Lesbian Romance, Lesbian Story, Lesbian Encounter. Lesbian Couple, Lesbian Mystery

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Excerpt from Being the Steel Drummer
A Maggie Gale Mystery



Chapter 3

It was nearly noon by the time we’d said our goodbyes. Farrel lent me their copy of the Carbondales’ local history book and I put it in my bag. Kathryn carried it as I lifted the bag of sculpture onto my other shoulder, and we made our way to the door.

Before we left, Amanda took me aside and said, “I have a feeling that I cannot explain that you should read Suzanne and Gabriel Carbondale’s book as soon as possible, Maggie.” I said I would and made a mental note to do so in the next day or two.

Outside Kathryn said, “You should have dinner with Farrel and Jessie.”

“I’m full of brunch! I won’t be able to fight crime if I can’t fit into my superhero costume. And tonight I’ll be busy missing you.”

“It does my ego a great deal of good to see you crestfallen about not spending the rest of the day together.” She faced me. “I know we haven’t... uh... mmm... since we got back from the beach. And I’m aching to be with you, but,” her voice dropped an octave, “I swear I’ll make it up to you.”

This erotic promise stirred my desire. “How?” I asked provocatively.

“Use your imagination,” she said, giving me one of those looks that could melt the snow off the roof.

“Do you guarantee satisfaction?” I was about to suggest we go straight back to the king-sized bed in the loft
but we both heard her phone playing Beethoven.

“That’s a department ring; maybe the retreat is canceled.”
She pulled her cell from her bag. “Yes, I know, Bolton... I hope it’s a good idea; this retreat has become quite a pain in the... OK, I’ll see you there.”

“One of my fellow department members who was cryptically telling me that he had some kind of plan,” she said to me.

We
took Washington Street to 11th and turned left through the middle of the Mews. The tall wrought iron fence that enclosed the burial ground was two blocks north. We walked swiftly against gusts of February wind, then entered the open cemetery gate and took the gravel path.

Kathryn said, “We’re moving very fast.”

I knew she wasn’t talking about our stride. “Is it too fast for you? Do you want to slow down?” I asked her sincerely.

“I’m concerned that it’s too fast for you. I’ve invaded your space. I’m building onto your home. I made you meet my mother, and God knows I can barely stand her myself,” she said emphatically.

“I like it,” I said honestly.

“Does anything scare you?”

I smiled and shook my head a little. It wasn’t that nothing scared me as much as I wasn’t quite ready to tell her what did. The clingy pathetic part of me that I try so hard to hide began an internal monologue about how I had abandonment issues. But that was all way too co-dependent and not the thing a tough Private Eye should share.

She looked at me seriously for a long moment and then said, “We have to talk.”

“Oh crap,” I tried to say evenly, “you’re going to break up with me.”

“What? No, no, where did you get that idea?”

“Well, you said, ‘We have to talk.’ It’s the classic prelude to a Dear John Letter. Nothing good ever comes after those four words.”

Kathryn looked carefully into my eyes for a moment, then said evenly, “Calm down. I’m not breaking up with you. I just think we should talk about rent.”

“What do you mean rent?” I asked. “You mean like a place you want to rent or Rent, the musical?”

“I mean that if I’m going to live with you, then we need to talk about finances. I should pay you something for rent and a portion of the utilities.”

I was totally caught off-guard. We’d already agreed on her rent payments for her office on the fourth floor, but I hadn’t even considered rent payments for our living space. I had to wrap my brain around it. This is a good thing. Grown-up, serious, equal. After a few moments I mentioned a figure for the monthly rent and said we could spilt the utilities on the loft.

“And could we have a year-long lease?” she asked softly.

“Really? Sure.” This made me profoundly happy. I tried to act adult about the whole thing but I had an urge to grin. Good thing I was wearing a scarf; I could muffle it. Of course if she bailed on living with me, she could move into her office, but still...

Kathryn said with a sigh as we walked on holding hands, “I’ve always hated the beginning of the semester. Nobody knows where their classrooms are, or anyone’s name. Schedules are all new and confusing. Everyone feels lost. It’s so easy to misstep or say the wrong thing.”

“But it’s also an adventure. You learn delightful new things. The tension is exciting and full of surprises. Sometimes you discover worlds you had no idea you’d enjoy. And there’s so much future to look forward to. There are always risks when you’re starting something new, but...”

Kathryn stopped and hugged me so hard it took my breath away.

When I’d first met her I’d found her sexy and beautiful, but she’d seemed aloof and almost unapproachable. She’d opened her vulnerable side to me. It was a secret part of her few people knew. But I couldn’t take it for granted. Her stern, intense academic personality that could be both icy and fiery was part of her nature and never far away.

Kathryn shifted back in my arms. I could see a burning glint in her eye as she said, “Maybe I can sneak out of the retreat at about ten and come home tonight.” It was the first time she’d called the loft home.

“At the moment, I can’t imagine anything more magnificent,” I said. She smiled and leaned against me as we walked on.

The graying sky seemed thick. It fought the light of day. A cold wind stirred up the smell of snow in the air, freezing our cloudy breath. The skeleton fingers of leafless trees reached toward each other. Wind stirred them and they became spider legs flailing toward a trapped fly.

