Trying every key in the bunch to get the door even ajar
not knowing whether it's locked or simply jammed from long disuse
trying the keys over and over then throwing the bunch away
staring around for an axe.
It was a slow night for Zodiac. Rawls had filled a plate from the kitchen, poured himself some wine, taken a back booth to catch up on bills. He was trying to decide if the promptness of his laundry service was still worth their rapidly escalating prices when Noreen leaned over his shoulder and whispered into his ear, "Fair warning, boss-man, the way your tall'n'lanky looks tonight, either you take him home and fuck him orI will."
Surprised, but pleased, that Tim would choose to show up out of the blue, Rawls turned and only then the full import of Noreen's words sank in. Wow. Tim wasn't wearing his glasses tonight, or anything else he had so far seemed to be in the habit of wearing. Under a zippered and studded black leather jacket, he had on a snow-white t-shirt, its neck scooped enough to reveal a gold chain circling the long column of his throat, a pair of worn and faded jeans, at least a size too small for him and at most skinning past a public indecency charge. Okay, maybe he was wearing his regular shoes, but who could look that far down?
You're going to sorely try my patience tonight, aren't you, Tim Bayliss?
Then Tim Bayliss walked up to him, leaned down with no preamble, held him by the nape and took his mouth in a hard kiss. Jesus! On second thought, who knows what you're going to try tonight. You're spoiling for something.
"Guess it'll have to be you," he heard Noreen say with dramatic resignation.
As Bayliss pulled away there were a few discreet claps around the room, and one not-so-discreet hoot. Rawls ignored them with all the dignity he could muster. Tim folded his long body into the booth, had to turn sideways to find enough room for his legs, then asked after the fact, "Mind if I join you?"
It was meant to be sultry, but it came out inept, the boy-next-door doing vamp. It should've been endearing. Right then, though, it only pointed out how erratic the man could be. There was something reckless in the mix tonight. Rawls collected his papers in one pile, pushed it aside, and offered like a good host, "What would you like to eat?"
"I'm not hungry, thanks."
No? He watched Bayliss confiscate his fork, wrap a great bundle of pasta around it and carry it to his mouth. But you certainly got an appetite, don't you?
Bayliss next commandeered his wine, took a healthy swallow. "That's really good." He licked his lips. Slowly. "I'm definitely developing a taste for reds."
Oh? Rawls motioned at a busboy for another glass. Whatever this was about, he knew he had done nothing to cause it. This wasn't about him at all. Something or someone had inflamed Tim. He was only catching the backdraft. He hoped it wouldn't scorch too badly.
Pembleton had stopped by the Waterfront before he'd headed home. The Ridenour case wrapped up, Lewis and Falsone had been propping the bar up and holding the usual postmortem by drinking with a vengeance and suffering each other. Tim hadn't been there.
It was late and the only light in the house shone dimly from the top of the stairs when he opened the front door -- too easily. Mary hadn't bothered to bolt it. It disturbed him more than usual. Hush your mouth, go to sleep, ol'Patty Ridenour'll take you back deep…
He could hear Frank Jr. fussing upstairs. "Mary," he called out.
"You didn't bolt the door."
She didn't answer. Must be busy with the baby. He got out of his hat and coat, put them away, took off his shoes, padded into the kitchen. Mary's habit of leaving him at least a sandwich on the kitchen table had gone the way of other such small considerations with the advent of their second child, so he wasn't expecting to find food handy. But hewas expecting to find the patio door locked, not just slid closed for anybody who cared to push it open. "Mary!" This night particularly, the darkness out there held too many shadows for him. Got a gang of seven, takin' slave and freed, ridin' day'n'night on a coal black steed. "Mary!" he yelled again, heading for the stairs, found her coming down.
"What's your problem, Frank?"
"Damn it, Mary, you left the patio door open too, whenare you going to learn?" he lit into her. "Where do you think you're living? This is Baltimore and you can't remember to lock the doors? Do you know how many -- "
"Stop. Stop right now," she raised her voice over his. "I spent the day lobbying a congressional asshole who thought he could employ any offensive tactic as long as his language was politically correct. A proposal I worked on for months isn't so much as going to get a hearing. Livvy has discovered climbing and, unfortunately, falling --I swear some idiot at day care is feeding her too much sugar-- and Frank Jr. won't go to sleep. I've had it."
Oh. Best back off. "Look, yes, I know it gets crazy sometimes -- "
"No, youdon't!" she snapped at him. "No doubt whatever kept you from sharing all the fun I've been having here is a sacred crusade for the greater good of humanity -- ask me if I care. If you want to rant and rave, turn right around and go back. Maybe Tim has more patience for you tonight than I do."
He wouldn't bet on that, either,wherever Tim was. It seemed nobody loved him tonight. "I'm sorry, Mary, you're right. I'm sorry, what can I do?"
"For starters, secure the doors instead of talking about them and go see if you can get your son to settle down. I'm going to take a bath. Then I'm going to have a drink. And then I'm going to bed. Got all that?"
Immediate and unconditional obedience was the only way to weather this storm. "Yes."
He thought he'd heard her last word for the night. But later, fresh from her bath, her hair in plaits, with her drink in her hand, she came into the living room where he'd taken the baby so everybody else could sleep in peace upstairs. She stood and watched him rocking their son. "You're okay here?"
"We're fine, go to bed."
Approaching, she held her glass to his mouth. He took a sip, felt it burn going down. "Sometimes you must wonder why you ever thought I was the man you wanted to live with."
She laughed softly. "Let me burst your bubble, Frank, I never thought you were the man I wanted to live with. I had to accept, kicking and screaming all the way, you were the man I couldn't live without. Try to appreciate the difference."
She leaned to kiss him on the temple. "Good night."
"Good night, sweetie."
He watched her leave, then looked down into his son's dark eyes, staring fixedly at him, droopy lidded, but still stubbornly open. He made soft, soothing sounds, while inside his head the old terror kept jabbering: Hog-tie a man six-feet-four, kill little children for too much noise, so hush your mouth, get on asleep, ol'Patty Ridenour'll take you back deep…
Come down to my house and stick a stone in your mouth, you can always pull it out if you like it too much, vocalized a singer Rawls didn't remember hearing before, barely decipherable through the loud technopop beat of synthesizers that sounded arrayed for an altogether different song. Multicolored neon, serving as both lighting and decoration, pulsated to the relentless tempo, the reflective surfaces of high-tech plastic, glass, and chrome bathed the club in harsh flashes of electric color. Rawls sat at the bar and, like something shot in time-lapse, watched Tim dancing with nobody in particular on the strobing dance floor.
"I want to go to a club," he had announced before Rawls could so much as finish his dinner. Remembering how much Tim seemed to enjoy the place, he'd suggested the Carnivale, only to have Tim promptly declare the Floss to be his choice of the night.
Been here, done this years ago, Rawls thought. Fashions changed, music changed --well, maybe not so much, as Gloria Gaynor took over from the thin-voiced singer and uncompromisingly stated she'll survive-- but the basics stayed the same. Trade and trade-off as usual, the axis of this world. The working boys ran the whole spectrum from fresh-out-of-boys'-home Ken dolls to the shaved, pierced and tattooed specimens known in the trade as the Club-Fuck Hardies. The older men from the ever-hopeful ordinary to the muscle studs posing as if they were the only men in the place, ready to trade off money for sex, affection for orgasm, public sanction for public acts. The aspects unchanged since his own clubbing days were the ones making him feel too old, too weary for the scene now.
"That's where we arrested Fields," had been Tim's only stated reason for choosing this meat market. If any clarification was to be found in that comment, Rawls doubted he'd care to look for it.
He glanced at an impromptu lap-dance starting nearby, a skinny kid with blond dreadlocks and skull earrings straddling the legs of a leather-vested man sporting too many crucifixes on a massive chest, turned away to face the bar. He kept an eye on Tim's maiden voyage by way of the ornate, gilt-edged mirror that looked like a solitary refugee washed up here from pre-industrial age. Tim was crackling with energy and flinging it about with wild abandon. He was new and he was interesting. He had a tall man's body, broad-shouldered, wide-stanced, but he'd kept a youthful lankiness and a boyish face. He appealed to more than one type, and they all wanted a closer look. Some of them were angling for a hands-on look. The natives had smelled fresh blood and they were getting restless.
More than once Rawls had decided he'd had enough of the noise, the press of bodies, the smoke and the sweat, and also the undertow of arousal he couldn't help but feel in the sexually charged place. More than once he'd started to take off and leave Tim to his own devices. The man was a cop, he should know how to take care of himself. But Alan had been a strong, capable man, too. He couldn't shake off the memory of lifting the lid of the dumpster and finding his broken body. So he kept vigil perched on the bar stool, kept a frequent eye on Tim while he avoided eye-contact with anybody else, pretended to be only interested in drinking his drink --coke on ice with a twist of lemon. Even when he had been a teenager and advertising himself in jeans tighter than the one Bayliss sported, Chris Rawls had known better than to get intoxicated in places like the Floss.
The dance-mix reeled continually out of the speakers, one throbbing song emerging from the final thrumming of the one before. You learn to love the pain you feel, presently issued, you're nothing special here, the queerest of the queer. He liked that one; there was the hard-knock of honesty about it.
His coke was going flat with melting ice. He pushed it away and got up. He'd get another one, but first he had to go to the bathroom. On his way, he noticed two kids on the corner of the dance floor, totally ignoring the hectic rhythm, the pumping, gyrating bodies around them, and moving to a music only they could hear. One was a gorgeous creature, the other plain, especially by comparison, but they seemed equally fascinated by each other. They were young enough to find nothing paradoxical about gazing dreamily into one others' eyes while the way their lower bodies rubbed gave new meaning to stressed jeans. Rawls had to smile.
