By Tim Mead
Grant's phone rang a little after 7:00 on Sunday morning. He was tempted to let it ring. He'd been at Jake's until after midnight, and then he lay in bed thinking back on the discussion the two of them had had. Jake had asked for time. Reasonable request. He could have all the time he needed. But Grant and Albert had broken up because of Grant's refusal to come out. Would it be any different this time? Was he being stubborn? Stupid? As Ricki suggested, cowardly?
Now, however, he was groggy, wanting nothing more than to turn over and go back to sleep. But long experience told him he mustn't ignore the phone.
"This is Grant."
"Jim, it's Ricki. I'm sorry to bother you so early, but I just got a call from Stephanie, you know, at the shop."
Yes, Grant knew that Stephanie was one of the Three Women. She made jewelry.
No going back to sleep now. He sat up and swung his legs to the floor, searching around with his feet for his slippers.
"What's the problem?"
"She said she'd gotten a call from the police and there'd been a break-in."
"What else did she tell you?"
"Whoever called wouldn't tell her anything, just asked her to come to the shop. Do you think I should go down there?"
"No. Not unless you're asked to. Did Ms. Korzinski say who it was that called her from our place?"
"No, or if she did I didn't catch it."
"Ricki, go whip up a batch of biscuits or something. I'll see what I can find out and get back to you."
"Oh, would you?"
"That's why you called, isn't it?"
"Yes, dear, of course. Now, I'll get started on those biscuits. Maybe if you find out anything, you can come over and eat `em while they're warm."
"She should be home any time now. So she'll want to have something to eat and then crash. But you and I can sit in the kitchen and we won't bother her."
After he hung up from his conversation with his neighbor, he punched a speed dial button to get a number at police headquarters. He identified himself to the young woman who answered.
"Yes, Captain Grant. How can I help you, sir?"
"I hear there's been an incident at the Three Women shop."
"Yes, sir. It went down at about 2:30 this morning."
"What else do you know?"
"A patrol car driving through the alley behind those stores found the back door of the shop open. They checked it out, and called Detective Sergeant Bradovich, since he's been working on the other recent burglaries and attempted burglaries."
"Thanks, Officer Callahan. Would you ask Bradovich to call me when he has a free moment?"
"Of course, Captain."
He took the cordless phone into the bathroom, but he'd shaved and showered and was back in the bedroom getting dressed when it rang.
"Checking up on me, captain?"
"Relax, Carl. The problem is that I've got a concerned neighbor who just happens to be one of the owners of the shop."
"Oh, yeah, the van Hoorn dyke lives out your way."
"Her sexual orientation isn't relevant here, is it?" His tone of voice must have conveyed a message to the sergeant.
"Uh, no, sir."
"Okay. So what can you tell me?"
"Officers Santiago and Clifford discovered the back door of Three Women open this morning at 0234. When they checked it out, they found the door had been forced open and that a glass display case had been broken into and apparently the contents removed. They called it in, and the station rousted me out of bed to investigate. Good thing they happened by. That place doesn't have a security system. Anybody could have walked in there and made off with more stuff."
"You're the logical person to handle this, don't you think?"
"Oh, yeah, sure. This fits right in. In fact, I'd say the door was forced open by the same crowbar that was used on the attempt at Cox Floral and that was used to get into the convenience store a week later."
"Any leads on finding the crowbar?"
"How about inside the Three Women shop?"
"We may have caught a break. There's blood on some of the glass from the jewelry case."
"Great. Have you called for the lab people?"
"I've asked the station to get hold of `em. But it's Sunday morning, and whoever's on call might have been hard to reach."
"Apparently someone doesn't understand what being on call means. Do you have any idea yet what was taken?"
"Yes, sir. One of the officers who called in the job knew that the jewelry is all made by one Stephanie Korzinski. She's been to the scene. There are three cases with her stuff on display. The rest of the merchandise is a bunch of quilts and some art, you know, the kind in frames. Ms. Korzinski says nothing has been taken except what was in the one case. It looks like our perp got spooked and took off with less than he'd aimed for."
