By Tim Mead
Sensational murders didn't happen often in Colby County.
Traffic fatalities were as common there as anywhere, and, in the City of Colby especially, deaths due to drug overdoses happened with a distressing frequency. Colby had its gangs, and deaths resulting from turf wars were the most frequent kinds of murder, followed closely by those resulting from domestic violence.
In this case, however, the wife of a prominent realtor had been suffocated with a pillow. Grant wanted very much to handle the case himself, but that wasn't in his job description anymore. So, with a regretful sigh, he assigned the case to Marlowe. He knew Phil would do a good job. But he also planned to keep close tabs on the progress of the investigation.
The obvious place to start was with the husband. He'd been out of town at a realtor's convention, supposedly. But Grant knew Marlowe would check on that. It was axiomatic that the spouse turned out to be the killer most of the time.
* * *
Grant didn't wake up thinking it was Valentine's Day. For most of his 55 years, he'd not had anyone to celebrate it with. When he switched on his computer at work, he saw that it was February 14, and remembered that Jake would be going to Tom Nielsen's party that evening along with most of the rest of the group who floated into and out of Adrian Lynch's orbit.
He heated a chicken dinner in the microwave that evening. When he finished, he rinsed the tray and dumped it in the garbage can under the sink. Then he took a mug of decaf coffee to the living room. He'd had to give up regular coffee in the evening several years earlier because it soured his stomach and kept him from sleeping well. A part of the process of growing old. Older.
He started a fire, put on some Bach, and settled into his favorite chair with a legal novel that was high on the best seller lists. Archie wandered in and flopped in front of the fire.
Grant found he couldn't concentrate on the book because he was distracted by thoughts of Jake and the party that evening. It didn't seem fair that he had to avoid gatherings like that, had to miss out on going places with Jake just because of the bigotry of his colleagues. But those were the facts of life, at least on the Colby Police force. He put down his book and stared into the fire, his brain awhirl with thoughts of "what if? and "why not?"
He was awakened by Archie, who was nudging his leg and whining.
"Oh, is it that time already, beast? Okay, you go get your leash and I'll put on my shoes and coat."
When they returned from their walk, Grant was still wide awake, the result of his having napped after supper. So he went back to the novel. Archie stretched out at his feet. When the room began to feel cold, he realized the fire had gone out. It was after midnight, so he closed the damper and went upstairs. Once abed, his thoughts returned to Jake. He reached for his cock . . .
The murder of Melanie Barnett was the main local topic in the Colby Courier off and on for several days. The media had gone after Marlowe, but Chief Boros had stepped in and said that he would be speaking for the Department on this matter. Ben Moss was often with him when he faced the reporters.
Grant was glad he didn't have to deal with the press, though he laughed privately at Al Boros's patent attempts to be the star of the show.
* * *
Not long before noon on Friday, February 16, Moss tapped on Grant's doorframe.
"Hi, Ben, what brings you here?"
Moss's smile gave Grant an instant hardon.
"Oh, I've just been coordinating with Chief Boros about the Barnett murder."
"Captain, I'm going to lunch. If you're free, why don't you come with me?"
Grant's first impulse was to make some excuse, but Moss was a nice young man, and he couldn't think of any reason to refuse. Besides, it just might have something to do with county business.
"I thought we'd agreed you were going to call me Jim. And, yes, I'll be glad to have lunch with you."
Moss smiled. "Okay, Jim, just let me make a couple of calls, and we'll be off, if that's okay with you."
Moss stepped into the hall for a few moments, and then reappeared in Grant's doorway.
"I've just booked us a table at the Alumni Room at the University Union."
"Oh, you're a CSU alumnus?"
"Yep, BA and MA. Shall we go?"
Grant told Stonesifer where he'd be and they left.
Once they were seated and had glasses of wine, Grant asked, "I admit we don't know each other very well, but you seem, oh, I don't know, excited today."
"You're very observant."
"It goes with the job."
"I hadn't thought of that. I suppose it does."
"But you haven't answered my question."
Grant thought he saw a bit of a blush on Moss's fair skin.
"I've just received a big check from my publisher."
"Oh, you write?"
"Uh huh. My novel is about to come out. And the preliminary reviews are so good the publisher sent me another advance."