“This is a perfect place for an Edgar Allen Poe recitation, maybe Annabelle Lee?” I said.

“No, I don’t like it,” she said shaking her head. “That line: I was a child and she was a child. He was writing about his thirteen-year-old wife, whom he married when he was twenty-seven. If he’d written, She was a child and I was a pedophile, it would have been more apt. Scholars are so desperate to excuse Poe’s immoral behavior that some insist they never had sex. It’s as absurd as insisting Lesbian poets in Boston Marriages didn’t have sex or that Oscar Wilde wasn’t Gay because the word Gay hadn’t been coined. No, that’s wrong, because it’s comparing Poe’s improper behavior with a child, which would have sent him to prison today, to someone’s sexual orientation that would be perfectly legal and morally acceptable today.”

This was Kathryn’s analytical side, which I liked just as well as the erotic one.

“I wrote a paper once,” said Kathryn, “on Poe’s poor choice in life companion. Virginia Clem was not only too young for him; she was the exact opposite of the kind of person who could have supported his work.”

“You’re committed to this anti-Poe position?”

“His words are interesting, but I can’t separate his life from his work. It’s part of my Coordinative Biography thesis. It’s a theme I’ve been writing about for a long time. It’s the basis of my new book and the theory on which I’m basing the Women in the Arts major. I’ve told you about this before, haven’t I?

“It was the subject of the lecture you did when we were in Florida. You were brilliant.”

Kathryn snorted.

“No really, Kathryn, do you ever really look at the faces of the students when you’re speaking? They were hypnotized by you. It was remarkable. I was paying attention, too. Coordinative Biography simply contends that people’s lives are inextricable from their work. I’ve always thought that, but the way you were explaining it was fascinating. The examples were so creative and yet exactly on point. I can see why you have so many fans.”

“Shall I take that to mean you aren’t just interested in my body?”

“Uh huh.”

“It amazes me how many people, usually straight male WASPs, who routinely fall in line with the antiquated theory-system of normative standards that excludes even the most logical variations of relationships. I’m tired of having to defend the obvious.”

“Shall I recite a Lesbian poet whom you don’t have to defend?”

“Yes, yes, please do!” she smiled. “Maybe Anne Whitney; she was part of the Harriet Hosmer-Charlotte Cushman crowd, wasn’t she? Dim Eden of delight. In whom my heart springs upward like a palm.”

“Yes, she was, but I was thinking a little later. How about:


I caught sight of a splendid Misses. She had handkerchiefs and kisses. She had eyes and yellow shoes she had everything to choose and she chose me.

In passing through France she wore a Chinese hat and so did I. In looking at the sun she read a map. And so did I. In eating fish and pork she just grew fat. And so did I. In loving a blue sea she had a pain. And so did I. In loving me she of necessity thought first. And so did I.
How prettily we swim. Not in water. Not on land. But in love.
How often do we need trees and hills. Not often.
And how often do we need birds. Not often. And how often do we need wishes. Not often. And how often do we need glasses not often.
We drink wine and we make well we have not made it yet.
How often do we need a kiss. Very often and we add when tenderness overwhelms us we speedily eat veal.
And what else, ham and a little pork and raw artichokes and ripe olives and chester cheese and cakes and caramels and all the melon. We still have a great deal of it left. I wonder where it is. Conserved melon. Let me offer it to you.

Kathryn clapped her gloved hands. “Love Song of Alice B! You know,” she laughed, “the first time I heard that Gertrude Stein poem I was a vegetarian and I was throughly repulsed because I thought she really meant eating veal!”

“It still kind of ruins the euphemism for me, too.”

“Maggie, how did you ever find time to learn all these poems?”

“It’s a little early in our relationship for honesty. It could spoil the effect, but I’ll chance it.
I had a job in a furniture factory during college. I had to power-sand panels. I wore a dust mask and earmuffs. It was dull, so I learned a new poem each day. I’d recite the lines over and over as I sanded until I knew them by heart. Each afternoon I’d practice the poems I’d already learned. It made me happy to go to work. I did it when I was on the highway patrol too. Does that spoil the romance for you?”

“No, it is romantic. I like to think of you studying love poems all day.” Kathryn’s voice turned curious. “And were you doing this to impress some specific woman?”

“To impress you. I hope it’s working.”

“Oh, it is!” said Kathryn laughing.

“So how did you learn your poems?” I asked.

“Catholic boarding school.”

“Wait, you’re not Catholic.”

“My mother felt it would be a good influence on me. She was wrong. It was a prison. My father liberated me after a year.”

“That must have made you angry at your mother.”

“Uh, yes. You know the movie Bambi? That was my favorite movie in my teen years.”

I snorted. “It’s good that you can make jokes about it now that you’re all grown up? Isn’t it?”

“Is it?” she asked dryly.

“But you learned all those poems.”

“The only bright moments had to do with a rather serious crush on the beautiful young nun who taught poetry.”

“An ounce of perversion is worth a pound of cure.”

“It certainly is,” said Kathryn in a provocative voice. “
I promise I’ll tell you about it some time, late at night, as a bedtime story.”

We left the road and zig-zagged past plots toward the place where Farrel and I had seen The Lost Bride.

