Deadly Nightshade

an excerpt



Tanya had a job to do. That's all this was. Nothing personal. Just a job. Or, really, a prelude, the first step to the real thing. But it was an important first step. She had to do it right.

* * * * *

It was unreal, like a dream, a fantasy date. Gordon Hartman was drunk, a little too. Not so drunk he didn't know she was beautiful, in a cheap kind of way. That was okay. He liked them cheap. He liked them petite, too, with long dark hair that spilled, like hers, all the way down to that pouty little butt that was practically in his face. She was ahead of him on the stairs. He could have leaned a little forward and taken a bite out of her buns if he wanted. Her skimpy skirt lifted with each upward step she took on those skyscraper heels, giving him off and on glimpses of lace edged panties. Pussy pink. A favorite of his.

His impatient hand reached for her butt, fondled it. When she looked over her shoulder, grinning down at him, that long hair tickled the backs of his fingers. His cock tented his trousers, so hard it was almost painful.

She paused near the top of the stairs, turned toward him. Excited, he took her in his arms and kissed her, pushing his aching dick against her, his hands getting bolder as his breath got more ragged. She reached down to give his throbbing erection a squeeze.

Jesus, she was as hot as he was. He almost shot a load there and then. He loved it when they got all hot and bothered over him, over his dick. His hand got bolder still, felt between them.

Suddenly he took his mouth from hers, his eyes wide, surprised. "Shit, you're not a real-" he started to say, but she jerked his head down, kissed him again, stemming his words. He felt something against his chest, something hard wedged between them, but there was scarcely time for it to register before she shot him.

The gun was small caliber, only a twenty-two, but at this close range, aimed as precisely as it was at his heart, it was enough to kill him instantly. The sound was muffled between their bodies, came out little more than a pop, hardly any more noise than a balloon bursting.

She held on to his jacket to keep him from toppling down the stairs, let him drop slowly, almost noiselessly to the tiled steps, on his back, his chest with the bullet hole and the blood beginning to flow turned upward, before she let go. She didn't want him tumbling to the bottom, messing up her handiwork. Finally, she turned, stepping over his body, hurrying down the stairs.

She was in the building's central atrium, a long rectangle open to the sky. It was a big, sprawling apartment complex, apartments on three levels, tiled walkways past the doors, stucco half walls overlooking the atrium. The building's main entrance opened from the street into a foyer off the atrium, and hallways ran from the foyer in both directions to the side gates at the opposite ends of the complex. It was the sort of building in which delivery people and new tenants got lost.

"Break out the bloodhounds," the manager said a lot. It was an old building joke.

She was halfway across the atrium when she heard the front gate in the foyer close with a wrought-iron clang. Someone coming in from the street. She stopped dead-still by the gently splashing fountain, waiting, heard footsteps cross the foyer in her direction.

* * * * *

Jeremy Clark came through the open arch into the atrium, was halfway across the atrium, looking down, before he became aware of her and looked up. She still had the gun in her hand. His eyes went straight to it, and widened.

She burst into movement, ran past him, her heels clattering on the tile floor. He was too startled, or maybe too frightened by the gun, to try to stop her. He only stared after her. The tattoo of her heels faded down one of the side corridors. A metal gate clanged.

Above him, at the top of the stairs, a door opened, and Jake Acheson said, "I thought I heard a shot..."


Chapter One


Stanley Korski was small for a cop, five eight max, with oversized hands and feet that gave him an almost clownish look. His face was babyish, framed with hair the color of wheat ripening, his eyes wide, ice blue, innocent looking. He had a kewpie doll mouth, so red it didn't look natural.

Jesus, he must get carded every time he steps into a bar, Tom Danzel thought. And how did he get on the force in the first place? You could take one glance and know the kid was as queer as a three-dollar bill.

As if he'd read his thoughts, Stanley said aloud, "Affirmative action."

"Huh?" It caught Tom off guard.

"You were thinking I looked queer. I am. I was part of the last affirmative action hire."

"Well, yeah, Stan, see, I already knew you were queer."

"Stanley. Stan sounds too, oh, I don't know, too blue collar, don't you think? And you aren't happy about it. About my being queer, I mean. About being partnered with me."

Tom let out a noisy sigh. "Bingo," he said. "You hit the nail on the head, Stanley."

Stanley shrugged. "You'll get over it. It's not like we're on a date, or anything-although I wouldn't mind, if the idea appeals to you. You're kind of cute, in a Neanderthal way."

"Please don't start telling me I'm cute, Stanley, and what the fuck is that anyway, a Neander-you-call-it?"

"It just means you're a big hairy brute," Stanley said with a grin, and winked.

