He was hunched over his desk. A low backache made him shift uncomfortably several times. He flexed the fingers of his right hand and picked up his pen again. A break would be nice right around now, but the soft ticking of the wall clock said otherwise. It was almost 3 p.m. Theyd be here soon, and he wasnt anywhere near ready.
Case files. He glanced at the stack to his left and sighed. Normally, he came into the office on Saturday, after staying light Friday night, and worked them, kept up with them, almost obsessed over them. But this weekend had been different. No work had been done at all. Suddenly his schedule had been drastically altered, but his caseload hadnt. This, he could tell, was going to present a severe problem, unless he found a satisfactory way to deal with it.
After the first of this mornings interviews, he could see where finding such a solution was going to be problematic at best.
He rubbed his tired eyes and focused on the file in front of him, scribbling another note at the bottom, searching his memory for salient details he didnt dare leave out. His intercom buzzed. Impatiently he slapped at it.
Dr. Cathcart? Theres a patient of Dr. Needhams here, but she says she has to see you first.
Who is it, Julie? he said absently, then winced. No, wait, never mind. Ill be right out.
He swept the file closed, put it on the stack to his right, then scooped that stack up and deposited it in the bottom, empty drawer of the nearest file cabinet. He gathered the stack on his left and stuffed it into a cardboard file box at his feet, replaced the lid and tied it securely.
Then he crossed the office to the reception-area door and opened it.
Laura was perched on one of the waiting room chairs. She looked up when he opened the door and rose to her feet, a broad smile crossing her face.
He crossed the room, took her hand with a broad smile of his own and kissed her briefly. Hi, yourself. Youre early.
Traffic was better than Id expected, so we got here ahead of schedule, Laura told him. He lurched forward suddenly and grabbed at her shoulders for support.
Harry! she snapped. How many times have I told you not to do that to people?
Her small son grinned up at her and kept his arms wrapped tightly around his fathers thighs.
What is this? his father demanded. Launching sneak attacks on me from the rear, eh? He reached around and pried his sons arms off himself then scooped the little boy up in a big, tickling hug, mindful of his receptionists open astonishment. This behavior was not established office protocol. And where, he wondered, had the office grapevine broken down? Hed have thought that, by this time in the afternoon, his changed family status would be an open secret throughout the building. Apparently hed been wrong. Perhaps he should have said something about the matter to Julie earlier, he mused. Never too late, though.
Julie, Id like you to meet my son, Harry, and his mother, Laura, he said casually, turning toward the petite blond at the desk. Julie is my secretary, he told Laura. Not cut from the Mildred-mode, but shes quite good. Keeps me organized and out of trouble, anyway. No small task, that. He set Harry back down on his feet and put an arm around Lauras waist, pulling her close again.
Laura smiled at Julie. If you need a sympathetic ear, just call me. Im used to the frustration of trying to keep his mind on his work and his nose to the grindstone. But if you need help or advice, Im afraid I wont be much use to you. We gave up trying to figure out what to do about him years ago. All I can say is your best defense some days is a really well-honed sense of futility.
Her bright smile faltered as she watched Julies face. The woman was small and slightly chunky, with glowing pink cheeks and wide blue eyes, but the look on her face was blank and astonished. In fact, she seemed totally confused by Lauras words, as if shed been speaking Greek.
Daddy! Harry shouted, pounding on his fathers leg for attention. You got toys! He pointed at the small child-sized table in the corner of the room. There were stuffed animals and small cars and a few books scattered on its surface, as well as on the small chairs placed around it.
So I do, and trust you to find it, eh? He smiled down at his son again.
You got more toys in there? his son asked, pointed to the door hed just emerged from.
Oh, I suppose I do. One or two anyway. Want to see? He grinned down at his son, who nodded energetically. Hand in hand, they headed for the office door. He looked over his shoulder. Coming, Laura?
With one more confused glance at the small blond at the desk, Laura trailed after them and into the office. For her part, Julie waited until the door closed firmly behind the three of them before picking up the office phone and dialing.
Margot? Have you got a moment? Yeah, its me. Youre never going to believe what just happened!
And thus are grapevines watered.
His parents watched fondly as Harry, Jr. twirled around and around in his fathers office chair. Finally, coasting to a stop, the child grinned up at them, delighted.
You like my chair, eh? his father asked. He nodded.
Its nice. Like the one where Mommy works.
Laura smiled. He likes to play in your office when he comes to work with me. I let him draw at your desk and he loves your big office chair.
