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Chapter One: Finger Man and Other Stories

Take One

So I guess this thing with Perry started when we were locked in the box, except maybe it started further back than that, maybe even as far back as the Christmas -

Wait, no, wait. Let's start again. Take two, as they say in the biz. Which I'm not in, by the way. It's just, you live in this town long enough, you start to talk like them. Protective coloration, for the parties, because I still hit the parties. With Perry, he's a consultant - no, no, no. Jesus. I'm fucking this up.

Take Two

See, this is the problem. Is it better to start in the middle of everything and let you - assuming there is a you, of course, but we're not playing that game. So. You're here, you're you, you're reading this. I'm me. I'm Harry Lockhart. Have we met?

Because if we haven't met, there's some back story you need to know. About a year ago, me and Harmony and Perry untangled a dastardly scheme. But I don't really have time to go into that now. So let me just do a quick summary, sketch in the background, as it were. Hit the high points.

Harmony Faith Lane is this girl, the girl, the girl I didn't date in high school, the girl I dreamed about for the rest of my fucked-up life until I ran into her at a party in Los Angeles twenty years later. We didn't date after that, either, or we did, but only for two and a half dates. The half-a-date thing, there's a whole story there, but let's not get into it. I left through the kitchen door (for, trust me, an excellent reason) before our entrees arrived, and she sat at the table for forty-five minutes waiting for me. That night, she had some kind of epiphany, can you believe that? Said she had to go back to where it started, and where she - we - she started was Embrey, Indiana. Now she lives there, runs some coffee place, doesn't return my calls. Story of my life, believe you me.

Perry Van Shrike, called Gay Perry by pretty much everyone, is this guy I met at the same damn party in Los Angeles. (Everything started at that party, but here's the kicker: it wasn't much of a party.) He's an honest-to-fucking-God private detective, consultant to the movies, consorts with stars and lowlifes all on the same day, and he works with me. How lucky can one guy be? He says his luck ran out the day he met me. I choose to take that as a compliment.

And, like I said, I'm Harry Lockhart. I'll be your narrator this evening, unless of course it's morning or afternoon or night where you are. Welcome back to those of you returning for a second round trip through my life. Hello and thanks for stopping by to everyone already checking out. And can I get a big round of applause for the newcomers? Stick with me, newcomers. It gets better. Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, I swear. Though not actually in that order.

Anyway. I'm an ex-thief, ex-New Yorker, current assistant to one Perry Van Shrike. I lost a finger - half a finger, but who's counting? - during the Christmas Affair, the one I'm not telling you about. It's fine. I don't miss it, really. My finger was cut off by the girl I loved - liked - probably loved, reattached, removed again by thugs, eaten by a dog. I'm over it.

My current job description reads:

Answer telephones, make appointments, run errands, file papers, avoid all mention of Jonny Gossamer, don't pretend to take or work cases, and don't touch my guns.

Perry wrote that one night and left it taped to my desk with WHAT YOU DO IN CASE YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN BECAUSE YOU ARE STUPID written on the top of it. He'd had a bad day. I don't hold it against him.

Except, wait, the bad day is part of the actual story I'm telling. I'm getting this all out of order. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Let's just skip the exposition and get right to the plot, okay? I'm better with plot. Hang in there, because Chapter Three's a doozy.

Chapter Two: Double Indemnity

In the course of my ordinary, day-to-day duties, I sit around Perry's office, answer the phone, take messages, delete spam, change his ringtones (the day this all started, I had his cell phone set on "We Are Family," because Perry needs to embrace his community more). Which is what I was doing - downloading "Macho Man" for when Perry got rid of "We Are Family," if you want to know the details - when the phone rang.

"Thank you for calling the offices of Sentron, Incorporated. Harry Lockhart speaking."

"I need to make an appointment." Woman's voice, low, sultry, silky, total wet dream. The kind of voice people pay $3.99 a minute to listen to. Lonely people. Not me.