Kathryn looked up at the sky and then turned slowly around. She said, “So many emotions have been expressed on this little piece of ground. Historians find it so simple to presume that emotional life was vastly different 140 years ago. It’s a tribute to Evangeline that Merganser spent a fortune on beautiful sculpture of her for everyone to see, but to put it in this mournful spot.”

I could feel what she meant. The cold steady breeze that rustled the branches over our heads carried the echoes of deep sorrows and fleeting joys. The loneliness, the relief, both cruelty and freedom, even the need for revenge were all such a part of this place.

I sighed. “Of course, trying to frame love in the context of today and apply it to the past is tricky, but I agree, it’s just as dangerous to presume today’s context doesn’t apply.” I reached for Kathryn’s hand and we walked together glove in glove toward the east along a gravel-covered path.

Kathryn asked, “Do you think Cora was right about couples?”

“You mean when she said that it takes two people to end a relationship?”

“Yes,” Kathryn said softly.

I thought about my two previous committed relationships. Both had lasted a few years and had ended because we’d each gone our separate ways. But then there was Carrie, short term but remarkably intense. I’d thought it was the beginning of something lasting, but I’d woken up one morning to find her gone. The brief good-bye note had no explanation.

Long before that, when my mother died, I’d felt the dark cloud of abandonment paralyze my emotions until they were unfrozen a few years later by my father’s new wife, Juana Martinez, and my new sisters, Sara and Rosa. They’d made me laugh and love again. But Farrel was right. Years later, when Carrie left, I tried to be tough, but it made me shy about giving my love away. At least I could understand that, even if I couldn’t talk about it.

But Kathryn had done much more than unfreeze the heart of a lonely little girl. She’d lit a flame in me that I’d never known. Once Farrel told me that when she fell in love with Jessie she was able to look into her future and see Jessie with her. I didn’t understand at the time but now, with Kathryn, I knew exactly what Farrel meant. Still, it didn’t make this any easier; it made it harder. Because it mattered.

I squeezed Kathryn’s arm. I said, “When Suzanne Carbondale left Gabriel he was totally shocked. Suddenly she was just gone. And I guess that’s why Jessie is still so angry. Suzanne didn’t just leave Gabe; she left everyone. It sure seemed like a one-sided break-up.”

Kathryn nodded a little bit and then said simply, “There must not have been much communication between them. Or do you think there was someone else?”

I shrugged. “You never really know what’s happening between two people. Sometimes the two people themselves don’t know,” I said looking steadily into her eyes.

“We’ll have to be sure that doesn’t happen to us.” She smiled and stroked my cheek again with her gloved hand.

“OK, so next time don’t wait until the last minute to tell me you have to go to some meeting, when I’m counting on an afternoon of hot erotic thrills! I wouldn’t have been annoyed at you.”

“You sound annoyed,” she said with a touch of amusement.

“But not at you. I can coast on anticipation.”

“Maybe we can think of something to tide you over... other than just anticipation,” whispered Kathryn close to my ear.

We were passing the tomb that Farrel and I had peeked around the night before. There in front of us was the monument of Evangeline Fen. It was blue-white in the waning afternoon sun. On the high granite pedestal, the figure was almost as ethereal as it had seemed in the moonlight. It wasn’t just a beautiful lost woman, it was a moment frozen in time.

“It’s such a familiar face. No doubt about it,” I said. “Your little figure has the face of Evangeline Fen.”

Kathryn was speechless. She moved closer, looking up at its gentle curves. Evangeline was fully draped in an off-the-shoulder cloak. Her delicate feet and ankles were bare. She was poised to run, with her head turned slightly to the side, one bare arm back, and the other slightly forward with a hand extended in a beckoning gesture. The features were still crisp and clear, though more than a hundred years of the city’s acid rain had tried to dull them.

Kathryn turned and spied the recently toppled headstones. “This statue shouldn’t be out here exposed to vandals. At least no one can reach her head,” she said. We’d seen a number of lower statues with their heads broken off.

“She seems kind of at home here, though. She was very beautiful. Amanda and Judith were certainly right about that,” I said. A gust of wind stirred some dead leaves at the statue’s base. I looked at my watch. I said, “It’s ten after twelve.”

“Twelve-thirty is just the check-in. I’ll call and tell them I’ll be late. Let’s see if we can find some of the other Evangeline statues.”

She turned in place, searching for other figures in white stone. To the south, at the intersection of two major paths, was a small tomb with another statue
of Evangeline Fen in front of it. We went to it. The sculpture was half the size of a real person, but also on a high pedestal. She was seated with her head tilted back, wearing a traveling cloak wrapped around her body in graceful folds. Her left arm was draped across her lap. Her right hand pointed gracefully with all her fingers toward The Lost Bride statue less than thirty feet away.

Kathryn walked around the statue to view it from all angles while I stepped closer. The face was so realistic she seemed about to speak.

“She looks like she knows a secret,” I said.

“Mmmm, yes, and kind of smug about it, isn’t she,” said Kathryn.

Kathryn paused and looked around. “It’s so quiet here; there’s privacy with all these yews,” she said in a low voice. “So, Maggie, do you think it would be unseemly if we found a little... um... satisfaction, here?” Kathryn firmly pushed me against the wall of the block building.

“It’s twenty degrees and we’re in a cemetery,” I said incredulously.