Harry had slid down and was walking around the office, staring curiously at everything. His small fingers trailed along the spines of books and he bent over to peer under chairs. He even pulled open drawers and investigated the interior of the credenza.
I can tell hes your son, Laura, his father said cheerfully. He tosses a room quite professionally. Laura laughed.
Hes your son, as well. He absolutely excels at getting into things hes not supposed to.
He grinned and swept her into a close hug, which she returned. Oblivious to the small explorer still moving around the room, they kissed for a long, slow moment.
Hey, Daddy! their son called finally. Daddy!
Reluctantly, his father turned away from Laura. What is it, sweetheart?
You dont got me or Mommy anyplace. How come?
Well, his father said, wincing slightly, I dont have any pictures of you yet at all. And I keep my picture of Mommy in my bedroom where I can see it when I go to sleep at night.
He didnt add that it had proved to be a decided distraction and hed removed it from the office long ago because of that. Laura gave him a sharp glance, making him flush slightly.
Mommy, Daddy needs my pitcher! Harry said, tugging at her hand. She smiled down at him.
Ive got a neat idea! she said. Bending over, she whispered in his ear. Smiling with delight, he nodded emphatically as she opened her purse and scrabbled in its depths, finally producing a small box of crayons. Now, she said, turning to his bemused father, if you could find a piece of paper for us
A few moments later, Harry, Jr. was settled at his fathers desk, coloring happily as his parents settled themselves on the couch against the wall, their arms wrapped comfortably around one another.
I missed you today, Laura said softly. I dont know why, but you were conspicuous in your absence.
He smiled sadly. Im afraid Im going to have to be conspicuous for awhile longer yet. I did ask John about those figures, by the way. He said he should have them for me by the end of the week at least.
Good. She snuggled into the circle of his arms and he let out a long, slow, contented sigh.
I wonder why it is? he said at last.
Why what is?
Why it is that I seem to be able to breath so much easier in this position than any other, he said, nuzzling her temple slightly. She hugged him tighter.
I dont know, she said, but Ive noticed the same phenomenon. What should we do, do you think?"
I think it requires frequent experimentation, he said. to be sure the effect is reproducible.
Ah, the scientific method, she said, nodding. I couldnt agree more. How long should the testing phase last, do you think?
Oh, he said, grinning, you cant be too careful about something this important. Id say an intensive, prolonged testing period is definitely called for. We should make the time period indefinite.
Definitely indefinite, she agreed. After a moment more, she looked up at him. Im stopping at the store on the way home. Do you have any dinner requests? Within reason, of course. My budget doesnt cover Coq Au Vin Rouge, Im afraid.
He winced and pulled away slightly. Perhaps youd better make something that you can warm up easily later, he said with a frown. Im afraid you and I need to talk, but we should wait until John and Harry are in session. He glanced at his watch. Its about time we got him in there, dont you think?
She nodded, a small, frightened look on her face as she rose to her feet. Is there a problem? she said. He looked down at her, startled, as he realized what she was asking.
No, Laura, nothing like that, he said, drawing her close for a moment. Theres no problem with us. This is something else altogether and it just means that Ill be late getting to your place tonight. She sighed and relaxed slightly.
Harry? his father called, and the youngster looked up from his paper. Were going to Dr. Johns office now. You ready?
Uh-huh! Harry, Jr. slipped out of the chair and trotted over to his parents with his drawing in his hands. Daddy, look! I made you! He passed the paper over to his father.
It was a mass of scribbles. Circles atop circles atop spirals and other curved, squiggly lines. A riot of colors and random shapes.
Now you got me! his son told him with glee.
Oh, its a picture of you! his father said with a wide smile. And its lovely! Lets put it up, shall we? He took the tape dispenser off his desk and mounted his sons portrait on the wall next to his chair. Now I can see it whenever I want. His son observed the procedure with evident satisfaction.
You still need Mommy, he observed.
Ill always need Mommy, his father answered softly, with a pointed look at Laura. But maybe Ill bring her picture in from home and put in on my desk tomorrow. What do you think? His son nodded.
We should go see Dr. John now, though, Laura reminded
them. Her son took her hand with a cheerful grin and the three
of them headed for the far office door together.
Stop being an ass and get in here, was the cheerful greeting John Needham gave his reluctant associate. Dr. Cathcart followed Laura and Harry, Jr. into the small consulting room, ducking his head almost sheepishly.
