Originally printed in the zine "Entr'acte"
WHEN I TRY TO SPEAK…(1998)
When I try to speak
my throat is cut
and, it seems, by his hand
and he sleeps on
Yet always the tissue
Grows over, white as silk
Hardly a blemish
Maybe a hieroglyph for scream
"Meditations for a Savage Child"
'Blood is a sacred poison.'
Somebody had said that. Tim Bayliss was sure somebody had said that. He just wasn’t sure who. It sounded like one of those darkly meaningful statements his partner tended to pronounce from the driver's side of the Cavalier in the small hours of the late shift. Except he knew Frank hadn't said it. Bayliss rarely forgot anything Frank Pembleton uttered in the course of their stormy, six-years' partnership. Maybe Gee had said it during one of his particularly Sicilian moments, or Munch, as yet another manifest irony, or Meldrick in his more somber, street-prophet mode– such a collection of profound individuals in one place, the Homicide Unit of Baltimore Police Department.
Whoever had said it, Bayliss wondered whom they’d been looking at when that truth had burst upon them, a parent, a sibling, a more distant relative? The truth of the poison you didn’t need to ingest, couldn't drain out of your body, poison already there in your veins, inescapable, as you sat across a rickety kitchen table from, say, an uncle: blood of my blood, brother of my father, butcher of my childhood.
But no, you just led me to the slab. My father cut across my eight-year-old throat and let my voice bleed out.
Last spring, on the rooftop of their headquarters, he'd told his partner the only way out of hate was to forgive. Have you donethat, Frank had asked him, have you forgiven? The answer he could not give then hadn't changed since: Not quite, Frank, can't quite manage it. He could almost hear his partner admonish: Well, do something right then, hate better. Bayliss found himself sighing, making his uncle look up from his breakfast. Wish I could, bunk, I wish I could. Wanna give me some pointers here? Frank Pembleton could be scourging in his wrath toward, even, God.
And if I’m late again, me. The chair creaked as Bayliss rose.Everything in this house creaked. Or rattled. Or moaned. It was a discontented house. "I have to go. I'm going to be late."
"The john's broken," the old man half-whined and half-coughed into his scrambled eggs. "Water won’t stop running, keeps me awake."
Bayliss sighed. "It just needs a new plunger. I have to go now. I'll take care of it tomorrow."
"I can't sleep, Timothy, it keeps me awake."
"I said I'll take care of it tomorrow." As much as the man drank, it must've been years since he could tell the difference between falling asleep and passing out. "There's tuna salad in the refrigerator and I got you fried chicken for dinner. Don't forget to take it out of the box and put it in foil if you want to heat it."
"I'll have to sleep on the couch again."
"Yeah, you do that." Nothing else keeps you awake, Uncle George? Not a single item from the long list of incidents that took me from age five to thirteen? He'd been a small child, almost delicate. Probably one more reason for his father's disdain. At thirteen, suddenly, and it seemed now to him between one breath and the next, he'd shot up to nearly his full height, tall even for an adult, so fast and uncontrollably that the adolescent clumsiness of those years still plagued him. Whether he'd grown big enough to be intimidating or too old for the tastes of a pedophile, his uncle had finally left him alone. "I'll be by tomorrow." He left quickly, before the old man could press him for a specific hour.
It had been a mild winter so far, but the cold January morning bit deep, making him jog to his car. He was hurriedly groping in his pocket for his keys when something needle-sharp pricked him. He yanked out his hand, stuck his finger in his mouth. He sucked the droplet of blood, taken aback as always at liking the dull-sweet taste of it, then searched his pocket carefully.
One of Julianna's earrings he'd picked up from under his pillow to return to her had separated from its frog-clip. At least the little round guards that clipped onto the posts of medals and insignias was called that. He didn’t know if it applied to earrings. He also didn't know why Julianna kept leaving bits of herself scattered through his apartment when, unless she was sleeping off a drunk, she had such trouble leaving herself there for the duration of a night. Of course, neither did he know why the woman who seemed intent on hollowing him out clear to his bones in the night would get so offended when approached in the morning. She'd been both sober and agreeable last night and had stayed over. In the morning, as often for his mornings, he'd been in the mood and for once she’d had no hangover -- well,he had thought it was a good idea. Wrong. Again.
He replaced the little gold clip, pulled out his keys and got into his car. He started the engine, put the heater on high, shivered at the initial cold blast from the vents, then loosened his neck and shoulder muscles as warm air washed over him. Okay, no need to make a federal case out of it. It wasn't the first time he'd been turned on only to be turned down, wasn't likely to be the last. He'd return her earrings. If she was still pissed off at him, he'd do what he’d been too hot and bothered to do earlier and apologize.
She was a beautiful, intelligent woman. If she had some demons, hell, who didn't? Yes, she was difficult, but Tim Bayliss could do difficult like no one else. Who'd fashioned, if not the smoothest, the longest running partnership of the Homicide Unit from Detective-I-don’t-want-a-partner-Frank-and-I-damn-sure–don’t-want-you-Pembleton? A successful partnership, too, the kind that closed cases and turned red to black.
Of course, Francis Xavier Pembleton was worth every effort. Hetook every effort, too, as high maintenance as any thoroughbred.
Still, he'd invested almost a month in Julianna Cox, something of a record in Tim Bayliss' life in the last decade or so. There was a lot to be said about frequent sex and having someone to share his holidays. On the wrong side of thirty-five and with a track record in relationships that only consisted of starts, sputters and stops, how much more could he ask for? His one abiding relationship, in fact, was with his partner -- about which fact Pembleton's only commentary would be: You're pathetic; get a life.
Actually, this holiday season, miracle of miracles, Frank had managed to remember he had one more significant other in his life. Of course, his new-found hospitality was due, in some part to Mary, but in main to that true miracle with Frank's eyes and Mary's nose, with Frank's mouth and Mary's smile: Olivia. For Tim Bayliss, a grace upon the world. He loved Frank Jr., too, but since the day he’d first looked into her crib and found her curled there like a warm, tiny bud taking her sweet time to open, so new and so perfect, Olivia had been special. Olivia seemed to think Uncle Tim was pretty special, too. Or maybe just amusing. In any case, she clearly enjoyed his company. All of which was making Frank invite Tim over more frequently than usual. Since Frank's 'usual' was synonymous with 'never' --okay, just to be scrupulously fair, 'hardly ever'-- any invitation was a rare and beautiful thing.
Chances were, Frank considered it less troublesome than getting his daughter a puppy. Tim was housebroken and he didn't shed. A puppy couldn't change a diaper or two, or give piggyback rides, or happily baby-sit the night he wanted to take his wife out -- okay, so maybe Frank’s motives were less than generous. The thought of Olivia was still enough to brighten up a particularly cheerless morning.
Tim Bayliss put the car in gear and headed toward Fells Point.
Life without caution
the only life worth living
love for a man
love for a woman
love for the facts
Frank Pembleton was having a good morning. It was busy, which was, when compared to chaotic or haphazard, particularly good indeed. He never slept much, so it had been no trouble to have breakfast on the table when Mary woke up to feed the baby. He'd showered and dressed while Mary ate and got Frank Jr. ready, and by the time Livvy was sitting up and asking to be noticed, he was able to take over. Whatever Tim, or oft-times Mary, claimed, a reasonable order could be maintained in a household with one baby, one toddler, and two working parents. It just required a little forethought and organization.
He even had time to watch his wife as she came down the stairs in her tapered black skirt and red silk blouse and appreciate all over again what a strikingly handsome woman she was. With that outfit, though, he preferred the large hammered-gold jewelry she'd worn when they'd gone out last time. They gave her that Queen of the Nile look-- Nefertiti, eat your heart out. The pearls she'd chosen today made her look too prim, made her look like her mother.
But there was no need to spoil a perfectly good morning. "I have plenty of time to drop the kids off before work," he generously offered, "Why don't you take it easy? Sit down, read the paper, have another cup of coffee."
She crossed her arms, raised her chin, tilted her head and gave him a pointed look -- Uh-oh. "What?" he asked, struck again by how alike Mary and Tim were in their displeased-with-Frank mannerisms.
"You'll drop them off?"
"I just said so, didn't I?"
"Where exactly do you think you'll drop them off?"
Obviously, 'day care' was not the answer. By the same token, the question either had no right answer or he hadn't a chance in hell of coming up with it. Best to wait her out. He had two partners to his life and neither suffered in silence. At least, so it seemed to him. They tended to claim otherwise.
Mary aimed a long and withering glare at him. Nowthat was unlike Tim, who never could let an eye-to-eye confrontation between them last long. For the life of him Pembleton couldn't figure out why his wife was so exasperated. He hadn't put a single foot wrong all morning. He had even managed not to let out a peep when he'd found her cup in the sink, unrinsed, the remnants of her coffee fast drying into tar.
She shook her head as if at a lost cause, turned away and reached into the closet for her coat. "What's today? Anddon't quote me the calendar."
Well, in that case, he was again an answer short. He reached past her, pulled out the coat and held it for her.
She pushed her arms through and let him settle it over her shoulders. "Well?"
"Well?" The nuns used to do this, too, draw out pronouncing his sins so the anticipation was worse than the punishment.
She sighed again. "It's my parents' anniversary, Frank. I've been telling you since Christmas they want to celebrate with a family dinner."
Okay, that explained the pearls. A family dinner. Now that Mary had been fruitful and multiplied. The Whelans hadn't been so inclusive when their daughter had only a mere husband. Lately they'd managed to uproot themselves from their beloved New York and settle in D.C., and wasn't that a deliberate kick in the gonads? For years they'd resented, even reviled, him for taking their only child out of civilization into the wilds of --gasp!-- Baltimore, but the moment Mary wanted a separation from him, there they were, packed up, moved and settled further south than they ever cared to be, conveniently close to where Mary happened to work.
"I told you the kids will be with them today," she went on. "We'll join them after work and we're all going to sit around a table like a real family and have dinner. For once, no pissing contests with my dad, no shouting matches. And, yes, my mom tends to overcook the food, but you tend to burn it, so I don't see where you have room to criticize."
He grimaced. He had caught the burning oatmeal before the smoke alarm, cleared away the mess and scrubbed the pot to a shine it hadn't known since it had left its factory. Shecould've let it go without a mention. Which was, of course, her point. "I'm going to love your mom's food," he lied shamelessly. "I'll be on my best behavior, promise."
Why any couple would want to spend their anniversary with children and grandchildren was beyond him. He hoped he and Mary never got that bored with each other, and found himself scared by that thought. He had every reason to be scared; it was only six months since she'd returned home and four since her risky delivery. He still wondered if she would have come back to him without that second, unexpected pregnancy. As she was leaning over to pick up Olivia, he pulled her into his arms, wrapped them tight around her. "I love you, Mary." He buried his face into her neck and breathed in her soothingly familiar scent, "I love you so much."
"Oh, Frank…." There was another sigh in her voice, but now it was an indulgent one. "I know." She turned her head to kiss him sweetly and patted his arm. "But that's going to be poor excuse if you're late tonight."
He held her a little longer and she seemed in no hurry to pull away, but workday loomed closer with each minute, the AM station reported backups on the B-W Parkway, Frank Jr. started to fuss, and Livvy was diligently working her way free of her shoes and socks. Of late, life as usual in the Pembleton household. His Shining-City-on-the-Hill, as he'd once told Brodie. Recently doubled in population, noisy and hectic like never before, but his very own.
…as often when the air
Moves inward toward a silent core of waiting,
How with a single purpose time has traveled
By secret currents of the undiscerned
into this realm. Weather abroad
And weather in the heart alike come on
Regardless of prediction.
Chris Rawls found his way back from the alley into the kitchen of his restaurant more by rote than intent. He closed the heavy metal door behind him and leaned into its support for a moment, trying to collect himself. He realized he was still gripping the garbage bags that had been his reason for going out. He dropped them, or maybe they just fell.
"What's wrong?" Noreen, his hostess, asked, frowning at the trash that had rattled and drawn her attention. "The dumpster's too full?"
I'd say. Rawls was gripped by an insane urge to laugh. He swallowed it down, alongside the urge to throw up. Bile roiled at the junction of his stomach and esophagus. Damn Raymond. He was the busboy, he should've taken out the trash before he'd left last night.
And what if the corpse had been put in the dumpster earlier than that? What was he doing, wishing that sick, bloody sight on an eighteen-year-old boy? He was a grown man. Once upon a time he'd seen a lot of ugliness, even death, results of neglect, drugs, disease. He could handle it, of course he could -- or maybe not. Somebody had started a pot of sauce, the normally comforting smell of simmering tomatoes triggered the image of red-wet pulp -- where he'd expected to see a face. His stomach clenched. People should have faces, even dead people were supposed to have faces.
"What's the matter?" Noreen approached, now concerned. "Chris, are you okay?"
"Yeah," he lied, "I'm fine." The customary sights and sounds of the Zodiac as the kitchen staff was arriving and picking up their morning routines looked grotesque to him. How strange that when violence side-slammed the normal, it was the normal that suffered. He was familiar with that skewed perception, having lived and even slept with it for years. He'd worked hard to fashion for himself a calm, quiet corner of the world since then, and he guarded it carefully.
Noreen was taking note of the fact he was still barring the door with his back. "Is somebody out there? Did some creep do or say something to you?" Not an unreasonable concern. Alleys in gay neighborhoods weren't the safest of places, even in daylight. What was unreasonable was Noreen, wispy as a willow weed, looking ready to go through him and the door to give a piece of her mind to whatever lurked out there.
It steadied him. He pushed off the door. Time to deal with it. "Nobody there you need to worry about, but don't let anyone go out the back. Be an angel and put on a pot of coffee, will you? I'll explain soon's I can." In other circumstances, she'd have snapped she wasn't the kitchen help, but right then she simply took a closer look at him to confirm that he was as okay as he claimed and went to the coffee maker.
