+ Chapter 3
Zechs would have paced as
he waited outside the interrogation room for Noin, but the worn wooden
floor creaked, and he didn't feel like broadcasting his restlessness.
He watched Duo through the glass. Alone in the room, Duo leaned back
in his chair, one elbow on the chair arm, the other on the table, giving
the impression that he sat in a boring meeting instead of a police station.
Of course, Zechs realized. Duo had done this before, many times. He
knew the drill, and he knew they didn't have enough on him, or they'd
have booked him.
As though he sensed Zechs watching, Duo glanced up at the one-way glass.
Zechs saw that although he'd kept the nerves from showing in his body,
he couldn't quite keep the cornered-animal panic from his eyes. Now
that he looked more closely, Zechs also noticed that the end of Duo's
braid twitched where it draped over his shoulder as his chest rose and
fell with short, rapid breaths.
They might not have much on him yet, but his fear told Zechs there was
something to be had. For reasons he didn't care to examine, that made
Zechs turned to Noin. She looked cool and slick, more fashionista than
cop. He dredged up a smile and evaded her question. "You have a date?"
"Just with you, handsome." She winked at him and grinned, but her mouth
quickly firmed into a serious line, and she gave him a sharp look.
"And our guest in there. What's up?"
"These." Zechs handed her the photos, waited while she thumbed through
"Shit. Holy shit." She paused, her eyes widening. "Clamps there?
Damn, that has to hurt." She shivered. "Ouch." And then she got to
the last one and let out a low whistle. "Pay dirt."
"Maybe? Zechs, that's--" Noin looked around. Romafeller had a long reach,
and they probably had their fingers deep in the department. "This is
"I know it is." It was the kind of big that got people killed, that
busted cops with promising careers back to the street for one wrong
step. And Duo Maxwell was right in the middle of it. Zechs' gaze flicked
toward the glass, settled momentarily on the slender, isolated figure,
and his stomach knotted. "I know."
He felt Noin's eyes on him, and the understanding in them made him want
to punch the wall. Or her. "Ready to go in?"
Zechs unbuttoned the neck of his shirt and loosened his tie, then rolled
up his shirtsleeves. "Yes. Let's get this over with."
Zechs held the door for her, followed her in. She took up a position
closer to Duo, while Zechs crossed the room and leaned back against
the wall, watching.
"So," Noin began. "How about telling us what you know."
Duo looked aside at Zechs. "I have told you what I know."
"Bullshit, Mr. Maxwell. We know Marcum was your boyfriend. Why don't
we start there?"
"Boyfriend?" Duo's gaze flicked toward Zechs again, then back to Noin,
but Zechs couldn't read what was in his eyes. Not yet. "What the hell
are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about this." Noin threw the photos of Duo and Marcum on
Duo paled but said nothing.
"So let's go back to square one. What do you know about Grant Marcum?"
"That he preferred a crop to a paddle, and he liked doing naughty things
in the back seat of his limo." Duo's mouth curled into a sneer, but
the haunted look in his eyes deepened. "Any other helpful information
I can share?"
"How about who he fought with. Who wanted him dead?"
Duo snarled. "How many times do I have to tell you? I. Don't. Know."
"You had an intimate relationship with him--"
"I had a business relationship with him."
"What business, exactly, are you in?"
Duo's face flushed with red, and he balled his fists, but he was too
smart to try to hit a cop. "Bitch. I don't have to take this. You haven't
even charged me."
"We can change that."
"Noin. That's enough." Zechs sat on the edge of the table next to Duo.
"Duo, we don't want to make this difficult for you."
"Then let me go back to work. I already told you what I know. And you
can just shove the good cop/bad cop routine up your ass." Duo looked
at him as though he'd been betrayed, and that hurt. It shouldn't have,
but it did. "Are we almost done here?"
"One more question. Who's this man?" Zechs laid the photo of Duo,
Marcum, and Dermail on the table.
"One of the board of directors. Alexander Dermail."
"What else do you know about him?"
"You said one more question. I answered it. I cooperated. And now I'm
out of here. If you want to talk to me again, you're going to have to
call my lawyer."
Zechs kept his voice neutral. "If I have to talk to you again, you're
going to need your lawyer."
Duo opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something. But his expression
closed up tight and cold, and he stood and left the room without looking
at Zechs again.
Zechs winced as though he'd been hit. To cover, he picked up the photos
and slowly flipped through them again. No matter how many times he
looked at the pictures, his reaction to Duo's submission stayed the
same, intense and primal.
"Hey," Noin said. "Those are evidence. Hot, but evidence."
"I know." But he didn't put them back into the envelope. Not just
Noin laid her hand on his arm. "I'm sorry he's mixed up in this."
"I'm sorry when anyone gets mixed up in a murder case."
"You know what I mean."