I thought you might want to see Laura and Harry alone, he said softly as he pulled a chair out from the wall and settled in it. Laura perched nervously on the sofa against the wall near the door and Harry, Jr. sprawled delightedly on the floor, where an odd combination of wires and wooden beads attached to a wooden platform consumed his attention almost immediately.
Oh, Needham said, settling himself into another chair opposite his associate, I think Id rather see all of you at once today, if its all right with Laura. He gave the young woman a friendly smile which she tried to return.
I dont mind at all, she said softly.
Harry? Needham said. The child at his feet looked up briefly and smiled. Do you remember coming to visit me last week?
Uh-huh. You didnt got this that time, the child replied, pointing to the toy he was playing with.
Yes, thats new isnt it. Do you like it? The child nodded. You dont have one like it at home, do you?
Do they have one like it at your preschool? There was a long, silent pause. The child ran small beads along their metal tracks, up, down, around, through. Harry?
I dont think they got one like this. Mommy! He turned to his mother. Can we get one like this sometime?
I dont know, sweetheart, Laura said. Well see.
Oh, the child said, and returned to manipulating the beads. The adults watched him for a few moments.
Have you noticed anything different since we last spoke? Needham asked Laura. She shook her head, her eyes still on her son. Nothing unusual, then, or out-of-the-ordinary? Another silent head-shake. Just the same thing again, then? A nod this time. Needham subsided and the three adults went back to watching the child playing at their feet.
Harry? Needham said at last. The child looked up, wary now, his eyes dark and hooded. His small hands continued to toy with the wooden beads. Do you remember what we talked about the last time you came here? About the bad dreams? The child turned away abruptly, focusing entirely on the beads.
You had another bad dream, didnt you? Needham continued softly. The child shrugged briefly, but didnt look up. You dont want to talk about it? The child shook his head, still not looking up. Thats o.k. You dont have to. He fell silent then and just watched as one bead after another moved along its particular metal track.
Harry? The child looked up briefly with a flicker of curiosity. Could Mommy tell me about the bad dreams? Curiosity died and the toddler focused on the beads again. The silence stretched, then
She doesnt know. It was a soft, almost inaudible mutter.
She doesnt know what you dream about, you mean? Needham watched the child closely. After a brief moment, the little boy stood up and picked up the toy hed been playing with. Holding it carefully, he moved away, off to the far corner of the room, near the bookcases, and sat down again with his back to the three adults. The beads began moving along their tracks again, one after another after another. The silence stretched a moment more.
Do you have anything to add at this point, Dr. Cathcart? He met his colleagues eyes, but they were unblinking and unwavering.
No, Im afraid not.
Needham heaved a small sigh. I think maybe Harry and I should go to the playroom and see what mischief we can get into there. If thats o.k. with Harrys Mommy, of course. The child turned quickly, in time to see Laura nod.
Come on, Harry, Needham said cheerfully, standing up. Ive got lots more toys to play with in the big room. You remember them, dont you? He held out a hand and the child finally stood up and took it. Needham turned to Laura. Well be back in a little while. You two find something to amuse yourselves with while were gone, wont you?
We will, Laura said with a small, sad smile. Harry twisted suddenly to look back at her.
You stay here! You not go anyplace, kay?
Ill be right here till you get back. Dont you worry about that. Ill be right here, she said with an encouraging smile. The child let out his breath in a small sigh and then left the room with no further protest. When the door closed behind him, Lauras shoulders sagged visibly.
I hate this, she said, running her fingers through her hair. I really hate this. She looked up with a wry smile as he stood and crossed the room to settle on the couch next to her. She leaned her head down on his shoulder for a moment as he took one of her hands and held it.
Why cant it just be easier? she said softly.
Because it cant, was his soft reply. But youre not going it alone anymore. Well find an answer, Laura, and well make things right again. Trust me, please?
I trust you, she said, looking up at him with a smile. Thats whats so weird about all this. Youd think it would be hard, after all this time, that Id have doubts. But I dont. I honestly do trust you. Isnt that weird?
Very weird, he said, and pulled her into a tight
hug. Very weird, indeed.
Are you out of your mind?!?!
It was a tone he had always particularly disliked. Shrill, tense, vibrating on the edge of a shriek, Laura faced him, arms stiff at her sides, eyes wide, and every tendon in her neck standing out in sharp relief.
What on earth were you thinking? This is insane! I mean, blackmail is one thing, but
Theres no blackmail involved here, Laura, he said patiently. I told you. He asked for my help and I agreed. Theres no threat involved.