Chris Rawls really wanted a stiff drink, but caffeine would have to serve. He had to talk to the police soon. Having alcohol on his breath this time of the morning would give the cops a convenient reason to peg him as just another dissolute fag. They'd peg him with some unflattering adjective anyway, he couldn't help that, but he could help giving them a reason.
As any rational gay man living and running a modest business in Urban, USA, the less he had to do with the police, the better he liked it. But there was a dead man right outside the backdoor of his restaurant, in the dumpster he rented from the city. Besides, the obscene incongruity of the satin and lace teddy on the otherwise nude corpse screamed hate crime. Added to the recent murder of a gay man outside another Mt. Vernon establishment, it hit too close to home. Chris Rawls was not militant or radical, but he knew responsibility when it became his own.
He'd call the police without delay. He'd be polite, or at least inoffensive. He was a realist, he didn't expect much consideration in return. He picked up the phone, thinking: It's going to be a thankless day.
The police arrive at dawn
like death and childbirth.
City of accidents, your true map
Is the tangling of all our lifelines.
"The Will to Change"
"Do me a favor and don't turn it into one of those days, okay?" Frank Pembleton said. Except for a let's go, it was the only thing he'd said to his partner since the start of their shift.
"Good morning to you, too," Tim Bayliss answered placidly. It was early yet, they were driving to their first call. Ever since he'd lost his nicotine-and-caffeine-crutch to a stroke, Frank took longer than usual to locate his interpersonal skills in the morning. Civility would arrive later, if at all. "Define 'those days,' will you?"
"Just remember I didn't choose this call. It was our turn."
"What is it?"
"Partially nude dead male in an alley off Read in Mt. Vernon, figure it out."
A primarily gay area, but not one of the rougher ones, and not enough reason to start in on one's partner. A bad-natured Pembleton was normal duty-hazard. A gratuitously bad-natured one was above-and-beyond. "Pardon me for asking, but how was your morning this morning, Frank?"
They saw the black&whites mid-block as they rounded the corner. "My this morning was fine." He drove up to the yellow crime tape. "It's my tonight that's going to bite my ass."
Bayliss snorted, "So, what the hell, you'll console yourself by chewing out mine all day."
"It's a case like any other case, that's all I'm saying." He parked the car angled toward the sidewalk and turned off the motor.
"Yeah, Frank, I know. Verbally, you're a tower of restraint."
Pembleton, who never missed a point, chose to miss that. "Better than running off at the mouth about everything."
Tim Bayliss ground his teeth.
They exited simultaneously, closed their doors with somewhat harder shoves than absolutely necessary, took a brief moment to glare at each other over the roof of the car, then fell in step and headed for the alley together. By their standards, it was a mellow morning. Their conflicts were like the fireworks over Fort McHenry. If you couldn't see and hear them from three counties away, they weren't worth noticing.
Chris Rawls was standing to one side of the alley, giving the names of his employees and neighbors to an uniformed cop, when he saw the plainclothesmen arrive. The Coroner was on the scene already. These two had to be from Homicide. The black detective drew his eye right away. With his close-shaved head and deep dark complexion, compact and impeccable --really, who'd wear a pristine white trenchcoat to a dumpsite murder?-- the man had the kind of presence that called attention to itself. He could be bad news. Most African-Americans considered hate crime to be a term that only applied to the victimization of their own race. To them, gays were undeserving interlopers -- as if being hated and hounded, beaten and killed was a prize anybody would vie for.
While helping the patrolman with the correct spellings of the names, Rawls glanced at the other detective -- oh, good, the man couldn't have given more than a cursory look at the body and he was already involved with the M.E. over something. Judging by their expressions and body language --hers, exasperated; his, bewildered-- something personal. Wonderful.
Eventually, the black detective approached with his partner in tow, extended a greeting and his hand. "Hi, how're you doing? You're Chris Rawls?"
"Yes." He accepted the handshake, noting the partner didn't offer one, and neither man offered the courtesy of a name or even a title. Thankless day, indeed.
"You found the body?"
"When I came out to dump last night's trash, yes."
The other detective finally had a contribution to make, "You have any idea who it is?"
What, he hadn't noticed the lack of a face? "Well, it was kind of hard to recognize." Despite the lousy first impression, now that he was looking at him at close quarters, Rawls noticed how tall the man was, then couldn't help noticing how attractive he also was. "You guys want to talk inside? I just put on a fresh pot of coffee."
The detectives consulted with each other by sharing a glance and agreed. "Yeah," from one, "Okay," from the other. But immediately the tall one changed his mind, "You know something, I'm gonna be just a second. Julianna -- uh, Dr. Cox, can I talk to you?" and off he was again after the woman.
Attention span of a gnat, obviously.
The black detective chose to pause and wait for his partner to rejoin him. What was that about, safety in numbers while in queerdom? Rawls shrugged and went inside. He could get seriously angry, except what good would it do? Throwing his temper up against their disinterest would accomplish precisely nothing. So he'd go to the other extreme, be polite and helpful enough to make their teeth ache.
He'd earned his living by selling one thing or another since the age of fifteen, had learned early your wares had to appeal; repel and you starved. Right then, he needed to sell to two homicide detectives that a victim in a crime with homosexual overtones was nevertheless a murdered human being. Others could carry the placards and shout the protests. In his experience, it was harder to ignore a pleasant man looking directly at you than a hostile crowd you didn't have to meet eye-to-eye.
He made sure he had Noreen close at hand when the detectives finally joined him, started introductions, and trailed off as if only then realizing he was lacking information. "I'm sorry, I must've been too preoccupied to catch your names."
"Pembleton," said the black man, "Tim Bayliss," added, with a first-name bonus, his partner. Yep, flies and honey.
"We'll all have some coffee, Noreen, please."
Detective Pembleton started to nod, caught a pointed glare from his partner, scowled and changed his mind, "Not for me, thanks."
Rawls showed them to a table. As soon as they settled in Bayliss flipped open a new page in a memo pad, poised his pen over it -- he had great hands, long, elegant fingers and, Rawls noted in passing, no wedding band. "So when was the last time someone checked that dumpster?"
Damn, he was good looking. Not flashy, more quietly appealing -- nice eyes, amber-brown, behind wire-rimmed glasses, lovely, wide mouth deeply curling into its edges, a charming upturn to the nose, and a neck that should be reason enough to outlaw collars. Unfortunately, the rest of him was swaddled in layers of loose clothing. "Evening before last," Rawls answered. "Raymond, the busboy, usually takes the trash out at closing time. I took it out this morning 'cause he left early last night -- Thanks," he said to Noreen who 'd come back with the coffee. As she leaned to put the cups down, Rawls noticed Bayliss noticing the low-cut of her little black dress.
He really should stop his own noticing then. He'd already calculated that, ten-to-one odds, Bayliss was straight. One, by sheer percentages. Two, any gay man with such long acres of himself to show off would package it better. Three, the man's typically lost behavior while interacting with the woman out there. And now the obvious interest in breasts. No use swimming against the tide.
"You think this is a hate crime?" he brought up the subject the detectives might prefer to avoid unless prompted.
"The lingerie, the severity of the beating -- " Bayliss nodded, " -- maybe. Or sex crime."
"Is your restaurant clientele mostly homosexual?" Pembleton wanted to know.
Oh, no, straights rush to Read Street eateries in droves. "Predominantly, yes. Why?"
"I guess what I'm trying to ask is whether leaving the body in your dumpster is some sort of a message. Do you have enemies?"
"Besides Jesse Helms?" Probably a wasted joke. "No. Do you think this is connected to Philip Robson's murder?"
Pembleton didn't recognize the name, but Bayliss did. In some detail, too. "He was the bartender at the White Crow. A couple of months ago. Munch is working the case," he informed his partner, then asked Rawls, "Did you know Mr. Robson?"
"Not personally, but everybody in the community has been following the investigation." A fair enough warning that they'd be following this one, too. Closely. "I don't suppose you have a suspect?"
"Not at this point, we don't, no."
"There's been any incidents at your restaurant?" Pembleton asked. "Fights, for example?"
"No, this is a quiet neighborhood place. A little pasta, a little red wine, the best tartuffo in Baltimore. I've seen a few lovers' quarrels, but nothing violent." He made the mistake of looking at Tim Bayliss while Tim Bayliss was not looking at him, allowing him to recklessly linger over the soft curve of the cheek, the way the dark smooth cap of his hair set off his lucent skin so nicely.
"Well, okay." Bayliss flipped his memo pad closed, slid his pen into his pocket. "We appreciate your cooperation."
"If there's anything more I can do, please, don't hesitate to ask. I'm sure you're going to run into some people who don't have the highest regard for the Baltimore Police Department." Wasn't it only about an hour ago he counted himself among them? He still didn't discount himself from among them, but suddenly he was willing to be persuaded otherwise. "Relations between your community and mine are -- " he understated, " -- a little strained."
"Look, Mr. Rawls, we don't have an agenda of any kind," Pembleton assured. He sounded sincere about it. "We're just working a murder."
"Two," Rawls corrected.
"Right." But clearly, Robson was no concern of his. He was agreeing for form's sake.
They all rose. "We need you, we'll give you a call." Bayliss reached to shake hands. "Thank you."
The long fingered, slender hand wrapped firmly around his, Detective Bayliss smiled and suddenly it was impossible not to think of a hundred and one uses for that beautiful mouth. For a very good reason Chris Rawls had trained himself to speak slowly and leave room to think before he opened his mouth. All his life he'd had to curb his impulsive side. Every once in a while, it still escaped.
Like now. "By the way, Detective?" Well, therewas that one percent, wasn't there? Still, he couldn't come out and say: You have a lovely neck and I'd like to nibble on it for the next three days. He said it in the only acceptable way, "I like your tie." Get it, pretty man?
"Hmh?" Instead of continuing to meet Rawls' eyes, the way he would have if he realized a piece of cloth was not the point, Detective Bayliss bent his head to consider his rather ordinary tie. "Thanks." He looked up, nodded politely and turned to go.
Nope, not a clue.
Pembleton had stopped in such a way that his partner came up short against him and for all the world it looked like a body tackle to remind a wayward Bayliss his place. In Detective Pembleton's case, Rawls realized, too much of a clue.
Okay, fine, he shouldn't have been playing with fire anyway. However tempting he happened to find it. Besides, he wasn't likely to see anything of them in any near future. How much priority would they give to this case?
"No, Frank, he wasn't flirting with me. He just liked my tie."
Whenwas Tim going to grow up? How could he have not noticed that Chris Rawls had been all but drooling over him? "I'm just saying you haven't always been comfortable with the gay community," Pembleton decided to stick to generalities. He'd leave the how-to-tell-when-a-man-is-hitting-on-you lecture for some other time, right after the one about the jolly-man-in-the-red-suit. "I'm giving you a compliment." He opened the door on the driver's side.
"Thank you," Bayliss expansively said across the roof of the car and got in.
"So what do you think?" Pembleton asked as he started driving. "Domestic gone sour?"
"Or an S&M scene that got out of hand," Bayliss suggested, scribbling in his ever-present notepad. "Or both," he added, proving he had indeed grown up some since his first day on the Homicide roster, when Kay and Beau had rid themselves of him by dumping him onto Pembleton's crime scene. Timothy Bayliss of those days, who'd come complete with his I'm-a-geek row of pens lining the pocket of his off-the-rack suit, his goofy grin, and a ten-year-old's haircut falling into his too-earnest eyes, could not have considered S&M scenes and domestics inclusively. "Could be a hate crime, I guess, but wouldn't a homophobe lose it long before a man strips down to a teddy?"
"Depends on how much humiliation he wanted to inflict. We'll just have to wait for the M.E's report -- how long haveyou been seeing Cox?"
"Since the holiday bash at the Waterfront. Doesn't matter, it's over, she made that clear -- one thing for sure, the victim wasn't walking around the streets dressed like that. And he wasn't small. Even with a car, somebody moved him, lifted him high enough to drop him into the dumpster. More than one perp?"
"Or a very strong one." He remembered the face that wasn't. "And full of rage -- you could've brought her along when you came over for dinner, you know."
"I don't think she knows people start out as children -- if the fingerprints don't come up, we have a problem. I doubt there're enough dentals left to be much use."
"May have to fall back on canvass. Big blue eyes and helpful disposition notwithstanding, we can't discount Rawls, his employees or his clientele."
"Or the other area residents -- they're green."
"Rawls' eyes -- we should stop by Missing Persons -- they're green, not blue."
Oh? He'd noticed? Frank Pembleton honked his horn stridently at a car that, if not warned, may have cut him off. He glared at the other driver while passing him. The other driver looked perplexed.
"But maybe we should let the post-mortem narrow it down first," Bayliss suggested as if offering a peace token.
"It'd be a stupid waste of time otherwise," he snapped.
"You're right, Frank." Tim Bayliss put away his notepad. "We'll wait."
The Zodiac had been bursting at the seams. Noreen was going to sulk at him for taking off and saddling her with the crowd, but Rawls had felt obligated in so many ways. Contrary to all his expectations, the two Homicide detectives had shown up at the Zodiac the same evening, having narrowed down the identity of the victim to less than a dozen men in all of Baltimore. To someone who had been living, breathing, and eating athis restaurant only the night before. Maybe to someone he knew quite well. How could he not offer to help?
Detective Pembleton parked directly in front of the Carnivale, one benefit of riding in a police car, and the partners followed Rawls into the club. There was a full-blown party in swing here, too. Unusual for a weekday, but it wasn't a normal weekday. Violence visited on one from their ranks brought out the need in people to mingle where they could surround themselves with their own kind.
