Chapter 1: Plum in Princeton
If you'd told me at the start how much trouble two respectable doctors from Princeton could cause, one of them a cripple with a cane, I would not have believed it. And I might not have taken the skip, even though I did need to buy groceries that week.
My name is Stephanie Plum, and I'm a bond enforcement agent in Trenton, New Jersey. I have a weakness for chocolate, donuts, fried chicken in gravy, and tall dark handsome men. I have two of the latter in my life, one an Italian American cop with chocolate eyes and a perfect body, the other a Cuban American top bounty hunter and man of mystery. It can get kinda complicated. When I drove to my cousin Vinnie's office in search of work that day, I didn't realize that having House and Wilson in my life was about to complicate things a whole lot more.
I came into the office to find Connie's desk heaped high with paperwork, to the point where Lula was actually doing some filing. Connie Rosolli keeps the office of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds running for my useless cousin, and somehow she does it while keeping her hair big and her nails long, red and indestructible. Lula's employed to do the filing, but she prefers to ride gunshot with me when she can.
"I need a skip," I said to Connie. "Someone easy so I can afford to buy food this week. Or, I'm going to have to go back to my mother's house for every meal."
"I have just the man." Connie picked the top file off the stack in front of her. "Would you like a trip to Princeton?"
"Now, I wouldn't mind a drive out to Princeton," Lula exclaimed, leaning so hard on the filing drawer that the cabinet creaked ominously. Lula's a large lady, although she doesn't acknowledge that in her choice of clothes sizes. "Especially in that new sweet car of yours."
"New car?" Connie's ears visibly perked up, making the large dangling hoops jangle a tune.
"It's not mine," I said hastily. "It's a loan."
"From the loan Ranger." Lula was knowing.
"I bet Morelli's really happy about that." Connie put the file down and leaned back in her chair.
"If he doesn't like it, he can get Stephanie her own black Beemer," said Lula.
"A Beemer? Nice. Soft top?"
I reached for the file, trying to get the conversation off my ride. It was a very nice car and if I hadn't taken it, I would have been reduced to driving my Uncle Sandor's Buick again. It was worth some jealousy from Morelli to avoid that. "The skip. Who is it?"
"New guy. Just in this morning. Jonathan Wilson." Connie watched me open the file. "Arrested for drunk and disorderly last week. Didn't want anyone to know about it, especially not Mom and Dad. No assets since he got divorced last year and his wife walked off with the house. His brother stood bail, James Wilson, he's a doctor out in Princeton."
"A doctor. In Princeton. I could definitely handle a drive out there. Just so long as we stop at Cluck-in-a-Bucket first. I've been filing all morning, I need a fried chicken fix." Lula leaned a well-padded hip on the drawer and it shut with a protesting squeak.
I liked the sound of it, too. I could handle drunk and disorderly, along with a greasy lunch. With any luck we would find Jonathan Wilson drunk asleep at home, or in a bar nearby. I might not even need to go to Princeton at all.
An hour later, Lula and I were on the freeway heading out towards Princeton. We had stopped for a fried chicken fix first, then swung by Jonathan Wilson's house with no results. I had managed to find a door key under a withered potted plant before Lula was tempted to break a window, and we had prowled briefly around the house. But it had just been an ordinary messy bachelor pad in a small square building, with cheap furniture and plain walls, and empty. Nobody slumped in a drunken stupor on the couch.
Jonathan Wilson's brother was Head of Oncology at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, and therefore a good bet for the bond. We arrived at the hospital, and the first thing we came across was a sign to the free drop-in clinic.
"A free clinic?" Lula's head was up and her eyes were sharp. "Free, like free? You see a doctor and you don't have to pay?"
"That's right," the nurse at the reception desk said. "You need a doctor?"
"I got a few aches and pains that a free doctor could look at for me, yes sirree," Lula said, and we found ourselves sitting, waiting in a long line.
"How long d'ya think it'll take to get seen?" Lula wondered aloud.
"An hour?" I suggested.
"I'm not waiting no hour," Lula declared, and went up to speak to the nurse in charge. I could see Lula making expansive gestures, but the nurse cut her off before she got to a full-blown frenzy. A few minutes later we found ourselves ushered into Exam Room 1, and the door closed firmly behind us.
Lula settled down on a table to wait. I was thinking that we had been put in the room just to get us out of the way; but, a couple of minutes later the door opened again, and in walked a man. He was wearing a scruffy casual shirt and jeans, holding a file in one hand and a cane in the other.
"You're the doctor?" Lula said skeptically. "You don't look like no doctor."
"And you don't look like a woman of virtue." The man slammed the door shut behind him.
Lula was wearing skintight leopard print leggings with a red spandex top that was basically stuck on. Even so, that was some thing to say to a patient. "Huh. Where's your white coat?" Lula demanded, suspicious. "Doctors wear white coats."
"I can see why Nurse Brenda gave you to me," the man said, and sat down hard on a swivel chair. He propped the cane up against a desk. "I'm Dr. House, Head of Diagnostic Medicine, and I have a diagnosis for you already."
He picked up a prescription pad and started writing on it.
Lula looked at me with surprise, then turned back to Dr. House. "You haven't even asked me what's wrong!"
"I don't need to. Whatever it is, it will be because you're too fat." House handed Lula the prescription; I craned my neck to see.
House had written Diet and exercise. I stifled a giggle.
"I could sue," Lula warned.
"Go ahead. Then maybe I can finally get out of clinic duty." House stood up and picked up his cane.
"Hey!" Lula said indignantly. "I haven't even told you what's wrong!"
House let out a huge exasperated sigh and sat down. "Hit me, FatGirl."
"Bite me, Gimpy," Lula responded, and I squirmed, but House actually seemed to be entertained by that. He leaned back in the chair a little, and looked at Lula through sharp blue eyes. Lula leaned forward and House's eyes angled downwards and focused as her huge bosom wobbled slightly.
I butted in. "It's not Lula who's sick, it's me. I think I've got a lump. In my... breast."
Lula looked at me in surprise, but when House replied she nodded in comprehension.
"Then you need an oncologist," he said, and swiveled in the chair to pick up a phone. He dialed and spoke. "Wilson? Exam Room One. I need a consult."
Wilson. Oncologist. Result. I caught Lula's eye while House was distracted on the phone, and she gave me the thumbs up.
While we waited, House eyed my breasts for a minute but didn't try and examine them. He then picked up a Gameboy, which Lula took exception to. FatGirl and Gimpy were still exchanging insults a couple of minutes later when the door opened, and in came another doctor. This one was wearing a white coat over a smart shirt and a singularly ugly brown striped tie. James Wilson.
Actually his name badge said Jack, but it was obviously Dr. James Wilson, Head of Oncology. I had a photograph of Jonathan in the file, and there was a definite family resemblance. Except that James was younger and cuter, and I could tell by the way Lula sat up a little straighter that she thought so too.
"Hey, House, what's up?" Wilson said easily, and smiled at myself and Lula. Lula beamed back at him.
"The hooker's friend here says--" House began, but Lula cut him off.
"Fucking cheek. I retired from that game years ago!"
Wilson looked slightly shocked and House spluttered slightly before saying, "Has nobody told you that you need to get a non-hooker wardrobe?"
Lula looked like she was going to argue the point, and I thought it time to get down to brass tacks. "Dr. House, Dr. Wilson. We're actually not patients at all; we're here on business. We're bond enforcement agents."
"Bounty hunters," Lula amplified.
"Bounty hunters?" Wilson repeated.
"Like Boba Fett?" House said hopefully.
"Well, not exactly," I said. "My name is Stephanie Plum, and this is Lula. We work for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds."
"Oh crap," Wilson said suddenly, and looked away from House.
I addressed Wilson. "Your brother Jonathan didn't show up for his court appearance yesterday, so we're looking for him. We thought he might be here, as you stood bond--"
"You did what?" House shouted, turning towards Wilson. "You stood bond for your useless piss-head brother? Wilson, you're an idiot!"
"Oh, I'm only allowed to bail someone out if it's you?" Wilson said, a defensive note in his voice. "He's my only brother, House, he asked me for help--and he wouldn't have done if he wasn't desperate--I couldn't just leave him in the lurch."
"Always with the excuses for him!" House picked up his cane and slammed it into a nearby table. "What did he do this time? Pick a fight with a defenseless cripple?"
"It was just a disorderly charge. Jon explained it all to me. He had a few drinks, there was a bar fight, he got arrested, he was unlucky. It happens, right?" Wilson spread out his hands. "He's had a hard time financially recently, since his divorce--he's paying alimony through the nose--"
"Yeah, and you can empathize with that alright," House said viciously.
"House," Wilson said simply, pleadingly, and House looked at him, and Wilson looked back, and House fell silent.
"So, Dr. Wilson, is your brother here in Princeton?" I asked, still hopeful that we hadn't wasted this trip.
"No, he's not. If he's not in his own home, I don't know where he is. Propping up a bar somewhere, probably. He'll show up when he's sober." Wilson threw his hands up in disgust. "And as there's no consult, I'm going back to the stage four patient I left a few minutes ago. I'll see you later, House."
Wilson left, slamming the door behind him.
House watched him go, then turned to us with a speculative look in his eye.
"Buy me lunch and I'll tell you everything I know about Jonathan Wilson," he said.
Over sandwiches and fries in the Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital cafeteria, House spilled what he knew about Jonathan, which wasn't a great deal.
"He's been married twice and had a set of twin daughters with each wife, if you can credit it. The older twins are grown-up, in their twenties, identical, gorgeous, tits and ass to die for." House gobbled fries.
"Where do they live?" I asked, thinking that Jonathan might have gone to visit a grown-up daughter.
"New York. Wilson will have addresses somewhere. They were bright enough to get out of Trenton years ago."
"And the younger daughters?"
"They're just kids. Their mom finally got fed up enough to divorce their dad last year. He's a miserable drunken philandering lout, in case you haven't picked up on that."
"Two sets of twins is unusual, it must really run in the family." I thought aloud. "He and James aren't twins, are they?"
House grinned. "No. Jonathan's a few years older." He hesitated, as if he'd been about to say something more.
"And--" I prompted.
"And Wilson-—my Wilson-—makes excuses for him, but Jon is a rude intolerant lush and always has been." House shrugged. "About the only thing they have in common apart from some DNA is multiple divorces."
I was ninety-nine percent sure that that hadn't been what House had been about to say when he'd hesitated. The divorce thing was too interesting to pass up, though. "How many divorces?"
"Five between them. Jon's been divorced twice and James three times." House finished his own fries and moved his hand to pluck one off my plate.
"Divorced three times? That nice Dr. Wilson?" Lula asked. "Three women got him down the aisle but couldn't stick with him? Not for those brown eyes, that silky hair--"
"It's the ugly ties they can't put up with." House winked, as if giving out inside information. "Everyone thinks he's the nice one. Whereas actually I'm the nice one, and he's the one with a dark side. He just hides it better."
"Like you sure hide your nice side." Lula dared say what I was thinking. House looked pleased rather than offended.
"Can you tell us where Dr. Wilson lives?" I asked.
"You think Jonathan's hiding in his closet?" House looked skeptical.
"You ever want to get Jon angry, tell him you think he's in the closet." House dunked a fry in ketchup. "He's not at Wilson's apartment. I'd know."
"Does Dr. Wilson live on his own?"
House looked vaguely amused, though I couldn't see any reason why. "He's had his own apartment since his girlfriend died in a bus crash a few years ago."
"Oh." That was sad, poor guy. A dead girlfriend, how tragic.
"You drive, I'll take you there." House planted his cane on the floor and levered himself up.
House used a key on what looked like his regular key chain to let us into Wilson's apartment. First impression from the living room was of a nice place, light colors, big windows, big screen TV. Tidy, not much junk lying around. House called out, "Hey!" as we walked in, but nobody came rushing in from any other rooms, and it was quiet.
House threw himself down in a chair and made himself comfortable while Lula and I prepared to look around. The first thing I saw was a light blinking on the answering machine. I pressed it and to our collective surprise, the voice that came out of the speaker was that of Dr. Wilson himself.
"Hey Jon, your cell's switched off. Look, there's some people looking for you--bounty hunters, Jon, for fuck's sake--you need to get back to Trenton."
"A-ha," Lula sang out.
I took a look at House and found him open-mouthed with what looked like genuine disbelief. "Did that message say what I thought?"
"If you mean your pal Wilson's been shielding his no-good bro, it sure sounded like it to me," Lula said.
House shook his head. "I do not fucking well believe it. Wilson, the idiot! I'm going to--"
But then there came a sound of someone right outside the front door, a key in the lock. We all froze, then the door handle turned, the door swung open, and in stepped the man in the mug shot in my file. Jonathan Wilson himself.
Chapter 2: Trouble in Trenton
Jonathan stopped inside the living room, looking speechlessly around at us, and we all stared dumbly back. He was wearing a casual shirt and chinos. He had similar hair and identical dark brown eyes to James, but Jon was a little older, a little heavier, and a little taller than his brother. Jon's complexion also accentuated the differences between them, as his face was flushed slightly red, with lots of little blood vessels visible on his nose. It made me think of old Mr. Mawhinny who lived in my apartment building; he had a nose like that and he got through a bottle of whiskey most evenings.
Jon regained the power of speech first; he turned towards the face he recognized, and demanded, "House? What the fuck is going on?"
His voice was very like his brother's, but throatier. A smoker, perhaps. What might his oncologist brother make of that?
"I might ask you the same question." House's voice was icy as he got to his feet.
"Who are these people?" Jon gestured at Lula and me. "You're bringing your hookers back to James's apartment now?"
"Excuse me." Lula decided to take offense. "It's been years since--"
"They may look like hookers, especially the fat one," House said brutally. "But they're cunningly disguised. They're bounty hunters looking for you. You should be in jail, apparently."
"What the hell?"
"You missed your court appearance." I jumped in. "I'm Stephanie Plum and I work for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. If you could just come back to Trenton with us, we can reschedule."
"I missed--shit! How--? Fuck." Jonathan clutched at his hair. "I forgot, that's all! I'm not a criminal."
"No, you're a drunken idiot and a fool," House said.
Jonathan pointed a menacing finger at House. "Don't you speak to me like that. I'm warning you, House."
"Who's trespassing on your brother's good nature because you've blown your law career and two marriages," House hammered on remorselessly. "And lost custody of multiple twin daughters for being such an insensitive jerk--"
"Shut the fuck up!" And Jonathan pulled back his arm and took a swing at House. House ducked easily.
I stepped forward and grabbed Jon's arm. "There's no need--"
Jonathan shook me off easily, and pulled back his arm again; only to suddenly stop mid-air, then crumple slowly to the ground. Lula stood there triumphantly, her stun gun in hand.
"That was cool," House said, in a tone of admiration. "Where can I get me one of those babies?"
House took a moment to examine the unconscious Jonathan, putting his ear to Jonathan's chest before proclaiming he would be fine ("More's the pity.") House and Lula were all for us loading Jon into my car and driving off before he woke up. It seemed like the easiest way, so I agreed. Jon was heavy though, and House couldn't help with the lifting. He held doors open like he was doing us a favor, while Lula and I puffed and panted and lugged him to my car.
"He punched me on the nose once, at Wilson's first wedding," House said rather proudly, as I tucked a dangling foot into the backseat.
"No shit," said Lula, leaning on the trunk, getting her breath back. "What had you done?"
"Spilled the beans to his first wife that he saw hookers."
"You hit him back?" Lula asked.
"Not that time." House was a trifle regretful. "We've had a few run-ins since, though."
"All set?" I said, slamming the back door.
"What the hell is going on?" a new voice demanded. It was Dr. Wilson, just getting out of an old Volvo parked at the curb. He stalked up to us and peered through my back window at his unconscious crumpled-up brother. "What have you done to him?"
"We apprehended the dangerous prisoner," said House. "FatGirl zapped him with her stun gun. What the hell were you thinking, letting him stay at your apartment? You could have been murdered in your bed."
"House, he is not dangerous. And you stun-gunned him? You can't just shove him in a car like that, he's been electrocuted! Those things can cause cardiac arrhythmia."
"Likely only in susceptible subjects," said House. "And Jon isn't susceptible. You made him have an EKG after his medical just last year, and his heart was fine."
