Monday morning. The first day of the summer session. His first ever college class.
Jesse had completed his morning run and was showering.
He'd almost never been in a real school. This was something he'd longed for, but it was still novel enough to make him a little nervous. It would be nothing like the pressure of his former job. But being home schooled, schooled on the fly actually, he wasn't used to having to compete academically. And most of the students in his freshman classes would be ten years younger than he was.
He dried himself and began to dress. He pulled on briefs, a dark blue collarless tee, and baggy khaki shorts. Then he put on anklets and a pair of sneakers that looked better than the ones he'd run in that morning. They were very expensive, actually, or would have been if he'd had to pay for them. But he'd purposely dirtied them up a little so they wouldn't stand out.
Two classes today, one that lasted most of the morning, the other taking up the afternoon. English and history. No reason why he shouldn't start with things he'd probably enjoy.
Almost as an afterthought, he grabbed a cap from his dresser top and put it on. Being sure to lock his door, he went down the stairs and headed for campus, where he'd see what they had for breakfast at the Union's cafeteria.
That same Monday Ray Stonesifer spent most of the day in his cubicle. Things were pretty quiet on the law enforcement front in Colby, so he was able to clear up paper work and put in some time on the PC at his desk. He'd become the unofficial computer geek in the office, uploading and downloading information, doing stuff that his superiors didn't want to do and that the other detective sergeants didn't have the knowledge or skill to do.
Late that afternoon he needed to drop by the office of CSU Campus Security. He signed himself out, thinking that he'd go home after he'd run his errand.
Actually, he admitted to himself as he walked across campus, he could have faxed the material. But he was the person Captain Marlowe had appointed to liaise with the university's police, so liaise he would.
Arnie Holmquist was the head of CSU's Campus Security. His official title was "Captain." He'd come to CSU from another university, but at some time in the past he'd been a cop, as he often reminded Ray. It was unclear whether his bristly manner was an inherent trait or whether he resented the fact that the Colby Police appointed a lowly sergeant as their liaison officer.
It was another beautiful day, and the campus, which had been deserted the week between commencement and this first day of summer classes, was once more dotted with students – strolling, biking, sitting – singly and in groups. Things seemed to move more slowly now, however: there was less bustle. And fewer clothes, he noted with pleasure. Most of those he encountered were in tees, shorts, and sandals, so he enjoyed the eye candy, especially the male part.
Except for a civilian secretary, there was no one in the Campus Security Office when Ray got there.
"Hi, Mrs. Spurlock," Ray said. "Here's the information the Captain wanted. Where's everybody else this afternoon, out keeping the campus safe?"
She chuckled. "A couple of them are on vacation and one's at a workshop in Columbus. The rest are out and about. Do you want me to check and let you know?"
"Oh, no. I was just making conversation. Say hello to the Captain for me." He looked at his watch. "I think I'm off duty now."
"Are you sure you don't want to talk with him?" she asked, grinning.
"No, that's all right. I wouldn't want to bother such a busy man." Actually he suspected Holmquist was napping behind the closed door of his office. He said goodbye and left.
As he crossed the quadrangle in front of the library, he saw a familiar face, that of history professor Jake Handley.
"Hello, Jake. Are you teaching this summer?"
"Hi, Ray. Yep. I've got the duty the first term."
"I was headed to The Cougar for a beer. Care to join me?"
"Sounds good. I'm parched. Just let me call Jim." He pulled out his cell phone and spoke quietly in it for a moment, then put it back into his pocket.
"Jim says hello and that I can only have one beer since I'm driving home."
Ray chuckled. "You're kind of caught, aren't you? Having a beer with a cop and going home to another one."
"Yeah, but I usually have a drink with Jimmy when I get there."
The Cougar, the favorite bar of CSU students and beloved by generations of alumni, wasn't as crowded as it would be during the regular academic year. Perhaps students were at the book store or taking advantage of the sunny weather to start their summer tans, or who knew what.
At any rate, Jake and Ray got their beers and found themselves a booth. The walls of the establishment were covered with pictures of university teams and sports heroes along with banners, sports jerseys, lacrosse sticks, baseball bats, and other paraphernalia.
