HAZARD HAD SLEPT POORLY, and around two he left the bedroom. For a while, he walked the house, counting paces. This many steps from the hall closet to the bathroom. This many steps from the thermostat to the front door. This many steps from the utility room to the window where he watched a fox cross the backyard. The house got smaller and smaller, and after a while, he found himself on a couch, staring up into the dark.
The thing was.
The thing was that it was so easy to imagine: Somers with his sleeves rolled up, smiling, nodding, taking statements, studying a crime scene, moving through a place of violent death with grace and beauty. Somers seeing things that others didn’t see. Somers moving steadily toward justice for an unjust death.
More. Somers, everything about Somers. Somers interacting with people—even the simple, nonverbal things, the way Somers would roll his shoulder or shake his head, and somehow it would be enough to get Foley and Moraes laughing, like it had been the best joke in the universe—in that peculiar way Somers had of being utterly perfect without seeming to realize it.
Hazard let himself play the whole thing out. He ran it backward and forward like an old VHS tape. He let himself split off into what ifs: Somers picking up coffee and donuts because it was the only way to get Norman and Gross to do their job; Somers showing one of the new recruits how to keep people away from a crime scene, politely but firmly. Wilder: Somers chasing a suspect across rooftops; Somers in a shootout.
He played as many scenarios as he could until it hurt so much that he couldn’t breathe. He had to close his eyes.
Then, upstairs, his alarm buzzed. It was a new day.
He packed up all the broken pieces, swept that spot inside himself clean, and went to turn off the alarm. Then he went back to the kitchen, counting the steps automatically, and threw himself into the morning.
A little past eight-thirty, Hazard was sitting at the table, coffee in one hand, his phone in the other. He was reading the news when the garage door went up, and the familiar rumble of the Mustang’s engine rolled into the garage.
Somers looked wrecked when he stepped inside. Hair mussed worse than usual, red eyes, fatigue visible in the lines of his face. He stopped just inside the kitchen. He smiled.
“Look what the cat dragged in.”
“God, what a night.”
Hazard stood, set down phone and coffee, and walked toward his boyfriend.
“How’d you sleep?”
“Fine.” Hazard bent, kissed Somers, and unbuckled his waistband.
“Ree, I’m wiped. I’m not really—”
Hazard laughed as he undid Somers’s zipper an inch.
“Not that I mind the interest,” Somers said, his hand coming up to run over Hazard’s cheek. “It’s been a while since we . . . you know.”
Still laughing, Hazard slid his hands around Somers and unbuckled the waistband holster. He removed it and set it on the kitchen counter.
“Oh,” Somers said.
Hazard pushed him into a seat at the table. “I’m glad you didn’t mind the interest.”
“Ok, I just thought . . .”
“I know what you thought.”
“Well, when a guy starts taking off your pants the minute you get through the door, you’re bound to think something’s up.”
“Something is up,” Hazard said, navigating to the oven. “Breakfast.”
“You’ve been up all night. You’ve been up over twenty-four hours, in fact. You need to eat something. And you need to sleep.”
“I can’t sleep.”
“Try doing things in order, John.” Hazard pulled out a plate that had been warming in the oven. He poured juice and coffee.
“I can do that,” Somers said.
“Don’t you dare.” Hazard carried everything over to the table.
“I can do that too.”
Somers stared at the plate.
“Goat cheese omelet with bacon and shallots,” Hazard said. “Grits. And asparagus.”
“I thought it was a little green spear.”
Hazard smiled and went back to his seat.
They sat there together in silence. Somers picked at the food, taking a few bites, but mostly just staring at the plate. He moved a piece of asparagus all the way to one side. Then he moved it back. The tines of his fork rang out against the ceramic. Then the asparagus had to go all the way over again. Hazard watched all of it out of the corner of his eye. The world-traveling asparagus.
“Ree, maybe we should talk about this stuff.”
“Sure. I want to hear about the case.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
Hazard set his phone down. He looked at Somers. And he said, “Please, John. I’m not asking you to give me protected information. I just . . . I just want to hear about it. Whatever you can tell me.”
