Read Safe at Home Online

Authors: Alison Gordon

Safe at Home

SAFE AT HOME
A Kate Henry Mystery
Alison Gordon
Dedication

For Paul—without your impatience, I could never have written this.

Chapter 1

The sexual tension in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Unfortunately, all I had was a pair of chopsticks.

I reached out with my right foot and found Andy’s underneath the table. He wiggled his toes in his socks, stroking the arch of my foot while he chatted in Japanese with the kimono-clad waitress. It was almost unbearably erotic.

When the waitress left the private tatami room, sliding the rice-paper door shut behind her, he smiled, a little too smugly, I thought.

“What’s the news from the south?” he asked. “Are the Titans going to the World Series this year?”

The bastard. I’d been away for almost two months. The one weekend he was supposed to come to Florida, he’d had to work. We were together again, and he wanted to talk sports? He doesn’t even like baseball.

“That’s what the wise guys say,” I said, playing his game. “I think they’ve been listening to Fric and Frac too much.”

Fric and Frac, or Ted Ferguson and Red O’Brien to their mothers, are the owner and manager, respectively, of the Toronto Titans baseball team, the happy band of overgrown adolescents with whom I spend my days between February and October. As the chief baseball writer for the Toronto
Planet,
I cover most of the home games and do the bulk of the travelling with the team.

Hence my long absence. Spring training, not half as glamorous as it sounds, had me roving around Arizona and Florida for nearly six weeks. The season began on the road, so I spent another ten days in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim sending back dispatches of disaster to the home fans.

“Seven straight losses isn’t much of a way to start a season, is it?”

Andy thoughtfully nibbled some grilled eel and ran his foot slowly up my calf.

“With a rainout thrown in for good measure,” I said, spreading my legs.

When his foot found the path, I slammed my knees shut, trapping him. Then I tickled. For a tough guy, he’s easy to render helpless. Luckily, this vulnerability hasn’t yet become widely known in criminal circles.

Andy, by the way, is a cop. The best staff sergeant on the homicide squad, as a matter of fact, and if you think that a lady sportswriter and a police officer make for a pretty peculiar romantic pairing, you’re not alone.

We met last fall. It wasn’t a traditional introduction, by any means. We met over a small matter of murder, two murders to be precise. The victims were Sultan Sanchez and Steve Thorson, a designated hitter and star pitcher for the Titans. Someone had used their skulls for batting practice.

While Andy was looking for the killer, I was looking for a scoop. I got it when I almost became the third victim.

Andy rode to the rescue in the final reel of that movie, and we’ve been together, sort of, ever since. The relationship is complicated by the fact that we both have strange working hours, healthy egos, and a certain wariness about entanglements. Andy is divorced, the father of two boys. I was just getting over a six-year-long relationship, after the man I lived with realized that I liked the road and didn’t want to have his babies. I thought it was women who were supposed to listen to biological clocks ticking. If I have one, it runs on batteries, silently.

Andy orchestrated my homecoming. I had hoped he would meet me at the airport with an armload of flowers, followed by an afternoon spent sipping champagne in bed, the one place we always get along. Instead I’d humped my own bags through Terminal One, stood in line for a cab for half an hour, and was greeted at home only by Elwy, my fat black and white cat, who sulked in a closet to show his disapproval of my long absence. Andy was just a message on my answering machine telling me he was sorry that he was too busy to meet me, but that he’d be by at 7:00. I spent the afternoon doing laundry and feeling sorry for myself.

He arrived late, with flowers and Dom Perignon—“for later,” he said. I had Martini glasses chilling in the freezer and satin sheets on the bed, but he rushed me out the door without a word of consultation. Cops are like that. Hell,
men
are like that.

I stopped being annoyed when I saw what he had done. He took me to Kuri, the restaurant where we’d had our first date, if a discussion of murder can be so described. We’ve been there often since, and the owner watches over our relationship as if it had been his idea in the first place.

He and Andy are particularly close. Andy spent several years teaching English at a Japanese university and has an enduring love for the country. He keeps his Japanese in shape talking with Kuri, who is very patient with him.

The two of them had devised a welcoming feast of many courses. By the third flask of sake, I’d decided that Andy was a romantic genius. I was even glad we hadn’t leapt right into bed. I had forgotten how aphrodisiac anticipation can be.

The door slid open again. This time it was Kuri himself, with more sake.

“Everything is all right?”

“Perfect, Kuri-san,” I said. “Please join us.”

“Just for one minute,” he said.

As well as being a mother hen to Andy and me, Kuri is a baseball fanatic, having transferred his allegiance from the Japanese Hanshin Tigers to the Titans, so the minute stretched into fifteen while the next course was served. He was anxious for news of Atsuo Watanabe, the Japanese player the Titans had brought over for a look-see in spring training. He’d done well enough to grab the shortstop job with the Triple A team, and Kuri wanted to know all about it.

