"This is him."
JC clicked his pen and stabbed it against his rain-spattered steno pad a couple of times, frowning down at the body sprawled on the curb. One expensively manicured hand lay in the gutter; water ran through the victim's fingers, splitting off into little tributaries, almost pretty if you didn't pay attention to the blood mixed in it.
"Still got a wallet," Justin said, standing up straight and holding out a leather wallet. Expensive as the manicure, JC thought, watching Justin flip it open, stretch it to arm's length to study the drivers' license. "Doctor Howard Dorough --"
"He was a doctor?" JC tucked his tongue into his cheek and studied the dead man. "Huh. I didn't think you could be a doctor with fingernails like that."
Justin squinted at a business card. "You can't," he said laconically. "Dorough here was a doctor of linguistics at Towson." He stood back, staring down at the body with a frown. "What the hell could a speech professor do to get capped in the street like a dog?"
JC looked up at the splash of the medical examiner's car pulling up. "Well, now, Justin -- I guess that's what we're here to find out, isn't it?"
"Yeah, sure. You want coffee?"
"And danish, if you're buying."
"You're an expensive date, Chasez."
"That's why he sits alone on Saturday nights." Christina came stomping over and stood with them over the body, snapping on her latex gloves with a wrinkled nose. "You guys done with him?"
"Done as we're gonna be," JC said, watching Christina help roll the soggy body. Justin jogged back, bearing two cups of coffee with danish balanced delicately on each, and handed JC the lemon one. Christina grimaced and stepped into the bloody water with her heeled black boots as she inspected Dorough's body, and Justin folded his cherry danish in half and ate it in three big bites.
... ... ...
Bobbie leaned back in her chair, legs crossed, and JC tried yet again not to stare into the shadowy steeple of cloth that her skirt made between her thighs. He failed.
"Where are we on the Dorough case?" Bobbie demanded, snapping him back into focus. "I'm getting a lot of media attention for this, and I need to know which way to deflect it."
"What?" Justin shook rain from his jacket. "What the hell kind of slow news day puts a speech professor at the top of the headlines?"
"A murdered speech professor," Bobbie corrected him. "And one who had a reputation among his colleagues and the community for doing a great deal of charity work with underprivileged kids, as well as making a lot of those news anchors sound as good as they do."
"Well, he didn't have any significant others and no family in town, and we've already spoken to his fellow professors at Towson so our next stop is the, um--" JC consulted his notebook, "the Dorough Linguistic Annex. It's a centre he set up to help low-income people with speech impediments, help them get over lisps, other stuff like that."
"Christ." Bobbie massaged her forehead and re-crossed her legs; JC was somewhat mollified to note that Justin's gaze also followed the interesting configurations of her skirt and thighs. "This guy gets closer to being canonized the longer you talk to me. Go on, then, talk to his disciples. And keep me informed!"
"Always, Lieutenant." Justin gave a stick-fingered salute as they bumped each other out of the office. "Back out in the rain," he sighed, zipping his jacket shut. "If I wanted to live life this waterlogged, I woulda moved to Seattle."
"You won't melt," JC said. "You're not made of sugar."
"Naw, sticks and snails." Justin sailed around his desk and detoured over to where Britney was sitting, turning his grin up to its full wattage. "Brit's made of sugar, though, right? And spice?"
"And everything nice," Britney cooed on cue. She didn't look up from her paperwork, though -- something JC noted with interest. Justin's brow furrowed briefly, but he leaned in close to her anyway and said something into her ear, his nose almost pushing into Britney's hair. Britney gave him a shuttered look and opened her mouth, but then Chris leaned across their front-adjoined desks and poked her in the wrist with his pen.
"You want footprints again?" he said. Which was odd even for Chris (who in JC's private opinion surely had some stupid personal goal to be the squadroom weirdo; it was the only possible explanation for his behaviour sometimes). Whatever he meant, it seemed to have an effect on his partner, who turned on the chill and told Justin, "don't you have a case you could be failing to close?"