“We’ll keep our coats on. And really, Maggie, in this garden of souls’ 200-year history, I’m sure we won’t be the first moonstruck couple to find a private corner in this otherwise hallowed ground,” said Kathryn, giving me a look that was so hot it could have melted the wrought iron fence and brought a few of the corpses back to life.

“Maybe making love in it actually makes it hallowed,” I suggested, setting the bag of sculptures next to the wall.

“You say the most inspirational things!” said Kathryn, slipping my glove off and drawing the back of my hand to her warm lips.

The logic that usually controls my brain was draining away. I found myself ignoring the freezing cold, ignoring the public place, ignoring the kinkiness of doing it in a boneyard. Carpe Diem.

I moved Kathryn back into a niche in the tomb wall that was sheltered by yew branches and slipped my hands into her coat and under her sweater as I kissed her throat. I undid the clasp of her bra.

“Oh!” gasped Kathryn as I cupped her freed breast and brushed her nipple with the cold pad of my thumb.

“Officer, I swear I wasn’t going over fifty.”

“You still have to be searched.” My mouth found hers; she gently bit my lower lip. I could feel her lips curve into a smile as I undid the top button of her jeans and unzipped them.
I wrapped one arm around her as my other hand moved under the silky fabric and into the increasingly moist place between her legs. She stiffened as I explored.

“Oh, mmm,” she murmured, pushing down her jeans for more access.

And then we heard the distinct noise of a dog-collar tinkling. Gabriel Carbondale was walking Buster, his huge Harlequin Great Dane.

“He’ll notice us,” sighed Kathryn regretfully.

“Maybe not,” I said, pressing her further under the branches.

Gabe Carbondale passed unseeing just feet in front of us and Buster only turned his head for a second to meet my eyes. He did a Scooby head tilt and then went on.

“Good dog!” I mouthed soundlessly, nodding like a bobblehead. Carbondale was beyond our view when I drew Kathryn from the yew branches to resume the course of her promises.

And then an echoing shot rang out. A slug ricocheted off a grave marker with a ping-zip and a puff of rock dust. Then another shot, this time louder, and then the low rumble I’d heard the night before. Gabe Carbondale screamed like a frightened boy-band fan. Before reality even registered in Kathryn, I’d spun her around and pressed her down into the protected hollow. She crouched, grasping the situation.

“Stay here. Don’t move,” I said in a low voice.

I reached up and chinned my way over the building wall. flattening myself on the roof in one smooth movement. The slate shingles were the definition of stone cold against my bare hands. I’d pocketed my gloves when I’d begun to touch Kathryn. I pulled out my cell phone and called 911, gave the 10-13 code for shots fired, and my name and location.

I peered over the roof edge, scanning the cemetery for the shooter. Carbondale was kneeling with his hands on the ground, shaking his head and gasping. About twenty feet ahead of him, near the base of The Lost Bride, was a body in a blue down jacket. A moment later, a person in a maroon hoodie ran up to the body, looked at it, then stood straight when the police sirens blared up the street. The person ran east behind a tall stand of yews.

I glanced back over the edge of the mausoleum and called softly, “Kathryn, stay where you are. Please don’t move.”

She looked up at me and nodded.

I rolled to the other edge of the roof and dropped down silently, wishing I’d brought my Beretta along. I hesitated, acutely aware that someone with a gun was nearby.

The body groaned. It was the start of a death rattle. I sprinted to the person on the ground, pulled off my scarf, wadded it up, and pressed with all my might against blood flowing from the front and back wounds.
“Don’t die! Fight!” I yelled urgently, pulling out my phone with one hand to shout for an ambulance to come with the police.

Twenty feet away, Gabriel Carbondale threw up.



*************











Liz Bradbury Here's a (kind of stiff) animated video I made of a scene from my novel Angel Food and Devil Dogs - A Maggie Gale Mystery - too bad you can't make the characters move toward each other ...
Click on the picture below to watch it:


Lesbian Romance Novel
Source: www.youtube.com


Excerpt from Angel Food and Devil Dogs
by Liz Bradbury

Angel Food and Devil Dogs - Story Description:

As private detective Maggie Gale works to prove the innocence of a mentally challenged pinball wizard who's been arrested for murder, she is called to college president Max Bouchet's office to discuss the suspicious suicide of a gay professor. There, Maggie shakes hands with the attractive Dr. Kathryn Anthony, who smiles at her with a faint but unmistakable touch of lust. Maggie is hired and meets a collection of quirky suspects, one of whom might just be a murderer. Maggie's humorous and caring friends and family support her as she works against escalating danger, and toward escalating romantic encounters with Kathryn. Will Maggie untangle both mysteries? Will the sexual tension swirling around Maggie and Kathryn pull them together? Or will the murderer target Maggie before she gets either chance?

In this excerpt, Maggie has already done quite a bit of investigating and has determined, among other things, that she needs to speak with English professor Dr. Kathryn Anthony about some of the suspects. She had arranged to meet Kathryn Anthony the day before, but a major incident in the case kept her from making the appointment ... and Kathryn was pissed for being stood up.

Now Maggie is hoping she has made it to the College in time to meet Kathryn. And she's also hoping their relationship might develop into something more ... intimate.