By the time he came back, music had turned slow and while the club was dimmer now it was easier to see without the chromatic flashes. The dance floor had been left to the ones who'd managed to pair off, the rest of the crowd had piled around the bar, making the bartender earn his keep. Bayliss was there, with a drink, leaning over to hear whatever a spike-haired, tank-topped twenty-something was saying to him. He smiled, shook his head, said something in turn, got a response and looked taken aback. The man laughed, reached across the bar into the closest bowl full of foil packets, picked up a few and slipped them into the pocket of Tim's jacket. He executed a turn calculated to show off his sculpted shoulders and walked away as Tim stared after him with his mouth half-open.
Rawls squeezed through, motioned at the bartender for another coke, and informed Bayliss, "In case you missed it, that was a direct invitation to follow him."
The steel-blue fluorescence of the bar light buzzing overhead washed out the flush of exertion from Tim's glistening skin, made it look like delicate alabaster, framed with dark, damp bangs. Still a little breathless, he said, "Itold him I was with someone."
"What did he say to that?" Rawls asked and promptly joined in the answer word for word, "'Bring him along,'" making Tim shake his head ruefully. "I'm not interested, but if you are, that's okay. You want to go, go."
"No! I -- " he looked alarmed for an instant, then laughed as if he'd caught on to the joke, "Oh, I see, you didn't mean that."
Well, I'm glad one of us is confident, he thought, watching Bayliss' eyes catch the amateur lap-dance show now subdued with the prevailing rhythm from the speakers and more sensual because of it, then follow the ebb and flow of varying degrees of sexual improvisations around the club. More than looking, he seemed to be cramming them in, trying them on.
This kind of rapt fascination he'd seen in Bayliss at the Carnivale had turned his attention from passing to persistent, wasn't it? Why was it bothering him now? But, no, that had been something spontaneous and purely delightful. Delightfullypure. There was a premeditation about it now, a looked-for hunger Tim was deliberately provoking.
The overworked bartender finally brought his drink. He picked it up, drained half of it, needing its cold wash down his throat. He turned around for something other than Tim to look at, just in time to see a man approach the two boys he'd noticed earlier, tap the pretty one on the shoulder to get his attention and whisper into his ear. Obviously an offer the boy couldn't refuse. Even though he didn't look happy about it, he pulled away from his friend --lover, about-to-be lover?-- and let the man hustle him toward the back door.
Rawls felt like he'd just seen something perfectly dovetailed ripped apart. They had to be in the trade, since the boy left behind didn't object, didn't look angry. He just hung his head between his thin shoulders, stuck his hands into his pockets and scraped his toe on the dance floor a few times before he shuffled off it, looking the way lonely children look walking down the street and kicking stones.
He reached back to put his glass down -- I'll ask him to dance. How long could it take out there, up against a wall in the back alley? Ten minutes tops. He could distract this kid in the meantime, thank him for the dance, give him enough money so he could afford to get out of here for the night and take his friend with him. He pushed through and reached the boy, smiled at him. The boy looked up, smiled back hopefully. That was when Rawls noticed his blown pupils.
What was the use? The money would only go into the kid's vein. That does it, now I'm really depressed, he headed back to tell Bayliss he was on his own, I've had as much of this night as I can take. Whatever's tying you into knots, get someone else to untie it. Yet another interested party was looking to crowd up against Tim at the bar, one of the big, pumped-up he-men. Obviously you're not going to want for volunteers. He saw a large, muscled arm come up, run its heavily ringed hand down Tim's back to his buttocks.
Faster than he could credit, Bayliss spun and grabbed the man's arm. In a single move, he twisted the man around by twisting his arm behind him, gripped him by the hair, propelled him forward, and slammed him face down onto a table as everybody in his path barely had time to scatter out of the way. "Remind me, do I know you?" he snarled, bearing down, grinding the heavier man into the table, "Did I give you permission to touch me?"
As fast as he'd started the altercation, before anybody had time to react, Bayliss ended it. He left the man sprawled across the table, turned to Rawls as if at no point he'd lost track of his whereabouts, "I like this song," threw an arm around his shoulders. "Dance with me."
The muscle-bound specimen and his few equally muscle-bound buddies who separated from the crowd, no doubt wanted to make a bigger issue of it, but the bartender, who must know from Fields’ arrest that Tim was cop, was there, whispering to them, and they all seemed to settle for the better part of valor.
Rawls was pulled onto the dance floor while Melissa Etheridge claimed: I'm the only one who'd walk across the fire for you. Now that Bayliss had pounced, bit, and proved himself a predator, a circle of open space formed around them like a hollow spotlight. Tim didn't notice or didn't care. "God, you're beautiful," he said, looking down at him with adrenaline-lit eyes, more yellow than brown, reminding him of night prowlers headlights briefly pass over. He tapped the end of Rawls' nose with a finger, traced the outline of his mouth, "I like looking at you." Then he laughed, apparently just because.
What a lot of teeth you have.
Tim held his shoulders, swooped his hands down his arms to his wrists. Almost a surprise now, the fact those hands were still delicately slender, as they circled his wrists and towed his arms to his back, locked his hands behind him like deceptive handcuffs. Bound there, they were used to press firm into the small of his back to curve his spine in and fit him into the arch of Tim's larger frame, hold him fast to the sway and friction of Tim's hips.
He reacted, of course he did. Danger, aggression, testosterone, the usual contents of the witch's cauldron, coating his veins also, as any other male's -- except he'd tasted that brew before and hadn't liked it. Suddenly, his own attraction to this body was one more thing to despair of, making him all too susceptible to the imprisoning arms, the hard muscles of the thighs grinding the demanding hips into him--be careful what you wish for-- and grinding --you might get it-- -- and grinding…
I'm the only one, Etheridge sang into the dying refrain for the last time, but Tim didn't let go, and the next song came on, her edgy voice now asserting: If I wanted to I could do anything right, I could dance with the devil on a Saturday night.
There might be a right way of doing that, but he was sure there wasn't a safe way, especially when his own hormones couldn't decide if they were in a riot or a rout. "Let go of my hands, Tim. Tim. Tim."
Bayliss finally lifted his head from the nest he'd made for it damn near on top of Rawls', met his eyes through half closed lashes, "Hmm?" and smiled hazily.
He'd stoked them both into hard heat in the middle of this infernal den and had the nerve to smile that angel's smile. "Let go of my hands," Rawls pronounced clearly. "Now."
"Oh." He stopped moving. "Okay."
At long last free to choose his own movements, Rawls backed out of Bayliss' loosening hold. "I'm done, Tim. I'm going home."
Arms half-stretched, Bayliss looked as if he'd forgotten what to do with them. He dropped one, used the other to lift his hand and rake it through his hair. "Yeah, right, let's go."
"I'm going home."
"I'm going with you. I…uh -- I'm not?" He looked lost suddenly, cast about, came up with, "You drove."
What, cabs are discontinued? Don't quite dare stay without a security blanket? "Fine. You're ready to leave, I'll drive you." He turned and headed out.
Bayliss followed close on his heels, out the club, across the street, only peeled off to climb into the passenger seat. Rawls put the car in gear, backed out of parking and negotiated all the one-way turns to get onto the southbound lanes of I-83. The traffic was sparse on it. Good. The drive shouldn't take long.
Bayliss' hand reached to cover his resting on the gearshift. Rawls pulled his hand out from under, half expecting to find Tim's on his thigh next. The man was so obviously tuned up to a vibrating pitch. But Bayliss took his hand away and kept it to himself. He turned to look out his window. Two exits passed before he swallowed audibly and asked, "What's wrong, Chris?"
"Oh, I don't know. Back there I saw the cop you can be -- for all I know the cop you are. If you think I can safely make assumptions on who's in the car with me, you have less idea about my life than you think you do."
To his credit, Bayliss didn't try a meaningless I-wouldn't-hurt-you, you-can-trust-me spiel. He kept looking out and, finally, said, "I am a cop, even that cop. But I'm a good cop. Mostly, that's enough for me. Just that sometimes I get afraid I'm forgetting how to be anything else." He turned to reveal his face once more, "It's not just you, Chris. I scare me, too."
Goddammit, what was he going to do with this bundle of contradictions in his passenger seat?
Bayliss leaned back into the headrest. "Felt so good back there," he said after a while. "Dancing with you."
Yeah, I bet.
"Dancing usually makes feel, I don't know, kinda clumsy, like I don't fit, I'm too big. I move too much or something. I fit with you, felt great."
Oh, hell, he may have assigned innuendo to an innocent expression.
Bayliss looked out again and quietly told the cityscape blurring past the car, "I don't want to be alone tonight."
Okay then, we'll do it your way. I won't leave you until you know there are lonelier ways than being alone and decide for yourself. Instead of following the interstate to its end, he exited west after Pratt, made a right on Calvert to backtrack to Mt. Vernon. If he was going to do this, he preferred to have the home advantage.
The Zodiac looked properly put to bed for the night. He was going to have to break down and give Noreen that raise she'd started hinting at with all the subtlety of, well, Noreen. He was also going to have to replace the long-blown bulb to the stairs of his walk-up apartment if anybody beside him was to get there without stumbling, the way Bayliss was now doing. He quickly unlocked his front door, reached in and flipped on the hallway light so no foolish necks would be broken on his stairs. He let Bayliss in, walked in himself, closed the door, went only one step past Tim politely waiting to be led.
That's far enough.
He put both hands on Tim's chest and backed him up to the door. He looked startled, but as soon as Rawls' hands continued up his chest to push his jacket off his shoulders, he got it. "God, yes," he breathed, couldn't seem to wait even long enough for the jacket to come off. It slipped right back up his shoulders as his arms turned into a snare again. Okay, leather could stay, arms had to go. He gripped Tim's wrists --my turn-- to pull them away and place them against the door at Tim's sides --now keep them there. We're doing this by the numbers. I'm about to bare too much of you to too many of my senses, don't want to like it too well into the bargain. I might run the risk of fooling myself I know the man inside just because I've learned his surfaces.
So, by the numbers. Unsnap the waistband, pull the zipper down --Christ, when you go native, you really go native, don't you, no underwear?-- very carefully pull the zipper down, stop shaking, I'm not going to hurt you, there, bet that's a relief. Dammit, I knew you'd be beautiful -- no, keep your hands to yourself.
