5,993
23.12.2018

"Tess, I DON'T KNOW. I'm not at my best with senators." Ben sent Lowenstein a snarl as she grinned over at him, then turned his back, cradling the phone between shoulder and jaw.

"He's my grandfather, Ben, and really rather sweet."

"I've never heard anyone call Senator Jonathan Writemore a sweetheart."

Pilomento called him from across the room, so Ben nodded and gestured with a finger to hold him off.

"That's because I'm not doing his PR. In any case, it's Thanksgiving, and I don't want to disappoint him. And you did tell me your parents live in Florida."

"They're over sixty-five. Parents are supposed to move to Florida when they hit sixty-five."

"So you don't have any family to have Thanksgiving dinner with. I'm sure Grandpa would like to meet you."

"Yeah." He tugged at the neck of his sweater. "Look, I've always had this policy about going to meet family."

"Which is?"

"I don't do it."

"Oh? Why is that?"

"Questions," he muttered under his breath. "When I was younger my mother always wanted me to bring the girl I was seeing home. Then my mother and the girl would get ideas."

"I see." He could hear the smile in her voice.

"Anyway, I made a policy-I don't take women to see my mother, and I don't go to see theirs. That way nobody gets the idea to start picking out silver patterns."

"I'm sure you have a point. I can promise that neither my grandfather nor I will discuss silver patterns if you join us for dinner. Miss Bette makes a terrific pumpkin pie."

"Fresh?"

"Absolutely." A smart woman knew when to back off. "You've got some time to think about it. I wouldn't have bothered you with it now, but with everything that's been going on, I'd forgotten the whole thing myself until Grandpa called a few minutes ago."

"Yeah, I'll give it some thought."

"And don't worry. If you decide against it, I'll still bring you a piece of pie. I've got a patient waiting."

"Tess-"

"Yes?"

"Nothing. Nothing," he repeated. "See you later."

"Paris."

"Sorry." He hung up the phone and turned. "What you got?"

Pilomento handed him a sheet of paper. "We finally tracked down that name the neighbor gave us."

"The guy who was hanging around the Leery girl?"

"Right. Amos Reeder. Not much of a description because the neighbor only saw him come by once. Creepy looking was about the upshot, but she admitted she only saw him go to the Leerys' once, and there wasn't any trouble."

Ben was already picking up his jacket. "We always check out creepy looking."

"I got an address and rap sheet."

Before he stuffed his pack of cigarettes into his pocket, he noted with some disgust that he only had two left. "What'd he do time for?"

"When he was seventeen he carved another kid up for pocket money. Reeder had a nickle bag of pot in his pocket and a line of needle marks on his arm. Other kid pulled through, Reeder was tried as a minor, got drug rehab. Harris said you and Jackson should have a talk with him."

"Thanks." Taking the papers, he headed to the conference room, where Ed had his head together with Bigsby on the Priest homicide. "Saddle up," Ben said briefly, and started toward the door.

Ed lumbered beside him, already bundling into his coat. "What's up?"

"Got a lead on the Leery case. Young punk who likes knives was hanging around the girl. Thought we might chat awhile."

"Sounds good." Ed settled comfortably in the car. "How about Tammy Wynette?"

"Kiss ass." Ben punched in a cassette of Goat's Head Soup. "Tess called a few minutes ago."

Ed opened one eye. He considered it best to handle the Rolling Stones blind. "Problem?"

"No. Well, yeah, I guess. She wants me to have Thanksgiving dinner with her grandfather."

"Whoa, turkey with Senator Writemore. Think he needs a caucus to decide whether it's going to be oyster or chestnut dressing?"

"I knew I was going to get grief on this." More for spite than out of desire, Ben pulled out a cigarette.

"It's okay, I got it out of my system. So you're going to have Thanksgiving dinner with Tess and her granddaddy. What's the problem?"

"First it's Thanksgiving, then before you know it, it's Sunday brunch. Then Aunt Mabel's coming over to check you out."

Ed dug in his pocket, decided to save the yogurt-covered raisins for later, and settled for sugarless gum. "Does Tess have an Aunt Mabel?"

"Try to follow the trend here, Ed." He downshifted and brought the car to a halt at a stop sign. "You turn around twice and you're invited to her cousin Laurie's wedding and her Uncle Joe is punching you in the ribs with his elbow and asking when you're going to take the plunge."

"All that because of mashed potatoes and gravy." Ed shook his head. "Amazing."

"I've seen it happen. I tell you, it's scary."

"Ben, you've got bigger things to worry about than if Tess has an Aunt Mabel. Scarier things."

"Oh, yeah, like what?"

"Do you know how much undigested red meat is clogging up your intestines?"

"Jesus, that's disgusting."

