“Maybe he wasn’t lying,” Tucker said.
“He was lying. I could hear it in his voice. He’s never lied to me before.” Elliot was in bed reading over the preliminary arson report, but he glanced up, watching with absent appreciation as Tucker undressed to his snowy white T-shirt and red-and-blue-check boxers.
Tucker was a big man. Broad shoulders, powerful chest, muscular arms and legs. Big but not fat. There was not one superfluous ounce of flesh on his large-boned frame. That kind of size could appear hulking, top heavy, but Tucker had learned to carry himself, so he just looked imposing. Or, when he chose, intimidating.
Not that he’d ever intimidated Elliot. Elliot smiled with private affection. With his coppery hair and fair skin, Tucker sunburned easily. The tip of his nose and tops of his shoulders were still pink. They had been swimming the previous weekend at the Ol’ Swimming Hole, a spring-fed lake in one of the island’s public parks.
It had been a very good day. It felt like a million years ago.
Elliot looked down again at the arson report. Mostly notes, sketches and a couple of photos of the likely crime scene at this stage. There was the expected confirmation that the garage had been the site of the fire’s origin, that the garage would have contained enough fuel to explain the extent of damage to the property, and that the rate and direction of fire spread was consistent with the probable types of fuel and ventilation.
There were general observations about the property, the neighborhood and weather conditions. And there was a very short list of possible witnesses. Very short as in none. Also no suspects.
But this was just an introduction to the investigation that would follow.
“Have you read your father’s book?” Tucker asked.
“No.” Elliot glanced up again and grimaced. “I forgot all about it, to be honest. After he managed to land that agent, he never really talked much about it. I figured nothing had come of it—until he suddenly had a book deal and the damn thing was going to be published.”
“So you have no idea what’s in it?”
“He’s always talked about stirring people up, rattling a few cages. Christ knows what that means. He might mean cages in general or he might have a few specific cages in mind.”
Tucker considered this. “How much of a badass could he have been? I know he got a certain amount of notoriety from a string of arrests, but he never did any major jail time, right? And he never made our Most Wanted list.”
“I know. I can’t imagine anyone reading the thing, let alone feeling threatened enough to kill him over it.”
“You could ask to read it.”
“I’d have to get a copy from his publisher. He said his notes and the earlier drafts were lost in the fire.”
“He didn’t keep a copy in the safe?”
“No.” What the safe had held, in addition to important papers, were original photos his mother had placed there years ago. After dinner, Roland had unlocked the safe and sorted through Kodachrome slides, sepia portraits of great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers, baby and childhood pictures of Elliot—one complete with missing front teeth and wispy, long hair—and wedding photos. Not a lot to show for several generations of a family, but something. Roland had got wet-eyed over them, whether because of the pictures themselves or the thought of Jesse Mills lovingly curating them in case of just such a catastrophe. Afterward, Elliot had poured them each a glass of whisky.
He wanted to fix this for his father. But since that was not possible, he wanted whoever had attacked Roland to pay. Dearly.
“The cops will ask to read it,” Tucker said.
“I wouldn’t bet on it. The prevailing theory is that this is just another right-wing nut outraged at the idea of a high-profile leftist memoir.”
“It’s not a bad theory.”
“No, it’s the obvious theory. Especially after that neocon blogger Will MacAuley wrote his column on ‘Tenured Terrorists’ last year.”
“Will MacAuley? I thought he was a radio commentator.” Tucker set his cell phone on the bedstand.
“Does anyone still use the term ‘neocon’?” Tucker took off his watch.
“That blog got about two hundred comments.”
“Not counting your father’s.”
Elliot wryly acknowledged that, before adding, “A lot of those comments were from the fringe element advocating violent payback for old grievances most of them are too young to remember firsthand.”
“You think someone was inspired by that post?”
“I think it’s a possibility. The cops think it’s a possibility. But I can tell that’s not what Dad thinks.”
“But he’s not telling you what he does think.”
The mattress dipped as Tucker climbed into bed. He slid between the cool, crisp sheets and groaned with relief.
Elliot slid the report in its folder, tossed the folder to the floor and rolled over to gaze down, smiling, at Tucker. “Welcome home, sailor.”
They kissed. It started out affectionate but perfunctory—they were bone tired and both had a lot on their minds—but the softness of Tucker’s lips always disarmed Elliot. The line of Tucker’s mouth was hard, and it was a mouth that had said some harsh things, but his kisses were so sweet. So Elliot took his time, kissed him deeply—and when he started to draw back, Tucker’s big hand fastened on the back of his skull and kept him in place while Tucker’s soft, sweet lips drew on his own.
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