Grant lifted his glass. "Well, congratulations. Tell me about the novel."
"It's my first. I've been working on it for a long time. A while back I got really bogged down. It just wouldn't seem to go right. My original title was This Petty Pace."
Grant though a minute. "That's from Macbeth, isn't it?."
"That's right! Not many people recognize the allusion these days."
"Ben, with a title like that, I'd expect the novel to be pretty grim."
"That was exactly the problem. Then I met Toby."
At first Grant thought he'd heard a non sequitur. Then he understood.
"And Toby changed your life and thus your attitude?"
"Yes! That's just what happened. So, since I was really happy for the first time in years, it's as if a log jam broke. I re-thought my protagonist and his story. The novel is now titled Picking up the Pace."
"Who's your publisher?"
"You know G-Mark?"
"Of course. They're the best gay/lesbian publishing house in the country." As soon as he'd said it, Grant wished he hadn't. Why should he know anything about G-Mark if he weren't gay? But Moss didn't say anything.
Their salads came, and they chatted about local news.
When their coffee arrived, Moss wiped his lips with his napkin, leaned forward, and said, "It must be tough being gay in Chief Boros's department."
Thunderstruck, Grant put down the cup he'd been about to drink from. How did Moss know? What should he say?
He knew that sounded pathetic, but that was the best he could come up with.
"Yes, sir. I can understand that you aren't out to your colleagues, but you are gay, aren't you?"
"What makes you think so?"
"Ever heard of gaydar?"
And there was one of those questions like "Are you still beating your wife?" He was damned no matter how he answered it.
"Look, I haven't handled this very well. I'm not trying to give you a hard time. But I'm sure you're one of us. I was just sympathizing, since you have to work with Boros."
"I'm not confirming or denying your statement. But, assuming you were correct, you obviously have some idea how difficult it would be for a gay person to work in Chief Boros's department."
With a raised eyebrow and a hint of a smile, Moss said, "I think that's where this discussion began."
"And, though I'm grateful for lunch, may I ask what the point of this discussion is?"
Moss smiled. "Ah, that's more like it. I've told my partner about you. I think you're lonely."
"And what makes you think that? It seems to me you're making assumptions you don't have any grounds for. You don't really know me, you know."
"I apologize. This hasn't gone the way I'd hoped it would. I'm really sorry."
"Before I accept your apology, will you tell me what this lunch is all about?"
"Gladly. You see, I've liked you since I first met you. I've also been totally sure you're gay since I first met you. I was saying to Toby, my partner, one day that I thought a man like you should have a partner, too. Tobe said he had a friend your age who was gay and alone. And he wondered if we could fix you two up."
Grant leaned back in his chair. "It seems your intentions were good. But you're intruding. You don't really know anything about my sexual orientation. And even if you were right, you're attempting to meddle in my life and the life of your partner's friend."
Moss leaned back in his own chair. "If I were right? Captain Grant, I am right. And I asked you to lunch because I thought I might do something that would make your life better, happier. If you're too repressed to take opportunities when they present themselves, then so be it. I'm sorry."
Grant stood. "Well, Ben. I'll give you credit for good intentions, but very low marks for discretion. Thanks for lunch."
And he left.
* * *
The Barnett murder case dragged on. Ronny Barnett, the husband, had indeed been in San Diego at his conference, as an ample number of his fellow real estate professionals were willing to attest.
The crime scene had yielded up some hair that was not the victim's, but as there was no match for it, the case wasn't going forward.
Soon the media lost interest. Phil Marlowe plugged on. As he told Grant, he was going to find out who the hairs belonged to or turn in his badge. Grant assured him that wouldn't be necessary, but the younger man seemed determined to find who had left the hair at the murder scene and, presumably, killed Mrs. Barnett.
What the police knew but hadn't told the media was that the hair found at the scene contained female DNA.
* * *
Since he'd refused to go to the party with Jake, they hadn't been together.
Sitting at his desk one afternoon, Grant was feeling bored. He wasn't cut out to be an administrator. He'd hated the paperwork when he was an active investigator. But at least he'd had his cases to concentrate on, to fill up most of his days – and many of his evenings and weekends. Now he worked an eight-hour day, almost all of it involved in shuffling papers. And there were those long evenings and weekends.
