HAZARD AND SOMERSET: OFF DUTY
HAZARD AND SOMERSET SHORT STORIES
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2019 Gregory Ashe
All Rights Reserved
TICKETS TO THE GUN SHOW
This story takes place before Guilt by Association.
THE AIR IN THE Pretty Pretty was thick with body spray, sweat, and friction.
“I need a break,” Hazard said, peeling himself off Nico, his lips swollen, his crotch aching dully, and the three Old Fashioneds making him horny as hell.
Nico tossed his shaggy hair, pecked Hazard on the cheek, and kept dancing. He was hot, he was young, and he was a damn good dancer. As soon as Hazard split off from his boyfriend, the gay boys on the Pretty Pretty’s floor mobbed him. Hazard didn’t like it.
The fire door at the back of the club was propped open with an empty paint can marked Origami White, and Hazard knew this was some sort of code violation, but he was grateful for an escape into the brittle, quiet cold in the alley. The droning bass from the club hummed in his ears. He raised his arms like chicken wings, and winter bit into the sweaty pits of his shirt.
Why hadn’t Nico come with him?
From down the alley came another sound: rattle, rattle, rattle. Hiss.
The air was dry, and each breath sucked moisture from the inside of Hazard’s mouth. Dirty snow puffed up as he walked towards the noise. His foot caught a twisted red jockstrap, and that puffed up too before it smacked into the alley wall. Guys didn’t just come out here for fresh air.
Around the corner, a dead security lamp hung out over the alley. Glass from the bulb sparkled on top of the dead snow. Three figures made a triangle in the shadows: one laughing, one smoking—the tip of his cigarette the same color as the dirty jockstrap—and one shakin; g a can of spray paint.
“Get lost,” Hazard said. “Before I arrest you for vandalism.”
One stopped laughing. One stopped shaking the can. But the third drew deep on the cigarette, and for an instant it was a hell of a lot angrier than the dirty jock.
“Go on,” the one with the cigarette said, and the other two beat it.
The ember wagged through the darkness, and then he was close enough for Hazard to make out his features. Redgie Moseby had a neck like a bull. Fuck that, he had just about everything like a bull, and he was damn near as stupid. He was Wahredua FD, and the last time Hazard had seen him, his partner had popped Moseby in the nose for making a crack about Hazard.
“What are you doing around here?” Moseby said, punching the cigarette towards the Pretty Pretty.
“I’m a fag. I’m looking for ass. What are you doing here?”
Disappointment tightened Moseby’s face. He’d been wanting to be the first one to lob that word.
“You’re pretty stupid, Moseby, so I’ll ask you another way: are you looking to fuck or be fucked?”
“I’d watch my mouth. A guy like you, out in the line of duty. Bad shit can happen. You and that shitbag of a partner. You’d better watch yourselves.” His hand drifted under his nose as though remembering the punch. “You’d better watch your asses.”
“Bad shit happens to firemen with horseshit brains who go around vandalizing buildings and committing hate crimes.”
“Me? Jesus, I was just walking by. I was trying to stop those guys.”
“Get lost, Moseby.”
“Get fucked, Hazard.”
“That’s kind of the whole idea at this place, you moron.”
YOU HAD ONE FIGHT.”
Hazard cradled the phone against his shoulder as he made the turn, ignoring his partner-slash-roommate’s words, and pulled into the Wahredua Police Department parking lot. The cherry-red VW—well, it had been cherry-red at one point, at least—stuttered and gasped as he maneuvered it into a parking spot.
John-Henry Somerset, who went by Somers, wasn’t going to give up that easily. “You had one tiny little fight. You don’t need to blow it all up because of one fight.”
“I’m here. I’ve got to go.”
“Don’t be petty.”
“I’m not petty.”
“You’re working on our day off because you’re mad at your boyfriend. That’s petty.”
“I’m going now.”
“Hey, wait.” For a moment, the only noise was the VW’s gasping clanks. Then Somers said, “Can you pick up the tickets for me?”
“That concert. I’m going with Cora. I’ve talked about it like ten times. Black Hats White Guns.”
Somers had talked about it ten times. Maybe twenty. Maybe fifty. So many damn times that Hazard refused, on general principle, to acknowledge it anymore. And it had nothing to with jealousy. It had nothing to do with the fact that Somers was— —taking his ex-wife on a date— —going with Cora. That was juvenile armchair psychiatrist bullshit. Hazard was just sick of hearing about it. That was all.
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You don’t know what? Never mind.”
“Just tell me where to pick them up.”
“No. I’ll do it myself.”
Hazard ran through what he knew about Somers, his mind churning through the analysis. “They’re in your desk.”
“Great guess. You’re a genius.”
“In the top drawer on the right.”
“Behind the pencil organizer, under the candy bars that you think I don’t know about.”
“I hate you sometimes.”
“I’ll get them.”
“You’re not off the hook. You’ve got to make things up with Nico. Just because he disappeared for a few minutes—”
“Half an hour, Somers. He was gone for half a fucking hour.” Hazard jerked the keys from the ignition, and the Jetta gave a last, pathetic whine and died. “I’ll see you this afternoon. With the tickets.”
“You just need to do something nice to show you want to make up. You could—”
Hazard disconnected the call, and a moment later, a poop emoji flashed on the screen. He dismissed that too.
When he got inside, he passed Jim Murray at the front desk, crossed the bullpen, and opened the top right drawer of Somers’s desk. Inside, behind the pencil organizer, he found two king-sized Butterfingers and an almond Snickers.
But he didn’t find the tickets.
HAZARD KNEW THAT he hadn’t made a mistake. And he knew that Somers hadn’t lied. The only conclusion, therefore, was that the tickets had been taken.
That part of the analysis blitzed through his mind, below the level of conscious thought. Drawing his hand from the drawer, he turned slowly, taking in the bullpen and the larger confines of the station. Everything looked the same: the coffee burned in the pot, the fax machine lights scrambled and flashed, and Derek Jensen was cuffed near booking, where he usually ended up during a three-day weekend binge.
Hazard made his way to the front desk, where Murray had his nose in the Wahredua Courier—all the local news you could stand about noisy chickens and fox runs and the neighbor’s stinking garbage. Occasionally something more important, too. Maybe some real big news, like when the B health rating dropped at Grandma Gunnison’s Buffet.
The old man squeezed his head deeper between the pages.
“I’ve got a question.”
Murray gave the paper a shake, as though the rustling might cover up Hazard’s voice.
Grabbing the pages, Hazard yanked them down so that he and Murray were eye to eye. Murray had been with the department somewhere around fifty years. His nose hair was proof; he hadn’t ever trimmed it, and it came damn close to doubling as a mustache. He didn’t like Hazard, and he didn’t make any bones about it.
“Who came in today?”
“Who came in today? What do I look like, the Marriott concierge? It’s the end of a long weekend. Some of the guys are pulling doubles so you can have the day off. We’ve got folks in and out of here every hour of the day and you want to know who came in.”
“You keep the log, don’t you?”
Murray tried to pull the paper up. Hazard yanked it back down.
“Now what the hell is that supposed to mean? They caught Derek over there naked and baying like a hound in the Jessup’s potato patch. Is that strange enough for you?”
“Anybody go into the bullpen? Anybody go through Somers’s desk?”
“What do I have? A periscope? I can’t see around walls, you know.”
Swearing, Hazard let go of the paper, and Murray raised it with an indignant shake of the pages. Hazard made his way back to the bullpen and took a deep breath. All right. Somebody had been in here. Somebody had taken the tickets from Somers’s desk. So think, he told himself.
It had to be somebody that blended in to some degree. Murray was old and dumb as a bag of rocks, but he had fifty years on the force, and he treated the station like it was his home. He didn’t like strangers coming in and poking around, and periscope or no periscope, he had an uncanny way of knowing what people got up to.
That left two options: either the thief was a cop, or he was somebody the cops trusted. It wasn’t a cop; Hazard ruled that possibility out. The men and women of Wahredua PD didn’t particularly like Emery Hazard. They trusted him, and they respected him, but they didn’t like him. Somers, on the other hand, was a different story. Somers was everybody’s best friend. He was the golden boy, the perfect cop, the town hero. A cop might have taken the tickets to play a prank on Somers, but nobody on the force would have stolen them. And if it were a prank, it would resolve itself quickly, without Hazard’s intervention.
That left a dwindling number of people. City employees from various branches occasionally visited the station, but they were viewed by the cops with a mixture of disdain and pity. Civilians came every day, but they were watched carefully. Arrestees and convicts came through the station, too, and they were always handcuffed or put in the holding cells.
But someone in uniform, Hazard thought. Someone in uniform with a plausible reason to visit. Someone like a fireman who had worked arson scenes with the Wahredua PD before.
With fresh eyes, Hazard re-examined the bullpen and realized not everything was the same. Somers’s chair had been moved, pushed slightly out from the desk. The keyboard was closer to the monitor, as though someone with longer arms had shoved it back. The screen was angled for someone taller than Somers. Then he checked his own desk and saw similar signs that someone had rifled the drawers.
“That piece of shit.”
He hurried back to Murray and tilted the pages with a finger. Murray’s nose hairs quivered with annoyance.
“Did Redgie Moseby come in?”
“Will you leave me alone if I tell you?”
“He did, didn’t he?”
“I just want to read my paper. That’s not so much to ask.”
“For the love of—I don’t know. Eight. Eight-thirty. He dropped something off and left.”
“That piece of shit,” Hazard said again.
REDGIE MOSEBY LIVED in a doublewide trailer on the south side of the city, along a swampy stretch of ground that butted up to the Grand Rivere. It wasn’t a trailer park, but most of the homes out this way were prefabricated or doublewides, and even in that company, Moseby’s looked like shit. Aluminum siding peeled back from one corner like the trailer was a sardine can. In the front window, Moseby had hung a Confederate flag, an NRA sign, and a camo jacket with ammo glittering in the open pockets. The man probably didn’t even know he was a walking stereotype.
Hazard’s phone buzzed. It was Somers, and Hazard considered not answering it. That might have been suspicious, though, so he swiped the screen.
“Did you get the tickets?”
“Jesus, Somers. Do you really think it’s that hard for me to open a drawer?”
“I’m busy. What do you want?”
“I’ve been thinking about you and Nico.”
“Fuck me. Just fuck me right now.”
“Are you sure? You seem like the type that wants to be wined and dined before—”
“I’m hanging up.”
“No, Ree, just listen. He was in the wrong. He shouldn’t have disappeared like that.”
Two trailers down, kids emerged into the soggy snow, kicking wet clumps at a chain-link fence. One big, one little. Brothers, to judge by their coloring and their identical round, fat faces. The bigger one gave up on the snow and started kicking the chain-link fence with his rubberized snow boots. The harder he kicked, the harder the chain-link bounced him back. Hazard knew how he felt.
The encounter in the alley with Moseby had been bad enough. It had been bad enough to see the spray-painted COKSUCKERS and FAGS and PUSSI BOYS, even though it had left Hazard wondering about the state of spelling in American education. But it had been worse plunging into the miasma of boutique body spray and overheated crotchless pleather to find that Nico was gone. Missing. Vanished. And even worse for him to come back, twenty-seven minutes later, and all he said was that he had been talking to a friend.
