In three years of being partners, Frank had never seen Tim Bayliss look so happy. Of course, he had never seen him so plastered either.
The tux flattered Bayliss, making him look even taller, dapper and almost sophisticated. At least until he spoiled the effect by giggling again. Frank shook his head in amusement, realizing it was a lost cause. Tim had been wise enough to trust a professional to dress him tonight, but tomorrow it would be back to the softer side of Sears. Frank was doomed to have a partner with wrinkled, baggy suits and a goofy smile. Which wasn't altogether a bad thing. After all, it made his partner look that much sharper.
Continuing to observe as Tim moved through the crowded, noisy bar, Frank had to smile, pleased by Tim's open joy. It was rarely seen. He wasn't sure why it was so gratifying to see Tim happy, but it was impossible to deny his own responsive tenderness. In fact, Frank wished he could bottle this moment, freeze-dry it or something, because he knew this undiluted happiness could never last.
Tim, on the other hand, didn't seem to realize that. His joy was honest, released by the alcohol or just the occasion; he was like a kid in the summer sun, refusing to anticipate an approaching storm. Frank always looked out for the clouds, doomed to feel their chill long before they arrived.
Tim Bayliss possessed something Frank had lost, and he envied him that. Tim had faith.
At first, Frank had dismissed it as a Reader's Digest/Sunday Supplement
kind of philosophy, but as time went on, he knew it was more than that.
Stronger than that.
Tim had described himself as a "mutt" as far as religion went, yet Frank remembered the surety of Tim's voice when he had told him, //"You can't turn your back on God, Frank. Even I know that."//
It had surprised Frank; made him think. Bayliss' bouncing from one religion to another implied more than impressing a pretty girl or pleasing a parent. Bayliss was a seeker, looking for truth, while all along he clung to the most solid rock of all -- hope. With his faith in God, faith in the possibility of goodness, of decency, Tim still saw the horrors they witnessed as aberrations, while more and more Frank saw them as the real truth.
Frank cherished Tim's happiness, because Tim stubbornly believed it could last.
Shaking off the impending melancholy, he sought another line of thought. It popped up with amazing ease: *Tim looks damned good.* Frank hastily took another drink wondering from what odd corner of his mind that fervent thought originated. Of course Bayliss looked good. He was wearing a tux, spiffed up for the occasion; why shouldn't he look good? So did Munch and Meldrick for that matter.
But his eyes kept seeking out Bayliss.
*Too bad Mary's not here,* he thought wryly, *she'd be cooing over how cute he looks; straightening his bow tie, pinching his cheeks, probably even patting his flat, white-boy hiney. She's already made it clear that she thinks Tim is the best thing since crunchy peanut butter. If she ever saw him dolled up like this, I'd never hear the end of it.*
As if echoing his thought, Gee asked, "Your wife couldn't make it, Frank?"
"She had a business meeting in New York; decided to stay over with
relatives for the weekend."
Which conveniently omitted the fact that she had warned him last night that he either get his job back or she would make him suffer in many horrible ways. His pride, she had told him flatly, was not worth the agony she would inflict on him if tried to give her one more nifty household hint.
"Too bad," Giardello said, "It's a nice party."
Their temporary respite from the jukebox ended when a strange Elvis Costello tune burst out in full force.
"Who do you think picked the music?" Frank shouted.
Then they both spoke as one: "Munch!"
Laughing, Giardello moved back to the bar, and Frank leaned against the wall, wondering whether he should go home yet. Going home to an empty, dark townhouse wasn't very enticing.
A loud, distinctive laugh rose over the other noise, and he glanced over to see Tim whirling Judy off her feet, setting her back down as she slapped at him in teasing reproach. Then she went up on her tiptoes and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
Watching as Tim progressed down the bar, laughing, shaking hands, hugging strangers, Frank realized just how much he truly liked this man.
If he had ever thought of Bayliss as foolish and inept, that impression was
erased now. Maybe it had taken nearly three years, but it was hard to
ignore the facts. Tim Bayliss was solid, smart and tenacious. Frank liked
intelligent people, and Bayliss qualified.
Frank had recognized that early on, but hadn't wanted to admit it because he sensed Bayliss had been his only heavy competition besides Kay Howard. Now that they were considered partners by one and all, that didn't matter. In fact, it was a plus. Reflected glory on both sides.
Of course, that was back when he still had lingering ambitions. His recent interaction with Harris had clarified what was important, what really counted. Being able to trust the man at your back was vital. For the first time he could acknowledge just how much he trusted Tim Bayliss.
*And he is an exceptionally attractive man.*
Frank stared down at his drink reproachfully. Okay, yeah, Tim was a handsome guy, but that didn't mean he should be thinking about it. It was a fact, right? Just a fact. Like Gee was big, or Kay had fantastic hair. Didn't mean anything. Meldrick was a nice looking fellow, too, as far as that went.
But Frank's gaze kept moving to Tim. To Tim in that damned tuxedo that emphasized his long legs, his height, the graceful line of his throat, the open sweetness of his face....
Frank took another drink, looking away. He didn't like this reaction, and
he was going to put it aside as he had before. He had felt this the very
first day they worked together; this total awareness of Tim's physicality,
of his person. He had pushed that away, pushed Tim away; concentrating on
the fact Bayliss was a rookie, an undesirable partner for his
bleeding-heart emotional outbursts.
At least until Frank discovered those outbursts didn't mean weakness, but
intensity; a real passion for truth. Soon it was obvious Bayliss was the
only one on the squad, except maybe Kay or Stan, who matched Frank for that
quality. That need to know the truth whatever the cost.
It made Bayliss desirable as a partner. Desirable....
Another gulp of fine whiskey burned Frank's throat as he took it too fast,
trying to obliterate the last thought. He stared at the empty glass and
realized he'd better call it quits.
Celebrating was one thing, losing control of his thoughts was something else.
"Hi, what's your name?"
He looked up in surprise. "Frank."
"What?" It was a little hard to hear her over the music and the raucous voices.
"My name's Holly. Who are you mad at?"
"You looked pissed."
She leaned a tad closer. "That's okay, you're smiling now."
The girl was pretty, young and obviously trying to flirt with him. He grinned back in automatic reaction, more than a little flattered. "I'm married."
She laughed. "Oh, rats. Thanks for telling me--"
Her saucy reply was rudely interrupted as Tim appeared, grabbing Frank in an armlock. "This man here is my partner," he told the girl earnestly. She looked puzzled and started to move away.
It did seem odd coming right after his flat statement that he was married
-- like Tim was staking claim. Tim made it worse by calling after her,
"He's *my partner*" as if she had been disputing ownership.
He might have been annoyed except that Tim was so damned euphoric. That grin was wide and bright enough to light up all of Thames Street.
Tim released him, but kept a hand on Frank's shoulder. There was a dangerous gleam in the big soft eyes.