"May I ask what this is in reference to?"

"A case. I'd like to see a person." The way she emphasized "in person," oh boy. I wanted to be that person. And Perry was out of the office.

"Well, let me just check my schedule." I flipped open my day planner: empty, empty, empty. "I have some free time this afternoon. One o'clock?"

"Can you make it any earlier?" She sounded - I don't know, terse. Tense. People with urgent cases, they get edgy. But then, so do people in line at the bank and people looking for the bathroom, so what does that prove?

I looked at the clock. Eleven. In the morning, thank you, I work normal hours now. Pretty much normal, anyway. "Much earlier, ma'am, and it'd be right now."

"That's fine. I'll be right up."

And she was, and wow. Tall, built, and gorgeous. Blonde - I'm partial to blondes - with legs all the way up to the most gorgeous ass I'd seen in weeks. Months. Whatever. And tits you could - well, anyway.

Her name was Carmen Lennox. Mrs. Carmen Lennox. And she wanted to hire Sentron - which meant me, since my boss was all booked up on some big, boring insurance case - to do some work on her husband, one Philip Lennox, who she believed was up to something. Or someone.

"He's out at strange hours," she told me, crossing her legs - and God, those gams, they belonged in the Louvre. "People call the house that I don't know. He's short-tempered, edgy. Totally uninterested in me. You're not like, like your boss -" and she sounded like she didn't much like Perry, and she hadn't even met the man "- so you'll understand what I mean when I say he's not - not there for me." She smoothed her hand over her short clinging skirt in a way that left no doubt at all in my mind about where Lennox wasn't. "He's not the man I married, Mr. Lockhart.

Turns out they'd been married five months, but this is LA. Some folks down here go through three marriages, four break-ups, and one scandalous affair with an undocumented underage pool boy in that amount of time.

She leaned forward, and her eyes were huge, deep blue, liquid, like the Caribbean Ocean in cruise line brochures. (I don't go on cruises. I'm prone to sea-sickness. And, hey, do you like the way I threw that in there? Do you think maybe it's going to come up again later?) Her gorgeous lower lip - full and luscious and obviously the work of one of the very finest of this city's fine, fine collagen-injectors - trembled just a bit. "Mr. Lockhart," she said. "Or - Harry, may I call you Harry? Because this is so very personal to me." She smoothed a hand over her short silky skirt.

"Oh, please do," I said.

"Harry. I think Philip is cheating on me."

"Then he is obviously one crazy son of a bitch," I didn't say. I played it cool. "Really? Well, we can find that out for you, Mrs. Lennox."

"Carmen. Please, call me Carmen. Lennox is - it's his name, not mine."

"Of course, Carmen. If you'll just give me some details, times and dates and that kind of thing, we'll, I'll get right to work." I don't generally interview clients. Casework isn't my job, and there's a very good reason for that.

I have a checkered past.

I mentioned that I used to be a thief, right? Getting caught was part of that gig, at least for me, and I have a few more priors than the fine state of California likes to see on its PIs. But that doesn't mean I can't work an occasional case. Sure, Perry would say that's exactly what it does mean, but my thinking was: what Perry doesn't know can't hurt him.

I was wrong about that, by the way. But I'm getting ahead of myself again.

Carmen gave me the details - he's out all night some nights, she thinks tonight will be one of those nights so maybe I should get right on that, blah blah fucking blah. I've worked stakeouts with Perry before, and they're simple. You go to wherever the guy sleeps and hope you don't die of boredom before he does something interesting. I'd wait until Mr. Cheating Lennox slept at home, pick up his tail, trail him, see where else he slept. Or engaged in any other kind of activity. Textbook divorce case.

I got her credit card, processed her deposit payment (on divorce cases, we get the money up front), showed her out, and sat down to leave a note for Perry. And that's more difficult than it sounds. I mean, I could've just written:

Hey, Perry,
I took a case even though I'm not supposed to, and I'm off fighting crime as we speak, clocking up those billable hours. Give me a ringy-dingy when you get this!

