The maintenance man was glumly mopping up a mud-colored puddle in the hallway outside the squad room. Under the heavy scent of pine cleaner hung trails of more human odors. The machine that dispensed coffee black, coffee light, and when its mood was generous, hot chocolate, leaned like a wounded soldier against its companion which handled Hershey bars and Baby Ruths. A platoon of Styrofoam cups littered the tile. Ben steered Tess around the worst of it.
"Coffee machine blow up again?"
The man with dusty gray overalls and dusty gray hair looked over the handle of his mop. "You guys gotta quit kicking these machines. Look at that dent." He slopped more coffee and Lysol as he gestured. "Criminal."
"Yeah." Ben sent a look of dislike at the candy machine. He'd added a fresh dent there himself after he'd lost another fifty cents the day before. "Somebody ought to investigate. Watch your shoes, Doc." He led her into the squad room, where at eight o'clock phones were already shrilling.
"Paris." Lowenstein chucked a paper cup toward her trash bas-ket where it caught the rim and flipped in. "Captain's daughter had her baby last night."
"Last night?" He stopped by his desk to look for messages. The one from his mother reminded him that it had been nearly a month since he'd checked in.
"At 10:35 P.M."
"Shit, couldn't she have waited a couple of days? I had the fifteenth in the pool." There was still a chance, he figured, if she'd cooperated and had a boy. "What'd she have?"
"Girl, seven pounds, seven ounces. Jackson hit it on the nose."
She rose, giving Tess a quick professional sweep. Lowenstein judged the price of the snakeskin bag in the ballpark of a hundred fifty and felt a small, harmless tug of envy. "Good morning, Dr. Court."
"Ah, if you'd like coffee or anything, we're getting it out of the conference room until things are cleared up. We'll be meeting in there in a few minutes." The perfume was French, the real stuff, Lowenstein deduced as she took a quick, discreet sniff.
"Thanks, I'll wait."
"Why don't you have a seat until the captains ready?" Ben suggested, glancing around for a clean chair. "I've got to return a couple of these calls."
There was a sudden spurt of obscenities from the hall, then a metallic crash. Tess turned to see the dirty water from the bucket stream down the hall. Then all hell broke loose.
A stringy black man with his hands cuffed behind him got as far as the doorway when a man in an overcoat caught him in a headlock.
"Look at my floor!" Almost dancing with fury, the maintenance man jumped into view. He swung his mop, spraying everything. "I'm going to the union. See if I don't."
The prisoner bucked and squirmed like a landed trout while the officer in charge tried to hang on. "Get that wet mop out of my face." Panting and a bit red-faced, he tried to avoid the next shower while the black man sent up a high, keening wail.
"Shit, Mullendore, can't you control your prisoners?" Without hurry Ben walked over to assist when the black man managed to sink his teeth into Mullendore's hand. There was a low growl of a curse before the prisoner burst free and ran headlong into Ben. "Jesus, give me a hand, will you? This guy's an animal." Mullendore made a grab, sandwiching the prisoner between them. For a moment they looked as though they were ready to rhumba. Then all three men lost their footing on the damp floor and went down in a heap.
Beside Tess, Lowenstein watched with her hands comfortably on her hips.
"Shouldn't you break it up?" Tess wondered aloud.
"The guy's cuffed and weighs maybe a hundred pounds. They'll just be a minute."
"You ain't putting me in a cell!" The black man rolled and squirmed and screamed, and managed to bring his knee solidly into Ben's groin. In reflex, Ben jerked his elbow and caught him under the chin. As his body went limp, Ben collapsed on it, with Mullendore panting beside them.
"Thanks, Paris." Mullendore held up his wounded hand to study the teeth marks. "Christ, I'm probably going to need a shot. The guy went crazy when we walked into the building."
Ben managed to rise to his hands and knees. His breath whistled as he sucked it in, and left a hole burning in his gut. He tried to speak, dragged in another whistling breath, and tried again. "Sonofabitch put my balls into my stomach."
"I'm real sorry about that, Ben." Mullendore took out a handkerchief and wrapped it around the bite. "He looks real peaceful now, though."
With a grunt Ben pushed himself off to sit on the floor, braced by the wall. "For Christ's sake get him into holding before he comes to."