"Chris," with bare breath, "Let me hold you, let me touch you."
Later. If thereis a later. Do you know you have the most beautiful legs? God, look at you, bared and flushed and ready to be loved. You can be loved so much better. This isn't it and I hope you know that. I doubt it, though, right now you're just hot. Hot and so lively to my hand. And wet already. No, don't help, I'm not trying to take off your jacket, we're past that, I'm looking for one of those condoms.
There they are. Just need one.
"What're you -- oh. It's not, I mean, I'm not…no, you're right, you don't know me that well."
"I don't knowanybody that well," however breathless you're leaving me. My voice sounds as ragged as yours. "Neither do you." That's your first lesson. Remember it. Please, please remember it. Don't get careless, don't let anyone use you badly, hurt you.
I'd better do this, you're all fumbling nerves. You're going to fly apart if you shake any harder. You have any idea how I'd love to hold you, smooth away every tremor, kiss you, there, on the lips you're biting so cruelly, there, where your pulse is trying to beat out of your skin at the base of your lovely throat, and everywhere else, and here, too, on the blades of your hipbones, in their hollows, below your belly, where your skin lies so thin that it doesn't hide the veins, so tender over corded muscle, and here…
There's so much of you…
Yeah, I know, feels good. Okay, okay, you can use your hands, I know you need to hold on now, use my shoulders, that's fine, lean on me. See how fast you forgot to be nervous, remembered how to move with single-minded purpose. When I dig my fingers into your hips, or here, the join of your thighs, I can feel you feel me all the way to your bones, I can almost touch your marrow-deep rhythm. You like this? More? You want more, you want it faster, don't hold back, I'm not fragile, I can weather your lust -- hell, if I'm not careful, I can get drunk on it.
Such a lot of noise you're keeping inside, I can feel it under my hands, riffling behind your heartbeat, rattling against your ribs, like someone caged in there. Why don't you let him out?
Come on, I feel you loving this, let mehear you loving it. How many lovers have heard you already? Let me.
Is it me? Afraid to sound weak to another man?
Well, we're not lovers anyway, so all right --
-- all right, then, come on, if this is the only evidence of your passion you'll share, let me have it, come on.
Tim did make a sound, a small whimper, timed to the intense rush he could feel against his tongue and so badly wished he could taste, again caught in the seesaw of this night, wanting and not wanting, having and not having, building into a silent scream of frustration inside him, too.
He caught Tim, what else could he do, all those long limbs suddenly boneless and dismantling? Tim folded into him, warm, abandoned weight straining his arms, sighed shuddering breaths into his neck, making him want to feel tender, protective -- Goddammit!
He pushed and unloaded Tim back into the support of the door, sat on his heels to breathe deep and collect himself. His eyes not quite focused, Tim smiled sweetly and started to reach for him. Quickly, he scooted out of the way and found his feet with the help of the wall until he could look down at Tim's untidy sprawl. "That's the basic service. You could've had it from any hustler at the club. Can you spare some blood for the higher functions now?"
A few seconds for the words to penetrate his post-orgasm lassitude and Bayliss' eyes widened. He dropped his head into his palm, "Dammit, I'm screwing this up, too," pressed his fingers to his temples, "It wasn't about that. I just wanted to know if I could swim without sinking. I didn't want anything from a hustler."
"Yeah? That's too bad. 'Cause that's exactly what you've had. I used to be a hustler." He ducked into the hallway bathroom, got the box of Kleenex and came back to drop it onto Tim's lap. "Make no mistake, I'm not a hustler anymore." He pointed toward the other end of the hall, "That's my home. If you have a better reason to be in my home than the one that got you through the door, come on in. If not, lock the door behind you when you leave."
The easiest thing to do was to take Chris at his word, get up, clean up, and go. Maybe even the smartest thing. Except Bayliss knew he hadn't done a single smart thing all night, and now was the worst time to start. Okay, Chris had been a hustler once. He didn't deserve to be treated as one just because Tim Bayliss couldn't find his balance between not knowing what he wanted and wanting it desperately. Chris had demanded nothing even though he'd been just as turned on. Theonly thing to do was to get up, clean up and go make amends.
He washed up in the small bathroom, found himself lingering, feeling awkward about facing Chris after --just do it.
The narrow entrance hall opened up to a large area. It must've originally been divided into two or three cramped rooms as most Baltimore buildings of its vintage. The walls had been taken down since then, leaving oddly-placed columns and arches here and there, for support or decoration, Bayliss wasn't expert enough to tell. It was tidy, but not fussily so, furnished in mixed groupings with heavy, deep-seated furniture on age-mellowed hardwood floors. Chris seemed to prefer his rugs on his walls, alternating with bookcases. An eclectic, functional space that did not unnecessarily advertise its owner's orientation. Except maybe for the single poster on a plaster wall, an art photo of a nude male, young and Asian, looking remarkably like a lotus flower made of flesh. If the small-boned, eggshell-delicate beauty of the subject was to Chris' taste, Tim Bayliss had to be missing the mark big time.
He followed the sounds, and the smell of percolating coffee, walked into the kitchen and had to blink at the bright glare. All metal and glass and sleek tile, so different from the rest of the house it gave him pause, until he realized he was in a scaled-down industrial kitchen. Chris' profession explained that, but what explained the incredible clutter which seemed to have resulted from a crash between a medieval torture chamber and a space age lab?
Rawls noted his presence by reaching into a metal cabinet and taking down another mug to join the one waiting by the percolator. He then turned, followed Bayliss' gaze around and shrugged. "I like to cook."
"All these? Just tocook?" No wonder he couldn't cook worth a damn.
"I also like gadgets." He went to the wall-sized refrigerator with the thick plexiglass door, pulled out the cream, casting a helpless look at his own kitchen. "I intend to use them, but the truth is, I hardly ever do," he admitted ruefully. "I have no sense when it comes to kitchenware."
Somehow, Bayliss found that reassuring. It also helped bypass the awkwardness he'd expected. "Chris?" He took a deep breath. "I've been a selfish jerk all night long, I'm sorry."
"You didn't want to go to the Floss in the first place, did you?"
"Should've said. You don't like clubs?"
"I like clubs just fine, I don't like meat racks. Do you like every single aspect of straight life? Do you think it's any different when you're gay?"
"No, of course not. I'm sorry."
"You said that already. It's okay, it's done. But, Tim, if you need a litmus test to decide whether you're straight, gay or bisexual, you're not going to find it in any club." He took the two steps necessary and briefly laid a hand on Bayliss' midriff. "You'll have find it here."
"Yeah, I know, that's what Frank said, too, except he didn't say it as nicely."
"So he knows," Rawls concluded. Clearly, he'd wondered about it.
"He knows most everything," he shrugged, "he's Frank."
"He has a problem with it?"
"Not with it, with me. As usual."
The percolator chimed. Rawls filled two mugs, picked them up, and looked down forlornly at an overflowing surface. "Iused to have a kitchen table." He indicated the counter with a nod, "Bring the cream and sugar, will you? Oh, and spoons, that drawer, there."
He led the way to a glassed-in alcove that must've been a porch once, to a small table amidst a minor jungle, seating for four, no other dining area Bayliss could see. Maybe he didn't care to overpopulate his personal space. Bayliss sat down, took a sip of the coffee. Good, but very strong. That was okay, he probably needed it. He took a few more sips and by that time it was clear Chris wasn't going to volunteer anything, or do anything, not even drink his coffee. He seemed intent on simply sitting there and watching Bayliss' hands carry his mug to his mouth, back to the table, back to his mouth. "Chris?"
"Will you tell me about yourself?"
Rawls looked up and stared at him for a long minute, as if the question needed more clarification. "I grew up in Hagerstown," he said finally. "But that's a relative term. I lived there until I was fifteen. I did most of my growing up after that, in New York. About five years ago, when I finally put together enough money to start my own business, I moved back to Maryland. The restaurant trade in New York means dealing with protection rackets -- but that's not really what you wanted to know, is it?"
"I wanted to know about you."
"And that little bombshell I dropped on you out there didn't make an impression, right? If you want to know how come I ended up hustling, ask."
"Okay, how come?"
"I had to eat. I was fifteen, I had nothing else to sell."
Oh. He made a guess, "Your parents threw you out?"
"Hell, no, they were determined to hang on to me tooth and nail. I ran away."
Chris pushed his coffee away untasted, leaned his elbows on the table, propped his chin on his laced fingers and just watched him. "Okay," he said, obviously to a silent argument he'd had with himself. "Turn around and look," he told Bayliss, "The photo on the far wall, his name is Lee."
"That's someone you know? I thought it was a poster."
"Not that one, thatis a poster. The small photo under it. The poster is Lee, too, he modeled. But that's everybody's Lee, not mine. All the pictures of him as an adult are studio shots. He wouldn't allow a camera near him unless the photos were going to be touched up. He…uh, he had some scarring. I kept one because I thought some day I'd wake up and wonder if he lives less in my memory than in my imagination. I know better now, but I can't seem to take it down."
Bayliss had to get up and go closer to see the photo. It had been taken on a bright summer day at a pool, two sun-browned, smiling young boys, very different in looks but lovely children both, despite the attendant scrapes and peeling noses. One was clearly Chris, about nine or so. The deep smile creases he carried now had been dimples then. The other boy looked more Asian in this photo than his grown-up image did on the poster. Probably airbrushed as much to make the image appeal to a wider audience as to cover imperfections. Bayliss returned to the table.
"His father used to be a Marine, brought home a Korean bride. Lee was eight when they moved into the neighborhood, we grew up together. Our families were close, but we'd have been drawn to each other anyway, not that we knew why at the time. I think we were in love long before we figured out why. Then our bodies caught up and we figured it out every chance we got."