"What?" Frank asked suspiciously. "What?"
"I just want you to know I'm hap--I'm super happy that you're my partner!"
Frank held him back with difficulty, nearly holding him up. Tim was drunker than he'd thought. "Good. Good. That's good." The wicked sparkle in Tim's eyes alerted him to what was coming.
"No. No! No! No, don't hug me!"
Tim moved in to offer a big, clumsy, loving embrace that Frank narrowly escaped. The idea of being hugged here in front of everyone, the people he worked with and total strangers, gave him the whimwhams. He didn't like hugging at the best of times -- although right off hand he couldn't even imagine what the best of times was. Truthfully, he just hated public demonstrations of affection. Geez, he didn't even like hugging Mary in public.
But Tim didn't insist, just laughed happily, sensing the attempt was as effective as the reality. Frank experienced that sweet, open warmth that Tim exuded without needing to feel it physically. That was one thing he admired about Tim -- he realized that Frank *got it*. That it didn't take heartrending speeches or open demonstrations to prove a person cared. So far, Tim was actually pretty low-maintenance in the emotional department.
Frank's thoughts flew back to that scene in the supermarket parking lot. He couldn't imagine anybody else having the patience or understanding to persevere after being chopped off at the knees.
//"I don't have best friends, Tim."//
Christ, anybody else would have told him to fuck off and good riddance.
He wasn't even sure why he'd said it. True, he'd been hurt by Harris' treachery, and was feeling angry, worried, defiant -- but none of that was Tim's fault. Now it seemed a really stupid and unnecessary thing to say. Tim was so obviously, so blatantly his only friend, screw best. It probably wouldn't have killed him to admit it.
That scene outside the headquarters when the shit hit the fan was proof of Tim's loyalty. "I'm with you either way," Tim had said, and he meant it. In all his life, Frank had never had anyone so willing to climb on the cross beside him.
It was scary.
It scared him, because he wasn't sure how far he could reciprocate.
Wasn't that what being "best friends" was all about? Didn't it mean he would have to stand by Tim if needed? He didn't think he was able to promise that. Mostly, he didn't want to feel obligated to do it.
But it was hard to deny how Tim's unabashed loyalty made him feel; the wash
of warmth he'd experienced when he saw Tim's face outside Gee's office
after he retrieved his badge. Considering
how he'd managed to alienate the majority of the squad, that was probably
the only sincere
welcome back he'd get.
And Tim's reaction had been so genuine and so overjoyed, it did make him feel appreciated far beyond his own high self-esteem. Tim wanted him back -- unlike Gee-- for himself, not for his clearance rate. Just for him. Mary had been the only one in his whole life who had ever cared for him like that.
Swallowing his pride with Giardello hadn't been so bad -- okay, it had been really, really bad. But the expression on Tim's face when he'd walked out of Gee's office had almost made it worthwhile. If the man had a tail, he would have wagged it. And being forced to endure Bayliss' unbridled enthusiasm was a little like having a big, gangly, goofy Irish Setter repeatedly jump up and try to lick his face.
"Frank, I had total faith in you! I knew you'd come back! I knew you wouldn't leave me!"
"How many times do I have to tell you that I didn't leave you, Tim. It had nothing to do with you."
"No, of course not -- but I knew you'd be back with me! This is so great!"
The exuberance had continued unabated until Frank had finally snapped, "I'm tempted to quit again just to shut you up."
Tim had grinned that rare, toothy grin and replied, "No, you won't."
"And why wouldn't I?" Frank had growled.
"Because you love the job." Then Tim had hesitated before adding shyly, "And because you missed me, too."
Frank had snorted, barely resisting the impulse to be sarcastic. After everything that happened, Tim deserved the truth. "Yeah, I missed you, okay?"
He recalled Tim's answer; the perfect answer, the only one that would make things right for them again: "Don't be nice to me, Frank. It's scary."
Remembering that now, he almost regretted not giving Tim that hug.
Frank made his way through the crowd to the bar. Munch's homely face approached, mellowed and radiating contentment.
"Frank, my man!" he shouted over the music and babble of voices. "Another shot of golden poison? Your liver will thank you for it."
He knew it was better to say no, to just have a beer as he'd planned. Whiskey was devious; it snuck up on you if you weren't careful. But it was also very seductive.
"Sure, why not? It's a celebration, right?"
Munch poured his drink and leaned closer over the bar. "One brief moment of debauchery before we return to the sad doldrums of life. A sweet, stolen instant of blissful bacchanalia amidst the black backdrop of Baltimore."
"How come you're not drunk?" Frank asked, seriously surprised considering Munch's rumored proclivities to imbibe freely of mind-altering substances. That last sentence alone proclaimed his sobriety.
"Not to encourage the stereotype, but I'm a Jew, Frank. There is real money involved here. My future is at stake. My future in a well-appointed rest home in Florida staffed with beautiful, well-endowed nurses offering sponge baths on request. If this is a success, I'll get so farshikkert I'll plotz tomorrow. Enough said?"
Frank grinned and saluted him with his shot glass. "Plotz away. Here's to nurses with warm smiles and warm hands." He swallowed the whiskey, then added, "Set me up a Natty Bo while I go empty the reservoir."
As he made his way to the men's room, the song on the jukebox was I Shot the Sheriff. He wondered whose sick sense of humor that belonged to. Meldrick probably. Good music nonetheless, and he found himself bopping just a little bit to the rhythm. He wished Mary were here so he could dance. The alcohol was making his blood race and his head feel light -- it was affecting his feet.
He spotted Kay, and spun her around, taking a quick moment to boogie. She was laughing, half-lit herself. The space was small but the crowd backed off and watched them appreciatively. The song ended and he impulsively kissed Kay on the cheek. She grabbed him around the waist and hugged him enthusiastically as the crowd hooted and cheered. The alcohol buzz must have tempered his distaste for hugging -- or perhaps it was Kay's alluring perfume. For once, the attention didn't bother him at all.
Feeling a familiar pair of eyes, he looked up to see Bayliss smiling at him; face soft in the dim light, eyes bright, hair falling loosely over his forehead. He looked...pretty. Even prettier than Kay, whom Frank had always found attractive.
*I've definitely had too much to drink.*
Frank headed for the bathroom, trying to elude the uncomfortable sensation that he'd just been lusting after his partner. Unfortunately, that particular focus of unwarranted interest paced him step for step. So he stopped, looking back at Bayliss. "What?"
"So stop following me."
Frank paused to frown at him, receiving an innocent look in response, then proceeded into the men's room. He relieved himself with difficulty, slightly tumescent, and wondering why he was so horny tonight. Maybe it was just relief at getting his job back. Being out of work was a little emasculating. Mary and he hadn't made love for over a week -- almost a record for them. There must be something about the smell of burnt pot roast that put the kabosh on romance.