He sat there as Mullendore hefted the unconscious prisoner. The cold, coffee-stained wash water had soaked through the knees and thighs of his jeans and splattered his shirt. Even when it soaked through the seat, he continued to sit, wondering why the knee that had connected with his pride had been so bony.
As he headed down the hall for a fresh batch of soapy water, the maintenance man rattled his mop in his bucket. "I'm talking to the shop steward. I had that floor almost finished."
"Tough break." Ben spared him a look as the pain between his legs sang its way up to his head.
"Don't worry about it, Paris." Lowenstein leaned on the doorway, carefully avoiding the small river. "Chances are you're still a stallion."
"Kiss my ass."
"Honey, you know my husband's a jealous man."
Tess crouched down beside him, giving him a sympathetic tut-tut. Her hand was gentle as she patted his cheek, but her eyes were lit with laughter. "Are you all right?"
"Oh, I'm terrific. I like absorbing my coffee through my skin."
"Executive branch, right?"
"Want to get up?"
"No." He resisted reaching a hand between his legs to make certain everything was in place.
The laugh wasn't quite muffled as she pressed a hand to her mouth. The long, narrowed look he gave her only made it worse. Her voice hitched and bubbled. "You can't sit here all day. You're sitting in a puddle, and you smell like the floor of a cafe that hasn't been washed over the weekend."
"Great bedside manner, Doc." He took her arm as she fought a losing war against laughter. "One good tug and you're down here with me."
"Then you'd have all those guilt ramifications to deal with. Not to mention the cleaning bills."
Ed walked down the hall, still bundled in his outdoor gear. As he avoided the worst of the wet, he dug the rest of his breakfast yogurt out of the carton. Licking the spoon, he stopped in front of his partner. "Morning, Dr. Court."
"Good morning." She rose, still swallowing laughter.
"Yes, a little cold though."
"Weatherman said it should hit fifty this afternoon."
"Oh, you two are a riot," Ben told them. "A real riot."
Tess cleared her throat. "Ben… Ben had a little accident."
Eds bushy brows lifted as he looked at the stream running down the hall.
"Just keep your sophomoric humor to yourself," Ben warned.
"Sophomoric." Ed rolled the word around on his tongue, impressed. He handed his empty carton to Tess, then hooking his hands under Bens armpits, hauled his partner effortlessly to his feet. "Your pants are wet."
"I was restraining a prisoner."
"Yeah? Well, things like this happen in the midst of all that tension and excitement."
"I'm going to my locker," he muttered. "Make sure the doctor hasn't hurt herself laughing." He sloshed, a little spread-legged, down the hall.
Ed took the empty carton and plastic spoon from Tess. "Want some coffee?"
"No," she managed, strangling a bit on the word. "No, I think I've had enough."
"Give me just a minute, and I'll take you in to Captain Harris."
They met in the conference room. Though the heater sent out a hopeful mechanical buzz, the floors remained chilly. Harris had lost his annual campaign for carpet. The blinds were closed in a fruitless attempt to insulate the windows. Someone had tacked up a poster urging America to conserve energy.
Tess sat at a table, with Ed lounging beside her. The light scent of jasmine steamed out of his tea. Lowenstein balanced on the edge of a small desk, idly swinging one leg. Bigsby hunched in a chair, an economy-sized box of Kleenex on his lap. Every few minutes he blew his already red nose. Roderick's flu had him in bed.
Harris stood beside a green chalkboard on which the names and other pertinent information on the victims had been aligned in neat columns. A map of the city stretched over the wall, pierced with four blue flags. There was a corkboard beside that. Black-and-white glossies of the murdered women were tacked to it.
"We all have transcripts of the phone calls Dr. Court received."
It sounded so cold, so businesslike, she thought. Transcripts. They couldn't hear the pain or the sickness in transcripts. "Captain Harris." Tess shifted her own notes in front of her. "I've brought you an updated report, with my own opinions and diagnosis. But I feel it might be helpful if I explained these phone calls to you and your officers."
Harris, with his hands linked behind his back, only nodded. The mayor, the media, and the commissioner were snapping at his ankles. He wanted it over, long over, so he could spend some time doting on his new granddaughter. Seeing her behind the nursery window had almost made him believe that life had its points.