Hazard thought of his ex, Billy, who had loved talking to a friend. Loved it so much, in fact, that he had fucked Tom for almost a year behind Hazard’s back.
“But you can still be the one with the upper hand,” Somers was saying. “Ree?”
“Are you listening?”
“No, you’re not. You’re brooding. Do something nice for him. Then see what he does.”
A dog, some kind of shepherd with its wiry hair long and bedraggled, trotted up the road. The two red-faced, round-faced kids squealed. Scooping up snow, they launched soggy missiles at the shepherd. It trotted serenely through the fusillade, dodging the sloppy snowballs without even seeming to notice them. First the fence, Hazard thought. Now the dog. This kind of kid would grow up to be just like Redgie Moseby unless somebody whipped their asses daily for the next fifteen years. And Jesus, Hazard thought, something really was wrong with him today if he could think something like that.
“What kind of nice thing?”
“Dinner? You mean, the meal we eat every day?”
“Don’t be stupid on purpose. You know what I mean: candles, a nice tablecloth, you cook something.”
“I don’t cook.”
“You can make something easy that’ll still look fancy.”
“I don’t have a tablecloth.”
“Bullshit. You have three.”
Alone, in the Jetta, Hazard felt his face heat.
“We’ll work out the details later,” Somers said. “If he apologizes, you can go from there. If he gets his dick in a knot, you can dump his baby-faced ass.”
“His baby-faced ass? What does that even mean?”
“It means he probably shouldn’t even have a driver license.”
“About those tickets—”
Hazard disconnected the call.
For a moment longer, the past caught him up like a whirlpool. Billy would go over to Tom’s for breakfast. He would come back tasting like mimosas and—what? Something else? Tom? Had Hazard known? Could he have known if he’d wanted to? Billy and Tom were just good friends. Just really good friends. Right up until the moment that they were more than that.
A red Suburban that was probably forty years old, a rattling steel tank, rumbled past Hazard. The driver was a big, bald guy who looked like he kicked shit for a living. As soon as the Suburban was past, Hazard kicked open the Jetta’s door, let himself through Moseby’s chain fence, and took the three peeling steps to the door. When he knocked, it felt like he was about to topple the whole trailer. No one came to the door.
The red-and round-faced brothers were still trying to peg the shepherd, which had trotted up to the fence. The bigger boy launched a snowball straight at the chain. Most of the snowball was shredded by the links, but a few wet clumps splatted against the wiry, damp fur. The boys howled with triumph.
The shepherd lifted one leg and peed, and the stream slashed across the older boy’s boots.
Still howling, now in humiliation and shock and fear, the boys scampered back towards their trailer home. Hazard had to fight a smile as he knocked again.
No one answered.
The red Suburban had drawn up in front of a prefabricated home at the end of the block, and the big, bald driver was gone. Now the street was empty. For a single moment, Hazard hesitated. The next step would take things across a line, and Hazard was surprised to find he didn’t care. Something had changed in him. Something about almost dying, alone, suffocated by gasoline fumes and by the shattering pain in his head, had left him different. Before, certain lines had been drawn in sharp black lines. Now—especially when it came to Somers—those lines were gray and wavering.
Hazard launched himself down the steps and around the back of the trailer. In this wet January, the snow slushed and squirted under his wingtips. A few hundred yards ahead, behind a scraggly scrim of willows, catkins clipped the Grand Rivere where the water roared steadily.
The back of the doublewide showed even more neglect: no lawn, just a patch of bare earth with dead weeds and a mosaic of flattened Bud Lite cans, twist-off caps, and brown glass. Under a flimsy deck, an electric mower huddled beneath three inches of soft snow. The trailer’s back door opened onto that deck, and the wood bowed under Hazard’s weight and gave wet groaning noises.
The doublewide’s back door had a lock in the handle, but no deadbolt. A jalousie window was set into the composite wood, and the acrylic louvres had yellowed with age and sunlight. Hazard considered the frame—a hell of an easy way in, but it would leave a clear sign that someone had been here. A he considered the lock—he had a ring of bump keys. Then a cold January smile frosted his lips and he nudged the acrylic louvers. With a rusty grating noise, they rotated. He popped out the lowest louver, reached inside, and unlocked the door. Then he slid the acrylic piece back into place and let himself into the trailer.
Moseby’s trailer offered what Hazard had expected: a filthy kitchen, a filthier bathroom, and a small living space at the front where mud and snow had matted the carpet. In the bedroom at the back, a wet towel lay on the bed, and the air smelled like cologne from a gas station dispenser, the kind where you dropped a quarter and closed your eyes and hoped the atomized oil hadn’t gone rancid. On the dresser, arranged like a still life, Moseby had set out a box of condoms—accommodating men of all sizes for twenty years, Jesus Christ; Hazard snapped a picture—a mostly melted votive candle, an envelope of Red Man chew that was neatly folded and paperclipped shut, and a matchbook for the Lion, which was all the way over in Babbtown and a hell of a long drive for burgers like sawdust and soggy french fries.
Part of the setup was obvious: Moseby was going on a date, and Moseby was definitely hoping he’d get to use one of those condoms for men of all sizes. But something about the picture made Hazard stop and think. The wet towel, for example. Moseby was bringing someone home, but he hadn’t hung up the towel. Or cleaned the bathroom. Or doused the place with gasoline and burned it. All of which meant that Moseby wasn’t trying to impress. It might have been a one-night stand, but that wasn’t quite right. That sad little votive candle, for example. Hazard examined it again. Honeysuckle scent, although it didn’t smell like any honeysuckle that Hazard knew. That was a very specific aroma, and not one normally associated with romance. The setup told Hazard that Moseby was the kind of guy who had a routine for nights like this, and that meant Moseby had done this plenty of times before with the same person.
The condition of the trailer, along with the placement of the chew, paperclipped inside its envelope, next to the pathetic candle and the box of condoms, and the towel on the bed, told Hazard something else. Moseby was a sloppy motherfucker. And sloppy guys tended to miss important details.
Behind the dresser, Hazard found a forgotten tube of lipstick. Bohemian Blush. In the linen closet, behind an overflowing hamper, he found plus-sized black panties. On the papery care tag, someone had marked RM.
Hazard felt a cool, vicious pump of satisfaction as he unfolded a plastic envelope and bagged the evidence. Now he had the little shit.
That was when glass broke in the kitchen.
KNEELING ON THE slimy linoleum in the bathroom, Hazard reached for his .38 and hesitated. He had broken into another man’s home. He was committing a crime. And he had no idea who the hell might be in the trailer with him. The gun was only going to make things worse.
Heavy steps came down the hallway, and Hazard dragged the shower curtain across the tub and shut himself in the linen closet. The louvered door allowed him to see into the bathroom proper, although it did obstruct some of his field of vision. The steps came closer and paused outside the bathroom. When the man—it was a man, Hazard could tell that much—stepped onto the linoleum, his shoes squeaked.
“You dumb fuck,” the man said, and the voice was low and different from Moseby’s. “I heard the rings on the curtain. You might as well come out.”
He took a step. Hazard held his breath. Then the man took another step, and now he was past the louvered door, and Hazard saw that it was the big, bald man in the Suburban. He had followed Hazard here, Hazard realized. He had passed the Jetta, parked down the block, and doubled back on foot. Now that was really interesting. And right then, he had his back to the linen closet. That was even more interesting.
“Hey, faggot. Come on out from behind there. Don’t do anything stupid. If you’re real nice, I might leave your asshole in one piece instead of shredding it like wet toilet paper.”
Hazard eased the linen closet door open the first half-inch until the latch cleared. He drew in one slow, silent breath. And then he kicked.
The flimsy wood snapped open and cracked against the bathroom wall. Hazard shot out of the closet—his brain recorded this detail, the proximity of the words faggot and closet—before the bald guy could even start to turn. Hazard crashed into the man, carrying him forward. The toilet caught the bald man at the knees, and he folded across the porcelain. Hazard didn’t slow; he kept shoving, knocking the man across the toilet and into the shower. The curtain came down, ripping free from the rod with a series of tinny pops, and the bald man rolled into the vinyl folds. He flopped, and one big fist came up and caught Hazard in the mouth. He reared back, but not fast enough, and his lip split against his teeth, and he tasted blood.
Hazard didn’t bother playing nice. He dropped an elbow into the bald man, driving his head into the enameled steel of the tub. The man’s legs did a funny little rattle against the tub liner, and then he was still. Breathing, yes, but not going to cause trouble.
Hazard’s phone buzzed. Massaging his elbow, Hazard worked it free and tried to control his breathing.
“What is it, Somers?”
“You can do a pot roast. It’s easy: you buy a roast, chop up an onion, brown the meat—”
Examining the unconscious man, Hazard said, “I’m in the middle of something.”
“Fine. Leave out the onion. Skip the browning. You put a packet of Lipton’s soup mix on top and let it cook for six hours or something like that.”
Hazard hooked the man’s wallet, wiggled it loose, and checked the driver license. Bradley Fowles. “Six hours is a long time.”
Sighing, Somers said, “You’re going to screw this up somehow, aren’t you? You’re going to completely ignore me. You have a perfect opportunity to get the upper hand on this kid—”
“The upper hand?”
“—and you’re going to screw it up.”
There, behind the license, Hazard saw a second, similar laminated ID. “I’m not going to screw it up.”
“You’re damn right. I’m going to make sure you don’t.”
“I’ve got to go,” Hazard said, working the second ID out of the wallet and disconnecting the call.
Fowles was Wahredua FD. Of course.
IN THE PARKING LOT of the Lion, Hazard hunkered inside the Jetta and shivered. He had driven straight to the restaurant after leaving Fowles unconscious in the bathtub, and he had waited hours in the cold, taking a single break to piss behind a patchy line of cottonwoods. He had been willing to bet that Moseby would come here tonight. In fact, he had bet on it, but Moseby hadn’t shown. It looked like Hazard was going to lose his bet, and it was going to cost him a hell of a lot when he had to tell Somers the truth.
Hazard’s phone vibrated.
“I said I’d get the tickets, didn’t I? What do you want?”
“Where are you?” Somers asked.
“You’re not at the station.”
“So where are you?”
“Should I just run up there? It’ll take five minutes.”
“No. I already got them from the desk.” Hazard silently cursed himself for digging deeper into this shit. “I’ll have them to you soon.”
“The concert’s at eight.”
“It’s a country band from the 1970s. You can get there late.”
“It’s Black Hats White Guns.”
“They weren’t very popular in the 70s.”
“Cora wants to go.”
“You weren’t even alive in the 70s. Neither of you was.”
“You weren’t either. Ree, is something wrong?”
“You’re worried about Nico, right?”
“I’m not worried about Nico.”
“Well, I am. And to be honest, I’m worried about you.”
Hazard grunted. “I’m not that delicate. If Nico wants to be mad, he can be mad.”
“No, I mean I’m worried you’re going to screw this up.”
“It’s my business if I screw it up.”
“God, I wish that were true. This is very much my business. I’ve got a personal stake in who you date.” A slow flush worked its way through Hazard’s chest before Somers added, laughing, “I’m the one who has to deal with your brooding if you get dumped.”
