Deadly Silence

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Victor J. BaniS


Mlr PreSS authorS Featuring a roll call of some of the best writers of gay erotica and mysteries today! M. Jules Aedin

Maura Anderson

Victor J. Banis

Jeanne Barrack

Laura Baumbach

Alex Beecroft

Sarah Black

Ally Blue

J.P. Bowie

Michael Breyette

P..A. Brown

Brenda Bryce

Jade Buchanan

James Buchanan

Charlie Cochrane

Kirby Crow

Dick D.

Ethan Day

Jason Edding

Angela Fiddler

Dakota Flint

S.J. Frost Kimberly Gardner Roland Graeme Storm Grant Amber Green LB Gregg

Drewey Wayne Gunn David Juhren Samantha Kane Kiernan Kelly J.L. Langley Josh Lanyon Clare London William Maltese Gary Martine Z.A. Maxfield Patric Michael Jet Mykles Willa Okati L. Picaro Neil Plakcy Jordan Castillo Price Luisa Prieto Rick R. Reed A.M. Riley George Seaton Jardonn Smith Caro Soles JoAnne Soper-Cook Richard Stevenson Clare Thompson Lex Valentine Stevie Woods

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Victor J. BaniS


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright 2010 by Victor J. Banis All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Published by MLR Press, LLC 3052 Gaines Waterport Rd. Albion, NY 14411 Visit ManLoveRomance Press, LLC on the Internet: Cover Art by Deana C. Jamroz Editing by Kris Jacen Printed in the United States of America.

ISBN# 978-1-60820-106-8 Issued 2010

Special thanks to Nowell Briscoe, Murphy Cutler and Ingrid Van Dort for their helpful input. And to my editor, Kris Jacen, for valor beyond the call of duty. And of course I am, as always, grateful to my cover artist, Deana Jamroz, to the entire MLR family, and especially to publisher

Laura Baumbach, whose faith has never wavered.

And I am grateful to a Divine providence that has somehow seen fit to bless my life, surely far beyond anything I might have merited.

Prologue He knew, and knew why as well. For a fluttering moment, he thought of pushing the little button to summon the nurse, or even crying out. Something, anything to resist. But why? What would be the point of resisting? It would happen, if not in this moment, then another, and not so far distant in time, either. You could not forever deny justice, and he was not so great a fool he did not know this was it. He looked into the eyes regarding him and saw in them the cold loathing of knowledge, a knowledge he’d always dreaded seeing. From whence had it come? Or had it always been there, and he had just failed to see it. “Are you awake?” The whisper was so faint he might almost have imagined it, had he not felt its breath touch his cheek. Close. So very close. And so far, too. “Really awake?” Awake enough, the whisper meant, to know what is happening. He closed his eyes, managed a sighed, “Yes.” To both questions. “I’m going to kill you.” “Yes,” he said again. It was no more than he expected. And no less.

chaPter one Stanley Korski was happy to hear the telephone ring. Business had been slow, and that left him too much time to ponder things. Just at this moment, there were things buzzing about in his mind that he really did not want to think about. That little voice inside the head—how did one get that to shut up, when it just insisted on nattering on and on? About stuff that you truly did not want to contemplate. “Danzel and Korski, Private Investigators.” “Which one have I gotten?” a woman’s voice asked, a little coldly, Stanley thought, but really, though they hadn’t been in the business a terribly long time, he’d already learned that people were rarely chatty and warm when they were calling private investigators. Usually, they were in some kind of a jam. For sure, the season notwithstanding, this woman whose voice he did not recognize wasn’t calling to wish him Merry Christmas. “This is Stanley Korski.” “My name is Pendleton. Patience Pendleton. A mutual acquaintance, Molly Mullins, suggested I call you.” Stanley didn’t remember a Molly Mullins, but that counted for next to nothing. People also apparently needed excuses to call on detectives. Sometimes they made their excuses up. “You need a detective?” Stanley nodded in his partner’s direction and switched the phone to speaker, so Tom Danzel could listen to the conversation as well. “Yes.” The voice hesitated. “It’s my father. Abe Pendleton. Albert. Someone has tried to murder him.” “Really?” Stanley Korski took a few seconds to absorb that statement and fling a questioning glance in Tom’s direction. Despite the movies and detective books, private investigators didn’t usually get this kind of call. “Uh, have you talked to the

4 Victor J. Banis police about this attempted murder, Miss…Pendleton, did you say?” That was greeted with a snort of derision. “I talked to them. For all the good it did.” “Well, then…” “They think I’m playing drama queen. And the nursing home says it was an accident. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? If you’re running a rehab house, you wouldn’t want it known that somebody was trying to kill your patients. Though personally I can’t see how they’d come across any better if it was an accident. Sounds careless, you know what I mean?” “How can you be so sure it wasn’t an accident?” Tom asked. “Is that Mister Danzel? I can’t be sure, not one hundred percent. If I knew…but, that’s why I’m calling you.” She sounded a little impatient that they didn’t automatically grasp that. “That’s what I want you to find out. I want you to look into the incident. If it was an accident, which I seriously doubt, that’s one thing. But if someone tried to kill him, then that’s very much a horse of a different color.” “I understand, only, there must have been something that roused your suspicion,” Tom said. “There was. I talked to the nurse right after it happened, and the nurse was convinced he’d given his patient the right dose. It was Father’s insulin, he’d gotten way too much, and it put him in a coma. But the nurse insisted he’d given him just the prescribed amount. He was so clear on that point.” “Still, accidents do happen,” Stanley said. “Even a competent nurse can make a mistake. And, he wouldn’t want to admit it, would he?” “That’s true. But he was so certain. And that’s not all of it, either. I tried to talk to him again, and he’d disappeared.” “Disappeared?” Tom echoed. “Just like that.” A muffled sound over the phone that might

DeaDly Silence 5 have been the snap of fingers. “Gone. I asked the administrator at the home how I could get in touch with him, and what I got was a big fat runaround. At first, they said they couldn’t give out private information like that. Then, when I threatened to get our lawyers involved, they changed their tune, said the nurse in question had left without giving them a forwarding address. Doesn’t that make you suspicious? A patient goes into a coma, nearly dies from a massive overdose of his medicine, and a day later, the person who administered it has vanished. And we’re talking about a nurse. What’s he going to live off if he plans to vanish from the face of the earth? Nurses have to register, don’t they?” Tom didn’t really know but he thought that was probably true. Anyway, he had to admit what she said did make him suspicious too, at least a little. “What hospital was this?” “Bella Vista, overlooking the Castro. And it isn’t a hospital, it’s a nursing home.” “What’s the difference?” Tom asked. “The doctors don’t do surgery,” she said in the tone of voice one would use with a somewhat slow child. “There’s no intensive care. Patients come there when they’re past the critical stages in their recovery. It’s more in the nature of rehab.” “And your father was there because…?” “It’s almost ridiculous, if it hadn’t grown so serious. He went into Saint Sophie’s for a routine knee replacement, that was three months ago, and he ended up with MRSA. They’ve been treating him with daily antibiotics, but his insurance wouldn’t continue to pay for that in the hospital, so he was moved to the Bella Vista two weeks ago. He could have come home, but he’s bedridden with that knee, and he needs the daily injections. Belle Vista was a better choice.” “You said an insulin overdose?” “Yes. He’s diabetic. They’ve had him on an insulin IV. But something went way wrong with the dosage. He went into a coma. If someone hadn’t reacted very quickly…”