"Perp" indeed! It occurred to Grant that Bradovich had been watching too many TV cop shows.
"Okay, Carl. Thanks for the report. I'll be in early tomorrow. You can fill me in then. But you can call me if you need me anytime."
"Right, captain. Will do."
`Oh,' he thought. `I told her so.' He'd suggested several times to Ricki that they should have a security system installed. Not to was being penny wise and pound foolish. Ricki had seemed to agree with him, but she said the others didn't think they'd need one in a safe little city like Colby.
Grant could have told them about all the crime and violence in their "safe little city," about unemployed young people looking for easy money to pay for their next hit. Even university students, sometimes. He could have told them about domestic violence. Even in the "safe" city of Colby there were turf wars between rival gangs of young men, most of them unemployed. `At least now Ricki and her partners may see why they need to call Brinks or ADT or somebody.'
Bobbi was still eating breakfast when Grant got there. He told them both what he could about the break-in, after which Bobbi excused herself.
Comfortably full from scrambled eggs, bacon, and Ricki's made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits, Grant leaned back and groaned as Ricki refilled his mug with coffee.
"Go on, say it!"
"We should have had a burglar alarm installed back when you first suggested it."
"Yeah, you should have."
She put her hands on her hips and looked down at him. "Is that all you're going to say?"
He grinned. "What else is there to say?"
"Thanks for not rubbing it in." She sat opposite him, her own mug refilled.
"You know, Jim, something puzzles me."
"You said the burglar probably got scared away before he could break into Steph's other cases. But a couple or three of my quilts would be worth more than everything he got away with. Or a few of Rachel's pictures."
"Your shop's been burgled, and you're complaining the thief didn't take anything of yours?"
She raised her eyebrow at him. "That's not what I was doing, and you know it. I was thinking of the value of what's taken compared with what he left behind."
"You keep saying 'he.' It could have been a woman, you know. Wouldn't a woman be more likely to know what was in your shop?"
"Chauvinist! Your cute professor friend knows about our shop. And a lot of our customers are men. Especially Rachel's."
"Yeah, I know. I was just trying to keep everything objective. But the answer to your question is that the thief must have thought the jewelry would be easier to fence."
"That hadn't occurred to me." She sipped her coffee and appeared to be thinking. "But, you know, every piece of Steph's is unique. The value is in the design and the workmanship, not so much in the cost of the stones she uses. So it might be harder to unload than you think."
"Thanks, sweetie. I'll pass that information on to Sergeant Bradovich." He stood. "Now, I'd better go walk Arch before he explodes." He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Thanks for breakfast."
"Before you go, tell me what's going on with you and the professor."
She crossed her arms over her ample bosom. "Don't give me that!"
Grant held up his hands, palms out. "Seriously. We had a great time at dinner and the concert last night. We went back to his place and talked. Now he wants some time to decide whether he wants a, uh, friendship with me if it has to be a secret one."
"And, of course, that's non-negotiable. Maybe the professor thinks you don't really care for him very much if you're not willing to be seen around town with him."
Grant went to the kitchen door. He stopped with his hand on the knob and turned. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard that before. Thanks again for breakfast."
"Oh, I forgot! When can we reopen the store?"
"The lab folks should be finished later today. It's not like there was all that much to do. We aren't Miami or Las Vegas. You can probably go in and clean up the mess in the morning, but wait until I get to work. I'll call you from there."
"Okay, Jimmy. Thanks, love."
He gave her a peck on the cheek. "Thanks for breakfast."
* * *
On Tuesday Grant got a haircut during his lunch hour. At Angelo's Barber Shop.
Actually, Angelo had retired years ago. His son Johnny, or more properly Giancarlo, had been cutting Grant's hair since he'd come back to Colby after Nam. Technically, Angelo's was still an old-fashioned shop that didn't take appointments, but Johnny would always make an exception for Grant.