Chris Rawls ignored the Carnivale's clientele determinedly making the most of life and looked around for Sam Farrell. Club scenes were nothing new to him. In fact, they were all too old to him. He was occupied with thoughts of Alan Costello, hoping against hope it wasn't that kind man who'd ended up in his dumpster. Still, he couldn't miss seeing Detective Bayliss walk into the gay-club, take it in and break into a smile as if it were a big and glitzy amusement park brimming with unexpected thrills. The detective, even after he'd lost his earlier preoccupation, had been polite and business-like so far. But just then, watching the raucous party with avid eyes, high color on his cheeks, and that wide, bright, shiny smile, Tim Bayliss looked like a man whowanted to join in on all the reindeer games.
Maybe he was only waiting for an invitation.
Maybe I'm wishing too hard, Rawls told himself. It wasn't the time or the place anyway. For one, Pembleton kept a tight leash on his partner. For another, and more importantly, a human being had been murdered. If it turned out to be Alan, then not one but two men had had their lives taken from them; Sam just didn't know it yet. Chris Rawls intimately knew the pain of losing someone you loved for years and years, when the definition of loving owned one face, one body, one voice. It was not a wound that ever healed. Scabbed over, yes. Healed, never.
Sam couldn't have known Alan had brought a young hustler to dinner at the Zodiac last night, or he'd have called the restaurant first, before he'd risked compromising the secret of his lifestyle by contacting Missing Persons. Perhaps, like Rawls had preferred to do once, Sam Farrell didn't care to know how his lover spent his time outside of their home. Unlike Rawls, though, Sam had nothing to worry about; all Alan ever wanted to do with the street boys was to get them off the streets, warm them, feed them, even if only temporarily.
How unfair if Alan Costello had died so brutally just because he was a born father and couldn't let lost kids stay lost. Life wasn't fair, of course, least of all on the streets of Baltimore. "Where's Sam?" he squeezed through the crowd and asked the bartender. The man pointed him toward the back and Rawls called out to the detectives to follow.
If the body was Alan's, who else but Sam, the man who'd held and loved that body for years could possibly recognize it now? Of course, there was still a possibility the corpse belonged to somebody else.
Oh, dear God, itis Alan. Rawls knew it as soon as he saw Sam coming back down the corridor of the morgue, still in company of the two detectives who had escorted him into one of the rooms to view the body. Dead man walking after the execution.
But if he thought another second about what Sam was going through, he'd bolt, so he shouldn't think about it. If he let himself feel any deeper the mind-numbing horror of identifying the broken and bloody remains of -- no, dammit, don't think.
The cruelest grace of life, there were always the mundane practicalities. Someone had to think of them and he seemed to have volunteered. "I'm so sorry, Sam," he said, all the while knowing right then Farrell could hear nothing but himself, falling. A rushing wail, while you fell and fell and never stopped and wanted so badly to reach rock bottom and crash and shatter into pieces and make it stop hurting -- don't think! "Come on, Sam, let me take you home." He looked at the detectives, daring them to object.
"Sure," Bayliss told Farrell, quietly, "We know where to reach you," and his partner simply nodded.
"I just…just a minute, okay?" Farrell cast about, lost, "Where's…?"
Fastest on the uptake, Pembleton pointed out the door to the bathroom, which Farrell closed after himself, leaving the three men clustered together awkwardly in the hallway.
"You don't have to wait," Rawls told the others. The detectives he'd only this morning thought indifferent had obviously been working hard through the day and now it was into the evening. "I can call a cab and take Sam home. Your shift must be long over."
The partners shared another one of those consulting glances. Rawls knew which one would state his decision first and sure enough, "Tonight was going to be insufferable anyhow," Pembleton told Bayliss with a shrug, "I'll just suffer in a different way. You have anything you can't put off?"
"Yeah, I do. Finding Alan Costello's killer."
Rawls decided he owed Detectives Pembleton and Bayliss, especially Bayliss, a huge apology.
Pembleton looked as if he'd expected no other answer, excused himself, mumbling he'd better call Mary. His wife, probably.
Left alone with Rawls, Tim Bayliss shifted from foot to foot. "Think he's okay in there?" he asked, indicating the bathroom.
"No. I, for one, am willing to bet he'snot okay in there." Grown people asking silly questions should learn to live with smart-ass answers.
"That's not what I -- I mean…" Was he actually blushing? "Should we check on him?"
Rawls was already regretting his retort. Both cops had been nothing but perfectly civil, and at the bar earlier, Bayliss had been decent enough to sit down to bring himself to Farrell's eye level and break the news kindly. "I shouldn't have said that, I'm sorry," he apologized. "I think we should just leave him alone to collect himself. Nothing we can do is going to make it better right now." He sighed and added, "Or worse."Nothing was worse. Being hacked apart from -- don't think about it! Think about something else, anything else. Is it raining outside? Do all morgues lack windows? Why does this gangly, somewhat clumsy man who looks ridiculously like a boy yet to grow into his body appeal to you so much? When are you going to grow old enough to learn that if wishes were horses….
"He called Costello his 'husband,'" one part question and three parts curiosity. "Is…is that…uh, customary?"
"They were exclusive, committed, and men. How else could he categorize it?" He looked at Bayliss' face that was struggling to stay expressionless. "Just a word that serves a purpose in an inadequate language, Detective, it does not necessarily define the sex roles between them."
Now Bayliss definitely blushed and denied immediately, "I wasn't asking about that."
"Yes, you were."
A deeper blush and, after a brief hesitation, the admission, "I guess I was, yeah."
Rawls decided he liked that warm hue on the man's skin, couldn't help wondering how he'd look flushed with sexual heat. "Some couples prefer set roles, but others practice more…equality, shall we say?"
"What about equality?" Pembleton asked, having just returned, making Bayliss, who hadn't seen him come back, jump.
"A concept my community invokes as often as yours," Rawls smoothed over the awkward moment. "Just making conversation. I think a good way of practicing it would be, do unto others no more or less than they want done."
While Pembleton considered that approach to equality in general and didn't seem to find it objectionable, Rawls was noticing one thing. Tim Bayliss had to be a decent detective. He'd recognized the clue he'd missed just that morning. He was skittish about it, but he wasn't missing it. "Anyway, I shouldn't keep you," Rawls said. "I'll take care of Sam. Please, just find the sick bastard before somebody else's loved one doesn't make it home."
It had come down to legwork, as usual. Talking to too many young men, quietly desperate or desperately flamboyant, on too many dark and damp street corners had netted a name: Peter Fields. Even though he remained elusive so far, there was no reason to attribute much brain power to the idiot who had left Costello's belongings and the heavy hammer which was probably the murder weapon easily locatable in his rooms. When he got greedy or hungry again, he'd start cruising his usual haunts. It was only a matter of waiting long enough.
The night shift wasnot one of the highlights of life in the Homicide Unit. And when it wasn't theirs, it had even less appeal. There were too many people in the squadroom who were neither total strangers nor true cohorts, but some ill-fitting group in between. Frank Pembleton liked to think of things as either his and nobody else's, or somebody else's and no business of his. Ballard's intrusion on his desk was bad enough, and while he understood having to share it with others on other shifts, he simply hated being there to watch it. He'd coaxed Tim into the break room. Somewhat neutral territory, except it made him hanker even more for caffeine. He kept repeating to himself the fast-aging litany: I will not have coffee -- today. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe there should be a Caffeine-Compulsives Anonymous: Hi, I'm Frank and I crave rich, dark Colombian. Oh, yeah, talking about it would help a heap, wouldn't it? Now all he could think about was: And I just might have a cup. Okay, maybe not right now, but tomorrow. Yeah, tomorrow, definitely.
"You should go home, you know," Tim spoke up. "There's no guarantee Fields will show up at any of the stakeouts tonight."
"So why are you still sitting here?"
"You have a life." He lifted the Rubik's cube he'd been fiddling with. "I have a puzzle."
"Yeah, well, my life's gonna kill me if she catches me before she has a chance to sleep on it. I'll stick around here -- give me that thing."
Obediently, Bayliss handed it over. In two minutes flat, Pembleton handed it back. Bayliss was the methodical one, Pembleton preferred leaps of intuition. He was bored, so he threw one out, "That's your metaphor for the job."
Bayliss frowned at the all too square and solid object in his hand. "You mean like Brodie and his metaphors?"
"The water cooler, the mail cubicles, yeah, like that." He nodded at the cube, then pointed over his shoulder in the general direction of the interrogation room, "It's a box that holds a confounding puzzle. You can't rest until you solve it."
"Actually, Frank, no. Thisis my rest. A break from the puzzle that really confounds me," he reached and held the cube pointedly close to his partner's head, "constantly confronts me, confuses --"
"Aw, stop complaining," Pembleton waved, dismissive. "You love it, you thrive on it. You wouldn't have it any other way."
Bayliss sat back with a sigh. "You know, Frank, that's like saying the pig thrives on being eaten."
"Only if you're in a real deep funk. Even then, I'd say…" he considered, "oh, I'd say, it's like saying: wood has a talent for burning."
"Not at all. Yours is self-pity. Mine's poetry."
"Can't help notice I end up consumed either way," Bayliss grumbled.
One of the late shift secretaries stuck her head around the corner, "Pembleton, Bayliss, for you."
They both moved, Bayliss' long stride taking him first to the nearest phone. He listened to the caller, mouthed, "Floss," at Frank, "Thank you, we'll be there shortly," he said into the receiver, dropped it to its cradle, and called out to the uniforms they'd kept on hold since returning from Fields' apartment, "We're cleared for take-off, let's go."
Many a time Tim Bayliss had come out of the box a loser. Some defeats had burrowed into him and set up housekeeping there forever. To start with, Risley Tucker, the squatter on by far the largest festering real estate of his failures. Partnered with the Master of the Box since day one, he was also used to being bested in it. It was a source of pride for Bayliss when, at first, he could hold his own, and later when he took over more and more often and Frank let him, a testimony in itself. Then there were all those wins, running the gamut from hard-won to windfall.
After six years he shouldn’t be coming out of the box unable to tell between win and loss.
He'd won, hadn't he? Peter Fields had confessed. For once, Pembleton had been invisible in the box.He, Tim Bayliss, had made Fields open that profane mouth he claimed men loved and confess to bashing in Alan Costello's brains, a man whose apparent fault had been a desire to help the lost youth of the streets. That and, oh yes, being gay. Bayliss had followed the same maxim that made Frank the best –when in the box do as the box demands—and played Fields' obscene game until he’d won.
As good a theory as any. Defensible.
Except from inside his skin. He knew that flush too slow to dissipate from his neck and breast and lower belly, the beads of moisture he could feel over his lip and the ones collecting into a slow drop to run down the middle of his chest. Too intent on getting the confession, he'd been careless, he'd let it get to him. It was one thing if once in a long while a vague outcast of a folly woke him to drying sweat and stained sheets, quite another letting it infect the job.
He must cool it off. Wash it off. Something, now, quickly. Before he had to think about it any further. Except his partner's back was squarely in his way. "Hey, Munch," Pembleton called across the squadroom. "We’re done, your turn."
"My turn?" Recalled from Section D of The Sun, John Munch looked around as if the answer was hovering in the air over his shoulder. "My turn for what?"
Bayliss rubbed his hands hard against each other, then against his pants. He'd frisked hundreds of men without giving it a single thought, so how come his palms now felt imprinted with the memory of the hustler's body? Just cause and effect, he told himself. The creep's words and his sick motives had caused his attention to be drawn, that was all. But what exactly had caused the creep's attention to be drawn to him? Pembleton, not the easiest person to ignore, had kept pushing himself into the man's face, yet the hustler wouldn't waver from his focus on Bayliss. Why? Christ, Frank, will you just get out of my way and let me find a breath of fresh air somewhere? He attempted to step around his partner.
Still talking to Munch, Pembleton reached back and stopped Bayliss from leaving by snagging his sleeve. "Fields confessed to Costello. He's all yours for Robson."
"What for? You've got a case of queer on queer. Robson got mugged and shot in an alley, no wallet, no ring, no watch on the body. Pure and simple."
"No," Bayliss suddenly found it necessary to correct the misconception. "Costello was the victim of a hate crime." He frowned down at Frank's hold. He so badly did not want to be touched right then. But this wasn't a touch, it was a leash.
Munch snorted. "You’re kidding, that little sweetheart's cookie doesn't crumble? I coulda sworn. I mean, didn't you take one look at him and think that boy can spin-dry you like a -- "
"Nobody thinks like you, John, spare us," Pembleton snapped . "For your information, Costello's wallet and watch were in Fields' possession, he's wanted for at least one other murder we know of, and men don't go into alleys only to get mugged."
"Those're usually found with their pants 'round their ankles and their unmentionables hangin' out."
Not if Peter Fields killed him, Bayliss knew with uncanny clarity, if Costello had begged for sex, he might still be alive. That homicidal maniac in there loves to feel superior to the ones who lust after his mouth, his young, firm body, his nice, hard ass. They're already his, he'll blow 'em or fuck 'em --heaven help me, he'll even confess murder to them. But he won't kill them.
Why negate them any further? They don't count. They're debased enough.
I need a shower.
Munch was folding away his paper hurriedly and rising. "Oh, all right, not like I've got another top tune. Might be worth a shot." Probably because Gee had chosen that moment to stop and glare at the board as he was returning from the break room. When their lieutenant saw red, it was safest to be seen hard at work at something. "Let me grab a coke first, gets dry in the box."
Was there a different temperate zone around him? Every breath he took felt like damp linen swaddling his throat. Had to be cooler on the roof. But why in hell was Frank still hanging on to him with less attention than he'd give to a stray coffee mug? Much less attention, in fact, if the mug actually held coffee.
The instant he pulled his sleeve loose and tried to go past his partner, though, Pembleton's attention spun on him like searchlight at prison break. "Where do you think you're going? Get back in there." Now he used his body to block Bayliss, pushed against him to keep him pinned in place.
"Huh?" He was no stranger to his partner's bouts of abrupt, deliberate physicality. When Pembleton got pushy, he often manhandled Bayliss as if he were an ungainly rag doll. But right then it made him feel dizzy.