"What are you teaching this summer?" Ray asked the professor.
"Modern European History."
"How does your class look?"
"It's too soon to tell. But at least summer classes tend to be a bit smaller. Students often select this course to count toward the University's core requirements for the BA, but this time there are only twenty instead of the usual forty-five."
"That should make it easier to get to know them."
"Indeed," Jake said. "And there won't be so many papers to read and exams to mark, either." He lifted his glass, swallowed, and then set it down. Nodding at a booth across the room, he said, "I do believe there's one of them now."
A half-full glass of beer sat on the table of the student in question, but in front of him was a book, which he seemed to be reading intently.
"Looks promising. At least he's a reader. What's his name?"
"Before I answer that question," Jake said with a hint of a smile, "you're a detective. Why don't you tell me what you can infer about him?"
"What? You mean like Sherlock Holmes?"
"Well, then, Dr. Watson, or I should say Dr. Handley, I'll try to study the subject without attracting his attention."
Jake leaned back and grinned.
The man, whom he could see only in side view, was wearing the usual tee and shorts, but he had on sneakers rather than the ubiquitous sandals or flip-flops. On his head was a gimme cap, bill pointing forward and slightly downward as he read. He had what Ray thought an elegant profile. His shaggy brown hair covered his ears and touched the collar of his tee in the back. Something about him seemed familiar, but Ray couldn't think why.
"He's a little older than the typical undergraduate. What year is he?"
"I don't know. The preliminary class rosters tell us only their names and student numbers. You need to remember though, Holmes, that we get students of all ages, especially in the summer sessions and in evening courses."
Just then the "subject" looked their way briefly before directing his gaze back to his book. And then Ray recognized him. "Well," he said, "Let me see." He rubbed his chin. "I can tell you that he runs in the mornings and that he lives in Higgins."
Jake seemed surprised. "How on earth do you know that?"
"Really, Watson, can't you see the obvious clues?" Ray said, affecting a supercilious smile.
Ray heaved a theatrical sigh. "Ah, Watson, it's always this way with you isn't it? You don't notice even the most, um, elementary things."
After thinking about that for a moment, Jake grinned. "You know him, don't you?"
With a straight face, Ray said, "Depends on what you mean by know. But I've told you some things about him, so now why don't you tell me his name?"
"I can't remember. I didn't memorize all those names this afternoon."
"Well, so long as we're being honest, I confess I exchanged words with him briefly a week or so ago. Brody Cox told me that the place where he used to live was for rent, and I went around to check it out. As I was going up the front walk, that guy came out. He told me that he had rented the place. Then he excused himself, saying he was going for a run."
"Oh." Jake seemed let down.
"Sorry to bust your bubble, Dr. Handley."
"Well, now that we've cleared that up, what else would you say about him?"
"I think it's your turn. What strikes you?"
Jake studied the guy, who was so immersed in his book that he seemed unaware of the scrutiny. "First of all, he's beautiful. Despite the unkempt hair and the designer stubble, he has wonderful features. Fine nose and mouth, with a certain delicacy to them. He has a sensitive look about him, and when he glanced over here a minute ago, there was something about his eyes . . ."
"What about them?"
"I'm not sure. Not haunted exactly. But rather, well, vulnerable. Yes, that's it. Vulnerable."
"Careful, professor. It sounds like this guy's going to become teacher's pet."
"I've had a number of fine-looking young men in my classes, Ray. I don't think I've ever succumbed to partiality, though."
"Well, he is good looking. After you've gotten to know him, how about telling me what you've learned? Nothing confidential of course, just basic stats."
"Sounds as if you're interested."
"Not in the way you mean. I'm not so superficial I'd want to get involved with a guy just because of his looks."
"That makes you a rather rare gay man, Sergeant," Jake said, smiling.
"And we have no reason to think he's gay, do we?"
Jake sighed. "One can only hope."
"Wait a minute! What about the Chief?"
"Oh, don't get me wrong. I didn't mean that I'm not totally happy with Jim. But I'd just like to think a guy that beautiful was one of us."