"Jim, have you ever worn your hair any way but in a buzz cut?" Johnny asked.
"Don't you remember back in high school? I had it long, down to my collar at least. I wore it that way in college, too. Didn't have it cut close until I went into the Army."
"Oh, yeah. I remember. I was in ninth grade when you were a senior. You were kind of a hippie then, weren't you?"
Tensing, Grant said, "Not really. But at least the long hair was in style at the time. Even the other guys on the football team wore their hair that way."
Johnny chuckled. "Yeah. My old man made me wear my hair short. Not a crew-cut, but something he thought would be a good advertisement for the shop. I hope you aren't gonna let yours grow long and do a comb-over."
"Nope. I am what I am." After saying that, he wondered what Jake must think about his small but growing bald spot.
His thoughts were interrupted when two men came in together. Both wore denim jackets, which they took off and hung on the hooks inside the door. Both were wearing flannel shirts, jeans, and work boots. They nodded to the group in the shop, which consisted of three barbers (Johnny's chair at the front as befitted the owner's), three customers in the chairs, and the two men waiting for their turn.
"The fuckin' faggots were fuckin' walkin' down the street holdin' hands!" said the one in the blue shirt.
"No shit!" said the one in the red shirt.
They were talking loud enough that everyone in the shop halted their conversations and listened in.
"Yeah. I can't understand why them fuckers ain't in jail."
"Maybe we should just round `em all up and castrate `em."
Red shirt laughed and the two high fived. `Yeah, dude, that's what we'd oughta do!"
"Gentlemen," Johnny said, "you're entitled to your opinions. But I have to tell you I don't agree with them. I'm asking that you keep your bigoted ideas to yourselves while you're in the shop."
"What's this? Fuckin' censorship?" Blue shirt said.
"I think I just heard you advocate a violent hate crime," Johnny replied calmly.
"Come on, Hank, we can get our goddam haircuts over at Charlie's. He's not gonna tell us what we can say."
The two stood, gave Johnny a baleful look, took their jackets, and left.
The men waiting in the chairs along the side of the shop began to clap. Grant extricated his hands from the cape that was covering him and joined them. The other two barbers looked bewildered. The guy in the back barber chair looked distinctly unhappy.
`And so,' Grant thought, `that's the way things are. People are divided.'
As he was leaving, he thought about increasing the size of Johnny's tip, but he thought better of it. He didn't want to seem to be tipping Johnny for what he said. Instead, he merely commented, "You probably lost a couple of customers forever just then, John."
"Customers like that, nobody needs."
"Good man," Grant said, putting his hand on Johnny's shoulder.
"Thanks, Jim. See you next time."
"Count on it," Grant said, smiling at his old friend.
* * *
Still no word from Jake
* * *
On Thursday morning Bradovich came into Grant's office and, after being invited, sat in the chair facing Grant's desk.
"We caught a break. You remember the blood on the glass in the Three Women Shop?"
"Well, the lab came up with a match. Our perp's a recent parolee and his DNA is on record. Did time for B and E."
"He have a name?"
"Oh, yeah. Luke Benson."
"Good work. I remember Benson. So pick him up."
Bradovich gave a wolfish grin. "Yes, sir!"
Although with the DNA evidence they really didn't need the crowbar, the officers who arrested him found it in the back of Benson's ancient Blazer. Thus another petty criminal was on his way to prison, or in this case, back to prison. Benson eventually confessed to the deed, even giving Bradovich the name of the pawn shop in Detroit where he'd fenced the jewelry, most of which was recovered. The owner of the pawnshop was charged by the Detroit P.D. with receiving stolen goods.