"In there." As if to an imbecile. "Get back in there." Indicating with his head the door to the box. Which at that instant seemed the seventh circle of hell.
He tried to step back, came up against the side of the doorframe, edged and hard down his back, and also down his back, lukewarm and ticklish, his sweat. "He confessed, Frank, remember? You were there, he confessed, end of story." Let me go, he silently pleaded, not for the first time feeling chafed by Frank's nearness in too close a space. For the first time, though, afraid of it.
"He confessed to Costello."
"That's right, that was it, our case." Frank wasn't the biggest of men. Why did it always feel like there was just too much of him? "We're done, we're in black, I've done my bit, so let me go, okay?" Christ, he was practically begging.
Ever alert to fallibility, Frank heard it, of course. The way his nostrils flared and his tongue flicked over his bottom lip, he damn near tasted it. Suddenly Bayliss was terrified up this close Frank could smell it. Smell him. And know. Know.
"Come on, Tim, maybe twice a year John goes all out for a case. Robson isn't it, you know that. Rest of the time, he's plain lazy. Besides," with his fine, unerring cruelty toward weakness, Pembleton pitched his voice seductively low and cajoled, "the boy in there is yours. He's hooked." He rose on his toes so he was breath-close. Primed to let loose in the box only to be ignored, he was charged up. As it too often happened, Bayliss was the closest ground. "He'll just yawn in John's face. But you, he's getting off on the idea of getting to you, getting you hot." Underlined words, the way Frank liked to serve them, "He wants it so bad, turning you on, keeping you on, so bad he can taste it." On his full, mobile mouth the words had form, texture -- heat.
Like a blowtorch turned on an already blistering sunburn. Bayliss shoved at his partner to make him back up and give him some space . "What's the matter with you, Frank? The state's going to execute Fields for Costello. How many times does he have to die to suit you?"
"That's not the point. Who speaks for Robson?"
"Munch. It's his case, remember?"
"Been months, he hasn't had a thing to say yet."
Jesus, Pembleton hadn't known about the Robson case until Chris Rawls had brought it up -- twice, since Pembleton had promptly forgotten it. It wasn't fair, damn it. Bayliss leaned into Frank's face and hissed at him, "You know what, partner, you want Fields for Robson so much, go jack him off yourself."
"I would -- what, you think I wouldn't? But he hasn't got it for me," Pembleton patiently explained in his sweetest-reason tones. "He's got it bad and he's got it bad for you."
What was the use? In the guerrilla skirmish of their partnership, Frank always held the higher ground. He pulled back, took off his glasses, brushed his hand across his eyes, and nodded, "Yeah, all right, you're right. Okay, I'll go be his playmate." He squared his shoulders and found a smile, however tight-strung, "But you'd better still respect me in the morning."
Predictably, "What makes you presume I respect you now?" Just as predictably, a sharp turn on his heels and Frank walked away. He'd see no reason to waste breath on absolutes Bayliss must know: The only sin in Francis Pembleton's book, the killing that goes unpunished; the surest way of losing his respect, the inability to do one's job.
Bayliss wiped his glasses, put them back on. Now that he had some breathing space, it dawned on him that he and Frank had just spent long minutes in each other's faces, damn near plastered together, and nobody had paid them the slightest bit of attention. Come to think of it, nobody ever did. No cop liked intruding on a domestic in times of conflict or congress. To the squad, that's exactly what they had become. "Come on, John," he called out toward the break room. "Let's get to it before we have to put the moke on pension."
Pembleton watched through the one-way-window of the observation room as Bayliss and Munch entered the box and were immediately at odds with each other. John must think they should jointly persuade Fields two murders were no costlier than one and there was no reason not to tell the nice detectives all about it. Bayliss would know that strategy wouldn't work. Fields didn't care what he paid. As long as he first made some unwilling sucker pay. A perfect whore, really, his self-hatred so corrosive a substance that death or humiliation had become his price tag.
Munch sat down, frowned up at Bayliss whom he clearly thought was needlessly sucking up air in the box, shrugged him off and started the questioning himself. Pembleton knew Tim was pulling back to let Fields court him all over again. With any luck, the hustler would get distracted and careless.
Who'd have thought? Bayliss worked hard and tried harder, he was good, very good, but Pembleton had never expected this breakthrough from him. At first he'd thought Bayliss too naïve, too…well, vanilla…to realize he’s got a heart of darkness, never mind dare to reach into it, tear off a bloody piece and dangle it like bait when bait was called for. Then one late night on the pier he'd found out Tim was scarred too young and too deeply to go digging into his own guts.
When Fields had made the rules of his game clear and started in on Bayliss, Pembleton had tried his best condescending attitude. He'd thought being dismissive of the hustler was the only way they had left to get to that sick pride. He'd been flabbergasted as he'd watched Tim take the dare, internalize it, subordinate himself to it and offer it as ransom to that piece of slime. Many a man wouldn’t have had the courage. Fields had believed him. Hell, Pembleton had believed him.
He still believed him. Watching Tim circle the table as if lured into the orbit of its provocative center, watching him watch the hustler unblinkingly and with a preternatural quietude -- You’ve got it now, baby, you’ve finally got it and it’s poetry. Sheer poetry.
On the other hand, it was unexpectedly disturbing to see Fields preen under Tim's intense focus, watch the smug son-of-a-bitch bask under his imagined power over Tim Bayliss.He's the one with the power, you paltry idiot. It's not the kind of power that'll yield to the likes of you. It'll need matching and surpassing him, challenging him, compelling and taking him --
Whoa! Where hadthat come from? Frank Pembleton knew he could be intemperate at times, or get caught up in the theatricality of the box, but in the name of all the unsainted, that was a hell of a long way to take a pretext. That's all it was, a pretext, right? Just went to prove, didn't it? Tim Bayliss had become better than good.
So why did it suddenly feel like his partner had just done something unpardonable? Made the fake too real and switched the rules of the game -- onhim? Putting one over on the bastards was one thing, blindsiding him was quite another.
Cut it out, Idon't like it!
As if he'd heard, Bayliss obeyed. So abruptly did he shift his focus, call a halt to the interrogation and start walk out that Pembleton had to playback to himself the last few exchanges between Munch and Fields before his reason caught up. Bayliss hadn't been obeyingor aggravating him, of course; what had possessed him to take it all so personally? The man had simply been working the case, working it well, and attentively enough to know when it was over and closed.
Life comfortably settled back into its normal groove and Frank Pembleton also put away the case, except for generously deciding to take care of the remaining details and give his partner some breathing room. Tim had had no choice but let his chains be yanked by that little creep; he'd earned a break or two.
"What's the matter with you?" Munch was calling across the squadroom after Bayliss as he slammed the door of the box closed behind him. "You do nothing but stalk about -- " He saw Pembleton come out of the observation room and turned on him, "You, I was sitting at my desk minding my own newspaper and you couldn't let me be. Your big oaf of a partner shambles around, totally useless, leaves me all by my lonesome to deal with Mr. Charming in there -- "
"John," Pembleton tried to cut in.
Munch wasn't listening, "Just when I'm about to get somewhere and the priapic prince looks ready to spill it all, your great lurking oracle snaps out of his stupor-- "
"John -- "
"Says, 'Forget it, he didn't do it,' pronounces it all a waste of time and walks out on me. "
"Hedidn't do it."
"Not you, too. Didn't you hear? He was about to confess."
"Yeah, I heard. You're right, he was about to confess. But he didn't do it. He was pumping you for information so he could dress up his confession."
"Then why should he confess? What for?""
"Because he's a cock tease."
"Never mind. Take my word for it, he didn't do it."
"Oh, right, what was I thinking? Even in Sanskrit it doesn't make sense, but if Great Pembleton says so it must be true. Once more mere mortals stand astounded. You know something, you and Bayliss deserve each other. What esoteric weirdness has partnered together, let no cop with an ounce of reason come in between. Woe to those…"
Pembleton left Munch grousing and went after his partner, found him in the bathroom, washing his hands with the collective zeal of half-a-dozen surgeons. "Getting ready to take Fields to booking."
Tim kept scrubbing his hands raw. "Okay."
"I'll take him, you don't need to come."
"All the years I've been on this beat, I've seen my share of homicide cops come through door 203 for the first time." He paused long enough that Bayliss was forced to meet his eyes. "You turned out to be best to walk in through that door."
Bayliss looked dumb-struck, opened his mouth but nothing came out. He only blinked. And kept blinking.
"Just thought you should know," Frank added with as solemn a nod as felt right for the occasion and watched an astonished smile finally break through and light up his partner's face. Enough said, he spun on his heels and left. He wondered when Bayliss would remember to turn off the faucet.
Thames Street, which the locals insisted on pronouncing 'tames,' teemed with two diverse groups, one determinedly ignoring the other, the other doing its damnedest to be impossible to ignore. Rawls was about to despair of finding close-by parking when someone obligingly pulled out of a spot facing the storefront art gallery directly across from the police station. He grabbed the space and parked his car, wondering why Act-Up was still filling the street in force. He'd first heard the news that Alan's killer had confessed and was in custody through Detective Pembleton's courtesy call he'd taken at Sam's house where he'd spent the night. On his way over, he'd heard it on the radio as well.
He got out of his car, thinking that perhaps the morgue would be the place to ask how to go about reclaiming Alan's body, then shook his head at himself. Who was he kidding? If he'd only wanted to save Sam the procedural details, he could have simply picked up the phone. He'd paid too many dues for the privilege of living his life honestly to start lying to himself at this late date. He should admit he wanted an excuse to see Tim Bayliss and test the waters one last time.
On his way across the street, he was recognized and greeted by a handful of people and stopped by one. "Hi, Chris, did you forget your placard at home? Wanna borrow mine?" asked the young man with an athlete's physique and a cherub's face, Bobby Anderson, who worked at Lambda Rising during the day and wrote articles for the more militant gay publications at night. Then he smiled his angelic smile and answered himself, "No, not your style, I know. But I keep hoping," investing the last bit with the same innuendo he hadn't tired of trying every time their paths crossed.
Rawls smiled back only politely, as usual. He indicated the crowd questioningly. "You did hear, didn't you, the killer is already in custody?"
"Yeah. Fast work, wouldn't you say? A little too fast? Too convenient?"
"Meaning we'd like to make sure they're not simply railroading one of us. Easy target, you know. Besides, what about Phil Robson?"
"I don't know about the Robson investigation, but I was in the middle of Alan's. If they were all handled as well you could throw away your placards."
"Yeah? Well, maybe miracles do happen, but we'll just wait and see."
With a nod Rawls granted, not the point, only his acceptance that he wasn't going to change anybody's mind. He started to walk away but Anderson grabbed his arm and leaned close enough for his blonde curls to brush Rawls' cheek. "Anytime you really want me to believe in miracles, you can."
He shook off the hold, but stayed close so he could say his piece without advertising it unnecessarily, "I don’t do boys, Bobby, much less boys with an agenda." It was common knowledge Anderson had a habit of outing his conquests. "There's no pay-off in it for you, either, I've been out as long as you've been alive."
"Who needs an agenda for you? Did you ever look in a mirror?"
"Yeah, and I'd like to keep looking in it with good conscience. Excuse me." He headed for thestairs to the station.
"Never mind conscience," a non-believer in non-advertising, Anderson called out after him, "where's your anger, Chris? Don't you take enough flak? Aren't you tired of taking it for the closet cases who won't come out and take their own?"
Rawls ignored him. Half a dozen cops, most in uniform, were clustered at the blue-and-white door to the station. All except one were keeping carefully professional faces. A perverse impulse made Rawls choose the one scowling furiously, a short, running-to-fat, middle-aged man in a rumpled suit and a stained tie. "Would you direct me to the Homicide Unit, please?"
Grudgingly, "Who're you looking for?" He sounded as if he'd been inhaling helium. The high voice coupled to his bristling bantam rooster look was rather amusing.
"Detective Tim Bayliss," Rawls thought it safe to answer. He was legitimately involved with a case.
"Why am I not surprised?" was mumbled into the Daily Grind coffee cup the man lifted to his mouth, "Second floor, right."
"Thank you," Rawls said with an impeccably polite nod, and went through the cheerily painted doors of the brick behemoth.
Another set of stairs greeted him, long and impressive enough to lead to a Mayan Temple, topped by, instead, a large sign proclaiming: Criminal Investigations Division. Once he climbed, a little surprised and a lot pleased at being only slightly winded, turning to the right brought him to the door to Homicide, to find a cavernous, cluttered place inside. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the way the low-budget office furnishings were crammed in, and when he paused, lost, a black-granite mountain of a man asked his business in a mighty-oracle voice and directed him to the right desk.
When he saw Rawls coming, Bayliss quickly swept away some papers and photos into a drawer, rose to shake hands, moving as if suddenly at odds with his long limbs. "Mr. Rawls, hi…uh," he smiled uncertainly, adding to his flustered look. "Hi."
"Chris. I hope I'm not interrupting."
"No, no, it's fine. Please," he indicated the chair on the side of his desk and sat back down. "How's…uh --" for an instant he couldn't locate the name, making Rawls wonder how fast Homicide detectives disassociated themselves from their completed cases, " -- Sam?"
"It was a rough night, but he's going to manage. Getting your partner's call early this morning helped, gave him some peace. He pulled himself together so he could go pick up their daughter, she's flying back from college. For her sake, he'll cope."
"They have a daughter?"
"Well, biologically she is Alan's, but Sam helped raise her since she was very young. She's eighteen, and I think Alan said he got his divorce and her custody in eighty-six." He answered Bayliss' unspoken question, "Yes, Alan was married. It sometimes takes men a long time to know who they really are."
"And longer to accept it?" Bayliss said almost too quietly to hear. Posed as a question, it was nevertheless a statement.
"Some never do."
Following Bayliss' example, he'd pitched his voice low, too, and he realized it was giving them an air of intimacy. Not the place for it, especially since the glowering man he'd approached outside was now sitting a few desks down and paying undue attention. He changed the subject. "I'd like to help out Sam, if possible. Can you tell me what should be done to get the morgue to release Alan?"
