Beyond a Reasonable Doubt redux

I haven’t posted this story in a while, and if you aren’t prepared for some earthy language I’d turn away now. If you’re under 18, go away, this isn’t for you. This is a “crime” story, kind of noir, but also almost pornographic in places. I thought about deleting all that stuff, but I think the story might fall apart without all that earthiness. It’s the first person narrative, really, that needs this level of theatrics.

So. what is this?

I posted the original version of this story at LIT almost ten years ago, and it’s been revised once before, just a few years ago, but within these pages lay the seeds of an idea. Predators had it’s origins in here and, oddly enough, I think the way ahead for Predators will come to life with characters you’ll meet in this story. The next chapter of Predators is about a third of the way finished, so probably ten days or so before it posts here, so if you haven’t read this one before you’ll need to in order to know the characters in Predators – going forward, anyway.

Predators moves from Dallas to Paris in the next chapter, and you’ll note that a few of the characters in here speak the local language, but this story takes place in Seattle. So, here they are, Ed Woodward, Richard Tate, Liza and the incomparable Persephone – and our first ever glimpse of those whacky girls in black. Hope you enjoy.

+++++

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (or once upon a dark and stormy night)

I took the call a little after midnight, and yes, it was a dark and stormy night, but I guess in my line of work they usually are – in one way or another. Dispatch called just as I ran across an ex-wife in a very interesting dream, but the sleepy voice on the other end of the line had no way of knowing that, and even if she had, there wasn’t a damn thing either of us could have done about it. Sometimes late night calls are just the luck of the draw, some nights you end up in the wrong place at the right time, and everything goes to hell from there. No one’s fault, you know what I mean? But still, some calls are like a stone skipping across a pond, they ripple through time, across the windmills of your mind – before the sink from view. This one sure would.

I slid out of my berth up forward and looked at the puffy-eyed stranger in the mirror, threw on some clean pants and ran my belt through the loops, then hooked my badge over the left front pocket and strapped my old Sig P-220 into the crusty leather shoulder holster a wife – which one? – had given me twenty years and more than a few nightmares ago. Funny how some things from marriages last longer than others, even if the joke turns out to be on you. On second thought, maybe that isn’t so funny.

I hopped off the boat – another consequence of one wife too many – and walked through the fog-shrouded marina to the department Ford up in the parking lot; I checked ‘in-service’ with dispatch and groaned when the light rain suddenly turned heavy. As if losing another night’s sleep wasn’t enough, I’d forgotten my raincoat, something you do in Seattle at your peril. Oh well, it’s only water, right? Just like water under the bridge. You live and learn; at least, you’re supposed to, anyway. Funny how we never do.

The windshield wipers beat like drums ahead of a funeral march, lightning rippled inside clouds just overhead, and city streets drizzled by in the tired, mechanical cadence. My mouth tasted like crud, too, and to make the morning more interesting I’d felt a sore throat coming on during night, but that didn’t matter: sick, well – or even dead – this was my call and I had to take it. Mine to ‘make or break,’ to solve or to seriously fuck-up, or, for whatever I found out there in the night…to seriously fuck me up. You just never know, and that’s the real fun of police work. Hell, at least the rain was supposed to let up later in the day. But would it? I’ve heard some rains last forever. That’s why there’s Prozac and bourbon. And that’s why some cops give up and swallow a hot chunk of .38 caliber ambivalence…

The address dispatch read-off didn’t mean a thing to me, neither did the run-down apartment building I parked in front of: both were in a pretty bleak area just south of downtown – an area full of docks and warehouses – home to lots of broken dreams and burned-out souls. Three squad cars were already parked out front, their red and blue strobes pulsing through the waterfront rain. The frenzied light created strange moving shadows on the walls of this brick canyon, and the feeling was unsettling, even to my jaded eyes. An ambulance was out front, too, and a couple of firemen sat in the brightly lighted back of the box; they looked bored – tired and bored – because they’d seen it all before  probably ten times this week. Still, those guys looked as though they were sitting in an island of intense light, and that kind of clarity looked out-of-place here in the lightning and foggy rain.

Out-of-place, too, because this part of the city is a land of shadows, and clarity isn’t really welcome in the shadowlands. Truth is a painful subject to the down-and-out, a reminder of all the wrong turns some people make along the way to where they are – to the last stop on their road to nowhere, and I guess it can be kind of rough to turn around and everywhere you look you’re reminded of how far you’ve fallen.

Like that pain in your gut where hunger used to live isn’t enough?

A medical examiner’s rain-streaked van, dull blue with official looking white letters on it, pulled up behind my old Ford right as I got out of the car; Mary-Jo something-or-other was behind the wheel writing on a clipboard but she looked up and waved at me as I walked by. I nodded and wished I’d worn a hat; no one ever told me when I was growing up that cold rain on a head with three hairs left on top could be such all-consuming fun.

Anyway. Mary-Jo something-or-other and her assistant got out of their van (both wearing rain coats and hats, by the way) and followed me into the building; we made it to an elevator just before the door closed and they squeezed in.

“Messy night,” her assistant said. “Gonna rain for a week.”

“No shit,” I said. “Welcome to Seattle.”

“Hey, Woody, you still on the boat?” Mary-Jo asked.

Funny, but I couldn’t remember telling her I lived on the lake, but that’s just another one of the joys that go along with white hair and old hemorrhoids, and I’d known Mary-Jo through work for more than a few years. She was cute in a thirty-something kind of way, but the work had taken a heavy toll on her. She’d filled-out a little too much over the last few years, yet she wasn’t what I’d call fat, either. She was like everyone I’d ever met on the M.E.’s staff: puffy circles under her eyes, cigarette ashes on her blouse, and the requisite weird sense of humor. Working around dead people does that to you, I guess. Even so, working around victims of violent crime sucks the humanity from the marrow of your bones – that life leaves most people pale and dried up. Having worked homicide for fourteen years that’s a statement I feel I can make with some authority. You get used to human degradation, to the meanness that lurks our there, waiting, yet there are things you just don’t get used to. Not and still consider yourself human.

These cheap apartment buildings are all the same, I remembered thinking: rickety old elevators spit us out into a dingy, dimly lit hallway, and why the hell are the ceilings so goddamn low in these shit-holes? Virgil’s “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” should be carved in stone over the entry to these hovels, because that’s exactly what happens to the poor souls living in them. And man, did I feel it just then, looking down that empty, piss-soaked hall to the open door at the end. The walls even smelled like this was a place broken people came to die, to give up and drop dead on the floor, even if it took them years to get around to it. This was a world of frayed carpets and peeling, cracked linoleum, of bare light-bulbs hanging from broken fixtures – like the necks of old men after a last trip up to see the hangman. If I had to write building code violations for a living, I could have turned this place into a career.

Still, the essential truth of places like this is simple: nobody cares whether you live or die. All you need to do is make rent and everyone will just leave you the fuck alone. That’s just the way it is when you live in the shadows: life is all the shit that rolls down on your head – before you die.

Up on that third floor it was the same story: dim grunge everywhere I looked, haunted eyes looking through cracked doors, maybe a little curiosity – but a whole lot of indifference too – mixed with a little fear of the unknown, and the known. Just ahead, right down there in the gloom, I could see the door to Apartment 321 standing wide open, and I saw the indirect light of a camera flash strobe off an unseen wall – so someone from forensics was already up here photographing the scene. A patrolman stood outside the door, looking bored, of course, and because, I guess, some things never change. A couple of nervous neighbors had gathered in the gloom across the hall and were hopping around like birds in a broken cage, but there was no place to fly now, and they knew it. Life had them trapped now, and held them fast to their despair.

I walked past the patrolman and into the room and – stopped dead in my tracks.

The victim was a middle-aged man and he was a shattered wreck; the sight of so much blood still gets to me to this day. The M.E.’s assistant walked-in – but turned away, too late. I watched him stagger back, watched as he flashed hash all over the hallway, and within seconds the poor guy fled to the safety of the elevator, retching as he went.

“Fuck a duck,” Mary Jo said quietly as she came in the room.

“I don’t think so, Ma’am,” I said in my best Joe Friday. “No duck did this.”

The guy was sprawled out on the living room floor, the worn green carpet under him had been unable to absorb all the blood there, and vast pools of the stuff had already coagulated under his head and torso. His throat had been cut and he’d been stabbed in the chest and belly too many times to count, and for good measure his penis had been cut off and stuck in his mouth.

“Jealous wife?” Mary-Jo said as she bent down beside the guy.

“Or boyfriend,” one of the techs from forensics said.

I bent down to have a closer look, saw something odd under the blood on the guy’s belly.

“Somebody get me some gloves, and a wad of four-by-fours. Maybe some saline, too.”

A paramedic brought me a wad of gauze pads and a one liter bottle; I popped the cap and poured a little on the guy’s stomach right below his sternum, then I wiped away the coagulated mess and just had to shake my head at the sight.

Letters, carved in his flesh.

“What does it say?” Mary-Jo asked, looking over my shoulder.

“Love me,” I said absently. Whoever had killed the guy had taken something really sharp and carved the two words into his flesh, even taken time to underline them with a nice, bold slash.

“Well, sometimes love hurts, I guess,” Mary-Jo chuckled.

See, I told you working around dead people sucks.

Mary-Jo had her tackle box open and was taking samples from under his fingernails a minute later – when I saw something in his hair.

“Better take a look here,” I said.

She came up, her gloved fingers sifting through the victim’s hair: “Semen?” she thought out loud.

“Well, I sure ain’t gonna smell it. Tell you what? Why not take a sample and do some of that science shit, maybe tell me just what the fuck it is? Okay?”

She chuckled: “Maybe he shot his load all the way up here…”

I rolled my eyes: “Mary-Jo? You need to get your fat ass laid. Bad, too.”

“You volunteering, Woody?” she said as she removed some of the stuff with a sterile swab. She held it up and looked at the gunk with a UV light, then put it in a vial, before turning around and saying: “Cause, ya know, I swallow…”

I had to get away from her then. Even the dude from forensics stepped back and looked at her all wide-eyed, like she was some real crazy shit. Me? I didn’t quite know what to say. Neither did he. Mary-Jo just laughed and laughed, before she looked at me and licked her lips, letting her tongue linger like a writhing phallus.

+++++

I was in the bedroom poking around, trying to make sense of one more senseless crime scene. There were ligature marks on the guy’s wrists and ankles, and a few deep, small cuts inside his thighs – like the victim had been tortured before he was killed – and the things I’d seen so far just weren’t adding up to a routine murder. The evidence was contradictory. Tied-up but no signs of a struggle? So had this thing started out consensually? And if that was the case, then this had to have been some kind of sexual encounter. A paid encounter – with some really weird ideas about foreplay. So, some kind of hooker?

Yet the evidence said most of the wounds had been the result of an aggressive – and hardly consensual –  assault, before things went way south anyway, so the guy probably didn’t really know his assailant all that well. But what if he had? Then he didn’t know the perp well enough to have trusted her (or yeah, him) with his life. Probably, but then again, what if he had? But then, there was the explosive nature of the wounds on his torso, the penis stuffed in his mouth, the carved words on the guy’s gut…and all that added up to evidence of pure rage. The murderer, or even murderers, were uncontrolled or consumed with blinding rage at this point, either wild with rage or completely off-the-wall in some sort of frenzied lust.

Then there were the basic questions. Was the ‘perp’ a woman? Yet it could have been a kind of ‘Gay’ encounter, too. Maybe a threesome, some kind of ‘bi’ thing gone wrong? Envy? Jealousy? Still, without much more to go on, I was grabbing at straws just now, because without evidence, real evidence or witness statements, the scene was loaded with conjecture.

“Yo! Woody!” Mary-Jo called out from the living room. “Better come take a look at this.”

What else was I missing? I looked at the bed again before I turned to the other room.

“What you got?” She was bent over the guy now, her assistant holding his legs up, shining her UV light up his ass.

“Semen. All over the external anus.”

“Swell.”

“We’ll have to wait until autopsy,” she said as I bent over to take a look, “to sample what’s inside.”

“Peachy. Can’t wait to read the results.”

“Woody? You ain’t going all soft on us down there, are you?”

The woman was merciless, just annoying, and merciless. Hell, it would probably be a month before my poor dick would get up again after seeing that smile – while shining her light up that guy’s ass. “You know, M-J, if I have to listen to anymore of your shit I’m going to go somewhere and join an order. Maybe the Benedictines.”

“Yeah, sure thing Woody. You’ll get all you want there.”

“You’re a twisted bitch, you know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, ain’t it the truth? But I know you love me.”

I looked at the words carved on the guy’s belly and shook my head, then walked back into the bedroom with my back to her laughter. “Very punny,” I said over my shoulder as I disappeared around a corner.

I looked around the bedroom again and poked around the head of the bed; a pillow was stained and still wet with what looked like some sort of clear fluid, and not semen from what I could smell. Urine? There was a length of discarded rope on the floor, and in the corner a pair of pantyhose: “Johansen! Did you get these yet?” I called out to the photographer shooting in the bathroom.

“What? The rope and stuff?”

“Yeah. The pantyhose. Did you get those?”

“Yeah. You ready for me to bag ‘em?”

“Let the M.E. have ‘em, see if they can get some hair or fluid. Maybe we’ll get some DNA.”

“You got something in there for me, Woody?” Mary-Jo asked suggestively as she came into the room. There are days when I wish my last name wasn’t Woodward, and this was one of them. When I heard Johansen snickering in the bathroom I’d have gladly settled for Smith. I guess I should be grateful my folks didn’t name me Richard. Dick Woody. Yeah. That would have been just the thing on a night like this.

+++++

The sun was coming up, the rain had tapered to a drizzle and paramedics were loading the stiff’s body in their ambulance; they’d take it to the lab, then her assistant would get it logged-in for autopsy. Forensics had a pile of evidence to log-in at Central and I had a headache – like I’d just come out of a bad slasher movie and had too much buttered popcorn. I rubbed my eyes while Mary-Jo joked with one of the patrolmen, then groaned when I saw her headed my way. I rolled down my window as she walked up.

“You hungry?” she said.

“You’re like, kidding, right?”

“No, not at all. Seeing a guy’s severed cock stuffed in his mouth like that always makes me hungry.”

“Brings out the man-eater in you, does it?”

She looked down after that, turned serious. “Woody, I need to ask you something. Some serious shit.”

“I could use some coffee,” I said, nodding. “If you’ll stop with all the creepy jokes for a while.”

“Right. Pike Place?”

“Sure. Starbucks? The alley? There ought to be a place to park on Pine or Stewart this early in the morning. Oh, and be sure to park that heap in front of a good restaurant. Good PR. Know they’ll thank you for it.”

“Gee, Woody – that’s nice,” she said, looking at her Medical Examiner’s van. “And you call me creepy?”

+++++

I beat her there, made my way to Post Alley then followed the scent of roasting beans and got a table inside; rain had given way to fast-scudding clouds over the sound, and now the tops of the Olympics were all aglow in the sunrise.

Cool, clean air, roasting coffee, fresh pastry…life suddenly felt good again, and Mary-Jo showed up a few minutes later and I got a couple of two-liter quadruple-shot espressos. Nothing like a slight buzz to start the day, I always say.

“Geesh, I didn’t know they made ‘em this big,” she said while she stared at the cup, daunted.

“Oh, sure. Gets the main pump throbbing.”

“Really? My guess is your heart’s going to explode one of these days.” She looked nervous, like she didn’t know how to say what she had to say.

“You know, I find it best to just spit it out, M-J.”

“What?”

“You had a question? Some serious shit, I think you said?”

“I got divorced, you know,” she began, “a few years back…”

“Well no, M-J, I didn’t know that. In fact, just to set the record straight, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know you were married. Come to think of it, I don’t even know your last name.”

“What? Oh, shit,” she said as she laughed. “Right. Kopecki. Maria Josephina Kopecki.”

I held out my hand: “Ed Woodward. Nice to meet you.”

“I’m sorry,” she continued, “I just took it for granted, ya know, having worked around you all this time…”

“No problem. Now, what’s up?”

“Well, see, I’ve been trying to hook up with someone for a while, like, through the internet. Well, see, I did, sort of, but it didn’t really work out. Turns out the guy, the last one, was kind of creepy. I mean really creepy.”

“Is that, like, ‘really, really creepy’?”

“Don’t make fun of me, alright?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Right, well, see, the problem is, the dude’s a cop.”

“Uh-huh. Define creepy.”

“Well, see, he wanted to meet the first time at this club. A swingers’ club.”

“And?”

“Yeah, well, see, I did, and he had already hooked up with another couple by the time I got there. He wanted to go back to their place and I don’t know why, but, well, see, I did.”

“Really? Why?”

She looked down, just shrugged. “I dunno,” was all she could say – yet everything she said, even the way she said it – looked a little like an act to me. “So, what’s the problem?”

“Well, the guy has shown up a couple of times, like, see, at things where I was.”

“Things?”

“Clubs.”

“Clubs? You mean like…”

“Yeah, swingers’ clubs.”

“This is, well, see, your thing, then?” I was trying my damnedest not to laugh, or even smile for that matter, but the stupidity of young people sometimes leaves me breathless. And if she said ‘well, see’ one more time I was going to have to hurt her. Strangling her came to mind.

“I’ve done it a few times, yeah.” She was speaking quietly now, very self-consciously. “It’s fun.”

