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23.12.2018

"I appreciate YOUR making time to see me, Monsignor. Tess took a seat in the front of Logan's desk and had a quick, not entirely comfortable flash of how her patients must feel during their initial consultation.

"It's my pleasure." He was settled comfortably, his tweed jacket draped over the back of his chair, his shirtsleeves rolled up to reveal sturdy forearms sprinkled with hair just beginning to gray. She thought again that he seemed to be a man more accustomed to the rugby field or racquetball court than vespers and incense. "Would you like some tea?"

"No. Nothing, thank you, Monsignor."

"Since we're colleagues, why don't you call me Tim?"

"Yes." She smiled, ordering herself to relax, starting with her toes. "That would make things easier. My call to you today was on impulse, but-"

"When a priest is troubled, he seeks out another priest. When an analyst is troubled…" As he trailed off, Tess found her conscious effort to relax was working.

"Exactly." The fingers on her purse loosened their grip. "I guess that means you get hit from both ends."

"It also means I have two roads to choose from when I have problems of my own. That's a matter which has its pros and cons, but you didn't come to discuss Christ versus Freud. Why don't you tell me what's troubling you?"

"At this point, a number of things. I don't feel like I've found the key to the mind of… of the man the police are looking for."

"And you think you should have?"

"I think being as involved as I am now, I should have more." She lifted one hand in a gesture that spoke of frustration and uncertainty. "I've talked to him three times. It bothers me that I can't get through my own fear, maybe my own self-interest, to push the right buttons."

"Do you think you know those buttons?"

"It's my job to know them."

"Tess, we both know the psychotic mind is a maze, and the routes leading to the core can shift and shift again. Even if we had him under intensive therapy in ideal conditions, it might take years to find the answers."

"Oh, I know. Logically, medically, I know that."

"But emotionally is a different story."

Emotionally. She dealt with other people's emotions on a daily basis. It was different, and much more difficult, she discovered, to open her own to someone else. "I know it's unprofessional, and that worries me, but I'm past the point where I can be objective. Monsignor Logan-Tim-that last woman who was killed was meant to be me. I saw her in that alley. I can't forget."

His eyes were kind, but she saw no pity in them. "Transferring guilt won't change what happened."

"I know that too." She rose and went to the window. Below, a group of students rushed across the grass to make their next class.

"May I ask you a question?"

"Naturally. I'm in the answer business."

"Does it bother you that this man may be, or may have been, a priest?"

"On a personal level, you mean, because I'm a priest?" To consider it, he sat back with his hands steepled. As a young man he'd boxed both in and out of the ring. His knuckles were fat and spread. "I can't deny a certain discomfort. Certainly the idea of the man being a priest rather than, say, a computer programmer, makes the entire business more sensational. But the simple truth is that priests are not saints, but as human as a plumber, a right fielder, or a psychiatrist."

"When he's found, will you want to treat him?"

"If I were asked," Logan said slowly. "If I believed I could be of use, then perhaps. I wouldn't feel obliged or responsible, as I believe you do."

"You know, the more afraid I am, the more essential it becomes to me to help him." She turned to the window again. "I had a dream last night. A rather dreadful one. I was lost in these corridors, this maze, and I was running. Even though I knew I was dreaming I was still terrified. The walls became mirrors and I could see myself over and over again." Unconsciously she put a hand to the glass of the window, as she had to the mirror in the dream. "I was carrying my briefcase, dragging it really, because it was so heavy. I looked in one of the mirrors and it wasn't my reflection, but Anne Reasoner's. Then she was gone and I was running again. There was a door. I just had to get on the other side of that door. When I got there, it was locked. I looked frantically for the key, but I didn't have it. Then the door opened on its own. I thought I was safe. I thought- then I saw the priest's frock and the amice."

She turned back, but couldn't bring herself to sit. "Oh, I could sit down and write a very detailed and comprehensive analysis of that dream. My fear of being out of control in this situation, overwork, and my refusal to cut down on that workload. Guilt over Anne Reasoner. My frustration at not finding the key to this case and my ultimate, my very ultimate failure."

She hadn't mentioned fear for her life. Logan considered it a very interesting and telling omission. Either she had not yet brought herself to face it, or she linked the possibility with her dread of failing.

