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From The Dance

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Her name's Natalia, and she's a dancer. Russian.

Me, I think her name's Natalie and she's never been further east than Chicago, but what do I know?

The important thing is, Cody's hot for her -- has been since Murray decided we were uncultured and dragged us off to the ballet back in August -- so when we had to come to Chicago to follow up a lead, and it just so happened Natalia's company was playing, well naturally we had to go see the show again. And take her to lunch. And shopping, and sightseeing, what with her being Russian and all.

I love Cody, I really do, but his lovesick puppy act gets old real fast, for me.

She was pretty nice to him that night in L.A. and he came home shell-shocked and lovestruck. She was the first girl he'd been with in a while by my reckoning, and being exotic and kind of a celebrity, well, I got it.

Figured he'd forget her when her company left town, but he made phone calls, and two overnight trips to see her dance.

And now here we are in Chicago, me an' Murray cooling our heels outside some upmarket boutique while Cody helps Nat choose an outfit.

She doesn't like it when I call her Nat.

I figure that makes us square, because I don't like her at all. From her phony accent to her pert butt, to the too-high heels she wears off-duty, everything about the chick rubs me the wrong way.

Right now, Cody wants me and the Boz to get lost so he can take Nat back to the hotel and do the horizontal mamba. Thing is, she shares with half a dozen of the other girls, or so she says, so that means our room.

When that came up at lunch, I just sort of forgot how to take a hint.

Cody comes out of the shop, sits down between me and Murray. "Guys," he says, and runs a hand through his hair. "I was kind of hoping for some privacy, you understand?"

"Oh," says Murray, big-eyed and naive. "You want to be alone? Do you want me and Nick to take Natalia sightseeing for the rest of the afternoon? I have a guidebook right here and -- "

Cody covers his eyes with his hand and I put my hand on Murray's arm. Sometimes, you know, I think maybe it's all an act, because is this guy for real? But then, devious isn't his style. "Boz. Cody means privacy from us, you know?"

"But what about -- " Murray breaks off and blushes. "Oh."

Cody rubs his eyes and drops his hand. "You know what, forget it. Maybe -- maybe I'll just take her to the museum, okay? Like a date."

I relent and put my arm across his shoulders. "Do what you gotta do, big guy. Me an' Murray will go check out that aviation display, all right? The one with the computers. We won't come back until six, how does that sound?"

Cody looks at his watch, looks at the boutique, looks at me. I hope I'm smiling.

"I know we agreed," he says hesitantly, and that finds a real smile in me, a smile for him. The agreement he's talking about is a decade old or more. No girls in shared rooms.

"Listen," I say, and squeeze him a little. "We'll call it an exception. But maybe the shower, huh? You know?"

"I don't know," he says, and stands up. He won't look at me anymore. "Maybe we'll just go to the museum. I'll see you at six, boys."

The aviation display was probably real interesting. I'd been wanting to see it for months. But did I read one word in front of any of the displays? Or listen to one word of Murray's in-depth explanation of those old flight systems and their relationships to the computers of today?

No, I did not. Instead, I spent three hours imagining that piece of lying fake-Russian ass doing a number on my best friend.

I'm real good at imagining, turns out, and twice I had to go lock myself in the bathroom. Once to jack off.

So sue me.

He's hot, all right? An' I like to watch him, always have. Way back when, before Murray moved aboard, when we used to hook up with girls in the forward cabin… let's just say I have plenty of fuel for my imagination.

But we gotta share a bed tonight, and that's no hardship for me. Except not a bed she's been in, spreading her legs for him.

Second time was to puke.

Murray got all concerned, wanted me to see a doctor, but six o'clock was fast approaching so I bought antacid at a gift shop to shut him up, and called us a taxi. However bad it was, I figured it couldn't be worse than my imagination.

Except that the hotel room was empty, beds made, shower dry. My powerful detective instincts told me they hadn't been there.

"Maybe Cody's taken Natalia to dinner," Murray surmised, picking up a menu.

"She's gotta be on stage at eight, genius, so I figure she's in makeup about now."

Murray looked at me in frank astonishment, and I winced. When I'm uptight about Cody, I got a bad habit of taking it out on the Boz. "I'm sorry, buddy," I told him, and took a turn around the room. "I guess I'm just kind of worried about Cody."

"Why?" he asked, still looking at me like I maybe had an extra head or something. He has a point, after all. Cody's a grown-up, a soldier, a private detective.

But he's also my partner, and that trumps everything. "I don't know," I said lamely, and you know? The Boz just patted my shoulder.

"Let's go find him then," he said. So we did.

That was upwards of five hours ago now. Murray's checked all the hospitals, the arrest reports, everything. Natalia's safely on-stage and Cody's not in the audience. If we were at home, he'd be on the beach -- whenever he's lost, he finds the ocean. We tried the lake but I guess it doesn't call to him the same.

For God's sake, Cody, where are you?

I check out the aviation display again in case he came looking for us, then back to the hotel in case he's there by now. He's not. I want Mimi, irrationally -- there's nowhere to look anyway, certainly nowhere a chopper will help, but flying her feels like safety. Like home.

Murray comes in, sending my blood pressure through the roof until I see he's alone. He looks somber. "I just talked to Natalia," he says. Stage door was his job because I didn't trust myself to speak to her. "She wanted to come to the hotel, but Cody said he wanted to go to the museum. She'd seen the museum already, and didn't like it, so it was hotel or nothing."

"So she dumped him?" I'm furious, which is dumb, but what can I say? He's too good for her, and the stupid bitch hasn't even got the smarts to realize it. "Which museum?"

"The Museum of Science and Industry, of course. Where else?"

"Where else?" I echo, even though I never heard anything less attractive to Cody. "Are you sure, Boz?"

"Oh, yes. Don't you remember Cody saying how his grandfather took him there for his twelfth birthday?"

Things click into place. Cody's not close to his family, but his grandad features in all the happy stories he's ever told me from the past. Seems to me once grandad died, Cody's childhood ended.

"Think we oughtta look there?"

"The place is huge. Although I guess it's closed by now. Do you want to go over there?"

I shrug. There's nothing else to do, after all.

We find him on the lake shore, after all, just yards away from the museum. "Grandad brought me here and we had ice cream," he says, as Murray and I join him. He's standing staring out at the lights on the water, shivering, still dressed for the warm fall afternoon. Now with evening coming down, it feels like winter.

"Why don't we go back to the hotel and we can have ice cream there, if you want." I'll promise him anything, just to get him back where I can see him. Where he's safe.

"Too cold for ice cream," he says, and he sounds lost.

I shouldn't'a let him go off alone. I shouldn't'a let him think he couldn't take her to the hotel. I should'a shot her a month ago. You know?

***

In the night, I hold him. It's an hour after lights out, and I'm still freaked out, even if he's not. So I just slide across the bed and wrap myself around him.

He fits so nice in my arms. I feel him getting warm, feel him relax. I know when he starts to cry, and when he stops. I don't let go, even when I know he's asleep at last.

I could hold him til the end of time.