"My clearance rate's not suffering a slow death like yours," Justin said, but only after a hurt pause. Probably wasn't used to his wooing being rebuffed, JC thought with a spurt of meanness. Out loud he said mildly, "Richardson's waiting to talk to us," and Justin bounced up and headed towards the door without another word.
... ... ...
Richardson not only met them at the door of the Dorough Linguistic Annex, he greeted them both by name and led them into a well-appointed office where he poured three cups of tea and didn't offer any milk or sugar. "Before you inquire," he said as JC was just flipping open his notebook, "yes, I do hold an advanced degree in Speech-Langage Pathology."
JC exchanged a look with Justin. "Er," he said, "glad you cleared that up for us." Richardson seemed pleased and relaxed into his chair by a few incremental degrees.
"Many people are mistaken as to the extent of my qualifications and education when they learn that I work at a community program," Richardson said. "They assume -- and wrongly so -- that because I facilitate intervention for children with language delays, my training is equivalent to that of a mere kindergarten teacher."
Justin snorted. "Yeah, I bet they realize their mistake the second they hear you talk."
"'I'll'," Richardson said, turning his head slightly to fix his gaze on Justin.
"'I'll'," Richardson repeated. "I'll bet. Or even 'I'd'."
"You gotta be kidding me," Justin said in a deliberate, flat tone. JC briefly bit the insides of his lips and then cut in, "so Dr. Dorough left most of the day-to-day operation of the Annex in your, uh, I'm assuming very capable hands?"
"You are correct," Richardson said. "Howard concentrated mainly on his lecturing duties at Towsen, but he certainly maintained a vested and thriving interest in the goings-on here."
JC sipped his tea and instantly scalded his tongue. "How so?" he managed to say in a normal tone while Justin drank his tea down in one gulp and glared around. Richardson took a measured draught from his cup and explained, "Howard would select certain people for a special program, a more intensive and personal program. He chose those who seemed to harbour more potential within them than the others." Richardson refilled Justin's cup. Justin left it there.
"What exactly kinda potential you mean?" Justin asked, letting his words slosh and slur together. Richardson addressed JC.
"Former students in the special program have gone on to higher education, respectable public service positions, and even minor celebrity status," he said. "The potential they possess is the latent ability to rise above their circumstances in life and achieve more than any person could reasonably have previously expected of them. They are the veritable phoenixes of the program."
"And the people these, um, phoenixes arose over? What are they like?"
Waving a dismissive hand, Richardson curled his lip and said, "the usual dregs of the street. Victims of circumstance and their own venial natures both." He saw the way the two men were looking at him and sighed. "Don't misunderstand me, please. I pity these poor creatures. I know that many of them enter the world already disadvantaged. But if you had to witness the detrimental effects of the drug culture upon child development, Detectives, I daresay you too would sound vitriolic towards the people who either abuse or provide those drugs."
"Definitely," JC murmured. "Would you be able to give us a list of the dealers Dr. Dorough would have known about--"
"--and one of the special students, too," Justin added.
Richardson frowned. "Surely that's not necessary," he began. "Those students are not the sorts who would indulge in those sorts of criminal activities. I would stake my reputation on it, and my reputation is pristine."
"Irregardless of your pristineness, we need the list." Justin grinned savagely at the disgusted look on the man's face.
"Very well, you shall have your lists. But there is one name you should pay particular attention to, Detectives -- AJ McLean." Richardson poured himself more tea. "Howard gives even the most belligerent and uncooperative persons a chance to improve, but with McLean ... well, you know the old axiom about the sow's ear. McLean holds the distinction of being the only person to be ejected from the Learning Annex on a permanent basis."
... ... ...
"That guy was a hump," Justin said with passion. He yanked on his seatbelt to demonstrate his feelings and elaborated, "I mean, I've talked to some real douchebags before, but he outdouched them all."
"He doesn't seem like he'd be a really good teacher, that's for sure." JC drummed the wheel thoughtfully. "Considering how much Dorough's colleages and students at the university loved him, I'm surprised he'd tap someone like Richardson with no people skills to help him out at the Annex."