He rose to go to the kitchen and came back with cocktail napkins, although there was no immediate need for them that Bayliss could see, except maybe Rawls' need to move. "We were kids and we were stupid," he continued as if there'd been no pause, but he didn't sit down. "We got caught, of course. Neither of us had enough sense to pretend it was just pubescent curiosity. We made it worse by our protestations of undying love. My father tried to beat it out of me. My mother persuaded him to enlist the help of the church and pray it out of me."
"What, like an exorcism?"
"Close. The whole congregation got into the crusade of saving my soul. Nobody prayed more fervently than I did. I thought it was the price I had to pay to be allowed to see him again." He frowned at a hanging plant and seemed to decide it needed to be rid of its dried leaves right then. "Then I found out his family had packed up and moved out of town already."
"So you ran away."
"I stuck around for a while, until I stole enough money. From my father, his friends, the church, I wasn't picky. I had to get myself to New York. I'd seen enough movies to know I could get lost there and they'd never find me. So one day I'd find Lee. I did, too." He looked at the dried leaves he'd collected, piled them on the table, leaned on the back of the chair he'd vacated. "Took me ten years, but I found him."
"My God, Chris, you were just a boy." Also a hustlerand a thief, but right then Bayliss did not want to listen with a cop's ears. "It's a miracle you survived."
Rawls shrugged. "I had enough cash to live on for a while. By the time I had to earn money, I'd seen what would happen if I put any of it up my nose or in my arm. And I refused to touch anyone without a condom. I didn't know enough to worry about STDs, it was just the unforeseen benefit of being a dumb, love-struck kid. I imagined that with something between them and me, I'd stay pure somehow. Just a silly romantic notion, but it probably saved my life."
Still a miracle that he'd made it stick. Being gorgeous may have helped him set his own rules, but only being smart would've enabled him to avoid the real predators.
With an abrupt move, Rawls reached across the table, yanked the mug out of Bayliss' hand, making it slosh and spill on the table. "Stop fondling that thing!"
Startled, Bayliss could only gape at him.
Chris put the mug down with exaggerated care. "Why didn't you leave?"
"Do you want me to?"
"DoI want? No. Did you stay because you felt obligated to apologize?"
"Idid need to apologize, but that's not the only reason."
"Need is one thing. Obligation is another. Pick one." He looked as close to exasperated as Bayliss had ever seen him, his normally mild eyes reminding him of Frank's when he considered Bayliss too dense to be pierced by anything less than spear-sharp.
Hewas being dense, wasn't he? How would he have felt if Chris had pushed him up against the door, unsnapped his jeans, only to lean on the wall and ask him to pass the time by taking a trip down memory lane? He rose and came around the table. "Neither," he refused both options. He was sure one would get him politely thanked and evicted. The other might permit Chris to voice his own needs for a change. He wanted to make doubly sure, so he stressed, "Want." He cupped Chris' face in his hands and kissed him.
Chris grabbed and held on tight. "God, Tim," he said when their mouths parted, "I hope you mean that. If you just lied to me, I'm not going to forgive you --later. Right now, I'm taking you to bed."
Bayliss woke up, queasy and parched. His mouth was dry and tasted horrible. It wasn't exactly a hangover, just a nasty enough reminder he'd had too much to drink last night. Not the only thing he'd done too much of last night, but that was a whole different issue over which his brain and his body had widely differing opinions. Chances were, it had been stupid. Truth was, it had felt wonderful.
Quiet and careful not to wake Chris who had to be the mound under the comforter, he got up. Busily, he told himself Chris worked nights, probably slept late, and he was being considerate, but deep down he knew he wasn't ready to face the other man in the cold light of day.
He found his jeans, struggled to get them on. Jesus, what had prompted him to wear the damned things in the first place? He mostly wore suits with low inseams. Loose corduroys and warm-up pants were his casual clothes and he slept in his boxers. He hadn't worn a pair of jeans since college. In fact, these were the only pair remaining from then and he'd outgrown them in the meantime, so much so that they had uncomfortably scrunched up his boxers. He didn't own briefs, and he'd gone without. Only later he'd remembered that denim set up its own pressure points and rubbed too intimately as he moved. For some reason, he'd liked that and the devil-may-care feel of the absence of underwear.Then. Right now, it just felt abrasive and he felt downright idiotic.
Using the nearest bathroom would awaken Chris. He collected his scattered belongings and tiptoed to the one out in the hallway. What was he going to do, though, steal away like a thief? The fact he wanted to do exactly that wasnot to his credit, he knew that much. He splashed his face with cold water, hoping it'd help his dry, burning eyes. Falling asleep with his contacts in hadn't been too smart. The water didn't help his eyes, but felt icy when it hit his chest and made him shiver.
"Good morning -- I hope."
He spun around and found Rawls standing there. Heavy-lidded, tousled, unabashedly naked, the man who'd become his lover. Suddenly his last memory of the night replayed itself.
Boneless and sated. Just a single thorn in his comfort, keeping him from finding rest. "I have to wash my hands." Chris laughing softly and taking his hands. Licking them. Falling asleep as Chris licked his fingers clean one by one…
He must've turned too fast. Or something. He was nauseated and dizzy. Dizzy? The way he felt, he could've been spinning like a top. Arms locked around him, made him back up and sit. "Lean forward, put your head down."
"You're fine. Just breathe deep and take it easy for a moment."
Couldn't he doanything right? The reward for baby-sitting Tim Bayliss' epiphany, he takes one look at you and has a panic attack. How flattering. "I'm…I'm sorry," he said as soon as he could lift his head. "God, Chris, I'm sorry."
Rawls kneeled before him, rubbed his arms and shoulders. "It's okay, Tim. The ground opened up under you. You're allowed to feel like you've taken a header down the rabbit hole." He took Bayliss' hands and chafed them briskly. "I won't take it personally, promise. Come on, breathe. Just relax and breathe."
The blood roaring in his ears settled into dull thud. In another minute, his stomach unclenched and he felt as steady as he was likely to feel on this morning. Hazily, he looked down at Chris' calm, beautiful face and felt an immeasurable gratitude for it. He lifted one hand and cupped it in his palm. Chris smiled at him. "Better?"
He got around to smiling back. "I'd like to kiss you, but even I can't stand my mouth."
Chris, bless him, wasn't made of martyr cloth. "Don't take bets on mine, either. Come on," he tugged Bayliss up, "there's a new toothbrush in the other bathroom. A little paste, a glass of orange juice with breakfast, you'll be fit for kissing again."
"I'm not hungry."
"Of course you are. Take a shower, shave, pull yourself together, you'll find out you'd kill for some protein."
"I'll be late to work."
"But you'll be functional when you get there. Move it."
He wondered if he'd ever had a practical lover before, couldn't think of one. There was a lot to be said for it. Okay, he'd forego stopping by his apartment and change at work instead. It'd save time.
Taking the back ramp up to the second floor, Bayliss hoped for an inconspicuous entrance, but of course, no such luck. Judy took one look and cooed, "Oh my, where haveyou been hidin', darlin'," Meldrick saw fit to give him directions, "Vice's next door, at 202," Gharty nasally wondered what time the leather bars closed lately, Kellerman, with unholy glee, pointed out Gee would not be best pleased, but worst of all, Falsone gave him a thumbs up and a comradely, "Hey, paisan, cool." Could he possibly sink any lower?
He dived for the refuge of the locker room, skidded to a halt to keep from colliding with his partner, met Frank's naked bladed eyes after they scraped his entire length to the bone and came to their own conclusion. And he realized, yeah, hecould sink lower. "I, uh -- " Speech always became a mumbling, stumbling problem for him when he knew all possible words wouldn't suffice and silence would talk too much. "Frank, I -- "
"Shut up," his curt order dismissed Bayliss, his cutting eyes didn't.
He had to turn away from them himself. Black-watched all the way, he went to his locker, got out the change of clothing he kept there against vagaries of life in Homicide, and took himself to the bathroom. It proved to be no refuge. Pembleton followed him in, closed the door and put his back against it. "I was wrong," he said, quiet as a fuse, "it's thirty-seven, not twenty-six. But don't you think that's too old?"
"The age you wake up and suddenly decide you're a tad homosexual. Or are you still calling it an experiment?"
"Jee-zus, Frank!" He couldn't help it, he checked the stalls. Empty.
"Ashamed, are we?" Sounding inordinately pleased, he taunted, "Will Rawls still love you if he knows you're ashamed?"
"Damn it -- "
"Ask him, why don't you? While you're at it, tell him he's your version of seeping yourself in the muck of vice -- and don't you dare lay that onme again! Tell him, see what he says." That, apparently, was all he cared to say. He slammed the door after himself and was gone.
Summary verdict, Frank Pembleton style. Just like his truth, direct as a stone. Bayliss carefully avoided looking in the mirror and changed his clothes.
No end of joy today, obviously, for Munch cornered him as he was shoving the night's attire, rolled up in a ball, into his locker. "I have to talk to you."
"What do you want, John?" he asked wearily.
After looking around, Munch leaned close. "Yesterday, I -- " He shifted uncomfortably, started again, "What they're saying about you lately, you know what they're saying, right? Well, nobody's mouth is charged by the hour for yapping, so I figure, you're the only horse's mouth, so what doyou say, is it true?"
"Just drop it, okay?"
"Come on, Tim. The rumor mill's churning overtime. Pembleton thinks if he snarls nastily enough nobody's gonna notice he's busy throwing a smokescreen around you. A body likes to know where things stand. You can tell me."
He closed his locker, rested his forehead against its door. "Why is my private life suddenly everybody's business?"
"It is true then?"
He'd had enough. He whirled into Munch's face, who took one step back, then stood his ground. "Okay, John, yeah, it's true, okay? Is that okay with you? Tell me, what difference can that possibly make to you?"
"Just one, I'm sorry for my big mouth yesterday. I heard talk and assumed it was the latest in our usual let's-beat-up-on-Timmy routine. I didn't know. You know me, I always say the wrong thing, but I swear, Tim, I really didn't know."
