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The Cabin at the Lake

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The Fool – Leo Moon

I never started out to kill anybody, honest to God. Oh, I know what you're thinking: I'm a dirty cop, so what's the big whoop about being a killer too? And I ain't saying I was a choir boy—I took a few bills sometimes from guys like Fat Rolly to look the other way, and had a nice little deal going with a few working girls on my beat. But see, I always knew how close to the line I could walk. The trick is never get too greedy. That stuff about not killing the goose that lays the golden egg ain't a fairy tale. It takes a real talent to shake down your marks but not take so much they get mad enough to find their guts.

Not that I didn't think about it sometimes. How much more money I could get if I just went that step further. Easy street for me and my girl.

When Dobey invited me up to his place at Pine Lake, that was when it really hit home. Here's me, doing okay, with my little extra on the side to pad the paycheck, but still—only doing okay. And there's Dobey, same year at the academy, same time on patrol, and he's got a house in what they call 'a good part of town', a new car, and a vacation spot in the hills.

Not bad for a guy who joined the BCPD straight out of Watts and never really lit up the streets, if you know what I mean.

He didn't rub my nose in it or nothing, but I could tell he thought he was in damn high cotton.

It pissed me off, but it made me curious, too. So every time Dobey asked if I wanted to do some fishing, I ended up loading my gear in the short and driving up to Pine Lake. And every time, it felt more and more like I was missing out on something big.

He'd bring out bourbon and tequila, the real good stuff, not just standard bar booze. Steaks an inch thick. Even lobster tails once. He traded in his standard fishing pole for the kind of fancy gear I'd only ever seen in catalogs. Once he left one of the pockets on his suitcase open a touch, and I swear I saw a gold chain in there thick as my little finger.

Oh, yeah, high cotton. And he might not have rubbed my nose in it, but he for damn sure wanted me to ask.

I've thought about it a lot, and still can't figure out whether it pissed me off more to have to ask Dobey what his game was, or thinking about a chump like him having a game in the first place. That's what tipped me over in the end: it was like an itch in a place I couldn't reach.

What the hell was Dobey's game?

So I asked.

And he told me.

First I thought he was bullshitting me. Straight arrow Harold Dobey, doing dirty work for a heavy hitter like Tallman? I laughed at him. Told him if he didn't want to tell me, no skin off my nose.

But it was, and he knew it, the bastard.

I kept asking. Didn't really want to, but that itch was damn close to a burn. I had to know.

And he kept telling me. Said there were plenty of guys like Tallman, willing to fork out cold hard cash to get the job done right. As if I didn't know that.

And then I started to think: why not? Why not take the chance to get a little more of the gravy for myself?

Ain't like anybody I'd waste would be an upstanding citizen, right? Just give the scum a little help in getting where they'd go anyway. And it couldn't be all that hard, if Dobey could do it.

He even gave me a gun. Just pulled it out of the drawer in the kitchen up there at Pine Lake and handed it over. When I asked where he got it, he laughed. Weird little laugh. Said something weird too. Said if anybody ever managed to trace that gun, they'd really wish they hadn't. He told me with that gun I'd be able to get everything I was owed.

The first time everything went so slick I couldn't believe it. Lab couldn't get any ballistics on the bullet, and I was home free. That gun was gonna be my passport to the big time. I was already counting the dough.

Only it didn't work out that way for me, did it? No easy payday, no lying on the beach in Mexico with my girl and a bottle of tequila. You got any idea how hard it is for a cop in the joint?

Dobey suckered me. I finally worked that out. I don't know how he did it, or why, but he suckered me. I woulda been happy with what I had if he hadn't taken me up to his cabin.

Dobey owes me.

 

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The Athlete — Elmo Jackson

It feels like I've been running for hours. These old warehouses stretch for blocks, and I've been dodging Stryker's goons around them since just past midnight. I'm doing my best, but it seems like every time I think I've found a way out of this maze, there's a couple of goombahs with guns blocking the way. Can't figure out where they're all coming from. If I don't find something soon, I'm screwed. Once it gets light, I won't have too many places left to hide.

Time to bring in the cavalry, partner. I'm counting on you.

