Page 8

"I guess not."

"Body shirts, jeans, leather jackets, the Hollywood look--that's what you see in a place like this."

He cleared his throat. "Well," he said uneasily, "I want to thank you for helping us as much as you could."

She said, "I like men who dress well."

Their eyes locked again, and he saw that flicker of ravenous hunger and animal greed. He had the feeling that if he let her lead him into her apartment, the door would close behind him like a set of jaws. She'd be all over him in an instant, pushing and pulling and whirling him around as if she were a wave of digestive juices, breaking him down and sucking the nutrients out of him, using him until he fragmented and dissolved and simply ceased to exist except as a part of her.

"Got to go to work," he said, sliding off the barstool. "See you around."

"I hope so."

For fifteen minutes, Tony and Frank showed the mug shots of Bobby Valdez to the customers in Paradise. As they moved from table to table, the band played Rolling Stones and Elton John and Bee Gees material at a volume that set up sympathetic vibrations in Tony's teeth. It was a waste of time. No one in Paradise remembered the killer with the baby face.

On the way out, Tony stopped at the long oak bar where Otto was mixing strawberry Margaritas.

"Tell me something," he shouted above the music.

"Anything," Otto yelled.

"Don't people come to these places to meet each other?"

"Making connections. That's what it's all about."

"Then why the hell do so many singles' bars have bands like that one?"

"What's wrong with the band?"

"A lot of things. But mostly it's too damned loud."


"So how can anyone possibly strike up an interesting conversation?"

"Interesting conversation?" Otto said. "Hey man, they don't come here for interesting conversation. They come to meet each other, check each other out, see who they want to go to bed with."

"But no conversation?"

"Look at them. Just look around at them. What would they talk about? If we didn't play music loud and fairly steady, they'd get nervous."

"All those maddeningly quiet spaces to fill."

"How right you are. They'd go somewhere else."

"Where the music was louder and they only needed body language."

Otto shrugged. "It's a sign of the times."

"Maybe I should have lived in another time," Tony said.

Outside, the night was mild, but he knew it would get colder. A thin mist was coming off the sea, not genuine fog yet, but a sort of damp greasy breath that hung in the air and made halos around all the lights.

Frank was waiting behind the wheel of the unmarked police sedan. Tony climbed in on the passenger's side and buckled his seatbelt.

They had one more lead to check out before they quit for the day. Earlier, a couple of people at that Century City singles' bar had said they'd also seen Bobby Valdez at a joint called The Big Quake on Sunset Boulevard, over in Hollywood.

Traffic was moderate to heavy heading toward the heart of the city. Sometimes Frank got impatient and darted from lane to lane, weaving in and out with toots of the horn and little squeals of the brakes, trying to get ahead a few car lengths, but not tonight. Tonight, he was going with the flow.

Tony wondered if Frank Howard had been discussing philosophy with Otto.

After a while, Frank said, "You could have had her."


"That blonde. That Judy."

"I was on duty, Frank."

"You could have set something up for later. She was panting for you."

"Not my type."

"She was gorgeous."

"She was a killer."

"She was what?"

"She'd have eaten me up alive."

Frank considered that for about two seconds, then said, "Bullshit. I'd take a crack at her if I had the chance."

"You know where she's at."

"Maybe I'll mosey back there later, when we're done."

"You do that," Tony said. "Then I'll come visit you in the rest home when she's finished with you."

"Hell, what's the matter with you? She wasn't that special. That kind of stuff can be handled easy."

"Maybe that's why I didn't want it."

"Send that one by me again."

Tony Clemenza was tired. He wiped his face with his hands as if weariness was a mask that he could pull off and discard. "She was too well-handled, too well-used."

"Since when did you become a Puritan?"

"I'm not," Tony said, "Or ... yeah ... okay, maybe I am. Just a little. Just a thin streak of Puritanism in there somewhere. God knows, I've had more than a few of what they now call

'meaningful relationships.' I'm far from pure. But I just can't see myself on the make in a place like Paradise, cruising, calling all the women 'foxes,' looking for fresh meat. For one thing, I couldn't keep a straight face making the kind of chatter that fills in between the band's numbers.