And then a Dodge Ram pulled into the lot, and Hazard coughed to clear his throat. “I’ve got to go.”
“Can you be here by 7:30?”
“No, Ree. 7:30. Promise.”
“I gotta go.”
Hazard disconnected the call. From the Ram’s cab, Redgie Moseby emerged, dropping heavily to the ground. Every step he took was heavy. He walked like he wanted everybody in a hundred yards to know where he was stepping.
Excited energy knotted in Hazard’s belly. It wouldn’t be much longer now.
The Ford Focus that pulled into the lot next was grayish-gold, and the woman behind the steering wheel was built big without being fat. She had her hood pulled up, and she scurried up the walk darting glances in every direction. She was looking to see if she was being watched, and she had no idea how to do it because she missed Hazard completely.
He gave them fifteen minutes to order drinks and an appetizer, and then he got out of the Jetta, stretched his legs, popped his back, and went inside.
Like a million other American-fare restaurants, the Lion was decorated with a mixture of inauthentic historic kitsch—newspaper reproductions, mass-produced road signs with ready-made wear and tear, computer-aged photographs—and sports memorabilia—jerseys, mitts, two crossed hockey sticks above the bar, although the closest anybody played hockey was in St. Louis. The air smelled of frying onion and wet boots. Hazard moved towards the back of the restaurant.
As he’d guessed, they’d taken a table near the kitchen, where the lighting was poor and there was minimal traffic. The woman had her back to Hazard, which was lucky for her, but Moseby was looking dead on. His pudgy bull face reddened when he saw Hazard. Hazard planted himself, met Moseby gaze for gaze, and jerked his head at the door.
Muttering something to his date, Moseby dropped his napkin on his seat. While Moseby was still whispering, Hazard left and took up a spot on the far side of the restaurant, out of view of the door and the parking lot.
It was the crunch of gravel that alerted Hazard, and he turned towards the noise. Moseby had come around the back of the building and approached Hazard from behind, and now the length of firewood in his hand caught Hazard on the shoulder instead of flat in the back. Hazard grunted with the impact and kept turning.
Moseby backpedaled, the heels of his cowboy boots churning gravel, and tried to pull the cordwood back for another blow. Hazard popped him in the nose and then, just as fast, in the mouth. Blood spurted out and coated the back of his hand. His knuckles dinged against Moseby’s big, bull teeth. Moseby rocked on his heels, and then gravity had him, and he went down on his ass.
Kicking the length of wood away, Hazard stepped towards the fallen firefighter. He planted a foot on the man’s chest.
“What the fuck—”
“That’s assault,” Hazard said. “Normally, that would be a Class C felony, but you were stupid enough to hit a cop. That’s Class B.”
“You fucking faggot.”
At those two words, Moseby froze. Then, blowing out a mixture of snot and blood, he let his head fall back on the gravel. “It’s not what it looks like.”
“You’re right. It looks like a cheap dinner at a shitty restaurant. But it’s more than that. You’ve been fucking your boss’s wife—”
Moseby went wild, squirming under Hazard and shouting, “Don’t you talk about her like that, don’t you—”
Hazard stomped a little, knocking the wind from Moseby and silencing the man.
“All right. That was shitty of me. But here’s the thing: she left panties at your house. They have her initials in them: RM. Why’d she do something like that? Did she take them to the laundromat and didn’t want to lose them? Doesn’t matter, I guess. What matters is I’ve got them. I know you’ve been with her for a while. Maybe it’s love. I don’t care. I also know you went to the station today to look for a way to fuck with me.” He pressed a little harder with his foot, feeling the creak of Moseby’s ribs. “And I know you tried to get on our computers. You tried to dig up some dirt.” Another heavy step, accompanied by the creak of bone and cartilage. “Then you started going through our stuff. If it had been my stuff, I might not have minded. Not enough, anyway, to come all the way out to the middle of nowhere. But you were stupid enough to try to fuck with my partner.”
Wheezing, Moseby scrabbled at the loose stone beneath him, trying to crawl away. Hazard stomped down hard. He thought he felt something pop in Moseby’s chest, and the big man gave a shuddering gasp, but Hazard couldn’t find a fuck to give. “All right,” Moseby wheezed through tears and snot and blood. “I got ’em. The tickets, I got ’em in my wallet.”
Hazard kicked him in the side, just hard enough to be an incentive, and Moseby flopped onto his stomach. Keeping one foot planted on the firefighter’s back, Hazard drew out the wallet and recovered the tickets. He checked his watch.
Then he dropped the plastic envelope with the panties on the ground and left.
IT HAD BEEN a hell of a drive back from Babbtown, speeding through the winter darkness on blacktop rimed with frost, the headlights wiping small circles out of the night. As Hazard pulled into the underground parking at the Crofter’s Mark, he let out a sigh. He’d made it. And before 7:30pm.
When the elevator chimed at the fourth floor, Hazard eyed himself in the mirrored walls. A split lip, sure, there was no hiding that. But he’d gotten Moseby’s blood off his hands, and the bruise on his shoulder was hidden by his shirt and coat. Good enough for now.
As Hazard unlocked the door to their apartment, he smelled roast meat and onion and hot, yeasty bread, and he thought that was strange because he was sure that Somers would have said something if he and Cora were planning on eating at the apartment.
Inside, the only light came from the kitchen, where candles were arranged on white linen and two places had been set for dinner. A pot roast steamed on a serving platter, surrounded by potatoes and carrots and onions that had caramelized into a soft, buttery spread. A basket of fresh rolls sat next to the roast, and next to that was a tossed salad.
Somers’s bedroom door opened, and the candle flames bent, and the light fluttered to the side. The shifting light left Somers in darkness, but it didn’t matter because Hazard could have been in a cave, could have been blind, could have been at the bottom of the Marianas Trench and he would have recognized Somers: the slender musculature, the broad shoulders, the chiseled, golden good looks, and the eyes. The candlelight steadied, and then those eyes were glowing like Caribbean water.
“You cut it close.”
“The concert’s not until eight.”
“I’m not talking about the concert, I’m—God. What happened to you?” Somers paused, standing in front of Hazard, close enough for Hazard to smell the cologne his partner wore, like the sea and the sun and something that Hazard always thought of as amber, crushed and powdered.
“I went to work.”
Somers raised a hand, and his thumb grazed the puffy, split lip. Hazard fought the urge to pull his head away. Not because it hurt. Not even close. Because it felt so damn good, and that was dangerous.
“You got this catching up on paperwork?”
“And picking up your tickets.”
Those turquoise eyes flickered with something. Somers still hadn’t pulled his hand away. His thumb still probed Hazard’s throbbing lip, and his other fingers had settled— —like the candlelight, as bright and hot and flickering as the light— —on Hazard’s cheek. “You know, I called the station.”
“You said that.”
“And they told me you weren’t there.”
“You said that too.”
“And I asked Carmichael to check my desk for the tickets, and she told me they weren’t in there.”
Hazard’s heart throbbed, and he could feel his pulse in his neck, could feel it in the dangerously hot spots where Somers’s fingers met his skin.
“Yeah. I’d already picked them up.”
“You’re shit for lying.”
Hazard’s heart gave another enormous throb, hard enough that he felt himself coming to pieces, and he thought he might just lean forward, might just kiss him, might just— The knock startled both of them, and Somers yanked his hand back as though burned.
Hazard couldn’t move. He could still feel the echo of Somers’s touch.
The knock came again. Harder.
“Yeah. Two tickets to Black Hats White Guns.”
Somers inspected them, tucked them into the tight jeans he was wearing, and brushed past Hazard to the door. “You’re welcome,” he said over his shoulder.
“I’m welcome? I’m the one who spent his whole day—”
Somers opened the door, and there stood Nico: his shaggy hair in a semblance of order, his perfect, dark eyes contrite, his mouth in a tentative smile.
“Have fun,” Somers said, slipping past Nico and disappearing down the hall.
Hazard watched him go, and then he saw Nico’s eyes, and the look in them, and the way Nico was trying, really trying, to say he was sorry with his eyes and his smile and his shoulders and his hands. And only then did Hazard think about saying thank you, and it was too late.
WHEN THE ROAD RISES UP
This story takes place before Reasonable Doubt.
THE BED-AND-BREAKFAST known as Grant’s Retreat wasn’t a bad place on first impression: an old building with dark wood that looked original and, in acknowledgment of the upcoming holiday, paper shamrocks strung over the riverstone hearth. It was a big enough structure, in Hazard’s opinion, that it had started life as something institutional. A medical clinic at the turn of the century, perhaps. If so, the original shine was off. The proprietor looked like something out of Hollywood: a West Coast best effort at recreating the quintessential Midwestern bumpkin. Buck-toothed, balding but with a fringe of stringy hair brushing his collar, the man couldn’t have been past thirty, but everything from his speckled scalp to his oversized work boots made him look older.
That would have been bad enough, Hazard thought. But it hadn’t stopped there. He had his mouth pursed, and he had color in his cheeks, and his eyes, huge and watery, zipped between Hazard and Somers like beads on an abacus. This Midwestern bumpkin was doing the math: two men, one room, one bed. Even for an idiot like him, it wasn’t hard.
“Norwood Grant,” was all he said, though, tapping the placard on the desk and then passing Somers the key. “We keep a decent establishment, gentlemen. Is that clear?”
“Excuse me?” Hazard said.
“I want you to understand: we welcome all types. But this is a place for families. I hope you can take my meaning.”
“Got it,” Somers said drily. “I won’t pull his hair, and he won’t scream like a banshee. Come on, Ree.”
Grant’s little pursed mouth tightened into an ugly pucker. “If you need anything, just say the word.”
Somers grabbed his suitcase and took a step towards the hall, but Hazard studied this movie stereotype in front of him and tried to decide if punching the hotel clerk would be the beginning or the end of a great vacation. “Your last name is Grant?”
“That’s what my mother said.”
“Why did you name this place ‘Grant’s Retreat’?”
“Well, mister, that’s a good question. I bet you’ve never heard of the Battle of Belmont. Don’t feel bad; most folk your age haven’t.”
“The Battle of Belmont was fought on November 7, 1861. Brigadier General Ulysses Grant brought Union troops across the Mississippi from Cairo, Illinois to attack a Confederate camp at Belmont, Missouri. Grant’s attack was initially successful; when the Confederate troops reorganized, though, they drove Grant back across the river.”
Norwood Grant’s fingers were long and the nails were yellow, and they spidered across the reception counter. “Look at you. We’ve got a regular history buff. Six hundred seven Union soldiers died. And six hundred forty-two Confederate folk. I bet I could show you some historical sites on the map that you and your—” He paused. His greasy pate shone as his head darted in Somers’s direction. “Your friend, I could show you some places you might like to see.”
“Why did you name it Grant’s Retreat?”
“Well, you just said it. The general had a retreat. And it’s a joke, you know. A retreat like a place you can get away from the world.”
“That’s what it’s called: a pun.”
“Ree, are you coming?”
Norwood Grant’s watery eyes didn’t change at Somers’s words, and his voice didn’t change. All he said was, “Your friend is waiting.” But it was that word, friend, like what he really meant was faggot. It was all in the way he said it.
“You’re too far from Belmont.”
“Ree? What’s wrong?”