6 Victor J. Banis “Who, exactly?” Stanley asked. “The same nurse.” “Look,” Tom said, “how about if we get together to discuss this? Would it be convenient for you to come to our offices, and…” “No. I take care of my sister. She’s…well, you’ll no doubt see for yourself. It’s not convenient for me to go out and leave her alone with just our housemaid, and I don’t have time to get someone in. I want you to come here, to our home. We’re in Pacific Heights. The address is…” Stanley took down the address, and they agreed to be there that afternoon at four. When they’d finished the call, he phoned his friend Chris, a nurse, to ask what he knew about Bella Vista Nursing Home. “Pricey,” Chris said. “Has a good reputation. I know the administrator, if you want an intro.” “I might,” Stanley said. “I’ll meet you later, at The Cove. You can tell me all about the place.” “So you think there really is a case in this for us?” Tom asked when Stanley was off the phone. “Honey, that address. Big money. Big fees. Santa could be very pleased.” He also thought, but did not say, we’ll be very much occupied for a while. Which ought to give that voice in his head something different to natter about. §§§§§ On the way, Tom made a stop at the San Francisco Homicide Bureau, to check in with his one time colleague, Homicide Inspector Bryce. “Pendleton,” he said to Bryce, “Albert Pendleton, Pacific Heights, currently in a nursing home above the Castro. Had anything called in?”

DeaDly Silence 7 Bryce checked. “I’m not supposed to share this kind of information,” keying information into the computer even while he said it. “I promise I’ll keep it to myself.” Bryce was right, of course, and they both knew it. But they both knew too that Bryce was a deeply closeted homosexual with a case of the hots for Tom—a fact that Tom had taken advantage of before with no qualms, and didn’t hesitate to do so again. It was one of the perks of the good looking, and even the scars on the left side of his face, the results of some severe burns he’d suffered in an earlier case, hadn’t seemed to diminish his appeal for Bryce in the least. Tom had learned that somewhat cynical lesson early on in his career: a successful detective used whatever tools he’d been handed. In the past, when they had both actually worked in the homicide detail, Tom had taken almost no notice of his fellow Inspector. His relationship with Stanley, however, had broadened his perspective. Now he could look at Bryce and see what he wouldn’t have noticed before; that he was an attractive man, even without himself feeling an iota of attraction to him. That man-on-man desire was something Tom felt only for Stanley, and that had more to do with the simple fact of his being in love with Stanley than with his being gay—he didn’t actually believe he was, despite the undeniable intensity of their relationship. It was just a matter of him and Stanley, some special chemistry that had developed between the two of them. It had nothing to do with gay in general. Still, he could see that a gay man would find Bryce appealing. His body was compact, almost stocky, but hard muscled. Clearly he worked out regularly. His face was boyish, slightly freckled, his sandy hair spilled over a wide brow. His mouth was sharply outlined. Clinically, Tom thought it was what was called kissable. But he felt no desire to kiss it. None of it aroused any particular desire in him. He had wondered more than once if, had he not found himself engaged with Stanley, he and Bryce at some time or other might

8 Victor J. Banis have found a way to one another. He knew that Bryce obviously thought so, but Tom had never imagined a scenario in which that seemed even remotely likely. He could suppose that, even had Stanley not come into his life, it was possible that a desire, a need, for man on man sexuality might have awakened at some time or other within him, aroused by some other male whose path crossed his. But even supposing that, he would probably never have acted upon it, and certainly not if it had been someone also on the force with him. He’d seen relations begin between members of the force, in all gender variants, and he knew that they invariably foundered, to the detriment of both careers. Affairs based on nothing more than lust or boredom, or a craving for some new kind of thrill were doomed from the onset, in his opinion. It was a miracle, one that he preferred not to question too closely, that he and Stanley had somehow managed thus far to work things out between them. Even when he had recognized his sexual desire for Stanley, and that had been a major shock to him, he had broken the relationship off, and it had not begun again until Stanley was gone from the force. He was not so great a fool that he didn’t recognize the unfairness of that. It was why, despite the fact that he had loved his job and was good at it, he too had resigned from SFPD, opting instead for sharing a detective agency with the man who was now his life’s partner. But that was a role Bryce could never have filled for him, however handsome he might be, and however much he might want to. Bryce lifted jade green eyes from the computer, met Tom’s questioning gaze searchingly. “Nothing in the computer. Why? What makes you ask?” “His daughter called us, seems to think someone tried to off Daddy.” “Did they?” “Can’t say yet. We’re checking. I just wondered how serious she was.”

DeaDly Silence 9 “Not serious enough to give us a call.” Bryce swung his chair away from the computer and looked at his watch. “Hey, how about a coffee downstairs. Haven’t seen you in a while.” “Thanks, but Stanley’s waiting in the car.” “Oh.” Bryce’s disappointment was undisguised. He made no secret of his resentment of Stanley. “Well…” “Some other time.” “Sure. Maybe when you’re alone.” “That would be nice. Next time, I promise. I’ll give you a call.” Tom had gotten the information he’d come for. He felt it was only fair to offer his would-be suitor a ray of hope in return. Bryce smiled hopefully. “Do that,” he said. Which, Tom thought with a pang of guilt, was a little too much like a dog grateful for a pat on the head. Unfortunately, in this case, the dog was never going to get the bone he was longing for. Probably he should just flat out tell Bryce that. But he didn’t. §§§§§ “Whatever she thinks,” Tom told Stanley, “she didn’t call in the police.” “That’s odd,” Stanley said. They were on their way to the address Patience Pendleton had given them. “She told us she’d called them and they shined her on.” “Which tells me she’s not really all that sure. But she has some reason for wanting us to think she is.” “Well, really, common sense says it’s far more likely it was an accident, just as the nursing home says. And if the nurse was so quick to discover the problem, that the patient had gone into a coma, it could just be because he realized right away what he’d done, that he had made a mistake.” “I’m no medical expert,” Tom said, “But it doesn’t seem like the most logical way to murder someone.”