"Beautiful? You've said that twice."
"Don't you think so?"
"I'd like to get him a shave and a haircut. Then we'd see what he really looks like."
"Spoken like a true cop."
"What does it say on the cap he's wearing? You can look without craning your neck."
Jake looked, squinted, and said "Huskies."
"Mmm. Could mean something or nothing."
"Yeah, you can get anything on a ball cap these days. But doesn't the University of Washington call it's athletic teams the Huskies?"
"Yeah, but so do UConn and Northern Illinois. What color is the lettering?"
"Black, I think."
"Then it's probably not Washington. Their color is purple, as I recall."
"So, Sherlock, are you telling me my student's from Illinois or Connecticut?"
"Not on the basis of the hat, Watson. It could be about a high school team or something to do with Canada or Alaska. Or a company, for that matter."
"You know that in due course I'll find out more about him."
"The poor guy. I'm sure he doesn't realize we've become interested in him."
"Purely as an academic matter, of course."
"Well, to satisfy my curiosity, please let me know what you find out."
The older man's eyes twinkled behind his eyeglasses. "I can't help thinking that your interest isn't exactly Holmesian."
Not long after Ray arrived at his desk the next morning the phone rang.
"Morning, sergeant. This is Stasny. Captain would like to see you when you have a minute."
"Thanks, Staz. I'll grab a cup of coffee and be right there."
"Why don't you wait until you get here? My coffee's better than the stuff out in the squad room. I'll tell the boss you're on your way."
Philip Marlowe had been promoted to the rank of captain and made head of the plain clothes branch soon after the new chief took office. Ray had always liked and respected the man. It was typical that the summons to report to him came as a request "when he had a minute." Ray took his orders from Lt. Havers, and it was unusual to be called into the Captain's office. At least it was unusual enough that Ray wondered if he'd screwed up.
Stasny handed him a mug of coffee the way he liked it, milk no sugar, when he got there. The Captain's door was open.
"Come on in, Ray, and have a seat."
"Good morning, Captain." Ray took a sip of his coffee. It was hot enough to burn his lips. He looked for a place to set the mug down.
"Just put it on the edge of the desk. Stasny should have warned you that his coffee is always hot."
"How are you getting on, Ray? Settling into your new responsibilities okay?"
"Yes, sir." Actually, Ray had hoped to get out of the building more. Mostly he was stuck doing paper work, preparing duty rosters for Havers' approval, using the computer. He was basically a low-level administrator – or a high-level clerk. It wasn't what he thought of as detective work. But he knew one had to pay one's dues. Just as when he was fresh out of the academy he spent most of his time in a cruiser. Still, there were days when he thought routine patrol work was more interesting than what he was doing now.
"Lt. Havers speaks well of you."
"Thank you, sir." That was a bit of a surprise. Havers wasn't a bad guy, but he wasn't exactly generous with praise.
"I hear you've moved."
Ray had given his change of address to Lt. Havers and had also notified the county's Human Resources division. But it showed that Marlowe kept on top of things that he knew about the move.
"Yes, sir." He couldn't help wondering where all of this was leading. Marlowe didn't seem angry. But Ray became restive with the small talk. It was a good sign that the Captain had called him by his first name rather than by his rank. So maybe he hadn't screwed up. But then what was the reason for this meeting?
As if reading his mind, Marlowe said, "It's about Sunday night."
"You were seen coming out of Nellie's. That was you, wasn't it?"
"Yes, Captain. But if this is about Nellie's being a gay bar, I thought . . ."
Marlowe held up his hand. "Relax, sergeant. I'm not about to hassle you because you're gay. I thought you knew me better than that."
"So, that was you I saw Sunday night?"
He'd already admitted that it was, so he merely nodded this time, wondering as he did where in hell the Captain could be going with all this.
"And the man you were with? Who was he?"
Ray tensed again. His social life was no one's business but his own, and he was surprised that, despite his assurances, the Captain was prying into it.
"Ray," Marlowe said, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his desk, "relax. You're not in any trouble here. So far as I know, you haven't done anything wrong. I just want to know about the man you left Nellie's with."