“Yeah, well, whatever floats your boat.”

“Well, see, I wasn’t sure if he was following me, or if it was just, like, a coincidence…”

“Well, see, I’m still not seeing the big problem?”

“Well, see, he’s got a big tattoo on his chest. ‘Love me.’ That’s what it says.”

Now she had my attention. “Uh-huh. What’s his name?” I asked as I took a notepad out of my shirt pocket.

“I don’t know, for sure.”

“Oh?”

“Well, see, like I only know his internet address and his screen name.”

“And how do you know he’s a cop?”

“He, like, told me so.”

“Uh-huh. Did he like show you a badge or anything?”

“No,” she said.

Sometimes I wonder how people so fucking stupid could possibly live long enough to reproduce. Then again, maybe more than a few don’t. “Can you describe him?”

“Tall. Six feet, maybe a little more. Not fat but like really buff…”

“Buff?”

“Muscular. Like a weight-lifter.”

“How old?”

“Late-forties, maybe fifty. Red hair and freckles. You know, he’s got like a faint scar on his right cheek.”

She had just described Mark Tottenham, one of the department’s assistant chiefs, to a T; Tottenham had been in charge of Internal Affairs for years, and while I’d heard rumors he was flaky, this was off the charts.

“Got an email address?”

She gave it to me.

“When’s the last time you saw the guy?”

“Night before last.” And her eyes darted to the left, always a sure sign of deceit.

I looked over my glasses at her, tried not to judge the kid too unkindly. “I’ll see what I can find out. Where can I get in touch?” She gave me a number.

“Thanks, Woody. Maybe I could buy you dinner?”

“Yeah. Maybe.” I flipped my notebook over and made a few more notes then put it away. “Well, see, like I got to go now. Do like some cop-like shit. I’ll give you a call this afternoon.” I made my way to the Ford, felt a little sick to my stomach. I checked in with dispatch, then made my way over to Tate’s office.

Richard Tate had been a detective for almost thirty years; now he was doing the PI gig, doing sensitive background checks for corporations and taking photographs of cheating spouses. For the past ten years we had been best friends – I had his back and he had mine – that kind of thing, and Tate has been the only friend I’ve ever had who I’d trust with my life. Now I wanted him to run down the internet stuff for me because I didn’t want any traces of a search on department computers, or my private one for that matter. I gave him the run-down on what Mary-Jo had told me and he whistled, leaned back in a squeaky leather chair and steepled his fingers.

“You ain’t gonna believe this,” he said, “but this ain’t the first time Tottenham has been in the shits for something like this. The tattoo thing, the wife-swapping shit; he’s been into some pretty creepy shit over the years. He supposedly likes, or used to, anyway, to rough-up girls. I heard once he was into kids, too?”

“Kids? And?”

“Nobody found anything, but I’m not sure how hard they looked.”

“What about guys?”

“Guys? What do you mean? Gay shit?”

I told him about the murder scene this morning and he whistled again. “No shit?”

“That’s a fact. No shit, but maybe a little piss.”

“Crap. I can get a friend in Tacoma to run down the IP. Can you get a picture of Tottenham to show to the girl? Just to confirm things?”

“I dunno. Might be better to get someone outside the department. Maybe a reporter,” I said, grinning.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “Then what? They’d want some inside angle or some other tit-for-tat, or fuck, they could get hold of something you’d missed and then what the hell would you do?!”

“Fuck, I don’t know, Tate. I’m tired, been doing this shit for too long.”

“Alright, alright; I’ll take care of it.” He steepled his hands again and sighed. “Shit, it’s probably nothing anyway. No telling how many people have that tattoo.”

I nodded. “Yeah. Who knows? But it couldn’t be that common, could it?”

+++++

I drove back to Central and went up to my office in CID, called dispatch, asked them to run-off the NCIC print-outs I’d called in earlier. I wanted to know more about the background of the victim, but turns out I wasn’t ready for what came next.

“He’s clean, Woody,” Trisha Wickham told me. “You wouldn’t believe how clean.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s FBI. White-collar crime unit, mainly computer crime. Talked to the SAC; he filled me in. The guy’s as clean as they come, too; fifteen year veteran, wife and two kids.”

“Shit. Anyone told the family yet?”

“Nope. SAC wanted to talk to you first.”

“Got a number handy?” She read it off to me. “Thanks, Trish. Appreciate it.”

“Woody?”

“Yeah?”

“This one doesn’t feel right. Something big, maybe. Be careful, okay?”

She hung up before I could ask what she meant.

Now just what the fuck was going on?

+++++

Peter Brennan was the Special Agent in Charge of SeaTac FBI; I’d known him for years and he was generally a straight-shooter, a no nonsense, old school kind of Irish-American cop. He was waiting for my call, and he sounded anxious.

“Woody, what can you tell me? Any suspects?”

I gave him the basics but left out a bunch of details. “Hell, Pete, we haven’t confirmed anything yet, don’t even have the fingerprints processed yet. Was your boy supposed to come in this morning?”

“Yeah. He’s a no show, his wife said he went out early last evening on a call, never came back. She called in about six-thirty this morning, worried.”

“Sounds about right.”

“Yeah. Anything else you can tell me?”

“Let me pull the prints and I’ll run ‘em over in a bit. Got any time this morning?”

“I’ll make time.”

“Okay, Pete. Seeya later.” I hung up, walked down to the locker room and picked-up my mail, then dropped by dispatch to pick up the NCIC and DL print-outs that would have to be attached to my preliminary report. Trish was not there so I turned and walked back to the elevator.

And Tottenham walked into to the elevator right after I did.

“Hey Woody, how’s it going?”

“Fine, Chief. You?”

“Can’t complain. You still livin’ on the boat?”

I laughed to avoid the question. “Well, it worked for a while but it got real small, real quick.”

“I can imagine. Brennan called me a while ago. You got the case?”

“Yessir.”

“Any leads?”

“Not a thing, Chief.” The elevator binged and the door opened.

“Well, keep me posted.”

“Right, Chief.”

“Seeya later.”

“You bet.”

The door closed and lurched up to the next floor; I walked to my office and got my coat, then called forensics and told them to fax a copy of the fingerprints to Brennan. My other line lit up and I took the call: it was Dick Tate.

“Hey Woody! Long time no see, amigo. Wondered if you’d like to have lunch and swap lies.”

“Hey there yourself! What the hell have you been up to? You still chasin’ lyin’ husbands and cheatin’ wives?”

“Only when I’m not screwing the wives!”

“Yeah. Ain’t Viagra a wonderful thing?” We laughed. “Listen, I have to drop by and see Pete Brennan for a minute, but how ‘bout I meet you for a bowl of chowder at Betty Lincoln’s?”

“Be good; like old times. Say about noon?”

“That’ll be fine.”

“Okay, buddy. Can’t wait. Be good to catch up on things.” He hung up; I’d managed to tell him of FBI interest in the case and told him to meet me near Ballard Locks, and he’d told me he had something important to discuss. Hopefully, if anyone was monitoring the line they’d not get too suspicious.

I drove over to the main FBI office by the Wa-Mu building and talked with Brennan; he told me they’d handle the notification and I thanked him.

“Any leads?” he asked.

“Nothing solid yet. I’ll let you know as soon as something breaks. I assume you’ll start your own investigation?”

“Already have.”

I nodded. “You got a private number?”

He squinted, sat down and wrote out two numbers: “The first is unlisted, anytime. The second is my home number.”

“Understood.”

“You got something, don’t you?” he asked.

“I need to confirm a few things, probably know something in the morning.”

He nodded. “You need me, just call.”

“Pete, if I need you it’ll be too goddamn late to call.”

“That bad?”

“Worse.”

He leaned back, looked me in the eye. “You sure you don’t want to fill me in?”

I shook my head. “Better in the morning.”

“Okay,” he said, but I could see the gears turning now.

“Pete?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t put a tail on me, okay? I’m expecting someone to try and I don’t want you to run ‘em off.”

“Fuck.”

“Promise, Pete?”

He stood, held his hand out. “Scout’s honor, Woody,” but his eyes darted to the left.

I smiled. Like I said, Pete was ‘good cop’ – and by that I mean – predictable.

I drove down to my boat on Lake Union and put the Zodiac in the water, then took off toward the locks. So far I hadn’t seen anyone on my tail, either on the ground or in the air, but the game is best played by people who know how to blend in. It’s a hard game to play well, and the stakes are always high.

Tate was standing on a dock about a hundred yards shy of the locks and I pulled over, let him hop on; if anyone had followed him they’d have to hustle to follow us now – but he hadn’t seen a thing either – and that worried me. I puttered over to the south side of the channel and we both watched the shore as we trolled along.

“Victim was an FBI agent, supposedly clean.”

“His name Dan Harvey?” Tate asked.

“Yeah. How’d you find that out?”

“The IP for Mary-Jo’s contact. It’s Tottenham alright, and there’s been a lot of activity between him and this Harvey fellow over the past few months. A lot of meets at a code name, some place they refer to as the Hole in the Wall.”

“My. How original.” I’d need to look at my notes, but hadn’t MJ mentioned that?

“So Harvey was FBI, huh?”

“Yeah, and supposedly clean. White collar crime.”

“Think maybe he got onto someone, maybe Mark?”

“Possible, but I doubt it. Why all the contact?”

“Maybe they were working a joint task force? Undercover?”

“That’s a stretch. Ran into Mark this morning; he didn’t let on he knew the guy. Any luck on a photo?”

“Yeah. Pulled one off the net, from the Post-Intelligencer; about a year old, so it ought to do.”

“Good deal.”

“So Mark knew the guy and didn’t own up to it? And the tattoo? You think the girl might know the name of the club?”

I smiled. “Yeah, I think so, but she’s a little hinckey.”

“Say, think we could grab a bowl while we’re out?”

“Yeah. You know, that actually sounds pretty good.” I upped the throttle and scooted up channel toward Fisherman’s Terminal and tied-off below Chinook’s. With any luck we’d miss the lunch crowd; we got lucky and sat way back from the entrance, looking out on the fishing boats; from here Tate covered the entrance and I watched the dock. We ordered clam chowder and coffee and had just begun to relax when Dick sat upright and coughed attention.

“Tottenham,” he said under his breath. “At the desk, trying not to look this way.”

“Fuck.”

“What the fuck have you gotten into, Woody?”

“Your guess is as good as mine?”

“Well, here he comes…”

The waitress came by and dropped off two huge bowls of chowder – and a gallon jug of Tabasco.

“Damn, that looks good!” Tottenham said as he walked up. “Tate! What are you doing here? Where’s your Nikon?”

I turned and looked up at Tottenham.

“Sheesh! Well, looky who’s here!” Tate said. “Surprise, surprise.”

“Hey Chief,” said yours truly, feigning a little surprise of my own.

“Shit. This is like old times, huh?”

“You alone, Mark?” Dick asked. “Wanna join us?”

“Kind of you to ask, but no. I’m meeting Pete Brennan, should be here any minute.”

My heart lurched. So, he had me tailed?

“Well, good to see you Dick. Woody, check in with me this afternoon, would you?”

“Right, Chief.”

Brennan walked in and they took a table across the restaurant from us.

“I think I’ve lost my appetite,” Tate said.

“At these prices? Better go find it, and fast.”

He laughed. “Too bad you’re on duty.”

“Ain’t that the fuckin’ truth. Nothing like cold one and hot chowder.”

“So. What the fuck do you think’s going on?”

“I have no clue, Amigo. Maybe Harvey found something on Tottenham, or maybe they were just into the same shit and they met up with Cruella de Vil in that apartment. Anyway, I asked Pete not to throw a tail on me. I didn’t think he was lying when he said he wouldn’t, but guess what?”

“Really? I wouldn’t count on that prick to not sell out his mother.” He sighed, looked out over the water for a minute, then looked at me. “Well, anyway, Woody, you’re missing something. Something big. Why the hell would Tottenham and Brennan both be here? Right now? I hate to say it, but it sure feels like someone’s following you. Someone really uptight, too.”

“Us,” I said.

“Right. Us.” He coughed, looked over at Brennan. “Thanks, I think.”

“Doesn’t matter. Food’s good, sun’s out… what else is there?”

“A pretty girl with a warm mouth?” He looked away, sighed. “Yeah, I guess, Woody.” He shook his head at that, and I really couldn’t blame him for feeling put-upon. “You’d better think about lining something up with the girl soon.”

“Yeah. You working anything major right now?”

“Nope. Not even anything minor.”

“Things that slow?”

“Slower. In a recession nobody gives a damn if their spouse is cheating ‘cause nobody has any money. I’d sure hate to be a divorce lawyer these days.”

“No, you wouldn’t. I can guarantee you they made enough off me the last twenty years to keep themselves in Guccis the rest of their goddamn lives.” We laughed, but we’d both been there and done that. Most cops have, and I guess that’s why most cops grow old by themselves. Bitter and cynical doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We finished up and paid the bill, Dick went over to say ‘bye to Tottenham and Brennan while I washed up, then we hopped into the Zodiac and continued up channel to the lake, and my boat. The shore was lined with boat dealers and houseboats, and even Tate wanted to linger and look over the little floating shack where they filmed “Sleepless in Seattle.”

Whoever it was tailing us was doing a good job, because neither of us picked up anything until I turned into the little marina where I kept my boat – and even then he was hard to see. Standing up on the second deck of a parking garage overlooking the lake, we saw a man with binoculars and a walkie-talkie watching us; he looked away when we looked at him, then stepped inside a van.

“Dark suit,” Tate said, snickering.

“Sunglasses,” I said, scowling.

“FBI,” we both said, laughing. It was an old joke.

“Yeah, but pretty good anyway,” Tate said, then we looked up at the garage again.

“Why would they be watching us?” I said, thinking out loud. “I mean, we’re not suspects?”

“Wanna follow you, I guess; see where you lead ‘em?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe? What else?”

“Keep us from getting too close to something.”

“Woody? You’re getting paranoid.”

“Damn straight. I just hope I’m getting paranoid enough.”

“Amen to that, Brother.”

+++++

I dropped Tate off by the locks as the sun dropped behind some clouds; the plan was for him to fall way behind me on an agreed-upon route and see who was tailing me. I took my phone out and slipped it into my shirt pocket, hooked up a hands-free headset and took off down Market Street, then turned right on 15th Avenue and crossed Ballard Bridge.

The phone chirped and I looked at the screen. Dispatch. Trish?

“Woodward,” I answered.

“Detective, there’s an urgent call for you from the Medical Examiner’s office.”

“Gimme the number.” I scribbled the info on a pad and hung up. The phone chirped immediately. Tate this time.

“Yeah?”

“Two cars. Fed plates, and I’m pretty sure there’s one on me too.”

“Right. Go to the barn.”

There was no way to beat this kind of operation; too many resources had been allocated – and that, really, told me all I needed to know. The FBI had been running some kind of op; Special Agent Harvey had been made and neutralized. Now, the question was: what role was Tottenham playing, and what did Brennan know, or not know about him?

I drove back to the lake along Mercer, wound around to Westlake and pulled into the MarinaMart lot and locked the car; I stopped at the pay phone outside the gate and called the MEs office. Mary-Jo picked up on the first ring:

“You alright?” I asked her.

“Yeah. You know who the guy is yet?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. So do I.”

“What about the stuff you found inside the back door?”

“His property.”

“Right. Want some dinner?”

“Sure.”

“Ray’s Boathouse, Shilshole. Six o’clock.”

“Okay.”

“And you’ll be followed.”

“Oh, okay?” She sounded pretty uncomfortable now. There was a little quiver in her voice when she continued: “You too?”

“We’ll talk then.” I hung up, took out my mag-key and held it up to the gate; it buzzed open and I walked though, then turned when I heard a lot of cars pulling in. Two black Fords slipped into the lot and parked near mine; I thought I might as well wait for Tate – and he pulled in a few moments later – trailing his own caravan of black Fords. Tate got out and surprisingly all the other feds did too – Brennan in the lead. As Tate walked my way the entire entourage did as well, so I stood by the gate and held it open, watched as they filed past silently – and there was something almost comical in their clinging uniformity – like every black suit and all the Ray-Bans in the Pacific Northwest had been scooped up by FBI agents in Seattle, and here they were now, my very own parade of Men in Black.

I walked past them and hopped on board the boat – Brennan and one other agent I didn’t know followed me on board, and Tate brought up the rear; we went down below and I put on a shitload of coffee.

“Why’d you have to bring him in on this?” the unknown agent said, pointing at Tate.

I looked at the man and took in his smug swagger, his pompadour hair, then looked at Pete Brennan: “Don’t y’all still administer a test that measures the basic stupidity of your applicants?”

Brennan laughed; Pompadour bristled.

“Look, Woodward,” Pompadour said, “its hard enough keeping a lid on things without you, well, without you bringing in every broken down old cop in Seattle.”

“I guess you don’t plan on getting old?” I said. “Does that about sum up your little corner of the world, asshole?”

Pompadour huffed-up, stepped toward me. “Sit down, Rollins,” Brennan commanded. Pompadour sat, just like any other well-trained Doberman might, but he kept his eyes locked on mine. Did I see him drooling, too?

“I thought you weren’t going to throw a tail on me, Pete?”

“I didn’t know you were bringing in reinforcements.”

I nodded. “Hard to know who you can trust, isn’t it? I’m sure you understand.”

