couldn't keep thinking of him as 'the gorgeous guy from the photo.'

"Sandburg, they could pass for twins!"

"Brothers, maybe, but not twins. The shorter guy's hair is darker, and his eyes aren't as blue."

"He's not shorter! Oh, all right, have it your own way. And you saw all this in the few seconds you were close to them?"

"Hey, it's a detective thing."

"Okay, Sherlock Holmes. Anything else you want me to do?"

"You're doing a good job. Go do it more."

He grinned and nudged my shoulder with his, then crossed to a small group of men and women who were looking very uncomfortable. I glanced around in time to see that the hustler had left, and Richard Lee had joined the man from the photograph.

I sauntered to where they stood in time to hear Lee say, "This is your fault, do you realize that, Ellison?"

'Ellison'? I shook my head. That had to be a coincidence.

"Listen, the last time I saw him was Sunday, when he came to the Museum of Modern Art. He was with someone named... " He looked as if he was having a hard time remembering the name, and then he did recall it. "... Chris."

"Chris was with Randy?" Lee didn't seem too thrilled to hear that. "That means that Chris was probably the last person to see him alive! Except for his killer."

"Why didn't you tell me this, Mr. Lee?" I'd known he hadn't told me everything he could have. Why did people conceal facts from the police? Just because they didn't think it was important didn't mean it wasn't.

Before I could introduce myself, I realized Ellison was staring at me, almost in a daze.

"Hey! What's wrong? Are you all right, big guy?"

"I've never been better, Chief." His smile was the one from the photograph, and I swallowed a moan. His eyes grew hot. But... he couldn't have heard me. I hadn't made a sound.

I was a professional, dammit. And I had a job to do. I turned to Richard Lee.

"Are you going to tell me?"

"Tell you what? Detective Sandburg." The fact that I was Jewish really seemed to stick in his craw.

From the corner of my eye I could see the other man's interest pique. Not that he hadn't been interested before, but... I wondered what had increased his interest, and I hoped there would be a moment where I could ask him about it.

Mental babbling. Not cool at all. I dragged my gaze back to Lee.

"I asked you about his friends. You didn't mention this 'Chris'."

"Chris was not a friend."

"Oh?" I remembered the notation after Lee's name, in the deceased's little black book: 'Wants a threesome with J.' I wondered if as well as 'J', he'd wanted a threesome with Chris and possibly been turned down. A man like Lee wouldn't like being denied. "Then what would he be considered?"

"He was just a fling, a good time boy, a fun time on a Saturday night."

"But as I understand it, he spent more than one Saturday night with this man."

"What are you insinuating?"

"I'm not insinuating anything." I'd thrown that out to see how he would react. "What I'm saying is if I see someone a lot, that makes him more than a fling or a fun time on a Saturday night. At least to me."

"You? You're just a cop. You wouldn't know how we do things."

"Wouldn't I?" I'd serviced a few men like him, who presented a powerful, in-control facade to the world, but behind closed doors liked nothing more than being forced to their knees and getting their asses fucked. "So. What's the info on this Chris character?"

There was a tightness around his mouth. "I have no idea. Randy did not see fit to reveal his secrets to all and sundry."

"Bullshit," Ellison snapped. "He may not have spilled his guts to all and sundry, but he certainly told you everything, Richard."

"That is bull... " He caught himself. After all, men like him didn't use vulgar language. "That is to say, that is a complete and utter lie!"

"Listen to me, sunshine." I was tempted to poke him in the chest but restrained myself. Naomi had raised me well. "I've got a dead man, and no one who wants to cooperate. So either you tell me what you know, or I'll arrest you for obstructing an investigation." I had a feeling he wouldn't be too happy, thrown in a cell with someone named Leroy. Then again, I could have been wrong.

"Well, er... none of us had met this Chris person."

"That doesn't sound like Randy. He loved showing me off." Ellison flushed and licked his lips, and I wondered what he was thinking.

"Yes, well, you aren't Chris," Lee snarled. "Randy talked - had talked - about him. Vivacious and fun-loving, and a body to die for. Not like you."

"From what I can see, you've got a damned nice body," I murmured under my breath.

And then the first of a series of things happened that left me puzzled.

Ellison responded, "You think so?"

"I think so what?" Confused.

"That I've... Never mind."

He couldn't have heard me. I would barely have heard me, and I was the one saying it. How could... I snapped out of it when I realized Lee was getting aggressive, balling his fists and taking a step toward the other man. I stepped between them.

"Uh uh uh. Play nice, kiddies." Lee looked... relieved? Regretful? "So tell me, Mr. Lee. What is Chris's last name?"

He looked down his nose at me. "That is something Randy never told us."

"He isn't here, is he?" I gazed around the room at the people who were gathered in clumps and knots, stealing glances at the two black detectives, at me, at the men who stood beside me. "I mean, no one's come running over to point him out. Where does he live?"

"That is something else Randy never told us. Now if you'll excuse me, I want to pay my respects."

"Asshole," I muttered, again under my breath, and again, Ellison laughed. I started to ask him what was so funny, but he cut me off at the pass. Maybe he was just a happy guy.

"Sorry, I'd better go. I'm wearing out my welcome. It was nice meeting you, Detective."

"I'd like to talk to you, Mr. Ellison." I suddenly found myself wanting to keep him there with me.

"Call me Jim, Chief. Please."

"Jim. And I'm Blair. Have I seen you before?" I wanted to bang my head against the wall. Talk about your inane pick-up line. Fortunately, Jim took me literally, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Maybe at Banks? I work for Simon."

"You're his newest security guard?" I laughed to myself. Megan was going to be so pleased I'd finally met him. I walked toward a back corner of the room. I could keep an eye on the occupants and have a little privacy. Taggart raised his eyebrow, then swallowed a grin and turned back to the small group of men and women who were the deceased's colleagues from Wall Street.

"So, what did you want to talk to me about?"

"You said you'd seen the man who was with," I nodded toward the front of the room. "Can you describe him?"

"Usually I'm pretty good with descriptions, but this time... All I can tell you about Chris is that he was maybe the most gorgeous man I've ever seen."

"The most gorgeous man you've ever seen? I see." There it was again. 'Very handsome.' 'Gorgeous.' How could a detective compete?

"Yeah. But he didn't do anything for me."

"He didn't?" I couldn't stop a grin from spreading across my face.

"No. There was something off about his looks."

"How do you mean 'off'?"

"I don't know. He was using... not makeup. Greasepaint? I think it smelled like greasepaint. I dated a guy once who was on Broadway."

"You were that close to him?" I figured he'd have to be right in the guy's face to see and smell that.

"The guy on Broadway? It was just a fling. Oh, you mean Chris, who was with Randy." His eyes were wide, and I realized he was teasing me. "Actually I wasn't too close, but he must have layered it on with a trowel. I had no trouble smelling it. It may have just been me, though. It didn't seem to bother Randy, and he was all over him."

"Oh?" I liked that he teased me. It had been so long since I'd had that kind of a relationship... What was I thinking? I'd just met the man!

"Chris went down on him in the men's room."

"Hmmm. What about distinguishing features?"

"You mean if he had a scar or bushy eyebrows or a really huge nose?"

"Yeah."

"No. Gorgeous, remember? Now you - you've got a sweet nose. I could never forget it."

"You think I've got a sweet nose?" I couldn't prevent myself from rubbing a finger over my nose. I'd never thought it was anything special, but he thought it was sweet?

"Yeah, I do." But he was staring at my mouth. My lips felt tingly, as if we'd already kissed. I tipped my head back and leaned toward him. We were going to kiss, and location be damned... and then I got myself under control. He looked regretful, and then he looked at his watch. "It's getting late, and I've got work in the morning. I'd better go."

"Can I call you?" Too rushed. Too... rushed. I quickly got my thoughts together. "I mean, if I have any more questions?"

"Sure. Do you have a pen?"

"Yeah." I reached into an inside pocket, then another one. "Damn, I must have left it on my desk. Hey, Taggart! Over here."

"Yeah, Blair?"

"Pen?"

"You lost another one?"

"It isn't lost. It's simply... not on my person." I'd always had a tendency to misplace pens and pencils, even before I'd gone to the Academy.

"Right. Here you go." I could depend on him. "Make sure you don't lose this one."

"Yeah, yeah." I gave it to Jim.

"Thanks." Instead of writing it on a piece of paper, he took my hand and wrote it on my palm. It was all I could do to prevent a full-body shiver.

"I'll be in touch in the morning. No, wait. You'll be at work..." I had to think more clearly. I had to get a grip on myself. Why was I allowing myself to be swept away by this man? The touch of his hand cupping my hand... From somewhere way at the back of my mind, I thought I heard whispered, Enqueri.

"Yes. And I've already had a day off."

"I'll call you in the evening, then."

"I'll look forward to hearing from you. Bye, Blair." Jim smiled at me.

"Bye, Jim." I shifted so my reaction to his smile wouldn't be too obvious.

"Detective Taggart." Jim returned his pen and smiled politely. It was nothing like the smile he'd offered me, and I was tempted to give Joel a smug grin.

"Yeah, bye, Jim." Joel was aware. I cuffed his arm, and he laughed softly. He waited until Jim left the room. "So, Blair. Learn anything?"

"Yeah. He thinks I have a sweet nose." What was I saying? "I mean no. He couldn't give me a description of the man who was with the deceased."

"But you're going to question him again tomorrow."

"Why not? A good night's sleep might shake up the little gray cells."

"Keep telling yourself that. You just want to see him again."

I felt a blush rise to my eyebrows. There was something about Jim that was starting to nag at me. I'd have to think about it later. Kind of like Scarlett O'Hara. The mourners were beginning to leave, and I got back to business.

"Did you learn anything, Joel?"

"Just that some of these men didn't like the deceased. I've got names."

"Good work. Get H. We may as well... "

And then Richard Lee stalked up to me. "I would like to speak to you, Detective Sandburg." He glared at the man standing beside me. "Alone."

"Joel, why don't you and Henri call it a night. It's gonna take some time to get used to the new shift. I'll see you in the morning."

"Okay. 'Night, Blair. Good evening, sir." Joel at his most professional. He gave a small nod and signaled to Henri. H waved, and they left.

"Now, what did you want to talk to me about, Mr. Lee?"

"I could not help but notice that you seemed taken with Jim Ellison."

"Taken?" Shit. I usually wasn't obvious.

"Attracted to." His lip curled.

"I don't see how this is any of your business."

"As I mentioned, he lived with my friend."

"Lots of people live together. Lots of people break up." I shrugged. "So what?"

"You're not paying attention! Ellison peddled his ass on the street! Randy picked him up from the gutter and gave him everything a man like him could want - designer clothing - leather, I'll have you know!" His fingers rubbed together as if they longed to rub the leather trousers. "baubles - his wristwatch alone must have set Randy back a grand! a roof over his head - I'm sure you've seen Randy's penthouse, and Ellison had a room of his own that was spectacular!"

"So?"

"Ellison was a whore!"

"The operative word being 'was'."

"I have no doubt he's still whoring himself! He threw everything Randy gave him back into my friend's face and left him. Ellison is the most useless, worthless pieces of scum on the face of the earth."

"That's slander." I took a step toward him. "I happen to know he isn't." Although I wasn't going to tell him what Jim did for a living now. I wouldn't put it past Lee to try to get Jim fired.

"The police commissioner is a dear friend of my mother." He backed away and began fidgeting with the buttons of his overcoat. "I do not think he would be pleased to learn one of his detectives is consorting with a hustler."

"So you're gonna have your mommy run to Commissioner Hawthorne if I date Jim Ellison?"

He flushed. "Do not take that tone with me!"

"Or what? You'll challenge me to a duel at dawn? What bug is up your ass about Jim Ellison?"

He glowered at me. "I have no idea about what you're talking."

'J' - for Jim? "Don't you? I'm willing to bet you wanted Jim for a threesome, but - he wasn't willing to go along with it." I was certain of that. Why else would Lee be so rancorous, unless he hadn't gotten what he'd wanted?

"That's absurd!"

"Is it?" I made a point of looking bored, then glanced around. "Everyone seems to have gone, and I'm sure Mr. Canis would like to go home. I suggest we leave also."

"I won't forget this, Sandburg!" Lee turned on his heel, nodded goodnight to the funeral director, and stormed out of the room.

"Thank you, Detective. I need to start closing up, and it isn't good form to do that when mourners are still here."

"Are you leaving immediately?"

"No. I'll be here for another twenty minutes or so."

"May I make a phone call?"

He smiled. "Please do, and take your time. I like having company when I'm closing up."

"Thank you." I went to the phone, opened my palm, although I really didn't need to, and dialed Jim's number. 555-3310. As it rang, it dawned on me, 'E' - the missing page in the address book - And then he picked up.

"Ellison."

I forgot all about 'E' for Ellison. "Hi."

"Blair?"

"Yeah." I was pleased that he recognized my voice. Pleased? I wanted to do handsprings. "I wanted to make sure you got home okay."

"You did?"

"Yeah. I couldn't wait until tomorrow to talk to you again."

"Oh." Was he breathless?

"I hope you don't mind?" I wondered if he heard the flirty tone in my voice.

"I don't mind."

I had to be grinning like a loon, but I didn't care. I heard the flirty tone in his voice, and I made a date to have dinner with him the next evening at 7.

****

I was talking to him about sentinels, about the monograph by Sir Richard Burton that I'd found in the rare books room of the library, but his expression told me there were other things he would rather be doing, and suddenly, I wanted to be doing them too.

I slid my hand around his neck and pulled his head down to mine, and I kissed him.

