I picked my way through piles of corrugated tin, broken toilets, and lawnmower parts and came to a halt when I saw the blue uniforms and the wheel-less old Lincoln Town Car, with the smashed-in engine compartment, sitting on concrete blocks. Mullins had said it was an Inevitable Case when he’d called me, but I’d never get used to seeing the various ways that could play out. What we referred to as an Inevitable Case was a street whore or hustler some john or pimp had taken for that final ride.
The back door of the Town Car was open and I could see the body--small, slim, and folded over in a near-fetal position, knees on the floor of the car in front of the backseat, chest pushed up against the partition wall to the driver’s compartment, the red sash around the neck, angrily contrasting with the supple, creamy skin. Golden curls drooping down over the side of the face. Even from here I could see that it was a young Caucasian, probably male. At least I’d been told on the phone that it was a male, connected with a series of cases we were pursuing.
When I got closer to the car, Mullins and Paxton looked up and gave me a slight grimace. I didn’t know who any of the young, uniformed cops were who were milling about the scene--more cops than were necessary, certainly. Sightseers just like the people gathered at the entrance to the junk yard. No doubt they were from the local Bronx precinct. Mullins and Paxton I knew because they were my men. We all were Central Headquarters Vice Homicide, the only such specialized unit in the city. The case had already been bucked up to us because of the red sash. It was becoming a city-wide signature, as was the victim also IDing as a young prostitute.
Flat chested. That was where the “probably male” had come from. No one had messed with the body to be positive about that. The side of his chest was hidden by the fold of his arm. If there’d been tits in evidence, protruding beyond the curve of the arm, it could have been a young, slim female, of which there were plenty walking the streets of the city. Now that I was closer, I could see his shorts and briefs down around his ankles and the T-shirt--a familiar one, but it probably was a popular design--puddled on the floor of the Town Car.
The perpetrator had been sitting on the seat, with the rent-boy riding him and facing the front seat. The red sash probably had started as just a breath-control kink and turned into something terminal. You’d think these young street whores would take notice of what little we put out on the street about this--be careful of red scarves and of johns interested in breath control.
“Any ID on him?” I asked Paxton.
“Left him his wallet, in his shorts, Mike. Name on the NYU student card is Sean Parks.”
I grunted. “Leaving ID follows the pattern. Thumbing his nose at us. Didn’t care that we knew who the vic was in short order. Probably meant he was picking them at random, not providing a pattern of mutual contact. Time of death?”
“The ME hasn’t arrived yet,” Mullins answered. “Apparently it was a busy night in the Bronx.”
I leaned into the backseat and reached over and brushed the curls of the hair away--and my hand immediately began to tremble. It couldn’t be. But of course it was. I took a moment to take deep breaths. Mullins and Paxton couldn’t see how this had undone me.
Either his name wasn’t really Sean Parks, or I had been duped. I knew him as Spencer Prentice. Same initials, though. And same angelic face and smooth, perfectly formed body. And if he really was a student at NYU, he must only be taking a class every other week. He was into--had been into--so much other shit. Including this. I had warned him several times about this. But, like all barely legal youths, he thought he was invincible. Well, now he was marked up as just another inevitable.
I swallowed hard twice and came out of the car, putting on my “just another day” face, even though the inside of me was jumping up and down and wanting to keen a death dirge.
“Anything unusual found?”
“Pretty much clean as a whistle, as usual,” Mullins said. “I’m sure the ME will find he used a condom, and the body and the car surfaces have been rubbed down with cleaning solvent. True to pattern. But, what the fuck, why is a junk yard left without any security like this? No dogs even, and the fence is a joke.”
“It’s Pedersen’s Junk Yard,” I said. “It’s one of those last stops for junk. Pretty much anything no one could possibly do anything with anymore. I was raised just a couple of blocks from here. Me and my brother used to use this as a fantasy land playground during off hours. So nothing unusual found at all?”
“Nothing other than this rosary,” Paxton said, holding up a string of beads. “At the base of the partition, by the body. But it could have been put there by anyone at any time, I suppose.”