SAC scowled. “Did you get the ME’s report yet?”

“Nope.” He handed me a copy.

“Read it. It’s enlightening.”

I read it. The conclusions were pretty freaky. “Someone dosed him with Viagra?”

“Yeah. He might have been unconscious, by the time they killed him, anyway. Apparently some people can pop a woody, even in their sleep.” Pompadour laughed at the pun, I flipped him the bird. “Best guess is they jacked him off, then shot him up with potassium, caused a massive heart attack.”

“They didn’t find any…”

“No, it doesn’t hang around too long… not much of a half-life. But there are a couple of puncture wounds consistent with injection sites…”

“Insulin, maybe?”

“Fuck, are you kidding?” Brennan said.

“Had to ask. Induces a coma. Kind of a double tap.”

“Anyway, I hope he was out – before they did that to him. Would freak anyone out, you know?”

I shrugged. “Okay Pete, why were you with Tottenham this morning?”

“He called, wanted to meet.”

“And?”

“And nothing. He didn’t even mention the case. Wanted to talk about some Homeland Security shit.”

“You know about the tattoo on Tottenham’s chest?”

“What…no?”

“Says ‘Love Me’, right there in red and blue, right over his heart.”

“Fuck.”

“No shit, Sherlock.” Pompadour said on hearing that little tidbit, then he turned livid white on us.

“Know any people in your office with something similar?” Both men shook their head.

“So, there’s no tail on Mark,” Tate stated, a dour look on his face. “That’s great. A roman legion on our ass and not one on the prime suspect. Perfect.”

“Hey, not our fault,” Pompadour said. “You kept us out of the loop, remember?”

“I have a hunch,” I interrupted, “that we’re dealing with a club of some sort. There may well be a lot of guys with that tattoo. Anyway, I hate jumping to conclusions.”

“Right,” Brennan said, but I could tell he was still holding something back. Who the fuck was this clown he’d brought with him?

“So, what’s your interest in the case, other than losing an agent?”

“Sorry,” Pompadour said. “Need to know only.”

“So, let me get this straight, just so I’m crystal clear. You think I don’t need to know?”

“No. Not yet, anyway.”

I looked at Brennan. He shrugged, said not one word, and didn’t even bother to look apologetic.

“Fine,” I said. “That’s just fucking great.”

“Your tax dollars at work,” Tate said, shaking his head.

“When are you meeting the girl from the MEs office?” Pete said.

“What? You don’t know?” Tate shot back.

“There’s a limit to what we can do, Bucko. You know? Congress? Surveillance courts, all that shit? Ring any bells?”

“Doesn’t seem to have stopped you guys much lately,” Dick fired back.

Brennan’s face was a blank mask: “So anyway,” he said, “we’re not monitoring phones. Yet.”

“You going to drop the tail?”

“No. Not unless you’ll wear a wire, and a locator.”

“No way. Not yet.”

“Then we’ll be around.”

“So, why this meet?”

“Just don’t try to shake us, alright,” Pompadour said. “Waste of time; anyway, your field-craft sucks.”

“Bet you didn’t know your mother gave me a blowjob after lunch,” Tate said. “She’s coming back for seconds in a half hour.”

Pompadour fumed, stomped up the companionway ladder and jumped off the boat.

“Nice, Tate. Real class,” Brennan said sarcastically. “By the way, Harvey was his partner.” We looked away, things jumped into focus. “Alright, the low-down is this: we’re going to be on you, that’s the point of this meet. And don’t try to drop the tail, you’ll just make my team angry, and you don’t want to do that.”

“Why, Pete? What are you saying?”

“Just listen to me, Woodward. Don’t think. Just listen. Act like you don’t know or don’t care, your choice, but don’t shake the guys on your six.”

“I don’t like it,” Tate interjected. “Not one fucking bit.”

“I don’t care, Dick. I’m perfectly happy to lock you up for a few days if you won’t play ball.”

I got it then. Pete’s reasoning was clear. “Okay, Pete. I got it.”

He looked at me, relieved. “Be careful, Woody. I mean it.”

“I hear you.”

He tromped up the steps and all of the Feds trooped off behind him.

“Okay,” Tate said, “what am I missing?”

“We’re the bait, the tethered goat.”

“Oh, shit.”

“I couldn’t have said it better.” Because Brennan had told me what I really wanted to know. This was big. Bigger than big. And I was in real danger, too.

+++++

I looked at my watch: a little after three.

“Better call Tottenham now,” I said as I fished out my phone. I called dispatch, they transferred me.

“Chief? Woodward.”

“Woody! How was ole Richard doing? Is he getting along well?”

“Not much business, he says. Barely making ends meet.” Tate flipped me the bird.

“Oh really? Too bad. Well, pensions don’t make up for sloppy retirement planning.”

“No sir, they sure don’t.”

“Do you have the medical examiner’s report on the FBI guy?”

“I’ve got to go over and pick it up, sir.”

“Oh? Well, fine, fine. Keep me posted on this, would you? Pete seemed pretty bent about it at lunch.”

“Will do, sir.” And with that, the line went dead.

“You gonna meet the girl?” Tate asked.

“Yeah. At Ray’s.” I shook my head. “Guess what they talked about at lunch?”

“Yeah. One lie leads to another. Always does.” He grinned. “So, Shilshole for dinner?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re gonna put on ten pounds today.”

I looked down at my stomach. It was still flat – except when I sat. Well, maybe a little when I stood…

“I gotta take a nap,” I said. “Feel like I’ve been up for two days.”

“Okay if I sit here for a while?”

“Sure.” I went forward and crawled in my bunk; I think I was out before my head hit the pillow. I dreamt again, about an ex-wife giving me a hand-job, with razor blades between her fingers.

+++++

Someone was shaking me, shaking me from somewhere far away.

I opened my eyes. “Fuck, that hurts…” I think I said.

“What?”

“I said fuck. As in, ‘why is that whenever someone wakes me up it’s not an insanely gorgeous redhead wanting to sit on my face.’”

“Ah. Yeah, I pretty much have the same problem. It’s called getting old, Dickweed.”

I sat up, rubbed my eyes. They burned, burned like someone had thrown acid in them. I reached over and grabbed some eyedrops, asked Tate what time it was while I struggled to put them in.

“Five-ten. You got time to take a bath?”

“Thanks, yeah. What have you been up to?”

“Looking through your porn stash.”

“Hah-hah.”

“I was reading a book. ‘Cruising in Serrafyn,’ by a couple named Pardey. Pretty cool stuff.”

“Yeah, I met ‘em at the boat show a couple years back. Nice people.”

“Well, I get it now. The whole boat thing, keep it simple.”

“Right. Well…”

“Oh, shit, excuse me…”

I shut the head door behind him and hopped in the shower, looked in the steamed up mirror when I got out and freaked when I saw that stranger in there again. Man, getting old hurts, and in all the wrong places.

We locked the boat and went up to the parking lot, and all the black Fords were nowhere to be seen. Spooky.

“Okay. You sure you don’t want me to join us?”

“No. I’m gonna go home. Got to feed my cat, commune with some Hustler magazines for a while.”

I laughed. “As long as you keep the two activities separate!”

“That’s just gross, Woody.”

“Well, it’s nice to know you’re still getting some pussy.”

He stared at me, then shook his head. “You need to get out more.”

“Hey, where do ya think I’m going?”

“This ain’t a date, Woody. Don’t forget that. Anyway, she sounds like damaged goods to me.”

I nodded. “Probably right.”

“I’ll keep my phone on,” Tate said.

“Right. Be careful.”

“You too.”

We got in our cars and I took off toward the bridge, then retraced my earlier route out past the locks and pulled into Ray’s. The lot was nowhere close to full; I wondered where the Feds were, and I was worried about Tate, too…

Mary-Jo pulled into the lot and parked next to me; I got out and walked around, opened her door and helped her out. She’d gotten dressed for the occasion – my khakis and boat shoes were a little shabby next to her rig. I held out my arm and she slipped hers in mine and we walked in, checked-in and we walked out to a table looking over the Sound.

“You look fantastic,” I told her, and the truth of the matter was she really did look great. Sexy as hell. In fact, she didn’t look anything like she had earlier that morning: her hair was down, her face was made-up discreetly, the dress… well, classy described it well. Black, low-cut in front, and her legs were simply stunning – and there was a lot to see, too, and I felt myself responding to her before I knew what was happening. We ordered drinks and looked out over the Sound – a ferry was making it’s way across the water to Bainbridge Island, the snow-capped Olympics stood beyond the Sound, beyond the ferry, and I suddenly wanted to get away from all the ugliness in this world – to just leave it all behind – while I still could.

“What are you thinking about?” Mary-Jo asked.

“Out there,” I said, pointing.

“What about it?”

“I think,” I sighed, “I’m ready to retire.”

“What? Out there?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, right. The boat.”

“So, have a look at this.” I pulled out the image of Tottenham and handed it over; she unfolded the paper and looked at it for a split second then folded it up and handed it back. “Is that him?”

“Yup. No question.”

“What can you tell me about the club? Where you two met?”

“Like I said, he called it the Hole in the Wall, but it doesn’t have a name on it. Anywhere. It’s a red brick building over on Leary.”

“By the docks?”

“Yeah. I don’t know the address but I could take you there, show you where it is.”

I nodded. “Tell me about the people in there.”

“Like what?”

“Anything that comes to mind. Rich, poor, black, white – whatever.”

“Well, I’d say mainly middle-aged white people, probably pretty educated group as a hole. Some nights they have erotic poetry readings, other nights erotic art shows.”

“Do people just hook-up there, or do people have sex there as well?”

“To tell you the truth, Woody, I’m not sure. I think the place is pretty big, but I’m not sure how big. I’ve only seen a few rooms, but I think it was an old warehouse, looks like it’s been redone. A lot of money, too.”

“Is there a bar?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Any people doing drugs? You know, out in the open?”

“I saw some guys doing lines off the top of a girl’s thighs. Does that count?”

We laughed.

“Probably so,” I added, then I looked her in the eyes: “How many times have you been?”

She looked away: “More than a… more than once.”

“With Tottenham, or with other people?”

She didn’t answer.

“What are you into, Mary-Jo? Swinging? Or is it something else?”

Again, she just looked away, didn’t answer. She was either embarrassed, or acting that way.

“I need to know, Mary.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I know.” She seemed to gather herself inward, as if to protect herself from a storm, then she looked up at me. Her eyes were really lovely, soft, kind, but something darker than confusion lurked in her shadows.

“Tell me,” I said again, and I remember that now. I commanded her to tell me, and something seemed to snap-to when I spoke in that tone of voice.

“I’m a Bottom, Woody.”

“A Bottom? What’s that? Like something to do with anal sex?”

She laughed. “No Woody, it means I’m submissive. I do what people command me to do.”

“What do you mean, ‘what they command you to do’?”

“Sexually, though sometimes it’s more than just role playing. You know, like the French maid and the Gestapo interrogator?”

“What? You mean like bondage and stuff?”

“If that’s what my master wants to do.”

“Your master?”

“Yeah. The Top, the person in charge.”

“The person? You mean, like, see, a man, or a woman?”

“Yes.”

I coughed, took a long pull on my drink.

She reached up, wiped my forehead: “You’re sweating, Woody. Does that turn you on?”

It was my turn to look away.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Woody. Everyone has fantasies, everyone wants to let go a little.”

“Yeah? I suppose so.”

“What would it be, Woody? Would you like to tell me what to do? Would you like to do that?”

Her hand was under the table now, then it was resting on my thigh. I cleared my throat as her hand drifted up to the zipper on my khakis.

“Or maybe you’d like it better if I told you what to do. Would that do it for you, Woody? Would that trip your trigger?”

She was squeezing my cock through my pants, and I’m pretty sure I felt an eyelid trembling.

“Ooh, Woody! I think that’s it! I think you’d like it if I told you what to do!” She squeezed again: “Do you feel that, Woody? Feel that need? To let loose, lose control? Let me take control? For a while? Would you let me?”

“Let you? What?”

“Let me take you there, Woody?”

“You keep squeezin’ my dick like that and you won’t have to take me anywhere. I’ll pop-off right here.”

Her eyes smiled, she licked her lips. “Really?” I felt her foot on my ankle, my heart hammering in my skull.

She slowly pulled the zipper down, undid the belt, then she reached in and pulled my cock out; our waiter came over to fill our water glasses and she looked up at the kid: “Would you bring me a clean glass?” she said to him. “An empty one, please?”

“Certainly, Ma’am.”

He disappeared and she started squeezing my cock again, milking it. Every now and then she’d pause and run her fingernails up and down the shaft, then she’d jerk it fast a few times before squeezing it again, milking me, bringing me to the edge and letting me float there.

The waiter came back and dropped off the glass.

“Take it, Woody. The glass. Hold it down there.”

I did as she said, felt my balls boiling, my cock getting hard as a rock.

“Hold it there, Woody; let me shoot it in the glass.”

I did as best I could, but within a blinding flash I started to cum. And cum. And cum some more.

“Jesus, Woody! How long has it been?”

I couldn’t answer. I was biting my lower lip, holding on to the edge of the table with one hand and the glass with the other…I was still cuming…and it felt like it lasted forever…

“Hand me the glass now, Woody.”

I brought it up from under the table and put it on the table.

“Woody?”

“Yeah?”

“No, Woody. Not yeah. It’s ‘Yes, Mistress.’” She squeezed my prick with her fingernails to drive home the point. “Woody, I said hand me the glass.”

I picked it up and put it in her hand, then she released my cock and I groaned.

A couple at the table across from ours was looking at us, they were leaning close and whispering something to one another. Mary-Jo held the glass up to the dim light like she was examining a fine wine, then she drank the cum – all of it – in one smooth motion. The man across from us squirmed in his seat, the woman with him was directing all her attention to his lap, and soon he held up his own glass, as if toasting us, and then he handed his glass of cum to the woman.

I guess it really hit me then; the couple across from us were our minders, here to keep an eye on us. Just part of the club, I guess, but I felt cold dread as I looked at the smiling couple across from us, as I watched the woman drink down the milky contents of her glass.

+++++

I felt my phone go off in my coat pocket and excused myself, went up on the front deck and called dispatch, trying to conceal the alarm I felt. The only way anyone could have found out about our dinner plans was through Mary-Jo – or Tate, and the latter just wasn’t possible – was it?

“Woodward.”

“Detective, we have officers at the scene of a homicide; they want to talk to you directly. Can you take a number?”

“Go ahead,” I said as I fumbled for my pad. I scribbled as she spoke, then hung-up and dialed the new number.

“Woodward.”

“Detective Woodward?”

“Yeah. Go ahead.”

“Ah, yessir, we’re going to need you to come out here.”

“What’s going on?”

“Can’t say sir. Not on an unsecured line.”

“Well okay, but where the hell are you?” I wrote down the address of a hotel out north off the Interstate. “I’ll be there in about an hour,” I said as I closed the phone, then: “Fuck!” I walked back to the table, sat down beside Mary-Jo, avoided looking at her.

“You okay?” she asked. The couple across from us had departed, I noted.

“A call.” I couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“You have to take it?”

“Apparently so.” Fuck! What had I just let happen, and who was this girl?

Our waiter had brought our dinner while I was out; I had a beautiful King Salmon and some steamed broccoli Hollandaise and I was damned if I was going to walk away from it, so I lit into it as fast as I politely could.

“Goddamn, someone back there sure knows how to cook fish!” I said as I finished up. I flagged our waiter, got the bill and paid up. “Sorry,” I said as I stood.

“I understand. Will you call me later? Let me know you’re alright?”

“Sure.”

I walked out to the Ford, saw a note tucked under the windshield wiper and plucked it up while I opened the door. ‘Watch your six… T’

Goddamn! Tate hadn’t gone home after all, and he’d seen something. I closed the door and my phone went off again.

“It’s me,” he said. “Did you get the note?”

“Four.”

“Need to twenty-five with you,” he said. “Betty Lincoln west?”

“Four.” I started the Ford and drove the three blocks over to the visitor’s parking lot by the locks; Tate winked his lights and I drove over and parked next to him.

“There’s a shitload of traffic on the scanner. I mean, even the Chief’s on the air, en-route to a Signal One.”

“Tottenham?”

“No, no, not an A/C… I mean THE Chief.”

“Fuck.”

“Nice night to dawdle over dinner, Dickhead!”

“I just got the call, I think. That girl…something’s not right.”

“Your face is flushed. You alright?”

I shook my head. “Not sure yet.”

“What did she do to you?”

I told him.

“Shit. Nobody ever done that to me, Amigo. How come you get all the fun calls?”

“I dunno. Want me to tag along?”

“If you’re not too tired, sure. The Silver Cloud, in Mukilteo.”

“Wow, out of jurisdiction, no less. Oh well, I’ll follow you.”

We made our way over to I-5 and blended in with the northbound traffic and I didn’t even bother to look for a tail; we probably would have looked like a freight train if I had. Twenty minutes later I exited and we wound our way west between huge Boeing assembly buildings, then down to the shore. More patrol cars – local ones, more flashing lights, a couple of ambulances. I could see Chief Anders waiting in the lobby, looking at his watch.

“Great! Just fucking Great!”

I grabbed my stuff and walked in, looked for the Chief and walked over to him. He was on his phone talking in hushed tones: “Okay, he’s here now. I’ll call you in a half hour.”

