home care

Daphne the dog woke up and looked around. It was still dark out, and she was cold. She had a little scrap of quilt over her but that was all, and of course there was no heat in the apartment. She was tempted to yank the covers away from Dan (she was almost certain that was his name), but then he’d undoubtedly wake up and that was the last thing she wanted.

She heard a noise from the other room and she got up and padded to the door, inching it open. The bare wood floor was cold, even colder than the air. There was a little light in the other room, which was much larger and served as kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedroom for her two roommates.

Daphne saw that Katherine was sleeping under the window. She usually slept there when she was feeling tense and needed to get away from Pete. He was sitting on the edge of his mattress, on the far side of the room, and scratching his chest. He didn’t seem to see Daphne, but she knew he couldn’t see much without his glasses.

Pete opened his eyes and squinted up at the window. It was still dark. His glasses were on the windowsill where he always left them, but he didn’t put them on.

He felt around behind him on the mattress but he was alone. He didn’t take it personally when Katherine moved to the other side of the room to sleep. He knew it was for his protection. However, he thought, smiling, sometimes you have to stick your neck out.

He got to his feet, wrapped in the sleeping bag he used as a blanket, and shuffled quickly across the cold, wooden floor to the small mat Katherine was using as a bed.

He lay down behind her and put his arm around her. His hand ended up under the covers, pressed against her bare stomach, and her hand came around and covered his. He could tell from the way she held his hand that the two messages were: “It’s nice to have you here,” and “Let’s keep that hand where it is — I’m not in the mood for it to start wandering around.”

Which was okay with Pete.

Some time later, he became aware that someone else was crowded onto the narrow mat behind him.

Daphne closed the door and quickly pulled on underwear and a T-shirt. Then, padding along on all fours, she moved quietly into the larger room (pulling the bedroom door closed behind her) and went across to where Pete was now snuggled up behind Katherine. Squeezing herself onto the mat, too, with some difficulty, she put her arm around Pete and barked quietly.

“Hey, can I get in on this?”

Daphne had been nearly asleep when she heard Dan’s leering voice. She opened one eye and saw him standing in the bedroom door, grinning as he looked at the three people squeezed onto the small bed. She felt her shoulders slump. She’d been hoping he’d just magically vanish somehow, but she reminded herself that it was pretty obvious there was nothing magical about this guy.

Katherine raised her head and frowned over her shoulder at Dan. Then she stood up slowly, naked, her revolver in her hand, asking, “Get in on what?”

Dan’s eyes widened, first at the revolver and then at the woman holding it as he recognized her. Katherine lay down again as the apartment door slammed shut behind him.

“It’s a little cold out there for him to be running around just wrapped in a sheet,” Pete said thoughtfully. “Should we throw his clothes out the window for him or something?”

Daphne barked her most emphatically negative bark.

Marshall regarded his father-in-law. “Vinnie, if you don’t mind my saying so, you look like you’d rather have stayed in bed.”

Vinnie yawned. They had reached a corner and he stopped to look both ways before he stepped off the curb, but of course there weren’t any cars.

“I was reminded last night – a few hours ago, really, and in no uncertain terms – how much I enjoy doing volunteer work at the hospital with you.”

“Ah, so my employer has an ulterior motive.”

Vinnie was used to how Marshall referred to his wife, the great detective, as his employer. Vinnie knew that some people took this as a joke, or interpreted it as a complaint, but Vinnie had always just taken it as a simple statement of fact.

“I wonder if this is related to the home care I’m doing these days,” Marshall said as they crossed the street.

“Home care?” Vinnie asked. “I thought you usually worked in the hospital.”

“Usually. But there’s a patient who’s recovering from a beating, and she can’t be admitted to the hospital. And none of the other volunteers want to go to her place.”

Vinnie shook his head. “You’re hinting around, but I imagine that eventually you’ll break down and tell me why this patient is so…” He waved his hand and yawned again.

“It’s starling. And you really don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

starling had limited her murder sprees to the United States, as far as Vinnie knew, but she was known around the world. He had a variety of mixed feelings about this encounter, but all he said was, “She got into a fight with somebody? Who would dare pick a fight with her?”

“A couple of guys. Long story, but it helped Jan solve a mystery, so we felt somewhat obligated.”

“I assume she’s less homicidal these days, or you wouldn’t let her walk around loose.”

Marshall chuckled. “People laugh sometimes when I tell them this, and I do understand why, but the fact is that she’s in therapy.”

“And I gather it’s working.”

“It seems so. We don’t broadcast that she’s here, and she lives very quietly.”

Vinnie and Marshall climbed the two flights of narrow stairs in the ancient tenement, and Marshall knocked on the apartment door. They had stopped by the hospital on the way so Marshall could pick up the supplies he needed.

There was a pause, during which Vinnie was tempted to ask why someone had spray painted “Living in desperate circumstances” on the door, but then he heard a loud bark from inside.

He wondered what kind of dog a notorious mass murderer would have. Something fierce and formidable, probably. The bark had definitely sounded like a dog of some size.