* * *
Christmas was on Grant before he'd had time to think much about it. He was off on Christmas Day, which was a Monday. One of the perks of his job was that he worked five days a week and technically wasn't on call on weekends and holidays. He had no vacation time coming since he'd taken that long convalescent leave back in October. Ricki and Bobbi had invited him to have Christmas dinner with them, but he'd declined, not wanting to be the only man in what would turn out to be, he knew from experience, pretty much a convocation of females. So, they had insisted, he was to have supper with them on the Saturday with the unspoken understanding that they'd exchange gifts that evening.
So he was faced with three whole days alone. He'd been by himself many times at Christmas. He should be able to cope with it. He vowed he would cope with it.
Work kept him occupied the week before the holiday weekend. He was tempted to call Jake and ask about his plans but was too stubborn. Dammit, Jake had asked for time. So he'd give him time. Besides, the university was off for two weeks or something like that, so Jake was probably going to be with family. Did Jake have family? A sister somewhere, maybe? He couldn't remember. Or a guy like that would surely have friends he could visit at Christmas.
Jake was a great-looking man who, Grant thought, appeared much younger than his 55 years. Even the glasses didn't make him look old. They merely accented his beautiful blue eyes. The curly blond hair didn't have much gray in it yet. Add to that a body kept slim by either genetics or regular visits to the gym, and you had an appealing package. And speaking of packages, Jake was well endowed in that department, too.
Grant told himself he wasn't so shallow as to be attracted to the professor only because of his looks. Jake Handley was, simply put, a very nice man, even tempered, sunny. Great to talk with. A scholar. Widely read and published. And as knowledgeable about music as Jake was. Besides that, he had a knowledge of art that went far beyond Grant's. Must be a nice life, being a professor.
The silence from Jake, however, left Grant discouraged, doubtful that any sort of close friendship would develop. It had been a couple of weeks since Jake had asked for more time. If he had decided he was willing to go ahead with a more or less clandestine relationship, surely he would have been back in touch by that point.
* * *
When the weekend finally came, Grant and Archie took longer walks than usual, he caught up on some neglected reading, listened to music. He even removed the pins from several squeaky door hinges and oiled them. He hadn't decorated the house for Christmas. He told himself there hadn't been time. Then he admitted to himself there would have been time if he'd really wanted to do it. But why put up all that stuff if he was the only one who would see it?
Saturday evening he had lamb stew and biscuits with his neighbors. Afterward they exchanged gifts, as was their custom. He never knew what to get for them, but they always seemed grateful for whatever it was he came up with.
They never mentioned Jake. He'd told Ricki about Jake's wanting time to think. Since then she hadn't pressed him further.
When he went to bed Saturday about midnight he told himself he'd sleep in the next morning. Why put his feet on the floor before it was even daylight? Archie could wait, especially since they'd done the down the drive and back routine after he'd returned from Ricki and Bobbi's. And he did sleep late. He didn't wake up until 7:30. Then he got up, went to the bathroom, relieved himself, and climbed back into bed. That was not something he'd done very often in his lifetime. Not since he was a teen, anyway.
He couldn't get back to sleep, however. He lay there thinking that, apart for his job, his life would strike many people as empty. Except for the occasional affair, most recently with Albert, he'd been alone since he graduated from high school. He'd made a project of the house, but now there was nothing left to do but maintain it.
What, then, was the cause of his malaise?
Finally, when he had gotten up and was shaving (he couldn't imagine not shaving), he looked at the graying hair, the wrinkles that were more pronounced than the last time he'd noticed them, and realized that he was getting old. Older. Yes, `older' sounded better. Yet he didn't want to immerse himself in books, music, rusty hinges to keep from recognizing how much he needed a companion, a friend. A lover.
He got through that Sunday with books, music, and a mediocre football game. He and Archie took two long walks. At least his leg, though he still limped, didn't scream at him when he got back from those outings. That evening he checked his email, read some more. At 10:00 he got out a bottle of Jack Daniels and poured himself a double old-fashioned glass full.