I froze. I could feel myself starting to hyperventilate, but I had to keep it together. None of the cops here could know what I was feeling. “Here,” I said, pulling an evidence bag out of my pocket, “Put it in here and I’ll get it into the evidence file. But I bet you’re right--that it’s not connected with this. Our man hasn’t been that sloppy before.”
“Do you think it belongs to the rent-boy? Do you think he was Catholic?” Mullins asked.
“Hell if I know,” I answered. “We’ll have to check that out.” What was screaming through my head, though, was a response that hell, no, he wasn’t Catholic. Spencer’s religion had never gone beyond himself--which was the root of what had gotten him here. If he believed in any ism, it would be narcissism.
I stuck my hands in my pockets so the guys couldn’t see that they were trembling. It was hot as hell out here. I had left my coat and tie in the car and was just in my short sleeves--which alone, marked what we were doing here as reality and not a TV show, where the cops chasing the criminals through the alleys all wore tailored and pressed suits--and still I was sweating like a pig. Of course, I was sweating more than the other guys were, which I hoped they weren’t noticing. I had to get out of here. I leaned back into the backseat as if to check something and laid a hand on Spencer’s shoulder, closed my eyes, and mouthed an abbreviated prayer.
He may not have been Catholic, but I was. An Irish Kavanagh through and through. Feeling guilty went with the religion, and God, did I not feel guilty now? Spencer, of course, was beyond feelings of guilt.
I had told him it would end like this if he didn’t rein it in, but, of course, he hadn’t believed me. Had I believed it really would happen to him? If I could say yes to that, why hadn’t I tried harder to prevent it?
“It’s hot as hell out here,” I said, coming up out of the car. “No reason for all of us to wait out the ME. I’ll go back to headquarters and start the file work.”
I knew that neither Paxton or Mullins would object to that. The choice of standing out under the sun in the middle of a smelly junkyard and fighting off the flies was a thousand times more agreeable to both of them than filling out paperwork.
I drove the three blocks to Saint Barnabas Catholic Church, went into the church gift shop, and bought a rosary that, luckily, was identical to the one Paxton had handed me. Neither he nor Mullins would have any idea I had pulled a switch. I put it in another evidence bag. I’d sanitize it before I checked it into the evidence file, though. No use getting some Saint Barnabas parishioner who liked to finger merchandise she didn’t buy involved in this. It would just be another teaser the red sash killer had cleaned any possible prints from. Mullins and Paxton both had been wearing evidence gloves, and I had put a pair on before approaching the car. I had to just hope that the first cops on the scene had been as careful.
I had no idea what I’d do with the rosary that had actually come out of the Town Car. I would think about that later. In the end, I knew I would send it to a private lab for fingerprinting. I knew I couldn’t go without knowing.
When I went back to the car after leaving the gift shop, I sat there for a good twenty minutes, taking deep breaths and trembling, with tears rolling down my cheeks.
It wasn’t just Spencer I was hyperventilating and crying for.
* * * *
Both the Central Headquarters Vice Homicide unit and my apartment, if you could call essentially one room, a bedroom only large enough for a double, and a bath, an apartment, were located in the South Central district of Manhattan, just to the east of the Avenue of the Americas. But I usually went for coffee on the west side the avenue, just inside the Chelsea district. Chelsea was more eclectic than the surrounding districts and open to various lifestyles, which seemed to accommodate each other amicably. I went to the same café in Chelsea most of the time to rub elbows with another lifestyle than my presumed one without running much of a risk of being tagged with it. No one at work knew of my inclinations. I could hang with the NYPD boys as much as anyone and spent a lot of time in the gym with them being just another one of them. None of my compatriots came over into Chelsea for their coffee fix or knew that I did. I could sip and ogle in comfort there in my completely different world.
And there was a lot to ogle. I didn’t touch. At least not the clientele. Despite being another world than South Central, it still was too close to home. There was a barista, though, who I struck up an acquaintance with over time. A short, slim-bodied blond, with curly hair, an angelic smile, a sassy nature, and a mouth that spieled light sarcasm and increasingly pointed innuendo the longer I came in and saddled up to the counter for my “just black and strong.”