Wondering whether the Captain had followed Spike and him home, he asked, "What do you want to know, sir?"
"Well, what's his name, for starters?"
"Does he have a last name?"
Ray had to think about that for a moment. Spike had told him the first time they met, the night they exchanged blow jobs in the truck. "Evans, I think. Yeah, Spike Evans."
"Did he tell you anything about himself?"
The Captain's implication seemed to be that the two had gone off for more or less anonymous sex.
"He was staying with friends and working at UPS. Other than that he didn't say much about himself."
"Did he tell you who the friends were or where they lived?"
"Said he worked at UPS, did he?"
"Did he ever talk about what he was doing there?"
"Did he give you a phone number, or say anything about getting in touch?"
"No, sir, he didn't. I gave him my number."
"Do you plan to see him again?"
"He said he was leaving town this week. He didn't tell me where he was going. He told me that he moved from job to job, from place to place. And that he didn't much like this area, thought he'd try someplace else."
Overcome by curiosity, Ray couldn't help asking, "Captain, what's all this about? Why all these questions about Spike?"
Marlowe took a deep breath. "Understand that I'm not trying to pry into your private life."
But you already have, Ray thought.
"Of course you don't have to answer my next question, but I do have a reason for asking. And I promise to keep it confidential."
"Ask, sir. I'll answer if I can."
"Did you have sex with this guy?"
"Were you just together the one time?"
"No, we met at Nellie's once about the end of February, but he didn't go home with me then."
Marlowe smiled. "Yes, that would have been before you moved out of your folks' house."
Which was true, of course, but it seemed to Ray that the Captain was keeping pretty close tabs on him.
"I know I'm coming across as Big Brother here. I do like to know about anything that might affect the performance of my men, of course. But, believe me, your sex life, your social life is not something I'd normally pry into."
"Then, Captain, with all due respect, sir, what's this all about?"
Marlowe sighed. "I'm breaking protocol telling you this, and you have to keep your mouth shut about it. Understand?"
"Your `Spike' is a Feeb. I was informed as a professional courtesy that he'd be doing undercover work in Toledo and perhaps living in this area for a while. I met him only once. So when I thought I saw you and him together you can imagine my surprise. What was one of my men doing with a government agent?"
"That's right. So I take it you had no idea?"
"I can't tell you his real name or what he was working on. That's all on a need to know basis. Lieutenant Havers doesn't know anything about the agent being here. And you aren't to tell him."
Marlowe swiveled his chair 90 degrees and looked out his window for a moment. Then he turned to face Ray once more. "This is personal, and I apologize if I'm out of line."
"I don't know what you two did together and I don't want to. But, Ray, I hope you didn't get to like him too much. Chances are you'll never see him again. I think he and the agencies he was working for have concluded their business here and in Lucas County. So he'll be going back to wherever he's based or off on a new assignment. Get the picture?"
Ray went back to his cubicle where he halfheartedly began putting data into the state-wide police data bank. His mind, however, was on what the Captain had just told him.
So everything Spike had said about himself was probably a lie. The bastard! Their sex had been great, and Ray had really liked the man, liked talking with him, liked the way he smiled, liked being cuddled after they'd both come. But all those stories about jobs he'd had, places he'd been – they were all just convenient inventions. And Ray couldn't help feeling betrayed.
To give Spike, which wasn't even his name, his due, Ray admitted that the guy had discouraged the idea of their being in touch after that night they spent together. He knew he'd never be back and as much as said so.
Shit! Ray kept telling himself it was just sex, but dammit, he really liked the big bear. He'd been let down when Spike had said he was leaving town, but he managed to put his disappointment aside when he got to work Monday morning. Now, however, the Captain's information made him feel lonely. But also a bit resentful.
His thoughts were interrupted when Lieutenant Havers stepped into his cubicle.
"Good morning, Lieutenant. You need me for something?"
"Good morning yourself, Stonesifer. What did Captain Marvel want to see you about?"
Damn! What was he supposed to say? Make up a lie? Bad idea. Also a bad idea to piss off Havers. Still, the Captain had said to keep his mouth shut.