"You're so sure you're going to fail?"

"Yes, and I detest the idea." The admission brought a self-depreciating smile. Tess ran her fingers over the cover of the antique bible and found the carving deep and smooth. "There's something in here about pride going before a fall."

"I tend to think that depends on the pride. You've given the police everything a trained psychiatrist could, Tess. You haven't failed."

"I never have, you know. Not really. Not on a personal level. I did well in school, played hostess very properly for my grandfather until my practice cut back on my free time. As far as men were concerned, after one minor disaster in college I always made sure I called the shots. Things have been very safe and tidy until… well, until a few months ago."

"Tess, as far as this case is concerned, you were brought in as a consultant. It's the police department's responsibility to find this man."

"Maybe I could have left it at that. Maybe," she murmured, running a hand through her hair. "I'm not totally sure. But now, how can I? He's turned to me. When he spoke to me, there was a desperation, a plea. How could I, how could any doctor try not to answer that?"

"Treating him at some later date isn't the same thing as feeling responsible for the results of his illness." A frown of concern entered his eyes as he linked his fingers and rested them on the desk. "If I had to speculate out of hand, before a thorough reading of this report, I would say he's drawn to you because he senses compassion, and a certain vulnerability. You have to be careful not to give so much of the first that you fall victim to the second."

"It's difficult for me to follow the rules on this one. Ben- Detective Paris-wanted me to go out of town. When he suggested it, for a minute I thought, I'll go. I'll get on a plane and go down to, I don't know, Mazatlan, and when I come back this will all be over and my life will be as neat and tidy as it used to be." She paused and met Logan's quiet, patient gaze. "I really detest myself for that."

"Don't you consider it a normal reaction to the stress of the situation?"

"For a patient," she said, and smiled. "Not for me."

"There is such a thing as overachievement, Tess."

"I don't smoke. I'm a very light drinker." She came back to sit. "I figure I'm entitled to a vice."

"I don't have sex," Logan said contemplatively. "I suppose that's why I feel entitled to smoke and drink." He looked back, pleased that she seemed more at ease. Confession, he knew well, was good for the soul. "So you're staying in Georgetown and cooperating with the police. How do you feel about that?"

"Nervous," she told him immediately. "It's an uneasy feeling to know someone's watching you all the time. I don't mean just-" Shaking her head, she broke off. "I have such a difficult time knowing what to call him."

"Most people would call him a killer."

"Yes, but he's also a victim. In any case, it's not just knowing he might be watching that unnerves me. It's knowing the police are. At the same time I feel satisfied that it's the right thing. I didn't cut and run. I want to help this man. It's become very important to me to help him. In the dream, when I was faced with him I fell apart. Therefore I failed him and myself. I'm not going to let that happen."

"No, I don't think you will." Logan picked up his letter opener, running the hilt through his hands. It was old and a bit tacky, a souvenir from a trip to Ireland during his youth. He was fond of it, as he was of many foolish things. Though he didn't consider Tess foolish, he was becoming fond of her as well. "Tess, I hope you don't take offense if I suggest that after all this is over, you do get away for a while. Stress and overwork can break even the strongest of us."

"I won't take offense, but I might take it as doctor's orders."

"Good girl. Tell me, how is Ben?" When she gave him a blank stare, he smiled. "Oh, come, even a priest can smell romance in the air."

"I suppose you could say Ben is another problem."

"Romance is supposed to be a problem." He put the letter opener down. "Are you calling the shots this time, Tess?"

"It doesn't seem as though either of us is. We're just fumbling around. He-I think we care for each other a great deal. We just haven't gotten around to trusting each other yet."

"Trust takes time if it's going to be solid. I've had a couple of professional discussions with him, and one rather drunken meeting at a little bar downtown."

"Oh, really? He didn't mention it."

"My dear, a man doesn't like to mention he got drunk with a priest. In any case, would you like my opinion of Detective Paris?"

"Yes, I think I would."

"I'd say he's a very good man, dependable. The kind of man who probably calls his mother once a month even when he'd rather not. Men like Ben bend rules but very rarely break them, because they appreciate structure, they understand the concept of law. There's an anger in him he keeps well buried. He didn't give up the Church because of laziness, but because he found too many flaws. He gave up the Church, Tess, my dear, but he's Catholic right down to his toes." Tim sat back, pleased with himself. "Sixty-second analysis is my speciality."