One of the things they teach you when you go undercover is if you think you've been blown, you get out. Pulling off a giant bust right under some lowlife big shot's nose always sounds good on the news, but it's a lot harder than it looks. In the movies, the bad guys never see the cops coming. On the street, it's a different story. Sure, lots of the bottom feeders are dumb as dirt, but they've got a nose for cops.

When Hank and I got the assignment from Captain Ryan, we were pumped. Hell, any cop would jump at the chance to take down ol' Cheesy Stryker. He's behind half the rackets in the city—drugs, guns, hookers, loan sharks, fencing, you name it. If it makes a profit, Stryker's got at least one dirty finger stuck in there. He's ruthless enough to have held out against some of the up-and-comers in crime, like Ben Forrest and Al Grossman. They're no angels, but Stryker's in a class by himself.

Whoo boy! That was close. If that sucker had been any nearer, I could've wiped my nose on his sleeve.

C'mon, Hank. Things are getting hairy down here.

They say—it's always "they", nobody ever admits having seen it—Stryker has a special place somewhere around these warehouses. He owns a meat-packing plant, with a couple of big hooks up on the wall in an old freezer. They say that's where he brings the guys he really wants to teach a lesson.

I don't want to find out if "they" know what they're talking about.

Okay, time to go. If I can get through that side door, I should be able to hide out on top of the packing crates in the next room for a while. One thing I learned in the war: most folks never think of looking up.

Made it. The climb was little tricky, but now I'm up here, I should be safe long enough to give my partner a chance to do his thing.

I'm not even going to think about what's taking him so long.

After Ryan gave us the files, Hank suggested we hole up at his place at Pine Lake, work out our strategy. That way we wouldn't worry our wives in case we let anything slip. We're both careful not to take too much of our work home, but Edith can read Hank like a book. Not that she ever complains, but I know something this risky would be hard on her.

Pine Lake gave me the creeps. It was the first time I'd gone up there since Hank bought the place, and the minute the car pulled in I felt something was wrong. I was born and bred in Idaho, before Dad moved us out here to the land of fruits and nuts. I grew up fishing and hunting, and unless I was starving there's no way I'd put anything on my dinner plate that came out of Pine Lake. Maybe some kind of bottom feeders were crawling around in the muck, but no decent fish was going survive in that scummy brew. The water smelled like old rot, and the trees around it had way too many shadows.

Hank didn't seem to notice. He showed me all around, looking real proud of being able to afford a place where he and the wife can get away from it all. I didn't say I figured he could afford it because nobody else would be sucker enough to pay diddley for it.

The neighbors bugged me, too. Half a dozen of them drifted over during the weekend, and there was always a good reason: one wanted to tell Hank about the next town meeting, another wanted to borrow a file for his chainsaw, stuff like that. The kind of thing people just naturally do in the country, when what they're really doing is checking up to make sure the visitors aren't breaking into your shed or stealing your boat.

It all sounded natural, but it felt wrong. Once or twice, I turned around real quick, sure I'd catch somebody sneaking up behind me. Not that anybody ever was, and I'd feel like a fool, but I couldn't ignore the chill on the back of my neck. There was something hinky about that place.

I can hear footsteps again, and doors slamming. Sounds like quite a few of them are heading out to the street. If I didn't know better I'd say they've been called off. Maybe I'll get out of this in one piece after all. Not that I think Stryker would give up this easy, but I'll bet cash money Hank's coming through with a diversion out there. Come on, buddy. Pull them away long enough to let me make a break for it.

Anyway, we spent that whole weekend planning our sting on Stryker. It had to be me going in undercover. Some of Stryker's buddies have real problems with blacks; Hank wouldn't have made it in the front door no matter what kind of cover we thought up. He wasn't too happy about being the outside guy, but in the end, we both knew it had to be me. We went through our cover stories until we had them down cold, worked out escape routes and message drops and code words.

Although—

No.

I let my bad feelings about Pine Lake make that whole weekend seem weird. Like Hank wasn't quite picking things up fast enough. Like we weren't on the same wavelength.

Just my imagination.