“Chief Anders,” I said as I walked up.

“Where the hell have you been? And wipe that shit off your shirt!”

I looked down, saw a nice, shiny glob of salmon on my shirt and groaned.

“Who’s that with you? Richard Tate?”

“Yessir.”

“He’s retired, isn’t he? What’s he doing here?”

“Chief, I’m still active in the reserves; just putting in my hours.”

“You were homicide, weren’t you?”

“Yessir.”

“Oh, well, come on, then.” We walked up a flight of stairs and down a hall that stretched off into infinity to an area cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape. We walked past two patrolmen into the room.

Mark Tottenham lay face-up on the bed, his penis had been cut off and was dangling from his mouth. The tattoo on his chest had been cut out of his flesh, and it looked like he’d been stabbed about a hundred times in the chest and belly.

Now I didn’t know what to think. I looked at the Chief. There was a tear running down his cheek and his teeth were clenched so hard the side of face was trembling. Tate walked over to Tottenham’s body while I walked around to the other side of the bed. There was a glass there, the rim smeared with red lipstick, and obviously, whoever she was, she’d drunk a shitload of cum from the glass.

I groaned inside, thought of MJ, and knew her little performance hadn’t been coincidence. Tate knew it too, as soon as he saw the glass. I heard her say “Call me Mistress” and wanted to turn and run away.

Some nights are worse than others, you know. Nature of the beast, I guess you could say; no two nights are ever the same yet somehow they all are, but this was like déjà vu all over again. Even with more than a decade of looking at wrecked and mutilated bodies, this one got to me. I don’t care what you have to say about it, or what you think: when you look at one of your own, a brother officer, your feelings are…different. The Wall can’t get up fast enough and you’re left wide open and vulnerable – and just like every other Joe on the street you feel a big, cold slap on the face as reality breaks over you like a wave of black hate. There’s no other way to look at it: you really feel the scene around you and it hurts. It hurts because you don’t get to play the objective observer anymore, you’re not just a cop. It hurts because the pain hits you where you live – and there’s no place to hide. And you can’t run from your feelings, either. They come for you hard and fast, grab you by the throat, like a leopard grabs a goat by the throat, and you know it won’t let go until you stop breathing.

Chief Anders was shook up bad, too. He was standing at the foot of this perverted hotel bed looking down at Tottenham’s body and I couldn’t even begin to guess what was running through the old man’s head. They’d gone to Academy together, been close friends for just a little longer than forever – and now this. This death wasn’t a random drive-by or another officer run-down by a drunk driver; this wasn’t a pissed-off veteran blowing his brains out after a bitter divorce or a forced retirement. No, this one was different…because everything in that room was so goddamn dark and twisted – so evil – and what was left of The Wall came tumbling down.

It looked like the body on the bed had gotten there on its own, so this was a consensual encounter. But then – what happened? Had Tottenham been betrayed, or set up, perhaps? Still, as I looked around the room it hurt most of all because it hinted at something immeasurably dark and vicious – prowling within our ranks.

Whoever it was had not bothered to untie the wrist and ankle restraints this time, and Tottenham’s body was obscenely splayed; he looked like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man – drawn in blood on bleached white sheets. There were deep impressions all over his body, too, marks not easily explained.

Only Tate seemed relatively unaffected. He’d never really cared for Tottenham, thought he was a martinet and had done sloppy work in Internal Affairs, yet Tate seemed to be the first to grab hold of the implications of having the head of IAD compromised; I didn’t get it yet because none of us had quite grasped the depth of departmental penetration this murder implied.

+++++

This was another city’s jurisdiction, but after learning the identity of the victim we’d been asked to join their investigation; given the FBIs tertiary interest I wasn’t surprised when Brennan walked through the door. Tate and I helped the local detectives, a crusty old veteran named Spiros Pantazis, and a new detective, a four year veteran – who also happened to be a woman.

Her name was Susan Eklund, and my first impression of her was that she might make a good cop – when she got out of high school. To my eye she looked like a teenager, but then again I’ve been a little slow to admit that just about everyone under the age of forty looks like a teenager to me these days. Eklund had a round face and round, curly hair, sort of blond but not quite, and there was a zit in the middle of her forehead that looked like it was about to go Vesuvius on us. She was wearing a suit. A very masculine suit, and she was laying the macho know-it-all routine on pretty thick. Her partner, Pantazis, regarded her knowingly, yet we could tell he was embarrassed by her show. I would have thrown her off my crime scene, but that’s just me. I like it quiet, I like to think, and showboats are a distraction. They come and go, and usually leave a mess in their wake.

Their photographer was moving around as directed, taking photos then standing back, waiting for orders; Eklund seemed intent on ignoring Tate and myself but was deferential to Chief Anders. No one, it seemed to me, knew what the fuck what they were doing…and that bothered me. I had to teach these yahoos how to work a crime scene, around the Chief and Tottenham, and that made me queasy.

I went over to the bed’s headboard and looked at the grain of the wood. “Prints here, I think,” I said; Pantazis came close and looked too, held up a little UV lamp and looked again.

“Good call,” he said. “Missed that one.”

That had been Eklund’s first mistake and he wanted her to know it, too. She glowered at me and came over with her kit and began taking the print.

I walked over to the sliding glass door; it was unlocked. “Anyone been here yet? Dusted the door?”

No one had. “And don’t let anyone in the bathroom!” I yelled. The carpet, I could tell, was already useless.

Pantazis came over and looked with me. There was dozens of prints on the glass, and we wouldn’t be able to tell about the door-handle and lock-lever until Eklund tried to lift prints from them, but I was guessing there’d be a relevant one or two – at least – on both.

Pantazis groaned.

“You’re gonna have to ride her ass,” I said. “She’s sloppy, and a know it all. Bad in the line of work.”

“I know.”

I shook my head, knew he wouldn’t have made it in our department. “You shootin’ film?” I asked their photographer. He looked like he was – maybe – fourteen, then shook his head.

“No, sir. We haven’t in years. Canon 1Dx Mark II, with data verification.”

“Can you shoot IR?”

“What’s IR?”

“Never-mind,” I grumbled as I took out my phone. I called dispatch, had them transfer me to the lab.

“Woodward here. Is Harker on tonight?”

“Yeah, hang on.” I heard some hollering in the background, banging sounds of stools falling over onto the floor, then the always and ever diminutive: “Jonathan Harker here.”

“Jon? Woody. You got any high speed infrared loaded?”

“Yeah, sure. Tons. What’s up?”

I filled him in; he got excited and loaded up his stuff and was headed our way in a flash, he got there about a half hour later – somehow keeping his velocity just under the speed of light. I had managed to keep everyone away from the patio door, and the bathroom, until he arrived, then told him what I needed. I moved off and let him do his thing. He knew what I was after, and I didn’t have to ride herd on him.

We finished the crime scene about five hours later, and only then did we let the M.E.’s people move the body. I had Harker shoot some IR where Tottenham’s body had been, then pulled down the comforter and had him shoot the blanket, then each sheet underneath. Pantazis and Eklund looked at me like I was nuts.

“You need a new photographer, too,” I told Pantazis after their useless teenager left.

Anders and Tate were down in the lobby when I got off the elevator, and there were a couple dozen reporters outside on the sidewalk – too late for the morning editions, I told myself as I walked over to the Chief – and Tate handed me a cup of coffee when I got there.

“Thanks. That was rough…”

“Woodward, I want a total black-out on this for now. Strictly ‘no comment’ – got it?”

“Yessir.”

“Of course that goes for you, too,” Anders said as he looked at Tate.

“I know.”

“Did you get what you needed?” Anders asked.

“Think so, Chief. If the locals cooperate, anyway.”

“They will.”

The way Anders spoke left no doubt in my mind: he had turned up the heat. Even Brennan had taken one look at Anders and moved off.

The elevator dinged; Pantazis and Eklund walked out; a photographer pointed and all the gathered reporters got ready. Obviously they didn’t know who I was, maybe not even Anders, so it was a cinch Tate was totally off their radar.

“There a way out of here?” I asked the clerk behind the reception desk. “To avoid that?” I added, pointing at the press.

She pointed to a hallway: “Down there, door at the end of the hall. Leads right into the parking garage.”

“Thanks.” I turned to Anders. “You sure you don’t want me to talk the reporters?”

“No, get out of here, keep on Harker and the lab until you know something.”

“Right.” I turned to Tate, motioned with my head and we walked-off down the hall to the covert exit. I opened the door and recognized her immediately: Liza Mullins, crime reporter for the Post-Intelligencer. She’d staked us out, been waiting for us. Ambushed…

“Got anything for me, Woody?”

“Well, does ‘No comment’ count?”

“Heard it’s a cop. Any truth to that?”

“I heard there’s a shuttle headed up to the mother-ship. It’s already on the roof and they’re holding a place just for you.”

“Can I quote you on that? ‘Seattle PD claims alien Mother Ship wants Ace Reporter?’”

“So, you’re an Ace Reporter?” We laughed, then: “You never give up, do you?”

“Never.”

“You ever been married, Liza?” That seemed to shut her up…

“I’m not now. Why?”

“Well then, would you marry me?”

Her left eyebrow shot up: “Sure, Woody, right after the aliens get through probing your asshole.”

“That’s just about what I thought you’d say. Always the same story with us, isn’t it.” We all laughed – even as Tate and I turned and walked off, leaving her standing there. Then I heard her high heels running along behind us and we stopped when I got to the back of my Ford. “You still here?” I pointed at the ceiling: “They ain’t gonna wait forever, ya know?”

“Knock it off, Woodward. Gimme something!? Please?”

“Sorry. No can do.”

“How ‘bout coffee later? Or some breakfast?”

I looked at her; cute kid, maybe a pest – but cute. I could handle some cute after a night like this. “I don’t know how long I’ll be?”

She handed me her card. “Call me. Whenever.”

I looked her in the eye. “Cute,” I said, and that eyebrow shot up again.

“What?”

“I said, cute. As in, you-are-cute.”

She started to blush and I opened the door and got in, started the engine and let it warm up. She moved closer, until she was blocking my open door, then she knelt down beside me.

“Do you mean that?” she said.

“What? About the mother ship?”

She didn’t have a come-back ready, or maybe she was being serious, but she just looked at me.

“Yeah, Liza, I think you’re cute. Maybe nine/tenths gorgeous. Why?”

“Just didn’t expect you to say that, that’s all.” She was looking all kinds of serious now, but it was kind of odd because for some reason I didn’t regret saying it. I’d know her for years, we’d bantered back and forth over cases – the normal back and forth between cops and reporters – and yet for any number of reasons nothing had ever developed. We’d certainly never exchanged Christmas cards or birthday greetings, let alone met for coffee, so I considered this a most unusual, and interesting development.

“Well, maybe I should have told you years ago, but there it is.”

“Will you call me?”

“For coffee, yes.”

She looked at me. She got it. “Okay. I’ve got to get some sleep, but I’ll answer.”

“Right.”

She shut my door and I backed out and drove out from under the building; Tate fell in behind me and called as soon as we were clear:

“What did she want?” he asked.

“Anal sex. With me and a goat.”

“You wish, Dickhead. Seriously, Woody, what’s she after.”

“A warm shoulder, I think. Who knows?”

“Aren’t we all. What else.”

“Coffee. Chit-chat.”

“No shit? You need a chaperone or anything, you let me know.”

“Right.”

“I’m wasted, Woody, gonna head to the barn and crash for a while.”

“Yeah, you old farts! Gotta get your rest or you…”

“Woody?”

“Yeah, Tate?”

“Suck my dick.”

“No thanks. Tryin’ to quit.”

“Well, then, be careful…”

The line went dead.

+++++

Forensics was in an annex to the original Central Precinct building; it had been cobbled together over the years to make room for new gadgets and ever newer technologies, but somehow digital had yet to replace film completely in our lab, and I for one was grateful. Digital is good, don’t get me wrong, but a fine grained film in the hands of a good photographer with a Leica can reveal all kinds of things better than digital, particularly in the infrared spectrum, and that’s why I’d called Harker.

Infrared excels at picking up things the human eye misses; things like leather scuff marks on floor tiles, or the impression made by knees or shoes on blankets and sheets. Harker knew exactly what I was looking for; he hadn’t needed to ask because we’d danced this dance a hundred times before. He came out of the darkroom a little after eight that morning with a big smile on his face.

“Bingo!” he said.

“Yeah? Let me see.”

He laid out a pile of 11×17 inch prints on a drafting table and flipped on an articulated desk-lamp/magnifying glass and pulled it over; I sat down and looked at the first print…

“She probably stood over him, on the bed. High heels, probably a size seven, maybe a seven and a half. Look at the next one.”

I picked up the next image and put in under the light.

“Scuff mark on the tile in the bathroom, and a couple of other prints in the next shot. Same shoe, same size.”

“So… female for sure.”

“Yeah. Probably pretty small, too. Like five four, five five, maybe a shade more. Look at the next one… close.”

“This the bathroom floor again?”

“Yeah.”

“What is it?”

“Two sets of prints, really. The same high heels, and a man facing her. About a size nine, maybe a ten.”

“Tottenham?”

“Size thirteen. I checked.”

“Bingo, indeed. Good work, Amigo.”

“Woody? It’s pretty weird you know, even so.”

“Why?”

“Well, all the usual places you’d find prints were wiped down, like a cop was in on it, but an insider would know we might use infrared. Any competent lab would.”

“So?”

“Well, I had just assumed an insider, you know, what with that FBI guy and the A/C.”

“How’d you hear the other was FBI?”

“Shit, Woody, are you kidding? Everyone was talking about it yesterday.”

I bunched my lips, frowned. It would be in the papers today. Had to be. It would be interesting to find out their source someday. “So then, what are you thinking? Amateurs?”

“Yeah. Or just sloppy.”

“Or tryin’ to throw us off the trail.”

He shook his head at that one. “Glad this is your case, Woodward.”

“Yeah, ain’t life grand?”

+++++

Anders wasn’t in; he’d gone home and left a note for me to call him that afternoon. I pulled Liza’s card from my pocket and dialed the number.

“Hello?” She sounded half asleep.

“So, let me take a wild guess. You blew off the Mother-ship?”

“Woody?”

“Yup.”

“You find out anything?”

I didn’t answer.

“Oh, right,” she said. “Sorry. No questions allowed.”

“Coffee?”

“I could do that.”

“Starbucks on Westlake, by the Marriott. Half hour.” I broke the connection then checked my messages. First one was from Tottenham, telling me to check in with him in the morning. Okay, nothing unusual going on there. Next one was from Mary-Jo, late last night.

“Woody, sorry about last night. Maybe we could so something this weekend?”

Uh-huh. Sure. Right after I get back from the mother-ship.

Next was from Tate, this morning when he got home: “Just checkin’ in, Woody. Call me if you haven’t heard from me by noon or so.” I dropped by my mailbox and then walked out to the Ford, got in and drove over to Lake Union, went into the Starbuck’s and bought a New York Times. I looked around, took a seat away from the windows. The Times, I thought, ought to really piss her off.

She came in a few minutes later; the dark circles under her eyes were almost as puffy as mine.

“I didn’t take you for a bird owner, Woody.”

“Hm-m…what’s that?”

“The only reason to buy a rag like that. To line the bottom of a bird-cage.”

“Ah. Gee, I didn’t even think…”

“You order anything yet?”

“Nope; thought I’d wait and see what you wanted. You know, like bein’ chivalrous and all that crap.”

“Woody?”

“Yes?”

“Cram it.”

“Here? Now? Are you sure?”

She laughed. “Yeah, man. Bend over.”

“What do you want?”

“Hi-test. Big.”

“I hear that.” I came back a few minutes later and sat across from her, slipped two fingers up to my carotid and felt the pulse.

“I didn’t take you for a Lake Union kind of guy,” she said as I sat. “You got a boat?”

I ignored the question. “So, what are you hearin’ on the street about this?”

“Two cops dead, same MO.”

“Someone inside tell you?”

“Is that a confirmation?”

“Nope. A non-denial denial.”

“Then I’m sorry. My sources are confidential.”

“Tit for tat, huh?”

“No other way in this biz, Woody.”

“C’est la vie.”

“Il ne doit pas etre de cette facon.”

“Yes it does. It wouldn’t work for very long if we expected each other to compromise our integrity.”

“Guess so.” She looked me in the eye: “You lonely, Woodward?”

“No, I’m tired.”

She nodded. “When’re you going to retire?”

“Yesterday.”

She laughed. “How long ‘til you can?”

“Oh, I could now. Just not with full benefits.”

She sighed. “So, why are you staying?”

“Habit.”

“The bad ones are tough to break.”

“The hardest. May I ask you a question?”

“I’m forty three, was married once, divorced about ten years ago.”

“Touché. Damn, I hate being so predictable.”

“Well, if it means anything to you, Woody, I’m lonely too.”

I nodded, looked at her eyes, saw the long nights typing stories, just meeting deadlines by minutes day after day, year after year, and pushing everyone she cared for right out of her life. It was all right there – hiding in plain sight.

“What about you?” I asked. “You gonna work ‘til you drop?”

“I’ve thought about quitting but I have no idea what I’d do. Guess I could teach somewhere.”

“Where you from?”

“Portland. You?”

“Military brat. All over.”

“Married? No. Wait. How many times?”

“Three.”

She whistled: “Just didn’t work out, huh?”