His lips were lush, and the kiss was soft and chaste, until my tongue touched the seam of his lips. His mouth opened, but I didn't plunge my tongue in. He moaned as if that was what he'd expected... anticipated.

But I wanted him shaking and shivering under me. I explored his mouth delicately, and then deeply, and he accepted my tongue in his mouth as readily as he would my cock in his body.

Somehow I wound up flat on my back with him covering me like a blanket. His legs straddled my thighs, and I could feel the length of his cock nudging mine. My hips jerked involuntarily, and we both groaned.

I looked up at him, at his eyes hotter than they'd been in the photo that had been torn. He rocked against me, and I closed the fingers of one hand around his hip, urging him closer, while my other hand traced the crevice between his ass cheeks, searching for his hole. His mouth was back on mine, feeding off it. The first of his moans escaped into my mouth as I pressed a fingertip against that spot, and I swallowed it.

I nipped the tendon at the side of his throat, sucked on it, marked him as mine, and he buried his hands in my hair, and held on.

I could feel every inch of his body against mine. He raised his head. His lips glistened, his cheeks were flushed, and the look in his eyes told me he was close to coming.

And then I pulled his mouth down to mine and ravaged it, we both came, and I called his name...

"Enqueri!"

I woke the next morning smiling, even though it was earlier than I was used to getting up. I was going to have dinner with Jim Ellison.

For the first time in more than a year, I had breakfast at the time people normally ate the first meal of the day. And I smiled, because after work, I was going to 852 East 14th Street, apartment 3E, and I'd be having dinner with Jim.

I caught the subway to the Precinct and trotted up the stairs, smiling, because I was having dinner with someone I found fascinating, and sexy, and...

I walked into the squad room, smiling.

Monaghan looked up from his desk. "You get lucky last night, Sandman?"

"Why?"

"You're smiling."

"I don't have to get lucky to smile."

"Who's smiling?" Brown and Taggart walked in together. "Man, day shift is a pisser."

"Sandburg's smiling. He has to have gotten laid. And you only think this is a pisser because you're just coming off working nights. Hey, you were with him last night. Cap said you were going to that wake." He pulled a face. "Aw, fuck, man - that's just sick!"

"What's sick?"

"Picking up chicks at a wake!"

Joel smirked. "Trust me, Monaghan, Sandburg did not pick up a girl last night."

"Then how come..."

"Geez, what's the big deal with me smiling?"

The Captain stuck his head out of his office. "Excuse me, gentlemen. Don't you have work to do?"

"Yes, sir," we chorused.

Monaghan's phone rang, and he was called out on a case, Joel and H were following a lead on the whereabouts of Maria Hernandez, the cleaning lady, and the thing about the case that had gnawed at me the night before started gnawing at me again.

I went down to the basement where the cold case files were stored and looked for O'Neill's Valentine's Day murder.

Joseph Bishop, 35, had lived in Gramercy Park. He'd worked for a restaurant that was situated in the Theatre District. Nothing in the information O'Neill had gathered, what little there was of it, backed his belief that the man had been queer.

One thing stood out and hit me like a sledge hammer right between the eyes, though. The body had been found on the john.

I decided to talk to his landlady.

Mrs. Flaherty was an older woman. Her stockings were rolled down around her ankles, and she wore a pink housedress that buttoned down the front. Little yellow flowers were scattered all over it. Covering the dress was a bibbed apron, navy blue, with a pattern of appliances on it - coffee pots, blenders, toasters.

"I'm Detective Sandburg, ma'am."

"Are you looking into Joseph's murder? I'm so glad it's someone else. Not to speak ill of someone who isn't here to defend himself, but I wasn't liking that other flatfoot's attitude."

"Yes, ma'am. Did you happen to hear anything on the day of the murder, Mrs. Flaherty? Or see anything?"

"No. I was at Mass. Joseph was such a good man." She touched her eyes with the corner of her apron. "The neighborhood children loved him, and he always helped with chores around the house. Lily, his fiancee, is heartbroken."

"His fiancee? You've met her then, Mrs. Flaherty?" Joseph Bishop wouldn't have been the first queer man to hide behind a non-existent wife or girlfriend.

"Why, yes. Why wouldn't I?"

"Just wondering." There had been nothing about a fiancee in O'Neill's report. Had he just looked at the doilies and made assumptions? "What can you tell me about her?"

"Lily lives just around the corner. She works in the office of St. Francis Xavier Parochial School on 23rd Street. She's very much a homebody in her spare time, always knitting and crocheting. She makes the loveliest doilies."

"Did she make them for Mr. Bishop?"

Yes. Would you like to see the ones she made for me?"

"Thank you, yes. I would." I followed her into her apartment. It was crowded and fussy, and if Bishop's had looked anything like it, it was easy to see how a homophobic jerk like O'Neill, who saw homosexuality all over the place the way Joe McCarthy had seen Communists around every corner, would jump to the conclusion the victim was queer. It was very wrong - my apartment looked nothing like that, even though Naomi lived with me - but it made a twisted kind of sense. "Did Detective O'Neill talk to her?"

"No. Now that I think on it, he didn't ask very many questions at'all."

That was sloppy, even for O'Neill. "Can you give me her phone number? I'll have one of my men get in touch with her."

"Of course. Just let me get my phone book." She went to a small table against a wall. A squat black telephone sat on top of it on a doily; she removed a long, narrow, spiral-bound book from the single drawer beneath it and thumbed through it. "Here it is."

I borrowed a pen and jotted down the number. Beneath it was her work number, and I wrote that down as well. "Did you find the body?"

"Oh, no. Lily found Joseph. They were to have dinner, and when he didn't arrive to pick her up - that was so unlike him, you see, he was always such a gentleman, not like some of the young men you see today - Where was I?"

"Mr. Bishop didn't pick up his fiancee."

"Yes, thank you. I mean, Valentine's Day. Such a very special day. So she came here."

"Was that usual? Her coming to see what was holding him up?"

"Not at'all. He was never late. Never. Punctual to a fault, he was."

"May I see his apartment?"

"Oh! Oh, my. Oh, dearie me. The policeman told me there was no need... I've rented it out, you see."

Dammit. "All right. Thank you, Mrs. Flaherty. May I call on you again if I have more questions?"

"Such a polite young man." She dimpled. "Please do."

****

On the way back to the Precinct, I decided to let what I'd learned simmer in the back of my mind, and daydreamed about what dinner would be like with Jim instead.

He'd insisted on cooking dinner for me, and I wondered what he had in mind. No one had ever done that for me. Even Naomi preferred not to cook if she could get away with it. When Swanson came out with frozen TV dinners, she was one happy woman, and our freezer was stocked with them

Then I wondered what I should wear. There was plenty of time after work to shower - I ran a palm over my chin. I'd need to shave, too - and change. I'd found a very nice pair of black silk boxers in a small men's shop off 5th Avenue. That was a start. Casual slacks and a button-down shirt, no tie and the top buttons undone, and Jim undoing them further...

That was as far as I'd gotten when I walked into the squad room. Joel and H were still away from their desks, and I hoped they were having luck finding Maria Hernandez. She might not have anything to do with the case, but then again, she might.

"McGaffney, are you free?"

"No, but flowers and dinner will usually do it."

"What?" I started to laugh. "Asshole."

"What can I do you for?"

"I need a follow-up on something of O'Neill's that's gone cold. It may tie in to my case."

"Sure thing."

"Lily Monroe. Apparently she was the one who found Joseph Bishop's body." I handed him the paper. "These are both her home and work numbers."

He glanced at the clock on the wall. "She'll still be at work. I'll call her there and see if she can talk to me."

"Thanks."

In a matter of minutes he was grabbing his coat and heading out the door.

****

The afternoon passed quickly. I was finishing up some paperwork when Taggart and Brown came back in, pissed because while the lead had panned out, Maria Hernandez hadn't been there.

"As a matter of fact, she hasn't been home since Monday."

"Y'know, it might be a good idea to pay a visit to Marc Addams. Maybe a surprise visit."

"Yeah." He and Joel began to plan the next day's strategies.

The phone on my desk rang. "15th Precinct. Detective Sandburg."

"This is Hans. Hans Schultz. Although on Valentine's Day I was Aaron Fielding." The change of accent from German to Midwestern puzzled me, but I'd gotten some strange calls in my years as a cop.

"How can I help you, Mr. Schultz?"

"I like vhat you say in ze newspaper, Detective Sandburg, zat vhat I do is vell-planned, vell-organized. Detective Sandburg. Phah. Zat is so formal. I call you Blair. Vhen you come here, I zink you vill see zat I am up to my previous standards."

"Come where?" I listened in growing dismay to what he had to say, snapping my fingers to get someone's attention, and when that failed, throwing a pencil at Taggart. I stabbed frantically at my phone and made a dialing motion, and he picked up his phone and started the process of getting the call traced.

I was desperate to keep Schultz on the line, and I tried every trick I knew, even begging, but he seemed aware of how long it would take to locate him.

"I am smarter zan you!" he mocked. He intended to hang up just before we could make the final connection. "Auf Wiedersehen, Blair."

"Wait! Wait!" I sat with the receiver at my ear, even though all that came over was the hum of the dial tone. I looked to where Joel sat, hoping against hope. He shook his head; he hadn't been able to trace it. I swore and put the phone down, feeling cold.

The Captain stood in his doorway, staring at me. "What was that all about?"

"We may have another murder."

"'May'? In my office now, Sandburg." The Captain was tense. I went into his office and shut the door. "You want to explain that to me?"

"Cap... " How could I explain it? I didn't understand it myself. "The phone call I just had... The caller identified himself as Hans Schultz."

"Who is Hans Schultz?"

"I don't know, Captain, but I have a feeling he may have killed someone earlier today. From what he said, he may be responsible for the murder I'm investigating, as well as the death of Joseph Bishop, the man killed on February 14th."

"Valentine's Day? That was O'Neill's case, wasn't it? I was afraid it would get out as The Valentine's Killer. So why did he call you?"

"Because I said his last murder was well-planned and well-executed."

"You're paying compliments to killers now, Sandburg?"

"Cap, if he's killed today, that will make three murders."

"Fuck."

I flinched. The Captain never swore.

"All right. You have the address? Go check it out."

"Yes, sir." I left his office.

Joel and H were hovering nearby. "Are you okay, Blair?"

"Sure."

"'Cause it sounded like the Captain really wasn't having a good day."

"We were just discussing how best to handle this case."

"Yeah. So what are we gonna do?"

"We?" That was right, they were my team. I picked up the paper I'd scrawled the address on. "We're gonna go here and see if whoever lives here really is dead."

****

A black and white drove us to 44th Street. The Print boys were going to meet us there.

Pounding on the door was fruitless. I crouched down to study the lock. It didn't seem to have been tampered with.

A neighbor came out of the next apartment to glower at us.

"May I help you?" She was less than pleased to see three men at her neighbor's door.

"I'm Detective Sandburg. This is Detective Taggart, Detective Brown. Have you seen the man who lives in this apartment?"

"Norbert Himmel? No. I just got home from work." She frowned. "Is something wrong?"

"That's what we're here to determine, ma'am. We don't want to break this door down. Joel, H, see if you can find the landlord." I turned to the woman who had to be in her late forties. She reminded me a little of my Aunt Rebecca. I smiled at her. "Can you tell me anything about Mr. Himmel, Mrs. ... ?"

"Dylan. Mrs. Amelia Dylan." She broke her first name into four syllables.

"Mrs. Dylan."

"Mr. Himmel is a personable young man, very wrapped up in his work. He's a buyer for a company in the Garment District. He doesn't seem to date very much, although he occasionally will bring a friend home."

"A woman?" I took out my notebook. For a change, there was a pen clipped to it.

"Oh, no. Now that I think of it, his friends are all young men. Very muscular. One might almost say attractive, in a Marlon Brando-Streetcar Named Desire kind of way. If you understand?"

I nodded. It was starting to look to me as if Norbert Himmel were queer. Was this a factor in his being selected to be strangled, or was there something else?

"I always thought it was strange that he would have friends who were so... crude." She shuddered delicately.

"Crude in what manner, Mrs. Dylan?"

"They arrive at his door in jeans or black leather jackets, you know, the kind with chains dangling off the shoulders?"

"You think it was unusual why, ma'am?"

"Norbert is so obviously upper middle class - he's so fair and has such lovely manners, rather like yours, Detective Sandburg - and they... I assume with all the integration and bussing that was going on, well, I assume he met them in school."

I nodded again and continued jotting down notes.

"Sometimes they get a little noisy, but he's always so apologetic when I ... well, not complain exactly, but more like... "

"Advising him that they're getting a little rowdy?"

"Why, yes. Exactly." Her smile told me how pleased she was to find someone who understood.

"Thank you, Mrs. Dylan." The elevator opened, and Joel and H and the landlord stepped out. "May I talk to you again if I have more questions?"

"Of course!" She fluttered her lashes at me and gave me her number, then glared at the landlord, scurried back into her apartment, and slammed the door.

"Bitch," the landlord muttered. "Always callin' me, complainin' about the noise, wantin' me to patrol the corridors. What am I, the cops?"

"If you'll just unlock the door?"

"This apartment belongs to Norbert Himmel."

"Mrs. Dylan informed me."

"Mrs. That's a laugh. Ain't never seen no mister, unless she's got him locked up in there."

Riley strolled down the corridor, carrying his camera and the case that held fingerprint powder and other equipment. "We've gotta stop meeting like this, guys."

"Where's Stephens?" He and his partner were like Mutt and Jeff.

"Twisted his ankle in a pick-up basketball game of shirts and skins at the Y."

"Ouch."

