They were both deep in slumber, peacefully nestled close together. Dawn had arrived, but it had crept gently into the room without disturbing their rest. Their breathing was deep and even.
They had no idea that anyone else was near.
The door had opened silently and his footfalls were swallowed whole by the carpeting. Softly, steadily, he approached the bed and stood watching, silent. They didnt move, but slept on.
Lauras head was on his shoulder, a soft smile curving her lips. Her fingertips rested gently against his left forearm and, beneath the blanket, her ankle was hooked around his leg. Her face, under a careless tumble of chestnut hair, was more peaceful and relaxed than it had been in years.
His head was thrown back on the pillow, his dark hair swept back from his clear forehead, his beard jutting toward the ceiling. A soft rumble issued from his chest in a steady rhythm. His left arm was wrapped securely around his sleeping partner, his right arm curled around the pillow beneath his head. The shadows under his eyes had lessened in the previous few days and the lines around his eyes and mouth had begun, at last, to soften slightly.
Neither one moved as the footsteps began, silently, to circle the bed. Now on his side. The nightstand clock ticked steadily, senseless, as a hand reached out closer closer
Wh--? Hey! He jerked upright, one hand clamped against his right eye. Turning quickly, he stared down at the small intruder.
Harry? What on earth are you doing up this early?
The child managed to look both alarmed and sheepish at the same time. He ducked his head under his fathers scrutiny. I wanted to see, he mumbled. His father let go of his eye and stretched out one long arm, drawing the child close. His voice softened.
What did you want to see?
What Mommy said.
Beside him, Laura moaned softly and snuggled closer to him. One finger tapped against his arm to let him know she was wide awake and listening to every word. He smiled slightly.
What did Mommy say?
She said you had the same as me, but I forgot to look yesterday, so I wanted to see.
Well, that certainly cleared matters up. He blinked in confusion, which made his eye sting. The light dawned.
You mean you wanted to see if my eyes were blue, the same as yours?
Uh-huh. I forgot to see yesterday.
Oh. Well, you can see now that they are, right?
The child drew himself up on tip-toe and stared fixedly at his fathers face for a moment.
Uh-huh. Same as mine. Mommys are different, though, huh?
Yes they are. Mommy has beautiful brown eyes, doesnt she?
But you know what?
You should never, never, never touch someone elses eyes, cause you could really hurt them badly. Did you know that?
The child shook his head solemnly. Did I hurt you?
Just a little bit. But you couldve hurt me badly. If you want to see something, you need to ask. Its o.k. to want to see, but you have to ask first. Do you understand?
Uh-huh. I sorry I hurt you, Daddy.
He scooped the child up onto the bed, and deposited him gently on his stomach. Thats o.k. But how come youre awake so early? He glanced at the clock, which wasnt set to ring for another 20 minutes at least.
I woked up. An I wanted to see. So I comed in.
Ah, I see. He glanced over at Laura, still motionless next to him. You know what?
Mommys still asleep.
The child looked over at his mother. Uh-huh. She is.
What do you think about that?
She should wake up.
So she can give me my breffist.
Oh. Thats a good reason. But shes not awake. What do you think we should do about that?
The childs answer was simple and direct. He flung his small body off his father and landed on top of his mother.
Mommy! Get up! Wake up, Mommy! Its mornin!
His father suppressed a surge of laughter as one brown eye rolled open and glared at him.
Mommy! Wake up, Mommy!
No. Both eyes closed defiantly. I refuse.
Mommy! You hafta wake up!
Why do I hafta wake up? Im sleeping.
No! You hafta get up!
And why, both brown eyes opened and fastened on the small tyrant bouncing energetically on her hip, would I have to do a thing like that at an hour like this?
You hafta get up cause its breffist!
Laura sat up, brushing her hair back.
Breakfast, is it? Well, that makes a difference. Im hungry, so it must be breakfast. And look what I have here! Breakfast in bed! What do you think, Daddy?
His father looked their son over carefully. Well, I dont think theres really much there, but it would do for starters, I suppose. He reached out casually and snagged one small foot, drawing it towards him. Ill start down here. Mommy, you can have that nummy-looking shoulder up there.
Laura giggled and leaned down, pretending to nibble on her son. Oh, goodie! Sweet shoulder for breakfast!