“The hours. You have to be around every now and then in order to have a relationship. Took me awhile to figure that out. Funny thing is, we’re all still good friends. No alimony, none of that bullshit. Just friends. Like the marriage thing never happened.”

“That’s why I never remarried, I think. No good reason to, really, because I was never ready to put my work in second place.”

“Any regrets?” I asked. She was so easy to talk to, like an old friend.

“No, not really, not then, anyway. The prospect of growing old, alone? Well, that’s not so comfortable anymore.”

“Perspectives change a little bit, don’t they?”

She nodded. “If you retired tomorrow, what would you do?”

“Depends. If it was just me I’d take off, maybe just go wandering.”

“Really? What, like on a motorcycle or something? A motorhome?”

I took a deep breath, wasn’t sure I wanted to put so much about myself out there in the public domain. Then it just sort of slipped out: “I have a boat.”

She went wide-eyed on me: “No shit!?”

“No shit.”

“Powerboat?”

“Hell no, are you serious?”

“Good for you. Always thought that would be fun. Sea of Cortes, Baja…”

“Tahiti.”

“Now you’re talking. When do we go?”

We laughed at that one, but it was an uneasy, loaded laughter, like we were all of a sudden finding something in common and grasping to make something out of it. Maybe we were. Maybe we could…but this was rocky terrain.

My stomach growled.

“He hungry down there?” she said as she looked at my belly.

“Always. How ‘bout you?”

“You know? I could eat.”

“Follow me.” We walked out and went over to the Ford, I opened the door for her then got in behind the wheel, drove the few blocks down Westlake. We walked down to the slips and I buzzed-in the gate, then led her out to the boat.

“She’s nice. How big?”

“Forty one.”

“About right for two people.”

“Yep.” I unlocked the companionway, slid back the hatch and stowed the boards, went down and offered her my hand. She ignored it and hopped down with practiced ease.

“It’s nice, Woody. Comfortable.”

“Thanks. Eggs and bacon sound okay?”

“Maybe. How ‘bout some juice or something…”

“Okay, comin’ up.” I poured a couple glasses, put them on the table.

“You don’t have any tissue handy, do you?”

“Sure. Be right back.” I went to the head, rummaged around for a fresh box and went back. She had some eye-drops out and her eyes were watering; I handed her the box.

“Thanks.”

“No problem.”

She took her juice and drank most of it. “Good stuff.”

I took my glass and downed it. I thought it had a funny aftertaste – kind of bitter.

She smiled at me now. “I don’t really feel like bacon and eggs, Woody.”

“Oh?”

“No, I had in mind something, well, firmer, something a little more satisfying…”

She was looking right at my groin and I swear she was licking her lips.

“Oh?”

“Come on,” she said as she stood. “I’m going to fuck your brains out, Woody.”

She came over, took my hand and pulled me up, led me forward. I felt a little light-headed, suddenly sleepy. She pulled me up to the berth and turned me around, pushed me gently and laughed as I fell back. I felt like the world was spinning now, like the whole world was careening wildly out of control. She leaned over and unbuttoned my shirt, undid my belt, then she yanked down my pants. “Sit up,” she commanded; I felt her tugging my pants all the way down, pulling my shoes off, pulling them over my ankles.

I could hardly keep my eyes open now.

“Woody, push yourself up, to the head.” It was hard, my arms and legs felt like hot lead, nothing worked right anymore. “Here, I’ll help you…” I felt her arms under my shoulders, wanted to say something but couldn’t. She fluffed-up some pillows, propped me up in a reclined position and I watched as she took off her clothes, folded them neatly and put them aside.

She opened her purse, took out a bottle and opened it, then she came over, opened my mouth, slipped a pill under my tongue. “I want you nice and hard, Woody. Real hard.”

“What?” I think I managed to say.

“Don’t try to talk, Woody.”

“What? Why?”

She had my handcuffs now and she came over and put them on me, clamped them down hard. I think I winced.

“Is that too tight, Woody? Hmm?”

“Why?”

“That’s right… I heard you like it rough. You like it rough, don’t you Woody?”

I felt cold fear in the air all around me. “Who?”

“Mary-Jo told me, Woody.”

I blinked. I wasn’t tired anymore, just…paralyzed. She had pantyhose in her hands now and she leaned over and tied my cuffed hands behind my head with them, then draped the moist crotch over my face. “Does that smell good, Woody? Do you like that?”

I could see her moving through the fabric; no details, really – just her body moving slowly around the cabin. It was getting hard to swallow and I felt fear for the first time, wondered how it was going to feel to die, then I felt her leaning close, felt her hot breath on my cock, her tongue stroking it. It felt like a hot, wet glove had gripped me and I saw her shadowy head moving back and forth, up and down…

“Oh, Woody, you’re getting so nice and hard.”

“Glad…you like…it…” I managed to say.

“Oh, Woody. I do, I do like it.” She leaned forward and licked my lips through the fabric, stuck her tongue in my mouth and forced the nylon in with it. My left eye was clear now and I watched her as she leaned back over my cock and took it in her mouth again. I tried to move my legs, felt some kind of rope around my ankles and gave up.

I was aware of the smell now, the smell of her pantyhose up against my face, then I felt her get off the berth and walk to the rear of the boat. I turned my head, saw her talking with someone out there. There was someone with her, a man. It was too dark to see anything clearly but everything was becoming all too clear.

She came back a minute later and leaned over me, kissed my open eye as she reached down and stroked my cock. “You ready for me, Woody?”

“Ready?”

She straddled me, rubbed the head of my cock against her cunt. I felt the heat, the unbelievable wetness, felt her hand grab the head and guide it inside her, then she slid up and down a few times – until I could feel my cock getting unnaturally hard. She slid off me, then up my body and I watched as she moved the nylon from my face and hovered over me.

“I’m going to mark you now, Woody. Mark you as mine…”

I felt hot liquid splash my face, smelled urine, tasted it as it ran down my face and across my lips. She lowered herself onto my face and mashed her wetness all over me, pissed some more – filling my mouth until it spilled down my chin and onto my chest – then as quickly she lifted herself from my face and slid down onto my cock again.

“It’s hard, Woody. So hard. I think you liked that. You ready to cum for me?”

I couldn’t speak at all now but I saw her lean forward and take a cotton ball and moisten it with alcohol, then she wiped my arm, took out a syringe.

“It’s not going to hurt, Woody, I promise.”

She stuck the needle in, pushed the plunger down slowly and I felt a sudden warmth flooding through me.

I didn’t feel too different at first, then the dizziness returned. My vision changed, everything looked cast in blues and purples, and I felt her hand around my cock. She was jerking it furiously now.

“Not much longer, Woody…not much more…”

I could see her holding a glass under the head of my cock, then felt an incredible orgasm wrenching through me, pulsing into the glass…

“Ooh, Woody! So much! And so soon, too!” She kept jerking it, mouthing her surprise as she looked first at the glass, then at me, then she held the glass up and looked admiringly at the pearlescent flow. She came up to me again, sat beside me so I could see her face clearly and she drank it down, licked the sides of the glass to get every bit of it, then she put the glass aside carefully and turned to me, kissed me. She forced her tongue into my mouth and painted broad strokes of cum across my face, dribbled a huge wad down onto my forehead, then licked it off and spit it down again, this time onto my lips.

She got up suddenly and the man came into the cabin. He had a mask on, and she stood beside him silently while he looked down at me.

“Did I do well, Master?”

He only nodded, but then he whispered in her ear.

“Yes, Master,” she said after a moment. “I will obey you.”

He handed her a knife.

She came up to my face again and looked at me, spoke gently, almost kindly: “My Master says I must tell you that this is a warning. A warning to stop, now.”

She held the knife at my neck, I could feel the point just beneath my chin and she pressed gently.

“Will you stop now, Woody?”

The knife pressed it into my skin; I could feel my heart beating, then the knife slid through skin – into muscle.

“Yes.”

“Do you swear it?”

The knife pressed deeper, and I could feel my pulse hammering in my head…

“I… swear…”

She turned, looked up at the masked man. He nodded and she withdrew the knife, then he turned and left the cabin.

She leaned into me, kissed me again – this time gently.

“You’re a sweet man, Woody. So sweet. I wish I’d met you a long time ago.” I could see she was crying, like she hated what she had done – but that she had been powerless to resist, as well.

“I…”

“Don’t try to talk now, Woody. You’re going to sleep now.”

“Please… don’t…”

“It’s okay, Woody. This is it. It’s all over now. As long as you don’t break your promise, this is it.”

I felt sleep coming, powerful, irresistible sleep. I could feel her cradling my face, kissing my forehead, telling me that everything would be alright again, that everything would be fine…but I knew nothing would ever be fine again…nothing would ever be the same…

I hoped it wouldn’t hurt. Hoped they wouldn’t find me with my dick hanging from my mouth and take pictures of me and wonder what the hell had happened to get me mixed up with this bunch of crazy, fucked-up monsters, then I felt myself falling…falling…and I wondered if this was how Lucifer felt when he was forced out of Heaven and fell from the sky.

+++++

My head hurt – as if from a series of violently spinning falls, and my gut burned like nothing I’d ever felt before. Everything was dark, pure unadulterated black, but I saw distant glowing flashes of light that were like a lightning – yet not quite.

Then the thought hit me: these flashes were a sign or some sort. What were they trying to tell me? What had I missed?

Obviously, I was dead… or maybe still just dying. That was clear if only because nothing in my experience had ever felt even remotely this – like the way I felt now. The sensation of falling was so real, so vertiginous, it overwhelmed almost every other sense. But it was the supporting elements that were so disturbing.

I could feel my hair fluttering in the slipstream, hear vast oceans of wind howling as I fell downward, and that pulsing white glow…that sign? Photons would pass through me on their way to wherever they went, leaving just the faintest impression of their passage. What were they?

Then I could hear something like muffled surf, perhaps wild breakers crashing on a distant shore. The sound would come upon me – and as suddenly fall away.

It went on like this for hours, days…the pulsing light and distant surf that defined this windward passage…yet from time to time I felt a jabbing in my arms, pressure in my chest…then one day:

An eye opened. No, not that. It was opened by someone. Someone was above me, holding my right eye open, shining a light in my eye. I tried to see beyond the woman, the woman holding the light, but she followed my eye, followed my movements and kept shining the light in.

Then I saw her hand. Fingernails. Sharp fingernails. She was pressing my forehead with her fingernails, right between my eyes. Son-of-a-bitch but that hurt!

I wanted to tell her to stop but couldn’t.

Then she had an earlobe; she was pinching it with those fucking talons of hers and I found all I could sense or feel now was the pain she was inflicting. I struggled to tell her to stop. Stop it… stop…

“STOP! GODDAMN IT!”

And she did, too.

And it was like I heard people letting go after holding a deep breath… or was it me struggling to breathe?

Both my eyes were open now, but it was like someone had smeared Vaseline in them… everything was a coarse blur, coarse and watery. I wanted to move my hands, rub my eyes – but I couldn’t and I felt a familiar panic grab my chest…

“Mr Woodward… you’re in the ER, the emergency room at Mason. You’re alright now so try to relax.”

Her words found me and I understood what she was saying but panic still gripped my chest… like a vice…gripping…darkness again, coming for me…

“Oh fuck!” I heard the woman say. “He’s going into arrest again…get me a…”

Then darkness. Darkness and falling, all consuming darkness…and the wind and the surf returned.

+++++

I knew I was awake. Knew something wasn’t quite right, but I was awake. But what was with all the incessant beeping?

Beeping. I heard beeping everywhere, just like I was on the set of some hokey medical show, and I remembered thinking I must have become an actor somewhere along the way because here I was, starring at a television show about a man dying in an unknown hospital.

I opened my eyes, looked at banks of streaming monitors in black and green and I tried to swallow but my throat was too goddamned dry. My tongue was stuck…to the roof of my mouth. I tried to raise my head, to say something…something, to somebody…but I couldn’t see anyone…

“Hel…” I gasped. “Hello!”

Nothing.

“Hello! Help!”

Footsteps. I heard footsteps! Then a woman, huge and black. I remember thinking I was in Star Wars, I was a prisoner and someone had brought me before Jabba the Hut. Her eyes were round and huge too, and even the room looked kind of like a cave.

So.

I was an actor now. This was my big chance…

“Mista Woodward? Can you hear me?”

“My name is Luke,” I said, proud I’d remembered the lines, “Luke Skywalker. If you let me have the Princess and Han, I’ll let you live…”

And Jabba was laughing now, right on cue: “Oh, Mista Woodward! You ain’t no Luke Skywalker, and I sure ain’t no Princess Leia. Now. You thirsty?”

“Not Leia?” I was – crushed.

“How about some ice?”

“Yes. If you’ll tell me where I can find her?”

“Shit! Don’t dat beat all…” I heard her say as she left the room, laughing as she went…

She came back a few minutes later, and an old man was with her:

“Obi-Wan?” I said.

“I’ll be damned,” my old friend said to Jabba. “You weren’t shittin’ me, were you?”

“Obi-Wan?”

“Yeah, Luke, old buddy. It’s me. Howya feelin’.”

“Obi-Wan? The Princess…she…the Dark Side. Oh, I’m so tired…”

“Woody, come on… snap out of it. What are you saying, what are you trying to tell me?”

“Woody?”

“Yeah, that’s you. Me Richard. You Tarzan. Now come on, Woody. Concentrate.”

“Woody? Woodward?”

“Yep. Now, what about this princess? Who are we talkin’ about, Woody?”

“Reporter. Liza.”

“Mullins? She did this? You sure?”

I nodded. “It was a warning. They told me it was a warning.”

“They? You mean she wasn’t alone?”

“A man. And Liza. ‘This is a warning,’ she told me. I have to stop. Stop, or they’ll kill me.”

“Shit.”

“Obi-Wan? Got to find out what size shoe she wears?”

“What? Woody, what the fuck?”

“Harker. Photographs.”

“Woody. Jon’s dead. Fire. In his apartment.”

“Harker?”

“Yeah, Woody. He’s dead.”

“When? When did…”

“It’s been a few weeks now.”

“Weeks? What do you mean, weeks?”

“You’ve been out a while, Woody. Almost a month.”

“Coma?”

“Yeah. Probably drug induced. You were high as a kite on morphine and LSD when I found you.”

“You… found me?”

“Yeah. When you didn’t call I went down to the boat.”

“The boat?”

“Yeah, Woody. She’s alright. I’ve been taking care of her.”

“Can somebody lift my head or something?”

The nurse hit a button and a motor under the bed whirred, my back inclined. “Dat better, Mista Woodward?”

“Yeah, thanks Princess.” I winked at her and she laughed, put a cup full of ice on the table by the bed and left the room.

“I remember the ER. Did I have a heart attack?”

“Three.”

“Three? Heart attacks?”

“Yep.”

“Swell.”

“You’ll be joining the ranks of the disabled and retired now, Woody. Sorry.”

“Fuck.”

“Ain’t it the truth.”

“Harker took photographs, in infrared. Tottenham. Woman, small. Like size seven shoes. High heels. Man. Size nine or ten.”

“You want me to see what size shoes she wears?”

“No, wait. It was a warning, right?”

“I can’t do this without you, Woody.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t do it, Richard.”

He nodded. “I understand.”

“Have there been any more? Murders?”

“No. Not a one.”

“I wonder what the hell we were on-to?”

He shrugged. “No way to know now, is there?”

“Call her.”

“Call? Who?”

“The reporter. Liza. Tell her I want to talk to her.”

“Are you out of your fucking head?”

“No. Now, do it now.”

He looked at me – his eyes hard, then he nodded and left the room.

Everything was coming back to me now, like in a flood. Memories were flooding in, out of control, like water pushing through a cracked dam, running unrestrained across a vast, empty plain, soaking it all in…

+++++

Tate came back in a few minutes later.

“Did you get her?”

“Yeah.”

“She coming?”

“Yeah, Woody. She’s coming.”

“Can you find out about the photographs? The infrared prints?”

“Why?”

“The only evidence. If they’ve penetrated the department, compromised us, then the photos will be gone. They’ve won if that’s the case.”

“If I ask around that might alert whoever, ya know?”

“Who said anything about asking?”

“Gotcha. Look, Woody, I don’t wanna be anywhere near this place when that bitch gets here, ya know?”

“I understand. Not sure I want to, either.”

“Then, why?”

“Something I gotta know.”

“Dangerous, man. This is real fuckin’ dangerous.”

“I think I got that. Something I need to know before I take the next step.”

“I sure hope you know what you’re doin’, man.” He seemed reluctant to talk, like he was afraid of something else.

“What’s bothering you, Richard?”

“Later. We’ll talk later. I’m gonna split now. I’ll come back tonight.”

+++++

“Crushed ice! Man, I love it.”

The nurse, another one, basically ignored me as she went about the little room scribbling down readings from various machines, then she injected something into my IV and started to leave the room.

“What is it this time?” I asked. “Heroin? Potassium?”

She stopped, turned and looked at me and she smiled, then said: “Not this time, Woody.” She looked at me for what felt like an hour, mouthed the words ‘Love me’ – then walked out of the room.

There are certain moments in your life that run up on you fast, like lightning out of a clear blue sky, and time stops because nothing makes sense anymore. I think dying must be like that.

This was one of those moments.

She came back in a little later, adjusted the drip on the IV. “Can I get you anything?” she asked.

“Think I could have a Coke?”