Chapter 22


It was getting dark when I pulled into a parking place in front of the Irwin College Administration Building. An icy wind stiffened every muscle. I flipped my parka hood up against the cold and began walking.

Suddenly I realized, that I really had no idea where Kathryn Anthony's office was. I needed to find it fast. Somebody must know, after all, everyone had to take English, but the sidewalks were empty. There was no one to ask.

I was thinking, you can never find one of those,
You Are Here maps when you need one, when I rounded a corner and ran full tilt into one. I found the Language Arts Building on the map and started down a path that went between the Administration building and the Biology Lab into the quad.

The building I sought was the first one on the left. I looked up at its dark windows. Suddenly I was gripped with the realization that it was almost 6:00 PM, and that there was a good chance Kathryn had already gone home. In fact, it seemed ridiculous to imagine she would still be in her office. What college professor in their right mind would have late office hours on a Friday?

I felt a wave of disappointment. I'd been looking forward to seeing her all day. I'd been confident that getting shot at was a pretty good excuse for tardiness. Actually being hit by a bullet was a better excuse, but I wasn't willing to go that far, even for Kathryn. Well, maybe being grazed. Now, however, I understood the chances of seeing her were very slim and I was bummed.

The door to the building had one of those brass handles with a release at the top that you depress with your thumb. For a moment I was afraid it would be locked. But it opened, making that squeaking noise that every school door crafted between 1910 and 1960 makes. The door banged shut, producing a crashing echo that everyone in the building probably heard. If there
was anyone in the building.

The directory on the wall said Dr. Kathryn Anthony's office was on the second floor. Number 208. My footsteps made a shuffling tap sound common to stairways made of slabs of marble, slate steps and tile walls.

At the top of the stairs I pushed the brass bar on the fire door and let myself into a dimly lit hallway. Low wattage wall sconces with stained glass shades cast a pale yellow light. The walls were terra cotta tile. Blue, green and yellow figural Moravian squares, decorated with sheaves of wheat, corn cobs, sickles, or plows, dotted the wall at regular intervals. I slowed to look at them carefully, forestalling what I now felt sure was going to be disappointment.

When this building was built by WPA artisans in the 1930s, it had been a dorm for male students. The dorm rooms were now offices. The doors were evenly spaced down each side of the hallway, even numbers on the left. Their windows faced away from the quad, toward the College Street side, directly across the street from Clymer house where Amanda Knightbridge's office was. So I couldn't have seen Kathryn's window from the quad side. I was absurdly elated by this glimmer of hope.

“Geez, am I really this hot for this babe?”
I whispered to myself.

The door to office number 208 was slightly open. There was a light on and there was someone typing on a computer keyboard inside. I could have jumped up in the air and cheered. Instead, I knocked on the door lightly.

“Come in... Please take a seat. I just have to finish this,” said Kathryn Anthony as she continued to type. She was facing away from the door, looking intently at her computer screen, rapidly spell-checking an email.

What an attractive woman, even from the back, I thought.
Her auburn hair looked thick and satiny; there was a gentle strength in her shoulders, and her voice... commanding, assured, but still soft and sexy. I was getting an answer to my own question about being hot. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach, and a little lower, too.

She hadn't turned to see who'd come in. She seemed to think I was someone else. I sat down in a leather chair in the corner of the small office. Just as I was thinking I should say something, the phone rang. She sent the email, then picked up the phone, still with her back to me.

“Kathryn Anthony,” she said into the phone. “Yes, yes, Paul I sent the entire proposal at 5:30 PM and I just sent the edited letter of support from the Chancellor a second ago. No... the letter from Temple went... Paul, I've been sitting here working on this since 7:00 this morning...Yes, I am to... I think it will too.”

She still faced the computer screen while she spoke. She held the phone in one hand and reached to knead tight muscles in her neck with the other.

I took a moment to look around the room. It was wall-to-wall oak bookcases with some comfortable leather easy chairs and a few framed pieces of art here and there. One was a Klimt print of two women hugging. One was a Frieda Kahlo self-portrait reproduction. One was a small landscape in Maxfield Parrish's style. It looked like a real watercolor, not a print. On a wall shelf just behind her desk was a ten inch bronze figure of a seated nude woman reaching in the air with one hand. A lyrical tilt to the bronze head made the figure seem animated. It was a nice comfortable office, sensitively decorated by someone who planned to spend a lot of time in it.

As she finished the phone conversation, Kathryn slowly swiveled her chair back toward the front of the room. Occasionally her voice ran lyrically up and down the scale when she spoke, but most of the time it was a deep low tone. She sounded wonderful and she was just talking to some guy about a grant or something. What would she sound like if she were talking about...

“OK Paul, I'm tired, I'm stiff as a board. I have an appointment with a student now and I have another call coming in.” She clicked the call waiting button and said her name into the phone, then turned her chair more rapidly toward me. She raised her eyebrows when she saw me; she'd expected someone else, but that person was on the other end of the phone line. Her eyes narrowed more with interest than surprise and that excited feeling I'd felt a few minutes before increased.

She said to the caller, “Mr. Fields, your appointment was for 5:30... No, not tomorrow. Monday? All right then, Monday at 4:00 PM. Mr. Fields, next time you cancel an appointment, please do so before you're already late for it. I'm not always...flexible.” She was looking right at me as she said it. I got the message. She hung up the phone and said evenly, “I'd almost given up on you.”