So I went in, and it worked like a charm for two and a half weeks. They bought my cover story from the get-go and my act was good enough to scare even me once or twice. I've got enough info on Stryker and his goons to put them all behind bars for the rest of their natural lives, and a hundred years on top of that. Met Hank only twice, long enough to pass on some of the juiciest bits, and let him know I was still alive.

But that hinky feeling never quite went away. If I believed in stuff like that, I'd say we brought back a jinx from Pine Lake. When it all went to hell last night, I wasn't a bit surprised. I got half-way through a phone call for help before I had to run for it.

And I've been running—

Oh, Jesus.

The lights just went on. It's like the whole roof of the building is filled with arc lamps. I'm not hidden up high and out of sight any more; I'm a bug pinned out on a table.

Time to move.

Down the back of the pile of crates I go, real quick and quiet, and start sneaking for the far end of the building, away from where I heard the footsteps before. If it comes to the worst, I'll make a run for the nearest window and just break out. It's still dark enough outside I might be able to make it into the alley and as far as the road.

Probably. Maybe.

Up ahead of me, I hear the metallic click-clack of a shotgun being racked. And somebody laughing.

Christ, Hank, where are you?

 

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The Whore — John Blaine

When Johnny said Harold and Edith had invited us to use their place at Pine Lake for the weekend, I thought it was a wonderful idea at first. We hadn't been away on a holiday together in so long, and the city was going through a hot and smoggy spell. We'd visited up there with the Dobeys before, and I'd always enjoyed it. Pine Lake isn't very big, but it was quiet and peaceful there, and the air was always fresh and cool. The water looked lovely in the evening, so still you could see the reflections of every leaf along the shoreline. I'd even watched a deer come down just at dusk, little hooves splashing in the shallows as it bent to take a drink.

I started planning right away, making lists of things to bring. Sheets and towels, of course—I wouldn't want to put Edith to any trouble. They've built in a kitchen, stove and fridge and running water, so I thought we might as well do our own cooking instead of going out for meals. The prices at that little store in the village are so high, I knew we'd do better shopping here in Bay City and packing our cooler. If Johnny caught some fish we could grill them, or we could have a barbeque. Johnny does wonderful steaks, properly well done, not half raw the way you get them in a restaurant sometimes.

I was really looking forward to it. A nice relaxing weekend, just the two of us.

But once we started loading the car, Johnny got out all his fishing gear, so I knew he was planning to spend most of his time on the lake. I remember a sinking feeling of disappointment as I watched him pack the rod and creel and net. Here I'd been wanting some time just for us, and he'd be taking off at the break of dawn every morning. Made me feel like a fifth wheel.

Still, I made myself look on the bright side. While Johnny was off in his manly pursuit of the elusive trout, I could sit on the dock in the sunshine and catch up on my reading. And at least he wouldn't be spending the evenings hashing over old cases and drinking beer, the way he does at home.

It was a lovely day, and we had a nice drive up, even though Johnny didn't get away from work as early as we'd planned. Johnny didn't talk much in the car, but I was used to that; he always said he needed to concentrate on driving, and gabbing just distracted him. I watched the scenery go by and kept quiet, even when I saw a nice view I'd have liked to share.

Things didn't get any better when we got there. Johnny was restless, and couldn't seem to settle down. He snapped at me when I asked him what was wrong, and hardly touched his supper. It was almost funny that evening, how much I wished Pine Lake weren't so quiet. The cabin didn't have a radio, let alone a television, and sitting at the table with a man who didn't want to say boo about anything made me edgy and nervous. So much for a nice relaxing weekend. After I did the dishes, I decided just to go to bed early. I thought maybe if I left Johnny alone for a while, he'd get whatever was making him act so funny out of his system. I lay there in the dark, watching the branches rustling gently in the moonlight, and I felt so lonely I could have just curled up and cried.

I heard Johnny pacing around and muttering to himself out in the living room, and wished like anything I could just go out there and get him to talk to me. I mean, when a husband has a problem, shouldn't his wife be the one he turns to?

