Homicide: Life on the Side
Written by Pamela Rose
The Waterfront was crowded, smoky and loud. Louder than usual for the normally sedate bar. Munch had been trying a new promotion; every fifth drink was free. It was pointed out by various patrons, including Gee, that this was probably illegal, or at least pushed the limits of the liquor liability law, but it couldn't be denied that the place was packed.
Frank Pembleton leaned over very close to Tim Bayliss; close enough for his lips to brush against his ear—it was the only way to be heard.
"Come home with me tonight."
Tim jerked back, eyes wide. "What?"
"You heard me."
Actually, he hadn't, but it was easy to read his lips and the expression of irritation in the prominent ebony eyes. Frank hated repeating himself. Mostly he hated having to say anything the first time, certain the rest of the world should already know what was what without being told.
Bayliss took a long gulp of beer, considering. He could count on one hand the times Frank had asked him to his house. Well, one finger. But he seemed serious.
Still, with Frank, one better double check his meaning.
Tim leaned over, mouth close to the other's ear. "Like, your home, you mean?"
Frank's expression was predictable: narrowed eyes, furrowed brow, ready to place Bayliss a notch lower on the food chain. But he graced him with an answer; this time his warm breath gusted deeply in Tim's ear, and he fought a shiver as Pembleton growled, "I'm not a damned gypsy. I've only got one home, Timothy."
Timothy, Bayliss thought, a little startled. He took another drink, although he was aware he had already had more than enough. His limit had been passed at least a half hour ago. He looked at Frank, who of course appeared totally sober; white shirt crisp, dark eyes clear and sharp and all-seeing, like a preacher mounting a pulpit.
Tim ran his hand through his severely cut hair, pondering the question, wondering at it, a little too bleary to puzzle it out. There was an open pack of cigarettes on the bar, and impulsively he shook one out and sniffed it. It had been a while, but you never forget, the craving was still there, and his inhibitions were shot to hell. He lit the cigarette and inhaled with dreamy passion. God, it was so much better than he remembered. Like mainlining nicotine, the rush was sweet and almost immediate. Why the hell had he ever quit? The bad effects were in some hazy if/when future; the pleasurable effects in the here and now. No wonder Native Americans thought of tobacco as a religious experience.
Frank leaned around, cocking his head in Tim's direct line of sight, three inches from the burning end of the Marlboro, nostrils flaring at the seductive whiff of second-hand smoke.
"Yes or no?!" This time it was definitely loud enough to hear. No one could bellow like Frank.
Ah, yes, the question. Did he want to go home with Frank? It was such an odd request—after all, he had to threaten to call Mary to get an invitation the last time, after Olivia was born. But Frank's wife and daughter had been gone for some time now, staying with relatives because Frank had been too much for even them to bear day after day. Tim had been with him almost ten to twelve hours a day—barring their occasional trial separations—for nearly five years. Mary had obviously needed a trial separation as well. Being with Frank was like living next to a volcano; it was rich earth, fertile and warm, complex and so alive. But it was volatile as well, dangerous, smoldering. You could never count on it not to erupt and burn you to ash.
He took another long, delicious drag on the cigarette, tapping the ashes off and mouthed the word "Why?" in Frank's direction.
Frank's eyes centered on his mouth hungrily, but it was obvious that it was the cigarette he lusted after, envious over that forbidden hit of nicotine. Poor Frank, who unlike Tim's voluntary self-denial, had been forced to quit after his stroke.
Pembleton scooted his stool closer and reattached himself to Bayliss' ear. "I'm asking you to come home with me. Refusing the invitation will not improve our already dysfunctional relationship."
Someone had punched in an extremely raucous version of I'm Holding Out For a Hero, so what Bayliss actually heard was more like: "ing--home--me--fuse--tation--prove--func--ship."
Bayliss shrugged, feeling more than a little high, the alcohol hitting him with a tingly golden glow, helped by the forceful puffs of Frank's breath intimately injected in his ear. Life was wonderful, and for this instant he had a handle on all of it. If he'd had a typewriter handy he could write another Celestine Prophecy. All the answers were right there, heavy dark overcoat rubbing against his shoulder, black face intensely beautiful with a strength and certainty Tim had stumbled after all his life.