"The man who contacted me called because he was frightened, of himself. He is no longer controlling his life, but is being controlled by his illness. The last…" Her gaze was drawn to the photograph of Anne Reasoner. "The last murder was not part of the plan." She moistened her lips, glancing over only briefly as Ben walked in. "He was waiting for me-me specifically. We can't be certain how he focused in on the other victims. In the case of Barbara Clayton we can be all but certain it was coincidence. Her car broke down. He was there. In my case it's much more fine-tuned. He's seen my name and picture in the paper."
She paused a moment, expecting Ben to slip into the chair beside her. Instead he stayed back, leaning against the closed door, separated from her by the table.
"The rational part of his mind, the part that keeps him functioning on a daily basis, was drawn. Here was help, someone who hasn't condemned him out of hand. Someone who claims to understand at least some of the pain. Someone who looks enough like his Laura to trigger feelings of love and complete despair.
"I think it's accurate to say that he waited for me the night of Anne Reasoner's murder because he wanted to talk to me, to explain why before he… before he did what he's being driven to do. From your own investigations I think it's also accurate to say that he didn't feel this need to explain with any of the others. In your transcripts you'll see that time and time again he asks me to understand.
I'm a hinge at this point. His door is swinging both ways." She put her palms together, moving them back and forth to demonstrate. "He's asking for help, then his illness takes over and he only wants to finish what he's started. Two more victims," she said calmly. "Or in his mind, two more souls to be saved. Me, then himself."
Ed made small, neat notes in the margin of his transcripts. "What's to stop him from going off, taking someone else down because he can't get to you?"
"He needs me. At this point he's contacted me three times. He's seen me in church. He deals in signs and symbols. I was in church- his church. I resemble his Laura. I've told him I want to help. The closer he feels to me, the more necessary it would be for him to complete his mission with me."
"You still think he'll target for December eighth?" Lowenstein had the transcript in her hands, but she wasn't looking at it.
"Yes. I don't think he could break pattern again. Anne Reasoner took too much out of him. The wrong woman, the wrong night." Tess's stomach shuddered once before she drew herself straight and controlled it.
"Isn't it possible," Ed began, "that because he's homed in on you this way, that he could go for you sooner?"
"It's always possible. Mental illness has few absolutes."
"We'll be continuing our twenty-four hour protection," Harris put in. "You'll have the wire on your phone and the guards until he's caught. In the meantime, we want you to continue your office and personal routine. He's been watching you, so he'll know what they are. If you look accessible, we might draw him out."
"Why don't you give her the bottom line?" From the door Ben spoke quietly. His hands were in his pockets, his voice relaxed. Tess only had to look in his eyes to see what was going on inside. "You want her for bait."
Harris stared back. His voice didn't change in volume or tone when he spoke again. "Dr. Court has been singled out. What I want doesn't matter as much as what the killer wants. That's why she's going to have people on her at home, in her office, and at the damn grocery store."
"She should be in the safe house for the next two weeks."
"That's been considered and rejected."
"Rejected?" Ben pushed himself away from the door. "Who rejected it?"
"I did." Tess folded her hands on her file, then sat very still.
Ben barely glanced at her before he poured his rage on Harris. "Since when do we use civilians? As long as she's in the open, she's in jeopardy."
"She's being guarded."
"Yeah. And we all know how easily something can go wrong. One misstep and you'll be tacking her picture up there."
"Ben." Lowenstein reached out for his arm, but he shook her off.
"We've got no business taking chances with her when we know he's going to go for her. She goes in the safe house."
"No." Tess gripped her hands together so tight the knuckles whitened. "I can't treat my patients unless I go to my office and the clinic."
"You can't treat them if you're dead either." He spun to her, slamming both palms flat on the table. "So take a vacation. Buy yourself a ticket to Martinique or Cancun. I want you out of this."
"I can't, Ben. Even if I could walk away from my patients for a few weeks, I can't walk away from the rest."
"Paris-Ben," Harris amended in a quieter tone. "Dr. Court is aware of her options. As long as she's here, she'll be protected. It's Dr. Courts own opinion that he'll seek her out. Since she's decided to cooperate with the department, we'll be able to keep her under tight surveillance and cut him off when he makes his move."
"We get her out, and we plant a policewoman in her place."
"No." This time Tess rose, slowly. "I'm not going to have someone die in my place again. Not again."