Except a) he'd kill me. And I know there should be a b), but what the fuck would I care? I'd be dead. Okay, fine, b) he'd have a coronary, but after he killed me, and the police would think it was some twisted love triangle suicide murder, and my sister and Harmony and Carmen and everyone else in the Goddamn world would say, "Ah ha, I knew it all along! He was fucking Gay Perry!"

So it required some thought, and I tilted back in in my chair; Perry's chair, actually, because he has this incredible European-made chair that swivels, tilts, spins... I think if I found the right setting it'd give me a blowjob, I swear. Comfortable, is my point. Very cozy, very cushy, very relaxing. And I'd been up late, and I guess I dozed off.

And then there was a ringing phone, and it was that woman's voice - Carmen's voice, the wet dream in stereo and hi-fi - and she was saying, "I need you, Harry. I need you." And I could hear in her voice what she needed me for, if you know what I'm saying.

"I'll - I'll -" I couldn't even say what I'd do. I sure needed her, and that voice, that voice was driving me crazy. "I'll be right there, Carmen."

"Carmen? What the fuck, idiot?" Aaaaaand the wet dream had turned into my real boss, and I was kind of awake and really on the phone with him, and I was rock fucking hard. Just one more thing to tell my therapist. When I get one. It's only a matter of time, working in this town. Full of crazies, I'm telling you.

"Fuck, Perry, I was dreaming."

"Dreaming about Carmen, apparently. And I know for a fact that you didn't suddenly take up an interest in opera, and you don't know a Carmen." There was silence, while Perry did that thinking thing he does and I adjusted myself, and then he said, "Fuck. Tell me you did not take a case."

"I - I -" I'm a shitty liar. "No, I didn't - well, I did - I did some preliminary footwork, legwork, groundwork for a case for you, but I didn't actually -"

"I don't have time for this bullshit."

"See, technically -"

"No technically. No talking. Get your ass out here. San Pedro, Dock F. I need backup, and you, sad as I am to say it, are my backup." Perry hung up. I hightailed it to my vehicle.

Chapter Three: The Smell of Fear

I'm going to skip the part with the freeways, if that's all right with you. One, freeways are boring. Two, I don't understand this city's need to have every fucking freeway merge with fourteen other freeways and change names all the Goddamned time. LA is basically one big concrete orgy, and if you don't believe me, look at it from the air sometime. I have. Sick, I'm telling you.

Anyway, I got to Dock F, parked my car as subtly as possible, and crept stealthily across the lot to where Perry was standing, leaning against his car with his arms folded, watching me. When I got there, he smacked my shoulder. "Don't," he said.

"I'm practicing."

"Practicing what, looking like a fuckhead? Oh, wait, what am I saying; you are a fuckhead. Now, fuckhead, I am going to go in there and look for evidence of insurance fraud." He pointed across the dock at one of those big freight containers they put on the back of semis and trains and, I guess, onto cargo ships, too. What do I know? I was never into wholesale. "You are going to sit in my car - do not, I repeat, do not press any buttons or change anything - and wait for me. If I don't come out in half an hour, you will call the police. Are we clear?"

"Clear." I checked my watch, set the nifty little timer feature to notify me in exactly thirty minutes, and settled into the passenger side of Perry's car.

Always the passenger side. Only Perry sits in his driver's seat. It's this thing he has.

Perry gave me a look, walked over to the freight box, diddled the lock, and slipped inside. I'll give him that - he's almost as good as me when it comes to locks.

I spent the next thirty minutes changing Perry's radio presets (Christian easy listening - perfect for Perry) and screwing with his iPod. He used to have an iPod Nano with a lavender metallic sheath. ("Could you be any more gay?" I asked him when I saw it. "I'm working on it," he said, looking me up and down.) Then I found out how to change his playlists around. Now he has a black video iPod that I think he got just to scare me. It does scare me. I don't ever, ever look at the videos he has on there.