"I believe it." She pulled a file out of her briefcase. "I hope you have as much luck with this. I cleared it with Captain Harris. This is my updated report. You'll also find the transcripts of my phone calls. I'd appreciate a miracle."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks for listening."

"Any time." He rose to go to the door with her. "Tess, if you have any more nightmares, give me a call. It never hurts to ask for a little help."

"Where have I heard that before?"

Logan watched her go through the outer office before he closed the door.

He watched her exit the building. It was dangerous to follow her, but he knew the time for caution was almost over. She paused by her car, looking for her keys. Her head was bent, as if in prayer. The need billowed up inside him until his head rang. Groping, he found the white silk in his coat pocket. Cool, soft. It steadied him. Tess pushed the key into the lock.

If he was quick enough, sure enough, it could be over in minutes.

His fingers clutched and undutched on the amice while his heart thudded in his throat. A few forgotten leaves, dry as dust, rustled around her ankles. He saw the wind blow wisps of hair around her face. She looked troubled. Soon, very soon, she would be at peace. They would all be at peace.

He watched her get into her car, heard the door close, then the sound of the engine. A puff of smoke spurted out of the tailpipe. The car made a gentle sweep of the parking area, then turned onto the road.

He waited until the police car made the turn before he went to his own car. She would go to her office now, and he would continue the vigil. The moment hadn't arrived. There was still time to pray for her. And himself.

Tess hung up the phone, leaned back in her chair, and shut her eyes. She was batting about.500. In her game, that wasn't nearly good enough.

Joey Higgins. How could she treat the boy if she couldn't talk to him? His mother had taken a stand. Joey was no longer drinking, therefore, Joey was fine and no longer needed the embarrassment of a psychiatrist. It had been a painful and ultimately fruitless conversation. She had one more shot. She had to make it good.

Leaning forward, Tess buzzed her secretary. "Kate, how much time do I have before the next appointment?"

"Ten minutes."

"All right. Please get Donald Monroe on the line for me."

"Right away."

While she waited, Tess looked over Joey's file. Their last session remained very clear in her mind.

"Dying's not such a big deal."

"Why do you say that, Joey?"

" 'Cause it's not. People are always dying. You're supposed to."

"Deaths inevitable, but that doesn't make it an answer. Even very old people, very sick people, cling to life because it's precious."

"People say when someone dies, they're at peace."

"Yes, and most of us believe there is something after life. But each of us is here for a reason. Our life is a gift, not always easy, certainly not always perfect. Making it better for ourselves and for the people around us takes some effort. What's your favorite thing to eat?"

He gave her a blank look. "Spaghetti, I guess."

"Meat balls or meat sauce?"

The smile was quick, but it was there. "Meat balls."

"Suppose you'd never tasted spaghetti and meat balls. The sky would probably still be blue, Christmas would still come once a year, but you'd be missing something pretty terrific. And if you weren't here, say you'd never been born, we'd still have the sky and Christmas, but something pretty terrific would be missing."

Her buzzer brought her back to the present. "Mr. Monroe on one."

"Thank you, Kate. Mr. Monroe."

"Dr. Court. Is there a problem?"

"Yes, Mr. Monroe, I feel there's a big problem. I'm strongly opposed to Joey withdrawing from treatment."

"Withdrawing? What do you mean?"

"Mr. Monroe, are you aware that Joey missed his last session?"

There was a pause before she caught just a whisper of a weary sigh. "No. I suppose he decided to take off on his own. I'll discuss it with Lois."

"Mr. Monroe, I've already spoken to your wife. She's decided to take Joey out of therapy. I take it you weren't informed."

"No, I wasn't." Another pause, then he drew a long breath. "Dr. Court, Lois wants Joey to resume a normal life, and he does seem a great deal better. We told him about the baby, and his reaction was encouraging. He's going to help me paint the nursery."

"I'm glad to hear that, Mr. Monroe. My feeling is, however, that he's far from ready to pull out of therapy. In fact, I still believe he would be helped a great deal by some time in the clinic we discussed."

"Lois is completely opposed to the clinic. I'm sorry, Dr. Court, and I do appreciate your concern, but I have to back her on this."