"And I'm not going to find you in some alley with a scarf around your neck." He turned his back on her. "You're using her because the investigation's stalled, because we've got one jerky witness, a religious outlet in Boston, and a ream of psychiatric guesswork."
"I'm accepting Dr. Courts cooperation because we've got four dead women." It was the burning in his own stomach that kept Harris from raising his voice. "And I need every one of my officers at top level. Pull yourself together, Ben, or you'll be the one out of it."
Tess gathered up her papers and quietly slipped out. Ed was less than ten seconds behind her. "Want some air?" he asked when he found her standing miserably in the hall.
He took her elbow in a way that would normally have made her smile. As he pushed open the door, the blast of November wind buffeted them. The sky was a hard, cold blue, without a cloud to soften it. Both of them remembered it had been August, hot steamy August, when it had begun. Ed waited while Tess buttoned her coat.
"I think we might get some snow by Thanksgiving," he said conversationally.
"I suppose." She dipped into her pocket and found her gloves, but only stood running them through her hands.
"I always feel sorry for the turkeys."
"The turkeys," Ed repeated. "You know, Thanksgiving. I don't guess they're very grateful to be a tradition."
"No." She found she could smile after all. "No, I guess not."
"He's never been tangled up with a woman before. Not like this. Not like you."
Tess let out a long breath, wishing she could find the answer. She'd always been able to find the answer. "It just gets more complicated."
"I've known Ben a long time." Ed pulled a peanut out of his pocket, cracked it, and offered the meat to Tess. When she shook her head, he popped it into his mouth. "He's pretty easy to read, if you know how to look. Right now he's scared. He's scared of you and he's scared for you."
Tess looked out over the parking lot. One of the cops wasn't going to be happy when he came out and found his right-front tire flat. "I don't know what to do. I can't run away from this, though part of me, deep down, is terrified."
"Of the phone calls or Ben?"
"I'm beginning to think you should be in my business," she murmured.
"If you're a cop long enough, you learn a little bit of everything."
"I'm in love with him." It came out slowly, like a test. Once it was said, she took a shaky breath. "That would be hard enough under normal circumstances, but now… I can't do what he wants."
"He knows that. That's why he's scared. He's a good cop. As long as he's looking out for you, you're going to be okay."
"I'm counting on it. He's got a problem with what I do for a living." She turned to face him. "You know about that. You know why."
"Let's say I know enough to say he's got his reasons, and when he's ready, he'll let you know about them."
She studied his wide, wind-reddened face. "He's lucky to have you."
"I'm always telling him."
"Bend down a minute." When he did, she brushed her lips over his cheek. "Thanks."
His color rose a little higher. "Don't mention it."
Ben watched them through the glass door a moment before he pushed it open. He'd used up most of his temper on Harris. All that was left was a dull ache in the center of his gut. He knew enough of fear to recognize it.
"Moving in on my time?" he asked mildly.
"If you're stupid enough to make room." Ed smiled down at Tess and handed her some peanuts. "Take care of yourself."
Tess jiggled the nuts in her hand and said nothing as Ed disappeared inside.
His jacket unzipped, Ben stood beside her, looking, as she did, out over the parking lot. The wind sent a small brown bag racing across the asphalt. "I've got a neighbor who'll look after my cat for a while." When Tess remained silent, he shifted. "I want to move in with you."
She stared hard at the flat tire. "More police protection?"
"That's right." And more, a whole lot more. He wanted to be with her, day and night. He couldn't explain, not yet, that he wanted to live with her, when he'd never lived with another woman. That kind of commitment had been dangerously close to a permanency he didn't consider himself ready for.
Tess studied the peanuts in her hand before slipping them into her pocket. As Ed had said, he was easy enough to read if you knew how to look. "I'll give you a key, but I won't cook breakfast."
"How about dinner?"
"Now and then."
"Sounds reasonable. Tess?" Yes?
"If I told you I wanted you to go because…" He hesitated, then put his hands on her shoulders. "Because I don't think I could handle it if anything happened to you, would you go?"
"Would you come with me?"
"I can't. You know I have to-" He broke off, struggling with frustration as she looked up at him. "All right. I should know better than to argue with someone who plays Ping-Pong with brain cells. You'll do what you're told, though, right down the line."
"I have a vested interest in making this case easier for you, Ben. Until it's over, I'll do what I'm told."