Inwardly he cursed his bad luck for injuring his leg, his stupidity for chasing off after Karpov alone, for agreeing to take this desk job. But then he wondered what he would have done with himself if he'd taken the retirement option offered him. He'd had fleeting moments when he pictured himself as Jake's house-husband. But as much as he liked Jake, he couldn't see himself being that idle.
On the other hand, could he stick it out on this job, surrounded as he felt himself to be by homophobic cops? And then he thought of the young hunk from Public Information. If Moss had spotted him as gay, would it be obvious to some of his police colleagues as well? Was he really giving off gay signals? Of course he had slipped slightly when he'd admitted to knowing about G-Mark. He supposed a straight English professor might know about the prominent gay publishing house, but how many straight policemen would? Not very damned many. In Colby, Ohio probably none. But Moss had said he'd known from their first meeting that Grant was gay. How'd he figure that out? Gaydar, he'd said. Grant had never believed in that. He knew he didn't have any such special sense about who was gay and who wasn't. But perhaps Moss was right. And if Moss knew about him, who else might? Jesus, Moss had said he'd talked with his partner. What was his name? Toby? So now, in addition to the women next door, Jake, Digby Gautier and his lawyer friend, there were Ben Moss and his lover. The list was growing, and that wasn't good.
* * *
At work day followed boring day. Evenings were less tedious because he could read and listen to music, but they too had their monotony. He wasn't completely out of touch with Jake. They had talked on the phone a couple of times, each making sure the other was okay.
Grant wondered whether he was really in love with Jake or whether it was simply that he needed someone in his life so badly and Jake was available. Or almost available. All it would take would be for Grant to agree to their going places and doing things together.
One evening as he was looking through his CD's he came across one that Janet had sent him at Christmastime that he'd never played. It was by a young man named Josh Groban. Grant had never heard of him and wasn't particularly interested in young pop singers. But Janet must have thought he'd like it. So he got out a knife and wrestled with the wrapping on the jewel box. Finally, he extracted the CD from the box and put it in the player. He went back to his book. Groban had a nice voice, and the tunes were pleasant, romantic. He was half listening as he read. But he became aware of the lyrics of one of the songs. He put down his book and paid close attention. When that piece was over, he replayed it. A check of the album contents said it was called "You Raise Me Up."
When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up... To more than I can be.
It was sentimental stuff, Grant told himself, nothing so glorious as the words and music of the operatic arias he loved. Somehow, though, it hit home, reminding him that he had no one to raise him up, to help him stand on mountains.
`Ridiculous,' he said to himself. `I'm ex-Army, a cop. I've been around the block. I don't need anyone. And it's absurd to be so moved by a song like that.'
He had to blink back tears before he could return to his book. `I must be getting old. They say old men cry.'
* * *
Philip Marlowe had come to Colby ten years earlier from the Cincinnati PD. He'd said at the time that he wanted a smaller town, but he also liked it that Colby was a university town. Grant had asked him back then about his name.
Marlow had smiled and shaken his head. "You know, it isn't very often that anyone asks about that. I don't think people read Chandler much anymore."
"More's pity," Grant had replied.
"Well, my dad was a big reader of detective stories, and Chandler was one of his favorites. So, since our name was Marlowe, he insisted on naming me Philip. My mother wanted me to be Christopher, after the Elizabethan playwright. And she won, more or less. I'm Christopher Philip Marlowe."
"But you use your middle name?"
"Yeah. When I was in high school, I read the Chandler novels. I really liked Marlowe. And I thought that Philip Marlowe sounded more manly, somehow, than Chris Marlowe. So, except on my IRS forms and other government documents, I'm Phil."
Now, ten years later, Marlowe, married with a good-looking wife and a ten-year-old daughter, was sitting across the desk from Grant. He'd come into the office just minutes after Grant had arrived at work.
Grant had asked Stonesifer to bring them both coffee.
"So, Phil, do you have something for me?" Chief Boros had been leaning on him about the Melanie Barnett murder, but he didn't want to pressure Marlowe. He trusted the man, knew he was the best investigator on the force. But Marlowe's appearance first thing that morning suggested he had made some progress.