"Yeah."

The landlord used his master key to unlock the door.

"If you'll wait outside?"

He was trying to peer around the door. He shrugged. "Mr. Himmel ain't gonna like this."

"I'll take responsibility. We'll let you know when we're done here."

He grumbled under his breath but hovered outside the door. I shut it in his face.

The odor wasn't as bad as in the penthouse apartment - the victim hadn't been dead as long - but it was there.

"I'll get started taking pictures, and then I'll dust for prints." Riley snapped shots of two long, faint heel scuffs in the linoleum, leading away from the living room.

"Okay. H, see what you can find in this room."

"Got it." He began casting around the living room like a bloodhound.

The scuff marks, no doubt the result of Norbert Himmel being dragged, led to the bathroom. This one was tiny in comparison to the one we had seen on Monday.

As that bastard Hans had told me, the young man was dead. He was on the john, a lipstick kiss drawn on his forehead. Riley was busy taking pictures.

"Fuck. Do two murders make him a serial killer?"

"Two?" I remembered that I hadn't told Joel about my suspicions about the victim in O'Neill's case. "Maybe three. I think one of O'Neill's cases may be tied in to this one."

"Fuck," he repeated. "Uh... Blair? He's wearing pajamas and slippers." The slippers looked like the leather-soled variety.

"I noticed. He could have called in sick and spent the day in bed."

"Not the whole day."

Obviously not. "Mrs. Dylan said he worked in the Garment District. We'll need to find out where and give them a call."

"I'll take care of it." He leaned forward. "Look at the bruises on his neck." The collar had been undone, and the marks were livid. "What do you think? He was attacked from behind?"

"Yeah. It looks as if Hans somehow got the deceased to trust him enough to let him into this apartment, waited until the time was right, and then made his move. Let's see if H has found anything."

We went back into the living room, the click and whir as Riley snapped his pictures a faint background noise. Soon that would be replaced with silence as he started dusting for prints.

H was bending over something, and he straightened when we entered. "This was knocked over." It was an end table, small and made of wood. "That plate must have been on it - it's shattered." There was broken China on the area rug. Pieces of cake were scattered all over the floor.

"Do you think he was sitting on the sofa?"

"Looks possible. But how could Hans persuade a grown man to allow him to get behind him?"

"I found this on the floor by the sofa, Blair." Henri was holding a photo album, using a handkerchief to avoid getting his fingerprints on it. I nodded toward the sofa, and he put it down gingerly while I patted my pockets. H started to snicker, then stopped when I found what I was looking for.

"Ta dah!" I waved the pen in front of his nose.

"You've gotta get lucky sometime." He grinned good-naturedly.

The point was retracted, and I used it to carefully turn the pages. The album contained pictures of a very young, very alive Norbert Himmel, blowing out candles on his birthday cake, playing with a puppy, gleefully opening Christmas presents, and then as an older boy, swimming at the beach, sailing, riding with a group of boys and girls.

Birthdays, holidays, special occasions. The last page held a studio portrait of him in his cap and gown, flanked by a man and a woman who had to be his parents. In front of them was a young girl, obviously his sister, trying to look serious.

"So what do you think?"

"He was lulling Norbert into a false sense of security by admiring his photographs?" I hunched a shoulder. "Unless Hans comes right out and tells us, I don't know if we'll ever find out."

"These two must have fallen out." H laid the pictures next to the album, again using his handkerchief, and I leaned forward to study them.

The first one was another graduation photo of Norbert, this time standing beside a young man his age, also in a cap and gown, who was grinning mischievously at Norbert's surprised expression. His hand was hidden behind Norbert's back. Had he goosed him?

The other picture was a Polaroid. It was a little out of focus, a little blurred, and I had the feeling it had been set it up to be taken automatically.

It was summer. Norbert was lying on a window seat in what appeared to be an attic. Braced over him was the boy from the graduation photo, his fingers caught in the act of stroking a very hard nipple. They were maybe sixteen, barefooted, and wearing jeans but no shirts. The sunlight shining through the leaves of a large, old tree just visible through the window dappled them, almost focusing on the beads of sweat that clung to their hairless chests. Good-looking boys, young and healthy, and with the whole of their lives ahead of them.

"Do you think he was queer?"

I jumped. "Geez! Give a guy a heart attack, why don't you?" I hadn't realized Joel had come up behind me.

"Sorry, Blair."

I blew out a breath. "Never mind." I tapped the photo with my pen. "It could have been simply a phase. Not all boys who experiment with their own sex as teens continue to do so as adults."

"There's something about this that's bugging me." H was chewing his lip. "My Mama and Daddy have all the pictures from when I was growing up."

"You think it's odd that he would have these pictures?"

"Back from when he was a kid? Yeah. He'd be able to see them when he went to visit his folks, but the photos he'd have now would be current. Friends, girlfriends, colleagues."

"I think he's got a point, Blair. And what if it wasn't a phase? His family wouldn't be too thrilled about it."

"No, they wouldn't." I'd seen too many kids who'd been thrown out like so much trash, and I was thankful I'd never had to deal with that. No matter what, Naomi loved me. "We still don't know how Hans got in."

"Maybe he met Hans somewhere and brought him home for sex?"

"A date gone wrong? That could explain Norbert in his pajamas, but we still have the similarity to the Central Park West murder."

Riley came in and started dusting for prints. "I hope you didn't touch anything."

We sneered at him, and he laughed.

"H, see what else you can find in here. Joel, you take the kitchen. I'll check out his bedroom."

****

The lone bedroom was down a short hall. I stood in the doorway and looked into it. The blinds were open, letting in faint light as the moon rose. I pictured our victim getting up in the morning and opening them. He'd been strangled before he could close them.

The light switch was just inside the door. I used my cuff to flip it on and observed the room. A small chest was on the dresser. Most likely it contained cufflinks and tie tacs. Some Broadway show posters were on the wall, as well as a couple of Tony Curtis, one in a slave's tunic and another of him hanging from a trapeze. No clothes were tossed carelessly on the floor or over the small desk in the corner.

I took a clean handkerchief out of my pocket and opened the drawers with it. They held copies of Physique Pictorial. There was gay pornography - The Boys in the Back Room, The Boys in the Barracks, and The Boys in the Bunkhouse. A loose-leaf binder labeled 'The Adventures of Bert and Marty' was filled with hand-written pages that were a cross between romance and fantasy. The last page read, Marty looked into Bert's green eyes. 'I love you,' he said. 'I've always loved you. I never should have let you go!'

Bert was so very happy. He put his arms around his best friend, the man he loved more than Judy Garland, Ethel Merman, and Bob Fosse all rolled into one, and kissed him. He knew they were going to live happily ever after.

I shook my head and replaced the binder.

In the center drawer was an envelope that was stained with tears. It had been crumpled and then smoothed out. It was addressed to Mr.& Mrs. Otto Himmel on Long Island. Refused was scrawled across the front, heavily underscored.

It hadn't been unsealed.

I put it back in the drawer and turned to examine the rest of the room. On the night stand was his wallet and keys, and a telephone.

I picked up the wallet with my handkerchief and flipped it open. Inside was an identification card and a photo of two figures, older versions of the boy and girl from the graduation picture.

The double bed was made, but the cover was wrinkled, and toward the foot was an indentation as if the heel of a shoe, weighted down by the other shoe upon it, had rested on that spot. The bedspread over the pillow was also mussed and the pillow dented, and a coal black hair lay across it.

"You're blond, Norbert. Who was lying on your bed?" I used my handkerchief to pick up the strand of hair, then folded it closed and put it in my pocket.

Riley walked into the bedroom. "Hey, Sandman." He ignored my growl. I was going to shoot Brown one of these days. "I'm done with the rest of the apartment, and I'm gonna dust here now. As soon as I'm finished, I'll head back to the Precinct and get the pictures processed, and see if the prints are in the system."

"Okay. Get some pictures of the bed, will you?"

"Sure thing."

"Thanks, Riley." I returned to the living room. "Anything, H?"

"I found some contact information. His parents live out on Long Island."

Joel walked in. "He liked to cook. There's a shelf of cookbooks in the kitchen, and half a homemade cake on the counter. Pot of coffee on the stove. It's cold."

"Hmmm. How many cups?"

"One in the sink. Washed."

"Blair? I think this may be the remains of another cup." H displayed the handle of a cup dangling from his pen. "This looks like it was nice China, too."

The door opened, and we turned, our hands going for our guns. This case was making us jumpy.

Dan Wolf walked into the room with his kit. With him were two men wheeling a gurney. "The bathroom?" At our nods, he sighed. "Okay, someone show me the way."

I led him down the short corridor. His men followed us and waited just outside the bathroom. "Dan, you did the autopsy on Joseph Bishop?"

"Who?"

"O'Neill's Valentine's victim?"

"Oh. Yes. Sorry. Sometimes they run into each other. Yes, I remember him now. O'Neill didn't do more than glance at my report. When he learned there had been no anal tearing, he lost interest. What did you need to know?"

"Is it similar in any way to our Central Park West victim?"

"No alcohol in his system. No pills or pot. Other than that, he was strangled from behind in his living room, and then placed on the john. Oh, shit. We have a serial?"

"It's starting to look like that."

Dan gazed at our newest victim and shook his head. "He appears to be the youngest."

"According to the ID in his wallet, he's 25."

"Damn. Well, no sense standing here with our thumbs up our butts." He removed his overcoat, and I took it from him. Then he knelt beside the john. "Rigor has set."

"Can you give me a time of death?"

"Just from looking at him? Probably around 3 PM, give or take." He opened his kit.

"Uh... I'll be inside, okay?"

"Sure thing, Blair." He chuckled as I left the room. Everyone knew I had a thing about those liver thermometers.

"You get to make the notification, Sandman." H was looking smug. So was Joel. "We flipped a coin."

"Don't try to make me feel good." I draped Dan's coat over a chair and glanced at my watch. Shit. There was no way I'd be able to keep my dinner date with Jim. "I need to make a phone call."

"There's a phone in the kitchen."

H nudged Joel. "Who's he calling? Naomi is out of town."

"He's calling his boyfriend."

"I heard that, blabbermouth. I don't have a boyfriend."

"Not yet, maybe. But I saw the way you two were looking at each other."

I flipped him off.

"You didn't tell me anything about that, Joel," H complained.

"There, there, little man."

"Supercilious asshole! And don't give me that look, Taggart."

"You go throwing around those $50 words... "

"I graduated college."

"City College."

"It's a qualified college!"

"Keep it down, guys."

I went into the kitchen, and dialed Jim's number from memory.

"Ellison."

"Hi, Jim."

"Chief! Wait until you get a taste of what I'm cooking. It's gonna knock your socks off."

"What are you cooking?"

"It's a Jewish dish - Kusneyeya Rice."

"Aw, Jim. For me?" Aunt Rebecca had made it on the occasion of Naomi's discharge from the hospital. 'Just like Mama used to make, isn't it Naomi?' Naomi had given her a weak smile and used the excuse that she was still recuperating to leave the table. I didn't think it was bad, but considering what I'd put in my mouth in Peru, what did I know? "I can smell it from here."

"Sure you can." He laughed. He sounded so happy to be cooking for me. "So why are you calling me when you should be here in about forty-five minutes?"

I licked my lips. I had to explain why I wouldn't be there in about forty-five minutes - another murder, similar to the one of his... friend? lover? It was going to dawn on him that I was a cop, that this was my job, and why would he want to see me again? I started to ramble, something I never did.

"Blair." He waited until I shut up. "We can do this another time."

"Thanks, Jim." I was surprised he was willing to have dinner with me again after I'd canceled on such short notice. I was more surprised at how relieved I felt.

"Hey, Blair!" Joel stood in the doorway.

"Hold on a sec, okay?" I said into the receiver, then covered it and turned to Joel. "What's up?"

"The M.E. wants to take the body!"

"Be right there, Joel. Jim... "

"Did Detective Taggart really have to shout, Chief? I'd have thought you'd be close enough to hear him."

"What?" Joel hadn't been shouting. What was Jim talking about?

"Blair! Tell your boyfriend goodbye. We have to move it! Dan's getting antsy!"

I covered the receiver again. "I'm coming! I have to go, Jim. Can I... can I call you when I get this done here?"

"I'd like that. You'll be careful?"

"I'll be careful. Bye, Jim."

"Bye, Chief."

I hung up the phone and turned to see Taggart and Brown standing there.

"What are you grinning about?" H wanted to know.

"He told me to be careful." I knew the grin on my face had to be sappy in the extreme. "Just now. On the phone."

"Oh boy, have you got it bad!"

Then my mind backed up and replayed what Joel had said, 'Tell your boyfriend goodbye,' and I felt myself turn cold.

Taggart must have read my expression. "Riley left. I wouldn't have teased you otherwise."

"Sorry. I just... "

"I know. I understand." He shut up as Wolf came into the room.

"My boys are getting the body ready to transport." He was looking grim. "There were no defensive wounds. It looks like he didn't even put up a fight."

"Shit. H, gather up whatever of the cup you can find. Maybe we can have it tested, see if there was anything in it that might have kept him from fighting back. Dan, you'll let me know what else you find?"

"You got it."

"I'd like to see what you have on Joseph Bishop too."

"I'll send my notes over first thing in the morning."

"Thanks. Joel, you and H finish up here." I ran a hand through my hair. It was getting long; I'd need to get a haircut soon. "I'll go notify the family. Dammit, I hate this. There's just no good way to do it. I'm taking the black and white."

"Okay. We'll see you tomorrow."

I opened the door and walked smack into Sam Samuels, the Daily News reporter. "Talk to them." I jerked a thumb over my shoulder.