Wilson glared at House and then turned to address me. "You're driving him back to Trenton like that, in your car? Unconscious?"
"It seemed easiest. Got a better idea?" I asked.
Wilson put his hands on his hips. "If he has to go back to Trenton then I'll drive him, in my car. He's not dangerous and he's not going to run away. And I wouldn't let him abscond anyway, as I'm liable for the bond. Okay?"
"Okay." I hadn't really wanted to drive back to Trenton like that anyway: he would have woken up at some point and kicked up a fuss.
So Wilson and I got Jonathan out of my car and into his, Lula claimed to be exhausted and unable to help anymore until after we got some food, preferably donuts. Wilson drove off in the Volvo, and I got in my car to find not only Lula in the passenger seat but also House in the back seat.
"Um... you're coming to Trenton with us?" I asked.
"Well, it's that or clinic duty," House said. "And I'm not riding with Wilson and his asshole brother. Jon's going to have the worst temper when he wakes up."
"There any decent donut stops in Princeton?" Lula asked.
"No! We are not stopping for donuts until we get back to Trenton and Jonathan has rescheduled his court date!" I wanted that body receipt, or I wasn't going to be able to afford donuts at all this week.
The Beemer made short work of the miles, and we caught up with Wilson's Volvo at the police station. House opted not to come into the police station with us, claiming he was allergic to cops, so we dropped him at the Donut Den nearby instead.
Jonathan was now awake, and apparently none the worse for wear for being stunned. He glared daggers at me and Lula. I smiled back and made sure I got the body receipt from Eddie Gazzara, who was doing desk duty at the station.
"Trade you, one night's babysitting for the receipt." Eddie tried to tease me. I was wise to this and quick to refuse. Eddie's married to my cousin Shirley the Whiner.
Connie turned up to re-do the bond; Dr. Wilson was standing it again. I went back and sat in my car with Lula while Connie did the paperwork.
"Dr. Wilson's very nice, isn't he?" I said, a little wistfully, mindful of the two men already in my life.
"Yeah." Lula was rooting through her bag and only half concentrating. "Shame he's gay."
I stared at her. "What?"
"Oh come on." Lula found a lipstick and compact, and started applying a thick scarlet layer to her lips. "It's obvious."
"No it's not!" I couldn't possibly have missed that. I always had good gaydar.
"Him and Dr. House, it's not obvious?"
"They never even touched!"
"They didn't have to. The way they spoke, they way they acted, they're a couple. Like an old married couple, too."
I was stunned into silence. I thought back, and remembered how they'd bickered together in the clinic room, House's knowledge of Wilson's family, Wilson's exasperation at House over the stun gun. They were obviously long-standing close friends.
I also remembered that as well as goggling at Lula's bosom, House had appraised my breasts in that clinic room, and he'd said Wilson's nieces had tits and asses to die for. And I'd noticed Wilson's gaze lingering on my ass too, when I'd turned to open a car door. They both liked women. I wasn't buying this.
"I think they're just friends," I said, stubborn now.
"Huh, you just can't bear to admit you didn't spot it. Too busy thinking how nice Dr. Wilson was. I bet all his wives made the same mistake." Lula snapped the lid shut on the compact. "Did you notice how neat that apartment of his was? I don't think Dr. Wilson spends much time there. I think he lives with Dr. House."
I ran my mind over Wilson's neat but plain apartment. That sounded... possible. And that could be why he'd let Jonathan stay there, and why House hadn't known that. At that moment Connie emerged from the police station, carrying a new file. I hit the button to open my window and waved her over.
"All fine. Court appearance rescheduled for next week," she said. "I'm going back to the office."
"Do you think Dr. Wilson might be gay?" I asked.
"Could be. He had nice shoes. Didn't you notice? I think they might be French." Connie headed off towards her own car.
"I think we've earned ourselves a donut stop," Lula exclaimed.
We headed to the Donut Den and spotted House inside, sitting in a booth. I waved at him, and he thumbed a nose at us.
Lula and I lined up for a box of six, and ended up with twelve when we couldn't decide between strawberry icing and lemon icing, and went for both, which meant we had to trade up to the next size box. Which meant we could get a few apple donuts, which was a good thing because Lula always claims these count as a daily portion of fruit. To make the numbers up, we picked up a couple with the new Nutella filling, too.
"Hazelnut chocolate cream in donuts. Why's it taken so many years to come up with this idea?" Lula exclaimed in a tone of bliss, as we turned away from the counter.
"Look, Dr. Wilson's here." He had followed us in, and was now sitting, talking to House.
"Doesn't look like House has left him any donuts," Lula observed.
We started to head towards the door, but Wilson waved at us, so we went over.
"Hey, Stephanie, Lula," Wilson said, his smile charming, and I was impressed he'd remembered our names. So nice and polite. "Will you join us for a second? There's something I want to ask you."
"If you're buying coffee," Lula said, swift as anything. "Thirsty work, this bounty hunter business."
"But of course." Wilson was gracious. He went up to the counter.
Lula and I sat down, Lula stuffing her ample ass in the small plastic seat next to House. She overflowed a little onto his side. He glared at her and said, "Do you need to book two seats on airlines? Or do they just charge you excess baggage?"
"Cut the fat-phobia, Mr. Cane-for-a-dick," Lula said. "And--hey! Those are our donuts!"
"I'm saving you from yourself," House said through a mouthful of dough. "Wow. Is this Nutella?"
We were saved from further warfare as Wilson returned with four coffees. He sat down and got straight to the point. "I'm worried about Jonathan."
"Think he's gonna skip, lose you your bond?" Lula said, indistinctly through donut.
"No. He really did just forget his court date. But he came to Princeton because he thought someone was following him around in Trenton, and he was concerned for his safety. Now he's back here, he's gone home, and I'm just worried in case something happens to him."
"What do you mean, someone was following him?" I asked.
"He kept seeing the same guy wherever he went during the last few days. Small man, with gray hair and dark eyebrows."
"Did he report it to the police?"
"No. He said he'd feel stupid with so little to tell them."
"I have friends in the police, if he changes his mind, I could help," I offered, wondering what Morelli would make of this. I was in Morelli's bad books since I'd accepted the loan of the Beemer. He'd probably bawl me out for wasting police time.
"I guess I was just wondering if you could keep an eye on him," Wilson said, his tone slightly imploring.
House's snort would have been impressive for a horse. "They're bounty hunters, Wilson, not bodyguards. What you want is a PI. I can give you a number."
"No." Wilson was firm. "I just thought... it could be very informal, you could just drive by his place every day or so and say hello? After all, you don't want anything to happen to him either."
"We don't usually get involved until people miss their court date," I said.
"I'd pay for your time, of course," Wilson added.
"We'll do it," Lula cut in.
I glared at her, but to be honest, extra cash right now sounded good. And this shouldn't be too difficult a job. A mysterious small man with gray hair and dark eyebrows, who might well turn out to be just the product of Jonathan Wilson's alcoholic imagination.
"Wilson, why don't you just flush your money down the toilet instead? Because you might as well," House declared.
"Alternatively," Wilson said, looking at House through innocent brown eyes, "I could stay with Jon for a few days, keep an eye on him myself. How about I do that instead? It's been a while since I took any time off, I'm sure my staff could cover for me--"
"Fuck. No." House clutched his head with mock melodrama. "Ladies, take the job!"
At that moment my cell rang. I looked at the caller display; it was Grandma Mazur. I picked up. "Hello?"
"Stephanie, I need a ride home." My grandmother's voice rang clear down the line. "I'm at the hairdressers. Maria Dinglebat drove me here, but she can't take me back. She took a funny turn under the dryer and went to the ER. Also, I might need some moral support when I get home. Got a new hairstyle, your mother might be a bit surprised."
I didn't want to ask. "Uh, okay. I'll be with you in about fifteen minutes, alright?"
"Fine. You'll be in the new Beemer, right?" Grandma said hopefully, and I figured that was the real reason she wanted a ride from me.
I hung up and said, "I have to pick up my grandmother from the hairdressers."
"Daredevil exciting life you bounty hunters lead," House said.
"Perhaps I can call you afterwards," I said to Wilson, and we swapped cell numbers.
I offered to drop Lula at the office, but she was curious to see Grandma's new hairdo, and opted to ride with me a bit longer. I arrived at the salon to find Grandma hadn't been kidding about the change of style. Her wiry curls had changed color from gray to jet black, and as if that wasn't enough of a change, she had a streak of bright pink running through the black. It jarred madly with her little-old-lady pastel yellow jumpsuit.
"I was going to have my usual blue rinse, but it seemed kinda dull, and Flora Arkwright was telling us about her granddaughter who's become a Goth. A Goth! Isn't that exciting? She dyed her hair black, wears black clothes, black makeup, everything. I figured I could go for that. And then Freda Bartwinkle had such pretty pink nails, I got mine done the same shade and then said it would be cool to have a strip in my hair to match. And the stylist picked up on it, and well. I think it looks great." Grandma was enthusiastic. "It's called Pretty Flamingo."
"It is great," Lula assured her. "You need clothes to match, though."
"Next on the list," said Grandma.
We were getting into the Beemer when my cell rang, and it was Wilson. His voice was serious.
"I just got a call from Jon. He got home to find someone's broken into his house. I'm on my way there now with House, can you come over?"
Broke into his house. Damnit, Lula and I had been there just this morning. We hadn't broken in, though, had we? I racked my brain swiftly; I couldn't think of any trace we might have left.
"We're on our way," I said, and ended the call.
"On our way where?" Lula asked.
"We're going to Jonathan Wilson's place. Someone broke in." If Lula wanted a share of whatever Wilson was going to pay us, she was coming with me. "We'll just drop Grandma home first."
"No way," said Grandma. "A break-in? Count me in."
We were closer to Jonathan's apartment than the Donut Den was, and arrived to find House and Wilson just getting out of the Volvo. I introduced them to Grandma Mazur. Wilson smiled politely at her, but was obviously distracted. House looked at her critically.
"If you're trying to rediscover your youth with that hair, it doesn't work," House said to Grandma Mazur as we trooped up the path to the door.
"The hell it doesn't," said Grandma. "And if you're trying to come over all wise and mature with that cane, it doesn't work either. You just look like a cripple."
"I am a cripple."
"No kidding." Grandma eyed House's cane, which was a swanky shiny black number with a mother-of-pearl handle. "I should get me one of those. Black cane would go with my new look. Betty Clipperhorn's a cripple, but her cane's this ugly gray thing with a plastic top."
"I don't buy my canes in medical supply shops," House said loftily.
"So, what happened to your leg?" Grandma asked outright, and I would have liked to hear the answer except at that moment the front door opened and Jon let us in, scowling. Wilson, Lula and myself crowded inside. House and Grandma lingered outside, talking.
"I got home and I knew straight off something was wrong." Jonathan paced up and down the hallway. "I can't see anything missing, but my desk's been turned upside down and my files are all over the place."
I walked up the hallway and looked in Jonathan's spare room, which was set up as a study. It had been fairly messy this morning, but not that bad. And Lula and I hadn't touched it. Someone had been there since we'd been there.
"How did they get in?" Wilson asked, putting a hand to the back of his head.
"I keep a key under the potted plant at the door. I know I shouldn't, but it's not like I've got anything worth taking." Jon threw up his hands. "Not since Mimi soaked me last year."
"When do you think it happened?" I asked.
"God only knows. I've been away in Princeton a couple of days, could have happened at any time."
Lula caught my eye; we knew it had to be more recent than that. It must have happened since our visit this morning. I wondered whether to 'fess up.
"It could have happened today." I was tentative. "This afternoon, even. You have been through the whole house, right? There's no chance the burglar's still here?"
"Oh please," said a new voice; House, entering the hallway. "You think some hardened criminal's cowering in the closet?" He looked all around, peering with an exaggerated gesture. "Or hiding in the attic?"
He swiveled his cane upwards and thumped the top against the ceiling above him, where there was a trapdoor. And, it was only then that we noticed the trapdoor was just wedged shut, the bolt wasn't locked. House's cane hit it, the trapdoor flipped open, and a small man with wiry gray hair and dark bushy eyebrows, wearing jeans and a blue shirt, fell straight out and landed on top of House.
House let out a startled, "Fuck!" and the two of them collapsed in a tangled heap on the floor.
Chapter 3: Tangling with Eyebrows
For a minute we all stood, staring, at House and the man who had fallen through the ceiling all tangled up on the floor. Then the stranger kicked out viciously. He caught House's right leg, causing House to let out a squeal of furious pain. House rolled away, and the other guy reached under his shirt to produce a gun from his waistband.
Everyone let out a collective gasp, and no-one moved, not even House.
"Okay, nice and easy, nobody moves and nobody gets hurt," said the man with the gun. His gray hair contrasted with his dark eyebrows, which looked like furry black caterpillars nestled above his eyes. His voice was high-pitched and slightly shaky. Of course, he had just fallen through a ceiling. He stood up, wielding the gun as a shield.
"Who the fuck are you?" Jonathan blurted out.
Black Brows didn't answer, and of all people, it was House on the ground clutching his leg who spoke. "He's an idiot."
"Fuck you." Black Brows leveled the gun at House.
House flinched visibly, and he didn't look at the gun as he went on. "I said, you're an idiot, because you're looking for something that this moron here--" he pointed at Jonathan--"obviously doesn't even know he's got. Why don't you just tell us what you're looking for, and he'll tell you if he's got it?"
"You think I'm stupid?" the man with the gun said, his tone menacing.
House opened his mouth, and it was obvious to all present that he was about to say yes, except that Wilson intervened with a simple, heartfelt, "House!" House shut his mouth like a clam.
"All right," said Black Brows, now on his feet and moving towards the door. "Nobody tries to stop me and nobody gets hurt. I don't want to hurt anyone." He pointed the gun at House. "Except you. I won't forget you."
And to our collective surprise, he tilted the gun sideways and fired. BLAM, a small explosion temporarily blinded and deafened us, and when the smoke dissipated, the front door was open and Black Brows had vanished.
Everybody immediately relaxed. I felt a little faint; Lula swayed and leaned on a wall for support. Wilson mopped his forehead. Jonathan swore and punched the air above his head. House reached to grasp his bad leg and hauled it straight, then levered himself up into a sitting position and reached for an inside pocket. He found a yellow pill bottle, shook out three pills and swallowed them dry. Fortified, he glared at the rest of us.
"Do none of you have a gun?" House shouted. "You badass bounty hunters, you just stand there and watch him get away?"
"I only brought my stun gun with me today," Lula said with dignity. She hadn't been anywhere near Black Brows to use it.
My Smith & Wesson was in my cookie jar at home, but I wasn't about to admit that to House.
"Drat, I didn't think I'd need my shotgun on a trip to the hairdresser," Grandma Mazur said, her tone regretful. "You were pretty cool there, House, with a gun to your head."
"It's not the first time that’s happened," Wilson said, and his voice was strained. He walked across the hallway and I thought he was going to help House to his feet. Instead, he picked up House's cane, which had fallen a few feet away, and offered it to House. House accepted it as his due, planted it on the floor, and levered himself up. Wilson didn't move to help, although he did stand close by until House was fully vertical.
"My landlord is going to charge me through the nose for this," Jonathan said mournfully, inspecting a bullet hole in the wall.
"You can just fill it in, lick of paint, he'll never know," Grandma Mazur advised.
"We are calling the police right now," I said, before Grandma and Jonathan could start concealing evidence, and I grabbed my cell to call Morelli.
Joseph Morelli is six feet of pure dark Italian-American muscle, pushing a sex drive that can take us hurtling off a cliff together when we're both so inclined. He's been a significant other of mine for a while. Actually he first became significant in my life when I was eight years old and we had a close encounter in my parents' garage, but he's been newly significant in the last few years. Our extended families retain hopes that we might make honest people of each other some day.
We'd cooled off recently since I'd accepted the Beemer, but he took my call seriously, especially when I described the man who had fallen through the ceiling.
"Did you say gray hair with black eyebrows? What else?"
"Short, maybe six six? Blue shirt, jeans, fairly nondescript."
"Stay where you are," Morelli dictated, and hung up.
We all sat around Jonathan's living room, until Morelli arrived and handed me a photo of a man with gray hair and black eyebrows.
"It's the same man," I confirmed. "Who is he?"
