The German police detective, Sigmund Frist, who had been plowing his American counterpart, Clint Folsom, the previous night couldn't have picked a worse time to want further attention from Folsom. Folsom had gone to sun bathe and to dry out the effects of a raucous night topside on the MS River God as it shot down the most scenic segment of the Rhine. But he'd been waylaid this morning on the Helios deck by a heavenly endowed African potentate who had him stretched out on a lounger and was mining his ass with his very royal manhood.
Folsom's first thought when Frist interrupted this little orgiastic death out of Africa scene was that Frist was jealous and territorial. But then he discerned that there was something much more serious behind the German's gruffness and insistence that Folsom go below with him.
With apologies to the good-natured African, who was easily placated with the promise of a rematch, Folsom rose and pulled on his Speedo and slipped a T-shirt over his head. Seconds later, he was padding along behind Frist down to the Apollo deck, where the major suites were sandwiched between the Ambrosia restaurant and the reception foyer and the Alexander lounge.
Frist responded to none of Folsom's questions as they descended from the sun deck. He just went to the door of the Zeus suite, looked around to ensure that they were not being spied on, indicated that Folsom should open the door and pushed him inside, and then shouldered the door closed behind them.
Folsom gasped, hardly believing what he saw. He had seen this tableau before - and it was one that he'd never forget and that marked the turning point in his life. He was forced to look away in horror. He turned to Frist, who was looking very serious and was pulling surgical gloves on his hands. He didn't, however, offer Folsom a pair.
Bruno was stretched out, on his back and naked, on a king-sized bed. He was spread-eagled with his appendages bound to posts at the four corners of the bed. He was quite dead, and the grotesque grimace set on his face indicated that he hadn't died easily. A thick sounding wand was buried deep in the piss slit of his cock and he had bled from both his ass channel and from a knife wound below his rib cage on right side of his torso.
This scene was all too familiar to Folsom. This was exactly the scene of his lover and partner's death, a death that Folsom had been tracking Bruno Meister down for having committed. This was such a fitting death for Meister, but a gorge of rage rose from Folsom's belly that Meister had escaped him - that someone else had gotten there first.
'Who. What . . . ?' Folsom stammered out.
'The knife wound was enough to kill him,' Frist said. 'But the anal bleeding indicates he was probably fucked by an oversized object as well. Probably just a kinky sex party gone bad, but this is quite an inconvenient mess.'
'Yes, probably just a party gone bad,' Folsom repeated in a shocked monotone. But his mind was crying out that no, the similarities between this scene and that of Brad Robert's death were just too coincidental. No, something else was afoot here. He was sure of it. But who else on this ship other than he himself could make this connection. He had to think. And he had to hide these thoughts from Frist. Frist, first of all, was a policemen. And this was his territory.
'I don't understand. Why are you showing this to me? Are you taking on this investigation? Who else knows of this.'
'That isn't all,' Frist responded, clearly indicating that show and tell wasn't over and the answering of questions hadn't begun. He motioned for Folsom to open the door and follow him back down the corridor. They went down the stairs at the foyer to the deck below and walked into the short corridor of passenger cabins under the midship portion of the Alexander lounge. Folsom heard the sound of sobbing, which increased as they walked toward the end of the corridor, toward where the door to the exercise room was on the right and the door into a crew area and eventually, Folsom assumed, led to the door under the stairs in the Hephaestion club room. Frist turned to the right into the small exercise room, which seemed overflowing with men and equipment.
The first man encountered was the ship's captain, who was standing stiffly just inside the doorway with a deep-creased frown on his face. Looking past him, Folsom saw the source of the weeping. Roman the Magnificent, the tormentor of the previous evening in Hephaestion, was hunched over the weight bench and wailing to beat the band. He seemed to be playing the tormented rather than the tormentor today.
And then Folsom saw the reason for Roman's lamenting. He was shielding and hugging the naked body of his erstwhile assistant, Dieter, which was propped on the bench, wrists tied to the handlebars of the treadmills on either side of the bench and ankles to the feet of the opposite ends of the treadmills. There was a sounding wand buried in his piss slit, and a knife wound under his rib cage, and, if he could have seen past Roman's protecting body, Folsom was sure that there would be bleeding from his rectum too. There was entirely too much of this going around.
Folsom stood, dazed, watching the touching farewell love scene between Roman and Dieter, a near twin of the one he himself had had with Brad Roberts when he had come upon that murder scene. No, there was no coincidences in these two deaths on the Rhine, Folsom told himself. And he was sure there was a link to Roberts's death as well.
While Roman was grieving and the wheels were spinning in Folsom's mind, Frist and the captain were speaking in low tones at the door. But when Folsom turned toward the door, Frist was gone and the captain was taking command.
'The German authorities will, of course, come on board as soon as we reach Koblenz late this afternoon,' the captain said. 'I'll send someone down to tend to Roman and to seal this door. But in the meantime, Mr. Folsom, I would appreciate it if you went to your cabin and stayed there and didn't speak of this to anyone.'