"Detective Brown... "

"I'm not at liberty to divulge details, Mr. Samuels. I'm just the subordinate detective on the case."

"Detective Taggart? How about you? I'll mention your name in the paper," he wheedled.

"So weirdoes can call me like they do Sandburg? I don't think so."

And of course the reporter latched onto it like a bulldog. "Who's calling Sandburg? What weirdo?"

Son-of-a-bitch.

I turned on my heel and stalked back into the apartment. "The weirdo who read your story Tuesday morning. He liked that I said the murder was well-planned, well-executed. How do I know this, you may ask? Well, I'll tell you. I know this because he called to tell me just before I was going home for the day. Then he said I should come to this address, and I would see this murder was up to his previous standard." I managed to keep that singular. I didn't know if Sam was going to print what I told him, and I'd have to clear it with the Captain before I let the public know we had a serial killer on our hands.

Sam had the grace to look appalled. "You mean... "

"I won't confirm until the medical examiner gets back to me on it, but... Look, Sam. I know you have to report this. Just do me a favor. Don't say anything about him calling me at the station?"

"How do I explain how you discovered the body?"

"It was called in?"

"By who? Anonymously? By the neighbors?" Sam had his notebook out and was scribbling furiously.

"Is not getting credit for it gonna piss Hans off?" H asked.

"'Hans'?"

"Aw, shit. Now we gotta worry about hurting a murderer's feelings?"

"Who's Hans?"

"Dammit. I don't have time to deal with this."

"Excuse us. Coming through!" The two men wheeled the gurney with the covered body through the room.

We stepped aside, Sam looking mildly interested, but not disturbed. He went back to writing in his notebook.

Dan followed them. "Goodnight, gentlemen."

"'Night."

"Huh? Oh, yeah. G'night, Dr. Wolf. Okay, look. How about if I say that it was called in by Hans... Did he give you a last name?"

"Schultz."

He scribbled in his notebook. "Hans Schultz. Got it."

I checked my watch. "I have to go. Joel, you can handle this?"

"Are you still here? Go. Sam and I will get along fine."

"Okay. I'm gone. 'Night, guys, Sam."

"'Night."

"Where's he going," Sam wanted to know.

"Notifying the family... "

The rest of what Joel said was lost as I stepped into the elevator and the doors closed. I knew he wouldn't spill all the beans. The public, bless their blood-thirsty hearts, didn't have to know all the details. Something had to be kept so we could nail the killer, or else tell him from the copycat.

The officer in the black and white looked up as I opened the passenger door and got in beside him. "Where are we going?"

"Long Island." I told him the town.

"I'll take the 59th Street Bridge."

****

Notifying a family that their child, even if he or she was an adult, had been killed was something I'd never gotten used to. This was even worse. Norbert Himmel had been sent away because of his sexual orientation.

"Mr. and Mrs. Himmel, I'm Detective Sandburg. I regret to inform you that your son is dead."

"Ve haff no son." Both his parents stared at me with stony expressions. "Norbert has been dead to us for years." And they closed the door in my face.

How could parents... Okay, granted, having a gay child might not be what every parent aspired to, but cutting Norbert out of their lives? I began to understand why he might have been willing to open his door to a stranger.

I headed down the walk toward the black and white, shaking my head.

"Officer?" A man stood by the gate. His overcoat had been thrown on and was unbuttoned. From the light cast by the streetlight, he appeared to be in his mid-twenties.

"Detective, actually. Detective Sandburg."

"Detective. I'm sorry. Edie overheard you talking to her parents and called me. Is it true? Is Bert dead?"

"Who are you?"

"I'm Martin Wagner. I've lived next door all my life. Bert and I were best friends." I recognized him. He was the boy in the pictures. "Edie is his sister. My... my girlfriend."

"I'm afraid it is true."

"What happened to him? Was he hit by a car? The people who drive in Manhattan are maniacs. They... "

"He was murdered."

"Oh, dear god, no!"

"I'm sorry."

"His parents always said this would... It's because he's... he was queer, isn't it?"

"This is an ongoing case, Mr. Wagner. I can't talk about it."

His lower lip quivered. "What's going to happen? To his body, I mean?"

"If no one claims it, he'll be buried in City Cemetery on Hart Island."

"For the 'unbefriended dead'?" He gave an unhappy laugh. "I'll claim his body. What do I need to do?"

I took out one of my cards, searched my pockets for a pen, and sighed. "Do you have a pen?"

"No, sorry."

I tapped on the window. Officer Connelly leaned across the bench seat and rolled it down. "Yes, sir?"

"Pen?"

He stifled a laugh, slid one off his clipboard, and handed it to me.

"This is the number for the coroner's office. Call them tomorrow. They'll be able to tell you when his body will be released."

"Thank... thank you." He gripped my hand. His eyes widened, and for a second he held onto my hand. I pulled it free, and he took a step back. "I'd better... "

"Marty! Marty!" A young woman ran down the steps. She was dressed too lightly for this weather.

"Edie." He caught her in his arms. "You shouldn't have come out."

"Bert's gone! And my parents... "

"I'll take care of it. I'll take care of everything."

"I'm sorry for your loss, miss."

Eyes blue where her brother's had been hazel turned toward me. "Thank you."

I nodded, opened the cruiser's door, and got in. "Here's your pen. Let's go."

"Sorry for laughing, Detective," he said as he put the car in gear and drove toward the westbound exit of the Southern State Parkway.

"Forget about it, Connelly." It beat the hell out of me why I kept losing my pens.

My stomach rumbled, and I thought wistfully of the dinner Jim was going to prepare for me.

"There's a pretty nice diner just a few blocks on the other side of the 59th Street Bridge, sir."

"Thanks. I've got something in the fridge at home. Just drop me off outside my building, okay?" I gave him the address.

"Okay."

"What's this?" Traffic was backing up.

"Looks like there may be an accident up ahead." He switched on his radio, and we listened. "A pileup on Exit 32 South. As soon as I can get to the next exit, I'll try another route."

"Do you know your way around Long Island?"

"Sure. It'll be a snap!"

It took us three quarters of an hour to get off the Parkway. Who would have thought so many people would be out on a Thursday night?

I lost myself in thoughts of what the dinner I'd missed would have been like. Was Jim a good cook? It didn't matter. I'd have complimented whatever he'd served. And afterwards... what would we have had for dessert? Maybe him?

"Detective Sandburg? Detective Sandburg!" A hand was on my shoulder.

"Hmm?"

"We're here." It had taken almost another two hours to get back into Manhattan.

"Oh. Sorry." My internal clock was still screwed up from switching from nights to days. I scrubbed my hand over my face. "Thanks very much, Officer Connelly. Goodnight."

"'Night, sir."

I took the elevator up to the seventh floor. Naomi and I had moved into this building on East 53rd as soon as I could afford it. It had two nice-sized bedrooms with bathrooms off each one, a living room, dining room, and kitchen. It was the largest apartment we'd ever lived in, and I figured whoever watched over dancers and their queer sons was looking out for us the day I found 7E.

It was after midnight, I was starving, and I needed a shower, but I'd promised to call Jim. I turned on the oven, and not even bothering with preheating, put a Swanson TV dinner in.

I'd take the shower after I spoke to Jim. I dialed his number.

"Chief?"

"Yeah, Jim. How'd you know it was me?"

"Lucky guess."

"I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No. I was up." He had waited up for my call? I liked that. I tucked the phone under my chin, leaned against the wall, and folded my arms across my chest. "How was the rice?"

"It was good. It would have been better if you'd been here to share it with me."

"I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you." I'd much rather have had dinner with him than tell a family that couldn't care less their son was dead. "Jim, would you do me a favor?" I'd had a thought on the way up in the elevator.

"Yes."

I blinked. He'd agreed so readily. I couldn't stop myself from wondering what else he'd agree to. I pushed that out of my mind for the time being.

"Come down to the station tomorrow and talk to our sketch artist? If we can find Chris, maybe we'll have some idea of who killed your friend and who killed Himmel."

"Himmel?"

"Our latest victim."

"Uh huh. Well, sure, Chief. But if he was using greasepaint, I don't think it will be much use."

I hadn't even thought of that. I was punchy from the long day and then the ride out to Long Island. "I'd still like you to give it a try." I really wanted to see him.

"Okay. What time do you want me there?"

"About 11?" Then we could have lunch together. I couldn't take him to Rosie's, there were always cops there, but...

"I can't, Chief, I'm sorry. I have work."

"Damn. I forgot." I was punchier than I'd realized. "Well, how about after work? You get off at 4, right? Okay, then, how does 4:30 sound? 15th Precinct." It probably could have waited until the weekend, but suddenly it was imperative that I see him sooner. "I appreciate it, Jim."

"Whatever I can do for our fair city."

"And maybe when you're done... maybe we could go for dinner?" I thought briefly of bringing him here, but the fridge was pretty bare, and I wouldn't have time to go grocery shopping. "I know this place..." It was a small diner tucked away on 48th Street. I went there at least once a week, sometimes more frequently when Naomi was away.

"I'd like that." There was something in his voice that told me he really would like to have dinner with me. "Chief, can you talk about what happened tonight?"

"Sure. Why not? You'll read about it in the papers tomorrow anyway - no, it will be this morning, won't it?" Sam the reporter would bust a gut seeing he made his deadline. "Norbert Himmel. Age 25. Blond, hazel eyes. Homosexual. The body was half-on, half-off the john. There was a set of lips drawn on his forehead in bright red lipstick. And those bruises around his throat."

"How are you, Chief?" He sounded concerned. I liked that.

"I'm okay. Just really tired." I couldn't prevent a yawn. "Sorry. I'd better go. I wanted to hear your voice before I called it a night, though."

"I'm glad. I like hearing your voice too. It's... it's soothing."

"Thanks. I think." Something about my voice being soothing to him was like an itch at the back of my brain, trying to remind me of something, but then it was gone. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."

"'Night, Chief."

"G'night, Jim." I hung up the phone and glanced at the timer. I'd have about fifteen minutes. I went to take a quick shower.

I'd changed into flannel pajamas and was just coming into the kitchen when the timer went off just, a really annoying buzzing sound. I shut it off, took a potholder from its hook, and took the aluminum tray from the oven.

I removed the foil covering, and steam rose to warm my face. As I let it cool, I thought of all the ways Jim Ellison could say 'yes' to me. Yes, I'll suck your cock. Yes, I'll let you fuck me. Yes, I want you in my life forever...

I put a forkful of the TV dinner in my mouth, then spit it out and stared down at it in dismay. Salisbury steak? This was one of the TV dinners that Naomi preferred. What had I been thinking? No longer hungry, and in spite of the children who were starving in India or China, I dumped it into the garbage.

Then I turned off the kitchen light and went to bed.

****

I woke up with a fizzy feeling in my stomach, and it wasn't because I was starving. Something wonderful was going to happen today.

I was having dinner with Jim Ellison. Of course, he was coming down to the Precinct first, and I had no doubt the sketch artist would be able to come up with something.

I had two bowls of Frosted Flakes, thinking about him. I was hard.

I had time for a shower, and I jerked off under the warm spray. Was he cut, like me? Would he be hot and tight, squeezing my cock as I slowly fucked him?

I turned my face up to the spray and quickened my strokes. What would his skin taste like, his come?

I gasped and came harder than I had in a long while.

As I caught my breath and rinsed off, I realized that I hadn't sucked anyone since Toby in Peru. I wondered idly how he was and if he'd gotten his doctorate in anthropology. There was regret that I hadn't been able to continue that route myself, but it was very mild.

A glance at the clock told me that if I didn't step on it I was going to be late, so, in spite of feeling sated, I stepped on it.

I arrived at the One Five just as Joel and H were entering the elevator. They held it for me.

"What's up for today?"

"H, I want you to talk to the doorman who works days. Then see if Marc Addams is home. Maybe he can tell us where Maria Hernandez is. Joel... "

"Norbert's address book? I'm on top of it. I'll see if I can learn what company he works for and maybe stop there."

"Good idea." We split up. I sent the hair to be analyzed, then picked up my phone and called Riley.

"Sandman! I was just going to stop by to see you."

"What've you got?"

"A gorgeous print. Perfect in every way."

"Except?" I could tell from his tone of voice there was an 'except.'

"It's not on file."

"Fuck it!"

"Yeah. My precise thought. Well, I'm going home. I've been here since noon yesterday, and I'm beat."

"These murders always happen in the afternoon. Thanks, Riley."

"Don't mention it."

We hung up.

It would have been nice if the print had at least matched one lifted at the other crime scenes. This guy was too fucking smart.

Before the morning was out, I had Dan Wolf's autopsy notes on Joseph Bishop. I scanned them, shook my head, and went to see the Captain. His face darkened as I informed him of what I had found.

"Goddamn it! Sloppy. Slipshod. It's a good thing O'Neill is retiring. I'd have him riding a desk the rest of his time in the Department otherwise. All right. I'm pulling your team off all your other cases. See what else you can learn about this. I want this case solved before... "

"Yes, sir. I sent Brown to the building on Central Park West. He'll question the day doorman. Then I've asked him to talk to Marc Addams to see what he can learn about the cleaning lady."

"Taggart?"

"He has Norbert Himmel's address book, and he's talking to the people in it. McGaffney hasn't come in yet. He was supposed to see Lily Monroe yesterday... "

"McGaffney is not one of your men."

"No, sir, but Brown and Taggart were out trying to track down Maria Hernandez."

"Who? Oh, the cleaning lady. Yes. All right."

"Just one other thing, Cap? All three men are blond, although only the first two had blue eyes."