He smiled brilliantly at Frank. "Sure, whatever you want, Francis."
Frank may have been reading his lips, but this did not go past him. "Francis? Don't push it, Bayliss. Come on, let's get out of here."
Tim followed him willingly, more than that, eagerly. Pembleton generally knew what he was doing, and nine times out of ten he was right. That was definitely something he could count on—something that too often pissed him off—but it was a conviction he felt in his bones. Frank always knew what he was doing.
Outside, the night was cold and clear, stars strangely bright in the Baltimore sky, cutting through the smog like pinpoints of truth.
Stopping by Frank's car, Tim threw back his head and laughed, letting out some pocket of joy he had forgotten existed. "God, it's a beautiful night. It's so damn beautiful!" He turned around, arms in the air, watching the soft white wisps of air from his mouth. "Isn't it beautiful, Frank?"
Frank glared at him over the roof of the car. "It's freezing and you're drunk."
Tim dropped his arms, insulted. "Just cause I think it's beautiful? I have to be drunk, is that what you think? That I can't find beauty or purity without the benefit of--"
"Shit, I should've got you outta there an hour ago. You're smashed."
Bayliss leaned over the car, putting his hands flat against the cold metal of the car roof, using the shock to sharpen himself. "You were drinking, too, Frank. But god forbid you get drunk. God forbid you lose control. That'd be too human."
Frank didn't reply for a long moment, and Bayliss concentrated on the dull thud of bass that seeped out from the bar. There was a clang of metal garbage cans knocked over in the alley; a few blocks away a siren screamed; a car burned rubber on another street, the neon sign hummed above them. This was silence in the city.
But the real silence was there, between him and Pembleton. Inebriated as he was he knew that silence well, that bulls eye hit on the target, piercing Frank's well-armored heart.
"You think I never lose control, Tim? That I'm not human? You, of all people, should know better than that."
"No . . . I just . . ." Tim shook his head, sobering for a second. Sometimes, very rarely, he knew he could hurt Frank. It had been a surprise the first time it happened; but what he had discovered was that it never made him happy.
When he had the nerve the look at him again, Frank's hands were covering his face—not a good sign. Frank rubbed his face and took a deep breath.
"Maybe I should just drive you home, huh?"
"No," Bayliss said quickly. "I want to go home with you. Okay?"
A long pause, long enough for the bass sound to stop and another rhythm to start; faster, like a racing heartbeat.
"Okay. Get in."
They drove through the strangely empty streets in their private silence, until Frank asked with suddenness of a gunshot, "So I'm not human?"
Tim jerked his head from the seat rest. He hesitated for a second, then turned to look at the other man. "I think you hate it when you are. It embarrasses you. I'm not talking about anger, Frank. You've got a real good grasp of that one."
"But you're talking about emotions, right? I'm not emotional, therefore I'm not human."
Tim shook his head. "No, you're very emotional. Emotions aren't the problem. Rage, irritation, arrogance."
"Those are all negative. You think I'm incapable of anything else? You think I'm not sensitive enough," his voice dripped sarcasm. "If I didn't weep when Old Yeller died--"
Frank ignored that. "--I'm not human. You think I'm not capable of those precious, sloppy, positive feelings you snuggle to your bosom. Love, compassion, pity--"
Again, Tim shook his head. "No, you love your wife, Frank. You love your daughter. I don't doubt that for a second."
"But those are things you're supposed to feel. Those are . . . I dunno, organized, accepted, I dunno . . . intellectual emotions."
"Isn't that an oxymoron? Like Internal Affairs."
"I mean you just have to have some acceptable, logical, rational reason to feel something before you let yourself feel it."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"Well, it's extremely . . . anal."
Bayliss shot him a look. "No offense."
"Of course not--asshole."