'Yes, yes, of course, Captain,' Folsom responded and turned immediately and walked back up the corridor. He had been in such a daze upon the discovery in succession of two identical deaths that, as he walked slowly back to his cabin, he couldn't remember whether any mention of Bruno Meister's death had been made to the captain at all.
Folsom was surprised to find Frist waiting for him in his cabin. He tried to discuss what had happened with Frist, but his mind was working too slowly in gauging what to say that didn't bring in the connections to Robert's death or reveal that Folsom himself had planned to kill Meister. Before he could form what to say or ask, Frist was shushing him and had pulled off his T and had his torso arched back as Frist attacked his nipples with his lips and teeth. Folsom was pushed down on the bed that had been lowered before he entered the room, and Frist slid his Speedo off his hips and down his legs. He spread the younger American's legs wide, thrust inside him, and fucked away all of Folsom's questions. Exhausted once more by overwhelming sex, Folsom was nodding off as Frist left him and exited the cabin. It was only right before sleep claimed him that Folsom remembered the most pressing question that he had. How had Frist gotten into his locked cabin?
The captain had Folsom's dinner delivered to his cabin that evening. A trembling and obviously troubled Tiho brought the tray in. He was on the verge of saying something to Folsom, but then he clamped his jaw shut and scurried out of the room, the very personification of a scared rabbit.
About an hour after the boat arrived in Koblenz, Folsom got the call that a German inspector wanted to talk with him in the library. Folsom had watched the boat round the bend at the gigantic bronze statue of Kaiser Wilhelm the First, and move up into the Moselle River. Then he had seen from his cabin window the police launch come out to the boat, which had anchored about a hundred feet from the dock. He had no idea what the other passengers were thinking about the failure of the ship to dock and to open its doors for access to the city's waterfront. Folsom told the captain that he'd be in the library in a half hour.
But before that, Folsom knew he needed a drink. He left his cabin, bypassed the library and went up into the Alexander lounge. He ordered a stiff scotch on the rocks from one of masked blond bartenders, having no idea if it was his masked bartender, and moved to a table near the stairs down to Hephaestion. He could hear music coming up from the sex club down there, and he wondered momentarily whether the evening show down there would go on in spite of Dieter's death and Roman's reaction to that.
'There you are, Mr. Folsom. I suppose we can talk here as well as in the library.'
Folsom looked up to find he was being addressed by a pudgy middle-aged man with a very stern expression on his face.
'I am Inspector Fritz Manfeld of the Koblenz office of the Bundespolizei. I would like to ask you a few questions about this suspicious death. Und so, shall we get right down to it?'
Folsom took a deep swallow on his scotch and motioned for Manfeld to sit down at the table.
'I'm Detective Clint Folsom of the New York Police Department.'
Manfeld raised his eyebrows. 'And you are on this cruise for . . . ?'
'Pleasure,' Folsom responded.
'I see,' Manfeld answered after a brief pause in a flat tone. It was only then that Folsom realized what a bad choice of words he had made. But being on the cruise to do gay cruising had been his cover. He couldn't very well change his tune on that now.
'And did you know the deceased?'
'No, not either one,' Folsom answered. This was quite a stretch, but technically correct. He'd know every nook and cranny of Dieter's body following last evening's performance and he knew much more than that about Bruno Meister, but he hadn't personally met either one of them. So his response wasn't really a lie.
'Either one?' Manfeld said with a set expression on his face. 'Can you tell me how you know there was more than one, please? The captain indicated you entered the exercise room to see the body of the young man, Dieter Krungsheft, but we only discovered the other body after we boarded the ship.'
'Excuse me?' Folsom asked with surprise and confusion. 'Sigmund Frist and I saw Bruno Meister's body shortly after noon. Hasn't he reported that to you?'
'Sigmund Frist? Do you mean Inspector Sigmund Frist from Frankfurt?'
'Yes, he's the one who showed me the bodies.'
'I know nothing about Sigmund Frist being involved in this. We're a long way from Frankfurt.' Manfeld was forming a little set frown on his brow.
'He's a passenger on the cruise,' Folsom pressed. 'He called me in to view the crime scenes.'
'I hardly think that's possible,' Manfeld retorted, his voice taking on an indignant tone. 'I hardly think Sigmund Frist would be on a cruise of this sort. And why would he show you the crime scene. And if he were here, why wouldn't he have reported to the authorities that he'd found Bruno Meister dead?'
'But he was there in Meister's cabin - and so was I.'
'I've closely examined the passenger list, Mr. Folsom, and there is no Sigmund Frist on that list. Believe me, I would have recognized that name if I had seen it.'
There was a slight pause then, and with a very cold and deliberate voice, Manfeld said, 'And so, you would not be surprised, Mr. Folsom if, when we research the fingerprints in Meister's cabin and on the sexual device we found there, we find that you had been in the cabin?'
'No, of course not. As I said, Frist took me in there and . . . what sexual device?'
We found a thick rubberized male phallus of nearly half a meter in length on the floor at the foot of the bed in Meister's cabin. It was bloodied, and we suspect it was used on both victims. You claim you didn't see that or handle it, Mr. Folsom? It was a little hard to miss.'