After another moment, they heard the little peephole in the door click open as somebody checked them out. There was another bark, and then the door opened.

The man facing them was small, maybe five-seven, and thin. He had longish light brown hair and wore glasses, along with tattered jeans and a faded T-shirt.

“Marshall,” he said. “Come on in.”

Vinnie heard Marshall introducing him to the man, who was named Pete, as they stepped into the apartment, but he was distracted by the woman at Pete’s side. She had short blonde hair, and she wore a black sweatshirt and black jeans. And a leather collar. She was on all fours, and she was regarding him thoughtfully, her head cocked to one side.

She barked, and Pete, who clearly understood the reason for Vinnie’s discombobulation, said, “Daphne, this is Vinnie, Marshall’s father. Vinnie, hold out your hand.”

Well, it would have been rude not to, so he held out his hand for Daphne. She leaned forward, sniffing it suspiciously, as he tried to think through all the reasons that his daughter might have wanted to set this up to happen in this way.

Then Daphne licked his hand and padded around to sit by his side, resting her head against his hip.

“Father-in-law,” he clarified belatedly. He stopped himself from reaching down to pat her head.

Marshall moved to the kitchen table, presumably to get ready for starling’s examination, and they heard a toilet flush. A small door opened in the kitchen area and starling came out.

Vinnie had been a little uneasy about meeting such a notorious person, but he was distracted by the fact that she was naked except for a ripped and faded T-shirt, and the sling that supported her injured arm.

She was older than Pete, probably in her early forties, with dirty blonde hair that looked like she hacked off a chunk whenever it got in her way, and a lean body that bore quite a few scars, some obviously not recent.

Vinnie had never seen an adult so entirely unconcerned about being almost naked in front of a stranger. There were a few people who walked around U-town in the nude, but they were apparently making a statement of some sort, and this wasn’t that.

Pete gestured. “Katherine, this is Vinnie. He came with Marshall.”

She was carrying a mug in her good hand, but she transferred it to her other hand so she could greet Vinnie. Then, as she looked up at him, her eyes got wide and she dropped the mug, coffee splashing on the floor.

“Vinnie?” she demanded as the others looked at her in surprise.

Vinnie hadn’t known how he’d handle this, if it should happen.

He had always wondered if the lunatic woman he read about in the newspapers was really the same “Starling” he had known when they were teenagers. The photographs, usually grainy images from security cameras or blurry amateur snapshots, had never been clear enough for him to be sure.

They were both a little awkward about this reunion – they hadn’t known each other for very long, all those years ago, and they had not been close – but then Vinnie threw his arms wide and she stepped forward to hug him, nearly slipping in the spilled coffee.

In that very brief moment, for it was just a quick hug, Vinnie knew many things. It felt as though, just for an instant, he was the great detective instead of his daughter.

He knew that Jan had remembered his stories about the time he’d been with her mother, and that there had been a woman who called herself “Starling,” and Jan had sent Vinnie here to see her.

He knew Pete was regarding this unexpected reunion with a grin, as if his lover (and Vinnie suddenly knew that this was their relationship) didn’t often have these moments of unexpected pleasure.

He knew that starling’s T-shirt, which he hadn’t really noticed before (and certainly not because his attention had been focused on the shape of her breasts under it), was so washed and worn that the band logo on it was nearly faded away, but it was still possible to tell that it said “Kingdom Come.” As did the bass guitar case leaning in the corner. As had the guitar case he’d seen in the pet store the night before, the one which had belonged to the murdered man.

He knew that this was why he was here, and that his reunion with the reformed lunatic killer who he had known over twenty years ago was just a bonus.

And, as he and starling released each other and she stepped back, smiling and brushing her hair back from her eyes, he knew that Daphne was still leaning against his hip, and now she’d snaked her hand up the leg of his slacks and was softly stroking his bare calf.

Vinnie gently freed his leg as Marshall moved toward the large kitchen table. “Katherine, we should make sure not to forget to do your exam,” he said. “Mona would never let me live it down.”

She nodded and went across the room to a pile of clothes on a trunk. “Let me just put on some pants.”

Marshall did not comment on the fact that she’d never been so modest when it had just been him.

He’d moved the subject of discussion to the medical exam (and unintentionally to pants) to give himself a moment to think. If starling (“Katherine,” he reminded himself) had known Vinnie that long ago, he had a sudden hunch that she might have also known Jan’s mother. He didn’t know how sore a subject that might be with Vinnie these days, but even a moment’s reprieve didn’t give him a way to keep it from coming up.

Pete gestured at the stove. “Would anybody like coffee?”

Daphne barked, and Vinnie said, “Yes, desperately.” He smiled. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

Pete laughed and went to the stove. “No trouble at all.”

“I just got in last night, and I’m still pretty jet-lagged.”

Vinnie sat down on one of the mismatched kitchen chairs, which creaked but didn’t seem about to collapse. Katherine came back to the table, wearing underwear and a less revealing T-shirt. She sat down to pull her pants on.

Marshall had noted that Vinnie had mentioned his jet lag but not that he had been up most of the night on a murder investigation. He thought about this as he took the bandage off Katherine’s arm.