Strangely enough,that embarrassed him. He ducked his head. "I believe you, John, it's okay. No big deal, don't worry about it."
"Is this something I should've figured out all along?"
"It's probably somethingI should've figured out all along," he shrugged, a loosening move, and only then realized how tightly he'd been keeping his muscles clenched. "It's a new one on me, too." He felt he could ask, "It doesn't bother you?"
"You were right in the first place, none of my business. Now that I know, it's just something else I know, know what I mean?" He looked relieved as well. "But if I ever star in one of your dreams, however incredibly masterful I was," he added in vintage Munch fashion, "don't tell me.That, I don't want to know. Might put me off my stroke."
He could only sputter, "I think you're safe, John."
Munch turned to go, then stopped to add, "I can't talk to Pembleton at the best of times. If it ever comes up, tell him I said we're even, okay?"
"Tim," Laura Ballard chose that moment to bounce into the locker room, "there you are, saw you come in from Daily Grind --" only to stop and pout, "Aw, you've changed already."
Bayliss figured out she was simply talking of clothes, of course, but he lost it. His mind still boggling over the notion of John Munch as the stuff of wet dreams, his nerves already frayed and unsteady from his night-before with Chris and its morning-after by Frank, the juxtaposition of her words and timing, added to Munch's constipated expression at having to let such a perfect opening pass without opening his mouth -- he lost it. Totally. He leaned into one of the lockers, pounded on it, and laughed until tears were rolling down his face. Itis my life and I'll laugh if I want to.
"Well, hedoes clean up nicely," he heard Laura explain to John as if obliged to do so and aggrieved about it, then she added in her more chipper way, "actually I should say dirty down nicely."
Oh yes, definitely, as soon as he could stop laughing and catch his breath, first thing, he was going to find a way to ask her out. Wasn't there an exhibit at the Artists' Co-Op, something about masks? That should be just about right.
Chris Rawls turned out the last light, leaving only the thin illumination of the street lamps filtering through the closed curtains. Not that he needed it; he could find his way through his restaurant blindfolded. He took his coat and draped it over his arm, not expecting to need it in the short distance between the entrance to the Zodiac and the door that led to his apartment up the stairs. When he came out onto the street, though, he found a clear and cold night, a familiar jeep parked against the curb, and Tim Bayliss, collar up and hands in pockets, leaning against it. "Hi. Why didn't you come in?"
"I just got here, saw the lights going out," Bayliss explained, then smiled sheepishly and added, "--hi."
"No. I'm on my break."
"No --hey, wanna go for a walk?"
"Yeah, sure," Rawls managed to sound enthusiastic and shrugged into his coat, thinking he should've had the good sense to wait until spring to pick up with Tim Bayliss. "Lead on."
Both aware of the cold, they started briskly down the street, but in no time at all Bayliss' tempo slackened. Rawls watched in amusement as his long strides shortened with each step until they hadn't gone the length of a single block and Bayliss chose somebody's stoop and sat on it, folding up his legs to wrap his arms around them.
Rawls leaned onto the iron railing of the steps. "Tired?" It came out more as a tease than a question. He really didn't mean to make fun of Tim but anybody who was that transparent shouldn't expect others to be that blind.
"No." An unhappy sounding mumble.
He knew Bayliss didn't have the slightest interest in taking a walk. He was dying to go up to the apartment and get down and dirty. But he didn't feel right about dropping by unannounced in the middle of the night just for a hot bout of sex. One thing to be said about straights, God bless their women, they gave their men manners. Thinking of which --
"So," Rawls asked lightly, "did you prove I didn't break it?"
"Come on, Tim, you're not the only latent I know."
"Meaning, don't tell me in the last couple of days you didn't let a woman take you out for a test drive to make sure everything still works." Bayliss tried to glare, couldn't sustain it, looked abashed instead. Rawls decided not to tell him how appealing it looked on him.
"You're right, I…I did. Tonight. Stupid, huh?" He looked down at his knees, "Didn't get as far as driving, though. It didn't work -- I mean, yeah,that would've worked, it was working just fine actually, but…" he trailed off.
Rawls sat down next to him, a tight fit on the narrow stairs but neither seemed to mind. Rawls, for one, was glad of the warmth. "You can tell me. You don't have to. But you can."
"I work with her and…well, I like her. She's a colleague, though, not a pick-up. I should've stuck to dinner and the exhibit. She doesn't know enough about me. By the time it dawned on me she's entitled to know a hell of a lot more, we were a little past the point I could say, oh, by the way, I also sleep with a man, do you mind?" He sighed and threw his head back. "So instead I just mumble something about the time and get out of there. I must've left her with a priceless impression."
"No doubt. And you left yourself wired for action, so here you are."
"Chris, no, I -- "
"It's all right, I'm not sending you away."
"If that's what you think,send me away. I'd prefer it. I didn't come here because I'm hard up. I have a right hand, I'm used to it. I came to you because…because I need," he jumped up and started pacing with just a few steps in each direction as if in a very small cage, "Christ, I just need a little honesty. Wrong time to be honest with Laura. Lately, it's always the wrong time to be honest with Frank. Mind you, Frank wants me to be honest with him -- no, actually Frank wants me to be honest with myself. Wants? Hell, he positively insists. Claws and rips into my head, flays me with his insistence that I be honest with myself, but he doesn't want me to be honest with him, no siree, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, Frank doesn't want to know. Frank Pembleton's above all the little inconsistencies and insecurities Tim Bayliss is prone to, he'll gladly point them out, stomp on 'em, but he won't stand for them in his face, and I can understand, nobody likes to look at the underside of things, but then why does he keep turning over the rocks? Well, we all know why, don't we, Frank doesn't believe in illusions, and if Frank doesn't believe in them, then Tim Bayliss can't have them, right?"
How interesting. Bayliss hardly ever mentioned his partner in casual conversations. Except for pointing out what a great cop he was partnered with, he was tight-lipped about him. But suddenly, now that a dam had burst, Frank Pembleton was pouring out. A thought occurred to Rawls, he almost threw it away, then looked at it closer.
"Wait, don't let me forget," Bayliss had caught his second wind. "Frank wants me to be honest with you, too, and you know something, he's right, I mean, look at me, Iam thirty-seven years old, it is too old to suddenly decide I'm --how did it go? Yes, 'a tad homosexual.' And yes, one more thing I have to tell you -- no, Frank believes I have to tell you, that all I'm doing with you is trying to figure out how corruptible I am. He's wrong. Frank's not often wrong, but he's wrong about this. What's the use, though? I can tell you you're not just a stand-in for every feeling I ever disavowed for every other man, but why should you believe me?"
"Actually, Tim, I do believe you." About every other man, I do. Suddenly, though, I'm not all that sure aboutone man. "It's not fashionable to say so in my community, but I think you're bisexual by nature. With just as satisfying a sexual outlet, a sanctioned one at that, why should you have risked yourself? I wouldn't have. You think this is the choice I'd have made if I had a choice? I'm not a masochist, I don't want to be an outcast. I have no choice about it. You do. Yet you're here."
"I'm here," Bayliss echoed as if he'd just noticed. "Oh, if we're being honest, I should also tell you, sure, I can use my hand, but I'd rather have yours."
Rawls chuckled. He got up to face Bayliss, put his arms loosely around his waist. "Oh, I can probably manage a bit more than that."
Bayliss dropped his head down to rest on his. "I want honesty tonight, Chris, and I want to be loved. I don't care how."
You may not be ready for as much honesty as you think you are, Rawls thought, but the rest, yeah, I can do that. "Come on, Tim, it's starting to rain, let's go back before we're coldand wet."
Once they were inside and warm and together on the bed, he gave as much honesty as he thought Tim could handle, told him he was beautiful, naked like this and aroused, explained it all to him with his hands and his mouth. When his own desire clamored, he didn't dilute its truth either. He laid Tim on his back, straddled him, prepared them both, lifted up and joined them. In the first tight-drawn moment, Tim reminded him of the statue of a saint he'd seen as a boy, caught in an ecstasy which had looked to be a scary thing. The moment passed and he didn't want to think anymore, only feel -- such delicious torment. He closed his eyes and threw back his head, the hands convulsively jailing and loosing his thighs moved to his hips with purpose and he knew Tim's apprehensions had passed.
Afterwards, he looked down at Tim, out for the count before their bodies could so much as separate, breathing less guardedly in his sleep than in his pleasure, found in himself an indulgent smile he didn't begrudge wasting on the worn-out man -- just as well he wasn't fussy about what form his compliments came in.
Did you lose yourself?
He didn't want to hear.
…his nerves unraveling, movements broken, sex out of sync, and he grabbed for Chris' hips to fast-root them and find the rhythm again, just for a moment, that was all it'd take, but his hands closed on emptiness.
Did you lose me?
He was alone with fear in his belly and excitement in his flesh…
Are you ashamed?
…alone and naked and exposed in the watched dark.
"Are you ashamed?" Frank repeated from the shadows.
"No." Only a whisper, but his lips tingled from the shock of his own voice.
"You're scared," Frank knew.
He mustn't speak again.
"What're you scared of?"
Shhh, not a sound.
you won't believe me i'm not a liar
you won't help me don't leave me in jail
you will leave me
"Nothing to be scared of," so gently, "I'm here."
If I'm very, very quiet…
And, oh, yes, Frank was shrouding him like sun-warmed earth, dark and dense and rich, and he opened his mouth --want to breathe you-- to let the fragrant earth downpour into him --be filled by you-- he was suffocating, of course, but that couldn't be helped, until, finally, all sound, all possibility of sound were buried inside his throat and now --I-- it was safe to speak --love-- no one would ever hear --you.
"Tim, Tim, wake up!"
Something shook him hard. He gasped and wondered why he tasted air. He wondered why he wanted to cry because he tasted air. Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.
Chris wiped his cheek. It surprised him for he was sure he wasn't crying. But he could feel wetness in the touch and he realized he already must have. She cried and she died.
Chris held him, let him hide his face. "It's okay," he said soothingly, but he must be wondering if he was ever going to wake up and not find a lunatic in his home.