Exiting the restroom, he found his partner waiting in the same spot, like a faithful pup.
He glared at Bayliss. "What?"
"You hugged Kay," Tim said accusingly, "but you can't hug your partner?"
Frank was on the step above Tim, giving him an unaccustomed vantage point of looking down at Bayliss. He looked pretty damn good from this angle as well. "You're a real pain in the ass, you know that?"
Tim fell back against the wall, looking sweetly up at Frank. "I know. But you love me anyway, don't you?"
Frank wondered if Tim realized he was flirting. The body language was totally submissive, inviting, almost daring. Tim tilted up his chin, looking up at Frank from under thick lashes, his smile pure Cheshire Cat, melted sensuality. "You gotta hug me, Frank. Just once. It won't kill you to be nice. You can be nice, I know you can. S' not like I'm asking you to kiss me or anythin'."
"As if I would," Frank retorted. But if there had ever been anyone who needed to be kissed -- and kissed long and hard and deeply -- it was Tim Bayliss. He was a walking advertisement for the joys of osculation. Beautiful, appealing mouth, beautiful eyes, beautiful everything; pale skin flushed with drink and exhilaration. A vision of white-boy perfection.
Frank narrowed his eyes. "And what would you do if I did kiss you, right here in front of everybody?"
Tim's mouth turned up happily. "Kiss you back?"
"Yeah, sure," Frank chortled. "You'd run like a scalded cat." He was
tempted to test his theory, just to see what Bayliss would do, what
everyone else would do. Just about everybody was drunk or running close to
the line. Except maybe Munch. And Meldrick. Meldrick always kept
his wits about him.
For some reason the thought of Meldrick brought him back from the precipice of a really stupid impulse. Munch wouldn't care, but Meldrick would notice, and Meldrick wouldn't like it at all.
Instead, he pushed Tim's bangs back. "Your bandage is coming loose."
Tim reached up and pulled it off. There were a couple of stitches, but it was healing already. "You should know better than to let Lewis drive," Frank chided.
Tim's eyes widened. "How'd you know--?"
Frank rolled his own eyes. "I read it in the stars."
"Gee told me, idiot."
Tim's sweet, abashed smile pushed Frank's last button.
He gave himself a mental shake. He did not want to kiss Tim Bayliss. What the hell was he thinking? He needed some air.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," he told Bayliss, and headed for the door.
Outside, the cool breeze off the water revived him a little, dissipating the debauched, riotous atmosphere of the bar. He walked across the brick street, away from the muffled music, inhaling the damp, moist air that smelled faintly of salt. When he reached the iron fence bordering the water, he leaned against it, cupping his hands to light a cigarette. It was quiet here, except for the rhythmic lapping of the waves and the distant sounds of the city. The only traffic on Thames Street was a squad car pulling into the station garage.
Hearing the jingle of keys, he turned, noticing the woman standing by the curb.
She looked back at him and smiled, "Hello, Detective Pembleton."
He gritted his teeth, recognizing her as Maria Delgado, the reporter who had first broken the Congressman Wade story. She had been in the bar earlier, but he had purposely ignored her. Now, he stared at her coldly, refusing to speak.
"You're still mad at me, aren't you?" she asked.
He took another drag on his cigarette, not bothering to reply.
"Listen, I was doing my job, okay?"
"Good for you," he growled.
"Come on, give me break here," she said impatiently. She moved closer and stared at him pugnaciously. "I've been through all this with your partner. It must be wonderful to have someone think you walk on water."
"What are you talking about?" Frank asked despite himself.
She sighed. "If you're worried I'm going to blow the whistle on you and your partner, relax. It wouldn't be that interesting a story. Neither of you are important enough." She started to turn away, then paused with a frustrated sigh. "Okay, listen. I don't like making enemies. It's not smart in my line of work. So, I meant what I told your partner. Everyone has a right to a private life."
"Excuse me? What the hell are you talking about?"
"Just that I figured out why you were so protective of Congressman Wade, and why Detective Bayliss is so defensive of you. It's okay. I don't mind. And you're very lucky to have him as a partner. He's a very attractive man."
Frank stared at her blankly. "I don't--" Suddenly he stopped cold. "You think Bayliss and I are...?" He trailed off, following her train of thought like a path of pink bread crumbs. "Oh, Christ! You can't be serious?" He looked at her, then started laughing. "Oh, lady, you have a marvelous imagination."
She regarded him doubtfully. "So you're not--? But when you covered for Wade, and then the way Bayliss championed you like a...well, he was quite passionate in your defense. And in the bar just now--"
Frank stopped laughing. "What in the bar just now?"
She seemed uncertain. "Obviously, I was wrong, but . . . it looked like you were going to kiss him."
*Was that how it looked?* Frank thought with alarm. He managed to smile and shrug. "Like I said, you have a quite vivid imagination. We're partners. That can be a very intense relationship. Don't make it any more than that or you'll make a fool out of yourself. I'm a happily married man, Ms. Delgado."
"I see." She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I read a lot of things the wrong way, I guess. Detective Bayliss asked me to come tonight, and he's essentially ignored me the whole evening. Maybe my nose is out of joint, because I was starting to feel like the invitation was a cover to throw me off. Paranoia is endemic with reporters."
Frank shrugged, grinding his cigarette out. "Bayliss isn't exactly a Casanova at the best of times, but he's sincere. If he asked you, it was because he liked you. And he was a little distracted tonight, with the grand opening and all. I'm sure he'll do better on another night."
She looked doubtful. "I'm sure you're right; and I was more puzzled than offended. I wouldn't have mentioned any of this, but I just wanted you to know that I wasn't going to 'out' you. But I see I got it wrong, and I'm sorry." She smiled. "Actually, it's very sweet, how much he cares for you. I wish I had someone who would stick up for me like that." She laughed. "He put a dent in our news van."
She waved it off. "Never mind. It's not important. But I'd hate to see him when he's really upset. I just hope you believe that I didn't do that story to hurt you or Congressman Wade. I did it because it's my job."
He nodded. "And sometimes the job sucks, doesn't it?"
As she unlocked her car door he asked, "Why did you accept his invitation if you thought--?"
"Truthfully, I didn't even think about it until tonight." She looked at him squarely. "Then it was almost too obvious."
Frank looked as puzzled as he felt.
She opened the door, then looked back, shrugging. "He only had eyes for you, Detective Pembleton. When you weren't looking at him, he was looking at you. Good night."
He didn't catch his breath again until she backed out and pulled away.
Christ, what was wrong with them tonight? Neither he nor Bayliss were big drinkers, but alcohol alone hardly explained the sudden sensual pull between them.
Frank turned and stared out over the water. His mind went back to their recent conversation, right before the Wade case blew apart.
//"You ever go through that phase when you thought you were gay?"
"Never had a homosexual experience?
"Even when you were a kid?"
"No. No, I haven't."