“Oh, dear, I hope not. You said evening and,” I looked at my watch, “it isn't even 6.” I insisted with amusement.

“I am still unhappy with you about yesterday.” She leaned back in her chair. She wanted to be stern but her voice had a gentle deep undertone. At least she wasn't frowning at me.

“I need to talk to you about the people who were at the meeting...”
Oh crap, that sounded much too official.

“Ah,” she said, in a formal clipped tone.

“But please...please let, me explain why I was late...” I sounded so pathetic, I surprised myself, but her formal gaze softened. Maybe she liked begging.








Chapter 23


“Honestly?" she said raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah.” I'd told Kathryn about Skylar and the police. Now, she was resting her head on the high back of her chair. I was appreciating how terrific she looked.

She said, “When Max called me yesterday he was in a hurry, I guess he was just trying to alert everyone. We didn't speak long but I wish he'd told me about you being there. I'm sorry I was so angry with you. How selfish of me...” I could just barely see she was blushing.

“Forget it,” I said lightly.

“Do you have any idea who killed (******)?” she asked seriously.

“I've learned that there are a few people who couldn't have done it. ...I'd like to get your impressions. Do you have time now?” Her eyes were tired but that fascinating glint was back in them.

“I've been working on that grant proposal since early this morning. I'm tired of being here. Unfortunately for me, the laundry room at the Hampshire has been out of order for a week. So tonight, I have to go to the laundromat because I'm out of clean clothes. And I haven't really had anything to eat all day. I just don't think I could concentrate. I wouldn't be of any use to you. Did I mention that I hate laundromats?” she shook her head sighing.

I couldn't let her get away; my brain went into high gear... “Well then, I have a deal for you. I have a washer and dryer at my place. You can do your laundry there and we'll order some take-out food to be delivered, my treat. We can talk over dinner and you can wash your clothes without having to go to the laundromat. How about that?”

Even as I outlined my proposal she was still shaking her head no. She'd made up her mind and was too tired to change it. Unconsciously she'd put her hand on her shoulder again, kneading a place that was stiff from eleven hours of computer work.

“And... I'll give you a massage,” I threw in.

She stopped shaking her head and looked up at me. The half smile was back. So was the voice tone I'd been longing to hear, a hint of a melodic humming growl before each sentence. If there was a Disney cartoon with a female panther, it would be Kathryn Anthony's voice they'd use.

“A real massage?” she asked softly, dropping her hand from her shoulder and drawing her fingers down slowly to rest at the opening of her shirt collar. She pushed herself up and walked around to the front of her desk. She leaned against it as she waited for my reply.

I nodded. The little voice in my head was singing, “Yeah baby, you found the right bait for this panther.”

She lifted her chin and said with academic precision, “I'm serious, I want specific information, you are offering me: a place to wash my clothes, some dinner, and you will give me a full massage?”

“And we talk about the case over dinner,” I added watching her carefully, hoping she'd give in.

She clearly didn't care what we talked about, she knew what she wanted, she pressed, “Not just a three minute shoulder rub? The real thing?”

“Yes, the real thing, as long as you want and...I'm good at it,” I said confidently in a lower tone.

“Hmmm, I like a woman who's sure of her skills.”

“So it's a deal?”

She crossed her arms and said, “Yes, it's a deal, but I will be very disappointed if I don't get a good massage, because I'm already looking forward to it.”

“You won't be disappointed,” I said casually. “Are you ready to go now?”

She got her jacket and a small leather knapsack from the closet and followed me into the hall, pulling the door shut. It locked with a click. She walked down the echoing hallway ahead of me. One of the many occupational habits of my business is sizing up people. About 5'7", the shoes are adding an inch, probably 140 lbs, hard to tell with the sweater and jacket. Pretty trim. Wonder if the hair color is natural.

She opened the stairwell door and gracefully gestured me through first. Maybe she wanted a chance to look
me over from the back.

“To get to your place...?” She made it a question as we went down the stairs. We both paused at the ground level door.

“It's just off the Mews. You can follow me, it's only a few blocks.”

“No, I have to go to my apartment and get my laundry, but it will only take me a little while. I'm just around the corner at the Hampshire.”

“I remember,” I smiled. “My building is near the corner of 12th and Gordon Streets, 1206, right across the street from Moyer and Jones lumberyard. Do you know where that is?”

“That little Thai restaurant is near there, isn't it?”

“Right. Thai Kitchen is about five buildings up the block. Mine is a converted factory. There are offices downstairs. I live on the third floor. The building is the tallest in that part of the neighborhood, you can't miss it.”

“Sounds interesting.” She was considering me intently, with her head tilted just a little to the side. “It's a loft? The top floor of an old factory building?”

“The two top floors, but I've only finished one of them. There are two doors in the front. The one on the left is white. That one goes to the first floor. The one on the right is red. That's my door. There are two doorbell buttons by the side of the door. The bottom one is for the law firm. Ring the top bell and I'll buzz you into the lobby. Here's my card,” I said fishing one out of my pocket and putting it in her hand, “call me if you can't find it.”

“Red door, top button. I think I can handle it. Is there parking?”

