Keelan Ellis © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Before he even opened his eyes, Paul knew something was wrong. He could feel the heat of the morning sun on his face in a way that never happened in his west-facing bedroom, but for a few seconds, he couldn’t figure out why it was wrong. The bed felt familiar enough and smelled familiar too.
He sat up slowly, rubbing his face and pressing the heels of his hands into his forehead as if that might somehow hold back the monster headache pushing its way into the backs of his eyes. His stomach lurched as he carefully swung his feet onto the floor, and he took a few calming breaths until it passed. He made his way to the bathroom, at one point losing his balance slightly and bumping into the wall.
In the shower, he leaned up against the slick tiles and angled the showerhead so the water hit him. He tried closing his eyes, but little pinpricks of light blossomed behind his lids. When dizziness set in, he opened them again. Bits and pieces of the night before crept into his consciousness, and he sincerely wished he could block them out for a little while longer. No such luck. The stack of flattened boxes waiting for him in the entryway—and the expression on Andy’s face as he told him he needed to move out—started the whole thing. They’d fought. There were tears, followed by wine and then scotch. Paul was pretty sure what happened next wouldn’t surprise a single goddamn person in the entire world. The worst part was it wasn’t the first time it had happened, and he’d been no less regretful any of the other times. One might think he’d learn his lesson eventually.
Paul stayed in the shower until the hot water was gone, swallowed three Advil, and stared at himself in the mirror. At thirty-eight, he still had his dark curls, but his beard was starting to come in gray where he used to have some copper strands. That morning, he could see the future in his face. He looked ten years older, at a minimum. He picked up his razor and shaved carefully, still managing to nick his jawline with his unsteady hand.
Oh well, maybe I’ll actually resemble a real cop today. Too bad I don’t have any short-sleeved dress shirts. Not that his work wardrobe was any great shakes, but Andy had started buying him ties back when he first joined the homicide squad, and he had excellent taste. In their better days, he’d sometimes tie them for Paul before he headed out the door for his commute to the city. But that was years ago.
Ten minutes later, he was downstairs in the kitchen hunting for his stainless-steel travel mug. He wasn’t late, but he didn’t want to hang around the house and was hoping to make it out the door without a conversation. He poured himself coffee, dumped in some cream, and was just congratulating himself on his success when he walked right past Andy on the way to the door.
“Good morning,” Andy said, sounding much more like a co-worker than a boyfriend of nearly eight years.
Paul couldn’t detect any anger or even regret about the previous evening, but there was no warmth in Andy’s voice at all. He looked at the man sitting on the living room sofa, seeing him more clearly than he had in a while. It was impossible to tell that he was hungover, even though he’d had at least as much to drink as Paul. He was wearing a beautiful wool-silk blend sweater with a pair of slim, dark jeans that had surely cost more than Paul’s entire suit. No tie today, so he must be working from home. His blond hair, just now starting to be touched with silver, shone in the sun coming in through the window. At forty-four, he was in amazing shape and still as gorgeous as the day they’d met. Paul wondered, as he often did, why he couldn’t make himself feel the way he once had about him.
“Hey,” Paul said, “I’ve got a lot of shit to catch up on at work, so I should get going.”
Andy rolled his eyes, winced slightly, and touched his temple. “Don’t worry. I’m not up for a conversation this morning. I wanted to make sure you understand that nothing changes just because we fucked, okay? That was goodbye sex. You still have to move out.”
Anger flared in Paul’s chest. As if he didn’t know that already. Despite his desire to get out the door, he found himself warming to an argument. “Yeah? No shit. Did you think I thought we were getting back together or something? Jesus, we broke up six months ago. If that was an option, it would have happened before now. Did you imagine I was hoping the third time was a charm?”
“Paul,” he said, softening a little, “I can’t do this right now. I get that you’re pissed and you don’t want to deal with it, but I can’t move on with you in my house. It’s too confusing.”
My house. Andy had bought the house in northwest Baltimore County less than a month after they’d started dating. Paul had been promoted to detective a year earlier. Six months later he’d moved in. Two years after that, he’d made it to the homicide division. He’d become a murder police. That had been his goal since he’d joined the department. He enjoyed the job—found it satisfying—but the commute and the crazy hours of a Baltimore City detective were hard on a relationship. You could see the evidence of that everywhere. It had taken a toll on his relationship with Andy, but they both knew it couldn’t all be blamed on the job.
