Michael Weiss was sound asleep when the phone rang. The noise brought him around, and the hangover was waiting there to clobber him. His mouth tasted vaguely of vomit and his tongue felt too big. As every subsequent ring made his skull feel as though it might shatter, he made the same vow he’d been making a couple of times a month for most of his adult life: I will never again have another drink. He’d been making that promise a lot more often lately. A quick glance at the clock confirmed it was an ungodly hour—5:04 a.m. Michael didn’t so much answer the phone as groan into it.
It was his partner at the Ponte Bonita Police Department, Detective Alejandro “Andy” Reyes, and despite the hour, Andy was wide awake and chipper. “Yo, Mike. We got a body.” He sounded delighted.
Michael groaned. “It’s Sunday, Andy.”
“Perps don’t take Sundays off,” Andy said. “Let’s saddle up.” Andy was fond of ridiculous cop phrases like this.
“Ocean View Boulevard.”
Michael paused while this information penetrated his hangover-fogged brain. “Really?”
“That’s what they tell me. I’m on my way there now. See you in fifteen?”
“Take your time, pal,” Andy said with a laugh. “This guy ain’t going nowhere.”
Michael closed his phone and put it back on the nightstand. He was now cognizant enough to be aware of his surroundings, and he was dismayed to find himself lying next to a familiar figure. Brian Whipple, twenty-three years old and “one of the rising stars in Florida broadcast journalism” (according to the Ponte Bonita Sentinel), was becoming a bad habit. It seemed like almost every time Michael woke up with a hangover, he woke up next to Brian.
It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Michael generally couldn’t stand Brian. Brian was good-looking—studiously so, it being an integral part of his job—but Brian was also vain, selfish, self-involved, and willing to use anyone in the interest of his relentless self-promotion. The nagging sense that he was being used bothered Michael. Brian never showed up at Michael’s because he liked Michael or even because he was particularly horny. More often, he showed up in the hope of getting a tip or an off-the-record quote, something he could use to get a leg up on his colleagues. Michael found it irritating and borderline insulting. And yet he never failed to invite Brian in.
Michael knew he was an easy mark for someone like Brian. As he walked very carefully to the bathroom—leaving Brian asleep, naked, his muscular legs tangled in the sheets—Michael went over all the things that made him attractive to someone like Brian. A lonely, mostly closeted cop (he’d come out to only a handful of people in his life); a thirty-two-year-old man deeply afraid of being outed and equally afraid of dying alone; someone with a taste for liquor, someone for whom alcohol was akin to a truth serum. In the bathroom, gently dabbing his face with a wet towel, he made another vow he’d made many times before: I will never again have anything to do with Brian Whipple.
Back in the bedroom, Brian was awake and reclining on his elbows. Despite having gone drink-for-drink last night with Michael, Brian managed to wake up looking fresh as a daisy. He smiled. “You’re up early.”
“Got to go to work,” Michael said, pulling on the first pair of pants he could find, the ones thrown over the back of the desk chair.
“Anything interesting?” Brian rolled over to expose one of the most interesting things about himself.
“Body up on Ocean View.” Michael shrugged on a white button-up shirt.
Brian’s eyes lit up. Ocean View Boulevard was where the super-rich lived, and there were plenty of them in Ponte Bonita. Although the houses on the inland side would have been impressive in any other setting, the ones on the ocean side were where the real money lived. Ocean-side houses were ten- and twenty-thousand-square-foot giants of stone and brick with wrought-iron gates, million-dollar landscaping, and full staffs of servants. The homes all had spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and owned the beach in front of them (which meant that the beaches were always empty, even in the best of weather). Generally it was business moguls who owned the houses—Fortune 500 CEOs and hedge-fund owners—but there was also a supremely successful romance novelist, an Indian pop star, and two Saudi princes. Madonna was once rumored to be looking at a house on Ocean View, but nothing ever came of it.
“Ocean side or inland?”
“I have no idea.” Michael carefully knotted his tie, but it came out too short and he had to start again. His hands felt as though they only half-belonged to him.
“I’ve got to get to work, get started on this story,” Brian said, slipping into his jeans. “Or maybe I should just go straight to the scene, have the crew meet me there?” Against his own will, Michael noticed that Brian neglected to put any underwear on; had he been wearing any last night? Brian pulled on his T-shirt and affected a coy pose. “You wanna ride together?”
“No.” Michael grabbed his cell phone and badge off the bedside table and shoved them in his pocket. He gently nodded his head in a way that he hoped said, “Let’s go,” but not “together.” Brian picked his bag up and followed behind, sulking.
Outside the house, Michael was always careful to keep things platonic with Brian. Michael’s house was a one-story, two-bedroom stucco with a tile roof, the type of house seen in every planned neighborhood in Florida. It was identical to both of his neighbors’ houses except for the color; Michael had picked Desert Sand, while his neighbor on the right had chosen Coral Sunset and his neighbor on the left had opted for Morning Sunshine. The difference was not as noticeable as the names might have suggested. Because developers were always trying to squeeze as many of these low-quality homes onto thirty acres as possible, there wound up being very little privacy in one’s front yard—or back or side yard for that matter. And while Michael didn’t actually know any of his neighbors except to wave at, there was no reason to give anyone anything to talk about. He told himself he would do the same thing if he were bringing women home.
“So, I’ll see you in a little bit, then,” Brian said.
Michael wanted to tell Brian not to bother coming. He wanted to tell him that there was no story here, but he knew that wasn’t true. Instead, he just said, “Whatever. I’ve got to get going.” The sunlight was making his eyes want to crawl back into his head, and putting on his sunglasses gave him only mild relief. He climbed into his Corolla, started the engine, waited for Brian to pull his BMW out ahead of him, and then headed toward Ocean View Boulevard.