No threat? He came here, to your office, where your name, on the door, clearly reads Dr. Harrison Cathcart! He came here to see you and you say theres no threat involved? Are you blind or have you simply taken leave of your senses?
Laura, please, calm down and listen to me
Calm down? How am I supposed to calm down? This is my life were talking about! He could have my license revoked! He could destroy everything Ive ever worked for and youre just taking it on faith that he wont? Whats wrong with you? Cant you see what hes doing? Hes setting you up! Its some kind of trap!
Youre not this stupid! Cant you see what he really wants? Hes just looking for more evidence! And youre walking right into it! Youre
Laura! Sit down! The anger in his tone quelled her immediately. She stared at him with wide, shocked eyes, and slowly lowered herself into the nearest chair, arms crossed protectively across her waist.
Im sorry for shouting at you, Laura, but youve got to get this under control, he said, running his hands distractedly through his hair. Now listen to me, please. Detective Jarvis just asked for my help. O.k., so he knows that Remington Steele and Dr. Harrison Cathcart are the same person. He also knows about my five former passports and that Im Harrys father and probably lots of other things as well. He knows, for example, that Im still wanted in several overseas jurisdictions. Hes said as much.
Because he also said he didnt care. That you were doing fine as Remington Steele and he didnt see any reason to stop you. He also didnt care what Id done in any other country in the past.
Then what does he care about?
He has a problem.
Now theres an understatement!
Laura, are you going to listen? He stared at her intently until she slumped back into her chair, arms still crossed, eyes defiant.
Without going into too much detail, and I dont honestly know that much at this point, hes got some kind of psycho on the loose, and his superiors are giving him a lot of grief about closing the case quickly. But he doesnt have a clue who hes looking for, and he doesnt know where to look. He also doesnt have anyone to work up a psychological profile of this person. The department wont pay for a forensic psychologist. He needs someone who will work, well, pro bono, for want of a better term.
For free, in other words.
And thats where you come in.
Thats right. He nodded encouragingly and she straightened slightly to look at him.
Out of the entire city of Los Angeles, she said, her tone icy, Detective James Jarvis, in need of a professional profiler, comes to an obscure child psychologist out of a sense of, what, camaraderie? And then asks you to do a job you dont even specialize in? What kind of sense is that supposed to make? Cant you see whats really happening here? He not only wants my license revoked, hes out to get yours as well!
She was on her feet again, pacing from one end of the room to the other.
Laura, I wish youd calm down a bit, he said softly. If he were going to have your license revoked, hed have done it already. Remember, this is James Jarvis were talking about, the biggest Boy Scout on the LAPD. Hes so straight, they use him as a ruler.
And you think blackmail never occurred to him.
Im not saying that at all. In fact, I think it did occur to him.
And I think it turned his stomach. So much so that, when push came to shove, he couldnt do it. Laura, I gave him every opportunity to blackmail me. I as much as implied that, if he did, hed succeed. But in the end, all he did was ask for my help. And Id stake my reputation on the fact that my help is all he really wants.
Fine. Stake your reputation. But do you have to throw my livelihood into the pot as well?
What do you want me to do, Laura? How am I supposed to make this right for you? Tie him down and beat him to a pulp until he promises never to reveal a thing to anyone? Maybe I should murder him outright! Just what would you suggest?
I dont know! she shrieked, then tears began to pour down her face. He couldnt help himself. He moved to her and pulled her into his arms, where she buried her face in his chest, sobbing softly for a long moment.
Laura, hush. Hush, now. I wont let anything happen to you. I swear it, he murmured, stroking her hair gently. She raised her face to look at him.
I know you wont, she said softly. But I just have a horrible feeling that this one is going to come back and bite us in the ass and that somehow, Ill end up
Losing you. She caught her lower lip between her teeth. Ending up alone again. And I dont want that.
Oh, Laura, he sighed, pulling her close again, neither do I. In fact, Id do anything on earth to avoid it. Please, darling, trust me on this. James Jarvis isnt going to hurt you. He pulled back slightly and looked down at her. And neither am I.
She gave him a small, watery smile. Promise?
He drew one long finger diagonally across his chest, then again, starting from the opposite shoulder.
Cross my heart and hope to live.
It was, perhaps, the strangest oath she had ever heard, but
she hugged him anyway.
He walked them down to Lauras Rabbit afterward and distributed hugs and kisses. His son had been disconsolate that he wasnt coming with them, but hed promised to show up at the apartment later, and the child had finally accepted it. Now he stood waving as the car pulled away.