Well. Except sometimes, like when I'm really bored on a stakeout in his car alone and I know my watch will beep in exactly thirty minutes.

And, in the words of an esteemed thinker of our times: whoa, dude. Gay porn has, uh, more...stuff. It's not my thing, no, of course not, totally not not not, but it's interesting all the same. Almost hypnotizing, in fact.

Anyway, when I looked up from Perry's iPod, at least half an hour had passed, and my watch hadn't beeped after all. Not sure why. I wish I'd stolen the instructions along with the watch, but it's too late now; I'm straight. No, really. Totally straight.

But my point is, at least thirty minutes had passed. No Perry. It was time to call the cops. Except I don't much like the cops - it's a thing, a big traumatic thing left over from my time on the wrong side of the law. And maybe Perry just needed some help that I could provide. Maybe there was a situation that was more of a Harry Lockhart situation than an LA's finest situation. I took a deep breath and moved out of the car, toward the freight box. Container. Thing.

Perry'd left it unlocked. I went in.

And walked straight into a scene from - I'm sorry, but I've got to say it - a Jonny Gossamer novel. Oh, sure, it's also a scene from my own life; I think I've been tortured or seen Perry get tortured three times since Christmas. But Jonny had it first, baby. And it always sounded better - cooler, sleeker, less filled with screaming and spit - when he did it. He had all these cool lines, but I've found that in real life it's not a situation that's conducive to witty repartee.

Perry was in a chair trussed up like one of those guys in the videos I never watch on his iPod, and blood was dripping from his left ear. He had a gag in his mouth, but I could tell from the way he rolled his eyes that what he wanted to say was, "You fucking idiot, Harry."

And I had to agree with him, because of the three big bruisers in the room, one of them was pointing a gun at me. I raised my hands into the air.

"I don't like it," Bruiser #1 said.

"Yeah, how many more faggots we got coming in here?" Bruiser #2 said.

"The Gay Pride Parade isn't until next week," I told him. What? I keep up with these things for Perry's sake. "Also, I am completely not gay."

The bruisers exchanged looks, and then they left, muttering. Bruiser #3 was pulling out a cell phone. I heard the lock clank shut when they left.

Locked in. Fuck.

Perry looked at me. I looked at him. Then I walked over and yanked the gag out of his mouth.

"You fucking idiot, Harry," he said.

"I came to check on you."

"Well, guess what? You checked on me, and hey! I'm in trouble. What are you going to do now, chief? What's the big rescue plan?"

"I, uh, I -" Plans aren't a main feature of my life, to tell you the truth. I just go with the flow. "I'm going to finish untying you."

Perry just looked at me: get on with it, idiot. And I started working on the knots. Do I need to mention I was never a Boy Scout?

Ten, fifteen, maybe twenty - but who's counting? - minutes later, I had Perry all untrussed, and he was checking his ear and face and hands. "Fuckers," he said, and that pretty much summed it up for me.

"So what now, Perry?"

"Oh, but this was your big move, chief, so you tell me."

"I brought my cell phone, just in case we did need the police." I pulled it out, hit the 911 auto-dial, and - no dial tone. "Huh."

"Fan-fucking-tastic. You brought your cell phone. So we can take pictures of each other and play Snake while we're stuck in here. We're in a big steel box, dumbass. No cellular reception."

I put the phone away. Maybe we'd take pictures of each other later, it's always a fun way to pass the time, but I had a more pressing problem. "So, uh." Because it was the funniest thing, but it was like the floor was shifting under me. "Uh, is the earth moving, or is it just me?"

"Fuck." Perry ran to the door, slammed his shoulder against it. Didn't budge. "They've got this thing locked from the outside, and these are designed to take at least 2500 pounds of pressure at any given point. Fuck."