"His name is Ernie Mattison, he's known as Eyebrows Mattison for obvious reasons. He's got a rap sheet as long as your arm, he's always in and out of jail, and he should be there now." Morelli's voice was flat. "He's a con man with a short temper and a nifty shooting arm. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon a week ago but got released on a technicality."
Everybody paled slightly except Grandma Mazur who said, "Hot damn, a real life villain and I didn't have my gun with me."
"I don't want to know," Morelli said to me.
Morelli had a look around Jonathan's apartment, including the loft space, and questioned Jon, but Jon was unable to say anything more than we already knew. Eyebrows Mattison had been hanging around for a few days, Jon had no idea what he was after and wished he knew. Jon was pretty sure that nothing had been taken, and we hadn't seen Eyebrows leave with anything, but at Morelli's suggestion Jon went off to check his belongings properly.
"And you're Jonathan's brother?" Morelli asked Wilson.
"And you're Dr. House, the one Eyebrows threatened when he left?"
"Yeah. You're not going to tell me I should worry about that?" House was scornful. "I haven't got a fucking clue what all this is about."
"When Eyebrows makes threats, he usually carries them out." Morelli was matter-of-fact. "You might be safer back in Princeton. No guarantees, though."
"Judging from past experience, rogue gunmen have no problem accessing Princeton Plainsboro. I guess I'll walk softly and carry a big stick. Oh wait, I already do." House twirled his cane.
I remembered Wilson's comment that this wasn't the first time House had had a gun to his head. "You've been threatened with a gun before? At work?"
"I sure have. Hostage situation. I was shot once, too."
"Someone tried to kill you?" Clearly it was more dangerous being a departmental head doctor in a respectable hospital in Princeton than I might have thought. I would have to remember this the next time my mother despaired of me being a bounty hunter and pleaded with me to get a nice safe job in the button factory.
"If you knew House, you'd know most people want to kill him," Wilson said wearily. "Not that many actually try and make good on it. But there was one time...."
"I was shot in my office at Princeton Plainsboro," House said. "Quite a few years ago now. The guy walked in, shot me, and walked out again before anyone had the presence of mind to stop him. Now, why didn't I sue the ass off the hospital?"
"Guy ever caught?" Morelli asked.
"Nope," House said flatly. "Not that I ever heard, anyway."
"I'll check with the cops in Princeton," Morelli said.
"Oh, for fuck's sake." House threw up an exasperated hand. "This has fuck all to do with whatever the hell Brother Jonathan doesn't know he's got."
"I'll check with them anyway." Morelli was cool.
House and Wilson exchanged glances, then House said, "Do me a favor, don't speak to Detective Tritter. He tried to send me to jail for drug dealing a few years ago." House fished his pill bottle out of a pocket and rattled it. "I take legal prescription drugs because I'm a cripple. End of."
Morelli nodded non-committally and I knew he'd check with Tritter.
Finally we were free to go. Morelli said he'd alert the police that Eyebrows Mattison was on the prowl around here, and a patrol car would keep an eye on Jonathan's place. He tweaked my hair and dropped a kiss on my forehead before he left, and I hoped he was near forgetting about the Beemer.
I told Brother James that I'd call him tomorrow, left House and the Wilsons arguing about how much danger any of them was in from Eyebrows Mattison, dropped Lula back at the office, and then headed for my parents' home with Grandma Mazur.
"Your mother's making pot roast tonight," Grandma said. "And fruit cocktail cake with coconut sprinkles for dessert."
I looked at my watch. It was dinnertime. "I guess I might as well stay for dinner."
"We should have invited House and Wilson!" Grandma exclaimed. "House sure would have livened up the dinner table."
"No!" I winced at the thought. "Not House. Wilson, maybe."
"That nice Dr. Wilson." Grandma nodded in agreement. "Shame he's gay."
Grandma thought so? "We don't know that!"
"Tish pshaw. If he's not a couple with House then I'm a monkey's uncle."
I couldn't have this argument again. "Nothing to Mom about the gun!" I said, pulling the Beemer to a stop at the curb outside my parents' house.
There was already an extra plate waiting for me at the table. My mother had heard I had gone to pick up Grandma from the hairdressers. She hadn’t heard about Grandma's new look, though, and she made the sign of the cross as we walked in the door.
"Give me strength. What is this now, devil worship?"
"I'm a Goth," Grandma said. "It's my new image. I need clothes to match."
My mother glared at me as if I was responsible, as we took our places at the table. "You are not taking her out clothes shopping! Or... no leftovers for you."
"I won't! I was in Princeton today," I said, seeking to change the subject. "Tracking down a Jonathan Wilson. Do you know the family? I think Connie said his parents lived in the Burg a long time ago. He has a brother called James."
Everybody knew each other in the Burg. I was confident that if the Wilsons had ever lived there, my mother and my grandmother between them would ferret it out.
"Lot of Wilsons around here," my father muttered, chomping on pot roast. My father drives a cab sometimes just to get out of the house. He knew a lot of people, but nothing compared to Mom and Grandma.
"Wilson. It wouldn't be the Wilsons on Whitton Avenue, nor the Wilsons on Hound Street... There was another set of Wilsons, moved away a long time ago." My mother snapped her fingers. "A Jewish family?"
"I remember. They weren't Orthodox or anything like that, but they were a very respectable family and keen to move on up in the world. The father was training as an accountant, he got a better job and they moved away. The mother was eager for all the children to become lawyers and doctors. They were very young at the time."
Jonathan had become a lawyer, and James a doctor. "That must be them."
"And there were three sons, not two," my mother carried on unexpectedly. "Two of them were twins--David and Jonathan, I remember their names. The younger one I don't remember, he was just a baby, but it could have been James."
That was interesting. Jonathan, who had fathered two sets of twins, had been a twin himself. And nobody had mentioned it, not even House. I wondered what had happened to David. Maybe he'd died.
"I can ask Rebecca Goldstein in the deli tomorrow. She'd remember the Wilsons," my mother said.
I turned my attention to the food, assured that tomorrow I would know everything that a Burg inhabitant might remember about the Wilson family.
I left with my stomach full of pot roast and fruit cocktail cake, and a bag of leftovers that would do me another two meals at home. I arrived back at my apartment, walked in the door and nearly jumped out of my skin.
House was sitting on my couch, and he had Rex out of his cage, perched on House's shoulder. Rex was nibbling on a Cheerio. House was crunching away too, dipping his hand in and out of the box.
"House, what are you doing here?" I was outraged. Lots of people break into my apartment on a regular basis, but House was new.
"I'm staying with you," House announced.
"Since when?" I put my hands on my hips.
"Since now. Wilson's staying with his asshole brother. I can't, or Jon and I would kill each other within hours." Rex ran down House's arm and into his cupped hands. "But I need to stick around, Wilson's got you on a retainer anyway, and your grandmother told me you practically live with Morelli these days so your apartment would be free."
"I do not live with Morelli." Not every night. Not since Ranger gave me the Beemer. "I live here. You can't stay here."
House completely ignored my comment, lifted up Rex and dangled him in front of his face. "Steve would eat you for breakfast."
"Steve McQueen. My rat."
Of course House wouldn't have a dog or cat or some other conventional pet like normal human beings. "Well, this is Rex. My hamster. Put him down."
"I like the soup can," House said, nodding towards Rex's cage. "Very Andy Warhol."
"Rex sleeps in it." I snatched Rex out of House's hands and put him back in his cage.
"You like keeping things in food containers, don't you? Your gun might be better off in your purse than in your cookie jar, you know."
Clearly House had investigated my apartment thoroughly. I was wondering what to do when my cell rang: Ranger. I picked up.
"Babe," said Ranger. "Want me to get rid of the cripple for you?"
"How do you know?" Apart from the X-ray vision, of course. I often think Ranger's a secret superhero in his spare time.
"I came by earlier to see if you were home, saw him go in as I arrived. Thought I'd stick around until you got here."
Great. "You let me go into my apartment, knowing there was someone in here?"
"I figured you could take him if you needed to." Ranger had a smile in his voice.
I wondered if I was supposed to thank him for the vote of confidence. "It's okay, he's a... house guest." Pun fully intended. And House had heard me say it, which meant that somehow I'd agreed to him staying. How had that happened?
"I'm coming up," Ranger said, and hung up.
He came in the door a minute later. Ranger always looked and dressed the same; head-to-toe close fitting black clothing over his lean, muscled body. He's Cuban-American with coffee-colored skin and raven dark hair. He's a little taller and a little bigger than Morelli, and has a hundred watt smile. He was wearing shades, despite the fact it was now close to midnight. Part of me swooned inside when he walked in the door.
"You must be the Beemer-giving-sugar daddy," House immediately deduced. Clearly he had gotten every ounce of Plum gossip out of Grandma Mazur. "Cool car. Can I have one too?"
"Shall I shoot him?" Ranger asked me.
I was tempted. "Not right now."
Ranger came to the point. "I hear you've tangled with Eyebrows Mattison."
"House tangled with him," I said. "He fired a gun and ran away."
"You don't want to mess with Eyebrows if you can help it," Ranger said. "Tank had a face-off with him a couple of years ago and was shot in the chest. If he hadn't had a Kevlar vest on, he would have been killed on the spot."
Great. Tank was built like, well, a tank. I would stand no chance. And my gun was still in the cookie jar.
"We don't know what he's looking for," I said. "We'll figure it out."
"Do it soon." Ranger stepped forward, kissed me on the lips, and was gone. Somehow I kept my feet, and stood for a minute, hoping the drool hanging out my mouth wasn't too obvious to House.
"You like tall dark handsome types," House observed. "What are my chances?"
I turned to House, ignoring his last comment, and said, "Tell me about David Wilson."
It was very satisfying to see House surprised and discomforted, even if only for a moment before he recovered his composure.
"Fuck me," he said. "I knew Wilson nearly twenty years before I found out about Brother David. You must be more intelligent than you look."
"Gee, thanks. Tell me about him. What's the big secret?"
House sat back on the couch and shrugged. "Black sheep of the family. I honestly don't know much more than that. Got disowned and left when Wilson was still in high school, and they all act like he never existed."
"What did he do?"
"Drugs, definitely. Possibly other stuff too. They really don't talk about him. Jonathan gets all maudlin and weepy sometimes if you bring it up after he's had too much to drink, but he still doesn't say much."
I pondered. "Must be hard on Jonathan, having his twin thrown out of the family?"
"Yeah, I'm sure his shrink would say it explains everything." House was caustic. "Is this even remotely relevant to Eyebrow Man's mysterious pursuit? Nobody's seen David for more than a decade. He's probably dead."
"You never know." I was still curious, but there didn't seem to be much more to be gained right now, and it was late. "Okay, I'm going to bed. I'll get you some blankets from my closet. Goodnight."
"You're making me sleep on the couch?" House asked, with righteous indignation. "I'm a cripple. It'll kill me."
"Then go stay in a hotel!"
"Fine! And when Psycho Killer Eyebrows strangles me in my sleep, you can tell my mom how you threw me out on the street."
I hesitated, which was fatal. House spotted a chink and went for it. "Wilson's paying you to keep his dumbass brother safe. You think he'd want you to put me in harm's way at the same time?"
"Alright!" I caved. "You can sleep in the bed."
Victorious, House winked at me. "Hey, you can sleep in the bed, too. I won't tell Ranger if you don't." Beat. "Or Morelli."
"I'm sleeping on the couch," I said firmly, and went to find some pillows and blankets for myself.
Chapter 4: Ruckus at the Monster Trucks
The next morning, Wilson dropped by to pick House up and go to the mall. The decision to stay in Trenton for a few days meant House needed some clothes, although I noticed Wilson was wearing something different from his formal suit and tie of the day before. He arrived at my door in a bottle green sweatshirt and jeans.
"Did you borrow clothes from Jonathan?" I asked.
"No," House said over my shoulder. "Wilson carries several emergency changes of clothes in the trunk of his car at all times."
"I like to be prepared," Wilson said, smiling. "I hope House wasn't too much of an imposition last night."
"No, it was fine," I said, smiling back. Wilson looked very cute and neat in casual clothes.
"Bounty hunter babe's bed was very comfortable," House said, walking past me and out the door with a wink.
Wilson lingered briefly to hand me an envelope. I peeked inside the envelope once they'd gone to find a sizable wedge of cash, more than I would have dared ask for. I guessed Wilson was paying me as much to put up with House as to keep an eye on Jonathan.
I drove to the office and gave Lula half the money. Her eyes widened. "Holy cow. I guess department head doctors can afford to be generous. Shall we go to the mall?"
"No! We need to earn some of this. We need to figure out what Eyebrows Mattison is after, and get him off Jonathan's back."
"Breakfast first, surely." Lula rustled notes. "I could just do with a big pile of pancakes with maple syrup and a side of bacon right now, oh yes."
The way she put it, I did too, so we got breakfast and discussed things over that.
"Eyebrows was looking in the attic," I said, over my third pancake. "What do people keep in the attic?"
"Old stuff. Stuff you don't want to throw away, but don't want to look at every day neither," Lula said, over her fourth pancake. "Clothes that don't fit anymore."
Lula was wearing a silver spandex top that she positively flooded out of; it couldn't ever have fitted her properly.
I tried to think what was in my parents' attic. Old papers, mainly. Schoolwork by Valerie and myself, mostly Valerie's, she was the one with the good grades.
"He also looked through Jonathan's desk," I pointed out. "Although nothing was missing. What do you keep in a desk?"
"Files?" Lula was filing clerk for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, of course.
"Right. So perhaps he's looking for some kind of paperwork, but it's probably not current. It's old. Legal documents, perhaps? Jonathan's a lawyer."
"A map of buried treasure," Lula suggested hopefully.
I liked that idea but of course there was no evidence for it whatsoever. Papers could be anything; it was hopeless trying to guess.
We went back to the office and I put in a few calls to find out more about Eyebrows and Jonathan Wilson. A RangeMan employee gave me a more detailed rundown on Eyebrows Mattison's life of crime, but all that did was make me think maybe I should have taken my gun out of the cookie jar that morning after all.
Morelli called to tell me about Eyebrows Mattison's most recent venture. "He'd been arrested for dealing in black market Viagra, of all things."
"Yeah. His stash wasn't found, he must have hidden it somewhere before he went to prison."
I couldn't see how this helped us. It didn't seem likely that Eyebrows had been looking for Viagra in Jonathan's attic.
"We can ask Jonathan if he takes Viagra when we see him," Lula suggested.
"Yeah, he's not going to take offense at that question at all," I said.
Late morning, my mother called; she'd been to the deli and talked to Rebecca Goldstein about the Wilson family.
"The husband and wife were Luke and Nancy Wilson. I should have remembered that." My mother sounded cross with herself. "Nancy was a Zinman from the Burg, she worked in the button factory for a while after school, but always wanted out."
I didn't know any Zinmans, but there were plenty of people from Burg families who were upwardly mobile. Maybe Nancy had a mother like mine.
"Then she met Luke Wilson who was respectable and had good prospects, training to be an accountant," my mother continued. "He wasn't from Trenton, Rebecca thinks his family originally came from Canada. Luke and Nancy married and lived in the Burg for a while as money was tight, and I was right, they had three boys. Jonathan and David the twins, and James the baby. They moved out of the Burg right after James was born, when Luke got a better job."
Nancy must have had a mother like mine. And unlike me, it sounded like she'd managed to live up to expectations with her marriage. I scribbled notes madly. "Where do they live now?"
"Chesterfield. They never came back to the Burg. Rebecca says they don't have ties around here any more except one relative, a distant uncle or cousin. Alfred Zinman, he's a hundred years old and lives in a nursing home on Carter Avenue."
"Great. Thanks, Mom."
"Your grandmother went to the mall this morning with Marcia Whalldoodle." My mother changed the subject and I realized this was the main reason she'd called me. "I think she may have gone to buy clothes to match her new hairstyle. Perhaps you could do something."
It was probably too late. "I'll call her," I promised.
My mother offered a bribe. "I'm making beef pot pie tonight."
I ended the call and dialed Grandma Mazur.
"Stephanie!" Grandma sounded ecstatic. "I'm at the mall, and guess who I bumped into?"
I remembered who else had gone clothes shopping this morning. "House and Wilson?"
"That's right! It was just as well, they've been keeping me company. Marcia Whalldoodle chickened out and left when she saw what I was looking at. House has been helping me pick out some clothes. You have to come see."