"So we've got a pattern here. Similar coloring, killed in a similar manner, and all three appear to be homosexual. All right." He ran his hand over his hair. "Keep me posted."

"Yes, sir." I went back into the squad room, letting out a relieved breath.

"Hey, Sandman! Phone call!"

My first thought was that it was Jim, calling because he couldn't wait until 4:30 to talk to me, and I couldn't stop grinning.

"Detective Sandburg."

"Bon jour, mon ami! Oh, from your tone of voice you are glad to hear from me! Comment ca va?"

"Excuse me?"

"C'est moi. 'Ow do you like my accent? My Maurice Chevalier - c'est si bon, n'est-ce pas?"

"I'm sorry. I don't understand French," I lied. Monaghan was staring at me, and I gave him the high sign that this call needed to be traced.

"Oh, I am disappointed, Blair."

"Hans?" Was he calling to inform me he'd strangled someone else?

"Oui, but I am feeling... pah! 'Ow do you say... " He was playing with me. "I am feeling verrry French today. Excusez-moi." He covered the phone, but I could hear him ordering brunch. I listened as hard as I could, hoping the man he was speaking to would say his name. No such luck. "Mon cher Blair, are you still there?"

"I'm still here. What do you want, Hans? Or should I call you Jacques?"

"Eh, but of course!"

"Or you could tell me your real name."

He laughed. "Non, mon ami. Non, et non, et non."

"Okay. It was worth a shot."

"You are tres mignon! How sad that we cannot meet in person."

"Yeah." I was cute? Was he flirting with me? I felt sick. "Suppose you tell me why you're calling today?" Please, not that someone else was dead. I felt sicker.

"I wanted to thank you for what you say about me in today's newspaper. This Sam Samuels, he is a good friend of yours, no?"

"No. Sam is just a reporter."

"Well, he say nice things about you. And he say nice things about me too. Ha - ha - ha."

"Does that mean you're going to call him from now on?" A glance at Monaghan let me know he was getting close.

"Jealous, mon cher detective? There is no need. Je suis toujours fidele de ma mode, cheri."

He was always true to me in his fashion? The son of a bitch was quoting Cole Porter to me? I ground my teeth.

"Anyway, I just called to tell you 'merci,' and to wish you a weekend of the most pleasant kind. I will be going away for a few days, and I promise to be a good boy."

"Wait a second!"

"Oui?"

"Uh... can you talk to me a little more? I really like hearing you talk. French accents have always turned me to mush." Jesus, what was I saying? "Uh... Where are you going?"

"Mais non. If I talk longer you will... 'ow do you say?... trace this call. I think not. Au revoir, mon cher Blair." He hung up.

"Monaghan?"

"No."

"Goddammit!"

"'French accents have always turned me to mush?'" He snickered.

"I was desperate to keep him on the line." I dropped the phone into its cradle.

He shook his head, and returned to his desk. "I'm glad my perps don't call me on the phone."

"I'm just so lucky." And my phone rang again. He was calling back to rub it in some more? "Listen to me, you..."

"Detective Sandburg?" The voice was hesitant. "You may not remember me. I talked to you last night. I'm..."

"Mr. Wagner. Yes." I took a couple of breaths and regained my cool. "What can I do for you?"

"You recognized my voice." He sounded pleased. "Might I... I'm in the City. I'd like to see you if you have some free time?"

"I can't tell you when your friend's body will be released."

"No, I already spoke to someone in the coroner's office, and it won't be for another few days. It's just... I need to talk to someone about Bert."

"What about his sister?"

"No. She has no idea... Please."

"Why me?"

"Last night, I couldn't help but notice that you were... you had sympathetic eyes."

"Where are you?"

"I'm in Grand Central Station."

"Okay." It was almost noon. "There's a Nedick's just past the shoeshine stand." I had a soft spot for Nedick's. The hotdog stands were all over the city, even in the boondocks of Queens. Naomi would sometimes treat me to them when I was little and she didn't have to work that night. The drinks were sweet enough to make our teeth ache, and it wasn't until Naomi had bought me an orange for Chanukah one year that I realized they didn't really taste orange, but that was what I ordered every time. "I'll meet you there in twenty minutes. We can grab lunch, and you can tell me what's on your mind."

"Twenty minutes. Okay. Thanks." He hung up.

McGaffney opened the door just as I reached for the knob. He looked tired.

"Are you okay?"

"O'Neill is a fucking idiot!"

"You won't get an argument about that from me, but why?"

"Bishop wasn't queer. At least not according to his fiancee. And what are you grinning at?"

"Our strangler made a mistake, Mac. He thought Bishop was queer, but it seems he was wrong. If he made one mistake, he's bound to make more."

"I'm so happy for you."

"What's up with you?"

"When they warn you about comforting the grieving widow, jesus, they weren't kidding!"

"Huh?"

"Lily Monroe. Fiancees are just as bad!"

"You had sex with her? But she works in a Catholic school."

"No matter, man. The woman was insatiable!"

"I'm sorry I asked you to... "

"Are you kidding? I'm seeing her again tonight!"

****

I had a funny feeling about Martin Wagner, but there was no way I could cancel my meeting with him. I caught a bus to 42nd and Park and found him waiting in Grand Central Station by the Nedick's stand. It was crowded with people trying to get a quick lunch.

"Sorry I'm late."

"I was afraid you weren't going to make it. Have you... uh... learned anything?"

"As I told you, I can't talk about the case, Mr. Wagner. Would you like a hotdog? They're very good."

"Oh. Uh... just one, please."

I ordered one dog with mustard and sauerkraut for each of us, and two orange drinks as well. A couple left a tall table toward the end of the counter, and I led the way to it before anyone else could claim it. I put my drink down and took a bite. The mustard was yellow, not as good as the hot mustard the Jewish delis usually had, but it was part of Nedick's ambience.

For a few minutes he concentrated on eating. He took small, neat bites, and chewed as if he were counting each one.

"So," I wiped my mouth with a paper napkin, "what's on your mind?"

He met my eyes. "Are you going to find Bert's killer?"

"I'll do my damnedest."

"You won't let the fact that he's... "

"What? Homosexual?"

"You knew? How?"

"I'm a detective. It's my job to find out things like that."

He took a sip of his drink and grimaced. "That's sweet!" He put the cup down and began to pick at the hotdog bun. "How did you know?"

The Tony Curtis posters were a dead giveaway, even before I'd seen the porn in his desk. "His parents were awfully fast to disown him."

"Mine would have done the same." This time he looked away. "We... when we were in high school ... "

"That picture of the two of you in the attic."

"He kept that? He told me he'd torn it up. Would... when this case is solved, would you give that back to me?"

"If you're claiming the body, I don't see why you shouldn't have that."

"Thank you." He took another sip and grimaced again.

"You want me to order you a root beer?"

"Excuse me? Oh, no. This is... " He couldn't lie and say it was fine. Instead, he pushed it away and licked his lips. "I broke it off, you know. He went away to college, Farleigh Dickinson, and when he came home for the Christmas break, he was so excited. All that freedom... He wanted me to come back with him, to live with him. I told him we had to stop."

"Did you tell him why?"

"No." His voice was low, and I had to lean forward to hear him. "How could I tell him I was a chicken shit? You see, someone we'd gone to school with... He was captain of the football team! Who would have thought? He was arrested for... well, you know. His family moved away in the middle of the night. I overheard my parents talking about it, about how unnatural it was, and disgusting, and... and how they'd never permit a child of theirs... I told Bert I didn't love him any more."

"I understand."

"You do?"

"It's not easy when you don't have the support of your family." It wasn't easy even if you did.

"You talk as if you know."

I wasn't about to discuss my sexuality with a stranger. "I'm a cop. I come across things like this - kids so heartbroken and alone they do anything for a little human warmth. A lot of times they wind up dead."

"I see." Maybe he did, but somehow I really didn't think so. "I... I guess... It was my fault. If I'd been stronger... "

"What happened?"

"He was so... unhappy. He went back to college after the break, and that was the last time he came home. He fell in with a crowd... They were older, wilder... He wrote me about in, in detail. Told me if I didn't want him, there were plenty... " He blinked rapidly. "His grades started slipping, and his parents drove down to the Metropolitan Campus to see what was going on. They learned he wasn't living in the dorm any more and managed to track him down. They never talked about it - I don't know where they found him, and he never told me what happened. All I know is that there was a confrontation, and they left. It sobered him. This time when he wrote me, he begged me to talk to them. I tried. Maybe if I'd tried harder... " He crumbled the remainder of his hotdog and looked around for a trash can.

I took it from him. "He sent a letter to them that was returned, apparently without ever being read. They cut off all contact with him?"

"Yes. Edie's parents told her she didn't have a brother any longer; I had just started dating her, and they told me if I ever brought up his name again, they would forbid her to see me. They packed up everything of his and left it on the curb." His laugh was bitter. "If they'd given it a moment's thought - what the neighbors would think was always a big concern of theirs - I don't think they would have gone quite so far, but maybe not. Edie and I brought everything into my parents' garage, and I was the one who sent it to the college."

"He had a picture of the two of you - Edie and you - in his wallet."

His breath caught. "Edie sent it to him. I wasn't sure he got it. I hoped he hadn't. He'd dropped out of college around that time." I reached for a napkin, and he rested his hand on mine and rubbed his thumb over my knuckles. "Maybe if I had... "

"There were a number of things you could have done but didn't. What you did do was call me." I freed my hand. "Why?"

"I wanted... " He flushed.

"Did you think you could... " We were surrounded by the lunchtime crowd, and I bit back my words. Did he think he could make a pass at me, and I wouldn't knock his block off?

"Last night you were so empathetic. You just looked so... "

My looks and height. I'd had to be twice as aggressive at the Academy and in my first few months at the One Five. The teasing had been malicious, but after I'd challenged a few cops to a couple of rounds in the ring in the gym and mopped the mat with them, it eased off.

"You've got a girlfriend."

"She's as close to Bert as I could acceptably get. He had hazel eyes, but they changed color depending on what he wore. When he wore blue... Edie's eyes are the same shade." He bit his lip and looked away. "You don't think much of me, do you, Detective Sandburg? I just... I'm so lonely."

"What does that have to do with me?"

"You're so... " He glanced around, cleared his throat, and changed what he'd been going to say. "I apologize. I wanted to know... How was he living? Who were his friends? Was he happy?"

"He had a nice apartment, and I was told he worked in the Garment District. As for his friends - We have his address book, and one of my men is looking into that."

"But was he happy?"

I shrugged. He was lonely enough to open his door to a total stranger.

"What will happen to the contents of Bert's apartment?"

"That depends on whether he had a will."

"What 25 year old has a will?"

"In that case, I think it would go to his next of kin. Since his parents have shown no interest in him," and probably had even less interest in his things, "that would be his sister, but I'm not a lawyer, and I'd suggest consulting one."

"All right." He sighed. "I guess... I just need to know that Bert won't be written off again."

"I'll find the man who did this, and I'll make sure he goes to jail for it." I shoved my cuff back and checked my watch. "I have to get back to work. Look. It's not my place to give advice, but... don't hurt Norbert's sister. It's not her fault that she isn't him."

"I know."

"I hope you find the answers to your questions, Mr. Wagner."

"So do I." He looked at me wistfully. "Thank you for lunch."

"You're welcome." I disposed of the trash and left.

****

The bottom drawer of my desk was my home away from home. In it were things I kept in case I needed to work a double shift or go to court at a moment's notice - a spare shirt in the plastic wrapper from the dry cleaners, an electric shaver, a travel-size toothbrush and toothpaste.

At 4:05 I clocked out and went to the men's room to freshen up. I pulled off my shirt and undershirt and dropped them over the radiator. I ran the electric shaver over my cheeks and jaws, thought about slapping on some aftershave, but for some reason it didn't seem like a good idea and I decided not to, then I brushed my teeth. I blew into my palm and inhaled.

Minty-fresh.

I did a quick wash, wet a comb and slicked it through my hair in an attempt to tame the curls, removed the shirt from the wrapper, and put it on.

Lieutenant Dawson, who worked nights, pushed open the door and walked in. He looked me over. "Getting ready for a date, Sandman?" He went to the urinal and unzipped his fly.

I fastened the cuffs. "I've got a possible potential witness coming in to talk to George." I buttoned the front of my shirt, freed my tie from the other shirt, and threaded it through my collar.

"'Possible potential'?"

"Yeah. He saw someone with my murder victim. If he can give George a description, we may be able to track this guy down and get a new lead."

"And that's why you're getting all spiffed up?" Dawson zipped himself up, flushed, and went to wash his hands.

"I'm just taking him to Nana's Kitchen. As a form of 'thank you' from the NYPD."

"And that's why you shaved and put on a clean shirt?" Dawson was grinning. He knew that by the end of shift I usually sported a pretty heavy 5 o'clock shadow.

"Can't have Major Crimes presenting a sloppy image."

"Nana's Kitchen, hmmm? Not Rosie's?"

"Rosie tends to spice her foods a bit too much."

"Huh?"

Huh? I couldn't explain where that came from. I changed the subject. "Thanks for going down to Maryland. Notifying the family is one of the worst parts of this job."

"Don't mention it. Those poor people. I felt sorry for them. They couldn't understand how something like that could have happened to their son. Well, I've got a drug bust to see about. Good luck getting that sketch."

"Good luck yourself."

We left the men's room together. He headed for the elevator that would take him to the lobby and out, and I returned to the squad room to stuff my things into my bottom drawer. I'd take the shirt and undershirt home some night when I didn't have a date.