It was nearly healed, and her other injuries were better, so he thought this had to be the end of the home care visits.

His employer had viewed this process as a great way for her to satisfy her curiosity about the home life of the lunatic murderer, her musician boyfriend, and their “dog,” and she had been frustrated so far because all Marshall had been able to report was that they were, as he put it, quite odd but surprisingly wholesome.

Ah, he thought. Pete was a musician. Jan had mentioned that the murdered pet-store owner had been a musician. Was there a connection…

Pete poured coffee into four mugs and brought them to the table. Daphne sat next to Vinnie’s chair and barked. Pete pointed to the food and water bowls on the floor by the sink. “Your coffee is right there, where it always is.” She barked again.

Pete chuckled and brought the bowl over to Vinnie’s chair. She lapped up some coffee, then she leaned against Vinnie’s leg.

“She likes you,” Pete said.

Vinnie looked down. Daphne was resting her chin on his thigh, gazing up at him with large brown eyes. The quirk of her lips conveyed a very human message. She was going to keep at this until he played along, and she was enjoying watching him resist.

Well, just because you are a tourist doesn’t mean you have to act like one. When not in Rome…

Vinnie stroked Daphne’s hair, saying to Pete, “She’s a fine looking animal. Did you raise her from a puppy?”

Marshall, as the assistant of an internationally renowned amateur detective, could keep a straight face under almost any circumstances, but Vinnie noticed that this was apparently putting a strain on even his abilities.

Pete shook his head. “Oh, no. A former roommate found her, as a stray, and brought her home. He’s gone, but she stayed on.”

Having won her victory, Daphne padded over to Pete. He scratched her head, and she curled up at his feet.

Katherine sipped her coffee. “So, Vinnie, should I ask if you’re in touch with Alex?”

He smiled and shrugged. “It’s fine to ask, but the answer is no. We’re not in touch. She… Well, you remember how she was. Motherhood didn’t… It wasn’t for her.”

Katherine frowned. “You guys had a kid?”

He laughed. “Somehow, for some reason, I expected you to know that.”

Pete laughed as he lit a cigarette. “Just because his daughter is a great detective doesn’t mean he is.”

Katherine started to say something, but then she stopped. “Wait a minute,” she said. “I was so surprised to see you that I didn’t make the connection. Father-in-law. Jan Sleet is your daughter? You and Alex?”

“Yes. Raised by me.”

“Damn.” Her shoulders slumped a little. “Do you know what this means?”

He shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not.”

“It means I’m old.”

“Oh, no, wait until you hear why I’m here for this visit. I’m here to meet my… granddaughter.” He said it with a spooky voice, as if the whole idea was frightening. “So, you’re not the only one who’s old. I reassure myself with two thoughts. One: Alex and I were ridiculously young when Jan was born, and two: she’s adopted. My granddaughter, I mean.”

“Ron,” Pete said.

Katherine nodded. “We’ve met her.”

There was a knock on the door, and Pete went to answer it. As before, he looked out the peephole, turning to nod to Katherine before opening the door.

It was Fifteen, who Vinnie had met before. He looked about as he always did – shaved head, ratty T-shirt, and cutoff jeans – but he seemed unusually subdued.

He was about to address Pete and Katherine, but then he saw Vinnie.

“Vincenzo,” he said seriously, “io sono qui con cattive notizie, ma è bello vederti.” He turned to Pete. “I’m afraid I have bad news. Tom was killed last night.”

Marshall, out of habit, watched their faces as they absorbed this news, but as usual he didn’t learn anything useful. He’d never seen a case solved by springing a surprise fact on a group of people and watching their faces, but you always think that this will be the time when it works.

one night at the quarter (part one)

The club was called the Quarter, and Katherine had her own seat there (by custom if not by law, as Pete always said).

The place was run-down and decrepit, a long, thin room with a bar along one wall and small round tables, with a small stage in the back. The floor was uneven – some areas were a few inches higher than others. One way to tell the regulars from the tourists (and Pete and his friends were always devising new ways to do that) was that the tourists were always tripping over the floor, even when they were sober.

When Katherine came here with Pete they sat at a table, but when his band was playing she sat in a corner, on a little shelf that was part of the wooden frame that supported one of the PA speakers. The shelf was part of the frame – it wasn’t intended as a seat, but it served the purpose. Especially when the club was packed, as it was tonight, she didn’t want to sit at a table, because then it would be all too obvious that nobody wanted to sit with her.

Frances was the manager, and she occasionally popped over to give Katherine another beer. Free, of course, since Katherine was officially, although not actually, Pete’s girlfriend. Frances liked her because Frances had an idea that they both hated Jenny Owens. Frances actually did hate her, because Henshaw had dumped Frances when he’d decided to go after Jenny.

Katherine didn’t hate Jenny, but she didn’t like her much either.

“She and Henshaw went out through the back a while ago,” Frances said, “for a walk or something. Probably they’ll have another fist fight.”

“She,” Katherine thought. Frances didn’t want to even say Jenny’s name. It was like being back in high school.

part four: angel

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