I rang off and said to Lula, "We have to go to the mall."
We found House, Wilson and Grandma Mazur at the mall in the Jade Palace. Lula was a fan of the beef in black bean sauce, and I figured it had been a while since I'd had sweet n' sour, so we joined them for lunch.
House was wearing a new T-shirt, black, patterned with colorful swirls. Grandma was wearing her normal clothes, except she had a studded black leather collar necklace around her neck. It stood out against her scrawny pale skin.
"This is so comfortable," she said as we sat down. "I've never worn one of these before. I would have expected it to chafe something terrible, but it's padded."
"So you're building up your Goth Girl image," Lula said.
"You might want to take it off before you get home," I suggested.
"No way. I can't wait to see your father's face," said Grandma. "I got more, too. I'll try it on later at home." She patted a bag by her side.
"I'm sorry," Wilson said. "House encouraged her."
"She doesn't usually need much encouragement," I said.
"I invited House and Wilson to dinner tonight to say thank you." Grandma was bright and cheerful. "Won't that be fun?"
"I am so on for home-made beef pot pie," House said with enthusiasm.
"I do hope it's not an imposition on your mother," Wilson put in. I must not have concealed my look of horror quickly enough.
"No, no," I assured him. My mother would relish the challenge of feeding two Princeton doctors. I could only hope that House wouldn't be too obnoxious.
Wilson had news. Jonathan's ex-wife Mimi had called Jon to discuss alimony. During an acrimonious conversation she had mentioned that she'd had a break-in the previous day. Nothing had been taken so she hadn't bothered to report it to the police.
"Looks like a pattern developing, huh," said Lula. "Everywhere Jon has a connection to, Eyebrows breaks in."
"He must still be looking for whatever he's looking for. I think we should go talk to Mimi." Wilson was earnest.
There were too many of us to all go to Mimi's. I decided to go with House and Wilson in Wilson's Volvo, and persuaded Lula to take Grandma home in the Beemer. I also asked Lula to drop by Jonathan's afterwards to make sure he was still okay and that Eyebrows hadn't revisited. Lula and Grandma agreed with my plan happily, presumably because they got to ride in the Beemer.
We were just standing up to leave when a pasty-faced kid walked past and dropped a handful of flyers on our table. House glanced at the top one, then grabbed it and read it properly.
"Wilson!" House said excitedly. "Look! Grave Digger's in Trenton!"
"No!" Wilson craned his neck to see. I had a look too. The flyer said 'TONIGHT! MONSTER TRUCK RUCKUS!' There was a picture of a truck painted black with green flames, doing a wheelie on enormous tires. The flyer was advertising a monster truck rally on the outskirts of Trenton.
"We are so there," House said with enthusiasm.
"What's Grave Digger?" I asked.
House looked at me as if I'd committed blasphemy, and said in a choked tone, "The greatest monster truck of all."
"I've never been to a monster truck rally," Grandma said, her voice excited.
"Grandma, you can be my date," House said with a drawl. "So long as you wear all those clothes you just bought."
Wilson covered his eyes briefly but didn't say anything.
"Mom is not going to be pleased," I said pleadingly.
"You can come chaperone," Grandma invited me. "We can all go. Lula, how about it?"
"I got a date with Tank tonight," Lula said. "I'm thinking maybe he'd go for this Monster Truck thing too, though. Perhaps I'll see you there."
"I was thinking," I said, once I was alone with House and Wilson in the Volvo and heading to Mimi's. "Eyebrows has looked in Jon's apartment and he's looked in Jon's ex-wife's house. Isn't it likely he's going to be working his way around to other places Jon might have been recently?"
"His law firm? Jon hasn't been there for a while," Wilson said. "He took medical leave of absence after his divorce, they gave him three months unpaid leave to sort himself out."
"To sober up and stop embarrassing himself in client meetings," House enlarged.
"Maybe, but I was thinking other family homes," I said.
"Mom and Dad's?" Wilson was dubious. "They're away, he's keeping an eye on their place while it's being redecorated. I guess it's possible--"
"She means your apartment," House exclaimed suddenly. He picked up his cane and rapped it against the dashboard. "Jon was there only yesterday. If Eyebrows knows that--we should go back to Princeton. Tomorrow, after the Monster Trucks."
Wilson insisted we had to stick around Trenton to keep an eye on Jon, but conceded it was possible that Eyebrows might decide to take a trip to Princeton.
I thought the parents' house idea was good too. "We'll go visit your parents' house after we've seen Mimi," I suggested.
The visit to Mimi Wilson was uneventful and didn't tell us much we didn't already know. Mimi was a bottled blonde with a cynical glint in her blue eyes. I guessed she was about thirty, but she wasn't aging well and she was too thin. She was pleased to see Wilson on her doorstep, if rather less enthusiastic to spot House lurking behind him, and invited us in for coffee.
"How are the girls?" Wilson asked.
"Corinna and Dolores are fine, they're in school, they'll be sorry to have missed their Uncle James." Mimi smiled.
I asked about the break-in, and Mimi explained she'd gotten home two days ago from a PTA meeting to find the door ajar on her shed.
"It's got a stiff padlock, easy enough to undo but hard to fasten again," she explained. "So I went in and there was a bit of mess but nothing missing that I could see. The shed's our dumping ground, we keep all our old crap out there. One day I'll get round to throwing it all out."
We went and had a look in the shed but it was impossible to tell anything from it. There were stacks of boxes, some of which had been opened. The opened ones seemed to contain old files, which helped my theory that Eyebrows was after old paperwork of some sort.
We said goodbye to Mimi, drove to Chesterfield and swung by Wilson's parents' house. It was a large home in a good neighborhood. It was a nice-looking place, but clearly undergoing some major renovation. Doors and windows were open, a dumpster out the front was full of debris, and men in paint-spattered overalls scurried around.
"Mom and Dad were having the place re-wired and re-decorated, and they decided they'd go away for a month while it all happened," Wilson explained as we walked up the path to the front door. "They went on a cruise. Back this weekend, I think."
"Looks like there's some pressure to finish the work by this weekend," House observed. Men were up stepladders re-fitting lights and touching up ceilings, working quickly, not stopping to look at us.
"If Eyebrows Mattison wore an old overall, he could have walked straight in," I pointed out. We had walked in unchallenged. "Do your parents keep old stuff in an attic or shed, Wilson?"
"There's no attic, the upstairs got converted to bedrooms years ago. We used to dump old stuff in the basement."
We stopped in the hallway and collectively gazed at a small door under the stairs. It was open and as we watched, a man came out carrying a toolbox. I supposed the re-wiring meant they needed to get under the floor.
House pulled cripples' privilege and announced he wasn't going to go down those dark poky stairs with his cane, and strode off to find a comfy seat somewhere. Wilson and I crept down into the basement. It was indeed full of junk; old furniture, cardboard boxes, crates, bags. It had all been pushed to one side as there was also lots of work going on with exposed wires and lights, so it was impossible to see if anything had been recently disturbed. It all looked recently disturbed. Wilson wandered around a little, and shrugged; he couldn't tell.
We went upstairs again, and Wilson headed down the far end of the house. "We should take a look in the study. See if anyone's been at the desk." He pushed open a door, and stopped dead. "Oh! Shit!"
I looked past him into a large wood-paneled room. There was a big oak desk to one side with an enormous leather chair behind it. House was sitting in the chair, and standing behind House was Eyebrows Mattison. He was wearing a paint-spattered overall and holding a gun to House's left temple.
"Thank fuck you're here," House said. His tone was acerbic but I thought this was concealing a vein of real panic running through him. He was keeping very still.
"House, are you okay?" Wilson advanced into the room. I followed.
"I'm fine," House snapped. "I just walked in to find our friend here."
"I'm leaving," Eyebrows said. "You two come in away from the door--"
While his attention was on us, House moved, reaching sideways for his cane, which was hung on the edge of the desk a few feet away. But he wasn't quick enough; Eyebrows Mattison swiveled sharply at the movement, gun in hand. The gun barrel hit the side of House's face; House fell sideways with a shout of pain, and I saw blood. Wilson leaped towards House, Eyebrows leaped towards the door, and I hurtled after Eyebrows.
He ran through the hallway, and bumped hard into a stray stepladder. An open container of wallpaper paste fell off the top and hit his right shoulder; thick brown glue seeped down his sleeve.
"Fuck!" he shouted, and the slight delay let me catch up with him. I grabbed his arm, and immediately tried to let go, but long strings of brown stuff stuck to my hand. He was covered in wallpaper paste. He tried to maneuver the gun, but it was covered in glue and hopelessly sticky.
"Drop it!" I said, trying to sound authoritative, and Eyebrows Mattison raised a huge black bushy brow and held out an open palm downwards. The gun refused to fall from his hand.
"Oh, okay, don't drop it," I said. "You're staying here until the police arrive."
"The hell I am," he said, and gave me a push with his non-sticky hand. I teetered a little, and he twisted out of my grip, breaking through the gluey bond, and fled out of the door. I tried to follow but put my foot in the glue can on the floor with my second step.
I went back into the study, glue all over one arm and the container stuck to my foot, to find Wilson next to House, an expression of concerned concentration on his face as he examined House's head. Blood was dripping from a cut on the side of House's face.
"Can you believe it? The bastard pistol-whipped me!" House sounded almost as proud as annoyed. He found his pill bottle in his pocket and swallowed two pills.
"We need an ambulance," Wilson said, his fingers tracing through House's hair, eyes focused on House's scalp.
"No we don't. We need a first aid kit, that's all. I'm fine. It's just a cut."
"No other lacerations that I can see, but it was quite a blow. Head injuries, House--"
"I'm calling the police," I said, and dialed Morelli.
Morelli turned up, annoyed with me for having run into Eyebrows Mattison again, but unable to conceal his amusement at the sight of me plastered in wallpaper glue. I had managed to get the can off my foot, but my sneaker was ruined.
I explained everything that had happened. Morelli put a call out for cop cars in the neighborhood to look out for Ernie 'Eyebrows' Mattison, six six, gray hair, dark eyebrows, glue all down one side. He took notes and said he'd investigate Eyebrows more closely.
Meanwhile, Wilson had patched up House's cheek. House had gone rather pale and quiet, and Wilson suggested he go back to my place to lie down. House protested briefly, but Wilson was quietly insistent, and House gave way. I agreed, and House and Wilson went out to the Volvo.
I lingered for a moment with Morelli.
"Aren't you worried about House staying with me?" I baited him, hoping for a jealous response. "Wouldn't you rather I stayed with you for a while?"
"Why would I be worried about House?" Morelli said, deadpan. "He's got a boyfriend."
I wanted to throttle Morelli sometimes. "He's got a friend! He ogles me!"
"Fine, have it your way, he's got a very special friend." Morelli tousled my hair. "Lots of men ogle you in that top, Cupcake. Doesn't mean they're going to jump you in the middle of the night. Anyway, he's a cripple so you can fight him off if he does."
I gave up and went out to the car.
I spent the afternoon getting glue off my skin and clothes and hair. Fortunately it came off in water, although not very easily.
Meanwhile House settled himself on my couch, alternately watching TV and playing on his Gameboy. Wilson went back to Jonathan's, and called later to say Jonathan had been mortally offended earlier when Lula had dropped round to say hello and ask him if he took Viagra.
Lula had left the Beemer outside my apartment, and at dinnertime House and I set off in it to go to dinner at my parents' house. House had now recovered his color and his spirits, and insistent that he wasn't going to miss beef pot pie followed by Monster Trucks for the world. We picked up Wilson on the way.
"Please behave yourself," I pleaded with House as we pulled up at my parents' house.
"I have table manners," House said indignantly. "Don't believe Wilson when he says I steal his food."
Grandma Mazur opened the door to us. Along with the collar necklace from earlier, she was wearing a black T-shirt with a skull and crossbones on it, and black pants. She'd also put some white make-up on her face, with bright pink lip gloss that matched the Pretty Flamingo streak in her hair.
"Grandma, you look gorgeous," House exclaimed.
"It's a bold new look," I said to her.
"Yeah. I bought a skirt and boots too, but thought I might be cold at the Monster Trucks so pants and sneakers would be safer," said Grandma.
Against all my expectations, dinner went very well. Wilson played the sympathetic doctor and charmed my mother, who even confided in him her secret life's ambition that she would have liked to have been a nurse, if she didn't have all of us to look after. House ranted offensive opinions about sport and politics to my father, who nodded and expounded back. Grandma Mazur sat there in her black studded collar and beamed widely.
After dinner, Wilson thanked my mother very nicely for the meal, and House and Wilson headed out to the Beemer. I lingered behind a minute in the hallway while Grandma got her coat on.
"What a nice man Dr. Wilson is," my mother said wistfully. "And a doctor, too. And not too old for you. Is he married? Does he have a girlfriend?"
I was ecstatic: someone else who didn't see it! My bubble burst about two seconds later when I realized all that proved was that I was turning into my mother. Oh God.
"He's divorced," I said lamely.
"Three times," Grandma butted in. "Guess the wives must've all figured out in the end that he bats for the other side."
My mother made the sign of the cross.
We drove the Beemer out to the Monster Truck rally, and got there to find a long line of cars waiting to park. We waited patiently, although House was clearly restless. I had just got to the front of the queue when the guy taking out money and handing out tickets said, "Hey, Stephanie!"
"Hey, Danny!" It was Danny Mutano, who had been in my class in high school. I hadn't seen him in years. I remembered he had had the hots for my best friend Mary Lou Stankovic for a long time.
"You into Monster Trucks? I never knew. Hey, guess what!" Danny brandished a sheaf of papers. "I can get you into the members' enclosure. I've got some all access passes here."
"She's so taking them!" House exclaimed from the back seat, practically amputating my arm in his reach to grab the paperwork.
I was a bit dubious, but supposed we might as well have the full experience now we were here. The paperwork was scary, though, with a long disclaimer which seemed to want me to sign away all our lives. I might have questioned it, except House was practically guiding my pen across the page, and a host of other drivers were honking impatiently behind me.
We drove on into the members' enclosure, close to the arena, and parked between two trucks with large tires.
"Hot damn!" Grandma fairly leaped out of the Beemer. "That there's Bigfoot! Man, I wish the seniors at the old folk's home could see me now. We were all rooting for Bigfoot on the TV just last week."
House and Wilson vanished among the trucks, pointing and admiring and making knowledgeable comments. Grandma Mazur and I wandered around at a more leisurely pace. It was fun. We ate cotton candy and hot dogs, and mingled with big brawny men in helmets and leathers.
"Good thing I got my new Goth look," Grandma said. "I fit right in here, don't I?"
"You sure do," I agreed.
"Hey!" A pimply faced teen came hurrying up to us. "Is yours the black Beemer over there? They want to move Grave Digger and your car's kinda in the way."
"Oh no!" I didn't want my car in the way of a Monster Truck. We followed Spotty back to the car to find various vehicles had moved around and the Beemer was indeed blocking Grave Digger's way out. A man in a yellow helmet was standing with his hands on his hips, glaring.
"Hey," I said, rushing up. "Sorry. It wasn't in the way when I left--"
"Well, it sure is now, lady," the man drawled.
"I'm on it." I got in the car, and Grandma got in the other side. I started the engine, and wasn't sure which way to turn. I rolled down the window and called to Spotty. "Which way?"
"The gate," he shouted, and I revved the engine and pulled sharp left through a gate onto a dirt track. I put my foot down, wanting to get out of the way as quickly as possible.
"Um." Grandma squinted through the windshield into the dark. "I think he might have been talking to Grave Digger."
"What? ARGH!" I screamed, as ten thousand camera bulbs flashed from the bleachers to one side, and an enormous black truck headed right for us.
"Hot damn!" Grandma yelled. "It's Bigfoot!"
I screeched to a halt and the engine stalled on me. I turned the key; nothing.
"Grandma!" I hollered, and she was unlocking her seatbelt as I jumped out and ran around the side of the car. I got to her side just as she was opening the door and grabbed her arm, and we ran. It felt like we ran and ran and ran, although it was probably only a for few paces. And then Bigfoot hit the Beemer, and we both dived to the ground. We cowered for a few seconds, then looked around to see the smaller car crunch beneath the Monster Truck's wheels. Metal squealed and glass shattered, and the crowd went wild.