10 Victor J. Banis “You’re forgetting Hannah Hunter. Up in Bear Mountain. That’s how she killed her mother. But she’d set that up in advance. And, of course, Ms. Pendleton’s father wasn’t actually killed, was he? I mean, we’re thinking, either accident or murder, but it might not have been either, exactly.” Tom frowned, steered around a stopped bus on Van Ness. “Meaning, what then?” “A warning?”

chaPter two The address they’d been given was on the high rent end of Pacific Avenue, only a couple of blocks over from Divisadero— especially pricey real estate in a city known for pricey real estate. The house showed its scorn for the cost of land by sitting a discreet distance back from the street with a lot of wasted yardage in front. Planters of geraniums, shockingly red in the December weather, lined a curving brick walk that led to some architect’s fevered dream of Victoriana. Enormous carved doors offered Biblical scenes, and a choice of a large bronze knocker that would have had them spanking Eve’s derriere—take that, you naughty apple pusher—or a more conventional doorbell. Tom reached for the knocker, but Stanley beat him to the draw and pushed the latter. Inside, chimes did an impression of Big Ben. After the chimes, silence. Stanley was about to ring again, maybe taking a hand this time to Eve’s bronzed bottom, when the door opened. Flew open, in fact, so violently that it struck the wall behind with a noisy thud. The young woman framed in the doorway was wide-eyed with what Stanley could only suppose was incipient hysteria. “I won’t,” she shouted at them, waving splayed fingers in the air somewhere in the vicinity of her face. “I won’t, I tell you, you can’t frighten me, I…” The words stopped abruptly. Red-rimmed eyes overflowed with tears and her shoulders began to tremble rather alarmingly. “Prudence!” A sharp voice came from the dim lit hallway beyond. “Dinia, where are you, you’re supposed to be looking after my sister? Damn.” Another young woman appeared. She took gentle but firm hold of the trembling shoulders. “Prudence, honey, you know you’re not supposed to answer the door. Come away, now.” “They can’t make me,” Prudence said, but in a defeated voice,

12 Victor J. Banis the fight gone out of her. She began to sob quietly and allowed herself to be tugged out of the doorway. A few seconds later, a Filipina maid hurried down the hall, almost running. “I’m sorry, Miss Patience,” she said, taking charge of the distraught woman. “I thought she was with you and…” “It’s all right, Dinia. Everything is so sudden with her. Perhaps if you took her to her room…?” “Yes, Miss Patience.” The maid and her charge disappeared up a large, curving stairway, the sobbing woman clinging to the elaborately carved mahogany banister, Patience Pendleton watching them go. Her back was to Tom and Stanley, but Stanley could see her face in a mirror on the wall. Watching the watcher, Stanley tried to read the emotions that flitted across her face, like windblown clouds before a storm—anger, frustration. Violent emotions, he thought, and not all of a piece. Certainly, not all of them loving. Not until the two on the stairs had vanished at the top did Patience turn back to Tom and Stanley, and give a great sigh. “Sorry about that,” she said, “I’m Patience Pendleton. Come in, please. And I think you can see why I wouldn’t come to your office. Dinia tries, but she was hired as a house maid, not a nurse. And my sister can be quite a handful. She’s very fragile, emotionally.” “I can see that.” Tom looked up the now empty stairs. “What’s she on?” he asked. Their hostess blinked, looked as if she were about to make an angry retort, and instead sighed again. “Meth. At the moment. Come in, please.” Stanley’s practiced eye had been busily taking in his surroundings. The exterior of the house might be vulgar and showy, but the interior had been furnished by someone with both taste and the money to indulge it. A table that he took to be authentic Sheraton stood in the foyer, topped with a Cloisonné bowl filled with yellow chrysanthemums, and over it all hung

DeaDly Silence 13 a Modigliani. A second rate Modigliani, to be sure, but worth a pretty penny nonetheless. On the way here, he and Tom had agreed upon a fee. Now he was thinking perhaps they should revise it upward. She led them through wide double doors that opened into a sitting room that was comfortably furnished and immaculate. A grouping of mezzotints and eighteenth century engravings filled much of one wall, and opposite them hung a pair of Hullmandels. The Chippendale chairs were almost certainly the real thing and the little cherry-wood tables next to them glowed with such industrious polishing that you felt the wood must surely be warm to the touch. Yet to Stanley, who had enjoyed some success in the past as an interior decorator, the overall effect was not entirely successful. It was a contrived elegance, carefully, even artfully planned and executed, but in the end it looked like a decorator’s model room, and not one in which real people, with real personalities, could live and be comfortable. Their hostess crossed this room without pause, and opened French doors onto a small flagstone terrace. A glass topped table was surrounded by two wicker chairs and a settee upholstered in plush pillows covered with the sort of bright red and green foliage unknown to nature. The terrace overlooked an even smaller but elegantly landscaped garden. A high brick wall, topped with metal spikes, was fronted by a thick row of flame red canna lilies. The wall guaranteed privacy on three sides, seeming even to block out the traffic sounds from the street beyond. It was an oddly countrified patch to be found in the midst of an urban setting, and it might have been too cool to be comfortable, but the high walls held back the December air as well as the noise, and an electric heater overhead kept much of the rest of the chill at bay. Stanley was surprised when the woman who had been walking in front of them turned to face them. He hadn’t realized at first glance how good looking she was. And he was surprised, because

14 Victor J. Banis he could see now that she was a twin, an identical twin at that, to the woman who had opened the door, and the impression that shrieking woman had given had not been one of prettiness. Patience Pendleton was pretty, though, or close enough to prettiness as to make little practical difference. He guessed her to be in her late twenties, though the severity of her hair style—pulled tightly back into a bun that lay on the nape of her neck—and her almost total lack of makeup, made her look older than she probably was. She had what Stanley thought of as poached egg eyes, wide, and with what seemed an abundance of white showing about the gray-green of the pupils. They lent her a peculiar kind of innocence. He expected that men found her attractive, and though he rather thought she might not respond in kind to the attention of men—she had, in fact, a kind of odd sexless quality about her— he also rather suspected she was not above using their interest to her advantage. She was dressed conservatively, a plain linen skirt, expensive but modest, and a sleeveless Navy blouse. No jewelry save a single rope of pearls about her throat. Real oyster, too, Stanley decided, but tasteful. There was nothing showy about her. The house, at least its vulgar exterior, said nouveaux riche, but its occupant had the look of old money. But the calmness she contrived to display, in contrast to the hysteria of the sister who had greeted them at the door, was not an easy calm. She held her somewhat stocky body tautly, as if only by an effort of will could she restrain her own emotional storms, and the gaze with which she regarded them was extraordinarily intense. Stanley had the impression she was judging them in some way. He was not at all sure if they had passed muster with her or not. “Will you have a drink?” she asked. She gave Tom a weighing look. “I’m guessing Scotch.” “I wouldn’t turn it down,” Tom said, and Stanley, giving him a frosty look, said, “Did I hear mention of iced tea? We don’t drink on the job. Alcohol, that is.”