The delighted child giggled and squirmed in their grasp, kicking and squealing with joy.
No! I not breffist! I want breffist! My breffist! Not eat me, Mommy! Not eat me, Daddy! I want my BREFFIST! He began battering at his mother playfully with his small fists. I want my BREFFIST!
The three of them rolled together on the bed for a moment more, then Harry, Sr. disentangled himself and scooped the child up off his mother.
Well, Mommy, he said, looking at Laura, I suppose we have no choice, do we?
Yeah, she agreed, straightening her nightgown and brushing back her hair. I guess Ill have to feed this monster-boy before he breaks loose and devours the world. She rolled over and began getting up. Her son bounced quickly after her.
I come, too, Mommy!
No you dont. You go to the bathroom first. Then you can come down, o.k.? He nodded up at her and disappeared through the doorway. She smiled and looked back toward the bed.
Getting up? Or sleeping in?
What, and miss breffist? Im just waiting my turn at the loo, thats all. As always, the British term made her giggle.
O.k. See you at breffist then. She
bounced out the door in imitation of her small son and he heard
her heading downstairs. From the bathroom came the sound of off-key
chanting. The spider was making another run on the waterspout,
from the sound of it. He swung his long legs over the side of
the bed. Time to face what was certain to be an interesting day.
Hed been up far too late the night before, and it showed. His hair was rumpled and his suitcoat looked as if hed slept in it. His tie was a haphazard, cockeyed mess and his eyes were red and puffy.
Jarvis stood alone against the wall at roll-call, one hand clutching a half-empty coffee cup, head down, staring resolutely at his scuffed brown Oxfords. It was not a good morning and the day would only get worse. He had no intention of being hassled by anyone this morning.
Even Leon knew enough to keep his distance on a morning like this.
O.k., people, listen up! Sgt. Millers voice commanded respect on most occasions, but this morning it had an entirely different timbre. Even Jarvis looked up. It was almost the end of roll-call. Hed thought he might get away with no surprises for one morning. It was not to be.
And Jarvis, you most of all, pay attention now. All of you. Weve got bad news.
Bad news. During roll call that meant only one thing. Dead cop. The room went absolutely still.
Early this a.m. we found another body. Scattered. Six dumpsters. And this time, we had an I.D. almost immediately. An invisible shudder ran through the room. Her name was Tracy Grogh. There was no visible response.
She was a cop.
A long, low sigh ran around the room. Miller held up his hands for attention.
She was new here. Hadnt even started work. She was going to be working juvi sex crimes. Now shes a statistic. And this one we want settled. Fast. A small murmur started. Miller ignored it. Jarvis!
Yes. Jarvis voice was soft, dead. Faces turned toward him. There was sympathy written on a few. Just a few.
Chief wants to see you. Now. Pick up the file on your way.
Jarvis pushed off the wall with a sick feeling dragging at
his stomach. Today was going to be much worse than hed thought.
And it hadnt even officially started yet.
bitsy SPIDER climbed UP the WATER SPOUT! DOWN came the RAIN and WASHED the SPIDER OUT!
He was straightening his tie as he entered the small dining area off the kitchen. How, she wondered, handing him a filled coffee cup, had he managed to get all the wrinkles out? Hed worn the same shirt for three days straight and it looked fresh.
Morning, love, he said, setting the cup down on the counter and pulling her into his arms. She wrapped her own arms around his waist and looked up at him mischievously.
You gonna kiss the cook?
I might. Depends, though.
On what the cook intends to do with that spatula shes holding.
The cook intends to flip pancakes with it, and only pancakes, unless she doesnt get her kiss.
And if she doesnt?
Then she intends to flip something else altogether!
He looked down at her, a small twinkle deep in his eyes. That sounds like a challenge, and you know how I am about challenges. He loosened his hold and leaned back, away from her.
Hey! Come back here, you! Laughing, he let her draw him closer and leaned down to kiss her gently. She smiled up at him afterward. Thats more like it. For that, you get three pancakes this morning.
Mmm. Wonder what Id have to do for four?
Id tell you, but theres a child present.
So there is. He let go of Laura and dropped a kiss on his sons soft hair. Good morning, sir. And how are you doing this fine day?
His son waved a fork at him cheerfully from his high chair. Look, Daddy. I got panny-cakes from Mommy! Two big ones! And sirp on em!