Hazard waved a hand at Somers. “You’re too far from Belmont for that name to make any sense.”
“Don’t fucking worry about my boyfriend.”
Grant’s chin came up like Hazard had just clipped him, and his watery eyes widened.
“And you’ve got your numbers wrong,” Hazard said. “Six hundred and forty-one soldiers died in the Battle of Belmont.”
He was halfway to Somers and the hallway when Grant recovered enough to call after them. “The last one was a local boy. And he’s the damn ghost!”
NO ONE GOES out of town for St. Patrick’s Day.”
“We’re not going out of town for St. Patrick’s Day. It just happens to be St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow. And it’s our first time traveling as a couple; I wanted to have a trip together.”
Emery Hazard watched his partner suspiciously. John-Henry Somerset, blond and trim and beautiful, ignored him and instead twitched aside the bed-and-breakfast’s curtain. Full dark hammered at the glass.
“I saw shamrocks.”
Somers sighed, let the curtain fall, and turned to face Hazard. “It’s just a sweatshirt.”
“I was talking about downstairs—wait. You have a sweatshirt with shamrocks?”
“And underwear, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
Hazard grunted, trying to hide his interest. Instead, he said, “And of course you picked a bed-and-breakfast with a homophobic staff.”
“Sorry. Nobody mentioned that in the reviews.”
“And no internet, Somers. They don’t have internet and it’s the twenty-first century.”
Somers crossed the room, navigating around the massive bed and the heavy, antique furniture. “It’ll be good for us to disconnect for a couple of days.”
“No cable. Not even broadcast TV.”
By that point, Somers had reached Hazard, and Hazard could smell the day’s sweat on him, and his hair, and the sea salt-and-amber musk of his cologne. Somers’s hands reached up and wrapped around Hazard’s arms.
“My phone doesn’t even work out here. Nothing. Not a damn bar.”
Leaning in, Somers kissed him, and it was one hell of a kiss.
Hazard had trouble remembering what he’d been saying, but he made an effort and valiantly said, “We have no goddamn idea what’s going on in the world—”
Somers forced a knee between his legs, spreading them, and one of his hands left Hazard’s arm. Hazard let out a groan, and his head dropped back, and Somers kissed his neck. The invisible blond stubble rasped across Hazard’s skin.
“I guess,” Somers said in a throaty voice, “we’ll just have to find a way to keep busy.”
“And they have a ghost,” Hazard said. “You heard him.”
Somers cocked his head thoughtfully. “Maybe that’s a good thing.”
“Because now when I pull your hair and you scream like a banshee, everyone will think it was the ghost.”
THE BABY’S CRYING woke Hazard. It was a long, shrieking cry. A terrified noise. It entered at the edge of consciousness, needling Hazard’s brain through the thick cotton of sleep until he was fully awake. His heart pounded, and he struggled to make sense of the noise in those first disorienting moments:
And then, slightly more rationally: Evie? Was that Somers’s daughter crying somewhere?
For another minute Hazard lay there, the child’s wailing echoing in his ears. Somers had an arm across his chest, and although the room was chilly, sweat slicked Hazard’s skin. His heart continued to pound, and his brain began to churn as he stared into the blackness of the room. Deep, pitchy night. Not the usual ambient glow of the streetlights that polluted their city apartment. Then memory kicked in, and he remembered: they were on vacation.
The baby was still screaming.
Hazard slid free of Somers’s embrace, kicked the blankets loose, and immediately crashed into something tall and heavy—a floor lamp that weighed as much as the Empire State Building. Hazard swore, hopping on one foot and cradling his throbbing toe, and flicked on the lamp.
“Ree?” Somers said sleepily.
“It’s that damn baby.”
Somers mumbled a response and flopped onto his back. Hazard paused for a moment to enjoy the view—at thirty-five, Somers still had the chiseled body of a professional swimmer, with sculpted muscles and a delicate dusting of golden hair over the black calligraphy of his tattoos. At fourteen, Hazard remembered, Somers’s shoulders had started to broaden, and at sixteen he had abs. Those abs, glimpsed fleetingly when the boys changed for PE, had given Hazard about five years of wet dreams. But at thirty-five, Somers was even more beautiful than he had been as a boy. And in the oblique light from the floor lamp, Somers had the beginnings of crow’s feet around his eyes. Hazard smirked. The lines were hot; just about everything on Somers was hot. But he was still going to enjoy telling the blond man he had wrinkles.
Limping on his aching foot, Hazard negotiated a path through the cramped room: an iron-banded chest at the foot of the bed, a wingback chair with cracking leather, a luggage rack with Somers’s suitcase—the sleeve of that damn shamrock sweatshirt was poking out of the bag—and a tarnished mirror.
“Go back to bed.”
It was the crying that made Hazard open the door. It wasn’t the noise itself; he had worked enough night shifts as a cop, he had lived in a dorm, he had shared a bed for most of his adult life. He knew how to fall back asleep when a noise woke him.
It was the quality of the crying, the timbre, the shrill intensity. The panic, his brain provided. Hazard felt a shiver of recognition. Yes, that was exactly it. The panic in that tiny voice. The terror. And the portion of his brain that was fully awake, the eight percent that was struggling to assemble a logical explanation for the worms in his gut, that part was saying that infants were easily startled, and they were in unfamiliar surroundings, and the tone that Hazard took for panic could just as easily have been anger or frustration or an infant’s helpless efforts to communicate a need. That eight percent of his brain, fumbling for answers the way Hazard had fumbled his way into that damn floor lamp, told him to get back to bed and go back to sleep. Or, better, see if Somers had ever put his underwear back on.
But the part of Hazard’s brain below the waterline, the portion of him beneath rational thought, the subconscious or whatever you wanted to call it, that part was strong at the moment. In the day, Hazard did his best to suppress that voice, to focus on the cold, calculating reason that always gave the best answers. Now, though, still half-asleep, he found it hard to ignore that pre-rational voice. And that part of his brain was telling him that there was a child in this building that was terrified.
And at night, as he stood in the long hallway paneled in dark wood, with the old electronic sconces dim and flickering and the leadlights framing the moon like prison bars, Hazard had to admit he was terrified too. Not rationally. Not the part of his brain above water. But deep down, he felt that terror, and he blamed it on Somers.
For several long heartbeats, Hazard stood in the hall, and the draft licking his legs was cold enough to raise goosebumps on his arms. The crying continued, but Hazard couldn’t figure out which direction it was coming from. He took a few steps in one direction, and then he took a few steps in the other. His heart had started to beat faster.
“Ree, what are you doing?”
Somers hung from the doorframe, naked. In that pose, with his weight suspended from his arms, all the lines of his body were pulled taut. The tattoos across his arms and torso curled, the dark script seeming to rewrite itself. He was also half-hard, and that buzzed through Hazard like a runaway lawnmower.
“Get back in the room.”
“Why?” A smirk as hot and lazy as July crept over Somers’s face. “Afraid someone will see me?”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
Still hanging from the doorframe, Somers jiggled a little, miming a burlesque, and Hazard groaned and covered his eyes.
“People usually like to look at me, Ree.”
“For fuck’s sake.”
“Yep. That’s pretty much the idea.”
Hazard pulled down his hand in time to see Somers leave the doorway. The blond man wrapped both arms around Hazard’s neck and pulled him down for a kiss. He was past the halfway point, now, and Hazard felt himself growing hard, pressing back against Somers until he broke the kiss.
“Quiet,” Hazard said, planting a finger on Somers’s lips. He listened. The crying had stopped.
“Did you hear someone?” Somers shivered and slid a hand into Hazard’s boxer-briefs. Hazard whimpered at his touch. “This is kind of hot, right?”
“Get back inside,” Hazard growled, and it was a weak, kittenish growl, but it was the best he could come up with. Marching Somers backward, he said, “I don’t want to get arrested for public indecency because I have a nudist boyfriend.”
Inside the room, Somers yanked on Hazard’s underwear and grabbed him, hard, and Hazard let out another whimper.
“Fine,” Somers said, mock-serious, but his eyes were glittering turquoise. “What about private indecency?”
IT USED TO be a school,” Somers said, propping open a pamphlet as he cut his pancakes with the side of the fork.
Hazard folded a piece of bacon, folded it again, and took a bite. “What?”
“This place.” Somers waved the pamphlet. “Grant’s Retreat. It’s a bed-and-breakfast now, but it used to be a school.”
Craning his neck, Hazard scanned the buffet. Still plenty of scrambled eggs. Good. But the sausage links were scarce, and the bacon— “Where are you going?”
Eyes on the chafing dish, Hazard barreled towards the buffet. He reached it at the same time as a pinkified older woman: pink jacket, pink shoes, pink nails, and a cascade of tight curls with pink tips. Confronted with all that pink, Hazard didn’t realize at first how old she was: past sixty, doubtless, and probably closer to seventy. More importantly, though, she had the bacon tongs and was stirring the few, scanty pieces as though trying to decide which to take.
“They never get it crisp enough.” Rattling the tongs against the chafing dish, she called, “Richard, it’s not very crisp.”
Richard was a dandelion puff of a man in a down jacket, balanced delicately on top of a pink all-terrain scooter with better tires than Hazard’s car. A single good sneeze probably would have knocked the old man into the next county. He bobbed his head in response to the woman’s words, and Hazard had no idea what that was supposed to mean.
“Is this your first time at Grant House?”
“Yes, yes. That’s what they call it now. Is it your first time?”
Hazard kept his eyes on the tongs as they stirred the bacon. “Yes.”
“Here with your wife?”
“Where’s your wife?”
“Do you mind if I—”
Without seeming to realize it, she slid the tongs out of reach. “My name is Barbara. Barbara Keminsky. And that’s Richard. We come all the time. Over at that table,” a bedazzled pink nail indicated a sallow, middle-aged couple, “are George and Lorraine Willis. They’re here all the time too. Do you know how to play bridge?”
“I’d like to get some of the bacon if I could—”
“Lorraine’s going to ask if you know how to play, and if you do, you should lie. They’re terrible. At bridge, but at the rest of it too.”
Hazard threw a glance over his shoulder. Somers had laid down the pamphlet and was watching him, grinning openly. When he met Hazard’s eyes, his grin grew exaggerated, and he gave a ridiculously enthusiastic thumbs-up.
“You don’t have a wife, do you?”
Barbara’s voice dropped, but not much. “That pretty young man.” Then she made a little O with her mouth and slapped his wrist. “And a grizzled old thing like you with him. You’re robbing the cradle. Of course, everyone said that about Richard. Richard, dear. Richard. Didn’t everyone say that about us?”
The dandelion puff bobbed his head, his whole body jouncing inside his down coat.
“He’s not that young,” Hazard said, rubbing his wrist. “Now if I could just—”
“It’s such a relief, having the gays spread out and come down here. You know, your people have done wonderful things. Really wonderful. With houses, you know. And clothes. In fact, I have some pictures of our house. I’m thinking of redoing the closets, and I wanted—oh just a moment. Richard. Richard! Get my phone. No, Richard, my phone! I want you to take a look—”
“That’s really not my thing.”
“Oh.” She sized him up, nodding sympathetically. Then she looked at Somers. “He’s the one, then.”
Reaching over the chafing dish, Hazard snagged the tongs from her and began loading bacon onto his plate.