“Yeah, sure.” She looked at me again, this time with real human kindness in her eyes, then leaned forward, ran her fingers through my hair. “Don’t do anything stupid, Woody.”

“I’m doing my best.”

She lifted up her skirt and ran her hand inside her panties and rubbed herself, then she brought her hand to my face and wiped her juices under my nose. She smiled at me the whole time; her eyes were bright, almost feverishly bright, then she ran her fingers over my lips. “You know you want to, Woody. Go ahead.”

I opened my mouth and she slipped her fingers in, I tasted her cunt on the soft skin of her fingers and sucked them for a moment, then she smiled, laughed a little before she turned and walked out of the room.

“What the fuck…” I think I said.

She came back some time later with a cup; she sat by my bedside and spooned ice into mouth, then opened a can and poured some Coke into the cup. She put a straw in and handed it to me. “Suck it, Woody.”

I laughed, took a pull on it, then chewed on the ice.

“We’re going to have fun, Woody. You and I.”

“Are we?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, very much.”

“Who do you belong to?”

“My Master, you mean?”

“Yes.”

She smiled. “It doesn’t matter now, because he’s given me to you.”

“Given?”

“Oh yes. I am yours now. Your property.”

“Indeed. And if I don’t want you?”

“Then I will have failed. I will die.”

“Die?”

“I will be killed.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes. Just like that, Woody.”

“And you must do whatever I ask of you? Is that it?”

“Yes. That is The Way.”

“The Way?”

“Yes.”

“And if I commanded you to tell me who your old master was?”

“I will tell you, but then I must kill you.”

“I see. But then, you would have failed. Is that right?”

“Yes. And I would die.”

“So, why have I been given… this honor?”

“You were marked. By my sister?”

“Your sister?”

“We are all sisters. Think of us as belonging to a religious order.”

“You say she marked me?”

“When you opened your mouth to her, and took her inside.”

“I see. Your sister; I am expecting her.”

“Oh, she is here. She has been, for a while.”

“Why didn’t you…let…”

“Master, she can only come to you when commanded.”

“I see. Well, I’d like to talk to her. Alone.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Please don’t call me that.”

“But…”

“Just…Woody, for now. Okay?”

“Okay, Woody.” She stood by the bedside, waiting. I think she was waiting for me to dismiss her and the thought was mildly silly.

“Dismissed,” I said… and she turned to leave the room. “Stop!”

She turned to face me again: “Yes, Master?”

“I don’t know your name.”

“My name? Master, that is yours to choose. Each master chooses.”

“Fine.”

She stood solidly still.

“Go on, then!”

This was exasperating. Stupid, silly – and totally exasperating. And not even mildly interesting, I told myself.

The door opened and Liza came in. She was dressed in black from head to toe, like she was in mourning, yet even so I looked down at her shoes. Her feet were small, too small, but she was wearing high heels.

“Hello.” She said when she got to my bedside. “How are you?” Her voice seemed flat, almost forced.

“Not bad, considering.”

“I’m sorry. We didn’t know your heart was so weak.”

“Neither did I.”

“I feel very bad. For what happened.”

“Was the man with you your master?”

“No.”

“Who is?”

“Do not ask me this. It is very dangerous to talk about these things.”

“But if I ask, you must tell me.”

She hesitated. “No, that is not so.”

Why did she hesitate? Was it that simple?

“And if I command you?”

“Then I must tell you. But do not, please.”

“Alright, I won’t.”

She looked at me and I saw a great weight fall from her; her eyes became kind and I wanted her so much it hurt inside. But I needed to know more, and fast. I couldn’t fall under her spell again.

“You said something, before you left. You said you wished you’d met me long ago. What did you mean?”

She looked at me with those eyes and I struggled, simply because I was powerless before the weight of the lust I felt for her.

“It doesn’t matter now, Woody. Truly.”

“Did you kill Mark Tottenham?”

“Only a servant may kill a master. I will say no more.”

“Can a master kill his servant?”

“If it is his pleasure, yes.”

“And if I wanted to be your Master?”

She looked at me and beamed: “Would you?”

“If that was what I wanted, how would I make that happen?”

“If you pass the trials, if you are accepted, you have only to ask the council.”

“I see. But in the meantime?”

“You have a servant now.”

“I can have only one?”

“For now. Yes.”

“Would you want to be with me?”

“What I want is of no importance. To be wanted is all I could ever hope for.”

“All?”

“Yes, it is all to be worthy of a Master’s desire. It is all one could ever ask for.”

“I desire you. With all my heart.”

That broke her. Clean through. She leaned over, put her hand on my cheek and rubbed my face.

“Then you forgive me?”

“You changed me. I can’t think about anything but you.”

“Truly?”

“Yes, truly.”

“Will you join us?”

“If that is what I must do to possess you, then yes, I will join you.”

She nodded. “I had hoped this would happen.”

“Will you tell your Master?”

She clouded over. “No. I cannot.”

I understood then. Tottenham had been her master.

“Then you will tell who you must of my decision.”

“They know now.”

“Can you come by from time to time? While I’m here?”

“If that is your wish, then yes. I will come.”

“Well then, it is my wish that you visit me each evening, until I leave this hellhole.”

She smiled. “Then I will. Are you tired?”

“Yeah, think so.”

“I’ll leave you now.”

“Alright.”

“Woody?”

“Yes?”

“I think you will be a good master.”

“Good?”

“Fair. I think I meant to say fair, as in just.”

I nodded. “Would you send my nurse in?”

“Yes. Good night.”

“Good night, my love,” I whispered, when she was leaving.

I knew she heard me, too.

This was going to be a very dangerous game, indeed.

+++++

“I have decided on a name for you,” I said to my nurse when she returned. “Persephone.”

“Thank you, Master.”

“I assume you heard our conversation?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Well, I accept you as my property so long as you accept me as your one master.”

She hesitated, the conflict immediate.

“Get out of my sight!”

“But…”

“Now! Leave! Find me a new nurse.”

She fled in tears.

That was easy, I told myself.

Too easy?

I waited a few minutes then hit the call button. She came in; it was obvious she’d been crying, and was probably scared to death. What did she say? If she failed – she was toast?

“I’m…”

“Master, no. You must never apologize.”

“Of course. Nevertheless, I was careless. I should have understood the conflict I put you in.”

She was looking at the floor but I could tell she didn’t know what to say.

“Your friend has returned.”

“Tate? Already?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Send him in.” She left the room, came back in with him and lingered in the back of the room. I didn’t send her away – probably no point. I had to assume complete surveillance from now on.

“What did you find out?”

“No photographs, Woody. Sorry.”

“Well, it probably doesn’t matter anyway.”

“What?”

“It doesn’t matter, Richard. If the department wants to continue the investigation, well, then, that’s their business. Like you said, I’m retired.”

His face creased as he scowled, and it looked like he was chewing the inside of his cheek as he turned my words over in his mind. “You feeling okay?”

“Yeah, fine. You say the boat’s okay?”

“Yeah. There wasn’t too much to clean up.”

“Forensics?”

“Yeah, you know the score. It was a potential homicide scene.”

“You had any new cases?”

“A couple new ones. Cheating husbands, angry wives.”

“Have Nikon, Will Travel!”

“Paladin! Man, that was a great show!” he added.

“You know it, amigo. You need anything? Hustler? Penthouse?”

“Nah, you know me… I was always a Leg Show kinda guy!”

He laughed, so did the nurse – my Persephone.

“Well, I guess I can leave now. Looks like you’re in able hands.”

“Yeah, she seems very dedicated to her profession. Right, nurse?”

“Yessir.”

“See? How ‘bout that, Richard?”

Did he see? Could he make the leap? If he had, he didn’t show it.

“Well Woody, if they cut you loose I’ll drop by the boat in the morning; maybe see you around lunch time.”

I closed my eyes after he left, felt myself dozing, then ‘Persephone’ came in with “dinner”.

“Sorry. Restricted diet for a while.” She rolled the table over my lap and I looked at red Jell-O and green yogurt and felt very ill indeed.

“Gross.”

“Sorry,” she said again. “And you won’t be going home for a while.”

“I know. All things being equal, I think I’d rather suck on your fingers again.”

She smiled, came next to the bed and lifted her skirt.

“I’m glad I can please you, Master. Do you like the way I taste?”

As a matter of fact, I did.

+++++

I was discharged from the hospital a couple of weeks later. “Persephone” had somehow, astonishingly no doubt to those of you following along here, been assigned to the hospital’s home health care division and presto! – she came home with me. Again, I ask for leniency here; please do consider, despite your misgivings, that a boat can be a home – and anyway, she took to it like a duck to water. But I want to be clear: as I have never been particularly adept at housework I was glad to have the help. The fact that she had sworn a blood oath to serve me until my death? Hey, man; icing on the cake.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You see, it’s like this: having three heart attacks over the course of a week – while in a coma, no less – fucks with your head. You stand up from a chair too fast and you hear the grim reaper walking up behind you, his scythe whizzing through the air – right for your carotids. Which were already, I had reason to believe, pretty well clogged after a twenty-five year binge on Quarter Pounders and Krispy Kremes. Having a nice, sexy-as-Hell blond-haired, blue-eyed nurse following me around begging to please me was – well, frankly – kind of unexpected, yet this was just one of the unforeseen perks accrued by hooking up with a bunch of homicidal sadomasochists. Hey, I’ve always said if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Who am I to question the logic of this fucked-up world?

And Seph (and frankly, she hated being called that, but calling out “Persephone!” in a crowded grocery store will get you all kinds of unwanted attention) was a miracle. She was like Carnation Instant Love; add a few teaspoons of cream and she was all kinds of happy. She’d chosen this life, too. She even told me it was true. She wasn’t some Central American or Asian kidnap victim sold into a life of servitude. No, she’d been a nurse for years and had met someone who knew someone and before you can say “beat me, spank me, make me write hot checks!” she was into the scene and loving every ass-smacking minute of it. Honestly, have you ever whacked a girl on the ass and had her fall to the floor in orgasm?

Well, right, neither had I.

Like I said, this whole scene was fucking with my head, and I think I may have mentioned my head was already pretty well scrambled, and, so, everything about my life now was pretty fucked up. One day I went down to Central to fill out some paperwork and bang, just like that – it was all over: I was a retired cop. Since I was officially retired, I didn’t have to turn in my gun and badge, so like Tate I signed up for the reserves. I week later I got a call; they’d had a bad one and wanted my help. Would I mind coming down?

Would I mind? Fuck. They even sent a patrol car over to pick me up! Limousine service! If I’d only figured this out sooner!

Seph claimed she preferred being chained to the floor by the foot of the bed but I wasn’t having any of it. A cold teak floor? Am I heartless? No, I had her curl up behind me and scratch my back all night. I’d never had a wife do that for me before, so what the hell was wrong with this picture? Sex? Don’t ask… just command! It was like Nirvana. On steroids:

“Say baby, I’d like to screw upside down hanging from the top of the mast!”

“Sure thing, Woody. Let’s do it!”

– or –

“What say we read poetry tonight, to each other?”

“I’d love to…”

It was every misogynists’ dream come true, enough to make Susan B Anthony turn barrel-rolls in her grave. There was only one problem, but it was a big one. I hated it. Everything about it. When she asked me to get rough with her I cringed inside, then I hated myself afterwards. If I left a red mark on her ass I had to go into the head and somehow keep myself from puking. Let me be perfectly clear: I was not then and am not now wired that way. Causing pain or administering corporal punishment for her supposed infractions did not make me happy, did not help me get my rocks off.

It was a means to an end.

Let me explain.

I’d made my decision the first time I saw Liza after I came out of the coma. I knew I loved her. I don’t know how, or why, and anyway, I don’t give a damn. When she walked into my room in the ICU the lights got brighter, my heart suddenly felt young and strong, and I wanted to live – but only with her by my side. That feeling became bedrock, too.

But she, apparently, belonged to – if not someone – then something that made it impossible for her to just drop off the map and sail away. She let me know in no uncertain terms that there was no running from these people. They weren’t limited to Seattle, to the Pacific Northwest, or even to the good ole U. S. of A. They were, she told me, everywhere. Literally. Senators belonged. Federal judges too. And – pointedly – chiefs of police belonged. FBI agents, CIA operatives, even a former President were regular adherents. I had no idea. My tax dollars at work! And here I’d thought all these years that politicians took no pleasure from screwing us over!

Just goes to show ya, huh?

The ‘local affiliate’ had been started years ago, she told me, by a bunch of uppity-ups at Microsoft (hey, that figures, doesn’t it?); now, she said, more than a thousand of the most influential people in the area were deeply involved, but they were always on the look-out for talent that could help in a pinch. She told me if I wanted to get an idea of what the group was like to watch Kubrick’s last film. You know; the one with Tom and Nicole and all those nice people wearing leather beaks. She let me know these people were, however, just a touch meaner than those in the film. Having been at two crime scenes and admired their handiwork, I was prepared to take this appraisal at face value. Then it hit me: If the cops and the courts were compromised, then what? If you took down a couple, or even a couple dozen, there were hundreds more buried everywhere ready to hunt you down and feed you your dick.

And the simple fact of the matter was you’d never know who to trust, or who not to. With that simple maxim as gospel, then trusting Tate – maybe especially Tate – was out of the question. If you don’t know who to trust, you trust no one. If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt. This arithmetic is simple, the kind I understand. If I was going to do anything, if I was going to extract my pound of flesh, it was going to be a solo operation. Either that or I could just go with the flow and enjoy Persephone and Liza and learn how to use a riding crop.

And believe me, there were times I thought that was an attractive proposition, too. How fast we fall, eh Lucifer.

+++++

The first time Liza came down to the boat after Seph joined the crew was, well, interesting. Like every red-blooded male in America my favorite fantasy involved making it with two women at the same time. Let’s ignore the fact that I had never known two women at the same time that I’d have even been tempted to do this with; now I had two women who, simply stated, were more than willing. Way more than willing. The biggest problem now was I’d recently had three major coronary vapor locks: my V-8 was now an inline four, and Viagra was a major league no-no. What would I do, enquiring minds wanted to know?

But did that stop these two girls? My two girls? In a word: No. In two words: Hell No.

They were gentle, at least at first, and not very demanding – which was highly appreciated. Remember, all it took to send Sephie over the edge was a good smack on the ass. Liza was simply oral, like Linda Lovelace was oral; apparently her tonsils and clit had merged years ago – and to wondrous effect. The only thing she liked more than giving head was receiving a little. She could lay back and take a licking – for hours at a stretch, too. Fortunately the only thing I enjoy more than receiving is giving, so we were perfect for each other. And face it, all either of us had to do was smack Sephie on the ass every now and then, and we were all three in carnal heaven. Hard to do on a boat, believe me, but we managed.

And this went on for months. Whoever or whatever this organization was, they were content to sit back and watch and listen for any signs that I might be trying to plot my revenge. I, however, was equally content letting Liza and Sephie clean my clock any time the mood hit.

And then there was the poor guy on the boat next to mine?

Every time I poked my head out into the sunlight the guy bowed at me like I was Krishna or the Buddha. I never really considered that sound carries, and our exploits were becoming the stuff of urban legend. So, like I said, I was retired now, and in goods hands. An equitable exchange, don’t you think?

I thought so too.

So, life took on all the aspects of a comfortable routine – but things in truth were not quite what they seemed. Once or twice a month the department would need me and someone would come for me and I’d go do my cop thing for a day or two. Tate joined me from time to time, then he sponsored me and I got my P.I. badge and bought my own Nikon. I went out with him every now and then and took photos of philandering husbands and cheating wives; the rest of the time Sephie and I puttered on the boat: I taught her to sail and believe it or not I taught her how to love. Someone paid her salary, everyone left us alone, and three or four times a week Liza came over to spend the night, and along the way she taught me how to love, too. It was a real trip.

I think after a year of this routine I’d have been quite content to live out the rest of my days doing this and only this. Tottenham’s murder receded into a dim and hazy past, dreams of sailing south to the tropics began to feel unnecessary, even narcissistic. I was content, even happy. I hadn’t made any waves and all indications were that I wouldn’t.

In short, they had me right where they wanted me.

And I was counting on that, too.

+++++

It was right before Christmas, more than a year later, when the call came.

They were apparently sentimental characters and wanted me to attend their annual Christmas get-together. Liza told me the Satanists in the group tended to boycott the affair but it was, generally speaking, a rather low-key orgy followed by the ritual sacrifice of a few goats and a seminar or two on the proper use of riding-crops. Everyone there would be masked, except of course, me. I would, if I chose to attend, be examined, judged, and if found wanting, killed. By Sephie. Who would then be killed.

No pressure or anything. Just your average holiday get-together. Mistletoe over the spiked punch and all that jazz.

“Don’t we, like, exchange gifts or anything?” I asked. This could be fun!

“Woody, this is serious.”

“I am. It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!”

The girls laughed at my naiveté. They had no idea how naïve I was, or am – for that matter. Old dogs and new tricks, and all that nonsense. I mean, come on: I like Christmas, always have. I still get the warm fuzzies when I watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. I like it when the Grinch finds his heart is still pure. I love watching kids open their presents on Christmas morning, and don’t mind opening one or two of my own, so shoot me! How cold-hearted could a bunch of homicidal sadomasochists be?