"You're telling me. My point here, Ben, is that you can worry about nuclear waste, acid rain, and your own cholesterol intake. Keep these things in the front of your mind and join the senator for dinner. If he starts looking like he's ready to welcome you into the family, do something to throw him off."

"Such as?"

"Eat your cranberry sauce with your fingers. Here's the place."

Ben pulled up at the curb then tossed his cigarette through the crack of his window. "You've been a big help, Ed. Thanks."

"Any time. How do you want to handle this?"

From the car Ben studied the building. It had seen better days. Much better days. There were a couple of broken windows with newspapers clogging the holes. Graffiti was splashed lavishly on the east wall. Cans and broken bottles were in more profusion than grass.

"He's in 303. Fire escape's on the third floor. If he bolts, I don't want to chase him all over his own territory."

Ed dug a dime out of his pocket. "We flip to see who goes in and who covers the back."

"Fine. Heads I go in, tails I climb up the fire escape and cover the window. Oh, no, not in here." Ben put a hand on Ed's arm before his partner could flip the coin. "Last time you flipped in here I ended up having bean sprouts for lunch. We do it outside, where we've got some room."

In agreement, they got out and stood on the sidewalk. Ed took off his gloves, pocketing them before he flipped the coin.

"Heads," he announced, showing the coin. "Give me time to get in position."

"Lets go." Ben kicked the glass neck of a beer bottle out of his way and started into the building. Inside it smelled like baby puke and old whiskey. Ben unzipped his jacket as he climbed to the third floor. He took a long, slow look up and down the hall before he knocked on 303.

The door was opened a crack by a teenager with matted hair and a missing front tooth. Even before he got the first whiff of pot, Ben saw by his eyes that he was high. "Amos Reeder?"

"Who wants him?"

Ben flipped open his badge.

"Amos ain't here. He's out looking for work."

"Okay. I'll talk to you."

"Man, you got a warrant or something?"

"We can talk in the hall, inside, or downtown. You got a name?"

"I don't have to tell you nothing. I'm in here minding my own business."

"Yeah, and I smell enough grass coming through this door to show probable cause. Want me to come in and take a look around? Vice is having a special this week. For every ounce of pot I turn in, I get a free T-shirt."

"Kevin Danneville." Ben saw sweat begin to pearl on the kid's forehead. "Look, I got rights. I don't have to talk to no cops."

"You look nervous, Kevin." Ben pressed a hand to the door to keep the crack open. "How old are you?"

"I'm eighteen, if it's any of your fucking business."

"Eighteen? You look more like sixteen to me, and you're not in school. I might have to take you down to juvie. Why don't you tell me about a little girl whose daddy had a coin collection?"

It was the shifting of Kevin's eyes that saved Ben's life. He saw the change of expression, and on instinct whirled. The knife came down, but instead of severing his jugular, made a long slice through his arm as he fell against the door and crashed into the apartment.

"Christ, Amos, he's a cop. You can't kill a cop." Kevin, rushing to get out of the way, crashed into a table and sent a lamp shattering to the floor.

Reeder, flying on the PCP he'd just scored, only grinned. "I'm going to cut the motherfucker's heart out."

Ben had time enough to see that his assailant was barely old enough to be out of high school before the knife swung toward him again. He dodged, fighting to free his weapon with his left hand as blood poured out of the right. Kevin scooted over the floor like a crab and whimpered. Behind them the window crashed in.

"Police." Ed stood outside the window, legs spread, revolver level. "Drop the knife or I'll shoot."

Spittle ran out of the side of Amos's mouth as he focused on Ben. Incredibly, he giggled. "Gonna slice you up. Slice you into little pieces, man." Hefting the knife over his head, he made a leap. The.38 caliber, blunt-nosed wadcutter caught him in the chest and jerked his body back. For a moment he stood, eyes wide, blood pumping out of the hole in his chest. Ed kept his finger wrapped around the trigger guard. Then Reeder went down, taking a folding table with him. The knife slipped out of his hand with a quiet clatter. He died without a sound.

Ben stumbled and went down to his knees. By the time Ed climbed through the broken window, he'd managed to free his gun. "Flinch," Ben said between gritted teeth as he aimed his service revolver at Kevin. "Just one good flinch is considered resisting arrest."

"Amos did it. Amos did all of them," Kevin said as he began to blubber. "I just watched. I swear, I just watched, that's all."

"Just one good flinch, you little sonofabitch, and I'll blow your balls off before you learn how to use them."

Ed made a routine and unnecessary check of Amos before he crouched beside Ben. "How bad's the arm?"

The pain was incredibly hot and had already made a trip into his stomach to trigger nausea. "I had to pick heads. Next time I toss."

"Fine. Let's have a look."

"Just call someone in to clean up this mess, and get me to the hospital."