“He’s the—” Her voice dropped marginally again. “The woman? Well, you know what I mean.”
Hazard stopped, a piece of bacon dangling from the tongs.
“I’ve seen on TV that’s how it is. I’m not being rude, am I? Oh, look, it’s Brenda, Brenda Meehan. And there’s Doug. Oh, yes, dears! Good morning! Here I am! Yes, yes, I know!” She was nodding significantly in Hazard’s direction. “Yes, I’ll tell you all about them. They’re helping me with my closets!”
To hell with it, Hazard thought, scooping up the rest of the bacon and piling it on his plate. He caught a glimpse of the Meehans, who looked old enough to have retreated with General Grant himself.
“Where’s everyone else?”
“What?” Barbara was still trying to mouth a secret to Brenda Meehan from across the room.
“The other guests.”
“This is it, dear. Grant House only has five rooms, and only four are let out right now.” She batted overextended lashes and turned her attention to Somers. “He’s really so pretty. And so young.”
“We’re the same age,” Hazard said, and the chafing dish cover clanged down maybe a bit harder than necessary.
“Of course you are,” Barbara said, although the way she lined her pink claws along her lips made it seem like she didn’t really believe what she was saying. “You’re a lucky man. You’re the—” Her voice dipped. “The daddy?”
Fucking hell. Hazard turned, and he saw Somers doubled over with laughter.
“Closets?” Hazard said.
“Yes.” Barbara bobbed with excitement. “Yes, you see, I know all about the shoe racks, but I just can’t for the life of me—”
“He’s a whiz at closets. He was on TV, you know. With . . .” Hazard didn’t know the name of a single gay TV designer, but he let his voice carry a hint of suggestion.
“No,” Barbara breathed, the pink tips of her curls fluttery now with her excitement. “With Nate?”
Hazard nodded solemnly.
Another nod. “Show him those pictures. All of them, so he really gets the full effect. He’ll know what to do.”
Squealing, Barbara launched towards Richard, who was still bobbling inside his down jacket. While Barbara tore through her purse, Hazard carried his plate towards Somers.
“I can’t believe you’d talk to me that way. I’m your young, hot trophy husband.”
Hazard narrowed his eyes.
“You have the money. I have the body.”
“You’re really enjoying this.”
“You wouldn’t understand. It’s a generational thing; you’re just too old.”
“You are almost six months older than me.”
Those tropical blue eyes widened in mock hurt. “Daddy, don’t yell at me. I promise I can make you really happy.”
With a squeak of triumph, Barbara produced a pink phone with fake rhinestones and began squirming between tables to reach them.
Hazard bent and pecked Somers’s on the lips. “Bye, baby. Daddy wants you to have a really, really good time.”
Somers knitted his brows together, and Hazard drifted past him, carrying the plate of bacon. As he moved out of earshot, Barbara shrieked, “Oh my God, I hope you don’t mind, but he told me you knew Nate and I just had to show you the pictures of the double-hang.”
That would serve the cocky motherfucker just right.
Folding another piece of bacon, Hazard studied the Grant’s Retreat dining room as he left. Nothing really drew his attention, but he couldn’t avoid the nagging feeling that he was missing something. Flatware that looked like it had been purchased in bulk—stainless steel and a lot of chrome, probably—and yellowing table linens, dust on chair legs, a few sticky spots on the carpet. Nothing different from any other budget accommodation. But something made Hazard drag his steps, and he stopped at the door and gave the room a last considering look. Barbara was showing Somers her phone, and Somers was darting helpless, furious glances at Hazard. Richard Keminsky, puffed up inside his down jacket, was about to slide right off that pink all-terrain scooter. Brenda Meehan and husband, with a pair of oxygen tanks between them, basked in a silver-dollar of March sunlight. And George and Lorraine Willis had produced a backgammon board and looked like they might honestly be trying for the world’s most boring couple.
And then Hazard realized what was missing. A baby.
GRANT’S RETREAT had a six-car garage. It had, in fact, quite a bit that Hazard hadn’t expected, and his explorations over the last half hour had turned up a fair amount. But it was the six-car that was holding his attention the longest. Four of the bays were empty. One held a Ford Pinto chewed through by rust and salt and time. And the sixth had a black-and-silver Ducati under a dust cover, the kind of motorcycle that gives boys under eighteen wet dreams.
As Hazard crossed towards the final bay, he drew a mental map of the building from an eagle’s eye view: an L, with the longer part devoted to the business of the bed-and-breakfast and the garage at the end of the shorter part. That accounted for some of the space, but not all of it. It had, according to Somers, at one point been a school. A small, elite preparatory school, Hazard imagined. But if that were the case, why were only five rooms dedicated to guests? What was the rest of the building being used for? Sure, part of the space might have been given up for administrative space, facility work, janitorial closets. But at full capacity, Grant’s Retreat should have been able to host forty people. Maybe fifty, depending on choices. Instead, it had eight guests, and it was almost at full capacity.
That didn’t make any sense.
Hazard pulled back the cover, blinked at the Ducati’s mirror-polished finish, and lowered the cloth back into place. He moved to the bike’s rear and reached for the cloth again.
“What are you doing?”
“It took you long enough,” Hazard said to his partner. “Come look at this.”
Peeling back the cotton cover, Hazard gestured.
“So the creepy guy with the bad hair owns a Duck.”
“Don’t call them that.”
A smile crooked across Somers’s lips. “What’s wrong with that?”
“You sound like a douche.”
“No, what’s wrong with creepy Norwood owning a Duck?”
“Well, he has an enormous building here. It used to be a school.”
“And he rents out five rooms.”
“He hasn’t got enough money to refinish the rest of the building.”
“He had enough money for a Duck. Damn it. A Ducati.”
The crooked smile grew, but all Somers said was, “Maybe that’s why he doesn’t have enough money to restore the rest of the building.”
“Or he’s got an illegal business going here. This is a front for money laundering. Drugs, most likely.”
“Drugs? Money laundering?”
Hazard met his gaze.
“We’re supposed to be on vacation.”
“I am on vacation.”
“No, you’re trespassing in a bed-and-breakfast garage and coming up with conspiracies. That might be a vacation for you, but it’s not a vacation for me.”
“You think I’m blowing things out of proportion?”
“Ree, it’s a motorcycle. And it’s a bed-and-breakfast in rural Missouri.”
“What about the baby?”
“Ok, I know I played that joke too far, but you know I don’t really think you look old. And it was not cool to sic that old lady on me when I was just—”
“No. Last night. The baby that was crying.”
“I didn’t hear a baby crying.”
“When I got up in the middle of the night.”
“When you stubbed your toe.”
“I didn’t stub my toe. I ran into the damn lamp. When I got up in the middle of the night, it was because there was a baby crying. You didn’t hear it?”
Somers shook his head.
“When you came out to the hall—”
“When you came out there, you didn’t hear anything?”
A hint of a blush darkened Somers’s golden skin. “I was focused on something else.”
“It was loud as hell. It didn’t wake you up?”
“You slept through your own daughter’s crying?”
“Don’t look at me like that. Cora and I took turns. But I did learn how to roll over and keep sleeping when it wasn’t my night.”
“And you don’t remember the crying?”
“Well, there was a baby crying somewhere.”
“And there’s no baby here.”
Somers frowned. Then he grinned and slugged Hazard in the arm. “It’s the ghost.”
“You are the stupidest person I’ve ever met.”
“Ree, you know what creepy Norwood told us. You heard the ghost.”
“He was talking about Confederate soldiers, not a baby.”
“He said the last one was a local boy. He didn’t say how old the boy was.”
“A boy isn’t an infant. He would have said baby.” Then, giving himself a shake, Hazard said, “And there’s no fucking ghost, so just drop it.”
“Maybe you’re psychic.”
Hazard pushed past his boyfriend and moved towards the garage’s inner door, which led into the portion of Grant’s Retreat that was closed off. Jiggling the handle, he found it locked.
“Maybe you’re sensitive to the spirit world.”
Drawing out his set of bump keys, Hazard began trying them on the door.
“This is breaking and entering,” Somers said, then added, “Maybe you’re a medium like on that TV show.”
With a pop, the lock twisted, and the door swung open.
“That would really help with solving crimes.”
“Would you shut up for five seconds?”
To Hazard’s relief, Somers did shut up, although he wasn’t sure if it was because they had stepped inside Grant’s Retreat or if Somers had run out of jokes. Hazard had a sinking feeling that it wasn’t the latter.
The shorter wing of Grant’s Retreat had been completely renovated—and, from the looks of it, never used. Plaster had been ripped out and replaced with drywall, light fixtures had been updated, guest rooms had the look of something staged for a magazine shoot.
“Why aren’t they renting these rooms out?” Hazard asked.
“Because they obviously just finished working on them.” Somers plucked at his shamrock-covered sweatshirt. “And it’s not exactly the height of vacation season.”
“But they’re heating this space. It’s not like they’ve closed it off for the winter. It looks good if there’s an inspection. Or maybe they had to do it to get a license. But they’re not using them. I don’t think they’re ever going to use them.”
“Because this is all a money-laundering front.”
Hazard glanced at him, but Somers sounded serious, and his perfect features were drawn in thought as he studied the space around them.
Somers ran a hand along the top of the closest doorway and displayed a dusty fingertip. “And that.” He pointed to the upper corner at the end of the hallway, where settling had cracked the paint and plaster. With a gesture for Hazard to wait, Somers ducked into the closest guest room. He moved directly to the window, examined it, and then passed to the next room. There, he repeated the same routine, and in the next room, and the next. Then he let out a soft noise of satisfaction and returned to the hallway, displaying a piece of paper with a strip of blue tape at the top.
Accepting the document, Hazard scanned it. It was a work permit.
“From 2015,” Somers said, tapping the page. “These rooms have been finished and ignored for almost three years. They don’t clean in here. They don’t even patch up stuff that might scare a guest. Sure, that crack isn’t structural, but if somebody starts posting reviews about cracks in the walls, their business is done.”
“I thought you were just a pretty face,” Hazard grumbled, folding the permit and sliding it into an envelope.
“I am a pretty face. And I’m the brains. I told you: the whole package. What’s more concerning is that you’re carrying evidence bags on vacation.”
“I like to be prepared.”
Somers, shaking his head, just sighed. “Your ghost baby wasn’t here last night, by the way.” Then, with a chipper note, Somers added, “Not unless he really was a ghost.”
Hazard studied the empty wing of Grant’s Retreat and then blew out a frustrated breath. “The doors.”
He walked the length of the hall and studied the door that passed into the rest of Grant’s Retreat. Somers had already shown him the dust that had settled along the frame. But now, under closer inspection, Hazard saw that a sifting of the same dust covered the doorknob and latch. He inspected the door that led to the garage—from the inside it was marked Emergency Exit Only—and found the same thing. “For fuck’s sake, you could have pointed that out at the beginning.”
“I thought you noticed it. Besides, I wanted to show off.”
“And you agree something strange is happening here.”
“Strange? Yes. Illegal?” He shrugged. “You heard a baby crying. There’s no baby here today. Maybe they checked out early. Maybe they left in the middle of the night.”
“Maybe you have a previously unexplored connection to the spirit world.”