"Come on, Tim. Every guy goes through this."
"No awkward hugs, no little pecks on the cheek? No close encounters of any kind?"
"How many have you had, Frank? How many?"
"Okay, I had a cousin who used to follow me into the bathroom. Sometimes."
"What did he do?"
"I don't remember. Your turn."
"I got nothing to tell."
"What do you mean? You said that every guy has had one of these experiences at one point in his life, right?"
"I must've been lying."//
It had been a strange discussion, although on the surface no stranger than many of their debates. It had begun very much like most of their esoteric natters, and he hadn't meant it to be more than a nostalgic adolescent jack-off memory, but Tim's adamant denial of any sort of homosexual experience had irritated him at first. It seemed like Mr.-Sex-Is-Love-Period resurfacing. Nobody could be that innocent.
But Frank was long past thinking it was an act. Bayliss obviously had a
problem in the area of sex, and his reluctant response to that question had
shot a warning chill up Frank's spine. He had moved from irritation to
wariness within a space of seconds. There had been something about the
tone of Tim's voice that made him realize there were no light, amusing
toss-off stories in his partner's past.
Whatever happened, it wasn't light and the memory wasn't pleasant.
Frank had cut the discussion off with an abrupt negative, worried that a longer confession would pour forth from Bayliss that neither of them were ready or willing to handle.
He should know better than to ask a personal question of that nature. Bayliss didn't have the ability to lie well, and his evasions tended to be as clumsy as an elephant on a tight rope. The fact that he had tried so hard to deny it should have been a neon indication that the truth wasn't anything Frank wanted to know.
He still didn't have a clue what happened to Tim. What that "cousin" did to him. And he surely didn't want to know. But it also made it clear that it wasn't only the reporter's imagination working on overtime tonight. And his own perceptions were apparently off-key.
Tim was inexplicably pretty much of a dud with women, so why should he turn it on with his partner? Tim wasn't flirting with him; it was obviously just the booze. It meant nothing. And the reporter was just projecting the Wade case on them because Tim had effectively stood her up -- after standing *up* for him. He could understand how she might reach that conclusion, but two and two didn't always add up to four when human beings were involved -- particularly cop-type humans.
Frank smiled, thinking about the dent in the news van. *Tim Bayliss, my hero.* It didn't sound that ridiculous, considering Tim, who could be quite impressive when provoked. Frank was willing to admit he felt a lot safer approaching a perp with six-foot-four Bayliss at his side. He was somebody that was decidedly useful to have at your back, protecting you, fighting for you. As with everything else, Bayliss would give it his whole body and soul.
Despite the chill sea air, Frank felt another burst of warmth. Tim Bayliss was his best friend and he realized he was actually beginning to like the idea.
* * *
Returning to the Waterfront, he picked up his beer and grabbed a table as the occupants deserted it. It was getting late and the crowd was starting to thin out.
Tim flopped down in the closest chair and offered his brilliant, toothy smile. "Let me have some?"
"What?" Frank jumped, startled by the request, considering what he had been thinking.
"Your cigarette. Can I have a drag?"
"Oh, yeah, sure." Frank handed it to him, amused at the unmanageable fixation in his mind tonight. "I thought you quit."
"I did. I will again tomorrow. But this is a celebration." Tim put the
cigarette to his mouth and sucked in the smoke, blowing it out again with
the most sensually expressive look Frank had ever seen.
Frank squirmed a little in his chair, feeling the effect. What was it about that face? Couldn't it lie about anything, damn it? He had instant recall of Tim inhaling his second-hand smoke in a diner soon after Tim had quit. He'd had nearly the same reaction then; Tim's helpless sensuality was obscene at times.
Frank grabbed back the cigarette. "If you quit, you should fuckin' quit. I don't want the responsibility of 'enabling' you." He put it back in his mouth and was surprised at the heat lingering on the filter. It felt too intimate. He stubbed it out in the ashtray.
Tim's big eyes stared at him reproachfully.
"Oh, hell." Frank tapped a cigarette free of the pack and handed it to Bayliss. "If you're going to do it, go for it."
Tim's face looked like a five-year-old on Christmas morning. "Thanks, Frank! I swear, I'll quit again tomorrow." He lit the cigarette and closed his eyes, basking in the nicotine rush. "Man, this is so good.. Nothing but sex could be so good so quick...." His head fell back against the wall. "...or kissing--" His eyes flew open. "I mean -- that's not -- I didn't mean..." He stared at Frank, appalled. "You're the one who brought up kissing," he turned the accusation against Frank.
Frank's already engaged groin had offered a huge twitch at those telling words. Easy to ignore it, easy to dismiss the reaction. "Right now, kissing Munch would turn you on," Frank offered as a distraction.
Bayliss laughed in relief. "Yeah. I've got quite a buzz on."
"I can tell. You're more of a pain in the ass than usual."
Tim's face fell. "I guess I am. Sorry."
Kicking puppies had never appealed to Frank. "Tim! I'm kidding you, okay? Enjoy yourself. You're a business owner. This is a good thing. You should celebrate."
Tim looked up. "Yeah? Yeah! That's right! So I'm not driving you nuts?"
Frank smiled. "Sure you are. So what's new? But Tim," he added softly, leaning close so he could be heard over the jukebox, "be happy. It's okay to be happy."
Tim beamed at him. "So can I have another cigarette?"
* * *
"Look at them," Munch said fondly, "aren't they cute? Norman Rockwell should do a painting. 'Off Duty.'"
Stan was face down on the table, and Tim had his arm draped around Stan's back, chin propped on Stan's shoulder. Neither appeared to have any workable muscles.
Frank observed Tim and Stan ruefully. "That wouldn't be my first thought, no. 'Drunken Sots' springs to mind."
"Well, you take care of yours, I'll take care of mine."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You don't expect me to forklift both of them home, do you? Stan's my partner, Tim's yours. That's how it works, Frank. I know you misplaced your copy, but it's in the fine print of the Partners Manual."
"Hold on a minute--"
Munch turned back, glaring at Frank over the top of his glasses. "It's part of the partner package. Sorry it wasn't a full-color illustrated brochure. Deal with it, Frank. We're both going to have our hands full. Besides, what are you complaining about? I've still got to close out the register and lock up, and where are my business partners? Meldrick's disappeared with one of Kay's tootsie girlfriends, and Timmy boy has turned into Foster Brooks. You know how much I hate being the mature one. It's disrupting my whole devil-may-care attitude, my joie de vivre, my lust for life--"
"Okay, okay," Frank held up his hands in surrender, sourly accepted the inevitable. "I'll take care of Bayliss."
This was why he didn't want a best friend. This kind of responsibility made his teeth ache, especially when he wasn't that far from inebriated his own self. At least Tim was still sitting up, not French-kissing a beer soaked table like Stan. There was at least a possibility Tim's legs were still usable.