I must have drifted off to sleep after a while, because when I woke up, Johnny was in bed. It was still pitch dark, and I could hear a funny noise off in the distance. It sounded like drumming, but didn't have any steady rhythm to pick up. I wondered if there was maybe a night club in the village, where somebody was doing one of those modern jazz things that's barely music at all.

I kept waking up over and over, listening for that weird drumming, and sometimes I heard it, and sometimes I didn't and sometimes I wasn't sure if I was just imagining all of it.

By morning I felt tired and cranky, and in a way I wished we could just head straight back to town. But I decided I was going to try really hard not to spoil things, so I put on my face, and made pancakes and sausage for breakfast. Johnny didn't look as if he'd slept much either, and we both just picked at our food. I wanted to ask if he'd heard anything strange in the night, but I thought if I did, he might think I'd been staying awake to eavesdrop, so I kept quiet.

Then Johnny said he'd go out fishing for the day. Inside, I was relieved. I wasn't sure how we could have managed together all day, worn out and grumpy as we were. I packed some sandwiches, and walked down to the dock with him and waved him on his way. It was funny: once he went puttering out across the lake, I suddenly felt so terribly tired I could hardly move. I made it over to one of the nice Adirondack chairs Harold has down by the water, and I was asleep before the noise of the motorboat died away.

I slept there most of the day. Some time in the early afternoon I woke up feeling hungry, and I made myself a sandwich and a cup of tea. But by the time the tea was brewed I was dozing off again, and I never did drink it.

Johnny woke me up when he got back, just before dark. He'd caught a couple of good-sized fish, and he said since I hadn't gotten dinner started he'd fire up the barbeque and cook them right away. I don't know if it because I was still groggy from being asleep so long, but mine tasted funny—a little spoiled, and a little burned, which was silly because it was fresh out of the water, and Johnny grilled it beautifully.

Johnny wanted to play some cribbage after supper, but I felt so logy I only lasted for a few minutes and went to bed early again.

I don't know how long I'd slept when I suddenly woke up. It was pitch dark, and for a minute I couldn't think where I was, or what was going on. I reached out to shake Johnny awake, but then I realized what had woken me up.

It was the drumming noise from the night before, but louder and closer. Sometimes I could hear other noises along with the drumming, too: people talking, or singing, bells or wind chimes tinkling and clattering, and occasionally something like a big fire crackling. The night before, the noise had been irritating, but right then, it scared me silly. There was something wrong about the sounds, that's the only way I can describe it.

Beside me, Johnny was muttering and mumbling in his sleep, thrashing around on the bed. When I shook him a little, he just rolled over and shrugged me away without waking up. And stupid as it sounds, I was too scared to say his name out loud, or shake him any harder. I didn't want to make any noise. I didn't want whoever was out there drumming and singing to know I was awake.

I slowly and carefully pulled the covers up, and shut my eyes and tried as hard as I could to fall back to sleep. In the morning, I kept telling myself, in the morning it will all be over, and I'll tell Johnny I don't feel well, and can we please pack up and go right after breakfast.

Despite being so scared, I did doze off, only to wake up again, sure something terrible was in the room with us. But there was only Johnny, lying there, awake and watching me.

"Hey, baby," he whispered, and reached over to run his fingers up my arm. "Slide on over here for me."

I scooted next to him, a sudden feeling of happiness bubbling up inside me. This was what I had hoped would happen this weekend: some time alone together for us to reconnect. All my nervousness about the funny noises seemed so silly now that Johnny was touching me and smiling at me.

Johnny didn't usually kiss me, but he liked to touch my bottom and down lower. I always felt good when he ran his hands over my back and stomach. That night it made me start to feel a little bit sexy down there, and I was even happier. We were going to have a good night. I touched his organ the way he liked, and he moaned a little.

"Roll over for me, okay, baby?" Johnny coaxed.

Johnny always liked to do it from the back. I didn't like it so much—I liked to see his face—but that night, it didn't bother me so much. I wanted to make Johnny happy, and so I pulled away and turned onto my stomach and then up on my knees. Johnny groaned and started playing with my bottom again. I held still, trying to be good and let him have what he wanted. And it seemed to work; suddenly I was feeling sexy as anything. I could still faintly hear the drumming outside, and down below seemed to be pulsing in time with it. Johnny pressed his organ against my bottom, and suddenly a switch seemed to flip inside my head. I spread my knees, and pushed my bottom back hard. When his organ started in, a part of me felt it hurt, but I didn't really care. I wanted him in, I wanted more.