Can you hear me making that scene? 'Hi, I'm Tony. What's your name? What's your sign? Are you into numerology? Have you taken est training? Do you believe in the incredible totality of cosmic energy? Do you believe in destiny as an arm of some all-encompassing cosmic consciousness? Do you think we were destined to meet? Do you think we could get rid of all the bad karma we've generated individually by creating a good energy gestalt together? Want to fuck?'"

"Except for the part about fu**ing," Frank said, "I didn't understand a thing you said."

"Neither did I. That's what I mean. In a place like Paradise, it's all plastic chatter, glossy surface jive talk formulated to slide everyone into bed with as little friction as possible. In Paradise, you don't ask a woman anything really important. You don't ask about her feelings, her emotions, her talents, her fears, hopes, wants, needs, dreams. So what happens is you end up going to bed with a stranger. Worse than that, you find yourself making love to a fox, to a paper cut-out from a men's magazine, an image instead of a woman, a piece of meat instead of a person, which means you aren't making love at all. The act becomes just the satisfying of a bodily urge, no different than scratching an itch or having a good bowel movement. If a man reduces sex to that, then he might as well stay home alone and use his hand."

Frank braked for a red light and said. "Your hand can't give you a blow job."

"Jesus, Frank, sometimes you can be crude as hell."

"Just being practical."

"What I'm trying to say is that, for me at least, the dance isn't worth the effort if you don't know your partner. I'm not one of those people who'd go to a disco just to revel in my own fancy choreography. I've got to know what the lady's steps are, how she wants to move and why, what she feels and thinks. Sex is just so damned much better if she means something to you, if she's an individual, a quirky person all her own, not just a smooth sleek body that's rounded in all the right places, but a unique personality, a character with chips and dents and marks of experience."

"I can't believe what I'm hearing," Frank said as he drove away from the traffic signal. "It's that old bromide about sex being cheap and unfulfilling if love isn't mixed up with it somehow."

"I'm not talking about undying love," Tony said. "I'm not talking about unbreakable vows of fidelity until the end of time. You can love someone for a little while, in little ways. You can go on loving her even after the physical part of the relationship is over. I'm friends with old lovers because we didn't look at each other as new notches on the gun: we had something in common even after we stopped sharing a bed. Look, before I'm going to go for a tumble in the sack, before I'm going to get bare-assed and vulnerable with a woman, I want to know I can trust her: I want to feel she's special in some way, dear to me, a person worth knowing, worth revealing myself to, worth being a part of for a while."

"Garbage," Frank said scornfully.

"It's the way I feel."

"Let me give you a warning."

"Go ahead."

"The best advice you'll ever get."

"I'm listening."

"If you think there's really something called love, if you honest-to-God believe there's actually a thing called love that's as strong and real as hate or fear, then all you're doing is setting yourself up for a lot of pain. It's a lie. A big lie. Love is something writers invented to sell books."

"You don't really mean that."

"The hell I don't." Frank glanced away from the road for a moment, looked at Tony with pity.

"You're how old--thirty-three?"

"Almost thirty-five," Tony said as Frank looked back at the street and pulled around a slow-moving truck that was loaded down with scrap metal.

"Well, I'm ten years older than you," Frank said. "So listen to the wisdom of age. Sooner or later, you're going to think you're in true love with some fluff, and while you're bending over to kiss her pretty feet she's going to kick the shit out of you. Sure as hell, she'll break your heart if you let her know you have one. Affection? Sure. That's okay. And lust. Lust is the word, my friend. Lust is what it's really all about. But not love. What you've got to do is forget all this love crap. Enjoy yourself. Get all the ass you can while you're young. Fuck 'em and run. You can't get hurt that way. If you keep daydreaming about love, you'll only go on making a complete goddamned fool out of yourself, over and over and over again, until they finally stick you in the ground."

"That's too cynical for me."

