NEXT MORNING THE TELEPHONE BLASTED ME out of a fitful sleep, like a panic alert for a nuclear attack. Its tormented electronic bleating launched a dull unfocused pressure at the back of my skull. With a queasy stomach, all I could recall was the vast quantity and variety of alcohol and food that I had consumed just a few hours earlier. Groggily I hoped the phone call would be Rafik, eager to apologize for his role in the horrible misunderstanding we’d had last night. At numerous points during the night I’d awaken startled and anxious and tense. I’d get as far as punching his number, but then logic would take over and I’d hang up before the call went through. After all, what if he wasn’t home? That would be even worse than the torture of regret. So throughout the long, lonely night I tried to assure myself that we’d soon be frantically apologizing and forgiving each other. And everything would be back to normal.
The phone was still ringing. I grabbed clumsily and dropped it, accidentally bumping Sugar Baby, who at some point during the night had deigned to settle on the empty pillow next to mine, Rafik’s place. From her cat sleep she sprang from the pillow, leaped over my head, landed on the Turkish carpet that covers my bedroom floor, and scampered away. I put the phone to my ear, but before I’d even said hello, I heard Rafik speaking excitedly with his heavy French accent.
“Stani,” he said, “there is great trouble. Max Harkey is dead!”
My first reaction was that Rafik was playing a prank to distract me and win back my affection. If so, it was one unworthy of his fertile imagination. Then again, perhaps it was that cultural difference between us that made his joke sound flat to me, some Francophone subtlety I still couldn’t appreciate. But I wondered— and Max Harkey be damned— What about us? Aren’t you sorry about last night? Have you forgotten how you hurt me?
“Stani?” he said uncertainly, as though the phone might be out of order and the connection never properly made.
“I’m here,” I replied coolly, thinking to myself, And so far you haven’t said the words I want to hear.
“Stani, I find him like this. Is horrible!”
“Where are you?”
“At his apartment.”
I set my blurry vision toward the alarm clock. There seemed to be only one hand, pointing downward. It was 6:30.
“What are you doing there at this hour?”
The line was quiet. After a few seconds of waiting for his answer, I felt the throbbing at the back of my head move forward to my temple. Then an unexpected wave of nausea washed over me, and I felt a cold sweat break out on my forehead. I envisioned every goddam glass of alcohol I’d had last night. They all swirled in a vortex in my mind’s eye, from the first martinis at my apartment, to the additional cocktails at Max Harkey’s, to the numerous glasses of wine with dinner, to the tumbler of liqueur afterwards. It all came back with nauseating clarity. Oh, to be unconscious! All I wanted was to put the phone down and go back to sleep. Maybe then all of last night’s mistakes— especially my boozy belligerence— would fade away back into a dream. Then I could wake up again later to a bright new world where everything was blue skies and songbirds. The idea was so appealing that I almost nodded off.
“Stani?” said Rafik.
I returned to the present, to the unpleasantness of why Rafik was at Max Harkey’s place at six-thirty in the morning. Somewhere I recalled Max Harkey saying that Rafik needed to be humbled. Had the challenge been met last night, only to culminate in the man’s death? I confronted Rafik directly.
“Did you spend the night with him?” I said.
“How you can ask such a thing?” he yelled. A tremor of pain rammed itself through my swollen brain. “Stani, his blood is everyplace.”
The new tension in Rafik’s voice told me that perhaps he wasn’t kidding. I sat up in the bed. Sugar Baby must have sensed my alarm, because she jumped back up onto the bed and nestled against my thigh. I rested my forehead against my free hand.
“Tell me what happened, Rafik.”
“I tell you, he is dead.”
If he was telling the truth, there was only one thing to do. I’d been in those exact circumstances myself, facing a corpse. Back then I thought I’d done the right thing by being responsible and calling the police, but then I always learn the hard way.
“Rafik, if Max Harkey is really dead—”
“He is, Stani. Believe me.”
“Then you must do exactly what I say.”
“No buts, Rafik. Just listen and do. First, you wipe your fingerprints off everything you’ve touched in that place. Everything. Understand? And then you get out of there. Now! I’ll be waiting for you here.”
“I cannot do that, Stani.”
“The police are here,” said the master of selective omission. “They do not know I am calling you. They ask me many questions. Will you come? Please?”
I paused, not quite sure what to do or say. My arrival at Max Harkey’s place might only complicate things, especially with the police there. The line was quiet while I deliberated. When Rafik spoke again, I heard a new timbre in his voice, wily modulation, cryptic but musical, a kind of aural snare distilled from a legacy of Middle Eastern genes and the myriad ruses employed by clever harem boys to spare themselves painful punishment or even castration.
“Stani,” he said, “I am sorry for last night. I did not mean those things.” His words flowed like dark notes from a wood flute, and their exotic coloration left me defenseless. “I love you. I will stop my work. I will leave the ballet.”
After our falling-out I’d hoped for a more dramatic reconciliation, a physical event where Rafik would arrive at my threshold repentant and contrite. Even at three o’clock in the morning he would beg forgiveness and let me show him just how much and how willingly I could forgive. But instead, Rafik was now inducing me to rescue him from a bad situation with the police, at the home of the very man with whom he might have had the ultimate confrontation, and who was now dead.
“Okay, Rafik. Don’t quit your job yet. I’m on my way.”
A Stan Kraychik Mystery, Book 3 — Out-of-the-closet, loud and proud Stan Kraychik shines again in this witty, fast-moving romp. Boston’s sassiest hairdresser is on the case when the founder of a ballet company is discovered murdered; Homicide Detective Lieutenant, and sometime nemesis, Vito Branco gives the green light. Stan soon finds that the abundance of suspects, including both his lover and his rival. Adept at mining clues from gossip, Stan investigates: a wealthy benefactor; a ballet mistress with a Russian accent; a conductor; and a homophobic homosexual ballet star. A cute guy is killed; an unappealing one makes advances; and Stan and Rafik have relationship tussles. Then, Stan and the killer meet up in a fabulous balconied penthouse one last time … and discovers life is more complex—and deadly—than art.
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