Which really pissed Tom. He hated fags. Well, no, he didn't exactly hate them, live and let live, the way he saw things, but he hadn't jerked off with the other guys when they were kids-except for that one time, and they'd all been stoned, so that didn't count-and he hadn't even thought about that sort of thing since then. He didn't care what fags did, particularly. He just wanted nothing to do with them himself.

Especially, he didn't want to be partnered with one. It was one of those things he felt sure he would never live down in the department. You work with a queer, other guys were going to get funny ideas. It was inevitable, wasn't it? And that was what he really hated, the idea that the other guys on the force would think he was queer. How had this happened to him, anyway? What had he done to deserve it?

"What, you want me to say pretty please?" the Captain had asked when Tom protested, grinning the kind of grin at Tom that suggested he already thought there might be something there.

"How did the guy get a homicide, anyway? There's guys wait years for the job. How long has this guy been on the force?"

"A week."

"Well...?"

"He's uniquely qualified for the assignment. The word came down straight from the chief. Who got it direct from the mayor. Just do it, Tom. That's an order."

Which had totally rubbed him the wrong way. Now, here he was, with a fag wannabe detective grinning at him like he was waiting for a big, smoochy hello kiss.

"Knock it off," he said to Stanley. "You're right, it isn't a date, and it's never going to be, and get any fucking ideas like that clear out of your head, right from this moment, okay? Don't talk about anything but business when we're together. Don't even think about anything but business."

"That's what I was doing," Stanley said, eyes innocently wide. "I'm betting you have a really nice business." He gave the bulge in Tom's crotch a meaningful glance.

"That's it, I'm out of here." Tom turned toward the door. "They can put somebody else on the case. They can can me, if they want. I don't give a good rat's ass."

"Jesus Christ in a hand bucket, get a grip, why don't you?" Stanley said behind him. "You fucking straight guys, you're a howl, you know that? What in the Sam Hill makes you think I'd be interested in you, anyway, you dumb shit? You think I wanted to be partnered with some ugly goon? There's a Labrador Retriever in my building that turns me on more than you do."

"Yeah, well I don't do dogs, either. You know what I mean? I like pussy, period."

"Hooray for you. There's a Siamese in the building, too. I'll see if I can fix you up. Meanwhile, there's a murder everyone wants solved, Partner. A county supervisor. The supervisors don't like that, it interferes with their graft collection. Plus, this one was a cousin of the mayor's. And a according to the witnesses, the supervisor was killed by a drag queen. That looks bad for all those closet queens on the board. So everybody's in a lather to see this cleared up in a hurry. And they thought I might bring some special insights to the investigation."

"Let me guess. Because you wear dresses."

"Only when I'm cleaning. Actually, if you want to know, it's because for five years I was liaison between the Gay Lesbian Council and the police department. Send a queer to catch a queer, is how the brass sees it."

"So how about me? How did I end up on this case?"

"I asked for the best detective on the homicide squad. Your name rose to the top, like cream-oh." He put a hand to his cheek in mock dismay. "I'm not supposed to talk about cream, am I?'

"You're pretty cute, aren't you?"

Stanley winked again. "Some men think so. The ones who don't drag their knuckles when they walk. Look, sweetie, we have been assigned to a case together. I don't know about you, but my interest is in solving it, quickly, efficiently so I can move on to something-and someone-more interesting. Why don't we both just focus on that, okay?"

He extended a hand. Tom looked at it for a moment, as if he thought it might be there for some purpose other than shaking. Finally, reluctantly, he took it.

"Okay, deal," he said. "Just don't go trying to cop any feels, all right?"

"Oh, dear, I just washed my hands, and I can't do a thing with them. Come on, we're in luck, lover boy. I'm told we've got witnesses, two of them. How often do you strike it rich like that? It never happens in the movies. Let's go see what kind of song they sing."

The other detectives in the squad room had been ignoring their exchange with thinly disguised interest. Tom shot a look around the squad room. Most of them looked away, although he got a couple of quick smirks before they did so.

Man, what a load of crap. Anybody started making cracks, someone was going to be eating a knuckle sandwich. He glowered around the room but no one noticed.

"Let's go," he said. They left the room, starting down the hall, Tom walking fast, marching, actually, Stanley trailing slightly behind. Tom was afraid to look, afraid he'd catch the fucking faggot checking out his buns.

Which was exactly what Stanley was doing, in fact, thinking that they were quite splendid indeed, such a lovely baroque shape to them, not the little melony type that did nothing for him. He liked buns with some substance to them, something to hang onto when the action got going. And they were hard, too, you could see that just looking at them, like they were carved out of granite.

Plus, he'd bet everything he owned that this lovely butt was virgin. And he was equally willing to bet that some lucky guy, some lucky day, was going to change its status. He could always tell, at a single glance. More often than not, it was the super macho type, too. He usually knew long before they did. Had many times gambled the bank on it, in fact, and pretty much always won. Okay, one loss, two draws. Not bad when you considered the number and quality of the wins.