"I think that's something you should ask Captain Marlowe about, sir." It bothered Ray that the lieutenant sometimes referred to their superior as Captain Marvel. It was disrespectful, and Marlowe was a great guy. But, of course, it would be insubordinate for him to say anything to Havers about that.
One afternoon a few days later, Ray was working at the computer in his cubicle when a voice asked, "Hey, sarge, got a minute?" He turned to find that it was Detective Nick Persichetti. All 6'4" of him. With his black hair and blue eyes. Oh, so sexy. And oh, so straight.
"Sure," Ray said. He nodded at the chair beside his desk. "What's up?"
"I just got back from CSU. Campus Security called us. A guy in Burton Hall had his laptop stolen."
"What's his name?"
"Shaw. Casey Shaw."
"Did you talk with him?"
"Yeah. Seems he went to the showers and left his room unlocked. He's in a single. And when he got back the laptop was gone. The problem is, sarge, I don't see where we go from here. Anyone could have walked in there. He says he was in the shower for fifteen minutes, maybe. Someone could have popped into his room, shoved the laptop into a backpack and vamoosed."
"We can't exactly search all the rooms in the dorm. We'd need a warrant, and we'd never be able to show probable cause for everyone who lives there."
"Well, it's worse than that. From six hundred hours to twelve hundred hours that building is wide open. You need a key card to get in at night, but this happened about oh seven thirty. Anyone could have come in."
"What about fingerprints?"
"I took Shaw's prints. Then I checked the door handle. His prints are the only ones on it. Of course, whoever went into his room could have wiped the handle. Maybe with his shirt tail. I couldn't find any prints on his desk where the computer was – except Shaw's. I don't imagine the thief handled anything else. He probably just wanted to get in and get out as quick as possible."
"What about the inside door handle?"
"Same thing. Only Shaw's prints."
They talked a bit longer about the problem.
"Well," Ray said. "Tough for the kid. Maybe that'll teach him not to be so trusting. I know that sounds cold, but there's not really a lot more we can do."
"Yeah. Shit happens. Tough, though. I don't think he has much money. Nice guy, too."
Persichetti stood, started to leave, and then turned back to Ray. "You know, I was reminded this afternoon that you shouldn't jump to conclusions."
"The walls of Shaw's room were covered with posters of guys in shorts. Fighters, actually."
Ray waited for what he thought was coming.
"I asked if he was a boxing fan. But he pointed out that the guys were all barefoot and they wore gloves that were a lot smaller than boxing gloves. He said they were all MMA fighters." Persichetti hesitated a moment and then grinned. "Well," I thought, "this kid must play for the sarge's team. No offense."
"None taken . . . yet."
"It wouldn't matter, would it? I mean, there's nothing wrong with being gay. I just assumed that any guy with all those posters of muscular men in shorts would probably be, um, gay."
"I sense there's a `but' coming."
"Yeah. Turns out Shaw used to be am MMA fighter himself. Said he did it for about two years and then decided to get out while his face was intact."
"So you're figuring that if he was an MMA fighter he couldn't be gay? Seems to me you're still dealing in stereotypes, Persichetti."
"I'm trying, honestly, but it's hard to shake some of those stereotypes, isn't it?"
Persichetti grinned. "He wasn't wearing anything but some board shorts when I interviewed him. He's a well put-together guy. Only about 5'9" and 155, but ripped. Brown hair and eyes. You want his phone number?"
"Get out of here. Go talk to everyone on Shaw's floor and see if any of them noticed anything. If that doesn't turn up something, see if there's an RA who might call a house meeting. Sometimes those guys know a lot about what's going on in their sections. But since it's the beginning of the term, maybe not. Alternatively, you could just try talking with everybody who lives in Burton. We wouldn't want CSU students to get the idea that we don't care."
After the detective left, Ray allowed himself to grin. Persichetti was brash. But intelligent and likable.
Then Ray remembered that the Shaw kid was out a computer and felt sorry for him.
About a week later Ray was at the computer in his cubicle. Someone behind him cleared his throat. He turned to see a tall, fiftyish man with a long face, a slightly prominent nose, and graying hair.