"Just choose a funeral home, they'll know what to do. Once they have permission signed by the next of kin, they'll take care of everything."
Considering Sam's need for secrecy, Rawls doubted the two men had drawn up notarized provisions. Good thing their daughter was eighteen, or Sam may now be unable to make any decisions about his lover's burial. Years of devotion and no rights. Another reality Rawls was familiar with. It was also another worn track he should immediately get off of. He changed the subject again. "I'd appreciate the opportunity to thank you," that was too obvious, so he quickly added, "and your partner. May I invite you to dinner at the Zodiac? "
"Thank you, but…well, Frank, you see, goin' out to dinner, he'll want to take Mary, that's his wife, and, uh, well…"
"The atmosphere may not be suitable, I understand," Rawls rescued him. "How about you?" Which was, after all,the point. "We have one of the best wine lists in Baltimore -- I mean, if you drink French reds." He left it hanging as a question.
A short pause, "Yeah, I've been know to," a quick look around, "drink some…" a shorter pause, "…reds."
Oh, really? "Yeah?"
Well, well. "The offer's open." Okay then, no need to keep cajoling a horse already willing to drink. He rose to leave.
"How about tonight?"
Whoa, that had been too abrupt to be motivated by anything but fear of losing nerve. "Tonight, sure, that'd be great."
"Great. Okay. Yeah."
Oh, dear, Rawls realized, he's trying to talk himself into itafter the fact.
Trying too hard to sound casual, Bayliss asked, "What time tonight?"
"Eight o'clock, great, all right." With a tremulous smile, he reached out and shook hands, "I'll be there, okay," looking for all the world like a school boy honor-bound to hold up his end of a rash bargain.
And Rawls knew, without a single doubt, that Tim Bayliss may have wondered about drinking reds, but he had yet to taste any.
On his way out, he ran into Detective Pembleton, who greeted him amiably in passing. He wondered if Tim would tell his partner about his dinner date. Were they only professional partners, or did they share aspects of their personal lives, too?
Tim Bayliss parked his jeep around the corner from Zodiac, found himself adjusting his tie and smoothing his hair in the rearview mirror. What kind of dinner, Frank had asked, like adate dinner? I don't know, he'd answered, and he still didn't, but he was checking out his appearance. Something he didn't ever remember doing in preparation to meeting another guy before.
Frank had also warned, I don't think he's expecting what you're expecting. Behind it, of course, had been Frank's own expectations of Tim he didn't seem willing to let be compromised. This from the same man who had often accused Bayliss of homophobia. Obviously, intellectual liberalism was one thing, his partner going out to dinner with a gay man a whole different thing. Did he realize that was the exact equivalent of: I'm not bigoted toward blacks, I just don't want my daughter to date one?
Francis Pembleton, as fallible as the next man after all.
What about Timothy Bayliss, whatwas he expecting? Maybe nothing. Maybe just to understand, finally, why he had been a good basketball player and an even better swimmer, only to run away from both sports. They had filled his days of raging hormones with clean energy and camaraderie -- and deranged his nights with disjointed images of sweaty-hot or sleek-wet male bodies. Women turned him on without half-trying, he found exquisite pleasure with them, true. He could still remember spying his first nude girl, led on by a much more precocious Jim, at the age of twelve and the excitement she'd roused in him. But he could also remember his relief, bordering on gratitude, for the total lack of maleness at the join of her legs. Had he firmly decided then and there that he liked girls, period, because she'd been stirringly feminine, or safely non-masculine?
Did hereally want to know? At this late date?
Well, at this late date, he was still alone and, as he'd told Frank, still unhappy. What did he have to lose? He glanced at the mirror one last time. Perhaps he should've dressed more casually, shouldn't have worn a tie, since he had yet to see Chris wear one -- dammit, now he was sweating the details. Enoughalready, he admonished himself, got out of the jeep and went around the corner, took a deep breath, and entered the restaurant.
Chris Rawls wasn't wearing a tie tonight, either, but he had dressed in a well-tailored brown suit over a soft-wool black turtleneck. He approached with an openly delighted smile, making Bayliss realize he couldn't remember the last time anybodyhad greeted his arrival with delight, except maybe Olivia. He smiled back, suddenly feeling good about himself with or without a tie, reached to shake hands. "Hi. Sorry, I'm a little early."
"Hi. Don't be sorry, I'm a lot pleased."
The slender young woman he'd met the previous morning approached them and, as if they wereboth customers, asked, a little too theatrically, "Would you two gentlemen like to have a drink at the bar first, or are you ready for your table?"
"Noreen," Rawls said from between clenched teeth, drawing out the last syllable warningly.
"Or maybe you'd like to be alone." She gave Bayliss an appraising look, "How nice to see you again, Detective," damn near winked at him and swayed away.
Rawls shook his head. "Do you have sisters?"
"I don't. Or I'd have known better than hiring Noreen." He led the way to a table.
Bayliss took off his coat, which a busboy rushed to take, sat down and looked around. "Nice place you got here." Damn. One thing for sure, dating in his own gender hadn't magically improved him in the originality department.
"Thank you, but the bank owns most of it."
"You, too?" He answered Chris' questioning look, "I'm part owner in a bar, Waterfront. You may have seen it, it's right across from the Department."
"Some nice old buildings there."
"Pretty, yes, but don't ask what it takes to keep the plumbing going." A waiter arrived with a bottle of wine, poured it and took their orders. "So," Bayliss said once the young man had left, "you believe in astrology." Just making small talk.
"Hmh?" Rawls looked puzzled. "No, why – oh, Zodiac. No, you see, it predates me. The restaurant was already here when I bought the building. I had to change the fare. It used to be a new-age type of place. What did I know from things like tubers and curd, legume and sorghum? I left the name alone. Too much change alienates people."
Bayliss couldn't help thinking of Frank, "Tell me about it. You don't look all that Italian, though." And again, there was Frank in his mind's eye, giving him his frequent you-are-a-waste-of-time look. "Sorry, I should know better. You saw my boss today, didn't you? If he can be Sicilian, you can certainly be Italian."
"Only half, except for my palate." He smiled and explained, "My father was Polish and my mother was Italian. She cooked, he didn't, so my taste buds grew up one hundred percent Italian."
"Your parents, they're…?" Ignoring the use of past tense would be rude, wouldn't it?
"Dead?" Rawls smiled again, but now it was brittle. "To the Census Bureau, I don't know. To me, yes."
Oh. Bayliss didn't know what to say or how he'd get it past the foot in his mouth.
"Don't worry about it, please." Rawls seemed to consider the awkward moment his fault. "It was a long time ago." He reached as if to pat Bayliss' hand, seemed to think better of it and didn't touch.
Long time ago. That was no guarantee something was forgotten or had become painless. If anybody knew that, Timothy Bayliss did. He reached across the table to cover Rawls' hand, gave the apology he felt he –or if not he,somebody-- owed. "I’m sorry," he squeezed the warm hand under his palm firmly. "For your loss. And theirs."
A soft little startled smile on his full lips, Rawls looked at him with liquid-moss eyes fringed with impossibly long, dark lashes and it suddenly dawned on Bayliss that the man sitting across the table from him was beautiful. He must've been breathtaking in his youth. Now he must be close to forty, a little older than Tim, marked with lines of maturity, but still, no other word for it, beautiful.
It also dawned on Bayliss that suddenly he was contemplating the beauty of a man. Quite a change for him, wasn't it? Or was it?
Frank Pembleton didn't much like change. In fact, if he didn't employ his intellect over both the necessity and the inevitability of it, it downright terrified him. It had been one of the few things, maybe the first thing that had made Bayliss lose all patience with him: You've turned the miracle of life into a decorating problem, get out of my face.
He'd been young during the first upheaval of his life. He wasn't sure if his memories of it were his own or fashioned from retellings. For the longest time he'd kept thinking he remembered his mother and father very well. Not until he was an adult himself he'd realized that most of their images he'd thought he owned were time-frozen on his grandmother's photographs. Including the one in front of the car that had killed them on the Brooklyn Bridge. It wasn't until he'd been imprisoned inside his own mind after the stoke that he'd also realized why the remnant of a silly cartoon from his childhood had movement and sound but his parents were still and silent for him. He'd never had much of an opportunity to share his older siblings' memories. He'd stayed with his grandmother while his brother had gone to live with an uncle upstate, and his sister with an aunt on his mother's side in Atlanta. But for name and blood, they hadn't been siblings for over three decades.
You see, Tim, a decorating problem, I can handle. Hewas handling it. There wasn't a single foot of space on his living room floor that didn't contain something he'd prefer not to house but, he had accepted, an eighteen-month-old couldn't live without. And damn Tim Bayliss, for nearly half the clutter had been carried in through the Pembleton door attached to his rangy frame. Big mistake, inviting him over around Christmas.
He put the local paper down. City council politics made even poorer reading backed by the animal yowls some contraption made every time Livvy pulled its string. He cast a jaundiced eye on the noisy thing his daughter seemed enamored of, but no, Tim couldn't be that cruel to him, it had Whelan written all over it. Sliding to the floor, he tried to distract Livvy. Offering other toys got him ignored. Peek-a-boo didn't work, it never did for him. Maybe tactile play?
Livvy cooperated for a minute, dimpled with smiles when he blew into her tummy, then toddled off in search of other amusement. He'd seen Tim do that for endless minutes, damn it, and his daughter would twitter and giggle, grab fistfuls of his hair and wrap around him so Tim could gently toss his head and make her squeal and finally break into peals of laughter.
He rolled onto his back on the carpet and grumbled, "Maybe I should grow my hair."
"What was that?" Mary asked, coming back from the kitchen with a cup of cocoa.
"I'm trying to figure out why she thinks Tim's better company than I am."
Mary sat on the couch, tucked up her legs, "Oh, I don't know," looked down at her daughter and smiled, "If she were a gosling, I'd say it was all that early imprinting." She picked up the newspaper he'd abandoned.
"What imprinting?" But she'd already found something of more interest in the paper. "Mary? What 'early imprinting'?"
"After your stroke," she absent-mindedly informed somebody's article.
He sat up. "Ma-ry?"
"You tell me what."
"Oh." She pursed her lips, put down the paper and looked at him for a minute before speaking. "Okay, I will." Reaching, she picked up her mug, cradled it between her palms as if to warm them. "You had a stroke. I had a two-week-old baby and a husband in a coma. You woke up with eighty-five-percent paralysis. For months, I was at the hospital through your every meal, every bath, every therapy session. The earliest day care starts at six weeks. Didn't you ever wonder what I did with Olivia?"
"Of course I did, I asked, and you said -- "
"I said, 'She's fine, you concentrate on yourself,' and that's all you ever asked. You never asked how I coped, ifI needed help. Tim did."
"You told me your mother was here!"
"She was, much later. I didn't tell them right away. I wasn't ready to hear how dire my straits were."
"Tim took care of Livvy?"
"He used up his vacation time, then talked Gee into loaning him to Megan's shift. During the day he was either here or alternating with me at the hospital. He used to take her to the chapel so she could sleep undisturbed."
His own brother had only managed to scribble his name to a get-well card. His sister hadn't even done that much. In fairness, though, she probably hadn't heard. "Why didn't you evertell me? Why didn't he?"
"It's never easy to tell you of a kindness you don't take as an affront, Frank. At the time, it was impossible. We didn't decide not to tell you. Just that, weknow you. Don't let on to Tim now, either, you'll only make him uncomfortable." She picked up the paper again. "He's going to make a good father one day. Soon, I hope."
"Yeah, well," he mumbled. He didn't feel like telling Mary, considering whom Bayliss was seeing tonight, fatherhood was not likely to be an issue anytime too soon.
She went back to reading, adding as an afterthought, "I wish he wasn't so alone. He looks sadder by the day."
He did? Tim looked sadder by the day to Mary? I haven't been happy for a long time, he'd just that day told Frank. No, actually what he'd said was: I don't know if you've noticed this, Frank, but I haven't been happy for a long time.
In all honesty, Frank Pembleton, detector of many a truth, had never noticed.
Hadhe noticed, Chris-I-like-your-tie-Rawls? Was he busy noticing it right now?
Whirrr -- "YOWL, yip, yip, YOWL!" went the toy Livvy had rediscovered.
If it had had a neck, Frank would have wrung it.
Detective Bayliss of Baltimore City PD, CID, was telling stories of his tribe. This one involved somebody with the unlikely name of Munch and…Santa's son? Well, itwas a Christmas story. Had to be tough for a Homicide cop to distill appropriate dinner conversation from his experiences on the job.
Rawls had what he called one of his cross-threaded feelings at the pit of his stomach. A soft and bright dread. He'd started this thing on an impulse. It had been trivial to him. Later, he'd found himself attracted, intrigued, interested, but still, from a safe perspective -- until Tim Bayliss had squeezed his hand and tendered an apology, unowed and unadorned, a little stilted even. In that singular moment of clumsy eloquence, Chris Rawls had realized if he wasn't really careful he could get seriously lost.
"Sure, we could've been the biggest chumps in the history of the squad," Tim was now expounding on an impromptu wedding, "but how can you take the chance? I mean, imagine we'd done nothing and Lewis shows up with his family, his bride on his arm, and all he's got to show for his faith in his friends is an empty hall?"
He’s beautiful and he doesn’t know it, Rawls thought, watching Bayliss lit by the animation of the story he was telling and flushed with the wine, he’s also lonely, knows it, but doesn’t know what to do about it – and I should’ve left him the hell alone. Whether I read him right or wrong at theCarnivale, this can bring nothing but trouble.