"Please, it's…it's not you."
"I didn't assume it was." There was something strangely sad in his voice.
"I'm sorry. I'm not -- I'm not handling this very well."
"Maybe I need to go away for a bit, get my head together."
"Maybe you should, " Chris agreed quietly. "Take your time, don't worry about it, find your own way."
He stayed in Chris' arms, listening to the raindrops drumming on the windows. They couldn't have slept long. It was dark in the room, no light from outside lined the edges of the shades. "I don't know why you put up with me."
"You wouldn't believe what I can put up with."
"Tell me?" Tell me anything, take my mind off of -- just take mind off.
"You won't find it a pretty story."
"Is it about the boy you loved?"
"Love. Never understood why feelings should be in the past tense. Lovers die, not the love you feel for them."
"Lee died?" He felt he could only ask it in a soft whisper.
"Was it -- ? " No, he couldn't ask that, not even in a whisper.
"AIDS?" Rawls heard anyway. "No. The chances he took, it couldn't have been far away, except a sadistic monster beat it to the punch -- " a harsh laugh, "literally."
"I'm sorry. No wonder you were so determined to help with Alan."
"It wasn't like that, this was something Lee went out to find. It wasn't gay-bashing or a hate crime -- not in that sense. There must be some type of hate in warping sex from an expression of love, or passion at the very least, into an instrument of torture." His arms seemed to collapse from around Bayliss and he pushed away toward the edge of the bed. "Lee couldn't find it at home, I couldn't do it, I tried, I couldn't. I still remembered how it was before, I just couldn't hurt him like that. I was there when he discovered his sexuality, it was such a tender, playful thing, it was meant for joy, not pain, so how could I hurt him like that?"
Bayliss wished he could see Chris better, but didn't dare turn on a lamp. Some things were easier said under cover of darkness.
"Because I couldn't hurt him, somebody else did and didn't know when to stop, or just didn't want to, what's the difference, it's the old joke, the cure worked, but the patient died, isn't that how it goes, that's how the bastards at the Chase-Levinger would see it, right?" His voice was dry, almost a rasp, but somehow a sound parallel with rain and tears.
"Shhh, Chris. Chris, come on, it's okay, I'm here, it's all right," meaningless words, just soothing noise as their roles switched and now he was the one pulling Chris into his arms, offering his shoulder. "What's Chase-Levinger?"
"Chase-Levinger Medical Center, Battle Creek, Michigan, how's that for legitimacy? They used to treat homosexuality in their psyche ward; that's where his parents put him after they took him away from me. Remember all the rage back then, electric shock?"
"That was for mental illness."
"How do you think they categorized homosexuality? By the time medical guidelines stopped listing it as a sickness it was five years too late to keep them from attaching electrodes to Lee's body and shocking him when he reacted to the gay porn they forced him to watch -- for all that's holy, he was still a child, he didn't even know half the things in those movies were possible. They called it aversion therapy. The only thing they averted was his ability to have pleasure without pain. By the time I found him, he was so far into S&M that he couldn't get much out of sex without it. First he tried it my way, didn't work for long, then I tried to try it his way, it was even worse, by the time I got him going I was either in the bathroom throwing up or curled in a ball crying."
He clenched around his middle as if it still hurt in there, and it probably it did. Bayliss let him curl up, curled up around him, stroked his back.
"So we stopped having sex. I didn't care -- no, that's a lie, I cared, of course I cared, but not enough to give up having him with me, sleeping in my arms every night -- or whenever he came back from wherever he went. He always came back."
Bruised and bloody, he'd bet, and Chris must've taken care of him, hurt for him. Love always carried the heavier burden. It's okay, he mentioned with his touches on Chris' back, shoulders, I'm here.
Chris kept wiping at his nose with the back of his hand, a child-like gesture he didn't seem aware of. "At first he'd swear never again, but that was because he thought I'd leave him, when he realized I wouldn't, ever, he finally stopped lying to me."
He raised his eyes to Tim's face. In the dark, he must have guessed at rather than saw his expression, but it was enough to anger him. "Don't look at me as if I were a martyr! We were in love, we'd never loved anybody else in our lives, we were happy, we had wonderful times together -- it wasn't a sacrifice, dammit, and I don't want to talk about it anymore! He's gone, his family hadn't had a thing to do with him for years, but on some fucking paper they were still more his family than me, so they got notified, they came and got him from the morgue, took him away from me again, I don't even know where they buried him, and it's over, and it's done, okay?"
"Okay, yes, it's okay. You don't have talk about it, it's all right, I understand." He tented his body over Chris', cradled his face in his hands, "I'm glad you were happy, I believe you, and I'm glad," and kissed his forehead, his eyes behind shuttered eyelids, found the down-drawn grief at the corners of his lips, licked at it, found his beautiful mouth pressed into a thin scar, kissed it until it softened under his mouth, opened to him.
Bayliss didn't say anything else, platitudes felt obscene right then, he let his hands talk, trying to smooth down raw-edged nerves with swirls of his fingers, prompting, provoking the flesh chilled by memory into warmth, until Chris seemed to relax and soak it up. When he felt Chris hardening against him, he slid down and took him in his mouth.
"Tim?" Chris' hand on his nape stopped him, made him look up. "Are you saying goodbye?"
"No! What makes you -- oh." He'd said he was going away. He'd intended to get up and go, too. Not anymore. "I meant just for a while, I'll be back. My cousin and his family, they've been wanting me to go with them on their vacation." Probably to help with all those kids. "I think I need to be somewhere really different and get my head together." He had to smile, "Can't get much more different than Disney World."
"Disney World?" It got Chris to chuckle. "Be careful, I hear the Caribbean pirates are a pillaging lot. Tim -- " He carded his fingers through Bayliss' hair, his thumbs stroked over cheekbones, temples, "What I said about loving Lee, it's not an object you have to remove before you can put another in its place. There's room for you -- if you want it."
He swallowed around a hard lump in his throat and could only say, "I am coming back, Chris."
"Okay," Chris accepted and gently pushed his head back down.
Goddammit, Tim was late again. Coming off two whole days of their break, couldn't he have managed to drag his ass to work on time for a change? He'd better not have the nerve to get huffy if a call came in before he did and his partner rolled out on it with someone else.
Willing the phone to ring, now, Pembleton hung up his coat. To make matters worse, the squadroom had turned upside down during his absence and tension crackled in the air. Apparently, Georgia Rae Mahoney had filed a wrongful death suit over Luther and had papered the place with subpoenas, citing in her civil action the officers involved, the department, the city, and probably all the way up to the Almighty. Which seemed to have resulted in Meldrick provoking an altercation with her last night and getting suspended for it. Kellerman had just found out and was having a fit, taking it out on the drawers of his desk, yanking them open and slamming them closed for no discernible reason.
And there was Munch, never one to throw water on the fire if he could add fuel, being his usual doom sayer. "Spare yourself the heartache and kiss him off right now," he was telling Falsone who'd been riding with Lewis steadily since whatever happened to break up Mike and Meldrick had happened, "He's not coming back. Take it from me, first they go on suspension, and then they just go and stay gone. You won't so much as get a Christmas card." Clearly, the sting of Stan's desertion was still with him. "Meldrick's history, and the sooner you get used to it, the better off you'll be."
Of course, the gloomy predictions were rolling right over Falsone's back. The one getting infuriated about them was Kellerman, looking ready to pummel someone if he could only choose between Munch and Falsone.
His radar for trouble as functional as ever, Giardello opened the door of his office and accurately subjected one and all to the full force of his darkest glare. Once he was assured all his charges had considered the dire consequences of his wrath, he crooked his finger at Pembleton, "A minute, Frank?"
"Coming, Gee." He went in and closed the door behind him.
"You're back on rotation, right?"
"Right. Tim finished up with our little old lady from Pasadena. Next call is mine."
"Take Falsone with you."
Pembleton's cherished intention of teaching Bayliss a lesson by going out with someone else took immediate wings. "Falsone? Why should I take Falsone?"
"Lewis is on suspension, he's single."
"How's that my problem? I have a partner. Tall, myopic, lousy taste in ties, remember?"
Gee looked at him strangely. "Bayliss is on vacation. Found his leave form on my desk this morning. He's out of town for two weeks. Didn't you know?"
Too late to say yes and too galling to say no. Too, too galling to ask where. I'm going to kill him. "Then let me work alone. Falsone's forever taking off to see one shyster or another on some dispute with his ex. I'm not going to sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting for him."
"I have all the grief I need, Frank, my agita tells me my own people are leaving me twisting in the wind with this Mahoney fiasco, so don't give me any more. It's only temporary. For now, take Falsone. Looks like I'll soon have approval to transfer Stivers from Narco. For the rest of the time, you can pair with her. She's good and she's consistent." A phone rang outside. "You're up," Gee waved him away.
On his way out, Pembleton narrowly avoided running into Ballard who was speaking to Gharty over her shoulder instead of watching where she was going, headed for his desk and the bleating phone. I'm going to kill him. Not a word to me. Not a fucking word.
But there was one bright spot to this cursed day, sitting darkly on Gharty's face. Somewhere he'd found the misadventure he so richly deserved; it had left him with a lovely, black and blue shiner. Pembleton would've preferred putting it there, but still, it cheered him a little.
He picked up the phone. I won't kill him. "Homicide." I'll just make him sorry he's alive. "Pembleton."
He was hoping for a nice, all-involving redball. Instead, he got a domestic. A dunker, too, the guilty party having called it in personally and blabbered it all to the desk sergeant in gory detail.
By the time he jotted down the address and put the phone down, another thought had occurred to him. Bayliss' impromptu, none-of-Frank's-business vacation could be most happily attended by Chris Rawls. He grabbed his coat, passed by Falsone and headed out alone. The case was nothing more than paperwork. Who needed a partner for that? Who needed a partner for anything?
If he had only listened to his good sense six years ago, he wouldn't be asking that question, instead of trying so hard, now, not to answer it.