Ray stood and held out his hand. He recognized the man as being the head chef at Adrian's, the best restaurant in Colby.
"Mr. Ronsard, how are you? What brings you to see me?"
"Ah, you do remember me?"
"Of course. We've met at the CQ get-togethers. And I've had some wonderful dinners at Adrian's."
"Thank you, sergeant. Or may I call you Raymond?"
"Just Ray, please."
"And I'm Albert." He pronounced it the French way.
Ray took a stack of folders off the chair next to his desk and piled them atop others on a file cabinet.
"Please, sit. What can I do for you?"
"At the desk I was told to speak with you about the investigation into a theft in Burton Hall on the campus. It involved the laptop computer of a friend of mine."
"Oh, yes, that would be Casey Shaw."
"Mr. Ronsard, um, Albert, one of our detectives has interviewed every student in that dormitory. No one admits to having seen anything the day the laptop was stolen. Since both the building and Shaw's room were unlocked, we have no way of knowing whether it was taken by a resident or not."
"So you can do nothing more?"
"Fortunately Shaw had kept a record of its serial number. We have given that to all of the pawn shops in the area. If the guy who stole it tries to hock it, there's a chance we'll retrieve it. But, realistically speaking, I wouldn't get my hopes up."
Albert sighed. "It is as I suspected. A forlorn hope." He rose. "Thank you for your time, Ray."
"I wish there was more we could do. Meanwhile, if Casey Shaw is your friend, you might remind him to keep his door locked when he's not there."
"I shall. Now, all I can hope is that he will permit me to replace his computer. But he is very proud, that young man."
"He must be special."
"Vraiment! He is indeed. Thank you again, sergeant."
They shook hands, and he left.
That evening Ray nuked something from Stouffer's and ate it from the plastic container, so when it came to cleaning up the kitchen afterwards, there wasn't a lot to do. One definite negative to having moved out of his parents' place was not getting to eat his mother's cooking. Although he had a standing invitation to come there for supper, he was bent on establishing his independence. He'd love to have some of her recipes, but he knew that if he asked, she'd merely start on him again about eating at home.
He was drying his hands when his cell phone rang. He'd decided he didn't need a landline phone in the new apartment.
"Hi, Ray. It's Jim Grant."
"Oh, how are you, sir?" Grant had told him more than once that he didn't want to be called "Captain." He was not, he'd explained, like some Kentucky Colonel. His title now was "Professor"; since Ray was a friend and not a student, however, he preferred just to be called by his name.
It was Jim and Jake who'd gotten Adrian and Tom to invite him to get-togethers of the CQ group, and he was growing comfortable thinking of them as friends, despite their being in their fifties.
"I'm fine, thank you. How about you?"
"Ray, I know it's short notice, but Jake and I were talking about you this evening. We were wondering if you'd like to have steaks with us trolls this Saturday."
Ray barked out a laugh. "Trolls! You guys are not trolls. You're well . . . You shouldn't talk about yourselves that way."
Grant laughed. "Thanks. So are you free Saturday? Jake's going to grill the steaks outdoors. It's still May, so it may be nice enough to eat out back. If it isn't, he'll cook out and we'll eat inside."
"Yeah, I'd like that. Thanks for thinking of me. Can I bring something?"
"Not necessary. Come about six so we can have a drink first."
It rained all afternoon and evening Saturday. Ray's hair and shoulders were wet by the time he ran from his car to the big front porch on his hosts' country home.
He knew that both Jake and Jim drank wine frequently, so he'd stopped by Colby's only locally owned beverage store and asked the clerk for something to go with steaks. The clerk had of course wanted to know how much he'd pay. Then he'd recommended something in the range Ray had suggested. He hoped it would do.
Jim and his beagle, Archie, greeted him at the door. So, of course, he had to kneel and give Archie some loving before he stood to shake hands with his host. Grant was having none of the shaking of hands, however, pulling Ray into a hug. Being with Jake had obviously been good for the ex-chief, Ray decided. He'd never thought of Grant as the hugging type.
As it turned out, Jim Grant had already opened a bottle of red wine. "To breathe," as he'd explained. "Or, there's beer if you'd rather."