Hazard opened the door to the garage and left, walking fast enough that Somers had to trot along to keep up.
“You’re being very closed-minded about this.”
The day had brightened; the sun was high, the sky crisply blue. In spite of all this, the cold bit at Hazard’s cheeks, and the branches remained bare. Winter had a death grip this year, and it wasn’t letting go any time soon.
“Maybe you should see if you can read my mind,” Somers said. “If you can tell me what I’m thinking, then maybe you really did hear a ghost.”
As Hazard pushed his way into the lobby at Grant’s Retreat, he threw his partner a glance. The cold had drawn a flush into Somers’s cheeks, and he was biting his lower lip, and his eyes had a sheen on them, like the hottest tropical sun glinting on spindrift.
“You’re thinking what you’re always thinking,” Hazard muttered. “And it’s filthy, by the way.”
Somers just laughed and gave him a shove.
At the front desk, Norwood Grant looked miserable: he was huddled in an enormous, sagging sweater, and his eyes drooped inside huge pouches. He ignored them until Hazard coughed.
“What?” he snapped.
“Last night—” Hazard began, and then, “Ow!”
He twisted away from Somers, who had pinched him on the ribs. “Not wearing green,” Somers said with a smile.
“What the fuck?”
“It’s St. Patrick’s Day. By the way, Mr. Grant, you’re not wearing green either.”
Rubbing his side, Hazard looked at Norwood Grant. “I was going to—Jesus fucking Christ, Somers, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I told you to pack green. I told him. I really did. But he never listens to me. It’s like he wants things to go wrong.”
That last pinch had really hurt, and Hazard massaged his ribs.
“We found a wallet this morning,” Somers said, displaying his own wallet. “We asked the other guests at breakfast, and they said it wasn’t theirs. Maybe it was the other family? The one that checked out early?”
Norwood Grant straightened in his chair like someone had gotten a hot poker right up his pucker. He snatched at the wallet, but Somers was faster, pulling the leather fold out of reach.
“That’s—let me see that. That belongs to a hotel guest, and I—you should let me have it right now. So there aren’t any misunderstandings.”
“You know, I’d really rather give it to them myself. Could you call them for me? I’d like to talk to them.”
“There isn’t anyone—give me that. I really think you should give me that. Yes. That would be for the best. Just—if you could—” Grant had unfolded from his huddle, and now he was on his feet, not quite reaching across the desk, but looking like he wanted to very much. “That’s hotel property now. If you don’t, if you don’t give it to me, I’ll call the police.”
“That’s a good idea,” Hazard said. “Why don’t you go ahead and call the cops?”
“No, don’t be silly,” Somers said, patting Hazard’s arm with affected concern. “He gets so worked up sometimes. You’re right, Mr. Grant. You should have this. You hold onto it.”
Norwood Grant snatched the wallet and sank back into his chair, his shoulders melting inside his sweater, like a marionette with his wires cut. He was staring at the wallet, ignoring them, until Somers cleared his throat. Then his head ratcheted back and his watery, drooping eyes took in both of them. “Oh, yes. Thank you. Thank you very much for doing the right thing. We have a reputation, you know, and I wouldn’t want anyone thinking—well, I’ll make sure this gets back to the right person.”
“Come on,” Somers said, letting a hint of camp creep into his voice as he hooked Hazard around the waist and tugged him to the hall. “You promised you’d scrub my back.”
Hazard allowed himself to be dragged until Norwood was out of sight and then elbowed free of Somers. “Just what the hell was that?”
“Well, you didn’t promise. But it would be nice.”
“I’m talking about that whole scene you just pulled. The pinching. All of that shit.”
“Did I hurt you? I’m sorry.”
“You’re still rubbing your side; I feel bad. Oh, I know. I could wash your back.”
“Come on, Ree. You know better than to ask him flat out like that. You’re getting in your own head about all this; on a real case, you wouldn’t have walked right up and asked something like that. Well, you might have, but not without thinking about it first.” Somers tugged him towards the guest rooms again.
“I’m not going back to our room, Somers. Something is weird here. He was frantic about that wallet. He honestly believed someone had dropped it here, someone that he didn’t want us to know about. He would have ripped it out of your hands if he thought he could get away with it.”
Nodding, Somers said, “Oh yeah. That freaked the shit out of him. And he looks wrecked anyway, like something’s gone wrong. Did you hear what he said?”
“He was going to call the cops.”
“That’s bullshit. No, the other part. He said ‘There isn’t anyone.’ Not, ‘wasn’t.’ Isn’t. Present tense.”
“You think someone’s still here?”
“I think there’s a man here with a baby.”
“The wallet. It doesn’t look like a woman’s wallet, but he wanted it bad. And he said that he’d see that it got to the right person. Not people. Not a family, which is what I had said.”
“So there’s a man with a baby still on the premises,” Hazard said. “Hiding.”
“Or a ghost.” Somers gave him another tug towards the rooms.
“I’m not scrubbing your back right now.”
“I know. I thought we should check the guest room. The one that’s supposed to be unoccupied. The trick is to figure out which one.”
Hazard studied the hallway. Five guest rooms. Three that faced the back of Grant’s Retreat, with an overlook of rolling Missouri hills, and two that faced Grant Retreat’s gravel drive and a glimpse of asphalt. He and Somers had been put in the farther room on the front side.
“That one,” he said, pointing to the farthest room on the back of the house.
“All right. Why?”
“Barbara and Richard Keminsky come here a lot. That means they have a favorite room. And nobody’s favorite room is going to face a weedy strip of gravel and the state highway. So they’re on the back side of the house. But Richard doesn’t look like he can walk very far, so they’re also probably in the first room.”
“Unless he really got going on that scooter. That thing looks like it could chew up a mountain. Or he could drive that golf cart I saw out back—”
“The same goes for the really old couple, the Meehans. They need a close room, but neither of them is as pushy as Barbara, so they’re probably facing the front. And they’re both on oxygen.”
“So the first room on the front of the house.”
“Exactly. We’re in the second room on the front side, which leaves the two rooms on the back. The Willises like to play bridge, but they’re not very good at it, so they’re in the middle room.”
“What’s the logic there?”
“They have an idea of what status entails. Playing bridge, for example. Or going to bed-and-breakfasts. But they’re not smart enough or sophisticated enough to do it well. They come to Grant’s Retreat, but they let Norwood Grant put them in whatever room he wants. And nobody chooses a room that has neighbors on both sides, so Norwood Grant puts them there because it’s the least desirable and they either don’t know they should make a fuss or won’t bother.”
“I know it’s not a hundred percent, but—”
“No. You’re ridiculously good at this kind of stuff.” Somers slapped his ass and said, “And you’ve got this killer can. It’s really not fair.”
“Are you done?”
“Until it’s time to wash your back.”
In spite of himself, Hazard had to fight a grin as he approached the door. A killer can. Well, that was interesting. It took him an extra minute with the bump keys because he kept getting drawn back to those words. A killer can. Huh.
“Focus. I’ll tell you all about your pretty ass later if you want.”
Flushing, Hazard dragged his mind back to work, and a moment later, the door popped open. The room was sparklingly clean. Pristine. Not a mussed cover or curtain. Hazard walked the room once, scanning the trash cans and the nightstands and the dresser, and then let out a frustrated sigh.
“They weren’t here.”
WHEN NORWOOD GRANT went to the bathroom, Hazard and Somers crept past the front desk, past the sign that read Employees Only, and up the stairs. They found more guest rooms, furnished and ready for use aside from the fine layer of dust that covered everything. They also found a door marked Manager that was locked.
Hazard pulled out his bump keys.
“A common criminal,” Somers said.
“Make yourself useful.”
“You said you’re the body and the brains. Let’s see some brains.”
With a grin, Somers swatted Hazard’s ass and trotted back to the stairs. Hazard worked the bump keys through the lock, and after a half-dozen tries, the door opened.
Instead of an office, Hazard found a small living room with a TV, a plaid sofa, and a series of cross-stitched cats. The air held a medicinal smell, like liniment, and underneath that was another, sour odor. Something rancid. Or curdled.
After listening for a moment, Hazard stepped inside. From downstairs came Barbara Keminsky’s warbling monologue, and the wind rattled the window, but the manager’s apartment was silent. One door opened onto a bathroom, another opened onto a kitchen, and the last led into a bedroom. The smells were stronger here, both the liniment and the sour scent.
Footsteps thudded on the carpet, and Hazard spun. Somers stood there, crossing his arms. He looked damn well pleased himself, and that meant he was going to be impossible to deal with.
The best strategy, for now, was to ignore him.
“I got something.”
Grunting, Hazard examined the surface of the dresser—loose change, a torn postage stamp, a Google Maps printout that led to an address outside Cape Girardeau, and a creased bank envelope with mud drying along one side. Hazard poked the envelope with the tip of a pen; empty.
“You don’t want to know?”
Hazard checked the nightstand. A Gideon Bible waited inside the drawer; was that some kind of meta joke, the hotel manager with a hotel Bible? Grant didn’t seem like the kind who read the Good Word. Or, for that matter, the kind who read just about anything.
“You’re going to love this.”
Tucked between the dresser and the nightstand, in a small spot invisible from the doorway, was a wastebasket.
“Guess how many guests are registered at Grant’s Retreat.”
Lifting the wastebasket, Hazard set it on the dresser and dug through it.
“Go on. Guess.”
“There are eight of us that we know of. But you’re excited, which means the number isn’t eight. If Grant were trying to keep one of the current guests off the record, then the register might show seven or six people staying here. But that wouldn’t make sense because all eight of us went to breakfast, and Grant freaked out when we implied we knew about another guest. So I’m guessing the number is higher. Nine. Maybe ten.”
Somers was pouting. Even that looked good on him. “You’re no fun.”
“It wasn’t hard.”
Hazard froze. “What?”
Now, Somers was grinning. “Twenty-two, Ree. He has twenty-two people registered here. I looked. And next week, the bed-and-breakfast is booked up every night to full capacity. That’s fifty-six people.”
“There aren’t twenty-two people staying here.”
“Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed.” But that grin was damn infectious.
Hazard’s hand closed over something soft and squishy at the bottom of the wastebasket. It rustled and crinkled at his touch. Hazard drew out the disposable diaper and displayed it.
Somers’s pout was even more exaggerated this time. “First you ruin the guessing game. Now you ruin the ghost.”
THEY MOVED THEIR search away from the main building.
“It’s an old school,” Somers pointed out. “And old schools, especially boarding schools, had outbuildings.”
So they went out. But first they got their guns.
“You look ridiculous,” Hazard said as Somers slid the big .40 caliber Glock 22 into the holster at the small of his back.
The blond man gave him a wink and tugged the shamrock-covered sweater down to hide the gun. “Good thing we’re not on a beach vacation. I’d have a hard time packing a gun in my bikini briefs. They’re already pretty packed as it is.”
That vision was so powerful that it took Hazard three tries to holster his .38, and by the time he got the gun home, Somers was laughing and walking out of the room.