Folsom's mind was racing. In the horror of what he saw and the short time that he was in the room, could he possibly have overlooked seeing a thick and bloody dildo of some sixteen inches in length on the floor by the body? No, he couldn't imagine that being possible. He was a trained cop. No matter how shocking the scene, his instincts would have made him memorize the most significant objects on site. He couldn't believe that the dildo could have been there when he was in the cabin.
While his mind was racing, a uniformed policeman had come into the lounge, whispered something in Manfeld's ear, and then withdrew again.
Manfeld gave Folsom a hard look. 'According to the cabin attendants, you didn't occupy your cabin last night, Mr. Folsom. And an attendant was there this morning when you returned to your cabin.'
Folsom started to form a response. Obviously he was going to get nowhere, if he told the inspector he was being fucked by Frist all night in the latter's cabin. And what was the number of that cabin?
Manfeld didn't really wait for an answer, though. He forged ahead with another question. 'Do you have a pearl-handled hunting knife in your possession, Mr. Folsom? If we were to search your cabin, would we find such a weapon?'
Folsom was thrown off kilter. Certainly not, he was thinking. But he had seen such a knife. Where, he wondered.
Just then, the masked bartender came over and got down low between Manfeld and Folsom and started pestering Manfeld on having something to drink - on the house, captain's orders. At the same time, he was gesturing behind his back at Folsom, pointing toward the stairs down to Hephaestion.
Taking the hint, and not caring at all for the direction this police questioning was going, Folsom slipped out of his chair and down the stairs, while the bartender was occupying the attention of a flustered police detective.
As Folsom hit the bottom of the stairs, the spotlights were gleaming on the stage below, and Roman and Magnificent was strutting around in his almost-nothing costume just as he had the night before. He was apologizing that his assistant was indisposed, but that the show had to go on. Surely there was someone from the audience interested in a little bondage and S&M, he was saying.
'Ah, yes, up there, on the stairs. The perfect man,' he was saying. 'Shine the lights up there.'
Folsom was blinded by the strobing lights. Roman couldn't mean him. But, incredibly, he seemed to mean him. And there was no better way, he thought, to escape the confusing and damning questions of the German policeman, if only for a few moments, than to hide in plain sight.
Thus, he gave no resistance when the voices from the audience surged around him, urging him to take the challenge.
He found himself down on the stage, being strapped, wrists and ankles, spread-eagle style to the Plexiglas crossbeam.
Roman came up close behind him and whispered in his ear, 'Help me and I'll help you. Play to the audience.' He then started ripping a perfectly good shirt and pants to shreds on Folsom's body with a box cutter, accompanied by wild cheering and enthusiastic applause. It hit Folsom then. Roman was not using the weapon he had used before. The previous evening he'd used a pearl-handled hunting knife. This must be the same knife Manfeld was accusing Folsom of having in his cabin. There was little Folsom could do about the implications of this now, however. He was trussed up to the crossbeam like a deer on a spit. The stage began to revolve.
He glanced up into the crowd and saw that Manfred and the uniformed policeman had come down the stairs and were frantically searching the banks of patrons with their eyes. But Folsom had guessed well. They did not expect to see Folsom on the stage as part of the act and so they didn't see him there. In short order they had left, seeking their escaped suspect somewhere else on the ship.
Roman flicked Folsom with the whip and he writhed in exaggerated response, playing for the audience as Roman had requested. He writhed for real, however, while Roman was applying and tweaking the clamps on his nipples and other sensitive areas of his skin. He was moaning and groaning. But his cock was filling out too. This rough treatment was getting him excited.
Roman was lathering up his asshole, and Folsom tensed his body against the crossbeam and howled to the ceiling as Roman thrust his gold-condom sheathed cock into him from behind, on the other side of the crossbar, and rode him hard to loud chants of 'houza' from the appreciative audience.
This was a departure from the previous evening's act as well, Folsom realized. Last evening, Roman had used a mammoth dildo on Dieter. A mammoth dildo. Now missing from the act. Folsom shivered at the thought. Meister had been fucked with a mammoth dildo.
At length Roman whispered in Folsom's ear, 'Now, I'm going to release you and you are going to take your bows with a grin on your face. And I'm going to help spirit you away and try to keep you out of the hands of the German police. I want you to find Dieter's killer - and you have to be free to do that. Agreed?'
Folsom nodded his head in agreement - not being sure he wasn't now responding to Dieter's killer - and Roman ballooned out the head of the condom with his semen deep inside Folsom, and the evening's entertainment was over. Roman ceremoniously released his captive, and the audience cheered its pleasure and appreciation. Roman and Folsom then took their bows and disappeared with a flourish through the door below the stairs and into the area that contained two crew cabins before reaching the door into the passenger corridor where the exercise room was located. Roman quickly told Folsom that one of the crew cabins was occupied by the three masked blond bartenders and the one across from it had once been occupied by Roman and Dieter. But Folsom was now replacing Dieter in Roman's bed, if not in his heart - but safe nonetheless in at least the short term from the police search of the passenger areas of the ship for the vanished American.