Looks good enough to eat, his father said, retrieving his coffee and settling at the table.
OUT came the SUN an DRIED UP all the RAIN, an the ITSY BITSY SPI-DER climbed UP the SPOUT a-GAIN! His son sang with great gusto, waving his fork wildly about, spattering droplets of sirp around in a small, sticky rain. His father watched him with a strange combination of amusement and disquiet. Something wasnt right. He was certain of it. But what?
He was distracted by the clinking of the plate Laura set in front of him. It, like her own, was piled high with pancakes, steaming with melted butter and syrup. His plate held an additional side of sausages.
Looks like you went all out this morning, he said with a small smile, picking up a sausage and biting into its crisp skin.
I know how much you love your sausages. I couldnt leave them out, she told him.
I got too a sausage, Daddy! his son squealed, holding the small, well-chewed end up in the air. See?
Yes, I see. Mommy must think were pretty special, huh? Lord, was this him talking? He sounded like a bloody commercial.
Its cause youre here! An Mommys happy! his son advised him with a huge smile.
Well, she put in, that and I had all this pancake batter to use up. I made too much last week and froze the part I didnt cook. So pancakes sounded like a good idea. Thaw, flip and serve. Perfect menu for Monday.
He shuddered. Yes, Monday. Back to the grind for me, Im afraid.
Mm. Me too. I dont think I have anything specific on the docket for this morning. By noon, though, I bet I have at least one case walk in, if not two. She tucked a forkful of pancakes into her mouth.
Been busy at the office lately?
Not too bad. Steady flow, though, and thats always good. With Mildred as a full associate now, it goes easier. Still, I wish you could come back. That would make it perfect.
Well, I cant yet, he said flatly. Theyd discussed this earlier.
You know what you have to find out, though? He raised an eyebrow at her and she continued, You have to ask them to tell you exactly, to the penny, how much more you owe on this tuition and how much theyre taking out each week, so we can figure out how much longer this indentured servitude is going to last.
He nodded. I have a nine-thirty meeting with John. Ill bring it up then. He probably wont have the figure handy, but Im guessing he can get it to me by the end of the day at least. He finished off his sausages and began cutting into his pancakes.
Are you going to be swamped today or can you get away for lunch? she asked, sipping her coffee. He paused, scrunching his forehead in thought.
Let me see, Ive got a ten-thirty and an eleven-forty-five and a one oclock. Lord, if Im lucky, Ill have time to grab a sandwich out of the machine and eat at my desk today. Sorry, Laura. I dont think I can get away.
She sighed and picked up her fork again. Well, o.k., but youll be here tonight, then, wont you? For dinner?
He smiled at her. Count on it. He reached across the table with one hand to clasp hers and was startled by a loud crash.
Harrys plate was on the floor. His spoon rebounded off the far wall. His empty milk glass flew past his mothers head to bounce off the edge of the stove behind her. His face was beet red and savagely contorted.
NO! he screamed. No, no, NO!
Harry! Stop that! his father thundered, issuing the first serious parental command of his life with definite authority but little effect. Laura leapt to her feet and reached for her small son.
Harry, what is it? Whats wrong? But he batted at the hands that sought to encircle him.
No-no-no-no-no! he shrieked, his face almost purple. NO!
It took several frantic moments for Laura to subdue the child. His shrieks finally faded to wild sobbing and then to stuttering moans. In the meantime, his father collected the far-flung crockery and restored what order could be restored.
Laura stroked her sons hair and rubbed his shoulders gently while she wiped his sticky face with a damp cloth.
There now, do you feel better? But he shook his head as tears poured down his face. Sweetheart, can you tell us why youre so angry?
Not angee. I mad!
All right, then, his father said equably, tell us what youre mad about.
Mad at you! He glowered at his father under severely lowered brows.
Why are you mad at me?
You come back an you not stay.
But I did stay. All night. Remember? I was there when you had your bad dream.
I memer. But now you go way! An thats not nice! An I mad at you!
But remember I promised to be here tonight when you get home from school? And I told you, Daddies always keep their promises. So Im not really going away. Im just going to work. Like Mommy does. And she comes home every night, doesnt she?
Sometimes. But you not stay and play with me an you not go to work with Mommy an I dont like you anymore!