He managed to get Tim out the door and into the passenger's side of his car. He didn't even attempt the seat belt. It was only a few blocks after all. Those few blocks, however, made Frank very aware that he shouldn't be driving at all. He meticulously parked and shut off his engine, realizing he was going to have to call a cab. Damn.
It took a minor bit of manhandling to direct Bayliss up the steps to his apartment door.
"Keys?" Frank asked politely.
"Keys?" Tim repeated with happy, parrot-like oblivion.
"You know, metal bits you stick in a lock to open it? Keys."
"Oh, yeah. Keys." Tim frowned and patted his pockets absently.
"Oh, Jesus Christ." Frank started searching Tim's pants pockets himself, finding the keys and something else along the way. Tim was semi-erect, and Frank's somewhat intimate search didn't seem to affect that status one way or another. He simply lifted his hands and let Frank search, obviously unaware or uncaring of the intimacy involved.
It answered the question of whether Tim was flirting with him earlier. Tim Bayliss wouldn't recognize a sexual situation unless it was close captioned and had a brass trumpet to announce it. At the same time, his passive sensuality was a bit overwhelming. He smelled of beer and smoke and Aramis cologne. It was dangerously appealing, reminiscent of college days and defiant hedonism.
Frank found the keyring and jerked it out impatiently.
"Ouch!" Tim yelped.
Frank propped him against the wall and stuck a key in the lock. Wrong key. He tried another.
"Oh, there they are!" Tim said helpfully, as if he'd found the prize in a treasure hunt.
Frank put the third key in the lock, trying to ignore Tim's giggles, and
the fact his warm breath was moving over his ear.
*Geez, what do all these keys go to?* He shoved Tim back, then caught him as he nearly slid down the wall. Bayliss was even more gone than he thought. Giggling, Tim grabbed him and pulled him close.
"Sorry, I guess I had a lil' too much to drink. It's the square one. The door key."
"There's a shock." He wrangled them both inside, with Tim clinging like an
octopus. It felt better than Frank liked. It took a few minutes to relock
the door and half-shove, half-carry Bayliss to the bedroom. Tim fell
across the bed, still giggling a little.
But he wasn't totally helpless. He sat up, turned on the bedside lamp, and removed his shoes and socks, struggling for balance. "Thanks, Frank."
Frank stood there uncertainly. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I feel great." He fell back on the bed and threw out his arms, spread-eagled, limply abandoned. "I feel so good."
*Yeah, you did.* Frank turned away, knowing this was pushing his limits. *Call a cab, go home. Go home now.*
Frank left Bayliss there and went back into the living room, feeling anything but tired. In fact, he didn't even feel drunk, just jittery, wired, although he knew he'd had way too much to be driving again. He switched on a lamp and looked around for the phone. But when he found it, he passed it by, drawn by curiosity to inspect a little.
This wasn't the first time he'd been in Bayliss' apartment; he'd picked him up a couple of times, came to bring him news and such. But this was the only time he had been in a position to look around -- and, frankly, it was the first time he had been interested enough to want to.
The living room was quite neat, sparsely furnished, but it didn't scream
bachelor pad either. He checked out the bookcase and found it an eclectic
mix of predictability and surprises.
Michael Crichton and John Grisham jostled with other mysteries and a lot of
science fiction. But
there were volumes on history, too, and religion, philosophy, car repair,
some expensive books on art,
architecture, medicine. The entire bottom shelf was filled with
Most were the crappy "I'm Okay, You're Okay" type of pop psychology -- he even noticed one written by that sensitivity trainer the department foisted on them. But there were some solid, serious works, as well, that Frank remembered from his college classes. Freud, Jung, Maslow.
Frank sat down and lit a cigarette, trying to fit this with his knowledge of Bayliss. Most people had a few of these books, but this was blatant overkill. If some of them had been criminal psychology, he probably wouldn't have thought twice about it; Tim was big on research. But there was another message here.
Frank glanced toward the bedroom, wondering what it was Tim was trying to fix.
There was a desk by the window, and he pulled open a drawer looking for the phone book. Inside was a notebook labeled "Journal." He picked it up and flipped through it idly. It fell open and he read:
I was thinking about Molly. She *was* pretty stupid. Sweet, but really stupid. Frank was right, Irish Setters are "the I-Love-Lucy's of the dog world. " I loved that comment.
I felt a little disloyal to poor Molly, but it *was* funny. But I feel sad, too, about his dog, Rex. What would a kid feel having his dog put to sleep? Wouldn't be easy to get attached to anything after that--
Frank slammed the book shut and shoved it back in the drawer. He wasn't above snooping, but there were limits. Besides, he'd never liked Rex all that much anyhow. Rex had been smart -- it always amazed him how the dog knew which day to wait on which corner for him after school, and how he always sensed whether to be boisterous and bouncy or quiet and sweet, depending on the day Frank had. But he was only a damn dog.
He stood abruptly, searching angrily for an ashtray. This was the problem with having a friend. You started wanting to help them, to make everything all better, when it was basically none of your fucking business. And then they started having opinions about you that were way off base because they assumed they knew you. Started feeling sorry for you for things that didn't matter at all.
Frank found a candy dish and stubbed his cigarette out in that.
He heard a groan from the other room, then the sound of feet and a door slamming.
"Tim?" He grimaced as the sound of retching came through the bathroom door. Hesitating, he knocked lightly. "You okay?"
Silence. Then a small voice, "I'm fine." Then, almost panicky, "Don't come in!"
Frank hadn't planned on it, barring a life-threatening situation, but was a little surprised at the vehemence. "Okay, just checking."
"I'm...sorry, Frank. I'm okay, really."
Hearing the sound of the toilet flushing and water running, Frank returned to the living room and started looked for a phone book to call a taxi. Before he could find one, Bayliss appeared, eyes red, looking pale and embarrassed, but somewhat more sober. He'd removed his jacket and bowtie and his shirt was unbuttoned, tail untucked and hanging loose.
"Feeling better?" Frank asked with a grin.
Tim returned it sheepishly. "Yeah. I guess I overdid it a little, huh?"
"I think we all did. Good thing we're on late shift tomorrow."
"Well, I doubt if any of us would have got so smashed if we hadn't been." Tim moved cautiously from the safety of the doorframe to the couch and flopped down bonelessly, putting his hand over his reddened eyes.
"You're not goin' to drive home are you?" Tim asked uncertainly.
"I was going to call a taxi. As a matter of fact, I was looking for a phone book. Where do you keep it? Or I could call information."
With an effort, Tim sat up, propped on his elbows. "Mary's out of town, right?"
"So stay here. You'll be waitin' hours for a cab on a Friday night."
It was a terrible idea. A totally idiotic course of action. It was hard to imagine a worse, more reckless decision after an entire evening of bizarre, improper thoughts.
"Sure, why not."