"Yeah, I do."
Marlowe's face gave nothing away. Whether it was a small detail or something that could break the case wide open, Grant couldn't guess. So he waited.
"The grieving husband has a girlfriend."
"Well, that's the problem. I don't know. A friend of the victim's and an associate of Barnett have both told me they thought Randy was seeing somebody."
"Have you checked his phone records?"
"That was going to be my next step, but I wanted to let you know what I was up to first."
"I don't need to remind you to look at his office phone, his home phone, and his cell phone, do I?"
Marlowe grinned. "No, captain."
"Come off it, Phil! Can the captain shit! And I'm sorry. You know your business. I was more thinking out loud than giving you advice."
"Thanks. I'll get right on it and let you know what I find out. Meanwhile, are you gonna tell Boros?"
Grant smiled. "I don't think so. If I'm lucky, he'll be out politicking today."
"Let's hope." Marlowe finished the coffee in his mug. "Now, before I go . . ."
"How are you doing? I hate to see you stuck behind a desk. You belong in the field."
"Thanks. You're right. I don't like this kind of work, but I don't really have any choice."
"Sucks. But you're okay otherwise? If this is out of line, I'm sorry. But I worry about you. Don't you get lonely? Do you just go home to your dog every day? What do you do in your time off? What do you do for fun?"
Grant stood. "I appreciate your concern. But don't worry about me. I'm fine." He walked around the desk and put his hand on Marlowe's shoulder. "Now, let me know as soon as you've checked those phone records."
"Okay, boss," Marlowe said. "You take care."
"Yeah, you too."
* * *
"Jim, just called to say I've been thinking about you and I miss you."
"Oh, hi, Jake. I miss you, too. I really wish I could have gone with you to the Valentine's Day party."
"It would have been fun if you'd been there with me. Lots of interesting guys."
There was an uncomfortable pause.
"Jake . . ."
"Maybe you should look for someone to hook up with."
Grant heard a sigh on the other end of the line.
"Damn. Are you telling me to find someone else, that you're not interested?"
He took a deep breath. "I'm interested. More than interested." His voice almost betrayed him, so he took another breath. "I just . . . It's just that you're great looking, intelligent, fun to be with, and sexy as hell. I don't . . . I haven't any right to ask you to wait for me. I can't promise I'll change. And you should be happy. I want you to be happy."
"I could be very happy, if only you'd . . ."
"Give up my job? What am I supposed to do, Jake?"
"I wish I knew. Ever thought of being a private investigator? Or something else in the private sector? Do you suppose the University could use you in the Criminal Justice Department?"
"But I'm the one who's supposed to change, right?"
"I hear what you're saying, honestly I do. And it's not just that I hate having to sneak around to be with you. In a town like this it stands to reason that no matter how careful we are, eventually people will find out we're together, and then you'll have to put up with the repercussions at work."
Before Grant could say anything, Jake continued. "And I know how much your job means to you. I don't expect you to give it up for me."
"It's all I know how to do, Jake."
"If I disagreed with you about that, I'd sound terribly selfish. I love you and I want desperately to be with you. But I'm not asking you to quit the Force. I'm just asking you whether the effects of coming out would be as bad as you imagine."
"Do you know something about my job that I don't?"
"Of course not."
"Well, I promise I'll keep thinking about it. That's the best I can do."
"I understand. I can't ask for more at this point. So, uh, I'll let you go. I love you, Jimmy."
"Yeah. Love you too. Thanks for calling."
* * *
The next morning he was working in his office with the door shut when his phone rang. It was Stonesifer.
"Captain, sir, Ben Moss is here and would like to see you."
"Thanks, Ray. Send him in."
He got up and opened his door.
As the two shook hands, he asked, "What brings you here this morning, Ben?"
"Well, first of all, I wanted to apologize."
"Have a seat." He stepped outside and said, "Unless it's Chief Boros, hold my calls for a while."
`Yes, sir, captain."
He wondered why Stonesifer grinned.
Back inside the office, he offered Moss coffee.
"No, thanks. I'm good."
"How's your partner, Toby, isn't it?"
"Yeah. He's fine. And now that we have the amenities over, I do want to apologize. I guess I was way out of line the other day at lunch."