Somebody's sister from Italy almost became the subject, got quickly discarded in favor of the somebody herself, "Kay Howard, the best -- " Bayliss told him, seemed to think better of it, " -- well,one of the best murder police I know. The other's Frank, of course," he loyally amended, mentioning his own partner for the first time and sounding proprietary about him, then regretted the fact that Howard was refusing to obey her calling and come back to Homicide. Because, Bayliss said he suspected, Fugitive Squad gave her a wider scope and better mobility to track down her partner’s killers.
Happy or sad or funny, stories about the ties that bind. The problem was, Chris Rawls had heard them before. From a friend and a closeted cop in New York's 31st Precinct. "Cop is a plural noun," Rick Newhouse had been fond of saying, with the same sure pride Bayliss' earnest face now wore. The moment his closet door had cracked open, the ones that gave the noun its plurality had failed to show up to cover his back. They'd been no-shows at his funeral, too. They'd had to show up at the trial when their culpability had been exposed. But twelve men and women, good and true, had promptly acquitted them.
What do you think you’re doing, Rawls berated himself, he’s acop for crying out loud. He doesn’t have to go a single step further than sitting here and having a companionable dinner with you to get stigmatized. What the fuck do you think you’re doing? He's a nice guy, so have the decency to send him home and discourage him from coming back.
Okay, pretty man, one more for the road, and off you go,he picked up the wine bottle to refill Bayliss' glass. I'll probably regret you anyway. It might as well be sooner than later.
"No." Bayliss cupped his palm over the glass, causing a few drops to spill on his hand before Rawls could right the bottle. Instead of using his napkin, he brought his hand to his mouth and licked it, no calculation in it, as inelegantly as a boy licking an ice cream cone.
How oldare you, Rawls despaired, and do you have any idea what you're doing to me?
"I shouldn't have had the last one. Or the last two," Bayliss was explaining, oblivious, "This is great,you're great, but I did three shifts in a row. Got only a few hours' break this morning. Your fantastic wine did in all the caffeine that was holding me up. I should go home before I fall on my face -- oh, damn it, I drove. What was I thinking?"
"Let me call you a cab. I'll have someone deliver your car tomorrow, or -- " What do you mean ‘or,’ you hypocrite, when you’re supposed to be sending him away? He's a detective, not a street cop, Rawls argued with himself, surely he's not in that much danger. "Or you can use the guest room upstairs."
"You have rooms upstairs? Our bar does, too. It used to be a hotel back when. It needs renovation, but we don't have the money."
"Mine's an apartment, not a hotel. I live upstairs. The guest room is just that, though. The guest's, alone."
Bayliss smiled, low-wattage, but lazy and self-pleased. "I wasn’t worried." A little high and clearly a bit reckless with it, he leaned closer and growled in jest, "I'm bigger than you."
More charmed than goaded, Rawls' devil took over, too. "That remains to be seen."
Bayliss blushed but continued gamely, "I've got a gun."
"Oh,that’s what you call it."
"It doesn't come by calling."
"How does it --no, don't answer." Banter was about to take a sharp left into swampland. "Whatever you answer, I'm liable to say, 'I can do that.' Suddenly you're stuck with accepting or rejecting me. We had one nice dinner. You want to complicate it already?"
"No," Bayliss conceded soberly. "But…I think…I think I want to at least think about it." He got up, pushed his chair back in. "Is that all right?"
"You haveno idea. Let's leave it there for now and let me drive you home. You can pick up your car tomorrow."
"No, I need my car in the morning. There was something I was supposed to do today, I forgot. I'll have to get to it first thing. If I walk around a bit it'll clear my head enough to drive." He seemed to hesitate, then tilted his head and asked, "Will you, uh, walk with me? I mean, cold and all that, I know -- you'd mind? Walking with me, I mean. But yeah, it's cold, and it's late, so -- "
Rawls was on his feet before he was aware of his total willingness to walk the whole length of Charm City if that was Bayliss' tongue-tied pleasure. "Give me a minute to get my coat." All too apparently, any regrets bound to come due, he had put on deferred payment plan.
Outside, mist blanketed the pavements and made the narrow buildings of Read look insubstantial. There was an expectation of snow in the damp air. Under the hazy ring of a lamppost, Bayliss stuck his hands into his pockets, closed his eyes, threw back his head as if scenting the air, took a series of long, deep breaths. Rawls shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his own coat, or he was going reach out and stroke that lovely throat, run his fingers over its elongated lines, seek out the warmth hiding in the nape under the fall of fine, dark hair --
" Do you know where I can find an all-night hardware store? I need to pick up a plunger. "
Ouch. That was a resounding thud back to earth. "Grocery stores carry them, don't they? There's a 24-hour Safeway up the road."
"No, not that kind of plunger." They started walking. "The pump with the ball, inside the tank."
All kinds of double entendres going to waste, but Rawls let them go. "If you say so. I don't really know what's inside the tank."
"You're kidding." They rounded the corner to the side street.
"No, I'm not. I don't change tires or fuses, I don't own power tools, and I see no reason at all to lift the hood of a car."
Bayliss gaped at him.
Suddenly Rawls was feeling the way he had long ago promised himself to never let anybody make him feel. "You know, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, all those, they exist for a very good reason. I can afford to pay them to do their jobs. Past that, what have I got to lose, my macho trappings?" He started to shrug and once he had his shoulders up he kept them there; it wascold. "I get and I give pleasure in the arms of men. My masculinity is already considered defective."
Bayliss started to say something but Rawls found himself in no mood to hear polite noise. "And it's only that, you know. Nothing butthat. If you think about it, it's okay for a man to have close ties with other men: team work, male bonding. It's fine if a man loves or takes care of another man. 'He's not heavy, he's my brother.' Or dies for a man. 'No greater love,' right? But sex, oh, that big bad word. You're not married --" It suddenly dawned on him to ask, "Or are you?"
"Of course not! What would I be doing here if I was married?"
"You’d be surprised." Bayliss couldn't bethat naïve, could he? But those eyes looked so damned earnest. "Anyway, you're not married. Were you?"
"Not by a country mile."
"Live-in lovers, long term affairs?"
With a self-deprecating smile, "Only if I was a fruit fly."
"Right, and you're devoted to an intense, male-dominated job. Chances are, the people you best and most love are men. But put your arms around one, put your mouth on his and you don't even have to go any further -- congratulations, you're now a subspecies. A substandard species."
"What, like this?" Suddenly, Tim's arms had wrapped around his shoulders and, with no more than that brief warning, there, on the quiet side street, swallowed by the mist and night, Tim Bayliss kissed him. Awkward as all new learning, but singular, focused, tasting of wine and capers, rich and heady and perfect.
Heaven help me, Tim Bayliss, I like your mouth. Oh,Christ, as he was bent further back, I think you like mine, too.
He tried not to push, tried to let Tim learn at his own pace: take your time, take mine --
Then Tim moaned, a plaintive, needy sound that poured from the depths of his throat straight into Chris' blood. He fit his palms around Tim's face, sank his fingers into the cool-silk of his hair and let his sudden hunger feed on the perfect, moist mouth. He moaned, too, feeling the arms around him tighten, the long body against his press close -- another minute of this and he was going lose all brakes.
He pulled away, because somebody had to. Too fast, too soon. Too unconsidered.
But it ached to pull away, especially when Bayliss tried to pull him back.
"God, Tim…." Rawls had to put his arm between them, a slant of avoidance. "Think of what you're getting into."
"Chris?" A rough whisper, making a stunned plea of his name.
"No, wait -- " So now you know sometimes life pulses harder than custom. But I know that way lies the minefield. "Right now, every fiber I've got wants to tell you to think fast, be done, and let's go for it. But that's just the heat of the moment. If this a brief trip to the wilder side of the street for you, then that's fine, except I wish you'd find a partner more interested in a one-night-stand. If it's more that that -- look, I knew a cop once, he lived and breathed blue. Blue and pink didn't mix well, he's dead now. Please, Tim, think carefully before you decide you can afford me."
"I'm not a child, I can take care of myself." Contrarily, he sounded exactly like a child, a thwarted one.
"You don't get it. You see, unless you're real sure,I can't afford you." Maybe he'd still like to believe in all for love and love for all, although that belief had damn near destroyed him once. But he certainly couldn't justify all for lust, however immediate that lust. "Please understand, I don't want to hurt you, but I don't want to be hurt, either. So, come on, let's give each other some room, okay?"
Bayliss drew in a frustrated breath and let out a resigned one. "Okay." But then he smiled and asked, "Walk me to my car?"
After a few steps, "Chris?"
"I liked it. Kissing you."
"I noticed. Surprised?"
"Yes -- no -- I don’t know. But I know one thing."
"Idon't feel substandard." As if in proof, Bayliss' hand enfolded his. Only until they came around the corner to the main street. But still.
This could be heaven, or it could be hell, Rawls thought, I wonder if I'll be able to tell the difference.
Damn him, and his uncanny ability of knowing where trouble was about to erupt and appearing on the spot with a smile on his face and God's own prohibition in his eyes. Gharty had looked like he'd take the dare and, oh, how Pembleton had hoped he would. No joy in Mudsville today, though. He should go back to his desk and attack a report instead.
Who did Stu Gharty think he was? Whichever mentally deficient brass had come up with the idea of rotations should be drawn and quartered in the square in front of Jimmy's. Time was,before every simpleton with a badge had started rolling through Homicide, he could've vouched for every member of his shift, including Beau Felton. With all his many faults, even that redneck from Pig Town had had a cop's honor, and certainly more balls than Stu Gharty could find among the lot of his inbred clan. How dare the coward who'd sat in his car rattling to his bones with fear while two children had killed each other disparage Tim's manhood?
How did Gharty know about it anyway? Bayliss had shared one dinner --and nothing else, so he'd said-- with Chris Rawls only last night. Rawls did not have any affectations or mannerisms that advertised his homosexuality. Nobody standing around the squadroom could know he was gay even if the dinner invitation was overheard. Had somebody heard Tim and Frank later, when they were discussing it in the break room? Or this morning, in the garage?
Or something worse? Pembleton wondered about it as he approached his desk. His partner was there, going through papers, probably looking for Fields' booking form to attach to the prosecution report. Could there be something more sinister to Gharty's knowledge of Tim's activities? The weasel still had buddies in the IID and IID had eyes everywhere. Was Internal looking at Tim for some imbecilic reason? Christ,Tim, the most honest, decent man in the whole --
Right then, that most honest and decent man whirled around and snarled into his face, "You take the cake, you know that? What the fuck is this, Frank?"
Huh? He had to lean back to be able to focus on the sheet Bayliss stuck two inches in front of his nose. "It's the background check on Rawls, so what?"
"You couldn't leave it alone, could you? What's the excuse this time? Same as last? You can't help it, youdetect?"
"What's your prob -- oh, I see." His partner did have a tendency to fly off the handle. "Why don't you turn it around and take a good look at it?"
Instead, Bayliss slammed the sheet face down on Pembleton's desk. "I don't need to look at it. I wouldn't sink to snooping on a friend. If there's anything in there I need to know, I'm sure Chris will tell me.I trust my friends. Trust, Frank, you should try it sometime."
All too often Tim sounded like a character in a Frank Capra movie -- if Frank Capra had made movies when he was twelve. "You know, Tim, you're a cop, act like one. Look at the evidence first.Do your background check."
"Yeah? Let me tell you, Frank, if I paid attention to background checks, we wouldn't've been partners at all. The background check onyou, in this squadroom, among your nearest and dearest colleagues, not to put too fine a point on it," he leaned close enough to almost touch noses, "sucked." He pulled back and repeated, "It sucked, Frank. Come to think of it, it still sucks." He stalked off.
Oh, Tim was going to be sorry for that. He picked up the sheet, but his partner, back at his own desk, had picked up his phone in the meantime. Frank Pembleton sat down to bide his time.
"I wanted to thank you for last night," Bayliss said when whoever had answered at the Zodiac called Rawls to the phone, "I had a good time."
"I did, too. Anytime you want to come back -- "
"It's my turn. Nice as it is, Zodiac is your workplace. Let me take you out to dinner."
"As long as you don't praise another restaurant's sauce over mine," Rawls chuckled, "at least not in my hearing, sure, love to, when?"
"Tonight’s too short a notice?" He suddenly realized how short a notice, someone from the next shift was already turning over the board.
"Not at all," was Chris' reply, though.
"Great. Let’s sidestep the sauce issue and try seafood. Bertha's, around seven?" Just enough time to finish the report, stop by the house to shower, shave, and change. Then he noticed the hesitation at the other end of the line. As usual, his mouth was running ahead of his brain. He lived two blocks up, but Chris would have to drive across town. "We can make it eight. Later, if you prefer."
"No, the time is fine, but --Bertha's? That's -- "
"Broadway and Lancaster at -- "
"At Fells Point, yes, I know. You want to have dinner with me at Bertha's? Why?"
"Why?" Wasn't that obvious? "I like their mussels and I like you."
"Are you for real, Tim Bayliss? You truly don't mind socializing with an openly gay man in your own backyard – which also happens to be the backyard of the whole Police Department?"
"Ah, that." Rawls deserved a considered reply, so he took a moment. "Well, whoever I'm taking out to dinner at Bertha’s, I'd rather we didn't rip off our clothes and have sex right there, but past that –truly, Chris, I don't see a problem."
"Okay, maybe youare for real. All right, Timothy Bayliss, I'd love to have dinner with you tonight, seven o'clock, at Bertha’s. Oh, and by the way…"
Lightly, "Wherewould you like to rip off our clothes and have sex?"
Felt so good to loosen up and laugh. "Let me get back to you on that. I’m still thinking."
"Take your time," in the same light tone, then seriously, "I mean it, Tim, no pressure. Just a joke."
"I know. See you tonight." So there, Bayliss thought to his partner’s uncompromising back. Which did nothing but make him feel petulant. He hung up and returned to the prosecution report Danvers was expecting yesterday.
"Free?" Pembleton asked, dripping irony, from right over his shoulder. Without waiting for an answer he leaned and slapped down the CIC sheet on Chris and jabbed at a line. "Now that you have a minute,this is what I asked you to look at."