Of course, he wasn't about to tell that to the Neanderthal, nor mention what an incredibly sexy hunk he was, with those mile-wide shoulders and that big chest with the hair thick on it where his shirt lay open. To say nothing about what might have been a large salami in his pocket.

None of which he intended to say anything about, period. This gig was going to be difficult enough, without complicating it. He sighed aloud. He really hated homophobes. Especially killer hot ones.

This was his first homicide, his first case, period. He'd spent a week as a uniform, and hated it. He really wanted this one. He had to prove himself. If he solved it in record time-and how difficult could that be?-maybe they would actually let him stay in homicide instead of sending him back to the beat. He felt pretty sure he could get Tom's drawers around his ankles if he put his mind to it, but he was equally sure that would end up making things more difficult. Which, really, was too bad. He sighed aloud.

Tom steadfastly ignored him.

* * * * *

They didn't talk again until they had checked out a company car, a Ford Crown Victoria.

"You want to drive?" Tom asked.

"Oh, I think that's the man's job, don't you?"

Tom grunted and got behind the wheel. The silence fell again. He drove out of the garage, onto Van Ness, merged with the endless stream of early morning San Francisco traffic. It was a bleak, rainy day, the lights from the buildings they passed-offices, store fronts, apartments overhead-bleeding into the gloom, spilling in puddles on the wet sidewalks. The windshield wipers tsk-tsked monotonously. The air in the car was damp, over warm. Stanley cracked a window.

"You married?" he asked.

"Divorced."

"Sorry."

"I'm not. It was a long time ago. High school sweethearts sort of thing. You know, the first piece of ass you get... well, I guess you wouldn't know about that..."

"I might."

Tom shot him a sideways glance, decided not to pursue that line. He fumbled in a pocket for a pack of gum, managed to unwrap a stick one-handed and popped it into his mouth, chewing noisily.

"You didn't love her?" Stanley asked. Tom shrugged. "What about her?"

"She was a poor little rich girl. She loved the idea of marrying a cop, hated being a cop's wife. All those nights at home alone, me never there. Women hate that."

"Policemen work long hours."

He snorted, chuckled faintly. "I was fucking around on her. Almost from the start."

"Was that fair?"

"I don't remember asking you to rate my marriage, Stanley." The gum popped angrily. "Anyway," after a minute, "it was a long time ago. Besides, she fucked the best man the day of the wedding. It wasn't a marriage made in Heaven." He looked across at Stanley again. "I guess you're single. Any family?"

Stanley hesitated for so long, Tom thought he wasn't going to answer. "A sister," he said finally. "She lives in Sacramento. Husband, three kids. We don't see each other much."

"Your parents still around?"

"My mom's dead." The pause this time was even longer. "My dad's still alive-if you can call it that. Lives in a so-called rest home. Home Gardens, up in Petaluma. I doubt that he gets much rest. Or that he knows the difference."

Tom grunted. The silence crowded back into the car.

"You from around here?" Tom asked, the effort of sociability sounding in his voice.

"Petaluma. Before that, the Midwest. Iowa. You?"

"Missouri."

More silence, the kind that just sits there between two people who don't know one another and don't know what to do about it.

"You into sports?" Tom asked.

"I've done a few laps."

"Stanley..." in a warning voice.

"Swimming," Stanley said. "I was on the swim team. Dive team, too, but I never lettered. I did a beautiful pike, though."

"What's that?"

"You lift your legs in the air, touch your toes with your fingers, butt turned up. I could demonstrate it for you some time. It's a useful position."

Tom glowered across at him.

"For diving," Stanley added, smiling sweetly. "Jeez, you have a dirty mind. I never could manage a swan dive, though. Almost missed the pool. A total belly smacker. You have to float to do a good swan. Like a butterfly, sort of."

"Sounds like a natural for you," Tom said.

Stanley giggled, sounding more like a little kid than a would-be homicide detective. "I'll bet you were football, weren't you?"

"Quarterback."

"Mister Touchdown." Stanley sighed. Like everyone else in his high school, he'd had a crush on the team quarterback. He was one of the few, it seemed, who had done nothing about it. "I never did get that swan dive."

More silence. After a bit, Stanley asked, "Are you happy?"

If Tom thought it a peculiar question, he didn't say. He gave another of his grunts and a shrug. Stanley was beginning to realize he did that a lot. "Okay. You?"

"I'm not happy, but I'm not unhappy about it."

Tom chewed on that for a moment. "I'm not a philosopher type," Tom said. "I'm a cop."

They were turning onto Market, slipping through traffic around a rattling green-and-cream F car, a taxi honking impatiently at them, when Tom asked, casually, like it had just crossed his mind and not been bugging him since it had been said:

"So, you really think I'm ugly?"