Bayliss shook his head and rubbed his eyes, trying to sober up enough to say what he meant in a coherent way. "I just meant that it's the spontaneous day-to-day emotions you hate. Feelings that just sweep you, that you can't control or quantify. Like humor or--"
"So not only am I anal, you're saying I don't have a sense of humor?" Now Frank was getting irritated, gripping the steering wheel, staring intently out the windshield as if he was looking for a pedestrian to squash.
"Well . . ." Bayliss backed off, too cowardly to pursue that one.
"No, please, speak your mind. We're partners, right?"
Bayliss sighed. "Forget it, Frank."
"No, you wanna talk, let's talk. You accept that I love my wife—my absent wife—but you see it as some tired, obligatory love. No lacy valentines, no impulsive passion."
"Well, maybe it was . . . it is. But maybe that's real love. The long, slow sludge through life. What the hell do you know about love?"
Bayliss stared out the car window. "Nothing, Frank. Not a damn thing. You're right. You're absolutely right."
"Of course I'm right," Frank muttered, pulling up at a stop light. Looking straight ahead, he added, "And I did cry when Old Yeller died."
Bayliss smiled. "He was a homicide, Frank."
"No he wasn't. He had rabies."
"He was shot, remember?"
"Oh, yeah. But he had rabies. It was a mercy killing."
"It was an unnatural death, Frank. You would've had that kid in the box and sucked a confession out of him before he finished his first cigarette."
There was a beat of silence, then Frank began to laugh. Tim laughed, too, and the rest of the drive was punctuated by giggles and snorts of amusement.
Frank's house was dark, cold and silent when they entered. Frank rapidly flipped on light after light; turned up the thermostat and quickly moved to switch on the stereo.
Tim stood awkwardly in the kitchen where he'd entered, waiting for Frank to ask him to make himself at home, have a seat, relax, anything. Frank didn't speak; too busy building the illusion of a home that still existed when all the life had abandoned it.
Is this it? Tim wondered, Was he afraid to come home to this alone? But he's been doing this for weeks. Why tonight? What was going on in his head that he couldn't face it tonight? And why me?
But that answer was obvious, even warming—as much as anything about Frank Pembleton could warm anyone. I'm his partner. I'm the only one he could trust with his loneliness.
Without asking, Pembleton pulled out a bottle of scotch from under the sink and poured them both a generous measure. He handed a glass to Bayliss, then stared at him with exasperation.
"Take off your coat, for god's sake. Sit down."
"Okay." Bayliss tugged off his coat, hung it over the back of a kitchen chair. He started to sit down on it, when Frank snapped, "Not here. Come in the living room."
They both sat on the sofa, uncomfortably clutching their drinks, using them for cover, sipping and staring at the crystal. Despite the new infusion of alcohol, Tim felt painfully sober and uneasy. Pembleton was just not a real social kind of guy; and Tim was not so great in the area himself. He always managed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
For some reason this felt important. After all, Frank was trying to socialize, trying to connect. At least, that must be what this was about; nothing else made sense. But it was so unlike Pembleton, it was hard to take it at face value.
With anyone else, Tim would just think he was lonely. But this was Pembleton. Mister self-sufficient, mister perfect onto himself. To see him needy was more of a stretch than Bayliss was willing to make at the moment. Blythely assuming something like that could get him chopped off at the knees.
Still, there was something wrong . . . something Frank wasn't willing to come right out and say.
Bayliss took a drink, staring at a picture on the opposite wall. A Monet print. Soothing, cool. He wasn't sure why it came out of his mouth, but he found himself saying, "She'll come back to you, Frank."
There was an electric silence, then Frank sighed and leaned back, draining his glass of whiskey. "You're such a fool, Bayliss. With everything that's happened to you, you're still an optimist. I can't figure you out. You're a fuckin' Pollyanna."
It hurt. It wasn't like Pembleton's opinion of him was news, but it still stung. "Give me a break, Frank. There are lobsters in tanks in seafood restaurants that are more optimistic than you. Drop the doom and gloom, will you? Life is what you make of it. I have to believe that." He was proud of himself getting that out so clearly. His tongue was beginning to feel a little thick. "If I didn't believe it could be better . . . well, I just have to believe that."
