~1~

 

 

MARILYN WHITE was dead. She’d been prom queen, elementary school secretary, blueberry muffin maker, and Yahtzee champion in her household since the age of eight. And now she had a headstone and a closed case file with the Seattle police.

Tony DeMarco liked to know these things about his lost souls. It hurt more, made it more personal. But it also enabled him to see into the victim’s circle of friends and family a little more clearly. If there was a snake in the grass, he wanted to step right the hell on it.

“You’re late,” Detective Mark Woodson complained as Tony slid into a booth.

“Hey, I’m buying lunch, aren’t I? Stop whining or you’ll end up with a glass of tomato juice and Saltines.”

They shot the shit until the burgers arrived. Tony caught up on the macho soap opera that was the Seattle Police Department. He’d given them five good years until a bullet in the leg had made him rethink his priorities. He hadn’t exactly been in the closet when he was on the force, but he didn’t announce it either. Add being naturally awkward on top of being gay, and Tony was never going to make Cop of the Year. As a private eye, he worked alone and could cherry-pick his cases depending on how much he felt like risking his nuts at any given moment. He didn’t usually do murder, but he hadn’t been able to resist that photo of Marilyn White, with her long brown hair, smattering of freckles, and million-dollar smile. And he couldn’t say no to the grief on her parents’ faces when they’d begged him to take the case.

“So… Marilyn White.” Mark shook his bald head morosely. “Between you and me, I’m glad to see someone pick up the ball on that one.”

“You don’t buy the coroner’s ruling of accidental overdose?”

“No history of drug abuse. How dumb do ya have to be to take a whole bottle of antidepressants in one go?” Mark snorted derisively into his cup of coffee. “I’m tellin’ ya, Tony, this is what’s wrong with the world today. Everybody does the bare minimum, takes the easy solution. No one can be bothered to pull something out of the assembly line for two seconds and really fucking consider it. The coroner’s office is no different.”

This was surprisingly philosophical coming from Mark. Tony felt a surge of admiration for him that lasted nearly five seconds. Then Mark gave a hearty belch. He pounded his chest with a fist. “’Scuse me. Heartburn.”

“So who do you think did it?” Tony asked. “The husband?”

Mark grunted. “Isn’t that your job? What was I just saying about being lazy, dickweed?”

“Yeah, yeah. Just asking your opinion. Because, you know, you’re my hero. I wanna have your babies.”

Mark snorted. “Get in line.” He looked around, as if making sure they weren’t being listened to. He lowered his voice. “The husband is out. He has an alibi. But if the chief hadn’t made us drop the case, you know what I would have been on like white on rice?”

“No, Mark. That’s why I’m asking.”

“Shut up. We found out from Marilyn’s insurance records that a few months before her death she started going to a sex clinic.” He whispered this last with barely moving lips, as though a lip reader might be in the vicinity.

“What?”

“Yeah. Place called Expanded Horizons on Pike. It’s legit—you know, they treat frigidity and erectile whoosits and all that sort of thing.” Mark knocked on the wooden table. “God forbid.”

Tony felt a flush of embarrassment and a niggling pain at the words. With an effort, he pushed it aside. This was about Marilyn, not him. Tony pictured her as she’d been in her photos—not yet thirty, slim, and beautiful. “Why would Marilyn need to go to a sex clinic?”

Mark barked a laugh. “No fucking clue. Naturally, I went and interviewed her doctor, a guy named Jack Halloran. But all I got outta him was a chill the size of Alaska. ‘Doctor-patient confidentiality,’ he says. ‘Sexual issues are extremely sensitive,’ he says. ‘Doesn’t matter that she’s dead, her wishes for privacy have to be honored,’ he says. Yadda yadda. I’m telling ya, the guy’s got balls of steel. I tried everything—good cop, bad cop, vague threats, a lollipop…. He never even blinked.

“But get this,” Mark continued, leaning forward with a gleam in his eye. “At this sex clinic, they don’t just do psychobabble, they do sexual surrogacy. You know—a little sexual healing between the sheets. So I figure this Halloran, maybe his relationship with Marilyn got a little deeper than it shoulda. Pun intended.”

“No way,” Tony said. “They have sex with patients? Isn’t that illegal?”

Mark shrugged. “Consenting adults, ‘medical therapy,’ etcetera. Nah, it ain’t illegal. They’re actually licensed for that shit.”

Tony sat back in the booth, chewing his lip. He didn’t like the sound of that. Or maybe he did. A clear suspect made his life easier. “How come you didn’t get a warrant for her medical records?”

Mark looked disgusted. “I tried, but then the coroner’s ruling came in and the case went in the hopper. You know how it goes. Like every other asshole in this city, we got too much shit to do and too little time to do it.”

Yeah, Tony knew very well. The homicide department picked up suspicious deaths from the moment the body was found, but it was best not to get too attached. A case would close in a snap if the coroner didn’t rule homicide. They couldn’t have one branch of the city paying for work another branch said was unnecessary. It was a shame, but that gave Tony plenty of work if he wanted it, helping families like Marilyn’s when the cops wouldn’t.

“You get anything at all on Halloran?” Tony asked.

Mark sighed. “I dug around. Medical degree from U-dub. Top of his class. Get this—he was a combat surgeon in Iraq ’til eighteen months ago. Wounded and shipped home. The guy’s either a fucking super hero or a walking time bomb. You can make up your own mind about that one.”

Tony raised an eyebrow at Mark: And what do you think?

“Ka-blam,” Mark said.