DeaDly Silence 15 If she took that seriously she gave no sign of it. “Have a seat. I’d ring for Dinia, but as we all know, she’s busy at the moment.” They stood and waited while she disappeared and returned in a remarkably short time, with a glass of iced tea for Stanley and a tumbler of Scotch for Tom. He winked at Stanley over the rim of the glass and took a tentative sip. His eyes widened appreciatively. “The McCallen, eighteen years,” she said. “I don’t drink much, but if I’m going to indulge myself, I don’t see any point in stinting.” She motioned them to the two chairs and seated herself in the settee. Tom’s eyes flicked automatically to her legs—very shapely legs, he couldn’t help being aware. She hardly seemed to notice, but one hand tugged her skirt down ever so slightly. “Well, now you’re acquainted with at least one of my family’s skeletons,” she said. “That was my sister Prudence at the door.” “Twins, yes?” Stanley said. “Observant of you.” Stanley flushed, but she took pity on him. “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound waspish. Yes, we’re identical twins. When we’re dressed alike it can be very difficult to tell us apart. That, of course, supposes she isn’t having one of her fits. I myself am not prone to them. It is one of the significant differences between us.” “You haven’t thought about a rehab clinic for her?” Stanley asked. “They work with meth a lot these days.” The look Patience gave him was withering. “Only a thousand times. You’re Mister Korski, right? She’s been in and out of every kind of rehab you can think of, for every kind of drug you can name. And she does it well, rehab, I give her that. She’s got it down pat. A month, three months, six months, and she’s home free, cured, clean. For a few blessed, maddening weeks, she’s absolutely fine. Maddening, because you always know it can’t last.

16 Victor J. Banis “Then she discovers another way to silence the demons, some new high. This one, she’s always going to manage, she won’t let it get out of control. And she does manage it, for a while. She’s managing the meth. If you didn’t know her well, or know the drugs, you’d maybe never notice. Except, like today, when she freaks. That gives her away, naturally. But that doesn’t happen so often. Most of the time she seems perfectly in control.” “What exactly are these demons she’s trying to silence?” Tom asked. She fixed those large eyes on him. It occurred to Tom that Patience Pendleton was not without demons of her own, though it was possible her demon was singular, and named Prudence. “Who knows what demons eat away inside anybody?” she said. “Whatever they are, they’re her own, entirely personal. We share a lot. Just not that. I don’t ask, she doesn’t tell.” Which Stanley doubted. Twins? He’d known a couple of pairs over the years. They shared everything, in his experience, including the occasional trick—he’d been the lucky third a time or two in the past. And identical twins were even closer. It often seemed they didn’t even have to talk about things, it was like they both just knew. Which left him wondering why Patience wanted them to think otherwise. Maybe she and her sister were the exceptions, but he suspected she knew very well what went on inside her sister’s mind. For whatever reason, she wasn’t inclined to tell them. He thought of that odd look she’d sent after her sister as she disappeared up the stairs, a look he felt sure he hadn’t been intended to see. And, perhaps something else she did not share with her twin.

chaPter three “You called us about your father,” Tom said. “Is this in any way related to your sister’s problems?” She gave him a blank look. “No. Or at least, I don’t see how the two could be related.” “Someone messed with your father’s insulin, you said. Any idea who? Or why?” “No. Not who, anyway. As to why…” She shrugged, and looked around them. “There’s money. Not as much as you might think, the way we live. We’ve been living beyond our means for a while, now, but I wouldn’t say we’re threatened with dire poverty yet, either. So…well, money’s always a motive, isn’t it?” “For whom?” Tom asked.

Another shrug. “That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar

question.” She hesitated. “I might as well tell you about this, though I think it’s going to give you the wrong idea. Our father made mention a little while ago, before he went in for that knee surgery, of changing his will. He intended… Oh, I’m not sure exactly what he intended. I’m not even sure he intended anything, that he really meant to change the will the way he said. He may just have been stirring stuff up. He likes to do that. At the time, he was pissed at Zack. That’s our brother.” A light bulb went off in Stanley’s head. “Zack?” He said it in surprise, hardly thinking. “Zack Pendleton?” She fixed a wary eye on him. “Yes. He’s our brother. Do you mean to say you know him?” “I…well, no, not exactly,” Stanley stammered. He looked helplessly at Tom, who only looked puzzled back at him. “I mean, yes, I know him.” Stanley giggled a little self consciously. “Not in the Biblical sense, of course. I just mean, I know who he is.” She regarded him for a long moment with an expression that

18 Victor J. Banis said she knew perfectly well what he wasn’t saying. How could he, though, at the moment explain Zack, the Castro Queen, to his sister? He was reminded again that the Castro really was a very small town. “Yes. Well.” She took a few seconds to examine her unstylishly short but perfectly polished nails. “If you know Zack, you must know he’s homosexual. It may surprise you to know that our father didn’t know, until recently.” “Why would that surprise us?” Tom asked. She looked from him to Stanley. “Maybe you’d better explain.” “Zack isn’t exactly discreet,” Stanley said.

Tom said, “Oh,” and nodded. A butterfly, was what Stanley was telling him. “You’re being polite,” Patience said. “He’s as gay as a Christmas goose. But, maybe Father just chose not to know. People do that sometimes, I believe. When he finally learned, or when the truth was forced on him, he was quite upset. There were some angry words exchanged. That’s when the will came up. But frankly, I don’t think any of it mattered too much. They’ve had rows before. After a day or two, tempers cooled down, and nothing more was said on the subject. So, yes, I suppose you could make a case that Zack had a motive, but it’s vague at best. Anyway, can you imagine Zack trying to kill someone?” This directed to Stanley. “People can be surprising,” Stanley said. “Especially so where money is concerned.” “But that’s what I’m trying to say, it isn’t. At least I don’t believe so.” “When you say your father talked about changing his will… did he give any clue as to what changes he had in mind?” “As the will stands now—and it does still stand this way— most everything is divided equally between the three of us: Zack,