"Didn't hit an artery or you'd be gushing out A Positive."

"Oh, that's okay then." He sucked in his breath as Ed revealed the wound. "How about a round of golf?"

"Just keep this on it, hold the pressure steady."

Ed took Ben's gun then clamped his hand onto the bandanna he'd put on the gash. The smell of his own blood drifted up to him.

Where he sat, his feet were only inches from Amos's. "Thanks."

"It's okay, it's an old bandanna."

"Ed." Ben spared a glance at Kevin, who'd curled into the fetal position with his hands over his ears. "He's got a picture of Charles

Manson over the bed."

"I saw it.

Ben sat on the edge of the table in Emergency and counted nurses to keep his mind off the needle going in and out of his flesh. The doctor who stitched him up chatted amiably about the Redskins' chances against the Cowboys on Sunday. In the curtained enclosure beside them a doctor and two nurses worked on a nineteen-year-old girl fighting off a crack overdose. Ben listened to her sobbing and wished for a cigarette.

"I hate hospitals," he muttered.

"Most people do." The doctor sewed as neatly as a maiden aunt. "The defensive lines like a brick wall. If we keep it on the ground, Dallas is going to be standing around sucking their thumbs by the third quarter."

"Not a pretty sight." Ben's concentration wavered long enough for him to feel the pull and tug on his flesh. He focused his attention on the sounds behind the curtain. The kid was hyperventilating. A sharp, authoritative voice was ordering her to breathe into a paper bag. "You get many like her in here?"

"More every day." The doctor knotted off another suture. "We put them back on their feet, if they're lucky, so they can go to the first street corner and buy another vial. There, that's a very nice seam, if I say so myself. What do you think?"

"I'll take your word for it."

Tess rushed through the automatic glass doors of Emergency. After a quick glance around the waiting area, she headed toward the examining rooms. She stopped, staring blankly as an orderly wheeled away a gurney with a shrouded figure on top. Her blood drained down to her feet. A nurse came out of a curtained area and took her by the arm.

"I'm sorry, miss, you don't belong back here."

"Detective Paris. Stabbing."

"He's getting his arm stitched up back there." The nurse kept her grip firm. "Now, why don't you go back to the waiting room and-"

"I'm his doctor," Tess managed, and tore her arm away. She didn't run. There was enough control left so that she walked steadily enough past a broken arm, a second-degree burn, and a mild concussion. An old woman lay on a gurney in the hall, trying miserably to sleep. Tess passed the last curtained area and found him.

"Why, Tess." The doctor looked over, pleased and surprised. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh. John. Hello."

"Hello yourself. It's not often I get beautiful women to visit me at the office," he began, then saw the way she looked at his patient. "Oh, I see." His considerable ego took only a slight bruise. "I take it you two know each other."

Ben shifted on the table and would have stood if the doctor hadn't held him still. "What are you doing in here?"

"Ed called me at the clinic."

"He shouldn't have."

Now that her images of him bleeding to death were put to rest, her knees went weak. "He thought I might be concerned, and didn't want me to hear about it on a news bulletin. John, how bad is it?"

"It's no big deal," Ben answered.

"Ten stitches," the doctor added as he secured the bandage. "No apparent muscle damage, some blood loss but nothing major. To quote the Duke, it's just a scratch."

"The guy had a goddamn butcher knife," Ben muttered, annoyed at having someone else downplay his injury.

"Fortunately," John went on as he turned to the tray beside him, "the detective's jacket and fancy footwork prevented the wound from being any deeper. Without it, we'd have been stitching up both sides of his arm. This will sting a bit."

"What will?" Automatically Ben shot out a hand to grab the doctor's wrist.

"Just a little tetanus shot," John said soothingly. "After all, we don't know where that knife has been. Come on now, bite the bullet."

He started to protest again, but Tess took his hand. The sting in his arm came, then dulled.

"There now." John left the tray for a nurse to deal with. "That ties things up. Forgive the pun. No tennis or sumo wrestling for a couple of weeks, Detective. Keep the area dry and come back for a return visit the end of next week. I'll yank those stitches out for you."

"Thanks a lot."

"Your good health and medical insurance are thanks enough. Nice seeing you, Tess. Give me a call the next time you're in the mood for said and sea urchin."

"Bye, John."

"John, huh?" Ben eased himself off the table. "Did you ever date anyone but doctors?"

"Whatever for?" A light answer seemed best when she'd spotted the blood-soaked linen on the tray. "Here's your shirt. Let me help you."

"I can do it." But his arm was stiff and painful. He managed one sleeve.

"It's all right. You're entitled to be cranky after ten stitches."

"Cranky?" He shut his eyes as she eased his shirt on. "Jesus Christ. Four-year-olds are cranky if they don't have a nap."