Zechs gave her a level stare. "No. I don't."
"Right." She snorted. "You need a beer."
"I do not."
"Yes, you do. Come on."
The bar was what he'd expected from Noin, chrome and flashing neon lights.
A crowd of young people on the dance floor gyrated to loud music. Zechs
didn't recognize the song, and he felt old.
"You come here often?"
"After all this time, I expected a better pick-up line from you." Noin
smiled, then ordered beers for both of them when the waitress arrived.
She settled back in her chair, watching him with a look disturbingly
similar to the one she'd worn when she'd questioned Duo. "So. Tell
me what's on your mind."
"The case." He took a drink of his beer. It was cold and surprisingly
"You mean the suspect."
"He's not a suspect yet."
"Touchy, touchy." Zechs glared, and she sighed, obviously exasperated,
like an actor who's had to repeat a scene too many times. "Zechs...it's
okay to let yourself be human, you know? You don't have to be perfect
all the time."
"Yes, I do."
"I have Une breathing down my neck every time I turn around. She's
just waiting for me to make a mistake." His body tightened in automatic
response to the memory, and he took a drink of his beer. "Another mistake."
Noin nodded sagely. "That's what I thought."
"This is still about Treize, isn't it?"
Zechs started to contradict her, but suddenly the grief and anger slammed
him, and he couldn't. What was the point in denying what she already
knew, especially when it had to be plain in his face? "Yes, it's about
Treize. It will always be about Treize."
"Other cops lose their partners."
"He wasn't just my partner."
"I know that, too." She reached across the table. "Zechs, you've got
to let it go. Sometimes needing to be perfect gives you an edge. You
drive yourself harder than anyone I know. But there comes a point when
trying to prove yourself gets in the way. It gets in the way of being
a cop, and it gets in the way of being a man."
"It's my fault he died. How do I let go of that?"
"It is not your fault!" Their waitress approached, and Noin glanced
down at Zechs' empty glass, then held up two fingers. She lowered her
voice and said. "He went after Romafeller on his own. He pushed too
hard. And he made a stupid mistake, going to meet that snitch alone."
"He shouldn't have been alone. I was his partner. I should have been
"If you had been, you and I wouldn't be here. You can't go after Romafeller
with one gun, or even two. That organization's a monster, Zechs. It'll
take a damn army to weed them out."
"Are you saying we should quit trying, then?"
"No. No, that's not it." She raked her hand through her hair. "I...Hell,
I don't know what I'm saying. Except that you have to stop kicking yourself
over the past. And that I'm asking you to be careful. I don't want
to be sitting in that chair with my next partner, crying into my
Zechs smiled at last. "Planning on replacing me?"
"Not unless you do something stupid."
"Your faith in me is inspiring." But he kept his smile as he said it.
She smiled, too, but she said, "I'm going to nag you one more time and
then I'll shut up, I promise."
Zechs felt an electric jolt at the mere mention of his name, and that
made him defensive. "There's nothing to nag me about there."
She looked skeptical. "Just be careful with that, too, okay?"
"Nothing to worry about." Zechs drained his glass. "I've got to go."
"Okay. See you in the morning. Go home, watch TV. Read a book. Do
something that doesn't have anything to do with this case."
"Yes, ma'am." He stood and put on his coat. "And, Noin--"
She elbowed him and snorted, like he should have known better than to
say it. "No problem--partner."
Questioning left Duo feeling dizzy and sick. He hadn't gone back to
the office, but headed straight to his apartment when they'd let him
go. He'd sunk down on his couch, curled in on himself, and tried to
think of what to do. It was dark now, and he hadn't moved, had stayed
quiet and small, as if still trying to hide from the drunks and druggies
and pimps who would have been only too happy to get their hands on a
pretty little boy.
He was grown up, he reminded himself when the shivering started. He'd
escaped the streets. But this side of town had its predators, too,
and they were far, far more dangerous and harder to get away from than
Slow Joe or Lenny or Diamond Jack. I'm in over my head. Way over.
Grant thought he could handle them, and now he's dead. I know I can't
take them on. So where does that leave me?
Alone. Pretty much like always. Okay. Okay. Have to think. Duo
took a deep breath. This is too big for me. I have to have help.
Right. Who was going to help him, with Romafeller on his ass?
Duo rubbed his left temple. Someone had a jackhammer inside his head,
and just now, they were going after his eye. The pain dulled his ability
to think, to act. For one weak moment, he let himself want Grant. It
felt so good when you were in charge. I didn't have to think of anything
except pleasing you. It was so easy, letting you give all the orders.
Fuck it all, Grant, why did you have to go and get yourself killed?
Can't you come back for just five minutes and tell me what to do one
If there were ghosts in Duo's apartment, they stayed silent. He hauled
himself up, fingers digging into the cushions as he fought the throbbing
in his head. He got himself into this mess, he'd have to get himself
out. But I'm so tired...