Frank shrugged.

Six months ago, he had gone through a bitter divorce. He was still sour from the experience.

"And you're not really that cynical, either," Tony said. "I don't think you really believe what you said."

Frank didn't say anything.

"You're a sensitive man," Tony said.

Frank shrugged again.

For a minute or two, Tony tried to revive the dead conversation, but Frank had said everything he intended to say about the subject. He settled into his usual sphinxlike silence. It was surprising that he had said all he said, for Frank was not much of a talker. In fact, when Tony thought about it, the brief discussion just concluded seemed to have been the longest they'd ever had.

Tony had been partners with Frank Howard for more than three months. He still was not sure if the pairing was going to work out.

They were so different from each other in so many ways. Tony was a talker. Frank usually did little more than grunt in response. Tony had a wide variety of interests other than his job: films, books, food, the theater, music, art, skiing, running. So far as he could tell, Frank didn't care a great deal about anything except his work. Tony believed that a detective had many tools with which to extract information from a witness, including kindness, gentleness, wit, sympathy, empathy, attentiveness, charm, persistence, cleverness--and of course, intimidation and the rare use of mild force. Frank felt he could get along fine with just persistence, cleverness, intimidation, and a bit more force than the department thought acceptable; he had no use whatsoever for the other approaches on Tony's list. As a result, at least twice a week, Tony had to restrain him subtly but firmly. Frank was subject to eye-bulging, blood-boiling rages when too many things went wrong in one day. Tony, on the other hand, was nearly always calm. Frank was five-nine, stocky, solid as a blockhouse. Tony was six-one, lean, rangy, rugged looking. Frank was blond and blue-eyed. Tony was dark. Frank was a brooding pessimist. Tony was an optimist.

Sometimes it seemed they were such totally opposite types that the partnership never could be successful.

Yet they were alike in some respects. For one thing, neither of them was an eight-hour-a-day cop.

More often than not, they worked an extra two hours, sometimes three, without pay, and neither of them complained about it. Toward the end of a case, when evidence and leads developed faster and faster, they would work on their days off if they thought it necessary. No one asked them to do overtime. No one ordered it. The choice was entirely theirs.

Tony was willing to give more than a fair share of himself to the department because he was ambitious. He did not intend to remain a detective-lieutenant for the rest of his life. He wanted to work his way up at least to captain, perhaps higher than that, perhaps all the way to the top, right into the chief's office, where the pay and retirement benefits were a hell of a lot better than what he would get if he stayed where he was. He had been raised in a large Italian family in which parsimony had been a religion as important as Roman Catholicism. His father, Carlo, was an immigrant who worked as a tailor. The old man had labored hard and long to keep his children housed, clothed, and fed, but quite often he had come perilously close to destitution and bankruptcy. There had been much sickness in the Clemenza family, and the unexpected hospital and pharmacy bills had eaten up a frighteningly high percentage of what the old man earned. While Tony was still a child, even before he was old enough to understand about money and household budgets, before he knew anything about the debilitating fear of poverty with which his father lived, he sat through hundreds, maybe thousands, of short but strongly worded lectures on fiscal responsibility.

Carlo instructed him almost daily in the importance of hard work, financial shrewdness, ambition, and job security. His father should have worked for the CIA in the brainwashing department. Tony had been so totally indoctrinated, so completely infused with his father's fears and principles, that even at the age of thirty-five, with an excellent bank account and a steady job, he felt uneasy if he was away from work more than two or three days. As often as not, when he took a long vacation, it turned into an ordeal instead of a pleasure. He put in a lot of overtime every week because he was Carlo Clemenza's son, and Carlo Clemenza's son could not possibly have done otherwise.

Frank Howard had other reasons for giving a big piece of himself to the department. He did not appear to be any more ambitious than the next guy, and he did not seem unduly worried about money.

As far as Tony could tell, Frank put in the extra hours because he really lived only when he was on the job. Being a homicide detective was the only role he knew how to play, the one thing that gave him a sense of purpose and worth.

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com