"That has to do." He backed off just enough for her to realize it was the cop now, much more than the man, who stood with her. "Two uniforms are following you to your office. We've arranged for the guard in the lobby to take a vacation, and have already replaced him with one of ours. We'll have three men taking turns in your waiting room. Whenever it can be arranged, I'll pick you up and take you home. When it can't, the uniforms will follow you. We're using an empty apartment on the third floor as a base, but when you get in, your door stays locked. If you have to go out for any reason, you call in and wait until it's cleared."
"It sounds thorough."
He thought about the four glossies on the corkboard. "Yeah. If anything, I mean anything, happens-a guy cuts you off at a light, somebody stops you on the street for directions-I want to know about it."
"Ben, it's no one's fault that things have taken this turn. Not yours, not Harris's, not mine. We just have to see it through."
"That's what I intend to do. There're the uniforms. You'd better get going."
"All right." She went down the first step, then stopped and turned back. "I guess it would be improper conduct for you to kiss me here, while you're on duty."
"Yeah." He bent down, and in the way that never failed to make her limbs weak, cupped her face in his hands. Eyes open and on hers, he lowered his mouth. Her lips were chilled, but soft, generous. Her free hand gripped the front of his coat for balance, or to keep him there an extra moment. He watched in fascination as her lashes fluttered, then lowered slowly to shadow her cheeks.
"Can you remember just where you were for about eight hours?" Tess murmured.
"I'll make a point of it." He drew away, but kept her hand in his. "Drive carefully. We wouldn't want the uniforms to be tempted to give you a ticket."
"I'd just have it fixed." She smiled. "See you tonight."
He let her go. "I like my steak medium-well."
"I like mine rare."
He watched her get into her car then pull competently out of the lot. The uniforms stayed a car length behind.
Tess knew she was dreaming, just as she knew there were solid and logical reasons for the dream. But it didn't stop her from knowing fear.
She was running. The muscles in her right calf were knotted with the effort. In sleep she whimpered quietly in pain. Corridors sprang up everywhere, confusing her. As much as she was able, she kept to a straight route, knowing there was a doorway somewhere. She had only to find it. In the maze her breathing bounced back heavily. The walls were mirrored now, and threw dozens of her reflections at her.
She was carrying a briefcase. She looked down at it stupidly, but didn't set it aside. When it became too heavy for one hand, she dragged it with both and continued to run. As she lost her balance, she thrust out a hand and connected with a mirror. Panting, she looked up. Anne Reasoner stared back at her. Then the mirror melted away into another corridor.
So she ran on, taking the straight path. The weight of the briefcase hurt her arms, but she pulled it with her. Muscles strained and burned. Then she saw the door. Almost sobbing with relief, she dragged herself to it. Locked. She looked desperately for the key. There was always a key. But the knob turned slowly from the other side.
"Ben." Weak with relief, she reached out a hand for him to help her over that final step to safety. But the figure was black and white.
The black cassock, the white collar. The white silk of the amice. She saw it come up, knotted like pearls, and reach for her throat. Then she started to scream.
"Tess. Tess, come on, baby, wake up."
She was gasping, reaching up for her throat as she dragged herself out of the dream.
"Relax." His voice came calm and soothing out of the dark. "Just breathe deep and relax. I'm right here."
She clung hard, with her face pressed into Ben's shoulder. As his hands moved up and down her back, she fought to focus on them and let the dream fade.
"I'm sorry," she managed when she caught her breath. "It was just a dream. I'm sorry."
"Must have been a beaut." Gently, he brushed the hair from her face. Her skin was clammy. Ben pulled the covers up and wrapped them around her. "Want to tell me about it?"
"Just overwork." She drew her knees up to rest her elbows on them.
"Want some water?"
She rubbed her hands over her face as she listened to the tap run in the bathroom. He left the light on so that it slanted through the door. "Here you go. You have nightmares often?"
"No." She sipped to ease her dry throat. "I had some after my parents died. My grandfather would come in and sit with me, and fall asleep in the chair."
"Well, I'll sit with you." After he got into bed again, he put an arm around her. "Better?"
"A lot. I guess I feel stupid."
"Wouldn't you say, psychiatrically speaking, that under certain circumstances it's healthy to be scared?"
"I suppose I would." She let her head rest on his shoulder. "Thanks."
"What else is bothering you?"