Bayliss looked down, at the Requesting Officer block, saw his own ID number. Oh, fuck.
Now he remembered. He'd requested the routine check from Naomi before they'd rushed off to the morgue, when Chris had been just an involved-party on the crime scene. The case had matured in another direction fast and Bayliss had forgotten all about it. Considering them interchangeable as usual, Naomi must've left the report on Frank's desk.
Pembleton breathed into his ear, "Trust, Tim, you should try it sometime." By the time Bayliss could so much as turn around, he was grabbing his coat from the rack and heading out.
One other note of discord was in store for him, and he only remembered it when he left the building to find his jeep parked outside. He'd brought it in the morning so right after work he could go to his uncle's place. What with one thing or another, he had yet to pick up that damned plunger and fix the man's toilet. Right then, he had just enough time to get ready and take himself to Bertha's. He'd have to see to it later in the evening. On consideration, it was probably a good idea to have an errand to run after dinner. He could have a nice time without worrying about where it may or may not lead.
I should get somebody in here to clean this place, Bayliss thought, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt and grimacing at the stained tiles and moldy corners of the small bathroom. He put a folded towel on the floor to spare his pants, kneeled, reached behind the commode, cut off the water to the tank and removed its cover. He flushed out the remaining water and looked inside. As he'd thought, a simple enough job, hardly requiring concentration.
So Chris likes sports. He'd found that out between the appetizer and the main course, and he was still a little embarrassed at letting it surprise him momentarily. He'd been more surprised at realizing Chris' team loyalties lay north of Maryland, with New York. Over a couple of beers, they'd argued about it companionably, Chris being nowhere near as intense as Frank, inanything.
The old plunger came loose without bringing along chunks of the rust-pitted pipe, a small miracle in itself. He discarded it and started to install the new one, which might outlast the rest of the plumbing, maybe the whole house, maybe even --
Don't spoil a pleasant evening, he told himself. Let's see, Chris likes sports, Chris hates politics but votes Democrat, no surprise there, Chris gets a kick out of rap, had to tell me that one twice before I knew I'd heard right, he likes ice cream, he likes trains, he likes the bay, he likes me…
He really, really likesme.
I like being liked. Especially by someone who even lets me go without making me feel guilty or unwanted."No problem," Chris had said when Bayliss begged off after dinner. "This is the third night in a row I've saddled Noreen with all the work. She already warned me she's thinking of lacing my food with saltpeter. Now I can let her off early and maybe she'll leave my libido alone."
Chris' libido. It'd be much like his, wouldn't it? His hands would know its shape, his body would recognize its heat, its strength, understand its will. You can wear each other's clothes, he'd told Frank. But past that, past the clothes -- wouldn't it be like wearing each other'sskin? Matched in flesh and muscle, blood and pulse --
He felt a hand on his shoulder. Deep in his own head, in a far-away place where he was redefining desire and molding it in a form of kinship free from fear of touch, he simply looked up, maybe even smiled -- into the face of his true kin and forever-hell.
Suddenly, he was a child again, small and defenseless and trapped in a bathroom.
His uncle may or may not have said, "You're a good boy, Timmy." He heard it anyway, smelled his own nausea, the dank, filthy space closing in on him. No, no, no, crowded his throat, as uselessly as ever. Then without warning his anger broke free, surged to catch up to the voiceless fear dammed behind his teeth and, long-lit fuse to dry powder, exploded.
He grew. Just like that, like he'd seen in a book long ago and wished he could, too, like the little girl who drank the drink that said 'drink me' and in an instant grew and grew and grew too big to be trapped in a room, in a house even, he stood up and up and up while the thing that had scared him small fell far and far and farther down. Such an old, feeble thing. He could swat it, crush it, choke it, watch it struggle, die.
His hand wrapped around its weak, clammy throat, and he almost squeezed. But so huge and exhilarating was his power that in sudden contrast it made him feel powerless, and he realized he was about to lose his will to his anger as surely as he'd ever lost it to a sick man's perversions. He let go.
Rheumy eyes blinked up at him. "Wha--what?" the old man stammered shakily.
"Nothing. You startled me."
Would Frank have given him an out, too, as he had tried so hard to do for the girl who'd killed her abusive father? Probably. Listen to me, please,please listen to me, had begged the man unused to begging, it's not her fault, it's not your fault.
Then again, Frank always set the bar higher for him than anybody else and expected him to clear it even if he had break his neck doing it. So, probably not.
"Get out of here," he told his uncle, turning his back on him, "and let me finish up. Then I'm going to clean this filthy hole." What else could he have said? I’m sorry? He wasn’t. Don't ever touch me again? Too late. Why me? It would sound like he was asking Why not Jim, why not Kurt, when he only meant: What is it aboutme that said 'victim'? Anyway, if there was an answer, did he want to hear it?
Okay, yes, he'd clean the bathroom --'you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave'-- until it was at least possible to take a breath in it without choking.
The football was crisscrossing the squadroom from hand to hand. Attached to the corner of Pembleton's desk, Tim leaned precariously across it to catch Meldrick's pass. "Hey, watch it," Pembleton snapped, trying to no avail to rescue the stacks of files that toppled and fanned out over his desk, "Now look what you've done."
"Sorry, Frank." He tossed the ball to Kellerman.
Great, he was sorry. "Stop complicating my life!"
"Really, Frank, I'm sorry."
Oh, he wasreally sorry. Oh, joy. "At least shut up about it."
"All right already!"
"Truly, Frank, I am."
"Whatare you, Timmy -- " Kellerman tossed the ball back, "--truly?"
Munch clapped his hands to join the catch. "What man can truly answer that question, Mikey? We are amoebae, we're star stuff," he caught the ball, sent it spinning to Meldrick, "We're the mote in God's eye, we're the catcher in the rye, we're the face in the pie…" but Mike was listening to Meldrick telling him, "…and the bear says to him, 'You didn't really come here to hunt, did you?'"
"Get off my desk," Pembleton ordered Bayliss and Bayliss rushed to obey, "Where do you think you're going? Get your ass back where it belongs." But Tim was walking away, alarms were blaring through the building, Russert was calling for evacuation, Gee was bellowing at everybody to hurry up, grab the files and don't forget the board. There was a smell in the air -- no,two smells, a distinctly wet one, thick and cloying, the other pungent, acrid, but no time to think about it, "Move," Gee was prompting, "move, move, move," and they were spilling pell-mell in a confusion of bodies, coats, papers, weapons, files, and boxes onto the dark street streaked cold-blue and blood-red by the strobe lights. "What is it this time?" Pembleton shouted over the blaring sirens, "What's going on?" Weapons? Why did everybody have weapons? Why didn't he?
"Gas leak. The whole place can go up any minute."
"Shit, not again," Pembleton said to Tim at his side --
-- who wasn't there at his side. "Where's Bayliss? Hey, has anybody seen Bayliss?"
"I didn't know," Meldrick was pleading, "I swear, man, I didn't know."
"Have you seen Tim?" Pembleton asked Felton, who didn't answer him because his face was blown away, only smiled at him.
"You didn'twant to know," Crosetti told Meldrick.
"Tim?Tim?" But he knew, Tim had never come out of the building. He had to go back in there after him. He pushed past Beau and his Cheshire smile, ran to the steps.
"Frank, it's agas leak!" Giardello forbade him. He glanced back and started to tell his lieutenant he had to go see what was keeping Tim, but Gee wasn't talking to him while he was going up the stairs; Gee was talking to him as he was sitting on the hood of a car and lighting a cigarette, taking a long, life's-breath drag -- "Yeah, I know, Gee, these things aren't good for me," and he flicked the lit cigarette away, watched it arc past him and sail into the building as he stood frozen on the steps, and the smell was so strong now, I know that smell --
Smells like --
He woke up with a start to total silence and a disorienting absence of smell, found himself in the calm darkness of his bedroom. Once the remnant noise inside his head disappeared, he could register Mary's even breathing, the tiny, steady clicks of the alarm clock, the distant city sounds -- all's well, they said, in Frank Pembleton's own corner of the world.
All right, okay, his heart could stop trying to climb out of his chest now. Anytime now.Now. Okay, fine.
Goddamn Tim Bayliss. The fact Tim was going to be a thorn in his side, he'd known early on. He'd given a clear directive --Stay out of my face, rookie!-- and Tim had taken that to mean he now had permission to come wagging his tail from any other god-given direction. The further fact that he wasn't going to have the decency to keep their partnership confined to their profession had become all too apparent over time. But this? No, too damned much. However and whenever Bayliss had burrowed in deep enough to show up in his dreams and disrupt his sleep, he could just take himself along with his latent idiocy and burrow right out. Maybe Chris Rawls would take him in.
Yeah, well, he probably would. With bells on.
Just three days ago he hadn’t known Chris Rawls existed, let alone speculate on what manner of man he was. Pembleton had read the CIC sheet, certainly he had, whatever he'd said to Tim. Not even a parking ticket to the man's name. Except, since Rawls had applied for a liquor license the background check on him had been extensive and, while he sounded squeaky clean now, there was a notation of a sealed juvenile record. Could be anything, of course, from a prank to a crime spree.
Oh, good, as if Tim hadn't been enough, now he was wasting his night on Rawls. He should've kept his mouth shut way back then, should've let Tim stick to his claim of wide-eyed innocence and not told him to take another, closer look. If ignorance was bliss, maybe itwas folly to be wise -- as it was turning out, Tim Bayliss’ ignorance and Frank Pembleton’s folly.
He needed to shut off this stupid roller coaster in his head and get some sleep. He cuddled closer to his wife's back, thinking she never used to sleep facing away from him, wishing he could wake her up, so she'd turn around and he'd make love to her -- okay,with her, as she preferred it said. Arousal kindled at the thought, but she wouldn't care to be awakened from a sound sleep just to remedy his sleeplessness. He didn't have the heart to be that selfish, either. Her busy life made enough demands on her.
As if on cue, a demand she wouldn't dream of ignoring arrived with small snuffling sounds from his son’s bassinet next to Mary’s side of the bed. He checked the clock. Yes, almost two. "Stay there," he patted his wife's shoulder as she started stirring, "I’ll get him." He might as well do something useful.
He got up, turned on a light, and changed the diapers first, even though Mary claimed it was best to wait until after the feeding. He didn’t care to chance them leaking ontohis bed. Such an inconvenient way to make a human being, this whole baby business, but now that glimmers of personality were beginning to show, his second child was proving to be a happy extrovert. He busily gurgled up at his father and smiled his ready bare-gummed smile, so different from Livvy who had been a solemn baby, with disconcertingly direct, deliberate eyes and rare smiles. Except for Tim. Of course, Tim never quit until he got her to smile, so it was probably her way of getting him to stop pestering her. Maybe if he followed his daughter’s example and was a little more compliant -- nah, he’d give himself an ulcer and Tim a heart attack.
Mary had propped herself, unbuttoned her nightgown -- God, her breasts were luscious now, so full and round and begging for a mouth. Her son's mouth, of course, and she reached out her arms impatiently. He placed their baby in them and sat on the side of the bed, watching his son's demanding, voracious suckling with something shamefully close to resentment.
Why Mary wanted to breast-feed her babies every chance her hectic schedule permitted was something he didn't understand, didn't expect to understand. It made him feel a little left out. After a while, he reached and cupped the voluptuous weight of her unclaimed breast in his palm. He carefully did not squeeze, but full to bursting, a milky droplet welled up anyway. Suddenly curious, he leaned to take it onto the tip of his tongue. Another drop rose, he took that, too. It was thinner than he'd expected, near tasteless.
"Oh, Frank," Mary mumbled, sounding somewhere between amused and bemused. A trickle started, he lapped at it -- no, not tasteless. Flavorless, yes, but whole somehow, earthy, tasting of -- ? So warm, still carrying the core heat of her, deeper than skin warmth, the same blood-heated, moist warmth he found inside her when she sheathed him, or when her pleasure dissolved against his tongue --
Tasting of life.
He took her swollen nipple between his teeth and gently bit down. Only slightly, but a sudden flow filled his mouth.
"Frank!" Mary shoved him away. "Oh, for heaven's sake." She lifted her son to quickly burp him and placed him against her overflowing breast.
Unrepentant, he pushed down the covers and pushed up her nightgown, scooted back to lay his head on her thighs, his mouth seeking their insides. She mumbled something about the impossible, greedy men in her life. Not true, he wasn't greedy, he could wait until the little tyrant gratified his gluttony before he could get to gratifying his own appetite --her legs fell open to his stroking-- and hers.
They were both drowsy by the time Frank Jr. was sated and falling asleep at her breast, but they'd managed to get and stay turned on. Comfortably in tune with each other, she rolled onto her side with her baby still cuddled to her chest, and he moved up to curve into her back. He tucked his head into the damp warmth of her neck, wrapped his arms around her and their son --this is what made you, you shouldn't mind it-- entered her, slow and easy, rocked them. Unrushed, simply breathing and moving together in languid rhythm, they were content to wait for nature to take its course.
Sometimes perfection was an uncomplicated thing. So good, he thought, all the way into her and halfway to sleep, good as it gets.
Bayliss reached over, turned off the tape player on the night stand, yanked out the meditation tape, glared at it. 'Stress-Free Forever," it advertised itself. Yeah, right. He tossed it away, heard it go skittering on the floor, stared up at the angled shadows on the ceiling, watched them pivot and resettle as a car passed by outside. How much worse could this night get?
He'd read until the words blurred, had got up to push himself to exhaustion on the NordicTrac, tried the subliminal relaxation the self-help tape promised, and he was still too afraid of closing his eyes and falling into darkness --
You have to embrace it, love it, Frank had said.
I can't. I tried, been trying for a year, Ican't. He's sick and twisted and --
He could almost hear Frank snap at him, I don't meanhim, idiot.