"I'm surprised it was Dorough who got offed and not Doucherson."
"Irregardless of what you feel," JC began, then ducked when Justin swatted at him. "Okay, okay -- he really was an ass to you. But you were laying it on pretty thick by the end there."
Justin wedged one foot against the glove compartment, propped his elbow against his knee, and turned his face to the rain-spattered window. Two sets of rowhouses went by before he offered, "Yeah, I just ... I mean, my mom taught grade 8 at a public school for pretty much all my life. And she had some troubled kids come through there. Like, not even the dopeheads and garden-variety jerkwads, but kids who could hardly string together three sentences about their summers much less tell you who the thirty-fifth president was."
"Not really dumb, just ... neglected. The kind who nobody cared enough to read Dr. Seuss to when they were kids, just parked 'em in front of the tv or worse. My mom always said that some of them wanted so bad to learn, but they couldn't figure out how to make it happen. I dunno, I guess those synapses never connected when they were little, or something."
"Hmmm." JC digested this as they stopped at a red light. "So you have a natural sympathy for backwards students that Richardson's lacking."
"Something like that. What I'm saying is, it must suck for those kids to be doing their best and have that guy correcting their thee's and thou's." Justin folded his arms and sunk down like a brooding hen. JC turned into the parking garage and said, "JFK."
"Kennedy was the thirty-fifth president."
Justin was staring at him. "I know." He unsnapped his seatbelt. "Jerk."
... ... ...
Christina found them when they were in the breakroom. "You're gonna be glad I pressured you into getting those toxscreens on the speech doctor," she announced, dropping a file on the table and narrowly missing Joey's butter chicken. JC snatched up the report and skimmed though, handing it to Justin after.
"He tested positive for heroin?" Justin held out the report across the table and squinted at it. "Man, he didn't look like a smokehound."
"Well shit, Timberlake, maybe he didn't have time to run out and get the requisite 'I am a junkie' tattoo across his forehead." Christina rolled her eyes and sat down, shoving Joey's shoulder. "Get me some coffee."
"I'm eating here!" Joey said haplessly, but he got up and fetched her some coffee anyway while Christina shredded and ate his naan. "Apart from the heroin, his system was practically spotless," she told the other two. "He was healthy, fit, and baby-pink inside."
"We all have our vices." Joey sat down again and regarded his depleted lunch with dismay. "Some of us never bring our own food and just sponge off our colleagues every mealtime."
"You don't like naan anyway." Christina folded the last strip of bread into her mouth and tapped the file with her short, shiny fingernail. "This was interesting, though. The bullet in your guy was teensy-tiny -- rat-shot."
JC raised his eyebrows and repeated, "Rat-shot?" Justin nodded along with Christina and explained, "same thing as snake-shot. Small-lead loaded into a plastic cartridge, use 'em to shoot rats--"
"-- and snakes, yeah, I get the idea." JC shook his head. "Something only you Billytown folks would know about."
"Fuck you, and also, that's not the interesting part," Christina insisted. "The cartridges are usually scored at one end, so when they leave the gun they crack and the lead shatters wide. But these shotshells were popped into the guy from so close the killer could've kissed him. He might not have died if the shooter was standing even two feet away." She reached over to JC's chicken caesar salad and he rapped her knuckles with his fork; Joey wordlessly pushed the rest of his food in front of her.
... ... ...
"You think they're sleeping together?"
JC hit the brakes when the car in front of them slowed down and turned left. "Hello! Turn indicator! It's there for a reason, ass!" He drove on, sending a glare after the offending car, and went back to what Justin had said. "What? No. No, they're just friends."
Justin tapped his knee with his fingertips. "I dunno, man. It seemed like they had something going there. That kind of, uh, whatchacallit -- that rapport."