How does he know shit like that? Why does he know shit like that?

"Which means that you and I are going to stay in this cargo container. And I take it from the way you brandished your cell phone at me that you did not call the police before you came in here on your ill-fated mission to do whatever it was you thought you were doing." The floor shook some more. "And that metallic sound you hear is us being loaded on a boat for Veracruz." He paused. "And me without my sunscreen or my Speedo."

I stared at him. I kept staring at him. And then I cleared my throat. "Uh, this boat, this boat - will it be in the water?"

"No, it's going to flap its fairy wings and fly to Veracruz. What do you think? Moron."

"I took the ferry to Staten Island once."

He folded his arms and looked at me. "I took Ecstasy at a circuit party once. I bet I had more fun."

I sat down and wrapped my arms around my knees. "And, see, I've never been on a boat since then, never, because I get really. Fucking. Sick. On boats." I shivered. Were the walls closing in? "Also, I'm kind of claustrophobic."

Perry sat back down in the chair where they'd had him tied up. He said, "So, basically, I'm stuck in a cargo container on a ship that will spend the next 2 to 3 days en route to Mexico. And I'm in here with a guy who is going to spend that time vomiting. This is not my life. This was not my life before I met you." He took a deep breath. "This is not my life now. If I'd wanted to spend my time with other people's vomit, I could have been one of Paris Hilton's bodyguards."

The container moved and lurched, and then there was a loud thunk. "Was that - are we at sea? Are we stuck? Stuck in this box on the ocean?" I don't want to sound like a pansy, here, but I was maybe shaking a little.

"No, idiot, we are not at sea. That was the container locking into place on the boat."

"Oh, God." I hate boats. I really hate small, enclosed spaces I can't get out of. "Oh, God."

Perry was doing his usual mysterious PI routine - taking shit out of his pockets, checking out the seams and the doors of the box, just - look, I don't know what the fuck he was doing, okay? I was busy freaking out. "Perry, how long can the human body survive without food or water?"

"Well, if the human body isn't sweating or vomiting, about three days."

"That's...not good news."

"The good news is that I don't plan to be in here for three days with sweating, vomiting you." Perry finished whatever he was doing. I heard him move to the door, then pace to the back of the container where I was considering the relative merits of the fetal position. I opened my eyes to find him squatting in front of me. "You don't look so good."

"Well, no. I have this thing about boats. And enclosed spaces. And I'm on a boat in an enclosed space. So right at the moment I'm not doing so well, no."

He studied me for a moment. "You know, there are some issues I've been thinking you need to confront."

"Perry, you're not going to cure my claustrophobia by analyzing how my father didn't hug me enough, okay?"

Perry moved in a little closer. "You're obsessed with my sexual preference. Have you ever noticed that?"

I'll give him this - he had me thinking about something other than boats. And boxes. "What?"

"You knew when the LA Gay Pride Parade was. I don't know that. I bet you know when National Coming Out Day is, too."

"October 11. I marked it on your calendar; I thought you could take your mother to lunch."

"My mother knows I'm gay, Harry. Everyone knows I'm gay. That's why they call me Gay Perry."

"Yeah, but -"

"And you evaluate my every word, gesture, and possession for homosexuality. News flash, moron: it's all me, therefore all gay."

"I just sometimes need to point out to you that you're very, very gay."

Perry settled on the floor next to me. "And why is that? That's what I asked myself, right around the time you were putting LAGLC events on my calendar and pointing out every hot guy that went by. 'Why,' I said to myself, 'is Harry so obsessed with my homosexuality?'"

"...Because you're very gay?"

"And then I thought about your reaction to our kiss."

"It was not an - not an 'our kiss' thing! It was one kiss! Under duress! For sound private investigation reasons!"

"Precisely. So, your reaction - a little over-the-top, I'd have to say."

"You. Kissed. Me. Perry."