Ray would have preferred the beer, but he said the wine would be fine. At the last CQ party he'd been the only one drinking beer. No harm in cultivating a taste for wine.
Jake came into the kitchen. He had on jeans and a golf shirt with a nylon hoodie over his head. He looked a bit damp. Ray noticed he wasn't wearing his glasses, so he assumed Jake also had contacts, which he was using. Good choice, given the weather, he thought.
Along with the steaks, which were thick, juicy, and perfectly done, the two hosts served hot German potato salad, cole slaw, and drop biscuits.
"Where did you guys learn to cook like this?"
"Jim's the cook. He did everything but the steaks."
"I have my mother's recipe box," Jim said. "I used to try things out when I was living alone, but it's a lot more fun now that we're together," he said, looking at Jake.
When they were sitting in the big family room with bowls of ice cream and mugs of coffee, Jim asked, "I don't suppose you've had any luck finding Casey Shaw's computer."
"Not really." Ray explained what Persichetti had done at the time and their getting the word out to pawn shops, plus the house meeting called by the RA to alert other residents of the dorm to what had happened.
"How do you know Shaw?" he asked Jim. "Is he in one of your classes?"
"No, he's not one of my students. And I haven't really met him. But he lived for a while with Albert Ronsard, who's . . ." He looked at Jake, who smiled back at him. "He's a good friend of mine."
Ray wondered, as he had the day Ronsard has visited him at the station, what sort of relationship the chef and the college kid had. But he wasn't about to ask.
"Albert's very fond of Casey. They met under rather unusual circumstances, I understand. Their relationship, he tells me, is purely a father-son kind of thing. Casey moved out because he thought his living there gave Albert no privacy. Of course, he could have wanted more privacy for himself, but he's likely to get little of that in the dormitory."
"Well," Jake said, "at least in a private dorm room the boy could have an overnight guest without anyone's having to know about it."
"But that's all speculation, isn't it?" Jim said, giving Jake what Ray took to be a warning look. Then he turned to look at Ray once more. "So, from what you told me, there's not much chance of getting the laptop back for Casey."
"You know what it's like."
"Yes, I'm afraid I do. So now Albert will have to try to persuade the young man to accept a replacement computer. Casey's been reluctant, always using the excuse that the stolen one may turn up. But Albert says it's really that Casey feels indebted already and doesn't want to accept a gift from him, especially one that expensive."
"How did you get to know Albert, Jim?" Ray uttered the question as it came to his mind. Then he realized that it was a question he had no business asking.
Jim frowned, and Ray was sure he'd put his foot in it. Then Jim looked at Jake, who twinkled back at him. Jim seemed to relax when he turned back to Ray and said, "Albert and I were lovers for a while."
"Oh, it was none of my business. Sorry I asked."
"It's okay," Jake said. "We're all good friends now."
"So, Jake," Ray asked, intent upon changing the subject, "what have you learned about that guy with the Huskies cap?"
"Oh, Jesse." Jake turned to Jim and said, "I told you about the afternoon Ray and I played Holmes and Watson in The Cougar, remember?"
"Well, his name is Jesse Crofts. As you could probably tell that afternoon we so shamelessly studied him, he's about your age. You're what? Twenty-seven or twenty-eight?"
Ray nodded, wanting Jake to continue.
"I have no information about him except that he's a freshman. They haven't taken a test or turned in any written work yet. They have a paper due Monday. In class he seldom volunteers anything. But any time I've called on him his answers are spot on."
"I got the impression he was something of a loner," Ray said. "Does he interact with any of the other students?"
"No. He always arrives and leaves alone."
"I take it, gentlemen," Jim said, "that this Jesse Crofts is good looking?"
Ray and Jake replied simultaneously:
Ray: "Not really."
Jake: "He's gorgeous."
To Be Continued
Note: for background on Jim Grant and Albert Ronsard, see "Cop Out." For background on Albert Ronsard and Casey Shaw, see "Albert's Noel."
Emails encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org Please put the title of the story in the subject line so I'll know it isn't spam. Thanks. --Tim