DeaDly Silence 19 Prudence and myself. There are a couple of modest bequests. Aunt Dora, that would be my father’s sister, gets fifty thousand, as I recall, and there’s a bit less for our cousin Jennifer. But, for the most part, it’s the three of us. And I should probably add, Father has long talked about whether I shouldn’t get Prudence’s portion, since it is I who have the responsibility of caring for her. I think he’s always understood that she herself is little suited to handling money. Or anything. The truth is, I already handle her money for her. There’s a trust fund, you see, our mother set that up when we were babies. We each of us get an allowance. But Prudence has never been any good with money. I’ve always handled her financial affairs for her.” Tom said, “And your sister is agreeable to that arrangement?” “Absolutely,” she said in a voice that brooked no challenge. This was not, apparently, a subject open to discussion. “And when your father was angry at Zack, he talked about leaving everything to you?” Stanley suggested. “Yes. He didn’t say exactly, but that’s more or less what he hinted at. Everything of course but those couple of odd bequests.” She thought for a moment. “Which I suppose eliminates me as a suspect, doesn’t it, since I’d have done better if he had changed his will. Relatively better, anyway, if you want to look at it like that. But, really, it’s all nothing but a lot of chatter. Zack knows, I made it quite clear to him, that nothing would change even if the will were rewritten. I would still look out for his interests. Just the same as I do for Prudence. I assure you, Zack had no fears on that score.” “Okay, an aunt and a cousin. Apart from them, and your brother and sister, there’s nobody else?” Tom said. “I mean, anyone who would be affected by the will? If it were changed?” “No.” She lifted her eyes as if appealing to the heavens— pink and lavender had bled across the faded sky, the wounds of a dying day. She added, in a voice that suggested, if not quite convincingly, that this idea had just occurred to her, “Oh, I

20 Victor J. Banis suppose Farley, if you wanted to think of it like that. It would be kind of stretching the point, though.” “Farley?” “Whitaker. He is…was, at least, I’m not sure now…Prudence’s fiancée. Frankly, I’m not sure, really, if he was even then. I think he liked to think so.” “So he might have thought he would be marrying money,” Stanley suggested. She fixed those enormous eyes on him and smiled without amusement. “I think he must have dearly hoped for that. But it was a futile hope. I’d never have let them marry.” Up till now, Stanley had thought a number of her remarks were ambiguous, but she said that with such absolute conviction no one could doubt that it was so. Only, Stanley wondered if Prudence had nothing to say in the matter. Or Farley Whitaker himself, even. Patience Pendleton, it seemed, ruled her Pacific Heights kingdom with an iron fist. And what then of her father? Had she ruled him as well? “You don’t think this Farley is suitable,” he asked aloud. She gave a dry chuckle. “Farley Whitaker is absolutely as suitable a man as a woman could hope to find. He’s handsome and charming and polished. And as my old Aunt Clara might have put it, he doesn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of. I think he saw in Prudence a pot to call his own, and you can see for yourselves we have windows aplenty. Understand, we have never suffered for lack of would-be suitors, my sister and I. Money is a powerful aphrodisiac.” “May I ask,” Tom said, “How did your father create his wealth?” She smiled a strange little half smile. “Essentially, the same way he created my sister and me. Fucking. Or to put it in somewhat more genteel terms, he married it. It was our mother’s money.” “Would you say their marriage was a happy one?”

DeaDly Silence 21 “I was only a child when she died. I never saw anything to convince me otherwise. But…” She shrugged the question away. “Does he have enemies?” Tom asked. “Father?” She took a long time answering. “My father is a man of immense vitality. An Alpha male, I suppose a psychologist would put it. Men like that always manage to rub some people the wrong way. I’m sure there are people who don’t like him. That’s true of any of us, isn’t it? But, enemies? That’s such a strong word. I can’t say who they would be.” She paused and stared briefly into the distance, as if she might actually be trying to make up a list. “On the question of money,” she said as though it were an afterthought, “I don’t want to leave the impression that my father was a ne’er-do-well. It’s true, our mother had the money—old beer brewing money, if you want to know—and he married it, but he’s done very well since then on his own. He’s a building contractor. Pendleton Building Industries. Most likely you’ve not even heard of them. They do commercial buildings rather than residential. And strip malls. If you’ve ever been in a strip mall, you’ve probably walked in father’s footsteps.” “Okay, setting aside their marriage—as you say, you would have been too young to have much of an opinion on that—but, otherwise, would you say that yours is a happy family?” Tom asked. He might have spoken to her in some foreign tongue, she looked so puzzled by the question. “Happy? I’m not sure if I even know what that means. We get along together, if that’s what happiness is. I won’t pretend about Prudence, you’ve seen for yourself what kind of state she’s in. I’ve had to look after her, to protect her. But, that’s hardly onerous. She is my sister, after all. My twin sister.” There wasn’t enough love, is what she’s trying not to say, Stanley thought. But when is there? And, protect her sister from what? Violence? Sexual abuse? Or simply from herself?

22 Victor J. Banis “You mentioned a trust fund from your mother. She’s deceased?” Tom asked. “Yes. Our mother died, when we were very little. Prudence and I were only three years old. Zack was four years older.” She screwed up her face. “You know, I’d never thought of it before, but that’s quite a gap, isn’t it? Maybe they weren’t so happy together. As I say, I don’t really know.” “How did your mother die?” As if startled by the question, Patience got up abruptly, walked to the terrace’s stone balustrade and stood looking down at the garden. The sun had descended in the sky, gilding her outline. She was unmoving for so long, she might have been a statue, and so silent, they thought she didn’t mean to answer. “A fire,” she said finally. “Not here, you understand, we lived down the peninsula at the time, in San Mateo. And she smoked. She smoked a lot, Mother did. And drank, also a lot. Not a very good combination. Our bedroom, Prudence’s and mine, was across the hall from theirs, hers and our father’s. I woke one night to find our bedroom filled with smoke. “I went to rouse Prudence, and she wasn’t in her bed, which scared me, I think, more than the fire itself. I dashed out into the hall and there she was, just outside the door, confused and crying. I ran to her. The smoke was worse there, you could hardly see, and we were both of us coughing and choking. I was so terrified, so confused, I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t even sure by this time which direction the stairs were in.” Her voice began to rise in both pitch and volume, and her shoulders shook with the violence of her breathing. She stood with her back turned to them and she might almost have forgotten they were there. “Then our father ran up the stairs, he appeared through the smoke. He wrapped us both in a big blanket and carried us down the stairs, out of the house.” She paused, as if remembering that frightening moment, and took a deep, ragged breath.