Nothing was going quite right. Was this a portent of things to come? Would he be forever making excuses, offering apologies and waving goodbye as they drove away from him?
Or could he manage to get his life back on track, along with his case files?
Whatever happened, none of it was looking to be easy at the
BRING-IN home a BA-by BUM-bel-BEE! WONT my MOM-my BE so proud of ME? Cause Im BRING-IN home a BA-by BUM-bel-BEE! Bzz-bzz-bzz-bzzz OUCH! He STUNG me!
There was a pause as she heard her son fill his small lungs with air, ready for a reprise, but she was pulling into her parking space outside her own apartment building. The end of stinging bees was at hand. Now all she had to do was get him out of his car seat, retrieve the groceries, get her son and her groceries up the stairs, settle her son somehow, and get dinner ready.
She didnt see the dark blue mini-van parked nearby until its doors opened, disgorging three occupants who crossed the parking lot rapidly in her direction. She had just fished a long cardboard container of spaghetti out of one of the bags and handed it to the delighted toddler to carry when strong arms grabbed her from behind, lifting her effectively off her feet with a soft grunt before setting her back down again.
Hi, there! She whirled to face a pair of sparkling eyes shining above an open grin. The reactions hit her rapidly in succession. Delight. Terror. Numbed acceptance of the truth. But she summoned up as bright a smile as she was capable of and hoped her greeting sounded better than it felt.
Murphy! This is great! Where did you come from? She hugged her former associate and long-time friend and then let him snag two of her grocery bags while she hugged his wife and daughter in turn. Oh my God! I was just thinking about you guys the other day! Come upstairs and fill me in on all the news!
It took a few moments to disentangle the Michaels family from Harrys enthusiastic embraces, but eventually the small party was headed up the stairs. Lauras heart sank lower with every stair riser.
Murphy Michaels and Remington Steele had never exactly been friends, more like bitter adversaries caged together and forced to work toward a common goal for a time. No matter how shed tried, shed never been able to overcome their mutual distrust of each other. Murphy wasnt going to like the turn her life had just taken. And given his aggressive protective tendencies, she only hoped she could forestall the explosion she saw looming on the horizon. Headed their way in just a few short hours, in fact.
And where was a fire extinguisher when you really needed one?
It was a seedy, run-down little diner with cracked Formica tables and padded booths that felt like solid rock. The waitress was appropriately surly as she waved a fly away with a grimy dishrag. The smell of burning grease hung in the air.
Yo! Over here! Jarvis was waving from a booth in the corner. Not that he needed to. Except for one hung-over-looking specimen at the counter, there was nobody else in the place. He eased himself gingerly onto the seat across from Jarvis and ordered coffee.
Lovely ambience, he noted dryly. Come here often, do you?
What can I say? Jarvis shrugged. Im a sucker for their Beef Bourgenoin. And the wine list is top notch.
Plus it helps to have an in with the maitred, doesnt it?
Oh, yeah. Jarvis grinned at him, unrepentant. Cops get all the choice seats in the house. So what? You wanted to meet at the office? I would have thought police headquarters wouldnt have been to your liking.
No, this is fine, he said, looking around casually. Should I take it the locale has some significance?
Jarvis grinned at him. Youre better than I thought. Yeah, it does. The second killing of a series, collect the whole set. A womans head was fished out of a dumpster in back of the joint. The owner swears he doesnt know anything about how it got there. Thing is, I believe him.
Hes ex-Navy. Did a couple of tours in Nam before opening this place. One of those big, burly types that just sneers at the world and dares it to knock the chip off his shoulder.
And when we pulled the head of the victim out of his dumpster, he lost his cookies.
And this convinced you he had nothing to do with it. Why?
Turns out she was his goddaughter. He thought she was in Seattle. The guy turned into a babbling idiot in no time. We ended up having to sedate him. Hes with relatives in Sacramento right now, in fact, under a doctors care. We did a check. We even cleared him. No priors, unless you count parking tickets. He has a thing about handicapped spaces. Some kind of protest, I guess. His plates were suspended, but thats about the worst that we found.
I take it you were thorough.
Oh yeah. For awhile the Chief really wanted this guy. Nice neat package, no trouble, right? But we checked him top to bottom, stem to stern. Turned him loose and followed him twenty-four/seven. Bupkis. The guy went from home to church to the diner, back to church, then home again. Every day, the same routine. I guess the church thing started after we found Monica.