"Man, that is excellent," Grandma said with reverence, as Bigfoot slithered on effortlessly over the top of the Beemer and down the other side.
I scrunched up my face, trying not to burst into tears.
House and Wilson joined us a few minutes later.
"Are you alright?" Wilson asked, and having been convinced that we were, added, "I'm sorry about your car." He sounded like he was trying hard, real hard, not to laugh.
"Ace," House said, and high-fived with Grandma Mazur.
Ranger appeared soon afterwards, as I was regarding the flat mess of Beemer that had been towed to one side and wondering how we were all going to get home.
"Babe," he said in my ear.
"News travels fast," I said. "Or did Bigfoot flatten a tracking device in there somewhere?"
"No. Tank is in the crowd. He recognized the car and called me." Ranger looked at the car and around at Monster Trucks. "Let me guess. A large truck ran over it."
"Ten out of ten," I said. I had just realized that the disclaimer document I'd signed to get into the enclosure probably meant I wouldn't be covered by any sort of insurance. Not that Ranger would charge me, but that was the kind of thing that caused problems with Morelli.
"It was House's fault." I tried to deflect. "He encouraged me."
"Babe," Ranger said, smiling, and I got the feeling he hadn't expected to get the Beemer back after all. "You can borrow my car to get home. I need it back tomorrow, but I can get you a different one."
"I can't keep taking cars from you!" There, I'd said it. "Tank and Lula can drive us home. I'll get another car myself tomorrow."
Ranger shrugged a little. "If that's what you want. You change your mind, give me a call."
He melted away into the crowd. I called Lula and asked her and Tank to drop Grandma at home, Wilson at Jonathan's apartment, and House and I at my place.
By the time we got home House and I were both exhausted, and House was popping pills, apparently feeling his leg. I let him take the bedroom without trying to argue, and flopped on the couch. I was so tired I did at least sleep well.
Next morning, Wilson called with bad news. There had been a death in the family.
Chapter 5: Differential Diagnosis for a Dead Man
We didn't have transportation, so I called Lula and she picked us up and drove us over to Jonathan's apartment. We found Jon on the telephone arguing with someone, and Wilson pacing around the room. Wilson explained; Alfred Zinman, the last Wilson relative in the Burg, had died. He'd had a heart attack in the middle of the night.
Wilson was somber but not particularly upset about it. "He lived in a nursing home for the last twenty years, his heart problem got much worse over the last year, and his dementia meant he could be lucid for short intervals but mostly he didn't really recognize people any more."
"And we're sure this is a natural death, with Eyebrows Mattison poking around?" House was blunt.
"Well, he wasn't shot," Lula pointed out.
"Indeed. He was one hundred years old last winter, and he suffered from coronary heart disease with angina," Wilson said, with a shrug. "Frankly, it's amazing he went on as long as he did."
"And you take this on trust because--?" House queried.
"I've talked to his doctor, a Dr. Helena Mittington. She seems very competent. But," and Wilson rolled his eyes, "I figured you'd need more, so I asked for a copy of his file. It should be ready right now if you want to go collect it from her office. Jonathan and I have to organize the funeral."
At that moment House's cell rang. He answered, spoke for a minute, then rang off, took a Vicodin, and looked at us.
"Okay, so today officially sucks, Wilson. Your apartment got broken into by Eyebrows Mattison this morning."
"What!" Wilson exclaimed, and clutched a fistful of hair in each hand.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"My staff were there. I told them to take turns keeping an eye on it, after we decided the other day that it might be a target." House was blithe. Wilson sighed, and House carried on, "Foreman and Thirteen were there when Eyebrows broke a window. They scared him off but didn't catch him."
"Foreman and Thirteen?" I asked.
"I have four fellows who represent diversity on behalf of the hospital. They're the token black dude and the token chick," House explained.
"I guess she's unlucky," Lula deduced.
"I guess she is. We should go back to Princeton so I can fire them all."
"I can't, there's too much to sort out here," Wilson said, his tone frustrated.
"It's only 12.3 miles away." House was plaintive.
After a few minutes' discussion it was agreed that House would go back to Princeton to knock Foreman and Thirteen's heads together, sort out the window, and pick up some clothes for both Wilson and himself to wear at Alfred Zinman's funeral. Apparently House didn't own any black ties but Wilson, the oncologist, had a selection. Wilson would stay in Trenton with Jon to organize the funeral.
"And who's gonna drive me?" House said hopefully, looking at Lula.
"'Fraid not," said Lula. "I can't go to Princeton. I have a very important appointment at lunchtime."
I was pretty sure the appointment was for an eyebrow shaping, but I didn't quibble. "I can borrow a car. Lula, can you drop us at my parents' house?"
An hour later, House and I were on our way to Princeton in my Uncle Sandor's 1953 powder blue Buick. I fell back on this car when desperate or needing to feel indestructible.
"Whoa." House actually looked impressed when he saw it. "This is what we're driving to Princeton? Holy shit! It looks mint."
I never understood the spell that Big Blue always cast over men. "It belongs to Grandma Mazur, but she doesn't have a license," I explained, unlocking the passenger side door for him.
"Just as well, she'd have totaled it long ago. Bet you don't drive it much, there's not a scratch on it." House ran a loving hand along the paintwork. Of course, he didn't know that nothing could damage Big Blue.
We stopped first at a doctor's surgery near Alfred Zinman's nursing home, and picked up the copy of Alfred's file that Wilson had asked for. House spent the journey dipping in and out of the file, frowning but not saying much except to occasionally admire the smooth running of the Buick.
"This is quite some car," House remarked, when we were 6.15 miles to Princeton. "We might have run over all sorts of puppies and kittens along the way without feeling a thing."
We arrived at Wilson's apartment to find four people sitting around the living room; a short guy with a blank expression, a excited puppy of a guy with dark hair and olive skin, and two who fitted House's description of Foreman and Thirteen.
"That's Taub, that's Kutner, and those two are collectively known as Foreteen," House leaned on his cane and did brusque introductions. "This is Stephanie Plum, she's a bounty hunter from Trenton. She's working with me because I want a decent pair of breasts around to look at for once."
"A bounty hunter? Like Boba Fett?" Kutner said hopefully.
"Not quite like that," I said.
"Boba Fett was my favorite original trilogy character." Kutner was enthusiastic. "I used to have the action figure where you could fire the missile on his back. They cost a fortune on eBay these days."
"I don't fire missiles," I said. I quite liked the idea, actually. Maybe Ranger had a missile backpack somewhere in the BatCave.
"If Boba Babe here had an action figure, it would have a cookie jar with a gun popping out of it," House said.
"Are you telling us there's a bounty on this Eyebrow guy's head?" Taub asked.
"Not exactly," I said.
"If there was, perhaps you idiots might have been motivated to actually catch him," House said, his tone exasperated. He plumped himself down in an armchair.
"What happened to your head?" Kutner asked suddenly. House had a bandage where Eyebrows had hit him. It was only visible from one side.
"I got pistol whipped by the man who broke in here," House said, and the four of them looked an appropriate mixture of shocked, concerned and horrified. "I'm fine, before you waste time asking. So, what the hell happened? Foreman, Thirteen, you're being suspiciously quiet over there."
We all looked at Foreman and Thirteen. Under our collective scrutiny I realized they looked a little embarrassed.
"The Eyebrows guy came down the side alley and broke the bathroom window," Foreman reported. "We heard it and came straight in to find him standing by the couch, going through the bag over there. He took fright when he saw us, dropped the bag and fled back to the bathroom, out the window."
House addressed me. "That's not Wilson's bag, it must be Jonathan's."
I picked up the bag and rooted through. A few items of clothing, a few toiletries, presumably just the belongings Jon had brought with him for a few nights in Princeton. No mysterious papers, or anything else of particular interest. I looked around the apartment. It had a nice large main living room with an open plan kitchen, and I recalled that was pretty much it apart from the bathroom and one bedroom. I asked Foreman, "So you heard the window break, but you weren't in here, it took you a minute to find him here by the couch? Where were you?"
"Jesus Christ almighty, you were in the bedroom!" House exclaimed, feigned outrage concealing his glee not in the least. "Wow. I almost feel sorry for Eyebrows. He thinks he's breaking into an empty apartment and instead he comes up against a naked black man and a skinny white woman with a flat chest."
"House!" Thirteen said, annoyed.
"I leave you to look after Wilson's apartment and you start having sex in it!" House went on. "Just wait until he hears about how you abused his hospitality--"
"I will bet anything you want that if it wasn't for the break-in, Wilson would have no idea we were here." Foreman was defensive. "And what the hell are we doing here, anyway? We're doctors! We shouldn't be wasting time babysitting an apartment! If Cuddy found out--"
"Actually, I have a differential for you." House threw Alfred Zinman's file down on the coffee table.
Taub picked it up, opened it and started reading. Kutner and Thirteen peered at it from each side of him, and Foreman came to stand behind the couch to look over their heads.
"I need a whiteboard. Why doesn't Wilson keep one handy in his living room?" House looked around, and his eye fell on a tall mirror. He got up and went over to it. "That'll do. Right, who's got some lipstick?" He deliberately looked right past Thirteen. "Kutner?"
His staff ignored him. I dug in my pocket, found a tube of red lipstick and tossed it to him.
"House." Taub looked up from the file. "This man Alfred Zinman is dead. We do differentials before people die! We do autopsies afterwards."
"No autopsy without cause. Find me a cause." House wrote 'DEAD' on the top of the mirror.
"He was one hundred years old!" Taub protested, stabbing at the file with a finger.
House wrote 'OLD' on the mirror. "And why didn't he see his one hundred and first birthday?"
The doctors collectively sighed, shrugged, and got on with it. They shared out the papers in the file and plowed through them, occasionally making remarks which House noted on the mirror.
"Angina pectoris... Coronary artery disease... On long-term nitro patches... Holocaust survivor, fled Germany for England and then came to America after the war... Retired forty years ago!... Wife died thirty years ago... No children... Been in a nursing home the last twenty years... Gradual onset of dementia over last ten years... Angina much worse in the last twelve months... Myocardial infarction last night...."
At the end Thirteen said with an air of finality, "So he was very old, he had heart problems, he had a heart attack and died. It happens."
House tapped his cane on the floor. "Is there anything that might have triggered the MI that we're not seeing?"
"What are you suggesting?" I asked. "Some kind of invisible drug that leaves no trace?"
"There's no such thing," Foreman said, a touch patronisingly. "You just need to know what to look for."
"An overdose of medicine, perhaps?" Kutner suggested. "Accidental or deliberate."
I didn't know anything about medicine, but I did know something about Eyebrows Mattison. "If Eyebrows wanted to kill Alfred Zinman, he would have shot him. He's a gunman, not a poisoner."
"Very true." House put a hand to his head, touching the bandage there.
"He's a criminal; had he been in prison?" Foreman asked.
"Foreman's an ex-con." House shielded his mouth with his hand to explain to me in a deliberately loud undertone. Then to everyone, "Yes, Eyebrows was in prison. So, access to drugs?"
"Cocaine or amphetamines could cause an MI," Taub suggested.
"How about Viagra?" I asked.
Everybody froze, and I realized I'd somehow hit the nail on the head.
House frowned and turned narrowed eyes in my direction. "Hold on; FatGirl asked Jonathan if he took Viagra. She wasn't just jerking his chain?"
"Eyebrows Mattison was in jail for dealing in black market Viagra," I explained.
"And Uncle Al was on long-term nitro for the angina pectoris. Nitroglycerin plus sildenafil," House said slowly. "Very dangerous combination, can be lethal."
"Viagra can be lethal?" I asked.
"Combined with nitrates, yes," Taub explained. "They both work by opening up blood vessels. Too much of both together and you can get a sudden drop of blood pressure, leading to MI or cardiac arrest."
House's eyes were shining a brighter blue than I'd seen before. "So, perhaps Eyebrows visited Uncle Al and gave him some of his Viagra stash for some reason? And Alfred was looking forward to his first hard-on for decades, probably, and didn't know they'd be dangerous with nitrates."
"We still don't know there was any connection between Eyebrows and Al. We need to talk to his doctor," I said.
"We certainly do." House tossed me back the lipstick.
House instructed his staff to get the broken window fixed and continue surveillance on the apartment, without being distracted by sex this time. "I'm talking to you, Taub," he called over his shoulder, and said loudly to me, "That one can't keep it in his pants."
We went on our way, taking Jonathan's bag with us. House directed me to his own apartment so he could pick up some clothes for the funeral. "I won't be long, you wait in the car."
No way was I passing up the opportunity to see inside House's apartment. "Gee, but I really have to pee. I don't think I can wait until we get back to Trenton."
"You couldn't go back at Wilson's?" House complained, but let me follow him in.
House's apartment was clean but untidy and cluttered, full of fat medical books, CDs and interesting looking trinkets. A grand piano took up a large amount of the floor space and guitars adorned the walls. It felt comfortable and lived-in. It also felt very masculine; no sign of a woman's touch anywhere. House pointed me towards the bathroom, and while I was there I found two toothbrushes in the mug on the sink. Lula was right. Wilson was living with House, or at least spending enough time there to carve out his own space.
House demanded to drive the Buick back, and I let him. I figured if anyone might ever be able to write this car off it would be House, and then I would be spared driving it ever again. But he treated it with reverence, and drove carefully.
By the time we got back to Trenton, it was late afternoon. I called Dr. Mittington, Alfred's physician, on the way, and she agreed to see us in her office after her last appointment of the day.
Dr. Mittington was an upright citizen of the Burg, middle-aged with gray streaks in her brown hair. She was wearing sensible shoes, and a woolen pullover under her white coat. I knew her by reputation. There were a lot of senior citizens in her practice, and I remembered she'd even treated Grandma Mazur once when Grandma's usual doctor had been away. I reminded Dr. Mittington of this, and her face lit up. "Edna Mazur, yes I remember. Quite a character, your grandmother, isn't she?"
"Absolutely," I agreed fervently.
"So you're here about Alfred Zinman." Dr. Mittington picked up a file on her desk, but didn't open it. "You're not family, right? Either of you?"
"No," I said.
"No, not family," House said. His tone was harsh, and I wondered if maybe he wanted to be part of the Wilson family. "I'm a friend of his nephew, James Wilson. And like him, I'm a medical doctor. I've seen the file. Just how sure are you that it was a natural death?"
Dr. Mittington sighed, and spilled. "I was hoping this didn't have to come out. It wasn't quite as natural a death as it should have been. Mr. Zinman took some Viagra, probably about 45 minutes before his death."
"And it reacted with the nitro and caused the MI," House said.
"It happens all the time," Dr. Mittington said. "I didn't mention it because I didn't want to embarrass the family. They don't need to know that their one hundred year-old Holocaust-surviving uncle wanted a hard-on, got some illegal pills and died in the attempt. He would have had the MI sooner or later anyway, he was very ill and had deteriorated markedly over the last year. I thought six months ago that he'd be lucky to see the year out. The Viagra just speeded things up."
"How do you know he took Viagra?" I asked.
Dr. Mittington dug in her pocket and produced a small plastic bag containing a couple of diamond-shaped blue pills. "I was called in the middle of the night when the nursing home staff found him. These were on the nightstand. Goodness knows how he got them--no physician would have prescribed them to him, but there are always ways and means for people who really want them."
Because there were black market dealers, of course, and I knew who one of these was. I wondered if there was any way Morelli could trace these particular pills back to Eyebrows Mattison's stash. "Can I take one of those?"
"Wasted on women," House said with a knowing leer. "Perhaps I should--"
I threw him a look, and said to Dr. Mittington, "It might be possible to find out where they came from."
She nodded, handed me the bag and said rather sadly, "So, I guess I should add it to the file. Heart attack brought on by a fatal combination of nitrates and sildenafil. Last year this happened to Terry Ormskirk, it got mentioned in his eulogy and everybody now refers to him as--"
"Tentpole Terry," I supplied. I remembered overhearing him being called this in the beauty salon.
House sat for a minute in silence, presumably envisaging a eulogy to Aroused Alfred, then said, "Even if you altered the file, there still won't be an autopsy, will there? He might have gotten the Viagra illegally, but he took them voluntarily. It was an accident."
"I don't think the ME will see any reason to order an autopsy," said Dr. Mittington. "I could ask him to, if you really think it would show anything else...."