The first days of vacation with Jim, Shannon and their kids --now numbering four, one child growing out of diapers meaning time-for-a-new-one to them-- Bayliss had been sure he wanted to have kids of his own one day. It was the middle of the second week, their van finally back on the streets of Baltimore after the interminable stretches of I-95, and he was equally sure he'd sooner slit his throat. He'd change his mind again, he knew, as soon as he next saw Olivia, but for now, how many times could any sane person listen to Wheels on the bus go round and round and expect to stay sane?
"Uh, Jim, think you can turn the radio on and let us catch up on the news?" He might as well be coming back from Mars, for all he knew about what's been happening at home. One thing for sure, the trip had given him the distance he'd needed only to make him eager to reconnect to his real life.
Jim obligingly tuned the radio to an AM news station. "Hey, Teej, you have a few more days' leave left, right? What say we pick up dinner and you stay over tonight? We'll go to the gym tomorrow, shoot some hoops."
"Sounds good, but I can't, I'd better get back. I should put in some time at the bar. Munch and Meldrick must be ready to lynch me." He might also drop by the Zodiac. He'd called Chris to tell him he was on his way back.
"Oh, come on, it can wait until tomorrow night," Jim said, and the battle cry, "Come on, come on, come on," was taken up by all except the youngest who had fast learned to survive a large family and could sleep through anything.
"No, really, I think -- " the voice from the radio caught his attention.
The discovery of the body of Monsignor Bernard Jaeger in front of St. Germain's last night, it said, the second priest to be brutally murdered in the same week, has devastated the city's Catholic community. "Wait, hey, guys, hush up, I need to hear this." The first priest killing in Baltimore in more than a quarter of a century took place Tuesday. Father Michael Juneaux, Central City Vicar of the Diocese of Baltimore, was found bound and beaten, dead of multiple stab wounds, in the rectory of St. Raphael's, victim of an apparent robbery murder --
"Take me home, Jim. No, better yet, drop me off at work, I can change there." The redball must be big enough to choke the whole department; he belonged at his job. He'd have to call Chris again and tell him he'd be unavailable for a while longer. The newscaster was talking about the continuing search for two missing Guatemalan refugees earlier questioned by the police and released at the insistence of the Archdiocese and the CFCA. Gee must be chewing nails.
As he'd expected, he got to the squadroom and found that the shifts had merged. The place rivaled rush hour at Penn Station. He took a quick look at the board. Juneaux was under Ballard, and Jaeger was under Pembleton. Gee spotted him across the crowded room and made short work of him by pointing him toward the lockers, "You, decoy detail."
A desk jockey from O'Neil's squad had set up a table at the entrance to the lockers, laid the city map on it, and he was assigning priest-garbed officers to various locations. It had to be pretty bad, to come down to decoys. Munch was there, grousing as usual. "Doesn't anybody care my mother's spinning in her grave?" he was demanding of the world in general. "Look at me," he tugged at his white collar, squirming in the outfit as if it were a hairshirt, "Now there's an extra special place waiting for me in Jewish hell." He saw Bayliss and snapped at him, "Nice of you to join us."
"Narco's in this, too? Why, South American connection?"
"Huh? Oh, that's right, you've been missing in action. Stiver's one of us now and Frank's got her. If he has any sense, he'll keep her, too. Or is it only me partners dump on? Stan, Megan, poof, gone, Mike's a basket case, you and Meldrick are no help when it comes to that money drain across the street. Thank God for Billie Lou, but if this keeps up I'm gonna have to marry her so she won't fly off somewhere, too. Well, tell me," he asked the dispatcher, "where in this fair city should I lay my body down in its glorious service?"
"West side, Mc Henry and Gilmore."
"Lucky, lucky me." As he was leaving, he told Bayliss, "Just do me one favor, when they find my mutilated corpse, don't let my watch-the-profit-margin brother bury me in his cheapest coffin."
Bayliss had to go sign on the roster first, then got a quick run-down and his assignment. He didn't see the rationale in thinking a priest killer would look for a priest in the red light district, especially since both murders had taken place on church grounds. This had all the earmarks of Barnfather appeasing the Mayor that everything possible was being done, never mind anything probable. But his was not to question why. He found a pile of cassocks on a bench, shook them loose, chose the longest one and donned it.
Sitting in the van all day had stiffened his muscles. He was stretching them when he felt eyes boring into him and straightened up to see Pembleton standing in the aisle between the lockers and watching him coax his body back into flexibility. "Oh, there you are." Frank would've made one hell of an impressive priest, it dawned on him, seeing him outfitted as one. Not today, back in the days of the Inquisition, when severity had been valued over serenity. "Hi."
Pembleton asked blandly, "Busy vacation?"
"Well, yeah, it was, but -- "
"But good and busy."
"That, too, I did have a good -- " Suddenly, it registered. Not that long ago he'd heard Frank put another question like that: Busy night? Good and busy? What the hell had Frank been thinking, that he was on a honeymoon? "It was a family vacation, Frank. Jim was taking his family on a vacation and I went along. I was at Disney World, for cryin' out loud."
"Disney World?" Said as if he were trying out a novel flavor on his tongue.
"Yeah, it was great. You gotta take Mary and the kids."
"Oh, sure, and here I was, wondering what I could possibly do to make my life complete." He hadn't liked the taste, what a surprise, but he seemed to like Timothy Bayliss much better all of a sudden. "I can see it actually, you in the never-never land. So why did you come back early?"
"I figured Captain Hook, you, what's the difference, I'm for the plank either case, better the devil. I got presents for Olivia and Frank Jr., but I'll have to bring them later. I left them in Jim's van."
"Any chance of leaving them there permanently?"
"I didn't think so." He shrugged, his smile denying his grumble. "Ready to go?"
"Me, too. Had a cup of coffee, I'm good for another night."
"A cup of -- ! When did you start that again? Frank!"
"Since I started round-the-clock shifts, and don't you start in on me. Climb off that Wonderful World cloud, scratch out your dues down in the dirt with the rest of us, and then maybe I'll listen to what you have to say. 'Till then, let's go, let's go."
"I'm not gonna argue with you, bunk, you'll lay off or I'm telling Mary. By the way, how come you noticed I came back early? Counting the days?"
"No, counting my blessings, but here you are yapping at me again. They must've run out."
"You're full of it, Frank."
"Move your ass, Bayliss. Time and crime wait for no murder cop."
The two cornerboys had been sent to lock-up after dual-track interrogations netting one confession and one denial, up to Danvers to sort out the rest. The INS agent had taken away the two young Guatemalans, dogged by Sister Atwood breathing down his neck for a change. Barnfather was escorting out the representatives from the Archdiocese, and he'd handle the media, one more rung on his climb up the city's hierarchy; the only burr in his tail must be the lateness of the hour for prime-time news. Long nights, little sleep, hardly anybody had been able to go home for days, but it was over. Finally.
"Good work," Gee stood like a benevolent deity at the door to his office and beamed at the whole squad. "Now get out here, all of you, go reintroduce yourselves to your wives, husbands, significant others--"
Out of the corner of his eye Bayliss saw Gharty give a start. He barely contained his own start, having never heard their lieutenant put it that way before. Well, Gee had very big ears. And his own way of getting messages across. No big deal and nobody better force me to make it one, seemed to be his decree.
"--kiss your kids, pet the dog, get enough sleep to reset your biological clocks," Gee continued. "So tomorrow you can make me happy again with another good day's work. 'Night, everybody."
About time, too. Along with the case, Bayliss had also put in a late night duty at the bar. He picked up his coat, planning on a quick trip to the grocery store, and a night of catching up on bills, dust and laundry.
"Hey, Tim," Pembleton called out, "About that dinner invitation."
Bayliss waited but Frank effortlessly out-waited him. "What dinner invitation?"
"When you invited me to have dinner with you."
"Uh…?" Bayliss realized he'd frozen with one arm halfway through a coat sleeve and completed the move. "When?"
"I asked you to my house, I cooked you dinner. To reciprocate, you invited me to have dinner at your place, remember?"
And Frank accused him of having too long a memory? Frank’s memory was conveniently selective, too. He’d merely heated the food Mary had cooked and left in the freezer, but no way was he reminding his partner that the man had been so desperately alone in the house deserted by Mary and Olivia that he’d have asked the corner mailbox to dinner. Their own partnership had been on the rocks at the time, too, until Mary had paid him a covert visit, to ask him to take Frank back as his partner, please, because now she was leaving him. Something he’d never told and would never tell Frank. "Yeah, okay," he warily ventured, "Yes, I remember that."
"So," Pembleton asked cheerfully, "Is the invitation still good?"
Bayliss' mouth dropped open. That was a year ago and Frank had nipped Bayliss’ reciprocation effort in its daring bud with a single, curt: No. Of course, pointing that out now would bring about a searing lecture that would, somehow, make it all his fault. He closed his mouth and cleared his throat, "I have to make a run at the grocery store, but yeah, sure, it’s still good."
"We can stop off, no problem. That way I'll make sure you'll get what I like. Let's get it straight right now, I'm not eating TV dinners." Having settled the issue to his satisfaction, he completed buttoning himself neatly into his dapper coat. He tucked in his flamboyant red scarf, set his hat with the bright blue feather at just the right angle, walked past Bayliss who was still standing there with his own coat hanging forgotten off one arm, turned around and snapped his fingers impatiently, "Come on, Timmy, come on. Tonight, if you don’t mind."
Bayliss, his suit quickly exchanged for a plaid shirt and draw-string pants, put two bottles of the Natty Bo in the refrigerator to keep them cool --he'd had a stroke of inspiration as they'd left work: Waterfront, right across the street with its handy supply of hot food and cold beer-- opened the other two and carried them to the table. Frank, minus his coat, jacket, and holster, was standing by the table, glaring down at the containers of food, which he abandoned in favor of glaring up at him. "After all these years I'm finally here having dinner with you and you're going to feed me out of styrofoam?"