The front of Grant’s Retreat was a grim stretch of gravel and grass, but the grounds behind the bed-and-breakfast were surprisingly beautiful. Aside from a golf cart snugged up against the building, everything looked like it hadn’t changed in the last hundred years. Even with winter still clinging on, the air was fresh and tasted like the woods: a mixture of evergreen and leaf-mold and bark dust. At one point, the grounds had clearly been meant to be used. Gravel paths wove between the trees, and although weeds sprouted between the crushed stone now, the trails were still visible. As Somers had predicted, several abandoned cottages marked one edge of the property, and they headed towards them.
They hadn’t gone fifteen yards before a shrill, “Yoo-hoo,” chased after them.
Barbara Keminsky was bent over a wheelchair, pushing Richard—who bounced in his seat, his dandelion-fluff hair flopping wildly, with a terrified expression. The pinkified woman came at them like she was driving a stock car; gravel sprayed under the wheels, and where the paths were uneven or rutted, Richard came close to flying free. When she caught their eye, Barbara freed her hand from the chair long enough to wave, shriek, “Yoo-hoo” again, and then rescue the chair before it veered off the path and carried Richard down a steep embankment.
“Jesus Christ,” Hazard said.
“Be nice. She’s my first paying client.”
“Jesus fucking Christ. You’re not an interior designer, you’re a—”
“Oh, John-Henry, thank God. I honestly thought of the most perfect thing, and then I couldn’t find you. I had a flash of inspiration: what you said about triple hang instead of double. What if we took the west wall, divided it in half, and—”
“He’s not working right now,” Hazard growled, taking Somers’s arm possessively.
“Oh.” She blinked at them. But she didn’t leave.
“We’re going on a walk. As a couple.”
“Oh. Oh yes, I’m so sorry. I’ll just—if we could just get around you.” The pink ends of her hair fluttered against her feathery pink coat. “I shouldn’t have—Richard used to teach here, you see, and there’s a place he likes to see . . .”
Flashing Hazard a look, Somers shook his head and disengaged his arm. “I’m sorry about that. Emery is protective. Sometimes it comes out more harshly than he intends.”
“Oh?” Barbara’s pink, bedazzled nails tap-danced along the chair’s handles. “But he’s right, I really shouldn’t have—”
“Why don’t you walk with us for a ways? Do you know anything about Grant’s Retreat?” Somers moved to her side and, with the same easy grace he handled everyone, nudged her aside and took the chair’s handles. “Ignore Emery if it helps. He’s a Taurus, but half the time I swear to God he’s a Leo.”
Hazard had no idea what that meant, but it set Barbara Keminsky laughing, and her cheeks were as pink as her nails, and Hazard knew it hadn’t been good.
With another of those insufferable winks, Somers eased the wheelchair over a rough patch in the gravel and set off with Barbara at his side. “No scooter?”
“Oh, Richard doesn’t like taking it outside. It gets away from him. The chair is safer.”
“Not if you shoot him straight off the path,” Hazard grouched, but quietly enough that she didn’t hear him, and then he trailed after them.
“Richard’s much older than I am,” Barbara said, her gaze moving across the sparsely wooded grounds. “He’s really bearing up well, all things considered, but his age is starting to show. He taught here in the forties and fifties. I don’t usually tell people that because of the circumstances, but we’re all here, and he really does love to see the pool house.”
“The pool house?”
She gestured ahead, although a fold in the land hid whatever she was indicating. “That’s what I call it anyway. I only went inside once. I think they were planning on building a pool and only got that far. They’d done a great deal of digging—you can see that much. And the pool house has showers and tile. But then, well, you know.”
“I don’t, actually.”
“Oh, it’s a terrible story,” Barbara said, perking up, her whole pink frame quivering. “You really don’t know?”
“Why don’t you tell us?”
That seemed to remind her of Hazard’s presence, and she glared back at him, but when she spoke to Somers her voice was all sweetness. “It was a reform school. Grant House. That’s what it was called. They sent the worst boys here. Really terrible boys. But boys who came from money, you understand? Back then, well, things were very different. The boys were too much trouble to stay with their families, but they couldn’t be sent to a normal boarding school because of their behavior. Some parents tried military schools, but the boys who came here—” She quivered again, and Hazard couldn’t tell if it was excitement or horror. A mixture, he guessed. “They were truly terrible. Richard told me about one that he found dissecting a cat while it was still alive. He’d staked the poor thing out and started cutting it open.”
“Vivisection,” Hazard called to them.
“What?” Barbara asked. “What’s he saying?”
“Never mind him. Keep going.”
“It’s called vivisection when the animal is still alive.”
Somers waved furiously at him to be quiet. “Go on, Barbara.”
“Another boy had slashed his sister’s face to ribbons. They were Rockefellers, I believe, but a different last name by that point. One of the daughters. Or granddaughters, perhaps. The poor girl lived, too, with her face completely ruined. Another boy, well, some of the older teachers called him a sodomite.” She blushed the color of her feathery coat. “That’s not really fair, but you understand things were different. His father was a doctor, and he would steal morphine and drug winos and bums and then—well, he’d do things to them.” She drew in another titillated breath. “With a knife.”
“Good Lord,” Somers said. “These boys weren’t sent to juvenile reform?”
“Money,” Barbara said. “And, as I said, it was a different world. But the parents couldn’t handle them on their own, so they sent them here. Richard said it was a terrible time. He never minded telling me about the boys themselves—a little bit like ghost stories, you know. But he doesn’t talk much about the school itself. About the teaching, you know. I think—” She faltered, and when she spoke again, her voice had lost its glittering excitement, and she sounded tired and sad. “I think it was very bad.”
“Why did they close the school?”
“A boy was killed.”
“Oh, everyone said it was an accident. They said he fell. But the boy’s parents didn’t believe that, and they pushed for an investigation, and the boy’s skull was broken in a dozen places. And then more parents started asking questions. Boys had been disappearing for years. Running away, the school would say, but they never turned up. Do you think they killed them? The boys, I mean? I do. Richard never said anything. He wouldn’t, of course. He was a sweet man when I met him, but I think—” Whatever she thought, she thought better of, and she cut herself off. They rounded the low hill, and a squat brick building came into view. “There it is. The pool house.”
But it didn’t look anything like a pool house to Hazard. It was bleak and institutional, without the ornamentation that marked the rest of Grant’s Retreat. As Barbara had described, a clearing showed just past the building, and it was obvious from the perfectly level ground that the clearing was manmade. It could have been, as Barbara described, a spot where they had begun digging a pool and then, when the school closed, filled it back in. A flicker of memory worked its way inside Hazard, of a place his parents had sent him to. The Valley of Elah. He crushed the thought, but it was still there, hot and lightless, a black ember burning a hole in his gut.
He knew one thing, though: they had never planned a pool here.
“Right there,” Barbara said, indicating a gravel loop that closed the path. “You can just turn around right there and we’ll go back.”
“Your husband doesn’t want—”
“He just wants to see it. Isn’t that right, Richard? He just needs to see it every time we come. Look at his dear face. Just overcome with emotion. I know the stories make it sound like this place was just awful, and it certainly wasn’t easy on Richard—he still has dreams sometimes, you know, thrashing and screaming. Nightmares, really. But there must have been good times, too, don’t you think? That dear, dear face.”
But when Somers cleared the loop, turning the chair and Richard back towards Hazard on the path, Hazard caught sight of that dear face. The little dandelion-fluff of a man was crying silently. There wasn’t really an expression on his face, nothing Hazard could tell clearly, but the tears rolled down in steady, silver lines, and Hazard was sure of one thing: Richard Keminsky wasn’t crying for happiness.
“We can go back now,” Barbara said, her clompy pink platform shoes rocking on the gravel. “He just wants to see it and then he needs to go back and rest. Every time we come. He must have some wonderful memories in spite of everything else, don’t you think? When we get back I can show you—”
Hazard caught Somers arm and tilted his head at the pool house.
“Barbara, you’ll have to show me a little later,” Somers said, relinquishing the chair’s handles. “Emery is a local history buff, and I promised him we’d look at the outbuildings.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course. But, well, haven’t you looked at them? I mean, here we are.”
“Yes,” Somers said, bending forward conspiratorially and dropping his voice, “but we haven’t looked at them if you know what I mean.” And he winked.
“Oh, yes. Oh, yes, of course.” Barbara tittered a laugh and trotted back towards the house, wheeling the chair roughly across the gravel. “You two boys have fun.”
“We’re not having sex in there,” Hazard said when Barbara had disappeared around the low hill back towards Grant’s Retreat.
“Let’s not make any rash decisions.”
Hazard started towards the unornamented brick of the pool house. “You implied that we’re going to mess around.”
“Yes, Ree. I did. Because that’s what Barbara Keminsky and a million other people expect. It’s an easy way to get rid of her.” He smirked. “Besides, you still haven’t seen my shamrock undies.”
The pool house door was rotten from years of exposure to the weather, and along the edges, wood had broken away from the frame. When Hazard nudged it with his toe, it rattled inwards, releasing a wash of cool, shadowed air with the smell of mildew, the smell of a long shut-up place. Hazard listened for a moment, heard nothing but the wind moving high in the oaks behind him, and set his phone to flashlight. Somers followed.
With his first step into the pool house, Hazard understood why it had gotten its name. His phone’s light bounced back from tile, and the ceramic altered the acoustics of the space, so that every footstep, every rustle of clothing, every breath came back amplified and reverberating. Low walls, no higher than Hazard’s shoulder, divided the room into stalls, and rusted shower heads hung limply, their chrome plating flaking away. They walked the length of it, but it was empty, and there was no sign anyone had used it recently.
“Well,” Somers said, setting his phone on one of the low walls so that the flashlight haloed up against the water-damaged ceiling. “Another dead end.”
“We’ll move the search outwards,” Hazard said, taking a step towards the door. “Norwood Grant thought this person was still in the area, so maybe there is a cabin deeper on the property. Or maybe there’s—”
Somers caught his jacket and pulled him back a step. “Yep. We’ll do all that.” Then he stretched up on his toes and kissed Hazard. He had a faint blond stubble today, and it rasped pleasantly against Hazard’s chin. “But first,” Somers’s hands slid under Hazard’s jacket and shirt, “I promised Barbara we’d fool around.”
“You didn’t promise—ah, fuck.” Hazard twisted, bending to kiss Somers savagely. “You didn’t, uh, promise. Oh, God.”
Smiling, his eyes like the bluest Caribbean waters, Somers popped the button on Hazard’s fly and dragged the zipper down. The brass stuttered, and every stutter rocked against Hazard’s erection, sending jolts of pleasure through him. Gripping the length of Hazard’s dick through the cotton, Somers squeezed.
“You’re a goddamn tease,” Hazard whispered, staggering backward, guided by the pressure of Somers’s caress and by his own need to get something—anything—to support him because his knees had as much strength as hot butter.
“Sure,” Somers agreed, dropping to his knees. “Now, I’m still getting the hang of this—”
“Oh for the fucking love of God,” Hazard groaned as Somers’s mouth closed over him. His hands slapped the tile, skating down, searching for anything to hold him up. His knees weren’t hot butter. His knees had goddamn melted. He was about to fall flat on his ass if he didn’t—
His hand closed over something hard and round and cold, its surface pitted and flaking under his touch. And through the waves of pleasure, the cold, analytical part of his mind stirred. No, Hazard told it. Go back to sleep. I’m enjoying this. But that part of his brain ignored him. And as he groaned again, his fingers curling around the metal, he felt its shape, a ring, and then the next ring, and then the next, and he let out a shuddering breath.