"No. No, I don't," House said abruptly. "Leave the file as it is."
I was touched; House would never have admitted it, but he wanted to spare the Wilson family unnecessary embarrassment too. I was glad we were letting the old man have his last hard-on in peace.
We returned to Jonathan's apartment at the end of the day and found Jon snoozing on the couch with a half-empty bottle of whiskey standing on the floor nearby, and Wilson looking dead on his feet. House produced Jon's bag and a duffel bag of clothes for Wilson and himself, including a couple of black ties. I didn't remember House taking anything from Wilson's apartment; he must have filled the duffel at his own apartment. Further proof that Wilson spent more time there than at his own place.
We updated Wilson on the day's events, including the Viagra revelation.
"I have to say I'm not at all surprised." Wilson rubbed his face as he tried to take it all in. "Uncle Al had a reputation as a bit of a lech as he got older."
"How do we find out who gave him the pills?" House got to the point.
"We need to find out what visitors Alfred had recently at the nursing home," I said.
"One of the staff there was a particular friend of his, we could ask her," Wilson suggested. "Her name's Henna. I talked to her this morning about funeral arrangements. She seemed very upset that he'd died. We can call her tomorrow."
"Funeral all sorted?" House asked.
"All done." Wilson nodded. "Viewing tomorrow evening at Dave and Scooter's funeral parlor, funeral service and burial the day after. Followed by a reception at the Harpoon Hotel next door."
"Dave and Scooter?" House said in a pained voice. "Is that what Henry ended up doing after I fired him? And what sort of name is that for a funeral parlor, anyway? You're sure you haven't arranged for Uncle Al to be buried in a gay bar?"
"They're very respectable and very eager-to-please funeral directors, House. And no, he's not your Scooter."
"My Scooter? It's you he calls when he wants to hang out."
I wasn't following any of this but figured it didn't matter. But I was a bit surprised at the very conventional Burg funeral arrangements that Wilson had described. "Shouldn't you be, um, sitting shiva or something?" I tried to remember what I could about Jewish funerals. I was pretty sure viewings weren't part of it.
"We're not the most religiously observant Jewish family in the world," said Wilson.
"Understatement of a lifetime," said House.
"But Alfred was an atheist and had been most of his life. His experiences in Europe when he was a young man there in the 1930s led him to the conclusion that there was no God." Wilson shrugged. "So, we're respecting that. He's having a secular funeral. Henna told me he liked going to viewings; he outlived all his contemporaries and he always looked forward to the idea he'd be laid out himself one day. He was pretty proud of how he looked for a hundred years old."
I wondered if Eyebrows Mattison might turn up at the funeral. I would have to go and see. I would take Grandma Mazur with me to the viewing, she was always up for those.
"Mom and Dad are still away, but they'll be back soon," Wilson continued. "Jon spoke to them this afternoon, told them what happened. Their boat docks tomorrow morning so they'll try and make it to the viewing in the evening, but even if not they should definitely be here for the funeral on Saturday."
"Well, if that's all done for today, you hungry?" House looked at Wilson through hopeful blue eyes.
"Yeah. But I said I'd stay in and cook tonight for Jon, after being out at the Monster Trucks last night. You could join us?" Wilson sounded equally hopeful.
"You don't actually want blood on the carpet in here." House deliberately turned away from Wilson's look of disappointment. "Boba Babe, let's go eat. FatGirl recommended Cluck-in-a-Bucket, how about it?"
We went to Cluck-in-a-Bucket and ate fried chicken. But House was unusually quiet. I figured the disappointment on Wilson's face was staying with him.
Next day Wilson called to say that he and Jon had to go see Dave and Scooter about laying out Alfred, so House and I set off for the nursing home on our own.
Uncle Al's friendly caregiver, Henna, was on the front desk. She had curly red hair and a large smile. I recognized her; she'd been in the same year as my sister Valerie at school.
She recognized me too. "Hey, Stephanie! Good to see you. It's been a while. How's Valerie?"
"She's good. You heard she got married again?"
We chatted for a bit, then I introduced her to House and explained we wanted to ask about Alfred Zinman.
"You were one of his caregivers, right?" I asked.
"Yeah. Poor old man. Senile most of the time. But such a character, so interesting, when he was lucid."
"Did he have any visitors?" I tried to remember when Eyebrows had come out of jail. Not long ago. "Recently--in the last week or so?"
"The guy with the eyebrows?" Henna asked.
House and I both froze for a few seconds.
"Black eyebrows and gray hair? That's him," I eventually managed to say, keeping my voice light and casual. "When did he visit?"
"Last weekend. I remember because I had my evening class. And the guy with the eyebrows showed up past visiting hours, but Mr. Zinman didn't get a lot of visitors so it would have been a shame to turn him away. He didn't stay that long, though." Henna thought about it. "Fifteen minutes, maybe?"
"Did Mr. Zinman say anything about him afterwards?"
"A little, yeah." Henna frowned. "It was a bit strange, really, I went to settle him in for the night before I went off to my class. He was in good form, lucid, chatting away. I asked if he'd had a good time with his visitor and he chuckled and winked, and said, oh yeah, and thanks to him I'm expecting to have the best time I've had in years. I assumed he meant his visitor would come see him again, which was nice...."
House and I exchanged glances; Al had meant he was expecting a good time with the Viagra.
"So I asked if he was an old friend," Henna continued. "And Al said, no, he wanted some information but I don't have it any more. All I could tell him was that I gave it away years ago to my twin great-nephews, half each...."
House visibly tensed, and I was excited. This was why Eyebrows was stalking Jonathan; he was after this information, whatever it was!
"Did he say what kind of information it was, anything at all?" I asked.
"No," Henna said regretfully, and House and I let out simultaneous gasps of frustration.
"So near and yet so fucking far!" House picked up his cane and thumped it on the floor.
"Sorry." Henna was apologetic. "That's really all he said about it. Perhaps you can ask the twin great-nephews? I'm not sure who they are."
Jonathan and long-lost brother David. I supposed we could ask one of them.
We pressed her a little, but got nothing more. I thanked her, and we drove straight to Jonathan's apartment and relayed Henna's news to him and Wilson.
"Uncle Al said he gave me and David some information?" Jonathan looked genuinely perplexed. "I have no idea what the fuck he was talking about."
House huffed in annoyance. "Think, you moron! This is the only way we're going to get Eyebrows Mattison off your back!"
"Calling me a moron is not going to help me remember!" Jonathan shouted.
"Guys, shut up," Wilson said wearily.
Jonathan thought some more, but couldn't come up with anything. Eventually I left House with Wilson and Jonathan, saying I'd see them later at the viewing. I went along to my parents' house for lunch and to ask Grandma Mazur if she wanted to come along to the viewing this evening.
"Who's up?" Grandma asked.
"Alfred Zinman. He was a hundred years old."
"I think he played bridge with Elsie Drinkhorn," said Grandma. "I'm on. Hundred years old, he deserves a good crowd."
My next stop was to see Morelli at the police station.
"Can you check these out for me?" I handed him the pills, and explained briefly where they'd come from. "I think Eyebrows gave these to Alfred Zinman. Is it possible to tell if they came from Eyebrows' stash?"
"I'll ask." Morelli ruffled my hair. "Bob misses you, by the way."
Bob was Morelli's dog. Bob only missed me because he missed edible things lying around my apartment. "Does that mean you want me to come around to your place tonight? It might be awkward, I have to go to a viewing."
"Actually, I've just done a double shift, I'm going off duty now. If you're free, Cupcake?" said Morelli, a glint in his dark eyes.
I figured I was free.
When I picked Grandma up that evening, I found her clad in her full Goth glory. As well as the black top and collar necklace, she was wearing a short black skirt, fishnet stockings and high boots. My mother didn't say anything; I thought gin was just about holding her together in one piece.
"It's good these boots come up so high, they hide my varicose veins," Grandma said, settling into the Buick. "All this black is very suitable to wear to a viewing, don't you think?"
"Couldn't be more appropriate," I said.
There was a very decent crowd out for Alfred Zinman, and Scooter had baked a ton of cookies for the occasion. That hundred year mark apparently did draw the masses after all.
As well as James and Jonathan, there were other Wilson family members to meet. I was hoping to see what their Mom and Dad were like, but was sorry to hear they weren't yet back in Trenton. Jonathan's two sets of twin daughters were there, though. The younger girls, Corinna and Dolores, were small and spent most of the time running around the funeral parlor playing while their mom, Mimi, had acrimonious discussions with their dad about alimony. The older girls, Amanda and Brianna, had traveled down from New York. They were tall and glamorous and House openly drooled when they walked in the door.
"They got the good Wilson family genes," he said.
Grandma and I stocked up on chocolate chip cookies and went to pay our respects to the dead man. Scooter had laid Alfred Zinman out very nicely in a smart gray suit, and he looked stately and noble but very old indeed. His eyes were hollow in his face, and his neatly folded hands were each one big wrinkle.
"What I want to know, is he lying in that casket with a hard-on?" Grandma asked.
"Well, he'd taken Viagra when he died, right? And bodies go stiff after death, don't they? I thought maybe if it was closed casket then that might be why. But it's not."
Just as well, or Grandma would have been crowbarring the lid off. "How do you know he'd taken Viagra?"
Grandma looked surprised. "Everybody knows. Agnes Welthorpe told me, her sister lives in the same nursing home and she said one of the staff there saw blue tablets by the bed. Hundred years old, I guess you need a little chemical help for that kind of thing."
"Well, don't spread it around," I said, knowing if it was Burg gossip, it was hopeless. So much for Dr. Mittington's efforts to shield the family from embarrassment.
Later I spent some time talking with Amanda and Brianna. They were fun companions with tales of life in the fashion industry in New York. They behaved the way you think twins would act, taking pleasure in finishing each others' sentences and anticipating opinions.
"So, did you know Uncle Al?" Brianna asked me.
"No. I'm here with your Uncle James, and House," I explained.
"Uncle Greg." Amanda giggled as Brianna dug her in the ribs.
"You call him Uncle Greg?" I was intrigued.
"Well, it's just our little joke really," Brianna explained. "We've known House all our lives."
"But it's never been more appropriate, too," said Amanda.
I decided to come right out with it and ask. "Because... they're in a relationship together?"
The twins looked surprised, then glanced at each other.
"Well, yeah." Brianna was cautious.
"But not many people know that," Amanda clarified.
"It's not a secret exactly, they just haven't told many people yet."
"Like Grandma and Grandpa, on the cruise. They don't know."
"We guessed years ago," said Brianna. "But Uncle James only told Dad what, last year? And Dad only told us officially on the phone yesterday."
"He said we ought to know, as we were coming home for this funeral. Dad...," Amanda's voice trailed away. "Well, he wasn't very nice about it."
"Dad's never liked House, not as long as we can remember." Brianna lamented.
"But we think they're adorable together," Amanda hastened to say. "Uncle James and Uncle Greg, I mean."
We all looked across the room. House and Wilson were standing next to each other, heads bent, talking to each other. They weren't touching--I still hadn't seen them touch, not once, apart from when Wilson had been treating House after the pistol-whipping. But they were close. I still thought it was very subtle, but I could see it now.
There was a sudden flurry of commotion from near the casket. I spun around to see Grandma Mazur standing there, looking far too demure. I hurried over. Dave Nelson, the funeral director, was glaring at her.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Your mad grandmother started feeling up the corpse!" Dave rolled his eyes, and left her in my custody. He'd tangled with Grandma before. Fortunately he'd previously been a wrestler and was usually able to cope with her.
I whispered to Grandma, "What did you do?"
"House wanted to make sure that Uncle Al wasn't going to the grave with any papers in his coffin," Grandma explained. "I said I'd check. I managed to feel his jacket pockets and his pants pockets, nothing at all, then I thought I'd just check out that hard-on. Some woman saw and told on me."
I sighed and figured it could have been worse. It had been a lot worse in the past. "Okay, so there weren't any papers, we can let him be buried in peace tomorrow."
Much later, almost everybody had gone. The casual crowd had drifted away and most of the family too. Amanda and Brianna had left to go to a hotel; Mimi had taken Corinna and Dolores home. On the other side of the room, Wilson was talking to Dave and Scooter about arrangements for the next day.
I was standing with House when Jonathan drifted up, morose and clearly drunk.
"Fun fucking funeral this is going to be tomorrow," Jonathan said. "A couple of queer funeral directors in charge, would you believe it. Mimi intent on screwing me for money. A psycho trigger-happy criminal with weird eyebrows on the loose. And as if that wasn't enough, a faggot relationship in the family on view for the world to see."
There was a few seconds of silence, then House said very quietly, "I don't care if your uncle's died, your marriage is down the tubes and your life's in mortal danger. I'm not taking shit like that."
"Oh yeah?" Jon turned an alcohol-slowed head towards House. "What're you going to do about it?"
House paused for thought, then said deliberately, "I don't have to do anything. I think that now you're well on the way to matching your brother's three divorces, you're scared that you're more like him than you realized. You're afraid you're going to wake up one morning and find you've been in a closet all these years--"
Jon swung a fist, just as he had done at Wilson's apartment a few days before. House ducked sideways enough to avoid contact, but his cane slipped a little and he fell against a table with a crash.
Wilson was across the room like lightening, to find House sprawled on the floor and Jonathan standing over him with a death glare.
"What the hell is going on?" Wilson demanded. "Jon, you hit House? He got pistol whipped only two days ago, he's got a head injury!"
"Never touched him," Jon snapped.
"Not for the want of trying." House bit back.
It was obvious that neither of them was going to repeat what they'd said in front of Wilson. Wilson looked from one to the other for a few seconds, then shook his head in exasperation. "Please try and get on, you two. Just for one more day, for the funeral tomorrow. Please?"
Neither Jon nor House answered, but Jon reached out a hand, and House took it to haul himself to his feet.
I dropped Grandma at my parents' house, then headed home with House. Halfway there, House asked, "You going to the funeral service tomorrow?"
"Yes, I thought I could sit at the back and keep an eye out for Eyebrows Mattison," I explained. There'd been no sign of him tonight.
"Yeah. Someone should." House lapsed into silence, then a minute later said abruptly, "I'll sit at the back with you. Wilson doesn't want me up front with the family, it'll embarrass them."
I was surprised. "He said that?"
"No. He wouldn't. But that's what he's thinking." House stared into the distance, his blue eyes dulled.
The next morning, House and I turned up at the funeral shortly before it was due to begin, to find a reasonable crowd of people milling around. There was a small family group standing at the front of the hall. Wilson, Jonathan, Mimi, all four of Jonathan's daughters, and a couple I hadn't seen before. Older than my own parents, but younger than Grandma Mazur, the man was tall with slightly floppy brown hair that showed no signs of receding, and the woman was gray haired and matronly. Luke and Nancy, Wilson's parents.
Wilson saw us and broke from the pack.
"Thanks for coming, Stephanie," he said. "Let's hope Eyebrows Mattison isn't hanging around anywhere."
"No sign of him," I said.
Wilson looked at House. "Come and say hi to Mom and Dad. It's been a while since you last saw them, hasn't it?"
"Later," House said, very gruffly. "I'm gonna hang out the back here with Boba Babe."
Wilson looked puzzled for a few seconds, then disappointed. "What--why--" He gestured helplessly. "You don't want to sit up front with my family? Since when?"
"I'm not part of your family." House bit the words out.
"I was right there on the front row with you and your Mom at your father's funeral!" Wilson's tone was hurt.
"Oh please." House snorted. "Of course you were. Everybody knew I wouldn't have gone at all if you hadn't dragged me there kicking and screaming. This is different; you need to be with your Mom and Dad and your brother. It would just be embarrassing to have me there too."
Wilson frowned. "Since when do you care what people think? You don't think... you don't think I don't want you there, do you? You don't think I'm embarrassed by you?"
House was silent, and I thought he wasn't going to reply. But then he said quietly, "Well, considering you haven't even told your Mom and Dad yet...."
Wilson froze. "So that's what this is about." He paused, then said, "This is so not the time to be having this conversation."
"Indeed." House was cold. "It never is. Go sit with your Mom."
But Wilson lingered. "Look, House, you know I'm going to tell them. I've only put it off because Jonathan took it so badly--"
"Of course he took it badly, he's an intolerant homophobic bastard!" House's voice rose. Wilson flinched. House took a deep breath, and repeated, "Go sit with your Mom."