After a few months, he was Spencer and I was Mike--and we both knew, since I didn’t retreat from his innuendo, that we both were likeminded and interested.
I would have hit on him, but I was afraid I’d break him--that I couldn’t control myself in using him. It was a David and Goliath thing. I didn’t have much question that he was gay. He didn’t try to hide it much. But I had him by at least eight inches and surely weighed twice as much as he did, though I wasn’t a fatty. Four days a week working hard in the gym and my active and athletic work style pounding the streets kept me in top shape--as did the need to pass the regular exams. Vice homicide was an elite unit.
Then came the day, a slow day at the café, and one where I’d come in late and a little bummed out from the case I was working on and one that was nearing the end of Spencer’s shift. I certainly hadn’t planned it. I’d never been in this late before, and I’d never thought of when Spencer got off work. Maybe it was my late presence that prompted him, but the proposition was his, not mine. I don’t know as I would have ever done more than have looked and jawed suggestively. I had gotten a rush out going just that far that kept me coming into the coffee bar.
Leaning over the counter, he whispered to me, with a smile that reached right up to his blue eyes, “You want to fuck me, don’t you?”
Replacing my first shocked look with a steady gaze, I told him the truth. “Yeah, of course I do. I’ve wanted to since the first day I walked in here. But we don’t have to--”
“I’m off in ten minutes. I live nearby, although it’s not much. If you have something close that’s better, neutral ground--”
“I’ll spring for a hotel, if you know of an acceptable one nearby.”
“I don’t know about acceptable, but there are several within a couple of blocks that rent by the hour and where I’m known and there won’t be any hassle.”
That was the first inkling I had that Spencer was a rent-boy on the side. I probably should have put on the brakes then--I was hitting entirely too close to my own food bowl in Vice--but no part of my body would have agreed to that at the time.
“I’ll supply the rubbers,” he said. “Can I hope that you’ll need a Magnum?”
“As a matter of fact I do,” I answered. And that wasn’t a lie. But it was part of the problem. I wasn’t afraid he wasn’t old enough; he had to be to work as a barista, and I’d checked through the restaurant records registered with City Hall until I’d proved that--showing I was interested in him for some time. But, age aside, he was such a small guy that I’d been afraid all along that I’d split him. But if he was a rent-boy, he must have managed that before I came along.
“But doesn’t it worry you--put you off--that I need a maxi rubber?” I asked, not being able to ignore the concern.
“Don’t worry about me,” he’d whispered in the dimly lit and dingy hotel room, the curtains billowing at the window open to the orange-to-red flashing of a neon sign, as he crouched, raised on his knees, at the foot of the bed, facing me, naked, as I was. I had found that the best of the rent-boys could gauge the wants and capacities of their johns, and Spencer was among the very best of rent-boys. I needn’t have worried. He was so trained to the life that he’d been reamed to take it.
He had one hand around the back of my neck--we had just been kissing--and the other one was between us, on my cock, having just smoothed the Trojan Magnum on my erect and throbbing staff. He somehow divined that I wanted to come into him quietly and deeply, to hold his small, smooth body close in my bear hug, and for him to moan deeply for me as I took him slowly at first, but rising to a crescendo of thrusts.
“Don’t worry about me,” he repeated. “I can handle it.” He arched back then, pressing his shoulders into the surface of the mattress, and raised one of his ankles to my shoulder. He nudged my left hand with his right foot, and, taking the hint, I grasped his ankle and raised and held his other leg out. The bulb of my cock was pressed at his entrance. He had nearly melted when he found I had a thick Prince Albert cock ring in the bulb and he claimed to be delighted at the sound and feel of it clicking against his teeth when he knelt on the floor before me and sucked me off as soon as we had entered the room.
“Fuck me. Fuck me deep, Mike,” he murmured.
At first I didn’t think that was going to be possible. But then it was. He was every inch the experienced rent-boy. He opened to me and I penetrated a couple of inches, holding while both of us gasped and moaned.