+++++

It was the thought of spiking their Christmas punch that intrigued me. How could I do it and not get caught? And what could I spike it with that might drive the point I was trying to make home? More to the point, what could I spike it with that would break no laws but really fuck with them where they lived?

Acid? I mean LSD, not hydrochloric: geesh – cut me some slack, wouldya? Anyway. No. Too common, and they’d used it on me.

An overdose of Viagra? Nope, I could cause a couple of heart attacks that way, yet even so the idea of a hundred or so men turning up at local ERs with permanent hard-ons did have a certain “use it or lose it” appeal.

No. What I was looking for was the anti-Viagra. Something I could give these guys that would make it impossible for them to get up for a long, long time. Permanently would be even better, but hey, do you think I’m a heartless son-of-a-bitch? Even better, to keep them from killing me I could allude to having an antidote, and my remedy would of course be the only way to restore potency.

Fuck me! This might even be fun!

But this was really only a nice daydream, perhaps, because I didn’t know any biochemists or physicians, and anyway, these guys probably had half the scientists in Seattle in their back pockets. Maybe I was just going to have to play their game, which led to one inescapable conclusion. Maybe I’d just have to be content to live with these two beautiful women the rest of my life, because the choice, as it was being presented, seemed pretty obvious to me: go along with their way of life and remain alive, or refuse their offer and die. But what would I do, I wondered, if I acquiesced only to find I was getting pulled in deeper? Maybe into something really dark? What if there really was no third option, no way to get away from these people and secure some sort of happiness? They’d tried to warn me off but damn near killed me, but I was under no illusions; they didn’t owe me anything.

Killing two cops had been dangerous for them, but they’d had the right people in the right places to mitigate the damage. Killing me might have been over the top, and they might have seen endless security issues as a result, but the other option kept gnawing away at the back of my mind. What if the man I saw on the boat with Liza had known everything? What if he was the intermediary between me and this ‘council’? Had he had kept me alive? And the real key might be why this had all started in the first place…why kill Harvey, the FBI agent? Was he inside? Had he been investigating something peripheral and stumbled onto the group? Had he been compromised, or warned like me, then tried to join the group – and failed?

But, and this was a big but, I was now on the outside, looking in. I wasn’t a cop anymore, not a real one, anyway. Weekend warriors don’t have the same administrative rights and access to information that full-timers have, so that left my new PI ticket as my only way inside, and that left me dependent on Richard Tate.

And what if Tate was the intermediary, the man on the boat who’d spared my life. He was smart enough, skilled enough to pull off most any subterfuge, and he was my friend – and that alone might have been motive enough to cause his intercession.

And what about Anders, the chief. What if he was inside, and wanted to put a stop to things before they got out of hand and exposed this seamy underside of his life? And SAC Brennan, or anyone else in the Bureau’s SeaTac office?

What I was left with was a ‘no-win’ situation, there was no way out, and I only had a week to come up with something if I decided to make a break.

That was when Mary-Jo dropped by, and paid us a little visit. That was something I hadn’t been counting on, and for quite some time too, if you know what I mean.

+++++

“So, you’re really going to join?” M-J asked when she came on board, meaning, was I really going to go to meet the council, and seek membership in their little club?

“Well, it’s either that, or Seph is going to go all Sunni on me with a knife,” I replied with a shrug, smiling a little. So much for idle chit-chat, anyway.

“That’s not a real positive attitude, if you get my drift, for wanting to come in out of the rain,” she added.

“Maybe if they’d just let me be, not bunked me down with the hottest nurse in the Pacific Northwest?”

“They couldn’t trust you, Woodie. Simple as that.”

“Well then, what made them think being held almost incommunicado for a year would make me more trustworthy?”

“I suppose, but…what did you call her? Seph?”

“Persephone. Queen of the underworld.”

“The underworld? Like Hell?”

I smiled. “Not quite.”

“Well, what I was going to say is I think they weren’t counting on Persephone’s ability to control you.”

“Even though I am her master?”

Now it was M-J’s time to smile. “Yes, funny how these things work, isn’t it? Isn’t control almost always an illusion? Anyway, just what do you feel towards Persephone?”

“Feel? I love her completely. Aside from that, she’s the best friend I’ve ever had.” Persephone, sitting by his side, smiled demurely, knowingly. “If she were taken from me tomorrow I think I might wither and die.”

“Really? Die?”

“I don’t think I’m trying to be disingenuous here, M-J. We’re very close.”

“Well then, suppose I order her to leave you, right now. What then?”

“Well then, I suppose I would begin to wonder just who you really are? What you’re role in this little organization really is?” Truth of the matter is I thought I knew exactly who she was, yet even so at this point I was more than a little concerned. I knew a lot was riding on my answers the next few minutes, and that M-J was holding all the Aces.

“You still think like a cop, Woodie.”

“True blue, all the way through.”

“And you’ll never change, will you?”

“Are you kidding? Persephone has changed me, completely.”

“How so?”

“Because I love her, M-J, and I love what she is. What she is has been defined by the role she plays within your organization.”

“My organization? You presume too much.”

“I don’t think so.”

She smiled. She knew I knew. Everything hung in the balance now.

She stood, looked undecided, first at Persephone, then at me.

“You’re dangerous, Woodie. You always will be.”

I stood, came to her and held out my hand. She looked down and took mine, and I kissed her fingers.

“We were almost friends,” I began, but she cut me off.

“Almost?”

“We never had a chance to see where we could go.”

She shrugged. “Some things are never meant to be.”

“And Persephone? Was she meant to be?”

“She was always meant to be your executioner.”

“You know, I think I’m too old to be a danger to anyone.”

“But you’re not.”

“So then, it comes down to…”

“Allegiance, Woodie.”

“What are your aims, I wonder?”

She smiled. “Allegiance is complete, or it’s meaningless.”

I kissed her hand again, and said “I agree,” and that was really all there was to it.

M-J smiled at me, then to Persephone she said, “I release you, Persephone. You belong to no one now but this man. You have no conflicting orders or purpose. You belong to him now, and will serve him until his death. Do you understand?”

“I do, Mistress.”

She turned to leave, this Mistress, my almost friend, and then I saw her entourage in the cockpit. Girls dressed in black, women who looked like ninja warriors, and I remembered an intel briefing about a group that had started working in Dallas a year ago. So, here was another piece of the puzzle.

I started to follow M-J but she turned and stopped me. “You will stay here now. Down here. Do not leave for a week. Do not communicate with anyone outside. Do you understand?”

“Yes. And Liza?”

“She is masterless. Do you want her?”

“Yes.”

“You must understand one thing. Once she is yours, it is to the death. She killed her master, and she is marked. If she fails you, you must kill her. Do you accept?”

“Yes,” I said without hesitating.

I could see surprise in M-J’s eyes, but no doubt, and she nodded her head in appreciation. “Perhaps one day I will trust you,” she said as she looked at me.

“But not today.”

“No, not today.” She pulled my face to hers and bit my earlobe so hard I was sure she had severed it, and when she pulled away I could see my blood on her face. “Not yet, Woodie, but the day may come when you will be given the opportunity to prove yourself.”

She disappeared into the night, leaving me and Persephone down below, with only lapping waves hitting the hull for company. A strong gust shook the boat, and wind moaned in the rigging. I turned to Persephone, and when she saw my wound she ran to get first aid supplies from the head.

“She marked you,” Persephone said as she worked on the injury.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Either she wants you for her own, or she intends to kill you.”

“Now, there’s some good news.”

“Did you really mean what you said to her? About me?”

“Every word.”

“Even though I was meant to kill you?”

“I meant every word.”

“You really love me?”

“Yes. Completely.”

“And Liza? You really love her too?”

“Yes, but not like I do you. It’s different. You are like a wife to me, Persephone. Liza is more…”

“A concubine? For your pleasure?”

“Perhaps, yes. But she brings me comfort, too.” I looked at this woman, this care-giver, and I did indeed feel something unique when I looked into her eyes. Love? Yes. Fear? Way too much. Would she still kill me if ordered? I doubted that not at all.

+++++

The next morning I felt the boat move as someone hopped aboard, and went to the companionway and looked up into the cockpit. Liza was there, sitting beside the wheel, and she looked at when I poked my head up into the light.

“You here to stay?” I asked.

“Could we talk? Up here?”

“Sorry. I’m down here, for the week. Orders.”

“I’m glad you said that,” Liza said. She had been testing me – as I assumed she might.

“Well, not sure I’ll cook you breakfast again, in case you were wondering.”

She smiled, but there was pain in her eyes as she confronted the reality of being a murderer.

“It doesn’t go away, does it?” I said to her indecision.

She shook her head.

“So, you coming down?”

“Could I sit up here for a while?”

“Suit yourself.” I ducked below, started working on the alternator’s belt. Sephie was forward, I assumed, reading a nursing journal, but then I heard her coming up behind me. She knelt down, put her hands on my shoulders and whispered in my ear: “We’re going to need a bigger boat…”

I turned, looked at her, saw the smile on her face – and I smiled too.

“We’ll need a bigger bed, too,” she added.

“Hadn’t thought of that,” I grinned.

“I have,” Liza said. She was sitting on the cockpit sole, leaning into the companionway.

I looked up, was kind of surprised to see her so soon.

“I have a question for you,” I said to her. “Kind of an important one, too.”

“Okay.”

“You marked me, remember?”

Her eyes were half closed, but she nodded her head.

“What does that mean? To mark me?”

“That I marked you as my property.”

“I understand that, but what are the consequences?”

“You are mine.”

“But that’s where I’m a little fuzzy, Liza. I am your master, am I not?”

“You are. True.”

“Yet you say, ‘you are mine’? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”

“No, not at all. ‘You are mine’ simply means that I am sworn to you, that my soul belongs to you.”

I turned away.

“You do not believe me?” she asked.

“No, I don’t.” I looked at Persephone. “Is she telling me the truth?”

She nodded her head.

“Why haven’t you marked me, Persephone.”

“I can not answer.”

“That’s okay, I think I get it.” I turned back to Liza. “Lying to me is the same as failing me,” I said to her. “Or do you disagree?”

“Oh, no, I agree. Will you kill me now?”

“When it pleases me, I will.” That seemed to penetrate the fog, and she nodded her head slightly. “Come below now, and go forward.”

She didn’t hesitate. She climbed down the steps and went to the forward cabin, and I let her stay up there the rest of the day, by herself.

Sephie helped me change the alternator belt, then we fixed lunch and I sat at the chart table for a few hours looking over sailing routes from Puget Sound the Polynesia.

An hour later, Liza called out; she needed to use the head.

“Show her how, Seph,” I said, and she went forward. When Liza came aft I saw she was naked, and I wondered why but kept my mouth shut. I heard the head being pumped clear a minute later and watched as Liza walked back to the forward cabin, but I let her stew in silence a little longer. When the sun was sliding behind the hills to the west I told her to come to me.

“No more lies, Liza. When I ask you a question, I want a truthful answer.”

“If I can.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“I’m sorry.”

I nodded my head, opened up chart table drawer and pulled out my old Kimber 45 ACP, and screwed on a silencer. I racked the slide, chambered a round, and leveled the pistol at her chest.

“Care to change your answer?”

She looked at the pistol, then at my eyes, judging me.

“Only members of the council may mark a master,” she said.

“And Persephone isn’t a member?”

“No.”

I unscrewed the silencer and put the pistol back in the drawer.

“Woodie, were you going to shoot me?”

“Yes.”

“You are a master! I knew it!”

“Don’t ever lie to me again,” I growled.

She dropped to her knees. “Yes, Master.”

“Why did you mark me?”

“Because I killed my master. I was masterless, and afraid.”

“Afraid? That is your truth?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes, Master.”

“I will cook you something.”

“No, Master, let me…”

“No, you need to understand, it pleases me to cook. Even for you.”

“As you wish.”

“It would also please me no end if you’d stop calling me Master, and talking like you’re some kind of medieval vassal. And, get off the floor, for heaven’s sake –  unless you’ve dropped a contact lens or something…”

Liza smiled, stood, and looked at me.

I opened my arms, she came to me, and I held her close. Persephone looked at us, and she smiled too, but there was something new in her eyes, something that hadn’t been there for the past year.

I told Liza to go forward and put on some clothes, and when she was gone I went to Persephone and kissed her passionately for the longest time. When I was sure she was completely confused I let her go, and turned to the galley with a smile in my little black heart.

Phase One was now underway.

+++++

Tate came over a few weeks later, and, he said, he just wanted to just shoot the shit for a while. Liza was off doing her thing as a reporter, while Persephone remained on hand like my very own two legged Golden Retriever. That is to say, she was right by my side, my ever faithful, golden haired companion, so talking would be a little restrained.

“When I have my big heart attack, can I have one just like yours?” Tate said when Persephone came up into the cockpit carrying a tray loaded with orange juice and heart-healthy snacks. That’s code for saw-dust, by the way. There’s no such thing as a heart healthy snack, unless of course you’re talking about oral sex.

Anyway, Sephie smiled, handed Tate a glass of fresh squeezed, then settled in by my side.

“You look like you could use some sun,” Tate said. “You’re pale.”

“It’s her fault,” I said, pointing at Sephie. “She sleeps all day and flies away at night, in search of fresh blood.”

“That explains everything,” Tate said. “Listen, I think I’ve got a case I can’t handle alone. Think you’re up to it?”

“I’ll have to check with his doctors,” Persephone said. “The last time he went out with the department he had some strange rhythms, and was light-headed.”

“Oh, still bothering you, is it?”

“Well, it’s pretty much a permanent condition now.”

So, in pidgin-cop talk he’d just managed to ask if I was still under house arrest, and I’d confirmed his suspicions.

“Well, it’d be nice if you could. The case is going to involve a lot of camera surveillance, and you could make a few bucks while just sitting back in your car with a Nikon for company.”

“If the doctor approves, could I come with him?” Sephie asked.

“No reason why you couldn’t, as far as I can see.”

“That might be fun,” she said.

“Do we have any avocados?” I asked out of the blue, knowing full well we didn’t.

“I could run out and get a few,” Tate said, helpfully.

“No big,” I said to Sephie. “Next time we’re out, I think we should get a few.”

“Have a craving?” Persephone asked.

“Oh, you know me. Put avocado on shoe leather and it’d taste good.”

“Want me to run out and get a couple?” she asked.

“No, next time we…”

“Don’t be silly. It’ll just take a few minutes, remember? The farm stand’s open down the street!”

Like, really, I’d forgotten? “Would you?” I asked innocently. “That’d be great.”

And a few minutes later Tate and I were alone. I pointed to my ear, indicating possible listening devices might be planted, so we continued with small talk about his difficult case, but at one point I bent over to pick up a napkin and slipped a note under his shoe. A minute later he knocked his napkin off the little cockpit table and retrieved the note, just before Sephie returned.

“Want me to make some guacamole?” I asked them.

“Sure,” Sephie said, and Tate nodded his head.

So, what was in the note? Just an innocent question concerning the PI business, but it would be enough to trip up Tate if he was part of the group, and if he wasn’t he’d understand in no uncertain terms that I was not free to move around on my own.

And yeah, I made some guacamole, and Liza got back just in time to have some, too.

+++++

Every couple of years I haul the boat and get the bottom scrubbed and re-painted, and it was coming up on that time again. We, the girls and I, packed overnight bags and checked into a hotel down the street, then Tate and I drove the boat to a yard across the lake, then hopped into the Zodiac and puttered back across to the hotel’s marina. Somewhere along the way Tate slipped a note into a coat pocket, but otherwise kept quiet. End result, I thought he was clean, but wouldn’t do anything compromising – for a while longer, anyway.

As summer approached, Liza started making noises about wanting to take some time off, some real time off, and wanted to know what I thought about taking a trip.

“On the boat?”

“Yes, of course. Why own a boat like this? Certainly not to let it sit in a slip and rot?”

“Guess that depends on what my doctors say. Isn’t that right, Persephone?”

“That would depend on how strenuous a journey we make? Like, where to, how long?”

“Like Tahiti,” she said. “How long would that take, Woodie?”

“Did we have a bad day at work, dear?” I asked. I swear I tried to keep the sarcasm out of my voice, too, but that did it. She broke down, went into a rant about an editor at the paper who had been riding her ass for months, and that got me wondering…

Were there limits to the interventions this group was willing to make? To preserve their identities, and the group’s security? Or was this editor of hers in the group? Interesting, I thought, but the answer to her original question still hung in the air, apparently waiting to be answered.

“So, Tahiti. What do you want to know?”

She looked at Sephie: “Could he do it?”

Persephone looked a little hesitant, like she wasn’t sure this was something she was allowed to talk about, but then she looked at me and shrugged her shoulders: “Assuming we were both there to do most of the heavy work? I think so.”

The heavy work? I had to laugh. These two had been out on the boat in the Sound a bunch, and under a variety of conditions too, but they had no idea what lay on the other side of the Olympic Peninsula. There was a malevolent beast waiting out there, a sleeping monster called the Pacific, and neither had ever been ‘at sea’ – not even once.

So, I kept my mouth shut about that, and launched into the less intimidating aspects of such a voyage. Like: most people from the Northwest hop down the coast, stopping at Astoria, San Francisco, and usually in L.A. too, before pausing for a long breather in San Diego, where supplies are replenished and gear maintained, then it’s a non-stop thirty-two hundred mile grind to the Marquesas, the gateway to French Polynesia from North America, then another nine hundred miles on to Tahiti. Boats like mine can make almost two hundred miles a day under optimal conditions, but a more likely average is closer to a hundred and ten, which puts a voyage from San Diego to the Marquesas in the forty day range. But the trip down to California can take more than a few weeks, and most people stop off in the Marquesas for several weeks. Trip time by that point is almost three months and climbing, and most people who’ve made the trip then spend a year or more wandering around the islands before heading to New Zealand.