Frank's eyes was devouring his face, sucking up every nuance of every word and gesture. Those black eyes were like a laser beam.
"You really do believe that, don't you?"
"Sure." Bayliss squirmed slightly, hating the intensity of the gaze, feeling broiled. "Stop it! I'm not in the box."
Frank smiled suddenly, pouring another drink. The smile was soft, almost pleasant, the shark-like aspect of the teeth muted for the moment but his words were plenty sharp. "Yes you are."
Bayliss shot him a nervous look. "Are what?"
"In the box. My box. There are things I want to know."
The vague uneasiness transformed to a thrill of panic. He sat up, ready to bolt, but Frank's hand pushed him back ruthlessly.
"Relax. We're partners. It's all between us, right? Just us."
Bayliss accepted that, still wary, but confident that Frank meant what he said. Unless Bayliss spontaneously confessed to a murder, anything he said would go to the grave with Frank Pembleton. He trusted that implicitly.
Pembleton cocked his head to one side, surveying his partner from head to toe with a detached air. "Now I've got it."
"At St. Ignatius there was this big stained glass window of Saint Sebastian. That's why you've always seemed familiar."
Tim blinked. "Isn't he the one with all the arrows in his heart?"
"Hmmm. It's mainly just the eyes, I guess. The similarity, I mean."
"Maybe I just look like Old Yeller."
Frank snickered. "You do have puppy dog eyes. When you start foaming at the mouth, I'll let you know."
"Then what? You shoot me?"
"I'm a terrible shot, remember?"
"What do you want, Frank?" Tim asked, puzzled. Personal confessions had never been Pembleton's desire; in fact, he preferred to avoid anything that hinted of emotion.
"Just a few answers, Tim."
"Because I'm bored. Because I want to know."
Bayliss shook his head. "No way."
Strange question. What was Frank planning to ask that would deserve fear as a response? Even more important, why was he afraid to answer? He trusted this man, didn't he? He was his partner, for god's sake. But personally, and intimately, they had danced around each other for years. The emotions between them had been so intense; even from the first they had sparked brightly, darkly—the electric flow between them both negative and positive, but always charged. Everyone in the squad had commented on it at one time or another. When their current ran in the same direction, no partners were sharper, more efficient, or as brilliant at their jobs. But when their poles opposed, no teaming was more explosive or hateful to each other. Their extremes were taken for granted now at the precinct. There were even bets about phases of the moon and whether Bayliss and Pembleton would be speaking to each other on any given day. All partners fought and bitched, but only their fights became squad room legend.
Frank's hand touched his wrist, and Bayliss jumped.
Bayliss swallowed his drink and tried to steady his breath. "What do you want, Frank?" he repeated, his voice hoarse from the sting of whiskey in his throat.
"The truth. I love the truth. It's my god. I worship truth. I bow at it's altar. It's my only real religion, my only optimism. The truth shall set you free, Tim. I want the truth."
"Thank you, Pontius Pilot." Pembleton gulped down his drink, made at face at the bitterness, then smiled sweetly at Bayliss.
For a second Bayliss was stunned by the smile. It wasn't shark-like, it wasn't predatory. It was only sweet, appreciative and encouraging. It was terrifying. It was a stranger. A stranger he wanted to hug because of the underlying sadness in the smile. All his life, Tim had felt empathy for the underdog, the hurt and damaged. As a homicide cop, he had turned himself inside out trying to overcome this vulnerability. He had learned the hard way it was not an asset in his job.
Pembleton would kill him if he went for the obvious; would rather die than ask for comfort. Bayliss remembered Kellerman asking him if he and Frank hugged, being surprised that they didn't offer each other that most immediate and physical of support. The very idea was shocking. So he would give Frank the only thing he had asked for.
"Truth. Sure. Ask me."
"So you think Mary's coming back to me?"
"Because she loves you. Because you're Olivia's father."
Frank smiled. "What you've never understood is that Mary is more practical and realistic than I'll ever be. In this family, she's the cool one."