****

It was 4:29, and I was pacing the lobby of the Precinct. The Captain came out of the elevator and glanced at the clock on the wall.

"You're still here, Sandburg?"

"I'm waiting for a possible witness to show up."

"Possible?"

"Well, he saw someone with my first victim." It did sound pretty thin. I shrugged. "We have a first name, but that's all. He's going to talk to George. Maybe we'll get a likeness. If we do, and if I can find him, we might have a lead."

"Okay, okay. You're not getting paid overtime for this, though. Bookkeeping is unhappy enough I okayed it the other night."

"No, sir." I could see a tux beneath his overcoat. "Are you going to that event at City Center?"

"Yeah," he growled. "If my wife wasn't on the same committee as the Commissioner's wife... "

"Enjoy the food, sir."

"Not likely. Good luck, Sandburg."

"Thank you, sir."

He left. And then the door swung open, and Jim walked in. He was wearing an overcoat. March had been bouncing back and forth between spring and winter, and it paid to be prepared. He was also wearing black jeans that clung to his lower legs.

His face lit up when he saw me. "Hi, Chief. I'm not late, am I?"

"Jim. Hi." I lost myself in his eyes. He had such beautiful eyes, burning with the promise of passion.

We were together on a mat in some jungle hut - the sweat beading on our bodies caused not only by the humidity of the rainforest but by the bout of lovemaking that had been so intense we'd been on the verge of passing out...

"Chief?"

I shook myself out of my daze. "No, you're not late."

"Good." He smiled, and took off his overcoat. I couldn't prevent a low wolf whistle. I lost myself again.

He was crouched above my supine body, rising and falling, fucking himself on my cock...

I swallowed. Damn. I had to stop doing that.

"Chief?" His eyes were hot, burning hot, as if he knew... But that was impossible. He couldn't know how turned on I was. "Who do I need to see?"

"George. He's our sketch artist." I swallowed. Jim was looking a little flushed, but I didn't think to wonder about that just then. "His office is right this way."

I took his arm, and he smiled as if his fondest wish was being granted.

****

"I'm sorry that I couldn't help your sketch artist, Chief. Not to say 'I told you so,' but..."

"I know. You did say something along those lines." We had left the Precinct and were walking through the rush hour crowd. "Well, George was able to sketch in some details. We've got a rough idea of the shape of his face, the distance between his eyes, where his ears are placed on his head... "

'He was called 'Randy Beautiful', you know,' he'd told me of the man at whose funeral we'd met, as we entered George's tiny office. 'Beautiful face, beautiful hair, beautiful body... '

I'd wanted to kill a dead man.

' .... and a soul to rival Dorian Gray's.'

And I'd still wanted to kill him.

"Do you think finding Chris will give you some idea of who the murderer is?"

"I hope. Maybe Chris saw our killer in the hallway. In the elevator. Coming into the building as he left." I felt as if I were clutching at straws.

We'd checked with both the night doorman, who told H that the deceased had a habit of bringing men up to his apartment, and the day man, who had seen no one except the cleaning lady go up to that floor.

Where was the cleaning lady?

H hadn't been able to question Addams about her - the doorman had reluctantly told H he'd left for Palm Beach earlier that morning. He'd tried Maria Hernandez's apartment once more, but the people there suddenly couldn't understand his Spanish.

"Randy always came home after Gene left for the day."

"That would explain why he couldn't describe any of your friend's... boyfriends."

"I guess." Jim stopped suddenly, looking around. He rubbed the back of his neck, and his expression was tense.

"Jim? Is something wrong?"

"No. Uh... no." But it took a minute or so for him to relax. "So what does this tell us, Chief?"

"Maybe Chris looks like you?"

"I didn't think so, and I saw him, remember."

"Hmmm. Oh, we're here." Nana's Kitchen. No one knew her real name, but she looked like everyone's grandmother, and she cooked the way they were supposed to. We entered the diner, and I led him to my usual booth situated at the back. I hoped he'd like the food here. I was thinking of bringing him back again and again.

It crossed my mind that I was unusually relaxed with him. I'd never met anyone I'd connected with so quickly. Sure, there were the guys I'd had sex with, but I'd never considered taking them home, making love to them in my bed. Having Naomi meet them.

Guiding them...

I nearly tripped over my own feet.

"Are you okay, Chief?"

"Uh... yeah. Sure." I took off my overcoat and hung it up on the hook on my side of the booth.

Jim did the same, and I started salivating. He was wearing black jeans and a turtleneck that seemed to caress the muscles of his torso. He wasn't wearing an undershirt, and his nipples were visible.

It wasn't cold in Nana's. That meant he was aroused. My cock twitched.

Nancy, the waitress who always served me, came over, and we ordered two beers. I was pleased when Jim, unknowing, ordered the same brand of beer that I drank.

I waited until she left to pick up the thread of our conversation. I wanted to get it out of the way so I could concentrate on him.

"There could have been a resemblance that wasn't apparent to you, Jim. From the back? The side? At a distance?"

For a second I thought he was going to argue with me, but then he blinked. "You might have a valid point, Chief. Jeff said Randy had hired him a few times."

"Jeff?"

"I was talking to him at the wake before I got cornered by the Dick Man. Richard Lee. Anyway, Jeff and I look a little alike."

"I noticed." I'd had the impression after watching them at the wake the other night that they were friends, but nothing more. "He's good-looking. Just not as good-looking as you."

"Oh. Thank you." He sounded surprised. Didn't he realize how attractive he was?

"You're welcome." I grinned at him and reached across the table to cover the back of his hand. Jim turned his hand over, and we were palm to palm. I curled my fingertips against the lightly calloused skin, and he shivered.

"So... um... what do you do now?"

"We need to fill in the time between when the doorman saw them enter the building and when his neighbor... " I suddenly wondered if he knew the neighbor.

"Marc."

"Right." How well did he know him? "We need to find out how much time passed until Marc called us."

He didn't ask me why we needed to know this. He just sat waiting patiently.

"The thing is, the bastard who did this took his time, Jim."

He turned pale, and I felt my gut clench. Did he still care for the dead man? Then I realized how what I'd said must have sounded.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I don't mean he took a long time killing him. He... Your friend was killed in the living room, then dragged into the bathroom and posed."

He looked relieved. "Thanks, Chief."

"Norbert Himmel was posed the same way. I want to talk to this Chris. The odds are he wasn't there when the murderer came knocking on the door, but I want to talk to him anyway."

Nancy returned and placed the beers on the table. "Would you like to order?"

"Oh... " We'd been so wrapped up in the conversation he hadn't had a chance to look at the menu.

"Jim? If you trust me, I'll order." I gave him what I hoped was my most winning smile.

"I trust you, Chief." He touched his tongue to his upper lip and smiled at me from under his lashes.

I was suddenly hard, and I shifted. It was a good thing the angle of the table concealed my lap. His smile broadened as if he knew. But how could he know?

Nancy was tapping her pencil against her pad.

"We'll have two turkey dinners." That was the special tonight, but it was good any night, and it wasn't excessively spicy. I blinked. Why was I worrying about the amount of spices in Jim's food? "Uh... Baked potato, Jim?" He nodded. "And house salad with French dressing."

"I'll have a Caesar salad."

"I'll put this in and have your salads in just a few."

"Thanks, Nancy. Caesar salad, Jim?" I hoped Nana left out the anchovies. I raised my glass, thinking maybe I'd like to propose a toast to us, then thinking maybe that was silly, and I took a sip.

"Just because I let you order everything else - I don't want you thinking I'm easy."

The thought of him being easy... I swallowed wrong, choked and gasped, and the beer went up my nose.

"Sorry, Chief."

"Never mind." I pulled out a handkerchief, mopped my eyes, and blew my nose. He looked so rueful I wanted to pull him over the table and kiss him silly.

While I was catching my breath, he said, "Y'know, there's something that's been bothering me. If Chris had left, if Randy was alone, he wouldn't have let anyone he didn't know into the penthouse."

"What? That's... "

"Cautious?" He knew as well as I that living in New York could tend to make a person cautious. "That was just the way he was."

"You knew him pretty well, didn't you?" I wanted to know more about him. Was I being too obvious? The only person I'd ever known well, aside from Naomi, had been Butch, and that had been a long time ago.

"Well enough." He looked away.

I wasn't going to push him. We really hadn't known each other too long, and I didn't want to come across as - well, pushy.

When I didn't comment, he said in a rush, "We lived together for about six months. I left him last August."

"I guess it wasn't love then." That pleased me. He wouldn't be on the rebound when he came to my bed.

"No. I thought... No." He looked so lost, and I wanted to comfort him, but Nancy arrived with a basket of rolls cradled on an arm and our salads in her hands.

"Thanks, Nance."

"Welcome." She grinned.

"Oh, waitress!"

"Yes, ma'am?" She winked at me and hurried off.

"So, the man who killed him could have been someone he knew?"

"Maybe. I know a lot of people weren't fond of Randy, but that doesn't mean they'd kill him."

"Why not?" I forced myself to stop watching his mouth and forked up a bite of salad.

"His crowd wasn't likely to get physical. Not like that. Well, you saw Richard Lee."

"He looked like he was all set to knock you down." And jump all over him. Was Jim unaware of how much Lee wanted him?

"Nah. As soon as he saw I was ready to face him, he'd have backed down." He was so confident. I was sorry now I had stepped between them. I would have liked to see Jim pop him one. I tuned back in to what he was saying. "And the people Randy hung with... they'd throw a glass of red wine over his favorite suit, they'd say something derogatory about the art he collected, but they wouldn't resort to physical violence. And none of them would strangle him."

"You don't think?"

"No. Sorry." Again that rueful smile that made me want to have my wicked way with him.

Nancy returned. "Are you finished?" I was surprised to see my salad was gone. "Your dinners will be right out."

"Thank you." I selected a roll and started buttering it. "Anyway, we'll keep looking for Chris." I looked up to find his eyes fastened on my hands. I felt a flush cover my body.

His lips were parted, and he looked as if he couldn't catch his breath. Was he imaging how my hands would feel on his body? What we could do with butter?

I put the roll down and reached for my beer. What had I been saying? It took me a second to regain my train of thought. I cleared my throat and told him about Joseph Bishop, the man O'Neill had written off and whose case he'd let grow cold.

"You think this man may have been one of the killer's victims?"

"Yeah. Even without the lipstick kiss on his forehead, the murders are too similar. And he was killed on Valentine's Day."

"Maybe the killer was practicing?"

"That would be just peachy." I growled under my breath but didn't say anything aloud. If he was practicing, how long would it take for him to get it right? How many more men would die?

Jim looked up sharply. I raised an eyebrow, and he smiled, but there was no mirth in it - it was just a twitch of his cheek muscles. I was about to ask him what was wrong, but our dinners arrived, and we began to eat.

****

It was a nice dinner. Jim ate slowly at first, but once he tasted Nana's tender tom turkey, he tucked into it with enthusiasm. In between bites he told me about growing up in Washington State.

"My father didn't want me once he realized I was queer. He sent me to a military academy to have it drilled out of me. It didn't work." He smiled, but I could see the regret in his eyes. "After I graduated, I came East."

If he had brought up the topic of being a hustler, I would have told him about the time I'd spent as an escort. But he didn't, so I didn't either.

I told him about growing up in Manhattan, about opening johnny pumps on hot summer days and cooling in the blast of water, of spending afternoons on 'tar beach,' the roofs of the buildings we lived in. And in the winters, sliding down the huge mounds of snow the plows would clear off the streets and leave piled on the corners.

"I wish I'd known you then, Chief. We could have... " He flushed and licked his lips.

"Yeah. We could have." I leaned my elbow on the table, moving a blueberry around on the plate while I smiled at him. The way he was looking at me had me at a simmer that was threatening to switch to a rolling boil in a split second.

"You've got ice cream at the corner of your mouth, Chief."

"Yeah?" I licked at it, making a production of it. I wanted to kiss him. I knew that under the table his legs were spread. We'd been playing footsie throughout dessert. The toe of his shoe had edged up under the leg of my trousers. I couldn't reach that far, but I could rub the side of my foot up and down his leg.

Jim's smile told me he wouldn't object if I decided to lean over this table and kiss him. I thought it might be a better idea to get him out of there.

Maybe I should ask him if he wanted to pay a visit to the men's room. That was something chicks usually did, although not because they wanted to make out, but if it got me somewhere private with him, I didn't much care.

I was about to call Nancy for the check when she rushed to our booth.

"Blair, you're wanted on the phone. It's Lieutenant Dawson."

"I'll be right back, Jim." I edged out of the booth.

"No rush, Chief." He was still smiling.

I grinned and sauntered to the front of the diner, knowing he'd be watching my ass, and took the phone.

"Sandburg." I leaned against the counter and gazed back at Jim. God, the man was a pleasure to look at.

"I'm sorry to interrupt your dinner, Blair."

"What's going on?"

"We've got a problem. A phone call came in from the doorman of that building on 74th."

I straightened and turned away. "Not another body?"

"Unfortunately. In the same penthouse apartment, strangled. You mentioned going to Nana's Kitchen, so I gave it a shot that you'd still be there."

"How the... " I lowered my voice and gave the woman behind the register an apologetic smile. I was in a public place. "How could that happen? Who was assigned to watch that apartment?"

"No one. The Cap had to pull everyone off after Himmel was murdered."

"Why?"

"Someone in the management company knows someone in the Commissioner's office. The official word is that it wasn't necessary, that our resources were spread too thin, but the truth of the matter is they didn't want cops hanging around. It wouldn't look good."

"So the result is that someone else is killed. Do we know who?"

"Not yet. I've called in Taggart and Brown and sent them to the scene. There are some uniformed officers also in case things get more strange."