Monica Truesdell, the victim. Jarvis opened a manila envelope and slid a photograph across the tabletop. Fresh young features, shoulder length auburn hair, bright eyes, bright smile. She was 24 years old. A performance-arts grad student at UCLA. She was a dancer. Summers she was supposed to be working at a coffee joint up in Seattle that her boyfriends family ran. But she never went this time. We found her body about a week after she should have left town for the season. It didnt seem like shed been dead all that long. A day, two at most.
Why didnt she go to Seattle?
She and the boyfriend, a Brian Oldweiss, had a falling out. Major blow. She was cooling off. Shed called his parents, told them shed probably still be up for the summer, but needed to get a late start, to clear her head. Theyd agreed, but hadnt thought to tell her parents or anyone else. So her godfather, Nicolas Spirakos, the owner of this dump, had no idea she was even still in town. Till she turned up under some leftover blue plate special one morning.
Nasty shock, that.
Yeah. Old Nick was a total basket case. Hed loved that kid. Had her picture on the wall. Used to brag to all his friends how shed be a famous dancer one day. Whenever her dance group gave a benefit performance to raise money, he sold tickets for it out of the restaurant. And this is a guy that didnt give to the United Way. I doubt he dropped a dime in the Salvation Army buckets at Christmas, even.
So youve definitely ruled out the godfather.
Yeah. Especially since the next victim was murdered, dismembered and disposed of while we had Nicky under constant surveillance -- from a hospital bed. He collapsed at work one day and was in intensive care at the time. Pretty much ruled him out right there.
So her head turning up in his dumpster might have been a gesture directed at him, some sort of revenge motive?
I dont think so. None of the other victims had any connection with where they were found. And none had any connection to Spirakos at all, other than Monica. And we checked, believe me. I think this was just a very bizarre coincidence. Not something planned in advance.
You said this was the second murder. Was there any connection with the first murder?
None that we could tell.
Were you planning to let me see the whole file, or are you going to dole it out in dribs and drabs?
Jarvis grinned and shoved the envelope across the table. And Ive got six more just like it back at the office. I thought youd want to start with just one first. Ill drop the other five by your office tomorrow, if thats o.k. Its all in there, all the sites where the body parts were found, the M.E.s report, the coroners report, interviews with family, the boyfriend, college friends, Spirakos, the staff here, even the garbage collector that found the head. Make what you can of it. Ill be in touch.
He stood up and straightened his coat before turning to leave.
Blue eyes bored into him, very intense.
If you must drop things off at the office, make your visit brief. I dont need my patients upset. Please dont go flashing your badge around any of them.
No problemo. Jarvis grinned and turned away again.
Id steer clear of Laura for awhile. If you can, please.
Anything to make your life easier, my friend. Anything at all.
Was it his imagination, or was Jarvis grin just a shade
She jumped when the doorbell rang. It had the knell of impending doom. Murphy shot her a look, his eyebrows cocked ever so faintly. Chin lifted defiantly, she crossed the living room and yanked open the door.
He was standing there, half-hidden behind a small bunch of inexpensive flowers, the kind that convenience stores keep in coolers near the register. Only his eyes peeked out at her, over the tops of the ragged blossoms, glinting with mischief.
Peace offering, mlady?
She grinned in spite of herself and took the flowers.
Thank you. Peace offering accepted. Then she drew a deep breath. And I have a surprise for you, too.
Oh? he said, stepping into the living room. She turned and gestured toward the small dining nook.
We have company.
Pat was sitting at the dining room table, hands wrapped around a mug of tea. She waved at him briefly and smiled. Then Murphy stepped into view from out of the kitchen. He wasnt smiling.
Murphy! Good to see you, mate! He crossed the room with enthusiasm and grasped the other mans hand.
Good to see you too. Mate. There was still no smile and the words had been bitten out from between clenched teeth. Murphy pulled his hand back and took a sip from his own mug.
The kids have already eaten, Laura said from behind them. I was holding dinner for the rest of us till you got here. I should get it on the table. Were all hungry right now. She moved into the kitchen. The two men were still standing, staring at each other silently.
Laura, Im going to tuck this away someplace, he said, patting his briefcase, and pop in on Harry. Ill be right back.
Hes upstairs in his bedroom, Laura said, her head deep in the oven where the aroma of garlic wafted out, playing with Shannon.