She took a last sip of water before setting the glass aside. "I was making an effort not to let it show."
"Didn't work. What is it?"
Tess sighed and stared at the slant of tight on the bedroom floor. "I have a patient. Or I had one, anyway. This young boy, fourteen, alcoholic, severe depression, suicidal tendencies. I wanted his parents to put him into a clinic in Virginia."
"They won't go for it."
"Not only that, but he missed his session today. I called, got the mother. She tells me that she feels Joey's progressing just fine. She didn't want to discuss the clinic, and she's going to let him take a breather from his sessions. There's nothing I can do. Nothing." It was that, most of all, that had slapped her down. "She won't face the fact mat he isn't progressing. She loves him, but she's put blinders on so she doesn't have to see anything that isn't in straight focus. I've been slapping a Band-Aid on him every week, but the wound's not healing."
"You can't make her bring the boy in. Maybe a breather will help. Let the wound get some air."
"I wish I could believe that."
It was the tone of her voice that made him shift, and bring her closer. When he'd woken to her screams, his blood had run cold. Now it was pumping warm again. "Look, Doc, both of us are in the business where we can lose people. It's the kind of thing that wakes you up at three in the morning, has you staring at walls or out windows. Sometimes you've just got to turn it off. Just turn the switch."
"I know. Rule number one is professional detachment." His hair brushed her cheek as she turned her face to his. "What turns the switch best for you?"
In the shadowed light she saw him grin. "You really want to know?"
"Yes." She ran a hand down his side until it rested comfortably at his hip. "Right now I especially want to know."
"This usually works." In one easy move he rolled her on top of him. He felt the give of firm breasts pressing against him, smelled the fragrance of her hair as it curtained his face. He took a handful and brought her mouth down to his.
How well she seemed to fit. The thought ran through his head. The brush of her fingertips on his skin was like a blessing. There was something about her hesitancy that had his own excitement drumming. If he ran his own fingers along her inner thigh, she shivered, just enough to let him know she wanted him but was still unsure.
He didn't know why or how it should seem so fresh with her. Each time he found himself holding her in the dark, in the quiet, it was like the first time. She was bringing something to him he hadn't known he'd missed and was no longer certain he could do without.
Her mouth moved lightly over his face. He wanted to roll her over on her back, pump himself into her until they both exploded. With most women it had always been that last, split second of insanity that had washed everything else away. With Tess it was a touch, a murmur, a quiet brush of lips. So he pushed back that first rage of desire and let them both drift.
He could be so gentle, she thought hazily. At times when they made love, it was all speed, all urgency. And then… When she least expected it, he would be tender, almost lazy, until her heart was ready to break from the sweetness of it. Now he let her touch the body she had come to know as well as her own.
There were sighs. Sighs of contentment. There were murmurs. Murmurs of promises. He buried his hands in her hair as she tasted, almost shyly at first, then with growing confidence. There were muscles to be discovered. She found them taut, and delighted in the knowledge that she caused the tension.
There were bones in his hips, long and narrow. When her tongue glided over diem, he arched like a bow. The trail of her finger along the crease of his thigh had his long body shuddering. She sighed as her lips followed the path. There was no more thought of nightmares.
He'd had women touch him. Maybe too many women. But none of them had made his blood hammer like this. He wanted to lie there for hours and absorb each separate sensation. He wanted to make her sweat and shake as he was.
He sat up, grabbing her hands at the wrist. For a moment, a long moment, they stared at each other in the narrow beam of light. His breath came in pants. His eyes were dark, glazed with passion. The scent of desire hung heavy in the room.
He lowered her slowly, until she lay on her back. With his hands still gripping her wrists, he used his mouth to drive her to the edge. Narrow, delicate, her hands strained against his hold. Her body twisted, arched, not in protest, but in a delirium of pleasure. His tongue slid over her, into her, until she thought her lungs would balloon and explode from the pressure. He felt her go rigid and call out as she came. Her scent spilled into the room. She was limp, boneless, when he filled her.
"I'm going to watch you go up again."
He braced himself over her, and though each muscle trembled with the effort, went slowly, exquisitely slowly. She moaned, then opened her eyes as the sensations and pleasure began to build again. Her lips trembled open as she started to say his name. Then her fingers dug into the rumpled sheets.
Ben buried his face in her hair and cut himself loose.