Good question. The whole area of Washington Mews is notorious for lack of parking, especially in the evenings and weekends.

“There are private parking places right in front, nobody will be using them at this hour so you'll have no problem. My van will be parked there. You can park right next to me.”

“All right then, I'll see you in about half an hour." She gave the brass bar on the door a push.

“Wait,” I said calling her back.

She turned with the door slightly open. She'd zipped up her jacket and tossed her red scarf once around her neck. Her eyes flashed with a curious energy.

“You're hungry,” I went on, “how about something from Thai Kitchen. I could order it? They deliver. It should be there by the time you arrive.” She was nodding her head enthusiastically, I asked, “What would you like?”

“I'm so hungry just talking about food is going to make my stomach hurt. Hmm,
pad Thai with shrimp, papaya salad or if they don't have that, the regular salad with peanut dressing.” She sighed shaking her head and then laughed, “I'm desperate, I'll eat anything they have.”

“Fine, I'll order it and see you soon.” We both went out into the city wind, with our heads down, going separate ways.

I took out my phone and speed dialed Thai Kitchen. I go there so much I have an account and am on a first name basis with the family who owns it.

Kathryn Anthony had taken my breath away, literally. I'm hyperventilating, I thought, I have to control myself or I'll have to put a paper bag over my head. No, wait I should breathe into a bag. Yeah, that would be safer than trying to drive with my head
inside a bag. I was frantic that I may have left my place in a total mess. I was racked my brain to remember if I'd left a pile of dishes in the sink.

It was very dark in my small parking lot, with a few slushy snow piles here and there. I let myself in and made sure to turn on the front door light so the parking lot would be illuminated. I ran up the stairs taking two steps at a time. I'm in pretty good shape, but I was gasping when I got to the second floor entrance of Sara and Emma's offices. Slow down and get a grip, I had to tell myself again, you don't want to have a breakdown just before she gets here.

Emma Strong, bundled up in coat and hat, was just leaving the office. “Whoa, what's your hurry,” she asked as I dodged crashing into her. She took a step closer peering into my eyes with the calculation of a hot dog trial lawyer, then straightened up with an in-drawn breath. “Maggie, you have a date! And it's a hot one...too. Aren't you cute when you're excited!”

“Well, I...”

“Don't bother to deny it, I see that glint in your eye,” she said smiling. “Good for you honey. I have a date too, and I'm late. Oh, the list of people who were at Daria's apartment came back from the credit checking service. Nothing much, but it would be good if you could look it over.” She stepped back into the office, grabbed the list, and handed it to me. “Will the criminal information be here by Monday?”

“Probably by Sunday, I rushed them. I'll check over both lists. Daria was a social worker right? These were people she worked with?”

“Mm hmm, from the office, the counseling clinic and the homeless shelter, but don't work on this tonight Maggie, concentrate on the task at... hand.” She glanced up the stairs, “Is she coming here? I'm going to want details,” Emma teased as she locked the office door.

“I'll have the lists for you by Monday and I don't know if there'll be any...details.”

“We can always hope!” Emma called after me as I turned and sped up the next flight.

As I reached the third floor landing, I suddenly realized it might have been a tactical error to give Kathryn my card. Now she had my number so she could call to cancel if she really felt too tired.
Damn. I'd already begun to imagine the massage. I had to take a very deep breath to compose myself. The disappointment would be crushing if she didn't appear. On the other hand, she agreed it was a deal. She didn't seem like the type to bail after making a deal. In fact, if she was, I'd be less interested.

I'd gotten this building as payment from a grateful client. I'd solved the case, but almost lost my life in the process. I'd thought he was kidding about the building, but he really did it. It was scary taking on a big piece of real estate after years of renting an apartment in a high rise, but things seemed to be working out, knock-on-wood.

Before I let myself into the loft, I sent the freight elevator down to the ground floor. Once inside, I ran over to the kitchen area. I took my breakfast dishes out of the sink and put them in the dishwasher. The laundry room is through my bedroom so I straightened out the quilt and fluffed the pillows on my king-sized bed. Thinking again, I decided to change the sheets.
Be prepared. That done I scanned the room for other telltale signs of disorganization, then proceeded to the bathroom.

There are two bathrooms in the loft. One next to the guest room that's rarely used, so I figured it was clean. But the bathroom off my bedroom, the one I use every day, needed a quick once over. Scrub, wipe, flush, arrange, done. In the laundry room next to the bathroom I checked for giant lint bunnies in the machines. Everything seemed fine in there.

Back in the bathroom again, a dozen things flashed through my mind. Could I take a shower in three minutes? Sure, my hair is short, it would dry. I speed showered, used the blow dryer and changed clothes. I put on a soft button down shirt. I think buttons are sexy.

“What else?” I said out loud.

A few days before, I'd been working on some watercolor sketches. The paints, paper, and unfinished work were still on the long dining table. They were pretty good. I decided to leave them there. Instead, I cleared some books off the smaller kitchen table near the windows and flipped a tablecloth of light purple cotton over it.