Anger surged, barely controlled. Couldn't he see it was the boy he had to back up? That they both had to back up? "I understand that you feel you should show Joey a united front. But, Mr. Monroe, I can't stress enough how vital it is for Joey to continue to receive consistent professional help."

"And, Dr. Court, there's also the risk of overanalyzing. Joey isn't drinking, he isn't hanging around with the same crowd he was when he was drinking. He hasn't even mentioned his father in two weeks."

The last statement had alarm bells ringing in her head. "The fact that he hasn't mentioned his father only means he's repressing his feelings. His emotional state at this point is very tenuous. Can you understand, when there is little self-esteem, suicide becomes almost easy? I'm afraid-no, I'm terrified of what he might do."

"Dr. Court, I can't help but think you're overreacting."

"I promise you, I'm not. Mr. Monroe, I don't want to see Joey become a statistic. What I want, more than anything, is for his therapy to stop, when he's ready. Its both my professional opinion and my gut instinct that he's not."

"I'll see if I can convince Lois to bring him back for another session." But even as he said it, Tess recognized the dismissal. Some other boy might slash his wrists or swallow a bottle of pills, but not Joey.

"Mr. Monroe, has anyone asked Joey if he wants to continue seeing me?"

"Dr. Court, I can only promise to look into this." Impatience came through now, with a trace of annoyance. "I'll use whatever influence I have to see that Joey comes back for at least one more session. I think you'll see for yourself how much better he is. You've been very helpful, Doctor, but if we feel Joey is well, then the sessions should be stopped."

"Please, before you do anything, would you get a second opinion? Perhaps you're right not to take my word for it. I can recommend several excellent psychiatrists in the area."

"I'll talk to Lois. We'll consider it. Thank you, Dr. Court, I know you've helped Joey a great deal."

Not enough, she thought as the connection broke. Not nearly enough.

"Dr. Court. Mr. Grossman is here."

"All right, Kate. Send him in." She took Joey's file, but didn't put it away. Instead she set it aside on her desk, within easy reach.

It was nearly five when the last patient left for the day. Kate stuck her head in the door. "Dr. Court, Mr. Scott didn't schedule his next appointment."

"He doesn't need one."

"Really?" Kate relaxed against the door. "You did good work there, Dr. Court."

"I like to think so. You can take his file out of current patients."

"It's a pleasure."

"Do it tomorrow, Kate. If you hurry you can get out of here exactly one minute early."

"Watch me. Good night, Dr. Court."

"Good night, Kate." When the phone rang she reached for it herself. "I've got it. Go on home, Kate." With her hand on the receiver, she took a long breath. "Dr. Court."

"Hi, Doc."

"Ben." A layer of tension dissolved. She heard background noises of phones, voices, and typewriters. "Still at work?"

"Yeah. I wanted you to know I'd be a while yet."

"You sound tired. Did something happen?"

He thought of the day he'd put in and the stench he wasn't sure would ever wash off his skin. "It's been a long one. Look, why don't I pick up some pizza or something? Things should be wrapped up here in another hour or so."

"Okay. Ben, I'm a good listener."

"I'll keep that in mind. Go straight home and lock the door."

"Yes, sir."

"See you later, smartass."

It wasn't until she hung up that Tess realized how quiet the office was. Normally she would have appreciated an hour in the evening to herself. Her desk could be put in order, paperwork could be finished up. Now the quiet seemed too close and too thick. Calling herself a fool, she picked up the Scott file to close it out. Success was satisfying.

She took the files and tapes from her late-afternoon patients and locked them away. Joey Higgins's file remained on her desk. Knowing she was spinning her wheels, Tess put it in her briefcase to take home.

Three times she caught herself looking toward her door with her pulse throbbing.

Ridiculous. Determined not to be a fool, she checked the next day's appointments. There were two policemen outside, she reminded herself, and one in the lobby. She was perfectly safe.

But each time she heard the elevator hum in the hall outside, she felt a jolt.

If she went home now, the apartment would be empty. She didn't want to face solitude there now, not now that she was sharing the apartment with Ben.

What was she getting into? Sighing, she began to gather the rest of her things. She was over her head with Ben Paris. Just how did the eminent Dr. Court deal with falling in love? Very poorly, she decided as she went to the closet for her coat.