"More strange?"

"Oh, yeah. This has been a night... About twenty minutes before the doorman called, a really weird phone call came into Major Crimes. It was for you."

My stomach began to churn, and I regretted that last forkful of blueberry pie. "A weird phone call? For me?" I felt like an echo. "Who was it? Hans? Jacques?"

"Who? No, the caller identified herself as Mrs. Roosevelt. She wanted to talk to you, and believe me, she was royally pissed off that I was the only one available. Then she apologized. Said she'd promised you she was going to be good, but she's broken her word and been a bad girl. I thought she was a nut job, you know?"

"Oh, man, this is not good!"

"She said when you found out what she'd done, you were to note that her latest handiwork was up to her previous standards."

"This is really not good. Okay. I'll get right over there."

"I'd better track down the Cap."

"I saw him earlier. He and Mrs. Haines are at a function at City Center."

"Thanks. Listen, call us as soon as you know anything. If this is more work of your Strangler... "

"If the body is on the john and has a kiss on his forehead... I'll let you know as soon as I know, Lieutenant."

We hung up, and I went back to the booth. Nancy was standing there, smiling at Jim.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I have to go." I took the check from her and gave her some bills for her tip.

"Thanks, Blair." She tucked them away in her apron pocket.

"You're welcome."

I went back to the front of the restaurant and handed the check to the woman behind the counter.

"How was everything?"

"Great. As usual. Tell Nana, okay?"

The woman beamed. "She'll be so happy to hear that."

"Chief?" Jim was holding my coat. I hadn't even remembered it. He wouldn't let me take it, just held it by the shoulders. I'd seen Uncle Asher do that for Aunt Rebecca. Naomi had never kept company with anyone classy like that. I felt myself blush.

"Thanks, Jim."

"Was there another murder?"

"Yeah. Another strangulation." I told him where, and his eyes narrowed.

"Can I go with you?"

"Just don't touch anything," I ordered, but I was thinking of something else.

'Your strangler,' Dawson had called him. I had to find this guy and stop him.

****

We dodged the press and got into the building. Four officers were scattered around the lobby. They nodded, and I returned their greeting.

Jim and I crossed the lobby to the express elevator that would go to the 50th floor. I took the key from the officer standing there, and we entered the car.

Alone at last. Jim's expression was hungry, and I licked my lips and took a step toward him. The trip to 50 would be long enough for me to finally kiss him. Before I could get close enough to put an arm around him and bring his head down for our first kiss, he frowned.

"Shit!"

"What's wrong, Jim?"

"There's a smell in this elevator... " His brow furrowed in concentration.

"What is it?" I couldn't smell anything.

"It's a man's cologne. Men's cologne," he corrected. "I've smelled them both recently. One under the other. I just can't... "

Something nagged at the back of my mind, and it seemed closer than it ever had been, but again it was gone. I took the opportunity to get my hands on him. The muscles of his back were tense under my hands, and I stroked them, trying to get them to loosen up.

"Don't concentrate on trying to identify them, Jim. Relax. Maybe that will help it come to you."

"Chief... "

The elevator arrived on 50, and the door slid open.

"We'll talk about it later, Jim. Will you be okay going in?" I'd seen cops collapse and coroners upchuck at a scene, and they hadn't been involved personally with the victim. I made myself let him go, even though I didn't want to.

"Why wouldn't I be?" He stepped out of the elevator, taking some breaths.

"This was a former... boyfriend's... apartment, he was killed in it, and you haven't been here since last August." After what happened in the elevator, I was a little worried about him.

"Ah, Chief. I'll be fine."

"Let me know if it's a problem."

He gave me a sweet smile. "I will."

"Damn right you will." This was turning out to be one hell of a first date. "Come on, let's get this show on the road." I crossed the foyer with Jim beside me and grinned. "Officer Dolan."

"Detective Sandburg. It's good to see you again."

"Same here."

We exchanged pleasantries for a minute or so, and then as he opened the door for us he said, "By the way, how's Mrs. Sandburg?"

"She's doing better, thanks." I glanced at Jim in time to see all expression wipe off his face. What... ? "The new medication seems to be helping. She's gone out to San Francisco to visit my cousin Franklin."

"Give her my best the next time you talk to her."

"Thanks, I will."

We entered the penthouse and I opened my mouth to ask what was wrong. Jim slammed the door shut and scowled at me.

"Are you married, Chief?"

"Married? Me?" I started to laugh - I'd never looked at a girl, not even when I'd worked at the Starlight Lounge - until I saw he was serious. "No! How could you think that?"

"Officer Dolan, who wants to know how Mrs. Sandburg is?" Jim really seemed upset, and he was winding up a good head of steam. "You've been flirting with me, and... "

"Mrs. Sandburg is my mother."

"She is?"

"Yes. All the guys know about Naomi and kid me about Mrs. Sandburg, because I'm 28 and not married. Listen, Jim. I've done some things... well, we can talk about that another time. But I'd never marry a woman, knowing I prefer men."

He looked embarrassed, but under it, relieved. "I'm sorry, Chief. I've been involved with men who swore they were single but turned out to be married."

I had also when I'd worked as an escort. It hadn't mattered because neither my heart nor my emotions had been at risk, but...

"I wouldn't do that to anyone I wanted to date. Most especially, I wouldn't do that to someone I want a relationship with, Jim."

"You... " He looked as if he couldn't catch his breath. Finally he said, "Okay. I'm sorry."

"Stop saying that. I can understand if you've been burned before. Now, come on. Joel and H are going to think I stopped to have my wicked way with you." And god knew they'd have a ball teasing me about it.

"'H'?"

"Henri Brown. He's the other detective who's working with me on this case." I realized he wasn't behind me. "Jim?" The grin I had been aiming at him disappeared as I saw him double over. I grabbed him before he could collapse and eased him down to his knees, petting his neck and shoulders. "Jim! What's wrong?"

"The smell, Chief!"

"Try to relax, Jim." Again I smelled nothing out of the ordinary. The only thing I could think of was the odor of death, and we weren't close enough to the bathroom to pick up on it. Right then I needed to have Jim get his sense of smell under control. "Let it wash over you."

He closed his eyes and clapped his hand over his mouth, and I could feel his shoulders heave.

"Okay, that's not working." Suddenly, from out of nowhere, I had an idea. I made him look at me. "Try this. Picture the dial on a television. You're on Channel 13. Gradually change the channels, 11, 9, keep going down toward 2."

I held him and stroked his cheeks, his hair, his shoulders, his neck, and I could feel him calming down, getting himself under control once more.

"How are you doing?"

"Better. Thanks, Chief." He kept leaning against me, and I kept petting him. Megan was right. His hair was soft, and I liked the way it felt against my palm. "That helped; you have no idea how that helped."

"Jim? What happened?"

"The smell was overpowering. It's British Sterling, Chief. That's the cologne Richard always wears - wore. He called it his signature scent."

"He's here? What's he doing here?"

"What was he doing here. He's dead, Chief."

"What? But how... " I felt my jaw drop. "You could smell it!" I started to get excited. Could this mean...

"We'd better get to our feet."

"All right, but why? I like holding you like this."

"I like it too, but we're going to have company."

We were? I released him, and we had no sooner risen to our feet then Joel walked in. There had to be a reason Jim knew this. I pushed it out of my mind for the time being.

"Blair. I thought I heard voices. I'm glad you got here." For a second he seemed surprised to see Jim, and then he grinned broadly. "Hi, Mr. Ellison."

"Detective Taggart."

"H is still talking to the doorman, Blair. He's seen the victim before, but he never got the name."

"Have you ID'd the victim?"

"Yeah. Wallet in the inner pocket of his suit jacket. Richard Lee. Age 33."

I stared at Jim. "You knew."

He nodded. He was turning pale again. I grabbed his hand and stroked his forearm, and after a few seconds, he seemed better. He squeezed my hand and relaxed, and I let him go. Reluctantly.

Joel watched with his jaw hanging. He met my eyes, shook his head, and said, "The thing is, we've got a victim with the wrong coloring." He gave me the ID card.

I scanned the information. "Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck!" There went our beautiful theory right out the window.

"Yeah. That's what we said when we saw him."

Jim looked from Joel back to me. "What am I missing, Chief?"

"We thought our boy was going for light-eyed blonds"

"But Richard... oh, yes. I see. Richard has red hair and dark brown eyes."

Joel frowned. "Yeah. Wait'll the Cap hears about this."

I rubbed my hand over my face. "So. Has our killer changed his MO? Do we have another killer, a copycat? And did anyone call the coroner?"

"H did, Blair. Dan Wolf is working tonight. He's on his way."

"He always seems to get these bodies. Okay. I've got to assess the scene, Jim. Stay here."

"No problem, Chief." He smiled at me. This had to be one of the strangest first dates he'd ever had, but he smiled at me anyway.

I smiled back at him, then turned to follow Joel.

****

"This is a shitty situation, Joel."

"Tell me about it. It's one step forward, two steps back."

"What've we got?" We walked down the corridor.

"Someone called the doorman around 7 PM and told him to check out this apartment."

"Dawson didn't tell me that."

"I'm not sure that he knew. The doorman was still pretty shook up when we got here. According to the him, the caller spoke with an English accent." He lowered his voice. "I'm thinking it was your 'friend'."

H was standing outside the bedroom. Beside him was the reason for Joel's discretion - a lanky man whose uniform made him look like something out of an operetta: royal blue jacket and trousers, gold epaulettes on the shoulders, gold buttons down the front and along the cuffs, and thick gold braid everywhere else.

"Blair, this is Mr. Barat. He's the night doorman."

"Mr. Barat."

"Detective." He looked pale, and his eyes kept darting around, avoiding the bedroom door and what lay in the bathroom beyond it.

"I appreciate you staying. Detective Brown has your statement, but we may need to speak to you again."

"Yes, sir. I'm here every night during the week, and the detective has my home address and phone number. Do you need me for anything else?"

"That phone log you told me about?" H reminded him. He'd learned when he'd first spoken to the doormen that the management company insisted that every phone call made to the building be logged in a book kept at the doorman's kiosk.

"I'll have it ready for you when you come down, Detective Brown."

"Thank you, Mr. Barat. You can go now."

****

We went through the bedroom. Riley was dusting for prints again, and he looked irritated in a major way.

"How's Stephens doing?"

"You don't see him here, do you?" he snapped.

"Oookay." I noticed the dark circles under his eyes. He'd been working double shifts since Monday, and with his partner out, he'd been on his own. "Have you found anything?"

"Only that this goddammed drawer was open. The problem is - whoever opened it wore some kind of gloves." He turned back to his work, and we walked into the bathroom.

I could barely recognize Richard Lee. His looks were marred by the violence of death. He was posed on the john, and his arms hung limply at his sides. On his forehead was a vivid red kiss. I felt my stomach knot.

"We'll need Dan to give us the exact time, but I'm guessing he hasn't been dead long. Lieutenant Dawson said the Cap had to pull our men off after Norbert was killed."

"So it had to be sometime between then and when the doorman got that phone call."

I crouched beside the body. "It doesn't look as if rigor has set yet, so that narrows the window quite a bit. Does... did he work? Did the doorman see him come up here? Did the other tenants on this floor run into him in the elevator?" And what the fuck was he doing here?

"The odor isn't as bad as on Monday." H was writing my questions in his notebook. "And it seems less than last night."

Joel touched my shoulder. "How long do you think our strangler would give himself to get away before he called?"

I straightened and shrugged. "Depends if he was feeling cocky or not. He could have left just before he made that call. Or just after. Riley!"

"You taking my name in vain?" He poked his head in the door.

"I want the phones in this place dusted for prints. The bastard may have called from here."

"Don't teach your grandma how to suck eggs. I'd planned on doing that, and the bedroom is already done. This is gonna be fun. There are phones in every goddamn room except the bathrooms!"

"I wouldn't bet on that!" H opened what had appeared to be an abstract piece of art beside the john to reveal a cubby hole, and pulled out a shelf. On it was a gold-colored telephone.

Riley went back into the bedroom to get his equipment, swearing under his breath. When he returned, he snarled, "Out."

We left him to it.

"I'll see if I can find anything in that drawer that might give us some idea why it was left open."

"Good idea, H. Joel." I nodded toward the bedroom door, and he followed me. "What I want to know is why the fuck no one was watching this apartment? The scene wasn't released."

"No. And the Management not wanting cops in their building - that's bullshit."

"Yeah. Someone wanted to be able to enter this apartment without us being aware of it."

"Blair, you got another call from your 'friend'. You think it might be him?"

"I dunno. One thing. He's smart. But not as smart as he likes to think he is."

We entered the living room.

The doorman was standing next to Jim. "I'd better get back to work. It was good seeing you again, Mr. Ellison."

"Same here, Dave. Take it easy." Jim was staring at me.

"Detectives." The doorman left.

Joel nudged my shoulder. "What about our killer, Blair?"

"This bastard likes to use accents." Jim was watching my mouth. He touched his tongue to his lip, and I wanted to touch my tongue to his lip. "That... uh... that German one - I almost expected him to say, 'I know nothing!' If no one knew that Richard Lee was dead, he would be in that bathroom, decomposing for more than a week, because according to the doorman, no one is coming here until next week. Our boy wouldn't get any acknowledgment, and that's what he wants."

"So he calls the doorman, and this time he imitates Cary Grant." Joel was impatient. "Dave the doorman comes up and finds Mr. Lee propped on the john; we get the call, and his work is duly noted."

"I'd be surprised if he doesn't expect a front page headline and page 2 and 3 as well."