Tim shrugged. "Doesn't mean she won't be back. I know she'll be back."
"How do you know?"
"I just do. Next question."
"Have you ever slept with a Black woman?"
Of all the questions he had expected, this one was not on the list. "Huh?"
"Uh . . . no, I don't think so."
"You don't think so. Don't you know?"
"Uh . . . no, I guess I haven't. What--"
"Why not? Are you prejudiced? Don't you like Black women? Don't you find them attractive?"
I'm too drunk for this, Bayliss thought, this is totally bizarre.
"Of course I do. I just never . . ."
"You just never found one sexy enough to sleep with?"
"I don't understand--"
"So you're prejudiced."
"Where the hell is this coming from? No, I'm not prejudiced. What are you talking about?"
"Are there any Black women you want to fuck?"
Bayliss looked at him closely, seeing the blurred expression in the black eyes, hearing the illogical importance in the voice and realized that the liquor was finally taking its toll on Frank as well. That was a first. A rather unnerving first, since he wasn't sure what to expect from a drunken Pembleton.
"What do you want me to say?" he asked cautiously. "If I say yes, you're going to think I'm some honky taking advantage of a Black woman; if I say I've never been interested, you'll be sure I'm just a racist that doesn't want to dilute the bloodline."
Frank laughed and poured himself another drink. "You might be right. It's a trap. This whole thing is a trap. Feeling claustrophobic, are you?" Frank took at drink, then settled his laser gaze back on Bayliss. "You didn't answer. Have you ever found a Black woman sexy?"
"That wasn't your question," Bayliss reminded him. "That one's easy. Sure. Have I ever slept with one, no. It gets kind of complicated."
"Who complicates it? You?"
"Life. And you. You complicate it."
"I can just hear you if I dated a Black woman. You'd be the one bitching about the dilution of the race, Frank. I know you."
"That's the only reason?"
"That I don't date Black women? No, of course not. But it probably would spring to mind, yes. Your opinions are hard to ignore."
"But you do find Black women attractive?"
"That's a stupid question. Of course."
"What about Black men?"
Bayliss' mouth fell open, totally unable to respond to that; unable to understand where it even came from until Frank leaned forward, cupping his chin and tilting it up to look into his eyes.
In all the time they had worked together, Tim had never seen this expression, this open need, this hunger in Frank's eyes. It was terrifying and compelling.
He couldn't turn away, he couldn't.
Frank's mouth was full and hot on his. His lips were stronger and more demanding than any woman Tim had ever kissed. Not surprising. Well, the action was, but the surety and confidence and determination was pure Frank.
His own immediate submission was the least surprising thing of all. What else could he do? Giving was natural to Tim; he had never been taught to say no.
And this was Frank. Christ help him, this was Frank. A man he admired, worshiped on some unacknowledged level. So brilliant his mind could sear you with its power and intensity. Not that he could ever afford to admit that to Frank, but Frank was short-circuiting all his flimsy barriers; going straight for the heart and soul of him.
He couldn't think, didn't have time to bring up any defenses. Frank's mouth was too hot, too overwhelming, too totally sensuous to fight. Another secret breached, his own helpless sensuality. Being turned on always froze the majority of his brain function; he would fuck anywhere—even in a coffin—let alone on Frank Pembleton's couch.
Whimpering with the rush of arousal, he wrapped his arms around Frank, clutching him frantically.
It was Frank who pulled back, having second thoughts. "Shit. I didn't think you would go for it. I thought--"
Panting, Bayliss swallowed his heart back down, trying to steady himself. "So why did you do it?"
Whatever Bayliss wanted him to say—that Frank needed him, that he couldn't help the passion, maybe even something as simple as that they were partners and partners helped each other—Mister Truth had to make it clear.
"Because I felt like it. I thought you wanted me to be impulsive."
"So, what now?" Bayliss wondered, his cock throbbing angrily, feeling deprived, cheated from the promise of the kiss. Knowing that Frank wasn't telling the whole truth, that this wasn't totally impulsive. He knew Frank too well for that.