"C'mon, John, fuck me," I snarled. "Fuck me hard!" That voice wasn't mine, but I couldn't stop the words from pouring out. "Do it, you bastard."

"Peter," he gasped out. "Peter!"

And then he was inside me, and the pain was worse than anything I'd ever felt, but the pleasure swamped it all, made me go completely crazy. I shoved myself onto him, screaming and swearing and begging for more, even as he yelled out another man's name.

And the drumming outside went on and on and on.

It was light out when I finally really woke up. The sun was shining through the window, a line so bright across my face it burned a little, and when I looked at my watch I nearly dropped it. It was almost ten o'clock!

Despite that, I still felt sort of fuzzy and sleepy, and a little bit sexy too. No wonder: Johnny and I had made love last night, and it had been good. I almost snuggled down again, and then I thought I should really get up and get us some breakfast. And maybe coax Johnny back to bed?

I tried to roll over, and a terrible jolt of pain ran up my backbone. I froze, my mouth wide open, making little bleating noises as I tried to pull in some air around the pain. It felt as if I was being torn open all the way from my bottom to my shoulders. I felt tears on my cheeks, but didn't dare raise a hand in case it made the pain worse.

After what felt like ages, the throbbing tearing feeling eased, and I could take a deep breath. I wiped my face, and called out, "Johnny?"

There was no answer, and when I very carefully turned my head, I saw he wasn't there. The covers were all tangled and half off the bed, the pillows scattered on the floor.

"Johnny?"

No answer.

Slowly, I shifted myself onto my side, wincing as little stabs of pain went through my bottom and stomach. I finally got myself half sitting up, and pulled back the covers. I was still terribly sore back there, but I could at least move a bit.

When I looked down at myself, my breath got all stuck again. I was covered in bruises. My hips, my stomach, my arms, all covered in black and blue marks. There was blood streaked on my thighs, and all over the sheet underneath me.

And suddenly the sleepy fuzzy feeling in my head was gone, and I really remembered what Johnny and I did last night.

Peter.

My God, what had I been thinking, what had I ben doing? I've always been a decent woman. How could I have let Johnny . . . how could I have wanted . . . that?

How could I still want it? Because I wasn't feeling sleepy any more, but I was still feeling sexy. In spite of how sore I was down there, I still felt an itch, a craving for more. A craving to do it all again.

Even if Johnny thought I was somebody else.

I felt my whole body flush red-hot with shame, and then go ice-cold.

The next thing I actually remember is looking for the car keys.

I must have tried to pack, because my suitcase was lying on the bed, with my clothes and make-up bag just thrown in all higgledy-piggledy—I hadn't even it zipped it closed, just shoved the lid down, and things were hanging out everywhere. I didn't care. All I wanted was to get out, to get away, and I didn't care if my clothes or anything else got ruined.

I couldn't find the car keys. They weren't on the table by the door, or on top of the fridge, like they'd be at home, or in Johnny's jacket pocket. I limped and lurched around the cabin like a crazy woman, throwing magazines and pillows on the floor, slamming open drawers and cupboards, even though I knew the keys couldn't possibly be under the sink or in the bathroom cabinet. But the little voice inside shrieking at me to get out, get out, get out, was drowning out most of my common sense.

I had just turned my purse upside down, dumping everything out on the table, scrabbling through my lipstick and tissues, when Johnny spoke behind me.

"Looking for these, sweetheart?"

I screamed.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't turned around. If I'd just thrown myself out the nearest window and run down to the road in nothing but my nightgown and bare feet. Sometimes, I dream that's what I did.

Sometimes, in my dreams, I even get away.

Instead, I turned around.

Johnny stood in the kitchen doorway. He was buck naked, smiling at me and swinging the car keys from one finger like a pendulum. I tried to keep focused on his smile—too big, too wide, too hungry—so I wouldn't look down lower.