Wilson cast an imploring glance at House, then turned and walked away to rejoin his family.
House and I slid into the back row of seats.
About five minutes into the service, the side door opened and a man walked in and sat alone in the back row. He chose the very corner seat, as far away from everybody else as possible. House glanced sideways at the newcomer while tugging fretfully at his tie, and I saw House's hand freeze on the knot.
I turned to look. The newcomer was wearing a shabby coat and pants, and the sole was coming away from one of his shoes; down on his luck, a homeless person, I guessed. But his face was oddly familiar, with a set to the jaw a little like Wilson's, and brown hair and eyes very much like Wilson's.
As I looked, I realized it wasn't Wilson that this man most resembled. It was Jonathan. They were almost identical.
Which meant this had to be the long-lost twin brother, David.
Chapter 6: Welcome to the Wilson Family Reunion
After a while, David couldn't help but become aware of our scrutiny. He glanced across at us, then stood up and edged out the door. House grabbed his cane straight away and followed him from the hall. I went too, not wanting to miss a thing.
I thought we might find David a speck in the distance down the road but no, he was standing a few feet outside the door and fumbling in his shirt pocket. He pulled out a single cigarette and a box of matches, and lit the cigarette, shielding the flame carefully from the wind.
"Spare one of those?" House was offhand.
David glanced at him, and said in a throaty voice, rather like Jonathan's but hoarser, "Bumming a cigarette off a bum?"
"I have no shame," House said, straight.
David grinned a little at that, his smile reminding me of Brother James. He dug in his pocket again and produced another cigarette. House took it, and David lit it from the glowing end of his own cigarette.
"Cheers." House took a long drag, and said ultra-casually, "You're David Wilson."
"And you're Greg House," David batted back, and House's mouth formed an O of surprise. David looked at me. "And you?"
"I'm Stephanie Plum," I said. "I'm helping your family with some stuff."
"How do you know who I am?" House looked like he didn't want to ask, but couldn't help it.
"I'm psychic," David said, blowing out a lungful of smoke. "Or just a lucky guess. I've only heard of one cripple hanging around the family. Friend of James for the last twenty-odd years, right?"
"Yeah." House still looked surprised. He drew thoughtfully on his own cigarette and tapped ash on the ground. "But how do you know? You left home when James was still little boy Jimmy in high school, right?"
"You got it." David scattered ash in a small circle. "Look, I don't want to meet them, alright? I just wanted to see old Uncle Al off. I was gonna leave now and walk to the memorial park, watch the burial if I can get there in time. You wanna come with me--give me a lift?"
"We'll come with you," House replied to David without hesitation, and the three of us headed towards the Buick.
The memorial park was a little way out of Trenton. It would have taken David at least half an hour to walk it. In the car we were there in ten minutes. We would have a while to wait before the mourners arrived. I avoided the main parking lot and put the Buick outside around a corner.
Once there, it was clear that David had scoped out the place beforehand. He headed towards a secluded spot, surrounded by trees, but with a reasonable view of the empty plot awaiting Alfred Zinman. There was an old bench there, long forgotten and half decayed; David sat down on one end, and House prodded it cautiously with his cane before entrusting his weight to the other. I stayed standing.
"So, how are Jon and James?" David asked, settling himself down on the bench.
"They're fine." House obviously didn't want to go into Eyebrows Mattison's mysterious vendetta right now. "What about you, oh long lost brother David? Why have you turned up here after all these years, if you don't want to see your family? And how did you know about this funeral anyway?"
"You ask a lot of questions, don'cha? One of nursing home staff got a message to me. She doesn't know my real name. I used to visit Uncle Al sometimes. Once, maybe twice a year." David stared out into the graveyard. "Henna's a good girl, always friendly to me."
"You visited Uncle Al?" I was fascinated.
"Yeah. He was alright." David kept staring out. "Never judged me, never ratted me out to Mom and Dad. And he didn't see much of the family himself either, he just got the big news--births, weddings, deaths. It was hard the last few years though, he got much more senile and he didn't always recognize me or remember stuff."
"So, old Uncle Al was your link back home," House marveled. "I'll be damned."
"We got on. He kind of had his own lost brother; our grandfather, died in Belsen. Uncle Al met you a couple of times, I think, House?" David looked at House through brown eyes which were bloodshot but sharp.
"Yeah," House said slowly. "At the odd ghastly Wilson family occasion. Jimmy's numerous weddings, for example."
"You always amused Uncle Al," David's mouth crinkled into a smile. "You always seemed to be there, through all the marriages and other crap going on. I remember him telling me how Jon punched you in the nose at Jimmy's first wedding. That was funny shit."
"Yeah. Hilarious." House's tone was dry but he grinned a little too, then returned to the interrogation. "So, Uncle Alfred didn't judge you. Didn't judge you about what? Why did you leave home?"
"Mom and Dad kicked me out when I was nineteen," David said simply. "Told me never to darken their doors again. Jimmy never tell you about it?"
"No." House flung out a frustrated arm. "Sometimes I think he doesn't know either."
"Maybe he doesn't." David shifted a little on the bench. "I guess we'll be hanging around here for a while, if you want the story. You're practically part of the family, right?"
Sore spot. House didn't answer, and David didn't miss that.
"I'd like to know," I ventured.
"She's the hired help," House said. "Bound by client confidentiality, probably."
"If it's a secret, I won't tell anyone," I said.
"It's no secret." David snorted. "Least, I don't give a damn. Mom and Dad might. Fuck 'em, eh."
House looked at David. "Come on then, don't keep us in suspense. Spill."
David leaned back against the bench, which let out a rather threatening creak. He frowned for a few seconds, apparently gathering his thoughts, coughed to clear his throat, and began.
"When Jon and me were kids, we went to a camp one summer. Live in the wilderness, build tents, make fires, that kind of shit. There were a lot of kids there, different ages, and not as much adult supervision as there should've been."
That sounded ominous. David's brown eyes went blank as he continued, "Three eighteen-year-olds thought it was fun to pick up a pair of eleven-year-old twin boys, feed us vodka and weed until we were practically senseless, and do what the hell they wanted with us in this small stuffy tent all weekend."
He paused. House was sitting absolutely still and I barely dared breathe myself.
"We never told anyone. Neither of us wanted to deal with whatever crap would follow. We just wanted to pretend it never happened. Except it had, and to make a long story short, Jon dealt with it by staying drunk and I dealt with it by staying high. On and off through the rest of our teens."
House was looking right at David, concentrating hard.
"Mom and Dad despaired of both of us, but I was the real bad boy." David's tone was matter-of-fact. "Jon could control the drinking when he really tried, they could live with the occasional vanishing whiskey bottle, and hey, so he liked a few drinks, so what? While I was smoking pot until practically catatonic... and then other stuff. I'm a poster boy for drug progression. Stealing money, shoplifting, all that shit. Maybe I'd have still ended up a cokehead and Jon a lush anyway, even if it hadn't happened. Thing is...," His voice trailed away, and then he asked, "Why the fuck am I telling you all this, anyway?"
"It helps," I said. "You just lost Uncle Alfred. You need to share."
"I'm a doctor," said House. "Call it therapy. I'll be sending you a bill afterwards."
"Yeah, I'm good for that, you can tell." David swallowed, and when he spoke again his voice was much quieter. "Thing is, I had to live with something that Jon didn't. Red-blooded macho man Jon always knew those eighteen-year-old fuckers were sick and twisted perverts and he'd been a victim. While even aged eleven, I knew that girls didn't do it for me, it was boys."
House nodded, as if something had been confirmed that he'd suspected.
"And I gave myself hell thinking I'd provoked it somehow, sent a wrong signal somewhere, gotten into this nightmare and dragged Jon into it too. God, the guilt." David gave a humorless smile. "I know now I was way off track, those fucking bastards just wanted to have their kicks raping a couple of small boys for a weekend, and it made no difference. But it took me years to get this."
House said very quietly, "Does Wilson--Jimmy--know about this? The summer camp, I mean?"
David shook his head. "I never told him. I'd be amazed if Jon did. A couple of years later Mom and Dad were going to send Jimmy to that same camp. Me and Jon said fuck no, waste of time, and he didn't go. Poor little Jimmy thought we were spoiling his fun for the hell of it." David looked at me with an apologetic expression. "I was a bastard to my kid brother. I used to mooch his pocket money, steal his stuff to sell. Jon wouldn't take that kind of crap from me but Jimmy was an easy target, he wanted to help me, he made excuses for me."
"He's an enabler." House rubbed his chin, grazing knuckles against stubble.
"But then I found out that my dealer took blow jobs as well as cash. So from then on I could always get drugs, if I didn't mind getting fucked. I'm not proud of it, but I wanted drugs more than I cared about sex." David pulled out a cigarette, but didn't light it. "When you're an addict, drugs are what you live for and fuck everything else. You know they're screwing you up, but it's not as simple as just saying okay, I'll give it up, you know?"
"Yeah," said House. "I know."
"The day they kicked me out Mom and Dad were both at the end of their rope... I'd gone away to college but I'd more or less flunked out, was hanging on by the skin of my teeth. Jon was okay at the time and I was copying all his work." David stared at the cigarette between his grubby fingers, and when he next spoke, his voice was choked. "But the thing is, this is gonna sound corny, I'd fallen in love."
This was unexpected.
"Teenage love, how romantic!" House's voice dripped sarcasm. I glared at him, but David let out a short hoarse laugh.
"Think what you want. It was real to me. His name was Jed, he was a couple of years older than me, also flunking out, just as much of a cokehead as I was. We were living together in this piece of shit basement apartment, and God, I was actually happy."
"So what happened?" I asked.
David hesitated briefly, but he seemed to have got to a point where he couldn't stop, and it all came pouring out. "We'd gone out clubbing the night before and come back and crashed. Mom and Dad didn't warn me they were coming to visit, they walked in next morning and the place was a dump, beer cans everywhere, air stank of dope... A mirror on the table with a line on it... And we were both asleep in bed, naked... And the gay thing was a total shock to them. Dad slapped me awake and gave me hell, and he kept calling Jed--stuff--like he wasn't there hearing it... I told them I loved him, and Mom cried, and in the end Dad said you're not my son anymore. Don't you dare ever come home again. And I said fine, fuck you then, and that was that."
"And does Jimmy know about this?" House asked.
"I dunno what they told him, really. Jon was living down the street and Mom and Dad went straight there to tell him he didn't have a twin brother anymore. He came to see me, find out what happened. But I never saw Jimmy, he was back at home, would've only heard about it later, from Mom and Dad and Jon...." David nodded towards the burial.
We looked out through the trees; the funeral party had arrived. The casket was in the ground, and the mourners were gathering around. Luke and Nancy were there at the head of the grave; Jon next to them, with his grown-up daughters standing on each side of him.
Wilson was a few feet away and looking around at everyone else, shoulders hunched up in his jacket, his expression forlorn.
"He's wondering where we are," I said.
"He thinks I've ducked out and left him there," House's voice was neutral. "So, Davey boy. You fell out with your parents and both your brothers too?"
"I tried to stay in touch with Jon at first, but he wouldn't accept Jed." David stiffened a bit at the memory. "We met and he spent the whole time telling me that fucking other men was disgusting and I was sick... so in the end I said fuck you. I don't need a brother like you."
"Jon's an intolerant bastard," House said. "You'd have had better luck with James."
"He was just a kid at school. Five years younger than me. He couldn't possibly have understood, or done anything if he did." David looked closely at House, then said abruptly, "You're fucking him, aren't you?"
House stared for a minute, then said slowly, "Yes."
"Then Uncle Al owes me twenty bucks." David grinned. "Too bad he's not around to pay up."
"You took that news a helluva lot better than Brother Jonathan did," House said.
"Surprise surprise. Mom and Dad don't know?"
"No." House was quiet.
"Don't be too hard on James," David said unexpectedly. "Bear in mind what happened the last time one of his brothers came out."
"Chucked out of the family and never seen again." House's voice was barely a whisper.
"Jon is an intolerant bastard, but I don't blame him like I used to. The summer camp thing... Look," David said abruptly. He put the unlit cigarette back in his pocket. "I think I could cope with meeting my brothers this afternoon. Just for a short chat. But I don't wanna see Mom and Dad. You gonna help me?"
House looked at me, his blue eyes fierce. "Make it so, Obi-wan."
I thought quickly. "There's a reception now at the Harpoon Hotel down the road, isn't there? The Harpoon has a big garden, and there's a gazebo at one end. It's always quiet, you can't see it from the hotel or anything."
The glass-enclosed gazebo, an old fashioned summerhouse, was used for small private parties on the edge of the property. I remembered it well; my Aunt Trixie and Uncle Tim had had their wedding reception at the Harpoon, and cousin Peter had been caught in there with his hand up one of the bridesmaid's skirts.
"And?" House demanded.
"We can go on ahead, get there now. And House, you could go to the reception and bring Jon and James out to the gazebo without anyone noticing?"
"Excellent idea, with one minor change; I'll wait there with Brother David and you can go get the Brothers J from the reception," House said.
We sneaked away from the trees and headed out of the memorial park, down the road to the Harpoon Hotel.
"What happened to Jed?" I asked as we walked, ignoring House's eye-roll.
"He died a long time ago," David was matter-of-fact. "He was HIV-positive when I met him. I'm not," he added quickly. "Fuck knows why not, actually, but I escaped it."
"Fascinating life you've led," House said. "Hold me back, I want to be you."
"Swap you anytime, bum leg n'all," David said. "I crashed really badly after Jed died. I wouldn't believe he had died for the longest time... I kept seeing him, he kept on talking to me. I just got fucking furious that nobody else could see him or hear him, it got me into trouble over and over--"
House abruptly stopped walking, so David and I stopped too.
House stared hard at David and said, "You're schizophrenic."
"And you're a diagnostic genius, right?" David started to walk again.
"Your family know you're a schizo?" House followed him.
"No. It only came on after Jed died." David kept walking, looking at the ground.
"Textbook," House said. "Child abuse, drug addiction, smoking, psychological adversity over sexual identity, chucked out of the family. And a stressful life event, the loss of a loved one, to trigger it."
"Fuck you. I'm on meds now, have been for a while."
"Yeah, or you wouldn't be here. You haven't always taken them or you wouldn't be homeless." House sounded confident.
"Tom does his best to shove pills down my throat when he has to." David layered on one final surprise for us as we arrived outside the Harpoon Hotel.
House looked at me, a wry smile just crinkling the corners of his mouth, and I led the way down the driveway.
The Harpoon was a large slightly shabby hotel with a decent sized function room, which due to its location near the memorial park did a roaring trade in post-funeral drinks and parties. We bypassed the hotel and headed out to the garden in the back. The gazebo was empty, as I'd hoped. It was a small bare building, large glass windows in peeling painted wooden frames, with a metal table and chairs.
David looked all around carefully before sitting down. House plumped himself down too.
"I see my father coming, I'm leaving," David warned me. "Even if I go out through the back window."
"I'll be careful," I said.
House looked at David meditatively and said, "When I was nine, I went through a plate glass window rather than face my father when he was angry...."
I would have loved to have heard more, but my cell rang. I looked at the screen; Morelli. "Hello?"
"Hey, Cupcake. I have some information," Morelli said, and I could tell he was excited although his tone was level. "I managed to have a chat with someone at the prison who knew Eyebrows Mattison. A guy called Bugsy."
"Bugsy's been in jail ten years, but he's due to be released soon. When he heard Eyebrows had a Viagra stash outside, he wanted some. But he didn't have a lot of money, so one of the things he bartered for blue pills was a key."
"A key? Like, to open a door?"
"Yeah. Except in this case, to open a safe deposit box. Turned out Bugsy got this key twenty years ago from an old pal of his called Alfred Zinman." Morelli was triumphant. "Al was going into a nursing home and needed some quick cash at the time to tide over some unexpected bills; Bugsy was kind enough to lend him some money, and got the key as security. Bugsy says it opens a box in a bank in Washington DC in which Al kept everything he had of value, but it's no good on its own; as well as the key you need a security code. Fourteen digits long."
Wow. Finally we were getting to the bottom of this.