Harry! his mother began, but his father stopped her with a glance.
You think I should stay with you or go to work with Mommy?
Youre the Daddy! You have to!
Do all Daddies go to work with Mommies?
That stopped him for a moment. His small face scrunched up as he considered carefully. No, he admitted finally, but you sposed to an you not do it! An I not like you no more!
Harry, listen to me, o.k.? He crouched down to his sons eye-level and faced him gravely. I used to work with Mommy all the time. And some day I will again. But right now I have to work somewhere else. With little boys and girls. Some of them are sick and some of them are very sad and its my job to help them feel better. If I didnt go to work, who would help them?
Somebody else, came the defiant answer.
Oh, but theyre all busy. They dont have time for these children. And Mommy and Auntie Mildred dont need me at the office right now. They dont even have a case to work on.
But they will! An you not be there! An
Not nothing. You not be there. And you not stay and play with me.
Sweetheart, Id love to stay home and play with you, but if I did that, those little boys and girls wouldnt get better. You wouldnt want that, would you?
They could come play with us at our house!
Oh, I dont think so, darling. Theres too many of them. And they need special help. I couldnt help them here. I need to be at my office to help them. But its nice of you to think of it.
Harry, his mother put in, you know what? After school today, were not going to be here! Did you know that?
He looked at her and blinked. His father looked just as confused.
Laura, what are you talking about?
Do you remember Dr. John? she asked the toddler. I almost forgot, but were supposed to go see him this afternoon. And guess what?
What? But the word came out almost in a growl.
I think its just possible that well see Daddy then, too. You know why?
No. But the growl had lightened considerably.
Because Daddy works in the same building as Dr. John and maybe, with a quick, confirming glance at Harry, Sr., maybe we can stop in and see Daddy in his office. Would you like that?
Oh, that would be splendid, his father put in with enthusiasm. You could come visit me at work. What do you think of that?
His son eyed them both doubtfully. He blinked a few times and rubbed at his eyes.
An then you come home with us after? he asked finally.
I most certainly would, his father assured him.
An I hafta go to school, huh?
Im afraid so, Sport, his mother said, brushing his fine hair back from his forehead. Daddy and I are going to work and you cant stay home all by yourself, so its school for you today. But Ill come get you a little early this afternoon and well go see Daddy in his office, o.k.?
The child chewed his lip while he carefully considered the matter. Finally he heaved a deep sigh.
O.k. if I gotta.
Im afraid you gotta, kiddo. And wed better get going or well all be late today. Laura helped her small son down from his high chair. Now, lets go get you dressed and ready for school!
He turned away, his head down, and began to walk slowly toward the staircase. Behind him, his father let out a low sigh.
Lord, he said softly.
What? Laura asked.
He looks as if hes being sent to the guillotine.
She watched the small figure mount the stairs with a fond smile on her face. He does, doesnt he? Well, dont let it worry you. Hell get over it. Hes pulled this with me a couple of times now. Its just a two-year-old temper tantrum. Hes got to try you out, see how far he can go. Itll pass. She rubbed his shoulder reassuringly, and was dismayed to note that the clouds didnt completely leave his eyes. Dont buy a ticket on any guilt trips, Dad. You didnt do anything wrong. And Father didnt know best in one day, you know.
He shook his head ruefully and looked down at her. How do you do it? Day and day out, I mean. Its been 24 hours with him and Im whipped. Absolutely whipped.
Whipped, huh? she gave him an appraising glance. I think the Pride of the Pampas might have another round or two left in him, dont you?
He laughed. Oh, Im no quitter. Ill be back for more. Not to worry. But its been a hell of a shock to the system, I will admit. Im almost looking forward to going to work. It gets crazy there, too, but only in ways Im expecting.
I know what you mean, she said, moving off toward the stairs. Some days I think Id prefer a nice, straightforward murder or two. It would be easier. She glanced back at him with a wicked grin. Less interesting, though.
He laughed and began clearing the breakfast dishes from the
Jarvis slammed out of the Chiefs office, his ears still ringing, his face suffused with color. Damned lousy bureaucracy! What did they expect him to do? Pull the killer out of his left hip pocket and strap him directly into the electric chair? Hed probably have to pull the switch too, but only after giving the creep whatever version of Last Rites he wanted. Anything to save another lousy buck.