Good china or Fiesta? Is that a gay question or what? I opted for Fiestaware, better color choices. Dark green dinner plate and salmon colored salad plate with a bright yellow napkin for her. For me, light green dinner plate with a dark blue salad plate and a bright orange napkin.
Hey, I went to art school, it's what I do. I set out silverware and water glasses, and put wine glasses on the counter. I picked two different kinds of white wine and put the bottles in the refrigerator, I left some red wine on the counter. I made a few lighting decisions, but decided against candles. Too obvious.

I looked around again and tried to take a calming breath, which ended up stuttering down my throat. I figured I was ready if I could just breathe like a normal person.

I looked out the window into the parking lot below. A blue and white BMW Mini Cooper had pulled into one of the spaces. I had the vague feeling I'd seen that Mini before. Kathryn was opening the hatch back, getting out her laundry basket. She had really arrived. I let out a sigh of relief.

The doorbell rang. I pressed the intercom button, “Kathryn?”

“Yes,” she called.

“I'll buzz you in. Just wait a minute in the foyer, I'll be right there.”

I pressed the buzzer, then sped down the stairs. I tried to compose myself when I got to the landing. There she was, looking up at me, with that half smile and eyes I felt touching my soul.

“Hello,” she said smiling radiantly. She'd set her laundry basket and a duffel bag on the floor. Her small leather knapsack was over her shoulder. She reached to pick up the laundry basket.

“Here, let me open the elevator door,” I said walking down the rest of the flight. “It's slower, but easier than climbing the stairs. There are a lot of them.”

“It would be nice not to have to climb any more stairs today. Not only is the laundry out of order at the Hampshire, but now it seems the elevator has also broken down. I'm beginning to hate that place.”

Through the window next to the foyer door I caught a glimpse of someone carrying a white paper bag. “Oh good, Kenny's here with the food,” I said as I went to let him in. “Kenny, you're right on time.” I took the bag from him and pulled out the bill.

Kenny Sakda is the youngest son of the family who owns Thai Kitchen. He just started high school. He works in the restaurant most evenings, and when he's not working, he's there doing his homework. I help him sometimes. There's a good chance he's gay. I think he's working up the nerve to talk to me about it. He'd just gone through a growth spurt and is about my height now. Like a lot of teenage boys, he has the metabolism of a mosquito. Eats all the time, but thin as a rail. His short brown mop of hair was carefully uncombed and he was wearing his Fenchester High School letter jacket.

“The
me krob is bangin,” he grinned, “Mom just made it.”

Kenny caught sight of Kathryn, then saw the basket of laundry. He glanced back at Kathryn and covertly eyed her up and down. He grinned at me again even harder this time. I felt myself blush.

“This is Dr. Anthony, she's new to the neighborhood,” I said formally.

I turned to Kathryn, “This is Kenny Sakda, his family owns Thai Kitchen.”

With the duffel bag now in her arms Kathryn couldn't shake hands, but she said in a charming voice, “It's very nice to meet you. Please tell your family I enjoy their restaurant very much.”

“Awesome, I'll tell 'em. Have a good dinner.” He walked to the door, but as he passed me he whispered, “Hottie,” just loud enough for me to hear.

I pushed opened the elevator doors, then stepped in, and put the bag of Thai food on the shelf. I got Kathryn's basket and put that on the shelf too. I'd built it in the elevator for this very reason. All elevators should have shelves. Especially the ones whose doors require two hands to close.

Stretching to push the gate all the way up I explained, “The elevator is very slow, we could walk to the third floor faster than the elevator can make it to the second, and for some reason it's even slower going down.” Kathryn stepped beside me. I pulled down the safety gate, then reached up and pulled the strap on the metal door. Half came down from the ceiling. The other half came up from the floor clanking together in the middle. I swung the locking mechanism in place. “If I don't do this all correctly the elevator won't go. It took me a month to learn. It looks old, but it's safe.” I twisted the control lever.

“I've worked in many old buildings and ridden in all sorts of contraptions. This is palatial...and in contrast to the Hampshire, it works!” she said leaning against the shelf. Her eyes showed weariness, but they also had an amused gleam.

“So you have a Mini Cooper? I love those cars, what's it like to drive?”

“I sort of fell into it, it was my brother's. He owns a restaurant in Portland. I was visiting him and he was complaining that the Cooper was too small. I was saying that my car didn't get good mileage. So we traded,” she said conversationally. “It's fun to drive, but it's the smallest car in the world. At times I think it should only be driven with clowns stuffed in the back seat. Fortunately, I rarely need a bigger car. The food smells wonderful. The kid seems nice...”

“Oh yeah, Kenny and I are pals. I'm sure he's running home to tell his mom all about you.”

“Really? So is Thai Kitchen the gossip nerve center of Washington Mews?”

“It's a major relay.”

“And is who you're having dinner with a news flash?” she asked. Gentle laugh lines appeared at the corners of her eyes.

“Kenny thinks you're hot,” I said watching the floor numbers.

“Hah,” she snorted. She paused, then said, “How long have you lived here?”

“About six months. It was pretty raw when I moved in but I've put a lot of work into it. I still have more to do, but I like the space.”

“Do you have a long term lease?”

“Well I guess you could say that. I own the building.”

“Really?” She was impressed.

“Yeah, it's still hard for me to believe. I got it in exchange for solving a case.”

“You must be some crackerjack private eye.”

It was my turn to snort, “Yeah, I'm a pistol.”



*************************************

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