"Now Bugsy had the key, but not the code," Morelli continued. "He didn't worry about it because as long as he had the key, Al couldn't empty the box. Over the years Al paid him back most of what he'd borrowed bit by bit, but then Bugsy got sent to prison and lost touch with Al. Bugsy held onto the key anyway, until he figured he wasn't ever going to bother following it up. He thought Al must be dead by now and the security code lost forever. But he told Eyebrows the story, and apparently Eyebrows figured it was worth taking the key now and trying to get the code later on."
"Right." This was very exciting. "What's in the box?"
"Bugsy claims not to know. Alfred set it up forty years ago when he retired; the contents are whatever personal possessions he had that he didn't want to sell or trust anyone to look after for him. Bugsy can't have thought there was much in there, or he wouldn't have given up on it. But I think he talked it up for Eyebrows, to barter the key. Bugsy told Eyebrows that Al was a Holocaust survivor, maybe suggested he had gold smuggled out under the noses of the Nazis or something." I heard someone shout Morelli! in the background down the phone. "Gotta go, Cupcake. Talk to you later."
I rang off and told House what Morelli had said.
"Breakthrough," said House. "About fucking time the police actually helped with this."
"What the hell is all this about Uncle Al?" David asked, perplexed.
"Let's recap, for the benefit of ourselves and Brother David here." House sat back in his chair. "God, I need my whiteboard. And my staff. I suppose you two will have to do."
"Eyebrows Mattison is a criminal in jail for dealing in black market Viagra," I began. "He gets hold of a key, which is Uncle Al's old safe deposit box key. As soon as Eyebrows is out of jail, he finds out that Al is still alive after all, and goes to see him to find out the security code. And he bribes Alfred with what he's got, which is Viagra."
"So the old man takes the pills--bad move. But he's senile and his memory's shot to hell, so he doesn't remember the code anymore. He does remember that he gave it to his twin great-nephews, years ago," House continued. "Twin nephews, that sound familiar, oh twin-David? Eyebrows must have pretty pissed that Al couldn't tell him the code. Maybe he found out Al had a heart condition, maybe he thought there was a chance that the Viagra would shut him up forever. And then Eyebrows finds out that as far as anyone knows David is long since AWOL."
"So he starts stalking Jonathan, breaking into all the places Jon's been recently, looking for some kind of ancient bank account details. This actually makes sense," I said. "So what might be in this safe deposit box?"
"You got me," said David. "Anyway, sorry to screw up your story, but I don't have any safe deposit code. Don't even have a bank account."
"You need to discuss it with Jonathan, jog each other's memories." House rubbed his hands together. "Okay, Boba Babe, go get the Fabulous J Brothers."
I hurried off up towards the hotel. I found the reception in full swing, with waitresses handing out drinks and bringing small platters of tiny quiches and mini-sausages on sticks. I managed to grab a handful of the mini-sausages, it had been a long time since breakfast. I ate one and found it had been dipped in honey. Lula would approve.
Most of the mourners were there, straight from the burial. Luke and Nancy Wilson were in the middle of things. I found James and Jonathan together in a corner and managed to collar them.
"Stephanie!" Wilson greeted me with relief. "Do you know where House is? I couldn't see him at the burial, I was getting worried."
"He's fine." I was quick to reassure. "We just met someone, that's all. Look, can you two come with me for a few minutes, without anyone missing you?"
They both obviously thought Eyebrows Mattison had popped up again, and followed me quietly outside and down the garden.
"So what's happened?" Jon asked as we approached the summerhouse. Then, "Fucking hell! David!"
"Oh my God," Wilson said, covering his mouth.
They both hesitated outside the gazebo, as if going in might cause their long-lost brother to vanish again, so I went in first and they followed. David was sitting perched on the very edge of a chair, as if he might need to flee at any second. House, in contrast, was relaxed in another chair, savoring the upcoming moment.
"My name's Greg House and I'm your host for tonight," House proclaimed, holding aloft an imaginary mike. "Welcome to the Wilson family reunion."
All was awkward chaos for the next few minutes. Wilson was full of exclamations and questions, Jon went very gruff as if fighting back tears, and House was plainly having the time of his life.
In the middle of it all, my cell rang. It was Ranger. "Hey," I said.
"Babe." Ranger's tone was level, but he was obviously as pleased as Morelli had been earlier. "We've got him."
I was suddenly thrilled. "Eyebrows?"
"The same. I had all RangeMan employees keeping an eye out for him, and he was seen this morning near the office of Jonathan Wilson's law firm. I turned up with reinforcements, and we caught him breaking in. He's unconscious, handcuffed and in my car right now."
It was over! I was relieved, and I actually knew what to ask next. "Ranger, Eyebrows should have a key. A safe deposit box key. Can you check if he's got it on him?"
"Will do. There's someone here to speak to you," Ranger added, and next minute Lula was on the line.
"Hot dang," she said. "Tank stayed over at my place last night, got the 911 page from Ranger this morning and when I heard where he was going I said I'm coming too."
I remembered that Eyebrows had shot Tank in the chest in the past. "I guess Tank was eager to get Eyebrows."
"Yeah. I was hoping to pistol whip ol' Brows, but Tank and Ranger wouldn't let me in the building. Anyway, I kinda accidentally bumped into Brows when they brought him out, and he fell against my stun gun. Whaddya know, it went off and he got it in the crotch, unlucky fella." Lula paused. "Tell Gimpy that was from me, right?"
"Will do," I said, and then Ranger was back.
"Got it," he reported. "Small brass key, looks old. Eyebrows had it in his wallet."
"Keep it safe, that's the key to it all," I said.
"I'll hide it somewhere on my person. You can find out where tonight," Ranger said, a suggestive smile in his voice, and rang off.
House was looking at me expectantly. I said, "Ranger's got Eyebrows in custody, and he's got the key."
"Excellent!" House clapped his hands together sharply and glared around the gazebo. Everyone stopped talking and looked at him.
"Enough of the heartwarming family reconciliation." House stood up, picked up his cane and leaned on it. He looked from David to Jonathan and back again. "Rack your brains, both of you. Uncle Alfred gave you some information at some point, and we now know what it was: a fourteen digit security code."
"No way. I'd remember anything like that," said Jon.
"And we also know it was probably forty years ago, when he retired and set up the box," House continued.
"Forty years ago! We were just kids," Jon protested.
David's weathered fingers twitched as if holding an invisible cigarette. "You trust my memory from forty years ago? Fuck, I'm not even sure if all this is real."
"He gave you a paper to look after, perhaps?" House pressed. "Guard this with your tiny lives? Don't tell any of the grown-ups, this is a secret between us?"
"Would it have been written down?" I asked. "If he wanted to keep it quiet, maybe he just asked you to remember something. And he probably didn't say anything about a safe deposit box or a bank. Perhaps he just said, can you remember a number?"
Jackpot. Jon jumped and David sat still.
"It was summer, we were sitting out in the garden around by his house," Jon said.
"Jimmy was there too, playing on the lawn." David shut his eyes and frowned in concentration. "He had a kangaroo ball--big orange thing. It was sunny."
"I don't remember," Wilson said mildly to House.
"You were a toddler," House said. "You're forgiven."
"Uncle Al had asked if we knew our home phone number, so we said of course we did, and we recited it to him. And Mom and Dad's work phone numbers, too," David reminisced.
"And then he said, guys, can you remember these numbers for me?" Jon took up the story. "And he taught us these two phone numbers, one each."
"You remember them?" House asked swiftly.
Both Jon and David frowned. "Not really," Jon admitted. "The first bit, yeah. Mine was 375."
"Mine could've begun 394, or maybe 349," David was slow. "It did start with a three. No idea what the last four numbers were."
"I might recognize them if I heard them," said Jon.
"You want us to start spouting random sets of numbers at you?" House was exasperated.
"He didn't say whose phone numbers these were supposed to be?" I asked.
David and Jonathan both nodded with an identical head movement. "But it was a joke, we laughed about it," Jon explained. "He pointed to Jimmy playing on the lawn and said these were our brother's future phone numbers."
That didn't make any sense. Wilson looked perplexed.
"What exactly did he say?" House probed. "What words did he use?"
David and Jonathan looked at each other. "'These numbers are for your brother, the future Dr. James E. Wilson'," David spoke with unexpected clarity, as if a light had suddenly shone on a dark recess in his mind.
House looked pained. "The future doctor?"
"Family joke. We were all gonna be lawyers and doctors when we grew up." There was an ironic edge to David's voice. His brothers both looked a little uncomfortable.
That still didn't make sense. Dr. James E. Wilson. Funny way for Uncle Al to refer to his little nephew Jimmy. Unless there was a reason for it. Dr. J.... A phone number. I pulled out my cell and looked at the dial.
"Jon, you said your number started 375?" I asked.
"Yeah. I think so." Jon was cautious.
"Try not to get run over by a bus until we write it down," House said snappily. "What's your point, Boba Babe?"
"Dr. J. If you dial it on a phone, it would be 375." I held up my cell. It had the standard letters next to each number. 2 = ABC, 3 = DEF and so on, to 9 = WXYZ.
"Jesus Christ almighty!" House brought his fist down on the table with a crash. "Dr James E Wilson. Fourteen letters. Dr James translates in numbers to 375-2637--"
"That does sound right," Jon exclaimed.
"And E Wilson to 394-5766," House concluded.
David shrugged. "Dunno, but it could be."
"Uncle Al took his youngest nephew's name and prescribed vocation, made it into two phone numbers for his security code, and taught the numbers to his oldest nephews," House marveled. "What a fucking stupid thing to do!"
But Wilson looked as delighted as I felt. "House, it's a terrific thing to do!"
"It's cute," I chipped in.
House snorted. "It would be even cuter if he'd actually told someone about it instead of making us sit here working our asses off."
"Now where would be the fun in that, House," Wilson said, still smiling.
We talked for a few minutes more. I double-checked the numbers on my cell and wrote them down. House initially asked for my lipstick again, apparently ready to scrawl them across the gazebo windows, but Wilson had a pen and notepad in his pocket.
Then David levered himself to his feet. "I'm gonna go."
"Already?" Jon said, his tone dismayed.
"Any minute now Mom or Dad will be out looking for you two." David was matter-of-fact. "You should get back to the party. And I've gotta go anyway. Tom's expecting me back at the shelter."
Tom. Wilson and Jonathan both opened their mouths, but neither of them said anything. House looked at me and we both shrugged a little.
"David, can we keep in touch this time?" Jon asked, and there was a pleading note in his voice I hadn't heard before. He swallowed and added, "We could meet--Tom?"
"I'd like that," Wilson said immediately.
David looked down and shuffled his feet a little bit. "We're staying at the rescue mission on Carroll Street, alright? We'll probably be there a couple of days. If not, you can leave messages for me there, that's what Uncle Al used to do." He paused, then added, "They know me as Schizo Dave."
That silenced Wilson, who looked his newly found brother up and down with a doctor's concern, but Jon piped up, "I'll just walk out to the road with you."
"Aw, ain't it sweet, brotherly love," House said.
David raised a single finger at House, tempered it with an unexpectedly sweet smile, and left. Jon was about to follow, when Wilson grabbed his hand and pushed a wad of notes into it, hissing, "Make him take it."
Jon nodded, curled his fist around the money, and headed out after David.
"Well, wasn't that just heartwarming," House said to Wilson. "You need to get back to the party. I'm going home with Boba Babe, catch you later."
"I want you to come say hi to Mom and Dad," Wilson said quietly.
"I don't," House said, quick as a shot.
"House," Wilson said simply, and they looked at each other for a minute. Eventually House puffed out an annoyed sigh, and followed Wilson up the garden. I trailed along behind.
Luke and Nancy were standing together in the middle of the function room, each holding a glass of wine. Wilson paused in the doorway, then reached out and put his hand on House's shoulder, tucking a finger underneath House's collar, stroking House's neck. It was the first time I'd seen them touch, properly.
"Wilson," House muttered, alarm in his voice. "You don't have to--"
"Actually, yes, I do." And Wilson propelled House across the room and up to his parents.
By the time they got to Luke and Nancy, Wilson had one arm around House's shoulders and the other hand resting on top of House's hand, the one holding his cane.
Jon came in the room at that moment and stopped next to me.
"Hey, Mom, Dad," Wilson said smoothly, and Luke and Nancy looked at him and House in surprise. "I just brought House over to say hello. We have to go now, but I wanted to tell you something--" Wilson gulped a little, but carried on, "I moved in with House a while ago. I've still got my old apartment, but not for much longer. I--I've been in a, uh, relationship with House for a long time now... a physical relationship... and I just wanted to let you know."
"Jimmy Wilson," House rasped, turning his head towards Wilson. "You never cease to surprise me."
Wilson smiled shakily back, then House and Wilson turned and left. They walked out of the room, bumping shoulders along the way. The parents stood staring after them with shell-shocked looks on their faces.
I peered out to see House stop walking a few paces outside the door. Wilson stopped too, right next to him, and then House pulled Wilson towards him, looping an arm around Wilson's waist, and they kissed. A proper, deep passionate kiss with tongues. It made me feel a bit gooey and think of the previous afternoon I'd had with Morelli.
Next to me, Jon said, "Here's to my faggot brothers and all of the other flaming fairies who hook up with them," grabbed a glass of wine from a passing tray, and downed it practically in one gulp.
A week later, Wilson called me. The nursing home had belatedly found a letter on file left behind by Uncle Al for his family. The letter had been written a few years ago; it said he had a safe deposit box in Washington DC, and named the bank, but added he was sorry to say that the key was long lost and that he hadn't kept a note of the code after he had taught it to Jon and David.
The family managed to locate and open the box, using Eyebrows' key and the numbers that we had figured out. They'd found a bunch of very old family photographs, jewelry and other memorabilia, some dating back to the 1930s. No fat wads of cash, but everything of incalculable value to the family.
The most treasured possession was a wedding ring that had belonged to Alfred's own long-lost brother, Wilson's grandfather, who had died in Belsen. Wilson's grandmother had gotten away early with other departing families, and her husband had given it to her to sell if necessary. She'd managed to hang onto it and given it to Al before she died, not long after the war. Wilson's Mom was very emotional at finding her father's ring.
I was able to tell Wilson that Eyebrows had gone back to jail for various charges, including armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. The charges were sticking this time, and it didn't look like he'd be getting out of jail anytime soon.
A year later, myself and Lula got invited to a civil union in the state of New Jersey. Grandma Mazur was thrilled at the idea of going to a civil union, so I ended up bringing her along to Princeton too.
All the Wilson family were there. Amanda and Brianna beaming their approval that 'Uncle Greg' was now officially their Uncle Greg; Luke and Nancy still looking just as shell-shocked as they had done at the reveal back at Uncle Alfred's funeral; Jon's nose was even redder than I remembered it being.
And David still looked down-at-the-heels but was dressed for the occasion, a lot more smartly than I had last seen him. I spoke to him before the ceremony and found he was sticking to his meds and now living at a halfway house, trying to get his life together. David was accompanied by another man who was introduced to us as Tom. Tom was a little older and scruffier than David, and stuck close to him.
We didn't manage to speak to House or Wilson before the ceremony, but met them at the reception afterwards.
"Congratulations!" I said. "That was a beautiful service."
"Glad you kissed," Grandma Mazur said. "I was really looking forward to that bit. Too bad we were sitting so far back, though, I couldn't see that well."
"Sorry to disappoint you, Grandma," House cast what could only be described as a lecherous look at his new spouse. "But no, you can't come on the honeymoon with us. And I was looking forward to seeing you in your Goth gear, but you've let me down."
"I thought this was more appropriate for a civil union," Grandma said brightly. She was wearing a smart jacket and skirt which my mother had approved. Mom hadn't seen the vintage T-shirt Grandma was sporting underneath, which was rainbow colored and said 'NO PROP 8'.
"You look great," Wilson reassured her, smiling.
"That's some wedding band you're wearing," Lula said to House. It was large and gold with a patina of small scratches, obviously well-used and antique. "Wilson, you too cheap to buy him something new?"
"It was my grandfather's," Wilson said simply. "From the deposit box. Mom said I could have it."
"And she knew who you were going to give it to," I said.
Wilson nodded, and House reached out to flick Wilson affectionately on the side of the head. Wilson swatted him back, then House slid an arm around Wilson's waist and nuzzled his shoulder.
"I've got my front row seat now," Grandma Mazur said. "Keep going."