“Deep, deep,” he pleaded and then arched his back and groaned as I gave it all to him. The next twenty minutes we moved in concert, like a well-oiled machine, our murmurings, gasps, groans, and moans drowned out by the sound of the street traffic three stories below the open window. Slow at first and then faster and faster; me doing all the plowing at first, but, gradually, Spencer moving his hips in counter punches to my deep thrusts so that we were working together. Holding him close to my chest, his face at the level of my chest and nipples, with Spencer giving me attention there as I plowed him.
“I wanted you from the first day you entered the coffee bar,” he whispered.
“I wanted you before I even met you,” I countered, “when I was just imagining the perfect lay.”
All too soon he was becoming vocal, arching his neck back, panting and yelping to the ceiling; shuddering and ejaculating between our bodies from his hard, but small, boyish cock. His coming brought on mine, and I barely had time to pull out of him, jerk off the condom, heed his “On my face; come on my face,” plea, and scramble up on the bed on my knees before I jacked all over his smooth cheeks, and he was raising his face, taking my cock in his mouth, and cleaning me off.
“Why didn’t you do this to me the first day you bellied up to the counter?” he asked.
“I was afraid you couldn’t manage, that I’d split you in two,” I murmured as we lay stretched out against each other on the bed. “You’re so small, delicate looking, but a body of steel in the clutches.”
“And you’re such a thug,” Spencer answered. “But I think you can tell I like thugs. If I’d known about the cock ring I would have jumped your bones weeks ago. Such a big, hairy, muscular brute. Just what I like. Mafia? I’ve imagined you in the Mafia.”
“No, not Mafia,” I answered. “Probably worse in your estimation.” But I didn’t tell him I was a vice cop. He didn’t ask. He was busy rummaging around in the pockets of his jeans, which were entangled with the bed sheets.
“What you are doing? I don’t sign autographs.”
“You could, you know,” he said. “You’re that good at it.”
“I bet you say that to all of your johns.”
“Yes, I do. But I don’t say that to all of the men I chose to fuck for free. And that includes you. Here, this is what I was looking for. I want you to do me again.”
He was holding up a condom. I wasn’t usually ready to perform this soon again, but Spencer was everything I wanted in a lay, and I was already literally up for him again.
“You have more of those in your pocket?” I asked.
“Enough, do you think?”
“I hope not. You can bareback me, you know. I get checked regularly.”
“I think not,” I answered, although later I could have kicked myself for not having engaged in that ultimate intimacy with him.
I rolled him over onto his back and came with him, on top of him, but taking most of my weight on my knees wedged between his thighs and my forearms on either side of him. He raised his buttocks to me at the perfect angle for my entry, and, crowned once more, I slid inside him and fucked him deep and slow again.
We came to the hotel three times more in the next four weeks. He asked no more about me than he already knew--not even where I lived. I wanted to make love to him in a more uplifting place than this fleabag hotel, but I had a strict policy of not going to where they lived or letting them know where I lived. That he did it for me was marked by my not having sex with anyone else during that period. I usually spiked a guy twice a week, rarely the same guy twice in succession, and in New York, I always had opportunities. I went to two gyms--twice a week to the gym with the guys I worked with, but then twice a week to a different, more discreet gym, where I presented well enough on the exercise floor that I never had to leave alone--or could manage my business right there in the showers, sauna, or changing cubicles.
But Spencer was the kind of lay that put me off anyone else.
We could have gone on like that for some time, I suppose, if I hadn’t pulled vice operation duties one evening. I did what I could to avoid that special duty, as I always was afraid that I’d open my car window on a sting to some sweet young thing I’d done in the gym shower. And that’s exactly what happened that night.
We were raiding the streets of the nearby Garment district one night, when I rolled down my window and the young guy peering in and opening with, “Is there anything I can do for you, handsome?” turned out to be Spencer.
“You?” he then said. “This is a cop car, isn’t it? I knew I should’ve stayed back on the curb.”
“Get in, Spencer,” I growled. “Fast. Fewer who see us the better.”
“You are a cop, aren’t you, Mike.” And then, when I didn’t deny that, he said, with a sigh, “You’re right. That’s worse than Mafia.”
“Just get in the goddamn car, Spencer. You need to be off the street tonight.” It was a “bring ’em in en mass” night, with the focus on this district.