DeaDly Silence 23 “We had a big front yard. He put us down on the ground, far enough away from the house to be safe. I remember, we were by the canna lilies. Our mother’s canna lilies, she was so very proud of them. They were in bloom then, as red as the flames leaping from the house.” Stanley looked past her at the row of cannas blooming scarlet as blood against the garden’s far wall. A memento, he wondered, of that fateful night? Or only a token of affection for the deceased mother? “There were people there already, neighbors, mostly, the yard was full of people. He said, I don’t know to whom exactly, ‘Keep them here,’ and then he ran back into the house.” Her voice was rising again. “The fire trucks were already on their way, I could hear their sirens getting louder, they sounded like all hell breaking loose to my childish ears, like the shrieks of demons. And I remember old Mister Kennedy, from next door, he tried to stop our father, I heard him say, ‘Abe, wait, the firemen are on their way, wait for them,’ but Daddy said, ‘Em’s in there, I’ve got to get her out,’ and he ran inside, into this inferno. The flames were everywhere, they reached clear up to the sky. And the smoke…even at a distance, I was coughing. And the cannas, the cannas were so red, redder even than the flames. It was like the end of the world. “It was too late to do anything for our mother, though. The stairs collapsed before he could go up them, and when he stumbled back out the door, his shirt was on fire, I remember some of the men throwing him down on the ground and rolling him back and forth.” She was talking faster and faster, at something very near to a shout, words running together breathlessly, lost now in her memories of that grisly scene. “I thought…I was in such a state of panic, you see, I must truly have been out of my mind, I thought they were killing him, and I screamed at them to stop, and then I heard someone else screaming hysterically. I thought…I know it sounds insane, but at

24 Victor J. Banis first, I thought it was the canna lilies above me screaming. I was so conscious of them, of their redness… “It was Prudence, of course. She just screamed and screamed, it shocked me into silence. I sat on the ground staring at her while women ran over and tried to console her, but she wouldn’t stop, it went on and on and…” Finally she paused. A horrible groan escaped her lips and she clapped her hands up to either side of her face. “‘Mama’s dead.’ That’s what she was screaming. ‘Mama’s dead,’ over and over. ‘Mama’s dead’.” She stopped, gasping for air, her shoulders shaking with the force of her emotion. Silence, broken only by the ragged inhalations of her breath, lay like a pall of smoke on the terrace. It had been, Stanley thought, an astonishingly emotional recital for a woman as obviously self-disciplined as she was. For a brief space in time, she had indeed looked like an identical twin to the one who had first opened the door to them. She turned from the balustrade to regard them bleakly. “I said it was like the end of the world. And it was, it was the end of our world as we’d always known it. You asked about her demons? There you have them. Since that night, it’s been twentyfour years of therapy. Endless therapy. She gets better, and then she isn’t. That night…it’s like it never ended for her. I think inside herself she’s still screaming. Sometimes…sometimes the screams come out loud. In the night. She wakes up screaming, and when I rush to her she clings to me like a baby. And she says what she said then, like a mantra: ‘Mama’s dead. Mama’s dead. Mama’s dead.’“ The silence descended again. Around them, the house seemed to be listening and weighing with dark disapproval the words she’d spoken. “What about your brother?” Tom asked finally, his voice more gentle than one would have imagined for such a big, brutish looking man. “Where was he when all this happened?”

DeaDly Silence 25 “He was at a friend’s house, Timmy Miller’s, just a couple of blocks away. He and Timmy often stayed over at one house or the other. That night, he arrived with the Millers just about the same time as the firemen. I remember them driving up. Zack jumped out of the car. I think he’d have run into the house, but someone held him back. The house was already engulfed. It was too late.” She made a visible effort to pull herself together. But her eyes, when she looked at them again, were surprisingly dry. Stanley was stunned into silence. He’d never known anyone with quite such mercurial moods, but Tom persisted, still speaking gently. “You said when you first woke up, your sister was in the hall?” “Yes. She’d gone to get a drink of water, I think. She had a glass in her hand, anyway.” “Maybe we should talk to her, see if she can tell us anything more about that night.” “She won’t.” She said it fiercely and glowered at them. “She can’t. She doesn’t remember it at all. Nothing. It’s all locked up inside somewhere. Like an infected wound that can’t be lanced. Yet she is obsessed with the past. Prudence is haunted by a past she can’t even remember. How can you ever get free of that?” She cocked her head, as if listening to the words she’d just spoken. “But, who does escape from their past, really. It’s always there, isn’t it, the old words, the old faces, reproaching us for our failings.” She shook herself then, like a dog shedding water, and brought herself back to the present moment. “Anyway, it’s all old business. It’s got nothing to do with this attempt on our father’s life. It’s just her nightmares.” “What about you?” Stanley asked. She shrugged and gave a kind of lopsided smile. “I do what I can. She’s the one in all the pain.” Which Stanley wasn’t at all sure was true.

26 Victor J. Banis She was still breathing heavily, as if she’d been running in a footrace. She came to where Tom was sitting and, without asking, took his tumbler of Scotch and half emptied it before handing the glass back to him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s still…difficult.” She had been looking down at her hands. Stanley had an uncomfortable sense that much of what had transpired since Patience had shown them in had been a kind of play-acting, as if she were reading from a script, but now she lifted her eyes and it would have been impossible for anyone to pretend the distress in them wasn’t genuine. “Life is painful,” she said, and made no effort to elaborate on that obvious statement. It was not until they were preparing to go that Patience said, out of the blue, “It’s odd…I see the cannas. So vividly.” “That’s a beautiful display of them in the garden,” Stanley said, prepared to misunderstand. She might not have heard him. “At night. In my dreams. They were so red. So very red. I still hear them screaming.”

chaPter Four “So what do you make of it all?” Tom asked when they were in the car again, headed not for the office but home. “Patience Pendleton plays down the money as if it’s insignificant, but that house alone, on that land. Ten million, maybe more. Plus, that was a real Sheraton table in the foyer, and the Modigliani over the sofa in the sitting room was genuine, too, if a little second rate. Even so…” “And Patience?” “Definitely second rate. And I’m not so sure she’s quite as genuine as the Modigliani.” “You think she was putting something over on us?” “Hmm. She’s not entirely forthcoming, is she? I think she’s

about as Looney Tunes as the other one. But she is a very strong willed woman, certainly. I can see her playing boss lady with Zach. I’m told he likes to play horsey with his tricks.” “Horsey?” “He gets on his knees, naked, and they ride him around the room. His tricks, I mean. Some of them anyway.” Tom blinked and gave him a disbelieving glance. “You’re putting me on.” “No. Why? Should we be shopping for a saddle?” Tom chuckled faintly. “I’ll let you know. So you think she rides him around that mausoleum?” “Not literally, no. Seems unlikely. She doesn’t have the equipment he likes. Although I suppose she could wear a strap on. She kind of looks the type who might, don’t you think?” “A strap on?”