"Yes, I know. Here, I'll button it." She intended to. She told herself she would button his shirt, keep the conversation brisk. She'd nearly done two before she dropped her forehead on his chest.

"Tess?" He brought his hand to her hair. "What is it?"

"Nothing." She drew herself away and with her head bent finished buttoning his shirt.

"Tess." With a hand under her chin, he lifted her face. Tears swam in her eyes. He brushed one from her lashes with his thumb. "Don't."

"I'm not going to." But her breath hitched before she pressed her cheek to his. "Just a minute, okay?"

"Yeah." He put his good arm around her and absorbed the basic pleasure of being cared about. Some women had been turned on by his job, others repulsed by it, but he wasn't sure he'd ever had anyone who just cared.

"I was scared," she admitted, her voice muffled against him. Me too.

"Later, will you tell me about it?"

"If I have to. A guy hates to admit to his woman that he was a jerk."

"Were you?"

"I was sure the little sonofabitch was inside. Ed had the window, I had the door. Very simple." When he drew away, he saw her gaze go to his ripped and bloodstained shirt. "You think this is bad, you should see my jacket. I just bought it two months ago."

In control again, she took his arm and led him down the hall. "Well, maybe Santa will bring you a new one for Christmas. Do you want me to drive you home?"

"No, thanks. I've got a report to file. And if the other kid hasn't spilled his guts by now, I want to be in on the interrogation."

"So there were two."

"There's only one now."

She thought of the shrouded figure on the gurney. Because she could smell the dried blood on Ben's shirt, Tess said nothing. "There's Ed."

"Oh, God, he's reading."

Ed glanced up, gave his partner a quick but very thorough study, then smiled at Tess. "Hi, Dr. Court. I must have missed you when you came in." He didn't mention the fact that when she'd arrived, he'd been donating a pint of blood. Both he and Ben were A Positive. Setting the magazine aside, he gave Ben his jacket and hol ster. "Too bad about the coat. It should only take the department till April to process the papers and replace it."

"Ain't it the truth?" With Ed's help Ben managed to heft on his holster and the damaged jacket.

"You know, I just read this fascinating article about kidneys."

"Save it," Ben advised, and turned to Tess. "You going back to the clinic?"

"Yes, I left in the middle of a session." It wasn't until that moment that Tess fully realized she had put him ahead of a patient. "Speaking as a doctor, I'd advise you to go home and rest after you've filed your report. I'll be home around six-thirty, and could probably be persuaded to pamper you."

"Define pamper."

Ignoring him, she turned to Ed. "Why don't you come to dinner, Ed?"

Initially he looked perplexed by the invitation, then pleased. "Well, I-Thanks."

"Ed's not used to articulating to women. Come on over, Ed. Tess'll fix you bean curds." He stepped outside, grateful for the rush of cold air. His arm was no longer numb, but beginning to throb like a toothache. "Where are you parked?" He was already scanning the lot for the black and white.

"Just over there."

"Walk the lady to her car, will you, Ed?" Taking her by the front of her coat, he kissed her hard. "Thanks for coming by."

"You're welcome."

She waited until he'd started toward the Mustang before she turned with Ed. "You'll look out for him?"

"Sure."

Digging her keys out of her pocket, she nodded. "The man who stabbed Ben is dead?"

"Yeah." He took the keys from her, and in a gesture she found sweet, unlocked the car himself. Tess looked at his face and saw, as clearly as if he'd spoken, who had fired the shot. Her values, the code she lived by, warred briefly with a new awareness. Putting a hand on his collar, she drew him down and kissed him. "Thanks for keeping him alive." She got in the car, smiling up at him before she shut the door. "See you at dinner."

Half in love with her himself, Ed walked back to his partner. "You don't go to Thanksgiving dinner, you're one dumb sonofabitch."

Ben shook off grogginess as Ed slammed the car door. "What?"

"And you shouldn't need her Uncle Joe to punch you in the ribs." Ed started the engine with a roar.

"Ed, did you get a bad piece of granola?"

"You better start looking at what's in front of your face, partner, before you end up tripping over the saw."

"Saw? What saw?"

"Farmer's sawing wood," Ed began as he drove off the lot. "City slicker's watching him. Dinner bell rings and the farmer starts moving but he trips over the saw. He just picks himself up and starts cutting wood again. Slicker asks him why he doesn't go in to dinner and the farmer says, since he tripped over the saw, it's no use going in. There won't be anything left."

Ben sat in silence for a full ten seconds. "That explains it. Why don't you turn back around, we'll go into the hospital and have them take a look at you?"

"The point is, if you fuck around when opportunity is staring you in the face, you miss it. You got a hell of a woman, Ben."

"I think I know that."

"Then you better be damn careful you don't trip over the saw."