"You're damn right. And you know, I enjoyed it." He smiled at me. "And I think you did, too."

"What? No! I'm - 100% straight. 110% straight. Maybe even 120%."

He sighed. "Someday, we're going to work on your math skills. But not today." He moved closer. "Today, we work on your latent, repressed, disturbingly-transferred-onto-me homosexual impulses."

"Wha-" I said. And then I stopped talking, because his tongue was in my mouth.

And let me just say this, get this out there, because while I know some of you are going to be all, "Oh, I saw that coming" - congratulations, genius, I foreshadowed it pretty fucking thoroughly like five pages ago. But some of you are probably wondering, hey, if a 120% straight guy kisses another guy, how's that work? Is it different? And the answer is, it is different. Women, they're all, a brush of the lips here, a brush of the lips there - they want you to do the work. Perry? Not like that. He did the work and then some.

He kissed like Angelina Jolie should. It was - I fought it, okay? I fought for my virtue. But he had one hand at the back of my neck and the other hand on the side of my face and I wasn't thinking about boats or containers anymore - it was all hot and deep and wet. And then Perry sucked my tongue, and holy fuck, that went straight south, you know what I'm saying? And when he pulled back, he bit my lip. Not hard. Just hard enough.

I wasn't thinking about anything anymore. "Your...mouth," I said, so I guess actually I was thinking about one thing.

"Yeah," he said, and his voice had gotten a little deeper, rougher, harder - uh, wait, where was I? Right, he was talking. "Yeah, and do you know what else my mouth can do?" He looked down at my lap and licked his lips.

I swallowed, hard, and I'm man enough to admit that I was ready to take what he was offering. "I sure hope so," I said - or I think I said, I mean I wasn't exactly taking notes at a time like that - and I reached up and pulled his mouth back to mine again. He spent some more quality time fucking my mouth with his tongue - God, no other way to put it. And I spent some quality time making sure he knew his efforts were truly appreciated. Then he bit all along my jaw, scraping his teeth along my stubble. His mouth headed for my ear while his hand wandered south - chest, stomach, waist, and, fuck yes, my crotch. He palmed my dick through my pants while his lips brushed against my ear, and I think my whole body begged for more. And then he whispered, "Keep moaning."

"Not - not a problem," I managed. Damn, he was good with his hands.

"And don't talk," he said, and bit my earlobe. That wasn't going to be a problem either, because a few people - a lot of people, if I'm being honest - have said that I'm a very verbal guy, but there are some situations that are just not compatible with talking, and when your boss is working your fly undone with one very talented hand and then just skimming a finger over the head of your cock where it's pressing up against your underwear, just enough for you to feel it, not quite enough to get the job done - well. It's not a time when I, personally, can think, much less talk.

"This box is wired," Perry whispered, and for a second I thought it was a gay slang term for, God, I don't know. Something gay, is my point, that gay guys do. "We're under surveillance."

"We -" but I didn't get any further than that, because he took the hand he'd had wrapped around my neck and shoved two fingers in my mouth. "Yeah, God, suck me, just like that," he said loudly, then went back to whispering. "I said don't talk."

So I didn't talk. I nipped the pad of one of his fingers. He didn't want to react, I could tell, but with his mouth right at my ear like that I could hear his - well, not a gasp, I don't think you could call it a full gasp, but definitely a sharp intake of breath. He was moved, is what I'm saying.

Some of the same people who called me very verbal also said I lack motivation, but they just weren't pushing the right buttons, I'm telling you, because that not-quite-gasp, that motivated the fuck out of me. And he told me to suck, didn't he? I worked his fingers like he worked a case - intense and totally focused.

He didn't say anything for a minute, and when he did, his voice was even lower, rougher. "They're watching us, hoping we'll talk about what we're doing here. We're going to give them something they don't want to watch."