Yeah, I know, but he shaped me -- or did he?
He pulled up the covers he'd kicked off only minutes before, instantly felt too hot and kicked them off again.Jesus, couldn't he make up his mind about anything?
So make it up. Does it really matter anymore if your past turned you into someone you weren't meant to be or kept you too scared all these years to accept who you are? Youare. Here. Now. What do you want?
I don't know.
Okay, whatdon't you want?
I don't want to keep living with a stranger in my body. I need to fit inside my own skin.
And the last time I felt comfortable in there -- he'd come out of Bertha's with Chris, walked him to his car under the fall of winter's first snow, the air smelling resinous with smoke from fireplaces burning in the old, tight-packed buildings around the square.
Chris opening his car door and turning toward him to say goodbye, but Bayliss hadn't wanted to say goodbye. Standing there and looking at Chris's handsome face, at the crystal flakes catching on his lashes, his hair, landing and immediately melting on the warmth of his skin, his lips, he'd wanted to kiss him again.
Not possible. Not right there on the Market Square, directly across from Jimmy's and whoever happened to be inside. Only a kiss, a simple joy that hurts nobody. And not possible.
Sliding his hand inside Chris' coat and to his waist, a small rebellion hidden between the car and their bodies. The loose hem of the knit shirt allowing him to reach warm, smooth skin, taut on his flank, downy and softer toward his belly, tightening with an in-drawn breath at the brush of his hand and leaving a small gap between flesh and waistband. Warmer there, on the tender slope of his abdomen, furrier -- just a quick, secretive knowledge against the back of his fingers, and so suddenly carnal, touching him an inch or two closer to intimate, wondering about touching his uncovered thighs, his sex --
Chris smiling at him as he'd pulled away, his expression a little tantalized, a little lenient, thinking himself a participant in a playful moment's naughtiness, no more. How could he possibly know how it felt to Tim --the thought of touching another man's sex because hewanted to. Like discovering the possibility of flight off the razor's edge --
-- God, yes.
The same flintspark of excitement, salvaged from the rest of the night and back in his belly. Still feeling freshly discovered, untainted. He took a deep breath around it. It didn't hurt, it didn't cut. So he closed his eyes against hundred indecisions clamoring to crowd it out, slid his hand down and laid it almost protectively over the quivery tension deep in the hollow between his hipbones. Yeah, right there, uncoiling and turning into a palpable thing under his splayed fingers. He pressed his palm firmly down on it as if sounding the depths of his desire, kneaded it, encouraging it to take over, discharge the disquiet so long holding him hostage.
Warmth surged through him until his whole body felt it, and he let his hands roam over his flesh, following it here, anticipating it there. All flat planes and sharp angles under his sliding palms, but now he didn't have to deny what his hands perceived, didn't have to send his imagination far to remake it. Chris' body would feel like this, he'd rise like this, tighten and fit the curve of his hand -- oh, God, this felt new, too, used for too long only for relief, as a last resort, not first exploration.
Suddenly in no rush to end it, he rolled onto his stomach, wrapped his arms around the pillows, stretching his legs, rubbing them against each other, enjoying his own skin, the supple feel of his body as his muscles bunched and flexed in slow preoccupation with his desiring center. I think I'm done thinking, Chris. A luxury at first, and as the rhythm steadily gathered, a craving that left him caught breathless in a private thicket of passion.
I want this. I'm free to want and I want -- a rush of emotion --want to be held-- an intense longing --hold me-- the deliberate fancy of strong, accurate arms so tight around him that he felt them lock under the bones caging his heart --want to taste you-- like the jolt of hot, bitter coffee, and he shuddered with an abrupt flush of fever --inhale you-- deep and smoky and nicotine-sharp, sweet heresy burning his throat, filling his lungs --I wantthis-- rocking his hips as desire became a single element, letting his hand go skimming down the sheets to wrap around his hard, heated flesh, clenching his moans between his teeth --I want this, want you-- dark as used-up light, merciless and fierce, and that was all right, that was right, he was expecting nothing tender, just arrogant and elemental, a little unhearted as usual, driving him to the nerve's limit, pushing him to the core of the dark --
Fear slammed into him. Unnamed and fearful of being named.
--dark in here, dark enough to see.Don't look!
His muscles froze shut.
If you dreamthis, you can't undream it.
His eyes flew open.
That's right, don't look.
He clamped down and smothered the cry that rose in his throat.
He rolled out of the bed. There had to be some hard liquor left among the many bottles Julianna had steadily carried into his house. Please, let there be enough to numb him against the heavy, dense pull between his legs and the cold knot at the pit of his stomach, blank his mind and let him sleep.
"Look at my jacket," Munch stormed into the coffee room and angrily demanded attention from all and sundry.
Bayliss stopped watching the communal coffeepot come drip-by-drip closer to, hopefully, the remedy for his headache, and looked as asked. Munch's black jacket was stained with wet, milky streaks. No doubt from the Daily Grind coffee cup he was carrying, which reminded him he could've popped across the street for a cup, too.
Munch gingerly placed the remains of his coffee on the counter, inspected himself closer and became more irate. "Look at myshoes. My new shoes!" He turned around to display them to everybody in the room. Falsone raised his head briefly from some crime scene photos, and Gharty from his newspaper. Dutiful, two uniforms sharing a far table also looked.
Bayliss helpfully passed over a handful of napkins and cast about for a cloth towel to wet.
"I just wanted a decent cup of coffee, dammit. I didn't want towear it," Munch complained, using the napkins on his jacket instead of his shoes and adding paper lint to the stains. "The job satisfaction on this beat's not that high in the first place. I'm sick of walking a gauntlet day after day just to get here, and I'm goddamned sick of people bleating into my face I gotta get used to them."
He must've have been jostled by one of the protesters outside the building. The quick closure of the Costello case had lessened their numbers and their zeal, but a few still showed up with their placards, demanding justice for Robson, a couple of conspiracy nuts even demanding it for Peter Fields.
"What's that about anyway?" Gharty put down his newspaper and piped up. "Who says I gotta get used to any pain in the ass just 'cause it's here and it's actin' up? My hemorrhoids are here, they're actin' up, too, but nobody's expectin' me to get used tothem."
Munch leaned to dab at his shoes. "Wait 'till they get a lobby and a colorful flag."
Bayliss found the towel at the same instant he lost all helpful inclination, so he left it lying in the drawer and went back to watching the coffee drip.
"I got a flag, too, the real one, red, white and blue," Gharty was on a roll, "where does it get me?" He nodded toward Falsone, "Look at the last one Paul and Meldrick caught, a decent, successful family man from one of the oldest families of Maryland, the Ridenours. He ends up hanging by his neck in the cellar of a rowhouse on crack alley, but he was white and he didn't have a thing for schoolboys, so nobody's lifting placards for him."
Drip -- come on -- drip, drip.
"Ah, but these people are the disenfranchised, don't you know?" Munch tossed the bundled up napkins in the general direction of the wastebasket, "Like that's a licence to get in my face. Somebody should tell these people that -- "
Bayliss suddenly got tired of biting his lip. "Which people is that exactly, John?"
"The sweethearts down there, the Homoerectus Lites. Why're they still here, anyway?"
"Maybe because Robson is still in red, underyour name."
"Yeah? Well, guess what, Timmy-boy, I can't perform miracles just because the late owner of some dead body preferred to stick his dick in the more unusual places when he wasn't so dead. Bodies fall 'round us every day and most are destined to stay stone-cold. You know as well as I do that Robson's one of them. What do you suggest I do?"
"I don't know, John, but I do know contempt's never closed a case yet. So how about a little less attitude and a lot less mouth?"
"Give my ass a break, Bayliss. Word is, you're the one here who can't seem to close the case on fags -- oops, not PC. What's the in word now, what's your pleasure -- or do I want to know?"
Bayliss didn't see his partner coming, hadn't even known he was around, but suddenly, from out of nowhere, Pembleton was between him and Munch. "Wordis, John, bigotry is the only sharp weapon of a dull mind. Par for the course for your patty-cake buddy there, but I thought Jew-boys were supposed to be smart."
Bayliss' mouth dropped open. Yes, Frank had thrown a couple of white-boy comments at him before, but not with this kind of intent. Racial and ethnic slurs weren't in his lexicon. It wasn't all that much in his lexicon to jump to his partner's defense either.
"Hey, whatis your problem lately?" Gharty attempted to interfere.
Pembleton ignored him and imitated Munch, "Oops, not PC. What's the in word, the Chosen People? Not very modest, are you, you people?"
"Hey, you -- " Gharty tried again.
"You," Pembleton rounded on him and snarled, "You can take it to the curb," raised his voice to call out, "Hey, Ballard, get your partner a shovel, he opened his mouth again."
Next thing, Falsone was holding Gharty, Bayliss had both arms around Frank, Munch was stalking off muttering to himself, Laura was demanding answers and Meldrick was barking out orders, "Whoa, bunkies, turn it down. Everybody, chill. Go cool it off. You," to Falsone and Gharty, "to the garage. You," to Bayliss and Pembleton, "to the roof. Before Gee comes down from Barnfather's office and roasts usall on an open fire."
Laura followed Gharty and Falsone, Meldrick went after Munch, and Bayliss cautiously took his arms from around his glowering partner, but kept a guiding hand in between Frank's shoulder blades until they were outside. At the far end of the roof, they stopped and faced away from each other.
"That was ugly," Tim told the east side of the harbor.
"I know," Pembleton said to the west side of it.
"Didn't help anything."
"Wish you hadn't done it."
"Me, too. It's one thing to clash with an imbecile like Gharty. I don't like clashing with Munch."
Bayliss turned toward him. "Why didn't you stay out of it then? You don't have to defend me or my virtue, you know."
"We're partners," Frank threw up his hands. "It's in the job description."
"Don't put yourself out. We both know you never wanted the job."
"What is it with you, Bayliss?" Pembleton whirled to face him. "You get stuck in a groove and can't get out. It's been years --years-- since I told you I changed my mind. I looked you straight in the eye right there in the squadroom and told you: I want our partnership. But you're still playing the same scratchy song. You're the one who threw me out like yesterday's newspaper, remember? I had to grovel before you'd work with me again."
His mind boggled. In the end, he'd only required Frank to ask. He'd even told him he was open to being asked. When Frank got around to asking, he had still stinted on the words. Had Pembleton been on the other side, Tim Bayliss would've been expected to follow him on his knees through the headquarters, down Thames Street and the world without end, Amen. "You have a strange notion of groveling, Frank."
"I'm a prideful man, Bayliss. That was more groveling than I'm prepared to do for someone who can't make up his mind."
"Look, I know you don't understand about Chris -- "
"Forget Chris, I'm talking about us! You complain we're not enough of a family, we should be more caring and sharing and whatever the hell all that silly jazz. But the first moment you allow me to know one painful truth about you, suddenly I'm out, I'm history. I can't touch you, I can't talk to you, and the real kicker, five years of partnership is on the trash heap and I have no say-so about it."
"Frank, I -- "
"No, no. Shut up and listen. We got past that. We made it. Here we are today, still partners. That's fine, that's great, I don't want it any other way. If you really need me on your side, I won't lose a wink of sleep over offending Munch or anybody else. But you're not making sense. First you tell me you're looking for a little happiness. Not twenty-four hours later you tell me you're experimenting with a side trip into the darkest night of the soul -- because of somethingI've said, no less. And then you tell me, no, you're not confused. Well, I am. I mean, if you mean the former, okay, I don't get it, but fine, I'll live with it. But if you mean the latter, hell, Bayliss, what a namby-pamby way of going about it. Chris Rawls doesn't strike me as the dungeon master of the local Marquis de Sade Society. Yes, virtue is no virtue until it's tested by vice, but -- "
"So youdo remember!" Just the day before he'd been pretending to have no recollection of a night that had turned Bayliss' lifelong assumptions upside down.
"But," Pembleton overrode him, "if you think you're testing your virtue by having cozy dinners with an 'interesting and funny' guy where you can get on the nerves of your fellow cops, then you're nothing but a silly dilettante. In fact, what happened with Fields in the box was a hell of a lot more honest. You really dare look into your dark side, face that. If you're going to have convictions, especially unconventional ones, go find the courage for them before you flaunt them in my face."
Bayliss found himself staring at his own reflection in the dark, uncompromising eyes. He looked so small that he thought he might disappear if Frank blinked once too often. He heard his partner draw a breath like another round cycling into the chamber, but Frank said no more, turned and left him alone with the silence he'd stripped free of loopholes.
Bayliss walked away, too, until the wire fence stopped him short of the far edge. He looked across at the skeleton of the burned out warehouse on one of the old, rusted-out piers, down at the dull, gray wash of the water right below him, then closer, at mounds of gritty snow yet to melt from around the bottoms of the fence posts. A brisk, scouring wind came off the bay and slapped his face -- as if he didn't feel flayed enough already.
All right, Frank. Okay. No sense in trying to keep a match lit against the dark in this wind.
When Frank Pembleton walked away, he preferred to keep walking. This time, though, he stopped, looked back at his partner across the long expanse of the roof.
People do not change, especially you, he remembered saying to Bayliss as they had stood over Tanya Thompson's small, battered body on the side of I-95. He'd meant it. Like a gospel, he'd meant it. He couldn't have imagined Tim changing, and this didn't feel like a change to him anyway, more like a seismic shift. He felt a chasm was about to open up under his feet, too.
He kept looking at his partner who wasn't looking back at him, who was facing away, into the open air. He watched as Bayliss lifted and spread his arms, hooked his fingertips onto the fence, raised his downcast head, and like that, at full extension and wind-blown, he looked like he was about to take flight.
Where are you going, baby?
After the last collapse of primary color
once the last absolutes were torn to pieces
you could begin
How you broke open, what sheathed you
until this moment
I know nothing about it
My ignorance of you amazes me
now that I watch you
starting to give yourself away
to the wind