“Yeah, you said that last night. I’m on it, okay?”
“That’s what you said three months ago.” Andy sounded more tired than angry. “Please. I really need you to follow through this time.”
“I said I’m on it. Today. I promise.” Paul hesitated before reaching for the doorknob. “Should I say I’m sorry about last night?”
“Are you?” Andy asked, raising his eyebrows slightly.
Paul gave him a little smile and shook his head. “Not really.”
He headed out the door, squinting against the bright sunshine and ultra-blue early October sky. Paul was hoping for a quiet morning at work to recover, and he figured most likely he’d get it. He had a case file to review for some testimony he was scheduled to give later in the week, but other than that, there was nothing urgent on his plate.
Tim Cullen, his partner, glanced up from his desk when Paul came in and gave a long, low whistle. “You look like shit. You hungover?”
Paul glowered at him. “Fuck you, Cullen.”
“Jesus, what’s up your ass? That wasn’t a gay sex joke. So you know.”
“That never crossed my mind,” Paul said, “but you ruined it by saying that, you jerk. Now I know that’s all you can think about when you’re with me. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel, man?”
Cullen’s face fell in dismay until Paul relented and winked at him.
“Christ,” Cullen said. “I wish I had something I could use to wrong-foot people so easy. Maybe I should pretend I’m half black.”
Paul laughed as he settled heavily into his chair. “Good luck with that, you leprechaun.”
Cullen grinned and ran his fingers through his wild red hair. “We can’t all be dark, handsome Semitic types such as yourself. Some of us have to rely on our charm. So why are you so tired?”
Paul groaned and looked at him with misery-filled eyes.
“Fuck,” Paul mumbled. “Why is it that, even though we’re broken up, I still have to rehash our entire relationship until one in the goddamn morning and then wake up in his bed?”
Cullen rolled his eyes. “Because you’re still living in his house, dummy.”
“Yeah, well,” Paul said, glancing uncomfortably at his partner, “that’s going to change as of this weekend. He brought home a bunch of boxes yesterday. He wants my bedroom cleared by the end of the day on Saturday.”
“Wait. You’re saying he brought boxes and told you to be out by Saturday, and then you slept with him?”
It hadn’t occurred to Paul until that moment that it might have been a dumb thing to do. He put his face in his hands and sighed heavily. “Yeah. I’m an idiot. No need to rub it in.”
Cullen narrowed his eyes. “I don’t suppose, on some level, you slept with him to keep him from trying to move on. So he wouldn’t make you move out yet.”
Paul kept his face down but lifted one hand to give Cullen the finger. One of the perils of hanging around detectives was that they tended not to buy your bullshit. Half the time, they didn’t believe you even when you were telling the truth.
“Cullen! Solomon! In here.” Their lieutenant stood in the doorway of her office, beckoning them.
They entered the little glass-walled room and stood before Lieutenant Cherise Masters. She was a six-foot, terrifyingly beautiful, incredibly intimidating black woman. Her presence, combined with her drive and intelligence, made her a force to be reckoned with.
“Good morning, Cherise,” Paul said, and she stopped him with a glare. “Lieutenant,” he corrected.
They’d partnered for a while when she first joined the homicide unit, and they’d gotten along, but she’d been ambitious from the start. Paul assumed she’d move up quickly, but he hadn’t expected her to be his boss within two years. Had he known, he might have tried to suck up a little more when he’d had the chance.
“A call came in just now. Double homicide, or possibly murder-suicide, in a car on South Beechfield near the cemetery.”
Paul frowned at her. “Isn’t Burczyck up?” Detectives tended to get pissy about that sort of thing, and he didn’t want any more problems with Burczyck than he already had.
“Burczyck is still buried under that triple domestic up in Overlea. I want you two on it.”
“On our way, Lieutenant,” Cullen said, grinning what he probably considered a winning grin at her. It was totally inappropriate for the conversation. Paul nodded at her and shoved him out the door.
“Could you be more obvious?” Paul asked, laughing on the way to the car.
“Could you be more of an asshole?” Tim shot back. “I can’t imagine you doing that shit to Freeman.”