Yet Pembleton looked lost, stunned, out of his depth for once. Tim could feel Frank's erection pulsing against his thigh, unwilling to give up the warm pressure.
"You started this," Tim pointed out breathlessly. "Do you want to stop?"
"I don't know what I want," Frank whispered. Then, almost as a nonsequitur, "You really are a good looking man, you know. I keep looking at your eyes, your eyelashes. Your mouth. You're downright pretty sometimes."
Bayliss flinched from that; it echoed too much of the past, and he didn't want to go there.
Pembleton felt the reaction, and recognized immediately what had caused it. "Don't, Tim. It's not the same. You're a man now. You can say no."
"Can I?" Tim responded in a small voice.
"Of course. And so can I. It doesn't have to go any farther than this."
They were still pressed tightly against each other, Frank pushing him down on the couch, unable to continue, but unwilling to release him.
"Why, Frank? Why me? Why now?"
"I just needed, I don't know, contact tonight. A warm human being. Someone I could trust to—to be intimate with."
"So why not a woman, Frank? You could've--"
The black eyes flashed angrily. "In case it slipped your notice, I'm a married man. I'm still a married man."
Tim stared at him, mouth agape. "And you don't think this is cheating?"
"How's it different?"
"It just is."
"Because I a man? Because I'm your partner? Because you trust me? Because I'm your best friend? Give me some kind of answer at least, even if you have to lie."
"I don't lie. Lying's a sin." He reached for Tim's mouth again, savored it, played his tongue over the lips with a kind of arrogant skill that was totally expected. Frank Pembleton did few things he wasn't perfect at it. After a minute, he pulled back. "All of that is true."
"But you didn't want a partner. You don't have best friends."
"That's true, too." Frank stared at him, dark eyes beginning to chill. "There are no promises in this, Tim. No wild declarations of undying fealty. I do trust you. That's got to be obvious. You are my friend. Best friend? I have no other friend, so maybe that's what you are. I never wanted to put that kind of . . . emphasis to it. Didn't want the responsibility. I need . . . what I need. And you can say no any time you want."
Tim stared back in wonder. Frank was being honest as only he could be, cutting to the bone, uncaring if the flesh was bleeding in the process. And yet the truth wasn't cold this time, it was hot. The last time he had been this turned on he had been laying on a bed of satin in a casket—literally.
Every bit of common sense he had screamed at him this was sick, stupid, masochistic. He wasn't homosexual. Men didn't excite him. But Frank did. Frank always had, from the beginning; challenging and sparking parts of him he didn't know existed. Now Frank needed him. Wanted him. It felt good to be wanted; to be important to Frank Pembleton. And whether Frank would admit it or not, Tim knew he loved him.
Tim reached out and cupped Frank's cheek, tracing the jawline with a tentative caress. "Frank, do you--"
"Don't." Frank grabbed his hand, held it tightly. "Don't go there. Don't ask."
Groping for humor to lighten the intensity, Tim asked, "Ever slept with a white woman?"
"Yes," Frank replied absently, studying and stroking the hand that he held, as if fascinated by every line in the palm, the length of the pale fingers.
"How about a white man?"
"God damn you," Frank growled, putting his mouth back on the other man's, angry, frustrated, with his own particular brand of intensity. And illustrating another emotion Tim had never seen in him before--lust.
* * *
Surprisingly, it was Frank who was talkative afterwards. Tim had just wanted to fall into a coma and sleep for twenty years. There had been nothing particularly odd or athletic about their coupling, it had been pretty basic and to the point. But the pleasure had been more intense and electric than Tim had expected and good sex always seemed to temporarily drain him of many brain cells.
Frank apparently didn't suffer the same affliction.
"--it's a venial sin, you see. Nothing to do with me and Mary. When you're brought up in an all boy school, one learns to adapt to the necessity of biology."
"So you rewrite the rules," Tim responded sleepily, wishing he'd stolen that pack of cigarettes. A few years of breathing seemed like a viable trade at the moment.
"Rationalize. The Jesuits were great at that. Making sense out of chaos. But, yeah, I always like to make my own rules. Everyone does. Life is a continual editing process, Tim. It's an eternal struggle to adapt, to evolve. The hallmark of man."