If it were spring, she'd have an excuse for daydreaming and smiling at nothing in particular. Smart people fell in love in spring, she thought, when everything was fresh and seemed as though it would stay that way.

She stopped at the window. The trees that marched along the street in front of the buildings were dark and naked. What patches of grass could be seen were already yellowed and tired. People huddled inside their coats, heads bowed against the wind. It wasn't spring, she thought, feeling foolish. And everyone's hurrying home.

Then she saw him. He stood very still in his black coat, just in back of a group of young trees. Her breath caught. Her knees trembled. Watching-he was waiting and watching. Instinctively, she swung around for the phone, grabbing it from her desk. She'd call downstairs, she thought as she began to punch buttons. She'd call and tell the police that he was outside, watching. Then she'd go down too. She'd go because she'd promised herself that much.

But when she turned back to look, he was gone.

She stood there a moment, the phone in her hand, the number half dialed. He was gone.

Just someone on his way home, Tess told herself. A doctor or lawyer or bank executive walking home to keep fit. She forced herself to walk back to her desk and calmly replace the phone. She was jumping at shadows. Because her legs were still unsteady, she sat on the edge of the desk. Layer by layer she rebuilt control.

Diagnosis, acute paranoia.

Prescription, hot bath and quiet evening with Ben Paris.

Feeling better, she drew on her cashmere coat, hefted her briefcase, and tossed her purse strap over her shoulder. After locking her office, she turned and saw the knob on the reception-area door turn.

The keys in her hand slipped out of nerveless fingers. She took a step back into the door she'd just locked. The door opened an inch. The scream backed up in her throat, bubbling hot. Frozen, she stared as the door opened a bit more. There was no maze to run through, no place to go. She took a deep breath, knowing she was on her own.

"Anybody home?"

"Oh, Jesus, Frank." Her knees felt like butter as she braced herself against her office door. "What are you doing sneaking around the halls?"

"I was walking down to the elevator and saw the light under your door." He smiled, delighted to find her alone. "Don't tell me you're taking work home again, Tess." He stepped inside, strategically closing the outer door at his back.

"No, I keep my laundry in here." She bent to retrieve her keys, furious enough with herself to let him feel the backlash. "Look, Frank, I've had a long day. I'm not in the mood for your fumbling attempts at seduction."

"Why, Tess." His eyes widened, and so did his smile. "I had no idea you could be so… so aggressive."

"If you don't get out of my way, you're going to get a close-up view of the nap of this carpet."

"How about a drink?"

"Oh, for God's sake." She pushed past him, took hold of the freshly pressed sleeve of his jacket, and yanked him into the hall.

"Dinner at my place?"

Setting her teeth, Tess switched off the light, closed the door, and locked it. "Frank, why don't you take your sexual delusions and write a book? It might keep you out of trouble." She whipped past him and punched the button for the elevator.

"You could be chapter one."

She took a long breath, counted backward from ten, and discovered, to her amazement, that it did nothing to calm her. When the doors slid open she stepped inside, turned, and blocked the opening. "If you like the shape of your nose, Frank, don't try to get on this elevator with me."

"How about dinner and a hot tub?" he said as the doors started to close. "I know a great place for Chicken Kiev."

"Stuff it," she muttered, then leaned against the back wall.

She was nearly home before she started to laugh. It was possible, if she put her mind to it, to forget about the police car behind her, to block out the fact that on the third floor of her building cops were drinking coffee and watching the early news. A two-car accident on Twenty-third held her up an extra fifteen minutes but didn't spoil the mood she was building.

She was humming when she unlocked the door to her apartment. After wishing briefly that she'd thought to pick up fresh flowers, she went straight to the bedroom and stripped. She chose the silk kimono again, then dumped a double shot of bubble bath under the stream of water pulsing into the tub. She took the time to put an album on the stereo. Phil Collins bounced out, happy to be alive and in love.

So was she, Tess thought as she lowered herself into the steaming water. And tonight she was going to enjoy every minute of it.

When Ben used his key to get in, he felt he was home. The furniture wasn't his, and he hadn't picked out the paintings, but he was home. The cardboard box was warm on the bottom, where he held it. He set it on the dining room table, on top of the linen placement he imagined had taken some little French nun the better part of a week to embroider, and wished he could crawl into bed and sleep around the clock.