"Great!" Tim bounded back up; still unsteady but re-energized, transformed from drunken lethargy to drunken hospitality. "You want some coffee or something?"
Frank started to reply in the negative, then realized that it might mitigate some of the impending hangover for both of them. They didn't have to be at work until afternoon shift, but it was after 3:00 a.m. now, so a little preventive medicine was probably wise. "Juice would be better. Got any orange juice?"
"I think so."
They made their way to the kitchen, Frank eyeing the unmistakably uncomfortable couch as they passed it. It looked like one of those futon things: thinly padded cement. Tim opened the refrigerator, peering inside, blinking at the light. Frank felt for the switch on the wall and flipped it on.
The kitchen was cleaner than Frank expected for a bachelor. There were a few things out of place, some dishes in the sink (well rinsed out), a dish towel tossed on the counter, but everything was scrupulously clean. That was one thing they did have in common.
Tim's expression was tragic. "No juice. I've been kind of busy...."
"Water will do as well," Frank said, extracting a couple of glasses from the cabinet. He filled them from the tap and handed one to Bayliss, who downed it in four big gulps.
Frank eyed him as he drank his own. "I talked to Maria Delgado earlier."
"Really?" Tim ambled back towards the living room and thumped onto the couch, putting his bare feet up on the coffee table.
Frank followed him and sat on the other end of the couch. "She said she was supposed to be your date."
Tim blinked, trying to focus. "Well, I did ask her to come to the opening, but I didn't think...I mean, she's a big shot t.v. reporter. I didn't think she'd come."
"So it wasn't a date?"
Tim shrugged. "She's pretty. It would've been nice. Maybe I was kind of hoping-- But she and Meldrick seemed to hit it off."
"So when she showed up, you didn't think it was for you?"
"I didn't really think about it at all, but, no, I guess not. Why, did she say something?"
Frank almost told him what her impression had been, but then reconsidered. Tim would be horrified. He would become so self-conscious about their relationship, it would lose any natural flow. Better to let it be.
Instead, he asked, "What did you say to her about me? She made it plain you gave her a hard time."
Tim straightened. "I guess I did. It pissed me off. You took all the heat and nobody cared, nobody knew the real story."
"Hiding the real story was the point, wasn't it? The real story would have been damaging to everyone: Wade, Draper, Harris, the Department--"
"Secrets," Tim interrupted with surprising venom. "I fuckin' hate secrets. They always end up hurting more, and you can't even let on why it hurts." He rubbed his face tiredly. "They made you commit perjury."
"Yes. Do you think I should've told the truth? Blew the lid off all the secrets?"
Tim turned to look at him, but his eyes were far away. "Sometimes the truth is so ugly, it's better to lie." Tim blinked and shook his head, as if recalling the question. "I don't know. Part of me wished you would've. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. But I also understood why you didn't do it. I know it wasn't easy. Truth is so important to you."
Frank chuckled blackly. "You don't get it, do you?"
"I took the easy way."
"Tim, think about it. If I'd told the truth, it would have exploded. Wade's sexuality would have been front page news, right along with the cover up and police favoritism. It would have been ugly and dragged on for weeks. My word against Harris. Who would they have believed? And even if they had believed me, how could I have done my job in that kind of circus? I wasn't prepared for that hell -- so I lied. It's simple as that."
Tim stared at him, eyes suddenly very clear and certain. "No, in that instant on the stand, you weren't thinking about yourself. I watched you, Frank. You were thinking about the Department. About Wade's privacy."
"So you think I'm a saint? Come on, Tim--"
"Hardly," Tim cut in with a smile. "I know your pride, I know how much you need to be right. What you did you didn't do for yourself. Not this time."
Frank stared at him feeling a familiar wave of warmth, unable to fight the affectionate emotion. "You're that positive? I thought you were drunk?"
Tim laughed. "Oh, I am, Frank. It's too hard to tell you what I think--" He cut off, dropped his eyes. "Even drunk, it's not easy, I guess. But I admire you, Frank. I admire your integrity. I didn't want you to lie, but I understood why you did and I was proud of you. Proud to be your partner."
Frank was silenced by the sudden lump in his throat. He couldn't remember when he'd been this overwhelmed before. Tim's emotional honesty thrilled him, but it embarrassed him as well. He finished his glass of water and took a deep breath. "Tim--"
Tim shrugged, "It's okay, Frank. I know I'm not the partner you might have wanted--"
"No!" Frank broke in quickly, "that's not . . . I mean, I just never wanted a partner at all."
Tim's head remained lowered. "Yeah, I know."
"You're a good partner, Tim. Just because I'm a misanthrope, don't put it on yourself. I'm just a bad tempered, antisocial son of a bitch. But we've done good work together. You know that."
"Yeah, sure." Tim stood abruptly, catching himself to maintain his balance. "Well, make yourself at home, Frank. I'll get you some pillows and blankets."
As Bayliss rifled through a closet, Frank took him at his word and returned to the bedroom. In a few minutes he came back.
"Don't you have any pajamas?"
Tim tossed the bedclothes on the sofa and looked at him blankly. "Pajamas?"
"You know, clothes to sleep in?"
"I just sleep in underwear."
Frank made a face. "Uncivilized."
"Wait. I think my mother gave me some for Christmas. Try the bottom drawer of the chest."
Frank opened the drawer and dug out some very nice blue pin-striped cotton pajamas, obviously new, apparently unworn. "What's wrong with these?"
It was Tim's turn to make a face. "Boring. Pajamas are so...Father Knows Best. If she bought me something in silk maybe...."
Tim grinned. "You betcha."
"Well, somebody should use these."
"Be my guest."
Frank went into the bathroom, which was strangely even cleaner than the kitchen. He wasn't sure why this surprised him so much. There was nothing sloppy about how Bayliss dealt with cases, he was a meticulous detail guy, often catching things that Frank overlooked. But his personal attire had always been utilitarian, often unflattering, baggy, untailored off-the-rack suits, polyester ties. Ugly cheap checked shirts. So, what did that imply? Down playing his own attractiveness? Why? It obviously wasn't the private sloppiness Frank had suspected.
There was a new toothbrush in the medicine cabinet, and Frank had no
reluctance in breaking the seal. The chances of Tim needing this for a
girlfriend any time soon were pretty remote.
Bayliss really needed to work on his technique. It sucked.
When Frank emerged from the bathroom, it was to confront still another Tim. Not Tim of the baggy suits, or Tim in the tux, or even Tim of the ratty sweat pants. This Tim was in undershirt and boxers. And very nice boxers. If he didn't go for tailored suits, he certainly went for stylish underwear. They fit him perfectly, and Frank found himself caught by the beauty of his legs. Most men had awkward, knobby legs -- particularly white men. Tim's were classic, well-shaped, powerful but elegant.