Splendid. Be right back. He offered Murphy and Pat a bright smile and headed for the stairs. Murphy didnt move. Just stared after him silently. Finally, he took another sip from his mug and turned back toward the kitchen.
Smells great, Laura. She offered him a wan smile and put the basket of garlic toast on the table behind him.
It was going to be a long evening.
He tossed his briefcase on the chenille bedspread and loosened his tie.
Murphy Michaels. He knew hed have to deal with this problem eventually, but he had hoped it wouldnt be quite so soon. Murphy seemed about as belligerent as ever, and this time, he had just cause. Or he felt he did. And Laura, as usual, was caught in the middle.
As was Harry, Jr. He frowned and crossed the small hallway to his sons bedroom. The child was sprawled on his red-and-yellow pattered carpet, his small, plastic stacking blocks spread all over the floor. Shannon Michaels was lying on her stomach on Harrys yellow Snoopy bedspread, feet in the air, head dangling over the edge, toying with some of the blocks herself. Her straight blond hair curved gently over her thin shoulderblades. The children looked up at him.
Daddy! Harry squealed and flung himself joyfully into his fathers arms.
Hello there, he said, giving the child a warm hug. Long time no see, eh? Harry giggled and took his hand, tugging at it imperiously.
Come see we made! he demanded. Father and son entered the bedroom together.
Hello, Shannon. Do you remember me? He smiled at the little girl. You were just a baby when I saw you last, I dont suppose youd remember. Im Harrys Daddy.
She stared at him for a moment, then went back to playing with the blocks.
Daddy, look I made! Harry, Jr. held up a small green, plastic platform on which were stacked several small towers of multicolored blocks red, yellow, green and blue. Im makin a whole city!
So I see. Its a big city, isnt it? Who lives there?
People. An some are good guys and some are bad guys and Mommys gonna catch all the bad guys. And Shannons Daddy, too, he added after thinking a moment. And you!
We are, eh? Sounds like fun! He looked over at Shannon. She had a green platform too, and was busy filling it with small stacks of blocks. She had a blue block gripped firmly in her hand and, as he watched, she brought it down on top of a yellow block, pulled both up at once, then set them on top of a red block. With the three blocks together, she moved them onto the green platform and set them in place, never losing her grip on that first blue block. She twisted the blue block free from the stack and repeated the procedure with three more colored blocks.
That looks interesting, Shannon. Are you building a city, too? The little girl never looked up, just continued moving blocks. Blue, yellow, red. Blue, green, red. Blue, yellow, green, red.
Well, Ill leave you two to play, all right? But Harry grabbed him around the legs.
No, Daddy! Stay an play with us!
Sweetheart, I cant. Shannons Mommy and Daddy are downstairs and I have to go visit with them for awhile, too. The childs small face fell in dismay. His father drew him close and stepped out into the hall with him.
Come here, darling. Daddy needs to talk to you for a moment, o.k.?
What is it? Small blue eyes gazed upward.
Well, its you and Shannon are playing nicely, arent you?
Uh-huh! The small head bobbed. Im sharin toys!
I see you are, and that makes me very happy. But you know, sometimes when children play together, they dont always get along. Sometimes they fight.
I not fight with Shannon. Shes my friend.
I know that, and thats wonderful. You shouldnt fight with Shannon, because shes also your guest and you should make her feel happy, right?
But sometimes, when children play, they get into fights, dont they? Have you ever gotten into a fight with a friend?
Uh-huh. The eyes were round and earnest now. I was mad at Rashad once, cause he tooked my bucket an I was using it!
Yeah. An I said give it back an he called me a bad name! He said I was a, whispering now, poopy-head!
He did? Wow. That mustve made you very mad.
Uh-huh, it did.
Are you and Rashad still friends?
Yeah, we play together all the time. An he doesnt take my bucket no more, cause I give him one to play with first.
Thats very smart of you, his father said, with a suitably impressed face. So youre not mad at Rashad anymore?
And youre still friends?
So you know that people can fight sometimes and still be friends afterward, right?
Yeah, they could.
Well, did you know that grownups did the same thing sometimes? The small eyes grew even rounder. Thats right, sometimes even grownups get mad at each other. We even call each other names sometimes. Not as bad as, whispering, poopy-head, he smiled, but we can be mean to each other sometimes, too, just like kids can. And you know what?
We make up. We dont stay mad forever. Just for awhile sometimes.
Yes it is. So I need to tell you something, o.k.?