“If this isn’t just about fucking perfect,” Hazard muttered, and with his free hand he found Somers’s short, messy hair and pulled him off. “John, baby.”
“What? Was I doing it wrong?” His lips were puffy, and the dark centers of those turquoise eyes had blown wide, and he ran the back of his hand over his chin.
Groaning again, this time with regret, Hazard pulled up his trousers. “No. You were doing it perfectly. But—” He rattled the metal rings.
Somers wiped his chin again, more slowly, this time, and said, “This isn’t a pool house.”
“That’s a chain with a manacle on the end.”
“Yep.” Hazard let the metal fall and clatter against the tile. He wiped the rust from his hands.
“Ree, this was a school.”
“It was a reform school.”
“It was a school. They were supposed to be protecting these kids. Helping them.”
“You heard Barbara: there were accidents.”
“Chains aren’t an accident, Ree. They built this place to—God, I don’t even want to know. So they had a place they could beat the shit out of the kids, wash them up, and nobody would know?”
“Beat the shit out of them? Probably only if those kids were lucky. Kids disappeared, John.”
Somers eyes cut towards the door and, beyond, the manmade clearing that had once been an excavation. “That wasn’t ever going to be a swimming pool, was it? They were—fuck, they were burying them.”
“That’s where my money’s at.”
The blond man got to his feet, and he looked like he might say more, but a voice interrupted them. It was so close that, for a moment, Hazard thought it came from inside the pool house, but then he realized he was hearing it through the open door.
“I don’t give a fuck if it’s dangerous. I don’t give a goddamn fuck if you’re not ready. I told you one night. One. I owed you that. But not this. You said you’d be gone today, and now you’re—no, I don’t care, you son of a bitch. You get the hell away from—oh. Oh. Is that what this is now? You think I’m going to do what you say because you—” The call must have disconnected because Norwood Grant let out an inarticulate scream and hammered against the pool house’s exterior wall. Clumps of moldy plaster cracked and fell from the ceiling, and then Grant’s muttered words began to trail off as the man moved away.
Hazard let out a breath and met Somers’s eyes.
“What the hell was that?” the blond man asked.
IT’S A KIDNAPPING,” Hazard said.
Nodding, Somers seemed to consider the statement before saying, “Last night, you hear a child crying. This morning, there’s no child anywhere to be found. Grant freaks out when we ask about another guest, and when we look in the manager’s apartment, we find a diaper. Then we start looking around the grounds and find this creep-hole, and Grant has that bizarre conversation.”
“He has it out here, where he thinks none of the guests will overhear him.”
“And he’s talking to someone that he knows but doesn’t like or trust. Someone he allowed to stay here for one night because this guy needed help and Grant owed him a favor. But he was supposed to be gone, and Grant is freaking out because he’s not.”
“It’s a kidnapping.”
“All right, explain that.”
“Whoever this person is, he’s on the run. We know a child is involved. Statistically, it’s unlikely that this criminal is a single father who takes his infant child with him while fleeing crimes.”
“Unlikely, but not impossible.”
“What’s much more likely is that this is a kidnapping: either the small-fry kind, where a father is fighting a custody order, or the big, FBI kind.”
“And from how much Grant was freaking out, this doesn’t sound like a custody squabble.” Somers sighed. “I agree. It’s starting to sound like a kidnapping.”
“It would be nice,” Hazard said, “if I could use my phone.”
“God, I know.”
“Since we’re out in the middle of goddamn nowhere, we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.”
“Turn the screws on Norwood.”
Hazard smiled. “Maybe you do have a brain to go along with that body.”
Lazily, Somers gave him the finger. “Why stay?”
“Because there must be a manhunt going on. That’s why this guy called in a favor: something went wrong with his plan, and he had to hole up for a few days.”
“Right, I get that. But why are we staying?”
“Because we haven’t found the child yet, and nobody else knows the kidnapper is here.”
“Duh. But why both of us?”
“Now who’s the brains?” Somers asked, pecking him on the cheek. “I’ll drive until I’ve got service, call the local PD, and come back.”
“And I’ll talk to Norwood Grant.”
Somers laughed. “Poor guy doesn’t know what he’s in for.”
“No. No, he doesn’t.”
They walked back to the main building, circled around to the gravel lot where the guests parked their cars, and stopped. Hazard swore and kicked at the stone, sending loose shards flying.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Somers muttered, kneeling next to the car. “Maybe we can borrow the golf cart.”
All four tires had been slashed.
HAZARD JABBED the call bell at the front desk. It rang frantically, filling the empty reception area, but there was no sign of Norwood Grant.
“He’s not coming,” Somers said, slouching against the desk. He plucked at his shamrock-covered sweatshirt. “Maybe these things don’t really work?”
“What are you talking about?”
“They’re supposed to bring good luck. And I’m wearing a million of them. Maybe they don’t really work.”
“You’re an idiot sometimes.”
“A complete and total idiot,” Hazard muttered, still jamming the little bell.
Sallow-faced Lorraine Willis poked her head into the room. “Really, that’s just not tolerable. My husband and I are trying to nap—”
“Get back in your room,” Hazard roared.
Lorraine Willis jumped so hard that she literally came out of one shoe, and she fled, limping, without bothering to recover it.
“She’s not going to invite you to play bridge,” Somers said.
“Be quiet, Somers.”
With a growl, Hazard swept the bell from the desk so hard that it broke against the wall with one last, pathetic chime. “There’s the phone. Call Swinney. I’m going upstairs.”
“Not by yourself you’re not.”
“Call Swinney.” Hazard didn’t wait for Somers to respond; he bounded towards the stairs and took them as fast as his long legs would carry him.
“The line’s dead,” Somers shouted after him. “Ree, hold on. Something’s not right.”
At the top of the stairs, Hazard slid around the banister and took off for the manager’s apartment. He had made it four paces before his brain processed the details in front of him: the door to the manager’s apartment hung open, yellow light veed across the floor, and he smelled gunpowder. He skidded to a halt, but not fast enough. His momentum carried him all the way to the door. His shadow snipped the vee of yellow light. He grabbed the doorjamb to stop himself, and the wood exploded under his hand, driving splinters into his palm. For a crazy moment, Hazard thought he had ripped the wood free with the force of his movement. Then the clap of a gunshot caught up with him, and his brain took in the fact that someone had fired at him and missed by inches.
Hazard dragged the .38 from his shoulder holster, his eyes scanning the room for an instant before he ducked behind the wall for cover. In that instant, though, he took in the important details: blood on the wall, blood on the plaid couch, blood in sharp vees on the hardwood, dark, very dark, like shadow puppets cut out of the light. Norwood Grant lay on the floor, his head up against the plaid fabric of the couch like he was just crashing on the floor for a night. His mouth hung open, though, and a bullet had cratered his chest. The far window was open, and wind squalled against Grant’s Retreat, clapping the shutters in their frame. A wiry man with a soul patch and a wisp of mustache sat on the windowsill, a babe in a carrier on his chest.
The babe was screaming. Even over the thunderous echo of the shot, Hazard could tell that the child was screaming hard enough to take his head off. No more than six months old, he had gone bright red with all that screaming, and his dark fuzz of hair stood straight up like he was carrying a static charge.
In that last instant, the wiry man raised the pistol again, and Hazard slung himself out of the door. Somers was clearing the stairs, the .40 caliber Glock held high, but Hazard knew it was too late. The man’s landing was muffled by the ringing in his ears after the shot, but it wasn’t silent, and Hazard knew the risk had passed—for the moment. He jetted into the apartment, jinking right to throw off a shot in case he had made a mistake, but the window was empty. And when Hazard reached it, he let out a swear and drove the butt of his .38 against the frame. Ancient white paint fell in scallops against the back of his hand.
The wiry man had the golf cart and was already disappearing into the woods.
HAZARD TOOK THE KEYS from Grant’s pockets, and the gesture must have disturbed a pocket of air lingering in the dead man’s lungs because pink froth rose around the sinkhole in the center of his chest. Then Hazard and Somers galloped down the stairs, down the length of Grant’s Retreat, through the closed-up portion of the building, and into the garage.
“Fuck no,” Somers said when Hazard stripped back the dust cover from the Ducati.
Hazard tossed him the key to the salt-eaten Ford Pinto and swung a leg over the bike. The black metal was ice cold under him. Ice cold, and smooth as ice too. Like one beautiful frozen sculpture. It was a damn beautiful machine.
“You don’t even know how to ride that thing.”
“Get out there and call for backup. Then swing around; this place has a back road somewhere, and that piece of shit is going to make a break for it; no more hiding and waiting for the search to die down.”
Hazard kicked down, and the Ducati choked and spat.
“Ree, get off the damn bike.”
Hazard fiddled with the throttle and kicked again.
“You are one big dumb piece of shit, Emery Hazard. Get off the bike.”
This time, Hazard gave it just enough gas, and the Ducati roared to life. “You’d better get going,” Hazard shouted over the bike’s roar.
Somers shouted something back, his face red and contorted with anger, but Hazard just walked the bike out of the garage, settled himself, and took a breath. He’d ridden a motorcycle before. He’d even gotten his permit. Sure, it had been a piece of shit Kawasaki with about as much power as a lawnmower. Sure, he’d just about knocked his head off on a street sign. Jesus Christ, this was a bad idea. Then he eased the bike forward, lifted his legs, and opened up the throttle.
The Ducati wasn’t a Kawasaki, and it wasn’t within a goddamn mile of a lawnmower. It rocketed over the uneven ground, and for the first hundred yards, Hazard stayed on by a combination of muscle memory, reflex, and instinct. Most of his brain was too busy shouting shit, shit, shit for him to do anything else.
Then, after those first hundred yards, a semblance of rational thought came back to him in six distinct words: You’re going to hit that branch. Hazard twisted the handlebars, and the Ducati almost slid out from under him. He corrected, and the bike snapped too far in the other direction, bringing the rear around so fast that Hazard thought he’d given himself whiplash. He was laughing, he realized. Huge, whooping laughs, like he’d run the full hundred yards for a touchdown. He knew the laughter was crazy, but he couldn’t stop. He just hunkered down over the handlebars, let the Ducati fly, and laughed like a goddamn maniac.
Ahead of him, the golf cart’s passage through the thick growth was clear: broken branches, freshly torn turf, a clearing of winter grass flattened by its passage. It was easy to follow, and after two agonizing minutes, Hazard glimpsed the white plastic frame ahead. The golf cart had been a smart choice on the kidnapper’s part, but it was still a golf cart, and the Ducati was definitely a fucking Ducati. The wiry man glanced back once and then again, as though unable to believe what he was seeing, and then he bent forward in his seat as though he could lend more speed to his vehicle.
Hazard wasn’t sure what had brought the man back to Grant’s Retreat. Most likely it had been Norwood Grant’s threatening phone call. The kidnapper, unwilling to leave and risk being caught by an ongoing manhunt, wanted to stay at Grant’s Retreat. Norwood Grant, most likely because of Hazard and Somers’s inquiries, knew that his own ass was on the line. They had fought. Grant had insis