Tim looked down at himself, baffled by the intense scrutiny, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I was just thinking of something." *Something? Christ, what was I thinking? A lot more than something.*
Tim went into the bathroom and closed the door.
Frank stared at the closed door, wondering what the hell was wrong with him. There had to be a reason he was inundated with these fantasies. It had to be more than just horniness. They were very specific, these feelings. It wasn't just because he hadn't had sex for a while. It wasn't only the alcohol. It was Tim Bayliss. His libido was focusing on Tim. He was seeing things he had never noticed before. The clean definition of Tim's jawline, the grace of his throat, the soft gold-brown color of his eyes, the long lashes, the white teeth which were even whiter than the very white skin. White. Very white. Waspish white.
It was an attraction he'd fought all his life. The media had thrown that
image of beauty at him forever. As a child he wasn't allowed to watch much
t.v., but the images still prevailed, in movies, on
billboards, in newspapers, magazines. White was beauty. Like many black
men, it angered him, offended him. He would never consider marrying a
white woman. But attraction to a white man.... Somehow that had been
different. It wasn't something anyone had thought to warn against. It was
But in college, when approached by a white man who was intelligent and beautiful, he hadn't hesitated. He had liked the feeling of sexual power. He had been on top in more ways than one. It had never been emotional, but had been hauntingly passionate nonetheless. The echoes were with him still.
But this was nearly fifteen years later. His attraction to Tim couldn't be
dismissed as an echo. There was something else, stronger, resonating
between them. He wished he could dismiss it as something as simple as his
weakness for pretty white boys. Since his marriage he couldn't remember
ever being seriously tempted by anyone -- white, black, woman, man.
He was tempted now, lured as much by the emotional honesty of Tim Bayliss as by the beauty of the man. Tim needed, and the need wasn't aggressive, just a quiet gravitational pull that drew him to move closer.
Tim opened the bathroom door and his eyes widened at the fact that Frank was still standing there.
"Is there something else--?"
"No," Frank snapped, suddenly angry at Tim as much as at himself. He was a man who liked to control his emotions, and Bayliss was a relentless drip of water on stone, wearing away his control. The water might not be aware of what it was doing, but it was still the cause of the erosion. He turned and walked back to the living room.
"'Night, Frank," Tim called after him uncertainly. Glancing back, Frank caught the puzzled expression and relented.
"Good night, Tim."
* * *
Frank jerked awake and nearly fell off the narrow couch. The luminous clock on the VCR said 5:10 a.m. Which meant he'd been asleep about an uncomfortable hour. He could have unfolded the futon, but he figured it wasn't going to make a lot of difference either way.
Wondering what had woken him, he listened for a minute, and then turned over, settling into a more conducive position for sleep.
He had just slipped into a comfortable doze when another sound pulled him up. It wasn't a word, and it wasn't quite a scream, but the sheer desolation of the sound was impossible to ignore.
Still struggling with the seduction of sleep, he got up and stumbled toward the other room, feeling off-kilter and foggy.
Peering around the doorframe, he saw that Tim was tangled in the covers, head tossing on the pillow. Even in the dim light from the window it was easy to see he was caught in a particularly nasty dream.
Frank sat on the bed and touched his shoulder. "Tim?"
The only response was a groan and flinch at the touch.
He shook him. "Tim, wake up. Tim!"
Tim's eyes opened and he jerked upright. "Stop!"
"Shhh. It's okay."
Tim turned to look at him, eyes wild and dark. "Frank?"
Frank petted his shoulder cautiously, soothingly. "Yes, it's me. You're okay. It was just a bad dream."
Tim was shaking, trying to focus and bring himself back to reality. Frank knew that most of the effort was for his sake.
"Hey, it's okay. Everyone has nightmares."
To his surprise Tim laughed. It was a dark, unhappy laugh. "Yeah, the world's full of nightmares."
"I don't understand--"
"I dream a lot," Tim cut in, shaking his head. He ran his hands over his face and sighed. "This isn't the worst, but it's starting to become the most frustrating one. If my dreams were on cable, they'd be Nick at Nite. I keep having re-runs."
Tim shrugged. "Different nights, different dreams. But there are a couple of repeat scenarios I could live without."
"Tell me. What did you dream?"
Tim turned away. "Forget it. It's not important."
"I'd like to know." Frank said quietly. His hand on Tim's shoulder could still feel the poorly-controlled trembling. Whatever Tim said, he wasn't free of it yet. "Sometimes it helps to tell it. I'd like to hear, if you want to tell me."
Tim sighed, relaxed, then opened up, arms spreading, unconsciously unfolding as he laid back on the bed. His eyes were very wide, staring up at the ceiling, as if afraid to shut them and be trapped in the nightmare.
Not knowing what else to do, Frank rubbed Tim's shoulder soothingly, feeling the chilled flesh. He tugged the covers up around Tim, but retained his hold on the arm. "It's okay, Tim. Do you want me to turn on the light?"
"Okay, fine." Frank patted him, amazed at his own patience, at his sudden
need to take care of this man -- this boy. Right now Tim Bayliss looked so
very young, so impossibly defenseless. Some part of Frank wanted to shout
at Tim to snap out of it, buck up, stop being....
Stop being what? Somebody Frank wanted to take care of, cared about, wanted to help? Go back to being just a rookie pain-in-the ass?
Impossible to go back, at least not at this moment; not with Tim looking so lost, so wounded. The irritation and even anger at his feelings remained, but were pushed back by the stronger, far more positive emotions. There had to be a way to take away this pain, to help. He didn't want to care, but he did.
Helplessly, he brushed Tim's disheveled bangs back from his forehead, cupped his face and turned it to look at him. "Timmy. I'm listening. Tell me."
Tim blinked, eyes filling with tears. He pulled his head away and swiped at his eyes, obviously furious at himself for letting it escape. "It's stupid. You'll think it's stupid."
Frank found Tim's hand and held it. "No. Not tonight, I won't. I promise."
Taking a deep breath, Tim began, "I dreamed of Adena again. It's always different, but it's always the same. This time I was walking up to her casket in the church, but the crime was still fresh. I touched the satin on her coffin, then I touched her face. It was still warm. She was so beautiful; like a doll, like an angel. So peaceful. But the white satin was red and sticky with her blood. I could feel it; I could *smell* it. " His breath caught in a painful gasp. "Then Gee was there. He swept the flowers off the end of her casket and screamed at me, 'Here's your desk, Bayliss.'"
Frank tightened his grip on Tim's hand. Christ, he remembered that scene in the squadroom. The idea that Tim's mind turned it against him this way was stunning; suggesting that Tim suffered a dark, punishing subconscious.
Tim continued bleakly, "But it started raining in the church and all the evidence was washed away. The blood was pouring out in rivers, and it was becoming diluted by the tears in Mrs. Watson's eyes. I was lost. Drowning in blood and tears and didn't know what to do. What questions to ask."