He put the paper bag he carried next to the pizza before he stripped out of his coat and let it fall over the back of a chair. Peeling off his shoulder holster, he dropped it on the seat.

He could smell her. Even here, barely three steps inside the door, he could smell her. Soft, subtle, elegant. Drawing her in, he found fatigue warring against a need he'd yet to find a way to curb. Tess?

"Back here. I'm in the tub. I'll be out in a minute."

He followed her scent and the sound of water. "Hi."

When she glanced up at him, he believed he saw her color rise a bit. Funny lady, he thought as he moved over to sit on the edge of the tub. She could make a man pant in bed, but she blushed when he caught her in a bubble bath.

"I didn't know how long you'd be." She stopped herself from sinking farther under the cover of bubbles.

"Just had to tie up a few things."

Embarrassment faded as quickly as it had come. "It was a rough one, wasn't it? You look exhausted."

"Let's just say it was one of the less pleasant days on the job."

"Want to talk about it?"

He thought of the blood. Even in his business you didn't often see that much. "No, not now."

She sat up to reach over and touch his face. "There's room in here for two, if you're friendly. Why don't you take Dr. Court's reliable prescription for overwork?"

"The pizza'll get cold."

"I love cold pizza." She began to unbutton his shirt. "You know, I had a rather strange day myself, ending with an invitation for Chicken Kiev and a hot tub."

"Oh?" He rose to unsnap his pants. The feeling that went through him was ugly, and unrecognizable to a man who'd never experienced basic jealousy before. "Doesn't seem too smart to turn that down for cold pizza and bubbles."

"More fool me for refusing an evening with the handsome, successful, and excruciatingly boring Dr. Fuller."

"More your type," Ben muttered, sitting on the John to pull off his shoes.

"Boring's more my type?" Tess lifted a brow as she leaned back. "Thank you very much."

"I mean the doctor, the three-piece suits, the Gold American Express Card."

"I see." Amused, she began to soap her leg. "You don't have a gold card?"

"I'm lucky Sears still lets me charge my underwear."

"Well, in that case, I don't know if I should invite you into my tub."

He stood, naked but for the jeans riding low at his hips. "I'm serious, Tess."

"I can see that." She took a handful of bubbles and studied them. "I guess that means you see me as a shallow, materialistic, status-minded woman who's willing to slum it occasionally for good sex."

"I don't mean anything like that." Frustrated, he sat on the lip of the tub again. "Look, I've got a job that means I deal with slime almost on a daily basis."

Her hand was wet and very gentle when she set it on his. "It was a filthy day, wasn't it?"

"That has nothing to do with it." He took her hand in his a moment, studying it. It was rather small and narrow, delicate at the wrist. "My father sold used cars in a dealership that was barely on the right side of the tracks in the suburbs. He owned three sport coats and drove a DeSoto. My mother baked cookies. If a cookie could be baked, she did it. Their idea of a night on the town was the Knights of Columbus hall. I punched my way through high school, crammed my way through college for a couple of years then the Academy, and I've spent the rest of my life looking at dead bodies."

"Are you trying to convince me that you're not good enough for me because of cultural, educational, and genealogical differences?"

"Don't start that shit with me."

"All right. Let's try another approach." She pulled him into the tub.

"What the hell are you doing?" He spit out bubbles. "I'm still dressed."

"I can't help it if you're slow." Before he could regain his bal-ance, she slid her arms around him and closed her mouth over his. Often, even a psychiatrist knows it's action rather than words that gets to the core. She felt the tension ebb and flow before he reached for her. "Ben?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you think it's relevant, at the moment, that your father sold used cars and mine didn't?"

"No."

"Good." She drew back, and laughing, brushed bubbles from his chin. "Now, how are we going to manage to get your pants off?"

The pizza was STONE cold, but they didn't leave a crumb. Ben waited until she'd dumped the carton.

"I bought you a present."

"You did?" Surprised, and foolishly pleased, she looked at the paper bag he offered. "Why?"

"Questions, always questions." Then he drew it back as she reached for it. "You really want to know?"

"Yes."