“That’s because Freeman was older than me,” Paul replied stubbornly. He knew Tim was more or less right. Masters was his boss, and he should at least be respectful to her face.
The scene was cordoned off, and there was a fairly large uniformed presence, possibly due to the proximity to an elementary school. A young officer let them through, and they went to either side of the car—a late-model Camry—to peer in. Leaning in on the driver’s side, Paul got a good look at the boy behind the wheel. He was black and young—maybe seventeen—wearing expensive eyeglasses and what appeared to be a uniform from West Baltimore Boys Catholic. That was a boys’ high school only a few blocks from where the car was parked. The driver had a hole in his chest and was covered in blood.
The boy in the passenger seat was white, with close-shorn hair, jeans, and a ratty, faded T-shirt. He appeared to be around the same age as the driver, and there was a backpack at his feet. Paul squinted at it and saw that it had a Landsdowne High School logo on it. This didn’t feel right at all.
Paul looked across the car and frowned at Cullen. “Any thoughts about what’s going on here?”
His partner shook his head slowly. “If they went to school together, it would make more sense, but what’s a white trash kid doing hanging out around here with a private school black kid? Drug-related?”
Paul stepped back a bit and studied the two boys. Their seatbelts were off, and the passenger was angled toward the driver’s side. Paul carefully fished the wallet out of the kid’s pocket and found a driver’s license and the registration to the car. His name was Javon Thomas, and he lived in Catonsville.
“Could be,” he said carefully. “Maybe.” Cullen was taking a bunch of pictures with a digital camera, and Paul stepped back to think. It was a strange place to park, aside from the fact that it was close to Javon’s school.
One of the officers came up to inform him that the crime scene people were asking if they could take the bodies yet. Paul said no and that he’d tell them when.
“Could this be a hate crime, Detective?” the young uniform asked.
Paul raised his eyebrows at the kid. “What makes you say that, officer?”
“Well…two gay teenage boys in a parked car at night, in this neighborhood?”
“What makes you think these boys were gay?”
“Uh…” The officer suddenly looked unsure of himself. Paul waited. “Their hands? They’re like, both sort of lying in between the seats as if they might have been holding hands or something.”
Paul opened his mouth and then shut it. He should have seen that, but he’d missed it. Or hadn’t processed it, at least. “Okay. Good observation, officer.” He started to walk away, and then stopped abruptly and turned around. “Are you the one who called this in?”
“Did you tell the detective you spoke with about your theory?”
The kid nodded. “I spoke to Detective Burczyck, but I figured he must have asked you because, uh…”
Paul tilted his head in mock curiosity and crossed his arms while he waited for the young man to finish his sentence.
“Well, because you’re gay. I mean, I assumed? I’m sorry. Maybe I’m wrong. I thought I heard you were. But I didn’t mean anything b—”
Paul held up his hand to put the uniform out of his misery. “Fine. Don’t give yourself an aneurysm. Jesus Christ. No offense taken. From you, at least.”
He was going to have to have a word with Burczyck and with Cherise. She had to know why Burczyck had asked to pass it along. And she was the one who picked him for it, so fuck her too.
Cullen finished up what he was doing and came over, brandishing a little imitation leather folder. “Bus pass and a pay stub, plus seven bucks. Kid’s name was Darren McCauliffe.”
“Okay. I guess they can take the bodies, but I want to go through that backpack before they bag it.”
Paul didn’t tell Cullen anything about what the uniform had said. There was no point in speculating. They’d have to go talk to the parents, who may or may not be able to speak to that, but they’d also go through the boys’ rooms. It was unlikely either of them had left some kind of clue behind about themselves, or their relationship if indeed they had one.
As far as either of them could tell, there was nothing of interest in the kid’s bag except for a cell phone. Javon’s phone was in the well between the front seats. They’d have to go through all their calls and contacts later, but for now, they found home phone numbers and numbers for the boys’ parents.
Javon’s parents didn’t pick up their home phone, but at Darren’s house, his grandmother answered. Paul asked if either of Darren’s parents was at home. She sighed and said, “I’m his guardian. What’d he do?”
“Ma’am, we’d like to come and speak with you in person, if that’s okay.”
“What am I gonna say? No? I’ll be here.”