Tim turned his head on the pillow to look at Frank in the moonlight spilling through the window. He was very dark against the white pillowcase, only his teeth and eyes showing in stark contrast. Like a shadow man. The invisible man. Tim could put his hand on him and it would be insubstantial, a figment of his dreams.
But touching him brought warmth, silky skin wet with perspiration and the sensual feel of muscle and sinew. He buried his nose against Frank's shoulder, inhaling the musky scent of flesh and sweat and whiskey and semen and . . . some lingering hint of expensive aftershave. Frank was always so pristine (if not prissy) he was sure he wouldn't have even smelled the sweat if they hadn't just been screwing. Not Mr.-Perfectly-Knotted-Tie-In-July.
He tuned back into Frank's monologue which was still in progress.
"...always went for black women, so maybe that's why I've always been into white boys."
"What?" Tim lifted his head. "What did you say?"
"Just that whenever I've been interested in this kind of thing, it's always been a white boy. I was just trying to figure out why. Whether it's some kind of payback or--"
"Payback? Did you say payback?"
Pembleton patted his head reassuringly, pushing it back onto his shoulder. "Don't take it personally, Bayliss. I just meant that it was interesting that I've never been to bed with a black man. Not that I've done this since college, but--"
"Black man but white boy," Tim muttered, but inside he was wondering why it was Bayliss now and not Tim or even Timothy.
Frank sighed. "I knew you'd take it personally. I didn't mean it like that. It was only a figure of speech."
"Yeah, well, you remember that the next time Gafney slips--"
"That's different. He's a racist son of bitch--"
"And you're color blind."
Frank petted his hair in apology. "Okay, I'm sorry."
"So you're willing to wonder why you didn't choose a black man but not willing to figure out why I was the white "boy" you chose?"
There was a moment of silence, then Frank stroked his hair again, gently, fingernails tingling through his scalp. "I wish you hadn't cut your hair," Frank commented. "It feels soft even now, short as it is. It was very nice; why'd you cut it?"
"Why me, Frank?" he repeated doggedly.
"I thought you didn't want me to analyze my emotions. I thought that was a bad thing. That I was too much in control. Well, I didn't control this. I didn't plan this. It just happened. I wanted it. I wanted you."
Tim closed his eyes tightly. "So tell me do you--"
"It's not going to happen, Tim. I'm not going to say what you want me to say. I can't."
Sliding his hand down the taut stomach, Tim found another answer. He cupped his hand around the velvet heat.
"So am I just another white boy, Frank?"
Groaning, Frank rolled over on top of him, ravaging his mouth, hands hungry on his body. For a split second, he paused and lifted his head, staring down at Bayliss in the moonlight.
"Remember, you can always stop this. It's your choice."
Any choice Bayliss had was smothered by the lava of passion. And he didn't want it to stop; he just wanted . . .
. . . to know he mattered.
* * *
"Get up, Tim. Your taxi's out front."
Bayliss sat up, blinking groggily. "Taxi?"
"I can't drive you home; I've been drinking."
"Yes, Tim. Home. It's 5:30 in the morning. Time to go home."
"I thought midnight was the magic hour."
Pembleton didn't answer, and he avoided the other man's gaze.
Bayliss located his clothes and tugged them on haphazardly, leaving his shirt tail hanging. In the kitchen, Pembleton stood by the door, his robe pulled tightly around him, belt neatly tied. He handed Bayliss his coat. "See you Monday, Tim."
Bayliss swallowed, but his throat was still too tight to answer. He nodded and reached for the door, but Frank caught his arm and held him still.
"We're still partners, right?"
Tim looked at him, saw that he was serious, concerned about losing a good partner. That mattered to Frank Pembleton. He liked to have someone to hunt with.
Bayliss found his voice, "Sure, why not?"
Outside, Bayliss took a second to lean against the cab, head bowed, breathing chilled air that cut like glass in his lungs.
The night was no longer beautiful—
It was just cold.