I had lots to tell him. The cultural clashes and misunderstandings between Watanabe and the Americans and players from the Dominican Republic had made for an interesting spring camp. He worked harder than any other two players combined, and his elaborate respect for the manager and coaches was unlike anything I had seen before. The other Titans were appalled, but I figured they could learn a thing or two from him.

Kuri was also worried, as was I, about the fate of his favourite Titan player, Tiny Washington, the wonderful first baseman who had been in a slump since spring training began. With a player in the minors waiting to take his place, his future looked gloomy. The kid was ready: he’d been an International League All-Star for two seasons. It made perfect baseball sense. But that didn’t mean it didn’t bother Tiny or his fans.

Andy, while smiling politely, was obviously fed up with the jock talk by the time Kuri bowed his way back to work.

“Don’t look at me that way,” I said. “It was your idea to come here. Besides, you brought up the subject.”

“But I exhausted my knowledge in the first thirty seconds,” he laughed.

“All right, then. Tell me what you’re working on.”

“The same thing I’ve been on since just after you left,” he sighed. “Those two murders of children.”

“Two?”

“I told you about them on the phone. The first was a ten-year-old boy.”

“I remember. He was drugged and raped.”

“There was another one a few weeks later. A twelve-year-old this time.”

“And you think it’s the same guy?”

“Yes. We suspected it right from the start because of the similarities between the two crimes. Once the forensics came back it was clear that they were killed by the same man.”

“Is there a connection between the two kids?”

“Not an obvious one. The first one lived and went to school in Forest Hill. The second one was from Regent Park.”

No, the paths of a child of privilege and a child of poverty were unlikely to cross.

“We’re going through all the routine stuff: interviewing neighbours where the kids lived and where the bodies were found, checking parking tickets, bringing in the kiddy diddlers.”

“The what?”

“Child molesters. Sorry.”

I wasn’t offended. Cops talk less crudely than most journalists.

“We put all the data we could gather in one of the new super-duper computers and have come up with nothing. Zip. A big fat zero.”

“Are you under a lot of pressure on this one?”

“Where shall I start? With the chief? He’s on the phone a couple of times a day. With the press? The papers are calling the murderer the Daylight Stalker. Your paper has assigned two reporters full-time to the case. They’ve interviewed everybody even remotely connected with the deaths and they won’t leave me alone.”

“Who are they?”

“The regular police-beat guy, Jimmy Peterson. He’s not so bad. He understands how we work. The other one’s some broad named Margaret Papadakis. She’s a real pain in the ass.”

I smiled. She would be. A smart, tough, tenacious, and very ambitious junior reporter who realizes that this kind of story can make a career. She knows how to ring the changes of tragedy, and stay on page one with it.

“She’s just doing her job, Andy.” He grunted and poured more sake in both our cups. “You’re not going to sucker me into an argument tonight, Kate. Or else I’ll forget why I missed you so much.”

He leaned over and got his coat, which was lying a few feet away. He took a small box out of the pocket.

“Sorry it’s not wrapped,” he said.

Touched, I fumbled with the box. For one irrational moment I was afraid it was going to be a ring. Instead, it was a stunning pair of earrings in silver and onyx. They were very simple, in the shape of a stylized fan: modern, but with a touch of deco in the design.

“If you don’t like them, I can exchange them.”

“They’re perfect,” I said. I took off the earrings I was wearing and put on the new ones, then pulled my unruly red hair back and up to show them off.

“Beautiful,” he said, then slid around to my side of the table.

“Can we go home now?” I asked in a few minutes.

“If we don’t we’re going to get Kuri in trouble with the morality squad,” he said.

Chapter 2

We went from the restaurant to my house. There is no my-place-or-yours choice in our relationship. I’ve spent a night or two with him at his fairly spartan apartment, but my house is cozier and better equipped. We’ve never talked about living together, but he has gradually made his presence felt: a toothbrush and razor in my medicine cabinet, a couple of clean shirts in my closet, that sort of thing. He has brought over books he’s reading, some music he particularly likes. During the winter we spent a lot of domestic evenings and Sunday afternoons in front of the fire.

He has a key, which is an admission on my part that he’s the only man in my life. But I don’t think we are likely to make a move in the immediate future, and not just because he needs his own place when he has his kids for the weekend. He likes to retreat, and I’m usually grateful when he does.

Not the night I got home, though. We were both advancing as soon as we got in the door.

We broke apart long enough to take off our coats. He hung his up, then his jacket. Finally he unstrapped his shoulder holster and put his gun carefully on the shelf in its usual place behind some hats I’d bought in a weak moment.

“Aw, gee, and I thought you were just glad to see me,” I said. Old joke.

“I’ll get the champagne, then I’ll show you just how glad I am,” he said, leering like Groucho Marx.

I was putting some sultry jazz on the machine when there was a knock on the door.

It was my downstairs tenant, cat-sitter, and friend Sally Parkes, in an outrageous kimono, Elwy in her arms.