Budgets. The Chief could choke on his budget and his procedures and his protocol. He could take his arrest and conviction statistics and stick them where the sun didnt shine as well. And if he had trouble finding just the right spot, Jarvis would be only too glad to draw him a map.
But right now he had a date with another bunch of dumpsters. And if that didnt just kill the morning with a vengeance.
If hed had any doubts about his original plans for this day, he had shaken them off permanently. But he had to go through all the official hoops first. Ringmaster and chief clown at his own personal three-ring circus and he wasnt going to get away with missing one single, disgusting performance.
But as soon as the last dumpster was cleared, he had plans. And nothing, not the coroners office or the chief or the mayor or God, Himself, was going to interrupt those plans again today.
It had just gone too far and it was time to put an end to the bureaucratic crap. No more games.
It was time to be a cop.
They reappeared in the livingroom just as he finished clearing the table. The breakfast dishes were stacked in the sink and he had already wiped down the table and counters.
Well, were ready to leave, Laura announced cheerfully. He looked them both over.
His son was dressed in a green-and-yellow-striped cardigan over a green t-shirt and the ubiquitous jeans. His hair was combed and his face was clean and something was missing. It took his father a moment to place what it was.
Wheres Joji this morning? Isnt he going to school with you?
A cloud darkened the little features. Uh-uh. He stays here an waits for me. Lets go, Mommy.
Hold on, partner, not so fast. She looked down at him in surprise. Dont we have something to talk to Daddy about first?
Oh yeah, the child said, brightening. You come too! he ordered, looking up at his father.
To my school!
He cleared his throat tentatively. Oh, darling, I dont know if I can come to your school this morning
Its just so you can see where he is and show your face to the office staff, Laura put in quickly, in case you ever have to--, I mean want to pick him up. Or anything, she finished up lamely, looking at his reluctant face.
Its just that Id planned on dropping by my apartment this morning, he told her. To change clothes. He plucked nervously at the fabric of his suitcoat.
Please, Daddy? His sons small arms were suddenly wrapped around his thighs. Please come see my school? He looked down into the pleading face.
I suppose perhaps no one will notice I havent He sighed deeply and ruffled the childs hair. All right. Well go to your school this morning. But Ill have to take my own car and follow you two. Is that acceptable to madam and mseiur?
Highly acceptable, Laura told him with a happy grin. Come on, Champ. Lets hit the road!
Her son giggled and raced over to take her hand. The three
of them hurried out the door, locking it carefully behind them.
The day had officially begun.
He stared blindly at his computer screen. Numbers passed by in a dizzying array, numbers that used to make great sense and now were just so much gibberish.
He told himself it was because hed been up so late the night before. He told himself he was being foolish. He told himself to stop.
Finally, he turned off the computer and just sat.
Hed been foolish. He thought hed been so careful but, in fact, hed moved too soon. Again, too soon. He should have waited, watched closer, been more sure. But he hadnt and so hed been wrong.
Once home again, facing his array of photographs, he could see easily enough hed been wrong. But why hadnt he realized that last night? He hadnt even looked at his photos last night. He hadnt thought he needed to. Hed been so sure. And hed been wrong.
And now, to begin again, and so soon. It wasnt fair. It wasnt fair at all. And it wasnt right. It would throw everything off. Hed just moved in, just gotten set up. And it was too soon to be paying for another three months rent somewhere else. He couldnt afford it.
More importantly, he didnt want to.
But could he afford to stay? Hed cleaned as soon as hed returned home, cleaned compulsively and well, the way his mother had taught him. There were no traces left anywhere. Nothing that could be seen.
But he would remember her there, sprawled out in the tub, gray-faced, glassy-eyed, tongue black and protruding, hair stuck in damp clumps against her forehead. He would remember for a long time. At least until he found her, the right one, the one who would finally bring closure. Then he could forget the others, all the others who stared mutely at him from the dark corners when he waited for sleep. The ones who watched with silent accusation. The ones who wouldnt leave.
Could he stay? Did he dare? Was he, after all, strong enough?
He didnt know. But hed have to decide. And soon.
Before a decision was made for him.
He was just hanging his suitcoat over the back of his chair when the far, hall door opened and John Needham poked his head in.