We were both silent as I drove off, and then in circles in central Manhattan, not sure where to go. I should have taken him back to the fleabag hotel in Chelsea, but my homing instinct took me back to my own place in South Central. I’d never brought a lay home before. I had a strict policy about that. I have no idea what I was thinking.
He said nothing the entire time. He just sat up against the passenger door with his hand to the side of his face, turned away from me.
I had cooled down when I entered the parking garage. “OK, here’s the deal, Spencer. You have to stay off the street tonight. I can take you back to where you live or wherever as long as you pledge not to go back in the Garment district tonight. Or I can take you upstairs, to my apartment, fuck the stuffing out of you, and pay you something so that your night isn’t a financial bust.”
“You don’t have to pay me nothin’,” he muttered.
When we got up to the seventh floor and entered my apartment, we both could hear the heavy breathing and groans coming from my bedroom.
“Shit,” I said.
“You runnin’ a brothel from here?” Spencer asked, smiling wickedly.
To wipe the grin off his face, I fucked him on my kitchen table, him belly down on the table, and me hunched over him, with one leg on the ground and the other one raised so that my foot was on a kitchen chair, to give me extra leverage in the thrusts. His leg was trapped over mine, opening his buttocks wide to me, and I held his wrists with one beefy hand and trapped his arms behind his back. His wrists were bound over his head by the set of handcuffs he’d seen me carrying and insisted on trying out.
I fucked him hard, and he claimed to be loving it.
I was still covering his back and panting after the finish when a twinky young Hispanic poured out my bedroom, buckling his pants, with a T-shirt over his shoulder. He stopped, wild-eyed when he saw Spencer and me--and especially when he saw the handcuffs in use. His hands went to his neck, which he rubbed hard, twisting his neck this way and that, and then, suddenly, he bolted for the apartment door and was gone.
Spencer and I had our pants back on and were sitting at the kitchen table, when my brother, Liam, sauntered out of the room. He was dressed in black trousers and a black, silky shirt, and he was adjusting his clerical collar. Seeing us, he just smiled. I had the impression that he gave Spencer a bigger smile than he did me.
“Father William,” I said in a stern voice, emphasizing the “father,” “I think I’ve told you I didn’t like you using my apartment for your special sessions.” I always used the long form of Liam’s name, his church name, when I wanted him to know I was serious about something.
“Your apartment was close by, and the young man was in special need,” Liam answered breezily. “Who is this beautiful angel gracing your kitchen?”
“None of your--” I started to say, but Spencer, wide-eyed and mesmerized answered for himself.
“I’m Spencer. Spencer Prentice. I work at the Escafe coffee bar off the Avenue of the Americas in Chelsea.”
This was more information than Spencer had ever given me.
“Don’t even start, Liam,” I growled. “He’s off limits. I doubt he’s even a Catholic. You’re not a Catholic, are you, Spence?”
“I could be,” Spencer said in a small voice, turning his face to me only briefly before turning back to goggle at Liam. It wasn’t just that Liam was a priest, I didn’t think. He’d also gotten the looks and dancer’s body that had been denied to the big lug that was me at birth.
“Uh, forgot something,” Liam said, as he turned and reentered the bedroom. When he came back out, he had a red sash, which he wrapped around his thin waist and tucked in. “I spread the bed back to where it’s more presentable than I found it,” he said. “You going to take young Spencer back there now and fuck him silly, Mike?”
“Get out,” I growled. “More none of your business, bro.” I knew I was doing a lot of growling, but Liam got under my hide. He always had. Everyone thought he was so good. I was the only one who could see the truth.
“Can I sit in the corner and watch?” he said. “I’ll be very quiet.”
“I said it’s time to leave, Father William,” I answered.
He laughed and left. Spencer’s eyes followed him all the way out of the apartment. Then he turned to me, and said, his voice incredulous. “He really a Catholic priest?”
“Yes, he’s really a Catholic priest.”
“He really your brother?”
“That too, regrettably.”
“He’s a priest. Hot shouldn’t come into the conversation.”