"We have that rapport," JC pointed out. The minute he said it he felt an awful sick swelling that burbled up from stomach to throat, Justin's fingers losing speed in their tap-tap-tap and the rain pattering on the roof getting louder and louder. He licked his lips and was about to blurt something inane to defuse the awkwardness but at that moment Justin murmured, "Guess so." When JC pulled the Cavalier to a stop in front of the apartment complex, Justin sat for a while after the engine turned off. JC sat with him for a while, staring straight ahead, then unbuckled himself. "Coming?" he asked. Justin opened the door and got out, hunching over in the downpour.
They gave the door three batteries of knocks, with no response. "Maybe McLean's out on the corner this time of day," Justin suggested. JC scratched behind his ear and then the door opened and a blue eye peeked out. "Yes?"
"Baltimore Homicide." They held up their badges and JC continued, "we need to talk with AJ McLean about, ah, Doctor Howard Dorough."
The door shut and then reopened and a tall blond man stepped out, carefully locking it behind him. He took a deep breath and smoothed his impeccable shirtfront. "I'm ready," he said. "You may as well take me now."
Justin put away his badge. "Mr. McLean?" he ventured. The blond man shook his head.
"My name is Nick Carter. I live with Mr. McLean. I also used to live with Dr. Dorough." He gave a wan little smile. "But then I killed him."
... ... ...
"So this Carter guy lets Dorough boff him for a couple of years--"
"Eiw, could you not?" Britney threw an eraser at Chris's head, which he ignored and continued, "--and polish him up like a real society lady, and then blows the guy away so he can shack up with a brain-dead corner yo?"
"That's about the gist of it, yeah." JC leaned way back in his chair and swiveled. "Dorough had some kind of Pygmalion complex where Carter was concerned."
Chris patted Britney's elbow. "Don't you worry about it," he told her. "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain."
"Oh, My Fair Lady!" Britney scowled at JC. "Why didn't he just say so?"
"So basically," Justin took up the story, "Dorough hand-picked Carter for his special program, taught him how to talk and move and behave, and ... fell in love with him."
Britney and Chris gave shouts of laughter at that. "Love?" Chris said. "What kind of fantasy world do you live in, Timberlake?"
"Justin confuses love with money sometimes," Britney said, her tone unexpectedly waspish. Justin looked like she'd hit him with a five-iron.
"So sorry to be interrupting." Lance breezed in, briefcase and tie in one hand. "Just wanted to let you guys know that we managed to find Mr. McLean, and he will be testifying against Nick Carter in exchange for a plea-bargain on some drug charges stacked up against him."
"Now that's the true face of love in Balt-o-more," Chris said, satisfied. "Thank you for the update, Mister Attorney-Man." He and Britney headed off to find dinner and Lance rubbed his head.
"Looks like you guys picked up a dunker," he said. "Signed confession, murder weapon, witness testimony ... they don't come any neater than this." Lance looked from Justin to JC and clicked his tongue. "Lighten up, fellas. From the looks on your faces, you'd think somebody had died or something."
... ... ...
The rain was coming down in sheets and lashes, and JC cursed the crappy driver-side wiper on his Jeep as he peered in-between the smears of his windshield. The good thing was -- there weren't many people out walking in this weather, so it didn't take more than ten minutes of driving and peering before he spotted Justin marching along the sidewalk.
Crowing, JC pulled up to park and jumped out of the car, jogging over to him. "Justin!" he shouted. "Hi, hey Justin!"
Justin stopped and turned, a look of bewilderment crossing his face as he realized who it was. "Chasez?" he said. "What the hell?"
JC blew water from the tip of his nose. "Come on, come on in and I'll give you a ride," he said, "I'll give you a ride home, you don't have to walk in this weather."
"Uh." Justin directed his thumb over his shoulder. "I live right there."
"Oh. Well ... well, look." JC grabbed Justin and manhandled him into the little parking area next to the apartment house. "Look, you did a good job. I know it seemed like we hardly did any work on this, but sometimes, you know, the cases just fall into your lap and fall back out again. Next couple of months you'll get a redball and the case will never go down, and that'll make up for this, and you'll feel like things are back to normal. Y'know?"