Well! Here you are! At last! he said cheerfully, wandering into the office. Funny about that total telephone meltdown we had over the weekend, isnt it? Must have been very frustrating, with you trying diligently to call me for three days straight. Pity about that. You must have wasted so much time dialing.
Oh, John, Im sorry, he said softly. I really meant to call. Its just I mean it was that is, I oh, hell, I suppose I never really intended to call. But if Id remembered, I would have. Honestly.
Im sure you would, his supervisor said dryly. And I appreciate your honesty. I suppose I realized as much. Still, youre here now. A bit late, but here. Which is good. I was getting worried.
Worried? Have you been here long? I mean, this is actually a bit early for you, isnt it? You usually dont come in till nine.
I thought Id get a jump on the day, Needham said, looking his colleague over carefully. Im highly tempted to ask how your weekend went, but Im more curious as to why you arent asking me about my last session on Friday.
If hed expected a reaction, the one he got was still a shock. It was not only the widest smile, but the only smile hed ever seen on the younger mans face.
I had an absolutely wonderful weekend, his colleague announced. In fact, I think I should tell you all about it!
I think you should, too, he said, thoroughly nonplussed. My office or yours?
The tall, younger man was on his feet, coming out from behind the desk, when the intercom buzzed.
Dr. Cathcart, theres a police officer here and he says he has to talk to you immediately, came the disembodied voice of his receptionist. The two men in the office looked at one another blankly for a moment. Needham carefully considered the younger mans face before clearing his throat.
We still have a 9:30 meeting, dont we? he said at last.
Yes, of course, his colleague answered. Ill be there. And, John?
Thanks for being so understanding. About everything, I mean.
Well talk, Dr. Cathcart. We will most definitely talk. But take care of this business first. And, if you need me, Ill be in my office.
The younger man watched him leave before punching the intercom button again.
All right, Julie. Go ahead and send him in.
He crossed the room and poured himself a cup of coffee from the small airpot on the credenza under the bookshelf. The front office door opened as he was stirring in the cream.
I cant think without my morning coffee, officer. How about you? he said without looking up.
Oh, none for me thanks, came the familiar voice. He froze, then straightened slowly and turned to see his uninvited guest lowering himself casually into a chair, relaxed, as if he did this every day and had just dropped by for a chat. I have enough to keep me awake these days.
He could only marvel at how steady his own hands were as he crossed the room to his desk, carrying the full cup of coffee. Old talents were the best, it seemed. He was at least outwardly calm. Inwardly was another matter. He no longer needed the coffee to stimulate his system. His nerves were all on overdrive as it was.
And what brings you here, Detective Jarvis? he asked mildly, pleased to note that his voice was as level as his hands as he lowered himself into his own chair.
Oh, a few things. Small things, really. Jarvis said in his best gee-whiz voice. Just some stuff scattered here and there. But Id really like to get one thing straight before we get started on all of that.
And what would that be?
Well, its silly really, but Id feel better knowing. I think it would make things go much smoother for both of us.
Yes? It was the years of training that kept his voice mild and friendly, he decided, since all his feelings were distinctly homicidal at this point. The curly-headed shark across from him looked equally relaxed, however, which was not a good sign.
Id just like to know what to call you, Jarvis said with a deceptively naïve smile. Is it Dr. Harrison Cathcart? Or Remington Steele? The smile never wavered as the calm voice continued. Or Michael OLeary? Or Douglas Quintain? Or Paul Fabrini? Or John Morell? Or Richard Blaine? Or Harry Chalmers, Sr.?
He clenched his teeth briefly. Does it really matter so much at this point, Detective?
Well yes, actually, it does. You see one of those men might just be able to help me out of a tight spot. But one or more of them is a fraud, at the very least. Jarvis blinked owlishly for a moment. And several seem to be wanted on serious criminal charges in a number of separate foreign jurisdictions. If I happened to be talking to any one of them, well, as an officer of the law, Id have to arrest him on the spot, now wouldnt I?
The two men stared at each other across the expanse of a desk for several very long moments.
So you see, Jarvis said softly, without a trace of warmth in his words, its very important that you tell me exactly what I should call you.
He watched the police detective smile. It was the smile of a predator. A shark. In the silence, he reached for his coffee cup, but didnt pick it up.
His hands were shaking too badly.