He moved closer, close enough to slip an arm around her waist. The scent of the bath was on both of them. Her hair was pinned up and damp. "Well, I think I'm going out of my head. Yes, I think I'm going out of my head, over you."

She let her eyes close slowly for the kiss. "Little Anthony," she murmured, playing the tune over in her head. "Was it 1961, '62?"

"I figured you being a shrink, you'd fall for that approach."

"You're right."

"Don't you want your present?"

"Umm-hmm. But I think you have to let me go so I can open the bag."

"Then don't take too long." He gave it to her, watching her expression as she looked inside. It couldn't have been better-the blank frown, the surprise, then the amusement.

"A dead bolt. God, Ben, you know how to sweep a woman off her feet."

"Yeah, it's a real talent."

Her lips curved as she pressed them against his. "I'll always treasure it. If it was a little less bulky, I'd wear it next to my heart."

"It's going to be in your door in less than an hour. I put my tools in the kitchen closet the other day."

"Handy too."

"Why don't you see if there's something you can do for a while. Otherwise, I'll make you watch."

"I'll come up with something," she promised, and left him to it.

While he worked, Tess edited a lecture she was to give at George Washington University the following month. The buzz of the drill and clank of metal against wood didn't disturb her. She began to wonder how she had ever tolerated the total silence of her life before him.

When her lecture was in order and the files she'd brought home dealt with, she turned to see him just finishing up. The lock looked bright and secure.

"That should do it."

"My hero."

He shut the door, held up a pair of keys, then set them on the table. "Just use it. I'll put my tools away and wash up. You can sweep the floor."

"Sounds fair." As she walked toward the door, she paused to turn on the television for the news.

Though there seemed to be more mess than the small lock warranted, Tess swept the sawdust into the pan without complaint. She was straightening up, the pan and broom still in her hands, when the top story came on.

"Police discovered the bodies of three people in an apartment in North West. Responding to the concern of a neighbor, police broke into the apartment late this afternoon. The victims had been stabbed repeatedly while bound with clothesline. Identified were Jonas Leery, Kathleen Leery, his wife, and Paulette Leery, their teenaged daughter. Robbery is thought to be the motive. We'll switch to Bob Burroughs on the scene for more details."

A husky, athletic-looking reporter appeared on the screen, holding a microphone and gesturing at the brick building behind him.

Tess turned and saw Ben just outside the kitchen doorway. She knew immediately that he'd seen the inside of the building himself.

"Oh, Ben, it must have been dreadful."

"They'd been dead ten, maybe twelve hours. The kid couldn't have been more than sixteen." The memory of it had the acid burning in his stomach. "They'd carved her up like a piece of meat."

"I'm sorry." She set everything aside and went to him. "Let's sit down."

"You get to a point," he said, still watching the screen, "you get to a point where it's almost, almost routine. Then you walk into something like that apartment today. You walk in and your stomach turns over. You think, God, it's not real. It can't be real because people can't do that kind of thing to each other. But you know, deep down, you know they can."

"Sit down, Ben," she murmured, easing them both onto the couch. "Do you want me to turn it off?"

"No." But he rested his head in his hands for a minute, then dragged them through his hair before he straightened. The on-the-scene reporter was talking to a weeping neighbor.

"Paulette used to baby-sit my little boy. She was a sweet girl. I can't believe this. I just can't believe it."

"Those bastards'll go down," Ben said half to himself. "There was a coin collection. A fucking coin collection worth eight hundred, maybe a thousand. Fenced, it might bring half that. They butchered those people for a bunch of old coins."

She glanced back at the lock, now firmly in her door, and understood why he'd brought it to her tonight. She drew him close, and in the way women have of offering comfort, rested his head against her breast.

"They'll pawn the coins, then you'll trace them."

"We've got a couple other leads. We'll have them tomorrow, the day after at the latest. But those people, Tess… sweet Christ, as long as I've been in this, I still can't believe anything human could do that."

"I can't tell you not to think about it, but I can tell you I'm here for you."

Knowing it, knowing it was just that simple, dulled the horror of the day. She was there for him, and for tonight, for a few hours, he could make that all that mattered.

"I need you." He shifted, bringing her over into his lap so that he could nuzzle at her throat. "It scares the hell out of me."

"I know."