"What I don't get is why The Strangler came back here? And why was Mr. Lee here?"

That was the $64,000 question. "Jim, can you shed any light on that?"

"No. Sorry. I don't know what's happened since I left." He appeared edgy.

"What about before you left?"

"Someone's coming."

It seemed like a non sequitur until we heard the front door open.

Dan Wolf walked in, and Joel looked at Jim as if he'd never seen him before. "How'd you know that?"

Jim shifted uncomfortably and hunched a shoulder, but said nothing.

"Sorry to call you out, Dan."

"The night shifts are murder. No pun intended. He's in the bathroom?" He sighed and shook his head. "You don't have to show me; I know the way." He went down the corridor.

Jim looked puzzled.

"He was the coroner for your friend," I told him. "Joel, see if he needs any help? I'll be right with you." I couldn't wait to get him out of the room. I really needed to talk to Jim.

"Henri's there. He can help."

"Yeah, well, you can help too." I felt as if I were mentally pushing him out of the room.

Joel looked from me to Jim and back again, and left, muttering something under his breath. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what he was saying.

"I'd better go, Chief." Jim's face was flushed, and I had the feeling he was stressed. "You're going to be busy."

"That's an understatement. But I want to talk to you for a second. Sit down, okay?"

"Chief, there really isn't anything I can tell you about Randy's life after I left him." He sat on the couch and picked at the seam of his jeans. "And before... He got tired of hearing me complain about... about stuff."

"'Stuff'?" I sat beside him. "Jim, you were able to identify the odor of Richard Lee's cologne."

"Well, not until I got in here."

"Yeah, but you knew you'd smelled it before when we were in the elevator. Was that some of the stuff that was bothering you?"

He looked away.

"There's something else I've been noticing, Jim - you respond to things that no one else seems to be aware of. You knew Joel was coming from the master bedroom, that Dan was here before he walked into the apartment. Have you found that any of your other senses are becoming overactive?"

"No." He rose and walked away, then abruptly returned to me, defeat in every line of his body. "Chief... Do you know how hard it is to find clothes that don't feel like sandpaper against my skin?" He was so distressed it almost broke my heart. "I've had to search all over the Tri-State area! I saw a bank robber in a shadowed doorway load his gun and tuck it into his belt before crossing the street to enter the bank. I hardly ever eat in restaurants any more because I worry about everything I put into my mouth. Once the chef... " He shuddered. "I can't even stand to think about it!"

"But tonight... ?"

"Blair, I wanted to go out with you so badly, and I... I trusted you not to take me someplace that would have my taste buds going up in flames. Don't ask me why. It just made sense..."

He is the one!

"Jim!" It was as if a door that had been locked in my mind was slowly cracking open. I jumped up and did a little pacing of my own. "This could mean... "

Jim looked anxious. He probably thought I was losing my mind. I took his hand and stroked my fingertips over his wrist and palm, somehow knowing this would center both of us.

"Have you ever heard of Richard Burton?"

"Who hasn't?" For a second I was afraid he would pull free, but then he tightened his hold on my hand, and I was relieved. "I saw him last year in The Taming of the Shrew. Liz was pretty good in it too. A little plump, but that might have been the costume."

"No, I'm talking about Richard Burton the explorer."

"What about him?"

"I found a monograph of his in the library on 42nd Street. It was over seventy-five years old, and I practically had to promise my first born in order to get a look at it."

"Why were you looking at monographs in the public library?"

"Oh, see, I was an anthropology major when I was in college. Anyway, that Richard Burton postulated that primitive tribes had what he termed sentinels, watchmen who were chosen because of a genetic advantage - they had enhanced senses. They kept a look-out for game, listened for the approach of enemies, felt the change in the weather. The survival of the tribe depended on these people, Jim."

"So what are you saying?"

"Jim, I think you're a sentinel!"

"Why? Because I recognized the Dick Man's British Sterling?"

"Among other things." I thought of the times he'd looked at me as if he'd known I was aroused, and I shivered.

"A lot of men wear that cologne. And as Dave told you, Randy brought a lot of men up to his apartment. It didn't have to be Richard."

"Don't bust my hump, Jim. You were positive it was him, and you knew he was dead. Face it. You hear things. Your skin is hyper-sensitive. Your taste buds are acting up. You see things... "

"So what if I do? What good does this do me?" Why was he being so stubborn?

"Nothing right now, but maybe - maybe, Jim - together we can find a way to explore this thing with your senses!" Didn't he realize what an amazing thing this could be?

"Blair! Holy mother of god!" Joel sounded... I'd never heard him so taken aback. "Get your ass in here!"

"Promise me you'll think about it," I begged him.

"Sandburg!"

"You'd better go see what has Taggart in a tizzy. He's muttering about coming in here and getting you."

"Dammit."

"I'll think about the sentinel thing. I promise." He got to his feet, and I rose as well.

"I'll call you if I don't get home too late."

"Call anyway, Chief. I'll be waiting." He ran his fingers up and down my arm. I liked him touching me, where when Martin Wagner had put his hand on mine it had been all I could do not to snarl at him to get his paws off me. "Are you tender, Blair?"

"What... " The expression on his face was so... No one had ever looked at me like that, and if it turned out that he wasn't a sentinel, that all he was was Jim Ellison, former hustler, current security guard, it wouldn't have mattered to me at all.

"You can have me if you say 'yes.'"

"Yes." I didn't hesitate. "Yes." I wanted to kiss him so badly. I brought my hand up to touch his hair. "Go on home, Jim. I have cop stuff to do."

"Be careful, Chief."

I nodded, and turned to go back to the other end of the house. "You be careful too, Jim," I murmured under my breath.

****

"It's about time." H's eyebrow was raised as I entered the bathroom.

If this had been under other circumstances, if the coroner hadn't been there, he would have teased me. 'Are you sure we aren't interrupting your love life?'

And I'd have responded, 'Actually, you are, but I'm feeling so good, I'll forgive you.'

Instead, I asked, "What's going on?"

"Look at this!" Dan had Richard Lee's head tilted back. Encircling his throat were not bruises caused by two deadly hands, but a deep line caused by something that had dug into the flesh and left behind a pattern.

"What do you make of it?"

"I'll need to do an autopsy, but it looks like something with unusually-shaped links. A woman's necklace, most likely."

"Does this mean our strangler is changing his MO?

"I'll leave that for you to discover. I'll make an impression of it and get it to you."

"Okay... "

"There's more. His fingernails are torn and bloody."

"He fought back?"

"He struggled. That's all I can tell you right now. I'll have to see if I can find anything under what's left of his nails."

"Thanks, Dan."

Riley wandered in. "That's it for me."

"Okay. Let's get this wrapped up and call it a night."

Dan's men came in and prepared to remove the body.

I did a quick tour of the penthouse. There was one room that was locked. Was this Bluebeard's Chamber? I flipped through the keys on the deceased's key ring and found one that opened the door.

The light from the hallway spilled into the room. All that was in it was a leather recliner facing a wall. On the wall was an oil portrait of Jim, in the same pose as the photograph.

Had his former lover had the painting made from the photograph? Would he come sit in this room and contemplate the man he'd lost?

I closed the door but didn't lock it, and went back into the living room, just as Dan and his men were leaving with the body. The elevator wasn't large enough to accommodate all of us, so they would go down first.

I turned out the lights and followed H and Joel out of the apartment, and pulled the door shut behind me. Riley was leaning against a wall. He looked wiped out.

I paused by Officer Dolan.

"I'll send someone up to keep watch with you."

"Thanks."

The elevator arrived, and the four of us got in. "Damn, this has been a long week." Riley's eyelids were drooping.

"That's right, tomorrow's Saturday. I'm glad we have the weekend off."

"That's one good thing about being switched to days."

"We just have to keep our fingers crossed our man doesn't decide to strangle someone else."

"Bite your tongue, boy."

Riley raised an eyelid at the bantering. but didn't join in.

"You marching in the Parade on Sunday, Blair?"

"Yeah. I hope it doesn't rain. I hate marching in the rain." I'd learned to beat the big bass drum and twirl the mallets my first year as a cop, and the only time I'd missed a parade had been when Naomi was in the hospital. "You two?"

"Wouldn't miss it. Say, you remember the year it snowed, and... "

"Please, don't remind me!"

"What about you, Riley?"

"I'm gonna sleep the whole weekend."

"I hear that!"

The elevator came to an gentle stop, and the doors opened on the lobby floor.

One of the officers raised a hand in greeting as he approached us. "We've managed to get rid of the reporters, sir."

"Thanks. The last thing we need is to confront them again."

"No, sir."

"G'night, H. Joel. 'Night, Riley."

"G'night."

"'Night, Sandman." H's smile was weary. "'Sandman.' Oh, man, I'm looking forward to a visit from him!" he mumbled, and they headed for the front door.

I turned to the officer who was still standing nearby. "Keogh, do me a favor and stand guard with Dolan?"

"Yes, sir." His grin was hard. "Doesn't matter what that management company wants. The Cap said this place is gonna be locked up tight tonight." He stepped into the elevator, hefted his gun, making sure it slid out of its holster easily, and nodded. The doors shut, and the dial above them began to swing from left to right, marking off the passing floors.

I checked my watch. I had about ten minutes to make my train before mass transit started running every hour on the hour only. I left the building and jogged toward the 72nd Street station. I reached the platform just as the train was pulling in.

It was one of the newer trains with plastic seats that seemed molded to the passenger's ass. I took a seat by the doors in the center of the car. The car rocked back and forth as it clattered over the tracks - cha CHUNG-a chung, cha CHUNG-a chung - the movement and sound almost mesmerizing, and I found myself drifting...

I was racing through the jungle, naked. The wind blew through my hair, carrying with it the scents of the rainforest - the recent rain, the rich earth, the lush plantlife. Behind me I heard a coughing grunt, and a glance over my shoulder revealed a black jaguar bounding after me.

I laughed, unafraid, and the big cat's jaws lolled open as if he were laughing with me. He pounced, and we went rolling over the jungle floor. I leaned up on an elbow. He offered me his belly, and I stroked the soft fur. The pink tip of his cock emerged from its sheath, and fascinated, I touched it. A deep purr rumbled through him, and more of his cock appeared.

Abruptly the cat rose, and his raspy tongue licked over my torso, up my throat, and dipped into my ear. He turned and lowered himself to the forest floor, presenting himself to me. His tail thrashed impatiently, revealing and then concealing his puckered hole.

I recognized a nearby plant and snapped off a leaf, and broke it in two. I coated my cock with the gel that oozed from it, then spread some across his hole and gently worked a finger into him. More purrs rumbled through his big chest.

My mouth was dry, and I shivered with need as I dropped to my knees behind him. I petted his back and flanks, and pressed my cock into him. He backed toward me and raised his hips, and I sank deep into him. He was hot and tight, and the soft fur of his hind end caressed my balls.

I reached under him and stroked his belly, then reached lower, to find his cock had slid out of its sheath. I ran my thumb over the tip, then licked it, tasting his essence, before returning to tease him to greater sexual excitement. He humped backwards against me.

I buried a hand in the thick black fur of his ruff and flexed my fingers, while my other hand continue to pleasure his long, slender cock. My hips rocked back and forth, and he turned his head and looked over his shoulder. His ice-blue eyes were slitted in pleasure. I smiled into them, and then gasped as his long, muscular tail stroked over the crevice between my ass cheeks, teased my hole, caressed my balls.

'Do you wish for Enqueri to continue?' The words were a soft touch in my mind, but somehow I knew it was not the jaguar that was asking this of me.

'Yes!'

The jaguar clamped down with strong internal muscles, holding me imprisoned, and his tail began to penetrate me. He milked me rhythmically, and I squeezed my fingers around his cock and did the same to him.

Growls spilled from both our throats; they quickly escalated to howls as we both came.

When I regained my senses, my head was cushioned on the jaguar's side. It was rising and falling gently to the rhythm of his breathing.

I opened my eyes to see Incacha, the Chopec shaman, squatting before us. He smiled, touched my forehead, touched the jaguar's forehead. 'It is time, young Shaman. It is time, Enqueri. Remember!'

I was about to ask what it was I should remember when...

The subway car took a curve with a little more speed than it should have, and I went sliding off the plastic seat to land on my ass in the middle of the floor.

"Shit." I'd ridden the subway all my life. What the fuck had just happened?

I shook my head and glanced around. Fortunately, I was alone in the car. Also fortunate was the fact that I wore an overcoat. I may have climaxed in the - dream? vision? fantasy? - but the front of my trousers was tented with my arousal, and I ached.

I grabbed a pole and pulled myself to my feet, swaying in an effort to keep my balance.

The train pulled into the 23rd Street station. How could I have missed my stop? I was about to exit and go across to the uptown tracks, when, Stay.

"What?"

The hooker who had just entered the car turned around and exited, and hurried down the platform to the car in front of this one.

The doors slid shut, and the train began to move again. The next stop would be 14th Street.

Jim lived on 14th Street. Sure, it was a bit of a walk from where the train would let me off, but...

When the train pulled into the station, I stepped out onto the platform. Against one of the steel pillars that supported the weight of the street above the tunnel was a square gum dispenser.

I remembered the first time Naomi had given me two pennies and lifted me up so I could get a box of Chiclets. That had been a long time ago, and like everything else, the cost had gone up. I fished a coin out of my pocket and fed it into the machine

I pulled the metal lever and a small box tumbled out. Cinnamon, although it was called something else. I put the gum in my mouth and started chewing, and headed for street level.

The night air was chill, but it felt good. I started walking east. Before I'd gone more than five steps, I was running.

****

On to Part 3