“And you’re really a vice cop?”
“Not exactly. I’m a vice homicide cop. Just on loan to street vice for the night.”
“And a vice cop sampling the goods should come into a conversation?”
“I don’t always have to have a conversation with the guy I fuck. You and I don’t talk much, do we?”
“He’s hot and you’re cool,” Spencer said, his eyes shining and glassy. “I’ve been fucked by vice cops before but I’ve never been fucked by a Catholic priest.”
“Neither have I, Spencer, Neither have I. Now do you want me to take you somewhere?”
“Yes, into your bedroom,” Spencer said. “I’m hornier than hell.”
“So am I, Spencer. So am I.”
We were both at the top of our arousal meter. I fucked Spencer harder than I’d ever fucked him before, and when I was afraid he’d break, he egged me on. He didn’t break. And he loved what I could do with four sets of handcuffs.
* * * *
I got back to the Vice Homicide unit before Paxton and Mullins got back after the discovery of Spencer’s body in the Bronx junkyard. That gave me time to package up the original rosary found at the scene and send it off to the lab at my former precinct in the Bronx. They were used to doing analysis favors for me both because I got along with them famously and cultivated their goodwill and because the Vice Homicide lab was notoriously uncooperative. I was head of the unit, so all paperwork on lab results would come to me.
When Mullins and Paxton rolled in, a good three hours later, I was on the phone to our own lab--which already had a tech unit out at Spencer’s apartment taking fingerprints. I had escaped a bullet, I realized, by never having gone to wherever he lived. But right now I was hassling the head of our lab enough to make him dig in his heels and balk at my demands to fingerprint the rosary I had bought and wiped clean chop chop.
“I can get more cooperation out of the South Central general lab,” I said into the phone loud enough for the guys to hear me as they entered the office, to which the lab chief did what I wanted--told me to use the South Central general lab then.
“No cooperation from our own lab,” I said to Mullins and Paxton as they settled into their desks. “So I’m sending this rosary you found to South Central.”
“Works for me,” Paxton said.
By sending the rosaries separately to two labs outside of Vice Homicide, I retained control over which rosary to put into evidence. Paperwork by the Vice Homicide lab would automatically go into the evidence file. I would personally receive the results from outside labs and could suppress one and accept the other without an anomaly showing in the case record. I had to enter anything coming from outside labs to the case file myself.
“The ME kept you waiting for hours, did she?” I asked them.
“No. She arrived soon after you left,” Mullins said. “We got a lead on where the victim worked and went over there. A coffee joint called Escafe. Not far from here. In Chelsea.” They both rolled their eyes at the mention of Chelsea. We all knew what kind of guy could be found there--and we all joked about it. “Like we thought, he moonlighted as a rent-boy. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone working in that place rented by the blow job after hours.”
“Anything they can tell you about who he had been seeing there?” I asked, trying to make my voice seem casual.
“Not much. A couple of the workers said Parks had been gaga over a customer lately. A big bruiser. But nobody could say much about the guy.”
“Parks?” I asked. But I immediately saw my mistake. Their Parks was my Prentice. I rushed on. “Maybe we should have the beat cops out there check in every once in a while with the staff to see if the guy comes back.”
“Yeah, I’ll take care of that,” Mullins said.
Sounded just fine to me. I’d be finding myself another place to get coffee. I’d never go near Escafe again.
“What do you suppose this is for?” Paxton asked, holding up an evidence bag with the red sash in it that Spencer had been strangled with. “I thought it was a scarf, but it seems to be some sort of sash instead.”
“Beats me,” I answered, keeping my voice from cracking. “Send it along to South Central analysis. I’m sure the killer was careful enough not to leave prints, but maybe the lab can say what the sash was for.”
Of course, even I could say what the sash was for. It was worn by a popular order of Catholic priests in the New York metropolitan area. The last time I’d seen one like that, my brother had wound such a sash around his waist after I’d caught him fucking Spencer. And that was the last day I’d seen Spencer alive.