Maybe one of my hands wandered down to see how he was taking my efforts, and you know what? He was definitely affected. Like diamond hard affected. I squeezed just to be sure. He took another sharp breath. "They're homophobes. I can always tell. So if we keep this up - God, do not stop - then we should be seeing - yes, just like that - some action soon." I ran my tongue between his fingers just to hear his voice crack.

I have pretty damn good hands, if I do say so myself, and they were slipping inside his pants before you could say Jack Robinson. And he seemed to be pretty motivated, too, because he stopped with the teasing and shoved his hand down my boxers.

"Mmmm," I said, drifting into that state where nothing matters except the hand on your cock.

And then the door of the container box slammed open.

"Well, Mr. Lockhart. I thought your tastes went in a slightly different direction, but I guess I was wrong."

I knew that voice, though it was a little less wet dream and a little more pissed off reality right at that moment, and even with every synapse in my brain focused on Perry's hand being - fuck, no, no, no - pulled out of my boxers and doing my fly back up, which was just wrong on so many levels, I still managed to say, "Carmen."

Perry moved my hand, did up his own fly, and stood up. God, he moves fast when he wants to. "Carmen, huh? This is the Carmen whose case you didn't take?"

I stood up, too. If there's a Good Detective Manual, it says in it somewhere that you don't stay sprawled out like you almost had really good sex when your client is in the doorway, and the three bruisers who were your boss's suspects are behind her, pointing guns at you. I mean, assuming that scenario is covered in the manual, and it fucking well should be, because it's a tough situation to call. I mean, yes, obviously stand up, but what do you say? I went with introductions.

"Uh, yeah. Perry, this is Carmen Lennox, who hired me - us - to do surveillance on her husband. Carmen, this is Perry Van Shrike, my boss."

"Mr. Van Shrike. I've been following your activities with some interest." She tossed her head scornfully.

Perry gave her scorn right back. "If I'm not mistaken, I've been following yours, too."

I nudged Perry. "Uh, wait. I don't understand. See, you haven't been following her, I was supposed to be following -"

Perry smacked me on the shoulder. "She's in charge of the syndicate, dumbass."

"And when you say 'syndicate' -"

"I mean the crime syndicate that has been smuggling counterfeit consumer goods into the United States and stolen precious gems and metals back out. You know, the case I've been working on for the insurance consortium?"

"Oh, oh. That case. Hey! Your case and my case are one case! Again!" I love it when that happens, mostly because it pisses Perry off so much.

"Yeah, yeah."

"But then, Perry - if you were already investigating her, why did she hire us to investigate her husband?"

Perry sighed. "She must've made me at some point during the surveillance - believe me, I'm as shocked as you are, but it's a risk in this business. Once she knew I was on her, she hired us so she could get a line on how much we knew. And probably so she could set up hubby as the patsy in case we were too close."

Perry turned back to Carmen. "You'll have to forgive my partner; he's a little slow." He smiled at her. "He's a demon in the sack, though."

Carmen looked like she'd tasted something bad. "I noticed that you couldn't wait to get your hands on him. Well, Mr. Van Shrike, you should know that he was pretty damned interested in getting his hands on my legs when we met in your office." I'm telling you - every woman in this town's a liar.

"Harry, you sly devil." Perry moved in next to me and slung his arm around my shoulder. "See, that's the way we faggots operate, Mrs. - Lennox, was it? We're pretty sharing. Of course, in Harry's case, faggot isn't the quite the right word, but we gave him an honorary membership for the way he sucks cock."

And I know it was inappropriate - but then this is me, king of the inappropriate sexual response, talking - but hearing Perry say 'sucks cock' in that voice, well, it, uh. Like I said, inappropriate sexual response. The Good Detective Manual probably specially says you can't fuck your partner right in front of the client. The bad guys. The client/bad guys.

Imagining me and Perry starring in a movie inspired by his iPod videos made me miss the next part of the conversation, but I tuned back in when Carmen stalked up to Perry and spat in his face. "Fucking cock-sucker," she said.