“Hey, Katie, good to see you,” she said. She is the only person I allow to use that name. “I wasn’t sure you were back yet. Elwy came down for a bit of attention, but I thought I’d better return him.”

“He’s not speaking to me, but thanks anyway,” I said, plopping him down on the couch and giving her a hug. “How have you been? And what have you done to your hair?”

Her blonde curls had given way to modified spikes feathering all over her head.

“You’ve got to look the part on Queen Street West,” she said. “Besides, I was sick of being mistaken for Shirley Temple.”

Sally works at a photo gallery in Toronto’s avant-garde district, surrounded by punks, prostitutes, and performance artists—black leather for days. It’s quite a change for a woman from a small Saskatchewan town who was once married to a New Democratic Party Member of Parliament. Her husband lost his seat in the house and his confidence, and left her for an earnest young socialist with big boobs and a thing for older men.

Sally and I were friends at the University of Saskatchewan, but we had lost touch over the years. We met again at a ballet class a couple of years ago when she was left adrift with her son, T.C. I was looking for a tenant after my former lasting relationship didn’t, and both problems got solved at once.

“Well, you’d never be let on the Good Ship Lollipop looking like that,” I said. “It looks, well, fine. Different, but good.”

“Thanks for your enthusiastic support,” she said. “If you had really liked it, I would have worried.”

The champagne cork popped in the kitchen.

“Oh, sorry. I thought you were alone.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Andy came into the room.

“Hi Sally,” he said, warmly. “I’ll get another glass.”

One of the many nice things about Andy is that he doesn’t resent my friends. One of the few nice things about me is that I don’t automatically drop my women friends when a new man appears on the scene, and I think he appreciates that. In fact, he’s become part of the family, and seems to be as happy to know Sally and her son T.C. as he is to know me.

Nonetheless, I was glad when Sally, no dummy, declined his offer and went downstairs to bed.

Andy and I settled in on one of the couches, his arms around me. It felt wonderful.

“Is it true? Am I really not in a hotel? I’m really home,” I sighed. “Do you want me to light a fire?”

“You already have,” he said, and kissed me.

The phone rang. We both groaned.

“Let’s not answer it,” I said.

“Sorry, you have to.”

Andy’s semi-residence at my house means that my number is on file at the homicide squad. An apologetic desk sergeant was on the line. I passed Andy the phone.

“Yeah, Munro,” he grumbled. “This had better be important.”

I tried to figure out what was going on by Andy’s reactions. It didn’t sound good. He grimaced at me.

“All right,” he finally said. “Tell Jim I’ll meet him there. Put MacPherson on.”

He covered the mouthpiece.

“Kate, I’m really sorry,” he said, and looked it. “Another little boy has been murdered.”

He took my hand, then went back to the phone. Damn, damn, shit, piss.

“Yeah, Don, I’m at Kate Henry’s,” he said. “Come pick me up. You remember the address?”

I tugged at his hand.

“Tell him to take the long way,” I whispered. He smiled and shook his head.

“I’ll be downstairs in five minutes,” he said.

I yanked my hand out of his as he hung up the phone, got up and went to the closet.

“Kate, I’m sorry.”

“One night, God.” I said, raising my eyes to the ceiling. “Is that asking for too much? One lousy night without the phone ringing? What did I do to deserve this?”

I pulled his coat and jacket out of the closet and threw them at him. He caught them, then walked past me to get his gun.

“I know I’m being selfish,” I said. “But it’s been two months since I’ve seen you. It’s been two months since we’ve made love. Aren’t I even allowed to get pissed off?”

“Maybe I can get back later.”

“Don’t bother.”

“For God’s sake, Kate. Stop it!” he snapped. “Some things are just a bit more important than our sex life.”

“Just because you’re right doesn’t mean I have to like it,” I said. “Or that I can cope with it. We can’t live this way. I can’t just turn off and on depending on the little bits of time you can fit into your crime-fighting schedule.”

“Don’t, Kate, please,” he said, putting his arms around me and drawing me close. I kept my hands at my sides and turned my head away from his mouth.

“This isn’t going to work,” I said.

He sighed, let me go, and turned for the door.

“I hope you’re wrong,” he said, “but I haven’t got time to discuss it now. I’ll call you when I can.”

He shut the door quietly behind him, and I listened to his footsteps going down the stairs. I lit a cigarette and went to the front window. He was pacing on the sidewalk in front of the house. I almost went down to him to make it up, but his ride arrived before I could. As the car pulled away, his face turned towards my window.

I was suddenly very tired. I put the champagne back into the fridge with a silver spoon, handle down, in the mouth of the bottle. That’s supposed to keep the bubbles. I’d never had enough left in a bottle to test the theory before.

I washed the glasses, turned out the lights and got my comforting blue flannel nightie out of the bottom drawer. Satin sheets are cold to sleep in alone.

Before I turned out the light, I whistled for Elwy. He came to the door, looked at me, and padded pointedly away.

Welcome home, Kate.

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