* * * *
Mullins had been morose all morning at the unit as we suddenly were up to our keisters in what we had already started to call the Red Scarf Murders and, when he’d complained about the “fuckin’ Inevitable Cases,” I’d sent him into a foul mood by pointing out that whore and street rent-boy murder cases were likely to predominate in a special Vice Homicide unit. He was relatively new to the unit, but that this hadn’t dawned on him before was an index to how bright he was. No one beat him in tenacity and willingness to wear out the shoe leather, though.
The third young, small rent-boy had been found in and around the Bronx area strangled in flagrante delicto with a red scarf or sash. It was only later that we changed “red scarf” to “red sash,” as the signature--which we took as a mocking of us--quickly narrowed down. It was later yet that we were to identify a red sash with an order of Catholic priests in and around the New York metropolitan area.
I would make the connection faster than the other guys. But I would keep it to myself. It haunted me from the last moment I saw Spencer alive, which was later in the day that we met together in the precinct and decided, finally, that we had a serial killer on our hands.
I left the precinct early, the meeting and the intensive planning we had done on how to proceed--knowing that the serial killer had given us very little to go on--having worn me out and left me with a headache.
I heard them immediately when I entered my apartment. Liam was using my bedroom again as a convenient love shack, isolated away from his life as a priest at the Saint Barnabas Catholic Church in the Bronx, not more than two blocks from where we’d both grown up--to pursue entirely different professions, if twins in our sexual preferences.
The door to the bedroom was ajar and I couldn’t help myself from walking over and peering into the room. Liam, naked and lithe in contrast to my rugby-player build, was on his back on the bed. Spencer, also naked, small, willowy, blond, perfectly formed, was riding Liam’s cock. He was saddled on the rod, which I knew to be longer if not as thick as mine, and facing away from Liam’s head, his hands gripping Liam’s bent- and spread-legs kneecaps. Liam had the ends of the red sash to his priest’s vestments fisted and the sash itself looped over Spencer’s throat. Liam was using the sash like reins to guide Spencer back and forward on his cock. The two were so engrossed in their grunting sex ride that they couldn’t have been aware of me standing at the door.
I didn’t stand there long, but broke away with a low groan of despair and disgust, trudged to the refrigerator, and pulled out two beers. I was on my third before they were done, and Spencer, tucking his T-shirt into his shorts, came out into the room.
To his credit, his initial glance at me was one of embarrassment and guilt. He quickly covered that with an expression of nonchalance. He said nothing to me, but turned and went to the door to the outside corridor. He turned back, though, when I called out his name.
There was so much I could say to him, not the least that I didn’t consider him just a sexual-release toy--that I felt so much more deeply for him--but I was so keyed up and trying so hard to hold my emotions in check and not to lash out that I simply said, “You have to be careful out there, Spencer. And you have to tell the other young guys to do the same. There’s a serial killer out there preying on guys just like you. There have been three murders in the Bronx in the last week.”
I didn’t mention the red sash part. I should have. But I just couldn’t. Not because of Spencer but because of . . . I found I could not let myself even start to form the implications.
“I don’t go to the Bronx,” Spencer responded. His mouth formed a word to say something else, but he didn’t say anything. Giving me a hurt look, he turned again and was gone. In his wake, my brain was screaming out the word “inevitable.”
I would have given anything to know what he wanted to say to me but didn’t. It was the last time I saw him alive. I certainly had more to say to him than I did. Things might have gone differently if I’d told him I was falling in love with him.
I had more to say to Liam when he emerged from the bedroom, adjusting his clerical collar and his sash. I had no trouble unleashing my anger on my brother.
“He was off limits. Surely you knew that,” I yelled at Liam.
“Why, just because you were nailing him yourself?”
“Because he means more to me than that,” I retorted. “You’ve done this before. You’ve always wanted to take what I had.”
“He came after me,” Liam said. “I didn’t see your brand on him.”
“Came after you? He found where you lived and worked? He came out to the Bronx, to Saint Barnabas?”
“He told me where he worked and he did so in a way that I knew he was propositioning me.”
“So, you came into Manhattan and went after him. Even knowing he was with me. Get out, Liam. And watch your back, man. I don’t know what you’re into, but--”
“What I’m into? What do you mean? You’ve always known I fuck men.”