“New Zealand? Why there?”

“Well, I suppose because it’s lovely down there, but there’re other reasons as well. It’s like sailboat heaven, and after a year or more at sea boats need work. Serious work. And a lot of people sour on the dream by that point, and decide to either sell their boats there or ship them back to the states and start over.”

“Start over?”

“Well, just looking at the experiences of people I know who’ve made the trip, if they make it that far one of two things happens. Married couples either divorce and sell the boat and return to the states, or they double down and head west for Australia and on to the Med.”

“You mean…”

“Yup. Circumnavigate. That’s a five to seven year deal, assuming you stop to smell the roses from time to time.”

“Holy cow. Do many people do that?”

“More than you might think, but that’s a trip for people like you. Starting off in your forties is the norm for a trip like that. People starting a circumnavigation in their sixties are rare. My guess is if I started a trip like that now you’d probably get to spread my ashes somewhere in the Indian Ocean.”

“Now, Woodie…”

“No, I think that’s realistic, and it wouldn’t be the most horrible thing in the world, you know? Life is a one way ticket, I seem to recall. To leave this life doing something you always wanted to do isn’t the worst outcome imaginable.”

“Is it something you always wanted to do?”

“I used to think so.”

“And now?”

“Are you kidding? I’m getting older by the minute and haven’t a care in the world, but to make matters worse I live on my boat with two stunning women I just happen to adore. And yes, I know we need a bigger boat. If we made such a trip, we’d need a newer, bigger boat, or spend a heck of lot upgrading the hardware on this one. But there’s a more important question: why make the trip now?”

“Because you’d be happy.”

“You’re assuming I’m unhappy, aren’t you, Liza?”

“I know you’re unhappy,” Persephone said.

“Well, if anyone knows what I’m feeling, it’s you. And I mean that in the best possible way, of course.”

Sephie came to me and put her head in my lap, and I ran my fingers through her long hair for the longest time. Liza came and sat by my side, and she leaned in close.

“Do you want to at least try?” Liza finally asked.

And there I was, hesitating on the precipice, lost in the vertigo of a great decision. Two years ago this had been the dream, the plan. Retire and head south, then make for the Med or the South Pacific, and I’d even considered making the voyage solo, maybe meeting some wahini along the way and making a run at it together, but now…everything was different. And it was different in the most sinister way possible.

Just what the Hell were they up to? Get me offshore and push me overboard? Or just shoot me in the head and let me wash up on the shore somewhere?

“I couldn’t make it without both of you,” I thought aloud, “and I couldn’t ask that of you. Wouldn’t be fair, you know.”

“You don’t have to ask, Woodie,” Persephone said.

“Yes, I do. I could never impose my dreams on someone else, especially the only two people left in the world I love.”

“That’s not what I meant, Woodie,” Persephone said. “I love you too, and I’d want to share this, be a part of this.”

I could see the end of my life in her words, and it was fascinating. Simply fascinating.

All in all, the air around me felt exotic, heavy with portentous meaning, and suddenly it felt as if I was sitting in an Indian bazaar, flute in hand, watching a pair of cobras dancing to a tune only they could hear.

+++++

We decided to head out for a sail a few weeks later, kind of a trial run out towards Vancouver Island. Blue water, if you know what I mean. Real ocean, not that calm stuff in Puget Sound. That was the idea, anyway.

Mother Nature always has her own plans, and this was one of those days. No, not stormy. Far from it. The water in the Straits resembled a Wal*Mart parking lot – in Kansas. Flat. Flat as a billiard table, and not a breath of air all morning. We were off Port Townsend just after noon and still heading west northwest, and the only excitement we’d had had been dodging the occasional log. That, and my pointing out the passing fins of the odd blue shark that happened along from time to time. Odd how focused people get when they spot a man-eater.

By mid-afternoon we were past Victoria harbor and still motoring west, a Seattle-bound ferry crossing southbound off our stern the only company to be had. I hopped down the companionway and made some log entries, grabbed a few Cokes and went back up to the wheel and noticed the girls weren’t in the shaded cockpit. I looked around, saw them up on the foredeck deep in conversation. I saw the Beretta 92SBF in Liza’s right hand within the span of a single heartbeat, and it didn’t take me too long figure out what was on their minds. I reached down and let off the main sheet and the traveler lines, then moved all the way aft and got behind the wheel, and waited.

Persephone saw me first, maybe a minute later. She turned and looked at me – and I could see the sorrow in her eyes, the pain in her soul. She didn’t want to kill me, she never had. Then I looked at Liza. What I saw in her eyes made my blood boil. It was lust, pure blood-lust. In all my years on the street I’d encountered such savage evil only a few times, and I recognized what I saw in her eyes immediately. She smiled at me then, smiled as she drew the pistol and leveled it at my chest.

Liza moved towards the starboard shrouds as she started aft, and Persephone followed close behind. The Beretta is Liza’s right hand barely wavered as she drew near the canvas awning over the cockpit, and that’s exactly when I threw the wheel over hard to port.

Right as rain, the main boom rocketed off to the starboard rail, and with the satisfying ping of a four iron on a par five fairway, both Liza and Persephone were knocked high over the lifelines and into that deep blue sea.

It was time to make a few quick decisions, and though I’d had a few days to think about what I’d do if my worst-case-scenario came to pass, the sadness in Persephone’s eyes called out to me across that mirrored sea. In point of fact, Persephone began calling out to me at that very moment, and she looked pathetic. Helpless, and pathetic.

Liza, on the other hand, looked ferocious. Pissed off, and ferocious. Her hands were flailing away, no Beretta visible now, but she soon settled down and starting swimming after the boat. I dropped the RPM down to twelve hundred and tightened the turn, then straightened out, aiming to come alongside Persephone; Liza saw what I was doing and started back towards her.

The dilemma facing me was simple. The first thing that crossed my mind was that it would never be possible to trust either girl ever again, not right now – and probably not ever again. So, the next thing that hit me? Well, simply put, bringing one or both back to shore would leave me in exactly the same predicament. It would only be a matter of time before the order would come to kill me again. So, I reasoned, the simplest thing to do would be to run them down, kill them out here in the Pacific and let the sharks have them. There were no witnesses and, I calculated, I could do this with a clear conscience. They had set this up, all this talk about going to Tahiti, with nothing more in mind than killing me. They were predators, merciless, mercenary predators.

And then I saw the Beretta. Right there on the cockpit cushion, hard by the companionway. Leaning forward, I scooped it up before coming alongside Persephone. I throttled back a bit and turned away from her, watched as the panic set in. Liza arrived by her side a moment later and I just watched them. I watched them watching me, watched them study me, looking for the first sign of hesitation, or resolve.

And then I saw the shark.

A white. A Great White. Rare in these waters, but not completely unheard of, and now the huge fish was circling perhaps thirty yards away from the girls, probably trying to figure out exactly what they were, and how they might taste.

So here I sat – fat, dumb and very unhappy – on my boat, and just a few yards away two very nervous women paddled away in very deep water, completely oblivious to the danger that had entered their very precarious orbit.

I raised the Beretta, let Liza see it for what it was as I cut power and dropped the transmission into neutral. The boat slowed, but was still a good ten yards from the girls, and then I pointed at the fin.

“I think that’s a Great White,” I said.

Synchronized swimmers had never executed such a precise, coordinated turn in any venue, nor had any actress in any horror movie ever made shown such wide-eyed awareness of her impending doom as those two girls did.

Personally, it was kind of gratifying, but almost three decades of carrying a gun and a badge made what happened next a completely forgone conclusion. I swung the wheel hard to starboard and slipped the transmission into reverse and backed down slowly, then I slipped it into neutral and hopped down onto the swim platform and dropped the ladder into the water. Predictably, Liza made it to the stern first, and I reached down and hauled her aboard in one smooth motion. As she clambered into the cockpit I reached down and took Persephone’s frantically grasping hand in mine and hauled her onto the platform, then I grabbed her shaking body and held her close to mine.

I knew Liza had the Beretta even before I turned around, but when I looked at her she held it out to me, handed it over without so much as a murmur.

“Go grab some towels, would you, darlin’?” I said softly. I helped Sephie into the cockpit, took the towels Liza carried up a moment later and wrapped them both up and held them tight, kissed each on the forehead.

“Don’t ever do anything like that again,” I whispered in Liza’s ear. “Okay?”

I could feel her head nodding assent through her violent trembling. When she calmed down a few minutes later I handed the Beretta back to Liza, and with my head I motioned her to toss it overboard.

She didn’t hesitate. When I heard that definitive ‘ker-plonk’ I took her face in hand; I kissed her hard on the mouth, kissed her until she responded with an authenticity I’d never felt from her before, then I kissed Sephie, and more deeply than I ever had before.

It hit me hard, that irrational moment out there under then sun. Despite everything, I knew I loved them both, I mean really and truly loved them, and that I could never let go of them. Still, a part of me clung to the knowledge that I could never really trust them. Yet…there had been something so unexpectedly tender about those fleeting seconds that had caught me so completely off-guard. Something about the way we loved one another as we turned back towards the Sound, about the desperate gratitude we shared as we clung to one another, something about the looks I found in their eyes that told me the tables had finally turned.

You can’t have love without trust, after all. Or is it the other way around?

+++++

We didn’t talk too much about what had happened out there on the water. There wasn’t much to say, the way I saw things. They’d been ordered to do away with me, but up to that point in time whoever controlled them had never seen any reason to question their loyalty. By the time we tied up at my marina on Lake Union that assumption had been turned on it’s ear. I was alive. They’d failed – for whatever reason, and now there would be consequences. Whoever was calling the shots in their world, I assumed, just might expose themselves to get this done. Someone would have to give the order, and then someone would have to execute the operation against “their” girls. That’s what I was counting on, at least, and that, hopefully, would give me the opening I had been hoping for.

+++++

And so I wasn’t entirely confused when Mary Jo came down to the marina a few hours later. I had just sent the girls to the market for some grub, which wasn’t all that surprising either. The slip, my boat, were under constant surveillance, and again, I’d kind of assumed that for quite a while. But here she was, and all alone, which did confuse me. I had expected a return appearance of her ninja warrior girlfriends, but no, that was not the case. At least, they weren’t visible, but that’s the point with ninja, I suppose.

“Hello, Woody,” she said as she stood on the dock below the cockpit. “Kind of surprised to see you.”

“Are you, indeed,” I said as I climbed out the companionway and stepped into the cockpit. “Why’s that, I wonder? And where are those delightful girlfriends of yours?”

“Around.”

“Yes, of course.” I looked at MJ, remembered that night and her hand under the table. “Well, you’re looking good,” I said as I smiled at her. “Would you like to come aboard?”

“Assuming you’re not going to try to kill me, then yes.”

I almost laughed as I gave her my hand and helped her aboard. “So, to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”

“Why are you still alive?”

“Well, as long as we’re asking questions, why do you want me dead? I thought we had an understanding?”

“We did.”

“What changed.”

“Circumstances.” Only the voice I heard wasn’t Mary Jo’s. It was a man’s voice, and one that sounded very familiar.

“What the fuck!” I said as Mark Tottenham stepped out from behind a pillar and back into the land of the living.

He walked over to Mary Jo, pulling a little Walther PPK/s from under of his jacket as he drew near. “Get down on your knees, you stupid bitch,” he said as he came up behind her. He screwed a silencer on the barrel, then put the tip up to the base of her brain and squeezed off one round. Mary Jo fell into the water between the dock and the boat and disappeared; Tottenham tossed the Walther into the water after her.

“You didn’t need to kill her, Woody. That was unnecessary, and stupid.” He took black leather gloves off his hands, then walked up to the gate without saying another word. As he left the marina, I took a remote control from my pocket, and hit the pause button. “This might be easier than I thought,” I had the audacity to say, but in truth, Tottenham’s resurrection was troubling.

I heard the sirens a few minutes later, and a half dozen patrol cars careened into the marina parking lot moments later. Their guns drawn, dozens of officers stormed towards the gate, but as they didn’t have a key, I had to walk up and let them in.

+++++

“Long time no see, Woody,” Chief Anders said as he climbed aboard.

“Hey Chief. How’s it hangin’?”

“Down to my knees, Peckerhead.”

“Good to hear it. Come on down. I think you’ll enjoy this.”

A couple of grunts from CID were already down below, and SAC Brennan was as well. They’d of course seen the recording already, which was why I wasn’t being booked-in at that very moment, but Chief Anders hadn’t seen it, which was why he was here now, and Brennan had thought it important he see it as soon as possible.

First, and for his benefit, I explained what had been happening for the past fourteen months, during my impromptu retirement, then I played the tape.

When he saw Tottenham step into view, when he heard his voice, Chief Anders just about came unglued. “What the fucking Hell is this!” he shouted. “Some sort of CG bullshit!”

Liza stepped into the cabin, right on cue. “Not quite, sir,” she said. “It’s his brother, Paul. Identical twins. I think Mark wasn’t going to cooperate, so Paul had him killed. Oh. He’s also the head of the local council.”

“Council?”

“Whatever you’d like to call them sir. They’re usurping control all around the country, coopting officials at every level of government.”

“A silent coup, Chief Anders” Brennan interjected. “A complete government takeover, using blackmail. Sexual blackmail, one of the oldest tricks in the book. Minimal personnel involved, very quick, very efficient. Even the Romans used to do it this way.”

“Shit,” Anders said, no small amount of wonder in his voice. “And this Paul Tottenham? He’s in charge?”

“I don’t think he has much power beyond Seattle,” Liza said.

“Do you know, Miss… Hell, I don’t even know your name, but you sure look familiar.”

“I’m with Woodie,” my dear little Liza said. “Have been for a while.”

I took her hand in mine.

“So you don’t know much about their operations, beyond the local structure?” Anders asked. “Brennan? You need to keep her for a while?”

“I don’t think so, Chief. She’s cooperating, and we have enough already to make a few dozen arrests. We may break open a larger investigation that way. I think it depends on how deep their penetration is, but it sounds like this could be a very sticky operation.”

“Woody, you think you’re well enough to come back?” Anders asked.

“Me? Hell Chief, I hadn’t thought of that. I wouldn’t count on me, though. Liza and I have been thinking of taking a trip, on the boat.”

Anders looked at Liza and almost smiled, but I could see the envy in his eyes. He just nodded his head, mumbled something that sounded a lot like ‘wish I could’, then he climbed up into the night and was gone. I’d already burned several copies of the recording, and everyone had their discs now, as well as Liza’s statement, and soon they were all gone.

Persephone was still forward, and she came aft as soon as I gave her the all clear. She had recorded the proceedings on board that evening, ‘just in case’, and Tate was buried away in the parking garage making recordings of the people here as well.

Divers recovered MJs body early the next morning, and they found the little Walther, too, so ballistics wouldn’t be a problem, and with the recording there wouldn’t be any problem getting a conviction. There was certainly no ‘reasonable doubt’ about what had happened, anyway. For good measure, Tate took copies of all our recordings to multiple safety deposit boxes around the city, and I did the same at a few other banks, as well. That done, we met back to the boat.

“So,” Tate asked when we were safely back on board, “are you really going to head out? Do the trip?”

“I’m thinking I might just give it a try?”

“You going solo?” he asked, and I could see he was wondering where the girls were.

I just smiled.

“Man, wish I could make that trip!”

“Yeah, I bet you do.”

It took a few weeks to square away the new boat and provision her, but I guess you know I had some help. She’s a little bigger boat, not by much, but she’s a lot stronger…yet the most important thing, more important than anything else, is the bunk in my cabin is a whole lot bigger.

Hey, I’m just sayin’, you know, but I’m pretty sure you understand.

(C) renewed 2017 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | adrianleverkuhnwrites7@gmail.com | fiction, all fiction, and nothing but the fiction | and thanks for reading all 28,516 words. later… Aa

4 thoughts on “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt redux

  1. I read this on Lit when you reposted the new and improved edition. Just now finished it here. But I need your help with one part that has me confused. After the cruise to Vancouver, the great white encounter and man overboard drama, and return to his home slip. He had just sent the girls to the market for some grub when MJ comes aboard. During their conversation about why he is still alive the evil twin joins the two of them, and “He screwed a silencer on the barrel, then put the tip up to the base of her brain and squeezed off one round. Mary Jo fell into the water between the dock and the boat and disappeared; Tottenham tossed the Walther into the water after her.

    “You didn’t need to kill her, Woody. That was unnecessary, and stupid.” He took black leather gloves off his hands, then walked up to the gate without saying another word.”

    You didn’t need to kill her, Woody? Was Woody responsible for the death of MJ because he came back alive? Did he say something I missed that triggered (pun intended) the visit by the evil twin and the resulting execution? What have I not figured out or that is somehow not filtering through to my understanding? Help!

    Like

  2. I knew I had missed something. Didn’t realize the evil twin was commenting for his own device. I thought the police cars arrived as fast as they did because of either Tate or the nosy and very jealous guy next door.
    We end with both video and audio recordings of a recording.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s