Stanley gave him a frown. “We’ve got to do something about

28 Victor J. Banis your education, sweetheart. What about the sister? Patience seems to crack the whip where she’s concerned, too. I wonder what her relationship was—is—with her father.” “I wish we’d had an opportunity to talk with the sister.” “Do you think she signifies? Maybe she didn’t appreciate Patience’s attitude toward her proposed marriage. Sort of King Cophetua. He married a beggar maid, but it didn’t turn out well. Those marriages don’t, as a rule, do they? Of course, in this instance, the circumstances were reversed. Mister Farley was the beggar man.” “And Prudence the queen?” “Hmm. More likely Patience. She likes to keep everyone on a short leash, doesn’t she? She makes a big do about how generous she is with her siblings, but her actual feelings for Prudence… well, feelings do get all mixed up, don’t they? I think she resents having to take care of her. She might even hate her. At the same time, she likes being in charge. Same with Zack. He’s queer. She’d savor looking down on him. And for sure she’d like to control him by means of the purse strings.” Tom thought about that. “It’s possible that Prudence might have wanted to do her father in to prevent the changing of his will, particularly if she thought Farley would bolt if that happened. But she still would have her sister’s resistance to contend with. You’d think if she was unhappy with Patience’s interference, she’d be more likely to want to do away with Patience. That’s all assuming, of course, that she really was in love with this Farley character.” “And assuming someone really did try to do away with the father, which we still haven’t resolved.” Stanley braced his hand against the dashboard as a taxi stopped abruptly in front of them and Tom stepped hard on the brakes. “You know,” Stanley said when they were moving again, “There is a kind of woman, she swears she will do anything under the sun for her man, and sometimes she does. Still, without talking to her, which it doesn’t seem Patience intends to allow, we

DeaDly Silence 29 don’t know what Prudence really thought of the situation. And, as Mister Shakespeare put it, ‘Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.’ Drop me off at the Cove. I’m meeting Chris. I thought he could bring me up to speed on the Bella Vista Nursing Home. I’d like to get a little background before we go to visit the father.” They’d promised Patience they would see him the next day. “Meaning, I’m going home alone?” Tom said without enthusiasm. “I was kind of hoping…it’s been a while.” “I don’t think two days qualifies as ‘a while.’“ Tom looked surprised at him. “You keep count?” “You haven’t looked at my calendar lately.” “I guess not. How do you mark them? Red letter days?” He grinned sideways at Stanley, but Stanley did not notice. “Here, at the corner,” Stanley said, pointing at a space just vacated by a Muni bus. Tom pulled to the curb. “Stanley, have you got something on your mind? You seem distracted.” Stanley paused outside the car and leaned down to look at Tom through the window. He considered the question for a moment. “I’m wondering why, really, Patience Pendleton called us.” Which, Tom thought, was not what he’d originally intended to say, but before he could question him further, Stanley blew him a kiss and was gone. Tom watched him go until Stanley had disappeared inside the coffee shop. Behind him, a horn honked. He pulled away from the curb, deciding he’d put off going home, go to the office instead. The apartment always seemed so empty without Stanley in it. Funny how a little guy like that could fill up a space. Patience Pendleton had given them a phone number for Farley Whitaker. He’d try calling Mister Whitaker, see if he couldn’t set up a meeting. Not for tonight, however. He’d want Stanley with

30 Victor J. Banis him when they talked to the gentleman. Tom was not a particularly complex man psychologically. It made him, in a sense, a better detective. He saw things plain and simple, right or wrong. Murder was wrong. Murderers had to be caught and punished. As a San Francisco homicide inspector, he had long ago concluded that the field of homicide investigation frequently attracted the very people least suited to it. For himself, however, he had never gotten lost in the quagmire of nuance that bothered some investigators. He looked for clues, assembled the details painstakingly until he had found the guilty man or woman. In the end, though, he had found that it was generally the killer’s own mind that betrayed him, if an investigator only encouraged it. It was a rare murderer, the true psychopath, who didn’t on some level long for a father confessor to whom he could unburden himself. And sometimes not even the psychopath was immune. Crime, dire crime, can weigh heavily upon the slightest trace of conscience. Evil men, somewhere deep within, often still retained a vestigial memory of goodness, though if they were asked they would vehemently deny its existence. Stanley on the other hand was an ersatz kind of detective. His detection skills left much to be desired. There was simply no question that he got into trouble often because he lacked the ability to see beyond the end of his nose. His instincts, however, were another matter altogether. Tom didn’t understand them—there was much about Stanley Tom didn’t understand, including, he often thought, their entire relationship—but he had learned to trust Stanley’s instincts. All that reading, Tom thought, the poetry, those odd little quotes he was forever throwing around, the art, the music. Somehow it had given him a connection to people, to their minds. Occasionally, it was eerily like he did read their minds. Tom was a superb detective, too good not to recognize Stanley’s special gift for what it was. §§§§§

DeaDly Silence 31 Stanley’s best friend, Chris, was already seated at one of the Cove’s tables. Stanley waved at Solange, the proprietress, and mouthed the word, “coffee,” as he pulled out a chair and sat. “Sorry I’m late.” Chris glanced at the clock on the wall. “Twenty minutes? Sugar, that’s early for you.” Solange set a cup of coffee in front of Stanley. “Did you want to order?” she asked. “Mmm, give us a few,” Stanley said. “What’s special?” “Stroganoff. Really good, too.” “I’ll have that,” Chris said. “Me too, probably,” Stanley added, “But we want to sip and

chat for a few minutes, okay?” “Just give me a wave when you’re ready,” she said and drifted off to chat with another customer. “So,” Chris said, studying Stanley across the table, “What’s wrong?” “Why is everybody suddenly asking me that?” Stanley asked peevishly. Chris tilted an eyebrow upward. “What makes you think something’s wrong?” “Because I know you, girlfriend. You look, I don’t know…out of sorts. Are you depressed about something?” “Not exactly. I’m just…oh, I don’t know either. Out of sorts, I guess is the best explanation.” “About? Anything in particular?” Stanley stirred a spoonful of sugar into his coffee, contemplated it briefly, and added another, putting the spoon down on his saucer with a noisy clink. “About being married, if you want to know. I think I’ve got the seven year itch.” “That would be kind of difficult, considering you’ve not been with Tom for much more than seven months.”

32 Victor J. Banis “Nine. Well, fine, then. The seven month itch. It’s just…it’s so different, being settled down. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love Tom. You know I do. But, then…” He finished lamely, “it’s just so different.” “From what?” “From what my life was before. Everything was so uncomplicated. If a cute guy looked me over…there, did you see, that guy going out, in the leather jacket, he definitely gave me the eye…” “Stanley, we’re in the heart of the Castro, for Pete’s sake. That’s what guys do, they give other guys the eye. It’s just automatic. It’s not like you’ve got to trade in your boyfriend every time somebody looks you over. Besides, you are definitely driving a Cadillac, why would you want to trade it for a Volkswagen.” Stanley looked after the departing man in leather. “I wouldn’t call him a Volkswagen. More like a Porsche, I’d say.” “And don’t play word games with me, either. I know you too well. Is there someone in particular that’s planted this nonsense in your head?” “No, no one in particular. And I don’t see why you should label it nonsense. It’s a perfectly legitimate state of mind. Couples go through this all the time. It’s normal.” “Sweetie, if there’s one word I’ve never used to describe you, it’s normal. And for the record, let me point out, you have the sexiest man this side of the Greek gods.” “I know that.” “There isn’t a queen in the Castro who wouldn’t trade places with you at the blink of an eye.” “I know that too.” “And he’s entirely committed to you.” “Of course. And I’m committed to him too, only…has it occurred to you that maybe Tom is a little too perfect? I mean, I look in the mirror every morning and I am afflicted with feelings