But I just couldn't help it. His organ was up again, still looking ready to go at it. And there was dried blood down there too. My blood, all over him.

Johnny held the keys up and shook them again.

"Maggie, sweetheart, you weren't thinking of going home yet, were you? Peter thought it would be a good idea for us to get to know each other better. A lot better."

The car keys clinked together with a little jingly noise, like wind chimes, or modern jazz playing somewhere way off in the distance.

 

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The Scholar — Mike Ferguson

I'm a man who likes things tidy.

I've never seen any reason to apologize for that. Some guys at the police academy wanted excitement, and some wanted to be heroes, and some wanted a steady union job with good benefits. Me, I liked the idea of law and order. The law sets up rules, establishes boundaries, and people live by those rules or they don't. Sometimes people cross over the boundaries, and my job is to push them back.

I didn't have any trouble at the academy. The legal code made sense, and I was always good at studying. I had my methods: I wrote up my notes, color-coded sections that were relevant to each other, cross-referenced and indexed everything. When other guys snuck out to go on dates or to week-end keggers, I stayed in the dorm and read up on police procedure and evidence collection. Being a cop was what I'd always wanted to do, and I knew there was only one way to get there. Work hard, keep your nose clean and stick to your methods. A man's got no reason to be ashamed of doing a solid job.

I wasn't out on the streets long before they started calling me 'Iron Mike'. I think they meant it as a dig: no sense of humor, too much discipline, no cutting corners or giving breaks. Well, that was fine by me. I never was one of those hotshots, like Starsky and Hutch. Maybe I didn't get as far as I once thought I would, but there's no shame to being a beat cop. Like I said: work hard and stick to your methods.

That's not to say I didn't use snitches. Every cop does. If the crooks weren't so quick to give each other up and sell each other out, enforcing the law would be even harder than it is. But unlike a lot of cops, I always remember there's a line, and they're on the other side from me.

One of the things that helps me draw the line is my book.

I picked it up one time when I was with Dobey at Pine Lake. We'd gone up to do a little fishing, but I remember it rained most of the weekend, a chilly grey rain that turned the whole lake into fog. You couldn't see more than a couple feet in front of you, and with the way the mist swirled and thickened, even staying close to shore the boat felt like it was just drifting off to nowhere.

In the end, we gave up and stayed inside, drinking beer and playing gin for a penny a point. When we ran out of scrap paper for keeping score, Dobey hunted around in a drawer and pulled out the book.

It wasn't anything special, just one of those little black notebooks with a spiral of plastic holding the pages together. Dobey probably picked it up for five cents at Darcy's, something to give the wife for shopping lists or the kids for scribbling in. I was the one keeping score—my handwriting's always been better—and I found myself rubbing my finger back and forth across the cover between hands. Every now and then it felt like there was something on the cover I couldn't see, some kind of raised letters or symbols. I kept holding the book to the light, sure if I just tilted it at the right angle I could see what I thought I was feeling, but the cover always looked smooth as a sheet of black glass.

But I kept thinking I felt something.

We had a few drinks after supper, and I kind of forgot about the notebook. But when I woke up in the morning it was lying on my chest, on top of the blankets, and for a few seconds I felt like I'd been reading something in a foreign language, words I could almost recognize if I could just look at them a little bit longer.

The weather had cleared, and we got the boat in the water and headed for a good fishing spot, but I felt kind of distracted. All morning, as we were casting our lines and drifting the boat along from place to place, I kept remembering those words I couldn't quite understand and wracking my brain trying to think why they felt so familiar. Just about drove me crazy.

When I opened the cooler at lunch time to pull out a beer, that black notebook was lying on top of the sandwiches.

Dobey laughed and said if I liked it so much, I might as well take it home with me.

I felt a little dumb, because I couldn't figure out how the book got in the cooler. I knew I hadn't put it in there. Still, I stuck it my jacket pocket and joked with Dobey how it had adopted me and was going to follow me home.

Funny thing, after that I just kind of forgot about that foreign language. Even forgot about the notebook.

Until Monday morning when I went to put my coat on before I headed to the station, and there it was in the pocket. For a second I was just going to toss it on the counter and leave it, and then my finger ran across the front cover. I could feel those letters there, and they almost made some kind of sense.