He stared at the phone. There had to be someone he could call, someone
he could go to. Who? Who'd put their own ass on the line for a punk
who's pretending to be somebody when he's really no better than a whore?
Duo's chest tightened, and his throat squeezed. The chick detective
was right when she'd almost called him that, regardless of how pissed
off it made him to admit it. Her partner hadn't liked it though. Duo
knew the routine, and he knew police way better than he wanted to.
There was more to his objection than just him playing good cop. It
Thoughts about the tall, blond lieutenant distracted him from both his
pain and his problem. He'd tried not to be aware of the man while he
was being questioned. He'd looked at the table, the wall, anywhere to
keep from looking at him, from getting lost in Zechs' eyes. Always
was a sucker for blue eyes... He'd kept his hands folded to stop
himself from stealing just one touch. His brain had screamed Cop!
but his soul had sighed Master...
Damn. Just...damn. Zechs wasn't for him, no matter what his
innate response to the man was. Duo had thought he'd seen something,
interest maybe, an attraction that wasn't just lust, in Zechs' eyes.
But that was before. He'd seen the pictures now, and he knew. Did it
disgust him, seeing what Duo was? Probably. But...maybe? He
looked at the phone again. No. No way.
Duo pulled out his wallet. He twisted the dimmer switch on the light,
bringing it up just enough to allow him to read the card he'd been carrying
like a talisman since the morning he'd found Grant's body. Lt. Zechs
Merquise, Homicide. Office and mobile phones, a work email address,
a fax number. He flipped the card over. Penciled on the back in an
elegant hand was another number. Do you give every witness your home
phone? Or am I...was I...special?
He snorted in disgust at himself, then winced as pain ricocheted behind
his eye. I'm thinking too much. For some reason, he suddenly
remembered a doctor he'd met at one of Grant's parties. The man had
remarked that there comes a time during surgery that you have to do
something, even if it's the wrong thing. Okay, then. Can't keep
sitting here. I have to do something, even if this is the biggest fucking
mistake I've ever made.
His hands were almost, but not quite, steady when he picked up the phone.
Zechs' was unlocking the door of his apartment when he heard his phone
ringing, but by the time he got inside, it had stopped. Probably some
telemarketer. He dialed the number of his voicemail and listened to
the vaguely pleasant, mechanical voice run through the menu of options
without really hearing. His mind still replayed his conversation with
Noin. Let go of the past, she told him. Good advice, but easier to
say than to do. He realized the menu was repeating, and pressed the
command for new messages.
"I said if you wanted to talk to me again, it would have to be official."
No greeting, no identification, but Zechs knew that voice. "I changed
my mind. If you want to talk, meet me at the Dirty Dragon tomorrow
night at eleven. Alone."
The mechanical voice informed him, "That was your last new message,"
and he hung up.
Duo Maxwell wanted to talk to him alone. His heart beat faster.
Zechs' immediate thoughts were not of the case nor of whatever information
Duo might reveal. Instead, his hands clenched into fists as he remembered
Duo as he'd been in those pictures, slight and slender against the power
of Marcum's body. Even in submission, there had been a fire in him,
a spark that said he'd fight before he gave in. Zechs closed his eyes,
took a deep breath. He knew how that would have made Marcum feel.
It was no good when they groveled right away, because you knew they'd
obey anyone, that their submission was utterly about them and was no
validation of your strength or your control. But the ones with that
stubborn look...god. You knew that they wanted it, wanted to belong
to someone utterly. They would fight you until you proved yourself,
until you showed that you were the one strong enough to master them.
And once you did, you owned them, body and soul.
Christ. Marcum had hit gold with Duo Maxwell. Even after Treize had
helped him realize what he wanted, taught where and how to look for
it, he'd never found it. Pieces of it, yes, hints that it might actually
be possible, but not until he'd opened that envelope and seen Duo's
surrender had he really believed. Everything he'd searched for, everything
he'd given up hope of finding was there--except that he didn't dare reach
for it, for a hundred reasons.
And now Duo wanted to talk to him, alone. The first chill of rationality
touched him in the echo of Noin's words: "...he made a stupid mistake,
going to see that snitch alone." Was he making the same fatal error
in judgment Treize had made? Would Noin find him bleeding in
Uncertainty crawled over Zechs, paralyzing him, and then he thought
of the fear he'd seen in those remarkable eyes. It hadn't been fear
born from guilt--he knew that look intimately, had seen it too many times
not to recognize it. Duo's eyes held pure, animal panic. Suddenly,
it didn't really matter whether or not it was a bad decision--Zechs knew
he had to go to him.
And if he was wrong, well then...there were worse things he could have
for his last sight, far worse, than Duo Maxwell, after all.