Tim met Frank's eyes. "Hopeless, Frank. I felt hopeless. Have you ever felt that?"
What Frank felt now couldn't be spoken. He wasn't thinking of Adena Watson or bad dreams, but only the artless beauty of Tim's face, torn by pain and anguish, open and vulnerable. Lost and needing to be found.
"I know," Tim took a deep breath. "You're going to say I did everything I could. But I didn't, Frank. I didn't get him. I didn't punish him." He blinked and a tear streaked down his cheek. Frank wanted to lick it off and taste the salt and the pain. "I failed her. All things considered, a bad dream isn't much to suffer. What was it you said once? The worst sin is a murder that goes unpunished?"
Without thinking, without considering the consequence, Frank pulled Tim into his arms. Tim came to him willingly, gratefully, clinging to him, even while Frank sensed his startlement, his amazement that Frank offered this comfort.
"I'm sorry," Tim said softly, voice muffled by Frank's shoulder.
"For what?" Frank purred.
"For making you feel obligated to hug me." Frank could feel him smile. "I really didn't plan it."
Frank tightened his grip, holding Tim even closer, feeling the heat of his
body, the rapid beat of his heart. His own heart was racing and it was
hard to keep control of his baser impulses.
It wasn't only comfort he wanted to offer. The sexual impulse was sweeping him, encroaching on gentler feelings. It was impossible to resist.
"Maybe I'm obligated to do this, too." He lifted Tim's chin and kissed him.
Their mouths melded sweetly, and he had a vision of white and dark chocolate warming and melting together. It felt so good, part of him soared off into fantasy. Seeing their bodies intertwined, bare and clean, black and white, and both glowing with heat, with trust and passion that burned white-hot. Another step...just one more step beyond where they were. The cliff was right there. The precipice that would send them over into a new relationship, a new reality.
Frank pulled back, breathless, and was amazed to see no more than puzzlement in Tim's eyes.
Like a dash of ice water, he realized the fantasy was his alone. Not only was Tim not keeping up, he hadn't realized he was starring in the first reel of that x-rated movie. Good God, could any adult of this age be this innocent? But as a glimmer of awareness sparked in the soft brown eyes, Frank found himself forestalling it, erecting a wall as fast as he could.
"I understand Munch is a better kisser. Hey, you feel better now?"
Tim blinked, returning with a snap to the reality he knew. "Oh, yeah...I'm fine."
"Good. The dreams will get better." Frank pulled away and stood.
Tim reached up for him, as if protesting the loss of contact, then let his arms fall back. "Do you think so?"
"Yes, I do. It takes time, but they fade. The more you care, the harder it is."
Tim looked away and Frank thought he caught an almost-knowledge in his eyes. A second later, he wasn't sure it had been there at all. "Do you dream, Frank?"
"No," Frank said flatly. "Never."
Tim's gaze shot back up to capture him and pin him like a bug. For a split second he felt exposed, positive Tim would call him out for the liar he was.
But Tim only smiled his particularly thoughtful, sad smile and said, "Lucky you."
For one dangerous moment, Frank almost gave in, nearly demonstrated to Tim Bayliss what it was he really wanted. What lurked in both their hearts.
Frank reached over and turned on the bedside lamp. Searching for a distraction, he picked up a framed photo of two boys mugging for the camera on some unknown beach. It was easy to recognize the smaller boy as Tim. If he was an attractive man now, he had been an even prettier little boy. Huge eyes, floppy bangs, shy, silly smile. He held up the picture. "Who's this?"
Tim blinked in the light. "Oh, that's me."
"I know. Who's the other kid?"
"That's Jim, my cousin."
"How old were you?"
Bayliss' head tipped back in concentration. "Ummm...that was the week Jim's dad took us to Myrtle Beach. I think we were ten."
Surprised, Frank asked, "We?"
"Yeah, Jim's only a couple of months younger than I am."
Frank looked at the photo again. The other boy was easily two inches and twenty pounds heavier than Tim.
Tim shrugged. "I know. I was kind of scrawny. I didn't really even grow much until I turned thirteen or fourteen -- then I shot up overnight. My joints used to hurt." He laughed. "Snap, crackle, pop. I felt like a human Rice Krispie." He held out his hand and Frank handed him the photo.
Staring at it with a sentimental expression, Tim said softly, "Jim looked out for me. We were more like brothers than cousins. I wasn't much bigger than his own little brother, Kurt, but I think he got in more fights for me than for Kurt." He put the picture down on the bedside table. "Jim's a lawyer now. Still lives in Baltimore."
"Do you see him often?"
"We're both pretty busy, but yeah. More than the rest of my family. I owe him a lot."
Despite his better judgment, Frank had to ask. "Is he...I mean, is Jim the cousin you told me about?"
Tim looked up, puzzled. "Told you about?"
Frank looked away, fidgeting, wishing he hadn't brought it up. "You know...the one who used to follow you into the--"
"No! Jesus, Frank." For a second Tim looked furious, then he relaxed, taking a deep breath. "No, it wasn't Jim. I lied to you. It wasn't a cousin."
Tim looked at him flatly. "It wasn't anybody. I made it up."
"You made it up?"
Tim shrugged. "Sure. You weren't going to let me off the hook. Seemed the quickest way to shut you up. Worked, didn't it?"
Frank regarded him doubtfully. He wasn't sure he believed him. But Tim was a rotten liar, and there was no expression in his face now. None at all.
Frank almost asked him more, but then decided he really didn't want to know.
He stood and went to retrieve his clothes. "Listen, I think I'd better go home after all. There're some things I need to get anyway." Before Tim could reply, he retreated to the bathroom to dress.
He stared in the mirror, wondering if he'd lost his mind. He'd come within an inch of seducing his partner. He loved his wife and would never consider having another woman. So what the hell was wrong with him? What was it about Bayliss that stirred this forgotten yearning?
He wasn't gay; men on the whole did nothing for him. But Tim...Tim loved
him. He knew that. Felt that deep in his bones. And Tim needed him.
That need was pulling him, drawing him.
Because Frank was pretty sure now about at least one of Tim's demons. Tim didn't have a clue, and Frank didn't know why Tim chose to be so willfully blind.
Then again, offering enlightenment brought responsibility and Frank wasn't willing to take that on. His desire for Tim might be real, but so was his love and commitment to Mary. Taking this new revelation further would be an impossible mistake. Neither of them, least of all Tim, were ready for it. Sleeping Beauty had to waken on his own.
In the long run, any other course would irrevocably hurt them both, and he had a suspicion that Tim had been deeply hurt before.
Frank told the driver his address and leaned back, feeling as if he'd escaped a close call. Undoubtedly he had. He glanced up and saw a dark silhouette against the window. Bayliss. Observing him from above. And even though Frank couldn't see his face, he felt certain Tim was watching in bewilderment as the taxi pulled away.