Oh. Bayliss quickly pulled back the bottles he'd been about to put down, before Frank could take further umbrage at the his failure in providing glasses. He went back into the kitchen for proper dinnerware. "Did you phone Mary?" he called out.
He carried the plates and the utensils to the table. "To tell her you won't be home for dinner," he spelled out, wondering why his partner was being obtuse.
"I haven't been home for dinner for over a week. She doesn't know the case is wrapped up; she's not expecting me."
Perhaps he should've stayed out of it. "Okay. You know best."
"Besides, last time I went home, she wasn't exactly thrilled to see me."
Oh, dear. They may have had a fight. He definitely should've stayed out of it. Silently, he arranged the table to what he hoped was his partner's satisfaction.
"I love my kids," Pembleton snapped, "but I don't love how they've opened the door wide to the Whelans. They're in and out all the time anyway, and every time I've got a redball going lately, there they are, staying over under the pretext of helping out Mary."
No wonder he was so unyearning for hearth and home this night. Napkins. Frank would definitely want napkins. He went to search the drawers.
"It wasn't like I was being offensive on purpose," on a roll, Pembleton was continuing. "I'd been on the job around the clock for days; I didn't have anything clean left in my locker, so I dropped by my house to see my wife and my kids for a few minutes and to pick up a change of clothes, that's all. I didn't dress up like a priest to play trick-or-treat on the Whelans. By their outrage, you'd think I'd personally hammered Christ to the cross."
As he returned with napkins --proud he'd found the cloth ones and they were spotless-- it suddenly dawned on Bayliss that his partner's comment in the locker room --Could've been worse, we could've been decoyed as nuns-- may have had a whole different impetus than the one he'd assigned to it and not liked. He went back to the kitchen for glasses, brought them to the table and said in conciliatory tones, "They're older, conservative people, Frank. Mary understands your job."
"Yeah, well, she doesn't understand how I can be blasphemous at any time, let alone when I'm garbed like a priest. It isn't like I am one, is it? But pointing that out to her parents, and explaining I wasn't getting my jollies but goddamned well trying to catch a priest killer, didn't endear me to her somehow."
Salt and pepper? Yeah, right there on the counter. "Maybe you shouldn't have said goddamned."
"Maybe. But there are things I don't understand either. Like why I should accept disapproval in my own home -- so, tell me, are you ever going to stop fiddling with that table and get around to feeding me?"
With Frank, he never could win for losing. Good thing he was used to it.
The dinner was a quiet affair, Pembleton scowling balefully at each forkful then chewing on it as if shredding a personal grudge. "What's bothering you?" Bayliss finally asked. Something more than his usual ire toward his inconvenient in-laws had wound him up tight tonight.
For the longest time, he thought Frank wasn't going to answer. Then, garrulously, "Why did he have to go and say he enjoyed it?"
"Who enjoyed what?"
"I lock him up with the corpses in the morgue's meat locker, I let him out after he's a gibbering wreck, drag him to an isolated spot by the bay, pull a gun and threaten to kill him, and the stupid yo damn near thanks me."
Ballard and Pembleton had been the primaries; Bayliss hadn't been privy to much. He'd seen them leave the squadroom, Frank towing Roc-Roc away with a grip on his collar, and return in the morning with enough information to round up the killers. Now he knew what had transpired through the night. "For the meat locker or the death threat?"
"No, for showing him the bay in the process of the death threat. He couldn't even identify it, thought it was the ocean. Tell me, how strong a cage are those streets out there -- our streets? How does a seventeen-year-old grow up in this city and not once see a blue patch of all that water? What else is within his reach except he can't look past his hell and see it?"
Bayliss stayed quiet and let him get it out. He'd learned early that Pembleton ranted about things he knew couldn't be fixed and offering him platitudes only made him angrier. He simply wanted someone to shut up and listen.
"Not that it matters, you know. He's got something decent inside that can be touched, by the face of an old man, so he chooses not to kill, by the morning breaking over the bay, so he forgets he can be killed. He didn't turn in his homies because he was scared of me, he recognized a right when he saw it. The boy calls himself Roc-Roc, but he has a soft middle. All that means, of course, he already has a ticket on the meat wagon." As if it was choking him, Frank yanked the knot loose from his tie, impatiently unbuttoned his collar. "He'll be a chalk outline on the pavement before he sees the bay again. No survival value in it, but for some reason, for some audacious reason, he can look at a cop who'd been kicking his ass to hell and back all night, smile at him and say he enjoyed being shown something he hadn't seen before." He shoved away his plate. "Sometimes I hate this city." He picked up his glass, drained it, put it back down forcefully, aimed his eyes across the table and asked in his casual-as-a-hangman's-rope voice:
"So, this Rawls, what does he do for you?"
Bayliss almost choked on his beer. He managed to swallow and say past it, "Jeez, Frank."
"Not that. Any idiot can do that."
Why does every conversation with you has to turn into interrogation under duress? Bayliss looked down, at the way the ceiling light splayed through the amber depths of his beer. "He takes it easy on me."
"He takes -- ?" a derisive snort, "That's it?"
Bayliss took another swallow from his glass, said nothing. Anything he said would be used against him.
"Don't be silly," Frank snapped. "You don't want anybody taking it easy on you."
Irritated anew with Frank's habit of tossing out blithe assumptions about him, he couldn't bite back the retort, "How do you know what I want, Frank?" Oh, no, he shouldn't have said that. As Frank put his elbows on the table, leaned in and set to dissect his brain, he knew he shouldn't have said that.
"Let's see, how do I know what you want? Let's look at the evidence. You bow and scrape on the mayor's detail so you can get into the hardest job in the department. You say if you don't make it there, you don't want to make it anywhere. First day, you hang yourself around my neck and don't tell me you did that because you want life to go easy on you. You get your first case and you lash yourself harder than anybody else can. To this day Adena's file is under your hand and you refuse to give yourself a break and forget about her. Araber's dead, but if you thought you could get one more word out of him you'd dig him up with your teeth. An undertaker confesses killing his neighbor, case closed, but that's too convenient for you, you have to go digging until you know why. A prison riot breaks out, a body falls in the middle of it, so what? One felon's whacked another and saved the county some money, and everybody's happy -- except you. You won't stay ordered off the case. You risk Gee's wrath to keep investigating until you pin down the killer. Now tell me again you're interested in easy. I'm used to hearing lame lies across a table, so go on, tell me."
"Dammit, that's just the job -- and this is not the box, so get off my back."
"Quit whining. If memory serves, I didn't invite you into the box, that box or my box, you pushed your way in. It's too late to get squeamish about my style now. You asked a question, I answered it. Answer mine."
"I told you, that's just the job. I do have a life outside it -- all right, maybe I don't," he backtracked quickly before Frank could pounce again, "but I want one, I'm trying to get one."
"Oh, yeah, I've seen you look. You once thought you found it in a coffin, didn't you? You're the man who'd sit in DeMoines and yearn for an eskimo, remember that one? Now you've decided, okay, you'll go to the edge of the left field and see what lies beyond it. It's a fool's errand, Tim -- look at me! There're no answers at the bottom of that glass," he reached to take Bayliss' beer out of his hand and put it to one side, "I'm talking to you."
"You're not talking to me. Hell, you're not even interrogating me. You're trying me. What do you want, Frank, my soul? Why? Obviously you don't think it's worth much."
"I don't waste my time on the worthless. It pisses me off that you do. I'm not into dispensing placebos, you know that, so here it goes: it's down to two possibilities, Tim," pronouncing his words with their edges sharpened individually. "Either you don't know what you want, or everything else is too easy and you want the impossible," the kind of words that aimed to pierce through brain and flesh. "Which is it? Do you even know?"
Bayliss couldn't take it anymore. "You don't know what you're talking about," he raised his voice in protest. "You're lucky, you have no idea how lonely it can get. You met someone early on, your heart, your mind, and your dick agreed. More importantly, Mary agreed. For me, two out of three isn't bad, hell, it's downright fantastic, 'cause you see, nobody has ever agreed to me before --before Chris. What's wrong with him? He's kind, he's funny, he's beautiful -- what's so wrong with him?"
Frank threw open his arms in an exasperated move. "As far as I know, not a thing. Stop trying to make it about him; it isn't. Or why would I waste my breath?"
"I don't know what you're getting at."
"You don't? Look, if you'd told me, hey, he's great, he gives these world class blow jobs, I'd say enjoy every thrilling minute until you get your fill. But listen to what you're telling me. You're trying to fashion something out of him to fill up all your needs and you know he's not enough. You just told me so yourself." Abruptly, he shoved his chair back to rise. He rounded the table, approached, placed his index finger in between Tim's eyes like the muzzle of a gun, placed his words like accurate bullets, "You've managed to come up with enough reasons to get this to agree." He reached toward to Tim's groin but didn't actually touch, "obviously the simple mechanism there didn't hold back its agreement. But this," his hand came up, fingers splayed, pressed to Tim's chest, "you can't get this to go along, can you? You. Don't. Love. Him."
The warmth of his palm passed through flannel and cotton and into flesh, and Tim suddenly wanted to close his eyes, throw his head back and moan. He did none of them, but the man who'd made it his life's business to reach into the darkness and pull out the truth was looking down at him from only ten inches away. Frank took a sharp breath and held it, then, alongside his exhaled breath, "You don't love him."
There was a brief interval when, with disbelief as his ally, he could've salvaged it. But Frank was the verbally privileged one, not Tim, and he sat there with dumb silence between his teeth for a second too long until it was a second too late.
Soft as a whispered midnight conspiracy, Frank asked "Who do you love, Tim?"
Everything else seems beyond us
we aren't ready for it, nothing that was said
is true for us, caught naked in the argument,
the counterpoint, trying to sight read
what our fingers can't keep up with, learn by heart
what we can't even read.
…there are no prodigies
in this realm, only a half-blind, stubborn
cleaving to the timbre, the tones of what we are
--even when all the texts describe it differently.
"The Dream of a Common Language"