Grant leaned back in his chair, clasped his fingers behind his head, and stared out the window.
"Not so out of line as I led you to believe."
He held the position, trying to make up his mind. Then he turned, rested his forearms on his desk, leaned toward Moss and said, "I still don't understand how you knew."
"That I'm gay. And, look, I know you and Anders are out to everyone, but you've got to promise me not to tell anyone about me. My life here would be hell if my colleagues knew."
"It really doesn't matter how I knew, does it? But you can be sure I won't tell anyone. Except for Toby. He already knows. As I said when you and I had lunch, I told him a while back that I thought it was a shame you were alone. But you can trust both of us to keep your secret. I just hope some of your police associates haven't figured it out. They're trained to be observant, aren't they? Surely it's a matter of time before someone knows."
"I've been in this department 30 years, more or less, Ben, and no one knows. That's why I was so surprised when you accused me of being gay the other day."
"It wasn't an accusation. That would imply guilt."
"Oh, right. But you know what I mean."
"Yeah. Now, to get to the point. A smart, sexy man like you should be getting out and about. You said you liked theater and music when I interviewed you a while back. Do you take advantage of what the University has to offer?"
"Well, over the years I have. But not much lately."
"Why not lately?"
Grant grinned. "You're pushing it, young man. Let's just say it's pretty complicated. And I'm amazed that you'd call me sexy. I'm twenty, twenty-five years older than you are, old enough to be your father. I can't believe you'd find me sexy."
"You know I'm in a perfect relationship, so you'll take this the right way. But, yes, I think you're sexy."
"I don't know what to say."
Moss grinned. "Okay, you can say yes."
"Yes? To what?"
"Toby and I want you to come for dinner this weekend. You'll love Tobe. Everybody does. And between the two of us, we can put a decent meal on the table."
"That's nice, but . . ."
"Oh, shit. You can trust us not to tell anyone. No one in our neighborhood will recognize you as you come and go. Our friends won't know. Your colleagues won't know. Why can't you just relax and have a meal with us?"
By long habit Grant was about to refuse. Then he realized that he wanted to spend an evening where he could be who he was, where he could talk with two gay men without having to hide anything.
"Okay, Ben. It sounds good. Where do you guys live, and when do you want me? Can I bring anything?"
"Excellent!" Moss smiled broadly. "If you want to bring red wine, we'll have something that goes with it."
"Thanks. Sorry if I was churlish."
Moss stood and handed Grant a business card.
"I've put our home address and phone number on the back. Come around 6:00. And I promise I won't pump you for information about the Barnett case."
Grant grinned. "I'll look forward to seeing you and meeting your Toby. And I won't answer any questions about the Barnett murder."
"So there's no progress?"
"I didn't say that. Lt. Marlowe is following up some leads."
"Sounds like officialspeak for `we don't have a clue'."
Grant chuckled. "It's not quite that bad." He stuck out his hand. "Thanks for the invitation."
"We'll see you about six on Saturday."
* * *
Late on Saturday afternoon Grant called Ben Moss's home phone.
The voice wasn't familiar.
"Yeah, who's this?"
"It's Jim Grant. Is Ben available?"
"Oh, hi, Captain Grant. Ben's in the shower. Can I take a message?"
"No, that's okay. But I was wondering if it would screw things up for you guys if I came a few minutes before six. I want us to watch the six o'clock news together."
Toby chuckled. "How mysterious. But, sure, come on whenever. We'll be ready."
At 5:55 Grant knocked on the door, to be greeted by two very puzzled younger men. He handed them the two bottles of pinot noir he'd brought. After shaking hands with Grant, Toby took them to the kitchen. He reappeared momentarily, followed by a big black cat.
"Jim," Ben said, "this is my warden and my muse, Mr. Tibbs."
"Wonderful name," Grant said, stooping to pet the cat, who arched his back, stuck his tail in the air, and purred.
"It seems you've been accepted."
"I'm surprised he isn't offended by the lingering traces of beagle."
"Oh, yes," Ben said, "you did mention that you had a beagle. Did you tell me its name?"
"Is there a story behind that?"
"Have you read the novels of Rex Stout? Or seen any of the television movies."
"No, can't say I have."