"You say that like it's a bad thing." Perry raised his eyebrows at her. "Don't tell me you've never been there." She hissed at him - honest to God hissed, like a snake with legs. Gorgeous legs, but still.

And then she turned to Bruiser - look, I forget which number it was, it's funny but guys all look the same when they're pointing guns at you - and said, "Get rid of the idiot on the way to Veracruz. But him -" she gestured with her chin at Perry "- he dies in front of me."

I said Perry had his arm around my shoulder, right? I'm pretty sure I said that before. Well, it put my arm in this kind of uncomfortable zone, like - do I put my hand on his ass? Do I just kind of leave my arm wedged in between us? Do I put my arm around his shoulder, tangling us up like a Chinese rope game? But when she said that, I figured out what to do. Perry keeps guns all over his body - you wouldn't believe where, unless you know about the Christmas Affair, and then I guess you would - and he has a holster in the small of his back. I pushed up his jacket, shoved my hand down his pants to get under his shirt - because, of course, he had his shirt tucked in all nice and tidy and so, so gay - and got the gun.

"Right, boss, you got it," Bruiser number whatever said. And then he stepped forward, raised his gun, and took aim.

I'm not bragging about what I did next. It was a reflex, and anyone - well, most people - well, anyway, I did what I did.

I shoved Perry out of the way. Hard. And then it went into this super slow motion, just like in the Matrix, you know? I could see Bruiser's finger move on the trigger, see the bullet flying toward me, hear Perry yelling my name, feel my own arm coming up with Perry's gun in my hand, see myself pulling the trigger once, twice, three times. And then Bruiser's bullet hit.

And then nothing.

Fade to fucking black.

Epilogue: And Now Tomorrow

But of course I'm not going to end it like that. I mean, apart from anything else, you're not stupid - I've been narrating this whole time, so you know perfectly fucking well I'm not dead. Unless, oooooo, I'm talking to you from beyond the grave. Please. We're in a noir-ish detective story, not some gay supernatural romance novel shit.

(At least, fuck, please let me not be in a gay supernatural romance novel, too, because I can only handle so many genres, okay?)

Anyway. It was nothing for a while, and then I woke up in a hospital bed with really good drugs coursing through my system. I've always said there is nothing like an intravenous drip of a fine synthetic opiate to put a nice, shiny gloss on the world, and this drip sure put a gloss on Perry, who was sitting next to my bedside reading Girl Trouble, Jonny Gossamer's second outing, where he meets the redhead with the brother - but that's beside the point.

"The Man Who Died Twice is better," I said, and my voice felt kind of funny and rough. "If you're going to start on Jonny Gossamer."

Perry looked up, and he smiled. Honest to God smiled. Like he was happy and not just pissed off or smarter than me or something. I had to look twice to make sure it was him. "I figured I'd better," he said. "Since I guess this is your playbook."

"Sports reference. Nice one," I said, except it came out in kind of a croak. Long periods of unconsciousness under sedation are hard on the voice.

Perry fed me an ice chip and moved to sit next to me on the bed. He brushed the hair out of my face and looked deep into my eyes. "So, to save you asking your stupid questions, I'll just sum up: you shot one of the bad guys, I shot the other two, and I took Carmen Lennox down. She's in prison, the other three are in caskets, and her husband's going to pay the rest of her bill out of sheer gratitude; she had 18 kinds of blackmail on him. We saved the day, we solved the insurance company case, and you took a bullet that missed your heart by about a centimeter." He flicked my forehead, but gently. Like he cared. "Don't do that again."

"I'll work on that," I said.

He shook his head and fed me another ice chip.

And then it was all over except the long, painful recuperation, the testifying in court, and the next case, the one Carmen's husband hired us to work. But that's a different story.

Okay, all over except for that and the hot gay sex. But I told you: I only do one genre, and that's noir-ish detective novel.

You want gay sex stories, go look on the Internet.