I wanted to tell him, to unleash my suspicion. And God knows I was mad enough at him to let it all out. But I just couldn’t. Still, I was working up to it and had muttered, “You need to watch yourself from me,” when he exited the apartment and shut the door between us. Even when I’d said it, I knew he’d misinterpret my meaning.
* * * *
Neither Paxton nor Mullins were in the office when I came in, which was strange but was just as well. I’d stopped in the mailroom on my way up and found that both of the rosaries were back from their separate labs. I entered; sat at my desk; put both reports, with rosary attached in an evidence baggie, in front of me; and went through my opening-up ceremony in slow motion. I didn’t want to look at each report but I knew it would be best if I did and made whatever switch was necessary before the other guys arrived--from wherever they were. They both usually arrived at work before I did.
With trembling hands, I opened the most definite report envelope--the one from the South Central lab, where I’d sent the rosary I’d bought. I knew what the report would say, and that’s what it did say--that the rosary had been cleaned of any prints--but in opening it first, I could hold off my fears from looking at the other report for a bit longer.
Spencer entered my mind again. Spencer folded up, naked, in the backseat of the Lincoln Town Car in Pedersen’s Junk Yard in the Bronx, the red, choking sash, around his throat. The last thing Spencer had said to me was “I don’t go to the Bronx.”
But Spencer did go to the Bronx--or was taken, supposedly willingly to the Bronx. What could have been in the Bronx to lure him there? I couldn’t think of it being anything other than Liam. Liam lived at the rectory of the Saint Barnabas Catholic Church. Just a few blocks from Pedersen’s Junk Yard. Not that far from either of the three other places the bodies of young, small rent-boys had been found: in an abandoned building, in a park, in an alley behind a liquor store.
“He came after me.” That’s what Liam had said. I couldn’t get the implications out of my mind.
My hand wavered over the closed envelope attached to the rosary found at Spencer’s murder scene, the rosary I’d sent to the Bronx lab. My hand was trembling; I was having trouble opening the envelope, and then I heard them, talking excitedly in echoey voices as they mounted the stairway outside the door to the Vice Homicide unit--Mullins and Paxton.
Quickly, I opened the center drawer to my desk and swept both evidence bags in, shutting the drawer as the two entered the office.
“What’s up, guys?” I asked. “You’re late.”
“No, you’re late, Kavanagh,” Mullins shot back. “We’ve been downstairs at booking. We caught a break in the Red Sash Case.”
My heart rose to my throat. Paxton took up the discussion.
“Bronx precinct caught a guy practically in the act. Would you believe it’s a Catholic priest?”
The heart in my throat started throbbing.
“Well, a defrocked one,” Mullins cut in. “A stripped priest living on probation in the rectory of that Catholic church not far from that junk yard where we found number four.”
“Saint Barnabas?” I asked, barely able to get the words out. My heart had receded a bit from the “defrocked” information, but not much.
“Yeah, guy named Hubert. Was calling himself Father Hugh, but the charge sheet says Hubert Hastings. A record for pedophilia, and the church cut him out of his priest role but is letting him live at that church while he’s on probation.”
I was in control enough now to discuss the circumstances of the arrest, but just briefly. The guys wanted coffee.
“Want us to fill your cup?” Mullins asked as they turned toward the door. The break room, where the coffee urn lived, was down a flight.
“Naw, thanks, I’ll get a cup later,” I said. I, in fact, was badly in need of coffee just then, but handing my cup to them would have shown them how badly my hand was trembling.
As soon as they were through the door, I slid the desk drawer open and took out the lab report on the rosary I’d sent to the Bronx. Hubert Hastings. The prints had been identified from his incarceration for pedophilia four years earlier. He’d been in prison up to a few months ago--landing back in the Bronx before the serial murders had started.
My ragged breathing made me aware of how long I’d been holding my breath. Home free. Or was I. Were we? What did this actually close out about where Liam stood?
I had no idea--and probably wouldn’t until time had gone by without another red sash-signature murder. I’d be on pins and needles for months.
Whatever, it would never bring Spencer back to me.