"I have," Toby said, grinning. "So your pup is Archie Goodwin to your Nero Wolfe."
Grant pointed a finger at Toby and said, "You got it."
"You said you wanted to watch the news?" Ben asked. "What's up?"
"Let's tune in Channel 7."
"At the top of the local news this evening," Skye Godson, the anchor, was saying, "is the arrest of Colby businessman Ronny Barnett and his apparent mistress for the murder of Barnett's wife, Melanie. We go to our crime reporter, Claire Smith, at the Colby County Police headquarters. What's going on there, Claire?"
"Well, Skye, here's what we know so far. About an hour ago, Kris Anders, the County Public Information Officer and Lieutenant Philip Marlowe of the County Police Department held a brief news conference to announce that Marlowe had broken the Barnett murder case. According to them, Melanie was smothered in her sleep by her husband's lover, Cassandra Lake."
"Why was Barnett arrested?"
"According to Marlowe, he and Lake planned it. But he was out of town at the time in order to give himself an alibi."
"Do you have any other details?"
"Not at this time, but we hope to have more at 11:00."
"Wow," Toby said. "Score one for the good guys."
Later, as they ate, Ben asked, "What would we learn at 11:00?"
Grant smiled. "Not much. The information won't be released by 11:00 pending a decision by the district attorney's office. But if you guys will keep it under your hats, I can tell you that the crime scene crew found some strands of hair on the victim's bed. Female hair. We had no idea whose it could be until Marlowe found out about Lake, the husband's lover. After that it was easy to get a court order for a DNA sample, and it matched. When he confronted her with the evidence, she implicated Barnett first thing. He's denying everything, but we've got phone records that shows he and Lake were in frequent contact before and after the time of the murder."
Toby, eyes sparkling, said, "So this all goes down while Barnett's in San Diego with a perfect alibi, and Ms. Lake gets access to the house somehow and, what, smothers Mrs. Barnett in her sleep?"
"Yeah. She had one of the Barnett's remote garage door openers. The husband had told her his wife often took sleeping pills. Cassandra comes in, goes up the stairs, into the bedroom, and smothers the woman who was in a deep sleep anyway. If she'd worn a hair net, perhaps they'd have gotten away with it."
Ben raised his glass. "Kudos to the Colby Police Department, Captain Grant."
Grant raised his glass, as did Toby, and they drank.
"Thanks, Ben. But the sad thing is that I had nothing to do with it. It was just good police work on the part of Phil Marlowe."
"Marlowe's name is Phil? Philip?" Ben asked.
He chuckled. "So he's well named, huh?"
"Yep. But, gentlemen, you mustn't talk about this. You not only didn't hear any of it from me, you didn't hear it at all. Understood?"
Both of the younger men assured him they'd not tell a soul.
"Now," Grant said, smiling at Toby, "I understand that you want to fix me up with someone."
Toby looked embarrassed. "Well, yeah, sort of."
Ben laughed. "There was no `sort of' about it."
"Go on, Toby. I'm curious."
"When Ben came home after he'd interviewed you that day, when you got your captain's bars, I think, he told me what a nice guy you were and that he thought it was a shame that you were alone and didn't seem to have anyone in your life. Like a significant other."
"He told you I was gay?"
Grant shook his head. "Sorry, go on."
"There's not much more to it. I just told him I know a really great guy at the University who's about your age who was also alone and that maybe we should introduce you."
Grant raised an eyebrow. "I don't want to be rude, especially to my hosts, but how do you know this man's gay?"
Toby grinned. "Oh, he's openly out, makes no bones about it. And he's seriously cute."
Ben cleared his throat.
Toby shot him a glance. "For an older guy, I mean."
"But you didn't say anything to him about me."
"No, I wouldn't do anything like that without your permission."
Wondering just how many openly gay professors about his age there were at Colby State, Grant said, "Look, you two know that I'm not out at work. No more than half a dozen people in town know I'm gay. And I've got to trust you not to out me, okay?"
Toby nodded and Ben said, "Of course. We understand."
"Thanks. I'm counting on you. Now, I wouldn't ask, normally, but you did say this guy you wanted to fix me up with is pretty much out to everyone, didn't you?"
"Yeah, Jake's never made any secret of it."
To Be Continued
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