Somers actually dropped his fork. “You think I wouldn’t tell you?”
“I’m a civilian. Information about ongoing investigations—”
“Jesus Christ, Ree. You’re my boyfriend. You’re the smartest person I know. You’re the best detective I know. If you’re willing to listen, Jesus, you’re going to have to tell me to shut up.”
“I’ve gotten pretty good at that.”
With a real smile on his face, Somers began to talk. And eat. Whatever his objection to the meal, it was forgotten as he launched into an account of the case. A few times, Hazard tried to stop him, but Somers waved the warnings aside and kept talking.
And inside, Hazard felt something coming to life. Like he’d been walking in the dark, and now lights were coming on. He listened to Somers’s description of the crime scene. He listened to the paraphrased interviews. And then, to his own surprise, Hazard found himself asking questions. Did he say this? Did she say that?
It was almost like the old days.
“So,” Somers said as he scraped a fork across his empty plate. “What do you think?”
Hazard grabbed his coffee and took a drink. He shrugged. “Nothing on the security cameras?”
“Not yet. No sign of this guy. He walks out of the apartment and, as far as we can tell, disappears. Cravens is going to have people keep looking at the footage, but . . .” Somers waved a hand dismissively. “So, who else was in on it?”
Hazard shrugged again.
“Come on,” Somers said. “Right now, I like that girl Cynthia for it. She’s got a weird thing for professors; I wouldn’t be surprised if Fabbri had a thing with her, cut it off, and she went crazy.”
“That’s a good theory.” Hazard raised his coffee again.
“Oh no,” Somers said, catching the mug and pulling it back down. “Now you.”
“Come on, I don’t do that kind of stuff anymore.”
“Three months and you’re out of practice?”
“Bullshit.” Somers had a crazy grin. “Tell me.”
“I think it’s strange that the adjunct—what was his name?”
“Carl. Don’t pretend like you don’t remember.”
“I think it’s strange his story doesn’t match up in so many ways. And he’s right: cui bono? Who benefits?”
“So you think it’s Carl.
“I don’t know.”
“No, that’s good. That’s really good to know.”
“John, I’m just saying—” Hazard stopped. “This is not a representation of my ability to make a final, conclusive deduction—”
“Like the time you were convinced you knew how The Sixth Sense was going to end.”
“Shyamalan cheated,” Hazard growled, getting to his feet.
“And I think,” Somers said, sprawling back in his seat, studying Hazard from under hooded eyes, “that it was Cynthia Outzen who killed Fabbri because she was a jilted lover.” Then Somers stood. He took the mug of coffee, gently easing Hazard’s fingers away from the ceramic, and set it on the table. Then he brought Hazard’s hands down to his waistband. “Now. I believe I was having some ideas about you when I got home.”
Hazard had one of those tiny Emery Hazard smiles. He bent and kissed Somers once, and then he pulled his hands away. “You need to go to bed.”
“Sure. Come with.”
Laughing, Hazard extricated himself, collected his coffee, and started stacking Somers’s plate and utensils. “I’ve got stuff to do, John. And you’re exhausted.”
“Not too exhausted to fool around with my hot, hulking boyfriend.” Somers was behind Hazard now, sliding his arms around Hazard’s waist, kissing Hazard’s shoulder and arms through the thin cotton of Hazard’s t-shirt. “Come on. It’s been a while.”
“It hasn’t been that long.”
“It feels like forever.”
Hazard was very careful. He had to be so careful these days, careful about almost everything. He set down the stack of dishes. He took Somers by the wrists—gently, carefully—and he turned around, stepping out of the embrace.
It took him a moment too long to know what to say. Confusion, then pain sparked in Somers’s face and disappeared.
“I’ve got to—” Hazard began.
“Yeah,” Somers said.
“I thought I might take a swing at the utility sink today.”
“I’m going to do it, Ree. I promise. Tonight. Or tomorrow if the case stays hot.”
Hazard brought Somers’s hands up. He kissed his palms.
“Ree, you don’t ever have to—I mean, you can just tell me.”
Hazard bent and kissed him. Then he released Somers’s hands, turned him toward the stairs, and gave him a push.