"Happy fucking Christmas Eve, Arch," he said. Archie, stretched out in front of the fireplace, looked up, thumped his tail once on the floor, and went back to his dreams of sugar plums or rabbits or whatever.
He woke up at 4:30, his head pounding. He was surprised by how little of the Jack Daniels was left.
"Merry fucking Christmas, Grant," he said. Leaving the glass on the chairside table, he closed the damper, went upstairs, took two Tylenol, and went to bed.
It was nearly noon when he was showered, shaved, and dressed. He called Janet but got the answering machine.
`Damn. She did tell me she and Bob were going to Bob Junior's in Naples for the holiday. That number's here someplace. Maybe I'll call `em later.'
About 3:00 he was reading the latest Lescroart novel, disgruntled that his favorite character, Abe Glitzky, wasn't even in this one. The original series characters, Glitzky and Hardy, had grown too old, and Lescroart had started writing about younger people. And wasn't that just the way things were! His self pity, and he realized that was what it was, didn't devolve any further just then because the phone rang.
It was Janet. They had a pleasant talk. She and Bob were reveling in being with their older son, his wife, and the grandkids. She was concerned that her brother was alone. Wouldn't it have been better, she asked, to be with Ricki and Bobbi and their friends? And wasn't it too bad he didn't have a really good friend, someone to be with on Christmas?
Yes, he'd assured her, it would be nice to have a "really good friend" on Christmas, and no, he didn't want to be the lone male in the crowd next door.
"I worry about you, Jimmy."
"I know you do, Sis. But I'm okay. Honestly. Now, get back to the family. Give `em all my love, okay?"
"Yes, dear. They all send their love. And you get yourself a date for New Year's Eve, you hear me?"
He chuckled. "It's probably not gonna happen."
She sighed. "Oh, brother, I do wish you'd find yourself a sweet man."
"Thanks, Janet. Bye now."
He started back to his book, stopped, and returned to the telephone. He punched in a number he knew by heart. He rationalized that he just wanted to offer Jake his holiday greetings. That he wouldn't dream of pressuring him into a decision. He'd be happy just to hear Jake's voice.
The phone rang four times, then switched to the answering machine. When Jake's recorded voice came on, Grant was about to put down the phone when he heard Jake pick up.
"Jake, you're actually there?"
"Jim! It is Jim, isn't it?"
"Yeah, sorry, I should have identified myself. I was just surprised that you actually answered."
A chuckle. "Yeah, it's me. So are you having a nice Christmas?"
"No. I'm having a rotten Christmas. What are you doing home alone on Christmas? Or, oh shit, am I interrupting something?"
"No, man, relax. I'm alone. I don't really have any family, and Digby is in New Orleans for the holidays."
"You mean you've been alone all weekend?"
"In that case, professor, get your ass over here!"
"Bossy, aren't you?"
"Yep. You can bring your toothbrush if you want to."
"Be there in half an hour."
Earlier in the day he'd had music on the stereo that specifically wasn't Christmas oriented. Copeland, Bernstein, Elgar. Now that Jake was coming, he hunted out some of his favorite Christmas CD's which he put on the changer. Ah, yes, Christmas at York Minster. That, at least, was better than roasting chestnuts.
Realizing he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, he went to the kitchen, took a casserole out of the freezer, and defrosted it in the microwave. Then he put it in the oven under a low heat. He had torn up lettuce and was cutting vegetables for a salad when the doorbell rang.
He opened the door to find Jake, whose glasses were fogged up and whose cheeks were ruddy. Wrapping his arms around the startled man, Grant gave him a kiss that left them both breathless.
"Wow!" Jake said, eyes sparkling through the now fog-free spectacles. "What a nice way to say `Merry Christmas'!"
It was then that Grant noticed the plastic grocery store bags in Jake's hand.
"I've brought dessert."
"Professor, I think you may be dessert."
To Be Continued
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If you like this story, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to put the story title in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. Tim