Uncle Murphy is kind of mad at me right now. And its o.k. Cause were gonna make up and be friends again, but I didnt want you to think something was really wrong.
How come hes mad at you? Did you call him a name?
No, he said, laughing softly. Its just grown-up stuff. Something that happened once, a long time ago. And Uncle Murphy and I are gonna be friends again. He wont stay mad at me forever. But I needed you to know that it wasnt anything bad. And theres something else thats really, really important, o.k.?
It doesnt have anything to do with you, what were fighting about. Cause Uncle Murphy loves you very much, doesnt he?
Uh-huh. He gived me a new truck, see? And Harry, Jr. worked his fingers into his pocket and pulled out a small, green vehicle. "Its a army truck!
Oh, thats a nice one! He said, admiring it for a moment before handing it back to its small owner. Uncle Murphy knows what you like, doesnt he?
Thats cause he loves you a lot, doesnt he?
And I love you a lot, too, even though I didnt bring you an army truck.
Thats o.k., his son said, smiling up at him. You bringed me hugs!
So I did, he said, scooping the toddler up for another hug. So I did. And now, I have to go downstairs and fight with Uncle Murphy. But dont you forget what I said, o.k.? Uncle Murphy and I both love you an awful lot. And were gonna be friends again. O.k.?
O.k. Im gonna go make my city now, kay?
He son moved back into the bedroom and he stood for a long moment, watching the children play. Harry, Jr. was busy stacking blocks and making mouth noises. Brrrrp. Skrreeee! Splursh! Rmmmmmmm He was running his tank around his buildings and firing at random, invisible bad guys.
Shannon in the meantime was still hard at work. Blue, yellow, red, green. Blue green, yellow, red. Blue, blue, green, red. But now she was out of blocks. Carefully, she began picking apart her stacks, first prying off all the blue blocks, then all the green and yellow blocks. Now only the red blocks remained. She picked up a blue block and began prying up red blocks with that. Now she held a long stack of red blocks, clutching them by the one, lone blue block on top. She began shaking the stack up and down until small red blocks began plopping off like over-ripe apples. Only three were left still attached to the blue block and they couldnt be shaken loose. Her expression was growing frustrated.
She looked across at Harry, who was staring at her, and held out the stack of blocks to him wordlessly.
O.k. he said, cheerfully, and took the blocks from her, pried them apart and laid them on the floor near the bed again. Shannon smiled and picked up the nearest blue block. She placed it carefully on top of a yellow, block, picked both up and placed them over a green block, then a red block. Then the stack was positioned on the green platform again. It was back to business. Blue, yellow, red, green. Blue, green, red. Blue, yellow, blue, red. Over and over, the small stacks began to grow. The only sound to be heard was Harrys motor noises and Shannons soft breathing. Blue, yellow, red. Blue, green, yellow, red.
He stepped back into the hallway, vaguely disturbed, but uncertain why. He stood motionless, a few feet from the stairs, thinking.
Perhaps it was just a bad day all round. Mondays were like that. First day of the work week. Back to the grind. And everything seemed to happen on a Monday, didnt it? New problems just popped out of the woodwork all over. Even John
He stiffened suddenly, remembering. Before escaping the office this evening, John had caught him in the hallway and handed him a new case. Hed tried to refuse, of course. It was the first case hed ever attempted to hand back, but John had been adamant.
Look, I know youve got a lot on your plate and, yes, we need to do something about that. Soon, John had said impatiently. But this one is your specialty. Shes been referred to you specifically. At least do the intake on her! And hed thrust the manila casefile into his colleagues reluctant hands. The casefile that, even now, sat untouched in his briefcase
As he retraced his steps back to the bedroom, the oddity of it struck him fresh. It wasnt like Murphy or Pat to abandon their regular schedules and just take off for a visit with friends in another state on a Monday. He would have expected such an unexpected visit on a Friday at least. But it wasnt Friday. And they were definitely here.
His briefcase sat, blameless, on the center of the bed. He snapped open the catches and pulled out the file Jarvis had given him. It was the clean manila envelope underneath he wanted. He picked it up, noticing that his fingers seemed a tad clumsy suddenly.
And for good reason. He sank down until he was sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for his breathing to even out again. This was turning out to be a most difficult Monday.
The label on the file was printed in block capitals. His mouth was dry and he wondered if a drink was a good idea at the moment. It was going to be a long, hard night. He stared at the letters, as if theyd provide an answer, somehow, but they didnt change.
It was going to be a very long, hard night. Even for a Monday.