“Go get some sleep.”
But Somers slowed and turned back. He didn’t say anything. He just watched Hazard.
Hazard made himself stand there as long as he could; then he turned and picked up the dishes and made his way to the sink.
“Don’t forget,” Somers said, his voice so normal that Hazard wanted to punch out the window over the sink, “we’ve got dinner with the sheriff tonight.”
“I’ll call and cancel. You’re going to be busy working—”
“No, it’ll be fine. I’ve got to eat dinner sometime, and we’ve been trying to set it up for ages.”
“He’ll understand, John. We’ll do it another time.”
“No,” Somers said sharply. Then, back in that painfully normal voice, “No. Dinner, tonight, with the sheriff.”
“Ok.” Hazard ran the hot water and said, “Get to bed.”
Somers left; it was like he vanished, turned to smoke. No creaking floorboards. No protesting stairs. That part of Hazard’s brain, where the lights had come on, was doing calculations. Somers was an easy sleeper; he’d be totally out in the next five minutes, and he could sleep in a trainyard.
No, Hazard told himself.
He did the dishes.
That part of his brain, though, kept working. It was a fifteen-minute drive from their house to Wroxall. It was fifteen minutes to anywhere in Wahredua.
He wiped down the counters.
Somers was already asleep; Hazard’s internal timer assured him of that. Fifteen minutes to get to Wroxall. Fifteen minutes to get back. How long would Somers sleep? Hazard checked the clock on the stove. Almost nine-thirty. Four hours? Five? Hazard guessed four, and he threw himself a safety net: three hours. He’d have to be back in three hours. Minus half an hour for travel. That left two and a half hours to look at the crime scene himself, to do a preliminary canvass, and to get back.
Hazard got the mop and bucket. He got the jug of Fabuloso. He started the hot water again, measured out the cleaner, and poured it in. As the suds built, he told himself he wasn’t a detective anymore. He wasn’t even a private detective, although Somers had been after him for months now, ever since their last trip to St. Louis, to open his own agency. He was just a guy. And he had no reason to get involved.
He came back to reality just as the bubbles crested and spilled down the side of the bucket. Swearing, Hazard turned off the hot water. The smell of Fabuloso filled the kitchen; it stuck to his hands when he wiped them on his shirt.
He wasn’t going anywhere. He was going to mop the floor—like the good little houseboy you are, a nasty voice said inside him. He was going to mop the floor. He was going to clean up the front flower beds. He was going to overseed a part of the lawn in back that was patchy. He was feeling better, so much better, as he listed out his routine. Yes. He was going to clean the baseboards. They hadn’t done that since moving in, and Somers liked a clean house. Hazard felt great.
None of which explained why he found himself creeping upstairs, careful to avoid the warped boards and the creaky risers. At the top, he paused, listened. Their bedroom door was open, and he could hear Somers’s even breathing. Hazard turned toward the front of the house. He went into the office. He shut the door, and he didn’t dare turn on the light. He felt like he was burgling his own house.
They shared a desk, and as Hazard opened the bottom drawer, he still wasn’t sure why he had chosen this as his hiding place. It seemed like a terribly stupid place, where Somers was likely to look if he needed the stapler or a rubber band. Hazard shifted office supplies until he found the small bundle. He pulled it out of the drawer. He unfolded the protective paper.
Five hundred business cards lay like a bad deal in poker.
Emery Hazard. Private Investigator.
No phone number. No email. He didn’t have an office or a name for the agency. Ordering the cards had been stupid. Sheer stupidity, prompted by one stupid conversation in St. Louis after that asshole North McKinney had crawled under Hazard’s skin again.
Hazard skimmed twenty off the top and stuck them in his pocket. Then he rewrapped the cards, returned them to the drawer, and covered them with Post-Its, a tape dispenser, a box of Bic pens.
He was out of the house, driving toward Wroxall, before he realized he had forgotten to mop the floors.
About the Author
Learn more about Gregory Ashe and forthcoming works at www.gregoryashe.com.
For advanced access, exclusive content, limited-time promotions, and insider information, please sign up for my mailing list here or at http://bit.ly/ashemailinglist.