I slipped the book back into my pocket.

That afternoon, I used it to write down a snitch's address and phone number, and the next day the information she gave me was the key to busting a car theft ring wide open. About a week later another tip got me the goods on a jewelry heist.

About a month after that I got a call from Matt Coyle.

At first, I didn't want to play ball. But Coyle never tried to give me any money—and let me tell you, if he had I would've had him in cuffs so fast you could've heard him scream all the way back to Ireland. He didn't even ask me to give him anything. Just to use the information I got from him. Work hard somewhere else.

My conscience is clear. The stuff I got from Coyle was good, the busts were always clean. He even let me get Skinny Momo off the street, and I figured that alone was worth a few breaks.

Lately, I can't quite recall where some of the stuff in the book comes from. I mean, it's got to be me writing it down after I talk to Coyle, but sometimes I don't remember. Sometimes it doesn't even look like my writing.

Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing dealing with scum like Coyle. Yeah, I'm making good busts these days, got promoted to captain when I thought it might never be in the cards. But there are days . . .

When I feel like that, I look in the book. Clean pages, straight lines, numbers all in a row. I run my fingers over the cover and feel those words I can't quite read yet. I'm doing good work. My conscience is clear.

In a way I owe it all to Dobey. That little black notebook I brought back from Pine Lake has been a real good luck charm.

 

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The Virgin — Dave Starsky

"I'll have you know, I'm a virgin in these woods."

He said it in such an offended tone I couldn't help smiling. Starsky isn't used to being out of his depth. We may depend on Huggy to have his ear to the street, but Starsky understands the ins and outs of life in the city in a way I just never quite manage. If he'd decided to become a crook—follow in Joe Durniak's footsteps instead of his dad's—he'd be one damn dangerous man.

I was actually surprised when he agreed to come up to Pine Lake with me. Captain Dobey offered it out of the blue, when he heard us arguing about what we were going to do on our long weekend off. He'd invited us up a couple of times before to get some fishing in, but it seemed something always came up at the last minute and we'd never made it.

I told him I didn't want to put him out, but he said he and Edith were planning to take the kids to their grandparents for the weekend, and it would be a shame to let the place just stand empty when the weather was good and the fish were biting. Said he knew how much I liked the outdoors, and he'd been waiting quite a while to have me come up for a look around.

There was a funny little smile on his face as he said it, and I figured it was because he knew what Starsky's reaction would be.

And it was as bad as I imagined it would be. Starsky grumbled and whined and bitched about everything from the road up to the beds to the food. (And hey, I might have teased him about bear meat and roots, but I make a great campfire chili, if I say so myself.) That first night, when everything went so quiet, and we saw the torches across the lake, I'd bet he hardly slept.

Tell you the truth, I didn't sleep too well either. I kept dreaming I heard somebody whispering to me. I couldn't make out what they were saying, and I'd try to listen hard enough I'd wake myself up. By first light I was glad to have an excuse to get up and take the boat out.

From the way Dobey had described Pine Lake, I somehow got the idea it was a lot bigger. It wasn't much more than a swimming hole, though I wouldn't have gone swimming in it if you paid me. The water was thick and green and smelled funky; I couldn't see the bottom even in the shallows. Still, I figured there must have been some good fishing despite that: Dobey took guys like Johnny Blaine and Mike Ferguson up a lot, and I'd never heard them complain.

So I paddled around, cast the line a few times, and got what I expected. Nothing. Still, it got me out of the cabin and away from Starsky. Starsky in his skin-tight red long johns, with his hair all rumpled, blue eyes all dark and sleepy.

There'd be months at a stretch when I could just ignore the way I felt about Starsky. I kept it under control. Date a few blonde lovelies, have a good time, and not think about the way I couldn't help looking at his ass in tight jeans. Starsky never had any idea, and that suited me just fine. You know how I know it's love? Because I'd rather have Starsky happy as my friend than sad knowing I loved him. And he would be sad, because he really is my friend, and he'd do anything for me.

Except fall in love with me.

But ever since we arrived at Pine Lake, everything I felt about him just suddenly bubbled up. I couldn't keep my hands off him. I couldn't stop imagining what it would be like to slip a few more of those buttons loose on that union suit. Up here, all by ourselves—maybe I could talk him into it, if nobody ever knew?

So I ran. Got up at the crack of dawn, dragged the boat out, and planned to stay on the water until I was sure Starsky would be awake and dressed, and I could shove all those stupid feelings back down where they belonged.

You know what they say: a man plans, and God laughs.

As a cop, you get used to the idea that even when you're on holiday, weird things happen around you. It's damn hard to turn off that nose for trouble street cops develop. But really—Satanists? We couldn't get a break with some drug runners or high end gambling? No, we got crazy killer Satanists.

And dumb ones, at that.

The chanting, the dancing, the incense they were burning on the fire—it all seemed so phony, like a cheesy, grade D horror movie. I kept expecting some guy in a rubber monster mask to jump out and wave a plastic knife at us. They were a bunch of pathetic delusional losers. Didn't even put up a fight when the state patrol finally showed up.

But deep down inside, that place where my gut instinct lives, something was shivering and whimpering with fear. Because all that chanting was talking to something inside me. Saying out loud what I'd been dreaming the night before. Making offers. Bargaining. Promising me I could have what I wanted. All I had to do was back off and let them go. Walk away, pretend I hadn't seen anything, and they'd hand over what I wanted more than anything in the world.

They'd give me Starsky.

I wouldn't even have to do anything. Starsky would come to me, would want me, and he'd never know it wasn't all his own idea. He'd believe he just finally opened his eyes and seen that our partnership was something deeper and more precious than he'd realized. He'd never know something dark and vicious had raped his mind and bamboozled him into thinking he was in love with me.

I was raised Minnesota Lutheran, and a lot of that has stuck with me even if I don't get to church much these days. One thing I remember clearly is what Pastor Lindstrom said about evil. Evil is all about lies. Lies others tell you, and lies you tell yourself. When somebody tries to tell you that getting something you want really badly the easy way is just fine, you always have to look harder. Because if you look closely, you'll see you're being sold a bill of goods. It's not that hard to be a good person, Lindstrom used to say: just don't buy that bill of goods. Don't swallow the lie.

I think it's only because I do love Starsky that I was able to say no. If it hadn't been that serious, just the usual pretty lady I could have for a night or two . . . Would I have gone for it? One night, a roll in the hay, and everybody says bye-bye and forgets all about it next morning.

But Starsky's my partner. Yeah, I love him, and yeah, I want him. Drove me crazy that morning walking around in those tight red long johns, showing off everything he had. If those two little handmaids of the devil hadn't come strolling along, I might have lost it. So I guess they did me a favor. Because being Starsky's partner is the thing that's real. Anything else is just me trying to sell myself a bill of goods. And I hope to God I'm a better man than that, because if any man deserves honesty, it's Starsky.

I've got a nasty feeling about this cabin, as if those fucking Satanists infected it somehow, left some residue of evil in the very ground. That makes no sense, because they were only here about a day or two longer than Starsky and I were; it's not like they had any time to pollute the earth all around the lake. But I can't shake the idea that it's this place, this damn place, that's dragging all this stuff out from inside me. The feeling is so strong I nearly brought a can of gas and book of matches with me when we came back this morning. Not sure how I'd have explained to Captain Dobey that his cabin gave me the heebie-jeebies so bad I burned it down.

If I can figure out how to bring it up without sounding crazy, I'll ask Dobey if he ever felt anything like that.

I'm already packed up, more than antsy to get out of here, but what's really worrying me is that Starsky's the one who suddenly wants to stay. Bitched ever since we left Bay City, and now I can't get him away from the damn lake. It's like the fish are jumping right into his creel. And I've suddenly had an ugly thought. Maybe those voices have been whispering to him too. Making him some offers. Like maybe, keep Hutch here at this cabin for a while, just stick around and see what happens?

Nope. We're leaving, now, if I have to drag Starsky out of the water by his damn red long johns.

A virgin in these woods, he said. And if I have anything to say about it, buddy, you'll leave a virgin too.