DeaDly Silence 33 of inadequacy. Plus, I feel like an old married frump. It would help a lot to know that other men found me attractive. I worked on that case at Bartholomew’s Mortuary, with all those hot guys there, and it got me to thinking about what I was missing. And it has occurred to me of late, in some ways, commitment is just another word for confinement. You know, you get what you thought you wanted, and then what? Living the married life isn’t what I thought it would be. I miss the gay life. The silliness of it, and the parties and the gossip and the flirtations. It’s like I’ve been transported to another country, where I don’t quite understand the language.” “You just mentioned the guy in the leather jacket who looked you over on his way out the door.” “See, that’s what I mean, on his way out the door. Not even interested enough to make a serious pass at me. Besides, you said it yourself, he was a Volkswagen. Why are you looking at me like that?” “You don’t usually get so into feeling sorry for yourself. Especially, as I see it, for no good reason. Stanley, do you even know Tom Danzel?” “Don’t be ridiculous, of course I do. I know him inside out.” But he didn’t. He knew that. Tom Danzel within himself was like some unexplored continent. Stanley knew that there was some shining city somewhere in there, but he had no map to find it. Why did Tom protect him the way he did? Only a short while before Tom had been a practicing and very active heterosexual. Why now was he so committed to their relationship, more committed in a sense than Stanley was, or in a way Stanley couldn’t quite understand? It frustrated him to think that Tom, on the surface of things nowhere near as sharp as he was, seemed to have such a keen grasp of how things should be, while he, Stanley, was always floundering, trying to sort stuff out. Their detective agency was a prime example. He was in it because Tom had suggested it, because Tom had given up his career with the San Francisco Police Department for Stanley’s

34 Victor J. Banis sake, for the sake of their newly established relationship. And when Tom had suggested that as an alternative, that they open a detective agency, how was Stanley to say no? He couldn’t, for Pete’s sake. It was like he’d been tricked into agreeing. He was no detective, he knew that. For one thing, he was a devout coward. And he just plain didn’t have the confidence in himself that Tom had. Probably, that was because of the failed relationship he’d had with his father, who hadn’t approved of him, of his homosexuality. How could Tom be expected to understand that, though? Luck, and Tom looking over his shoulder, had served him well in a handful of instances, but on his own he’d have been totally at sea. Given his druthers, Stanley would far rather have gone back to his decorating job, only Tom disapproved of that. It was “too gay.” “But I am gay,” Stanley had argued, to no avail. That was something else Tom would never understand, probably. Tom didn’t see himself as gay, or even their relationship as gay; he was just in love. And he didn’t want to be in love with a decorator. Period. End of discussion. Only, there really hadn’t been any discussion, not on this point. Unilaterally, that was how Tom had settled the question. But decorating was something Stanley was good at, something he enjoyed. It was what he knew. No one tried to kill him, either. Sometimes now he felt trapped in a world of crime. Too often, trapped in a world of murder. Tom loved it, though, on some level that Stanley simply couldn’t get. For one thing, Tom was without fear. Plus, he loved murder. Stanley thought he even loved the murderers. Certainly he loved matching wits with them, but it was something more than a game to him, too. Stanley had dreaded looking upon the bodies of the dead, the murderees, so to speak. He could not do so without feeling ill. But sometimes, when Tom looked at them, his eyes glittered with what could almost have been delight. There were times, too, when the two of them were having sex,

DeaDly Silence 35 when Tom’s hands moved over Stanley’s body with an expertise that belied his newness to this kind of experience. Stanley had found himself thinking of where else those hands had been, what else they had touched—and if they had done so with the same loving tenderness as now. Something he had never told Chris, could barely acknowledge to himself, but sometimes Tom frightened him, in a way he couldn’t get his head around. Sometimes their entire relationship, in fact, frightened him. He’d never been in anything like it before. He didn’t understand it. What were they? Tom flat out refused the term “married.” But if not that, what were they playing at? Because, that was the thing with him, it never quite seemed real, it was more like they were playing parts in a stage drama, by one of those incomprehensible playwrights. Not Godot, but he sensed sometimes that they were both waiting for something. But what? “Hello,” Chris said across the table. “You’ve drifted off. What are you thinking about so profoundly?” “The man of your dreams, if you want to know.” Stanley sighed. “I’m not saying I don’t love Tom. I do. And, he’s a wonderful lover, surprisingly so, considering his lack of experience. And yet, oh, I don’t know, but sometimes, after we’ve had sex, when we’re lying together, I feel more apart from him than I do when we’re, say, in the office, or working on a case together. When you love someone, you want to be their everything, only, you can’t, really. You can only give what the other will take, and I always have this sense that there’s a part of me Tom doesn’t want, that he’s not willing to accept. He rejects a lot of who I really am, you know. There’s like this gap…” “That tres gay past of yours,” Chris said. “That’s the part of you he’s not interested in. I expect he’d rather not think of it at all. But you can’t blame him for that. Tom is the kind of guy who lives in the present. You don’t see him mooning over the old days, the way you do. And let me remind you, hon, when you were back there in those ‘old days’ you didn’t find them so glorious as they seem to be for you in retrospect.”

36 Victor J. Banis Stanley harrumphed, but after a few seconds he exhaled noisily. “Oh, don’t pay me any attention, I’m being a twit. It’s just my time of the month, is all. I think you’re probably right. Anyway, I really need to talk business talk.” “Fine. So long as you’re not thinking of swapping Tom’s business for someone else’s.” Stanley stubbornly changed the subject. “Bella Vista Manor House.” “It’s that overblown Spanish hacienda atop the hill, you can see it from anywhere in the Castro.” “Reputation?” “Quite good. Why?” Stanley told him about the call and the overdose of insulin. “Does it sound like something that would happen at Bella Vista?” “Oh, well, mistakes can happen anywhere.” Chris, a nurse, thought for a moment. “It’s not all that far-fetched, though. Say, if the doctor’s instructions call for two point zero units of insulin, and a nurse misread it as twenty…if a patient got twenty units, that would render him comatose. It has happened before, though it’s not common. The doctors aren’t supposed to write two point zero, for that reason, because it often looks like twenty in the scrawls they use, but a lot of them ignore the rules.” “We’re going to Bella Vista tomorrow. I think it would be good to hear what the administrator has to say about the accident, if it was an accident. Who should I talk to there?” “Doctor Sydney Skelton. Sister Skelton, just between us, but I don’t think I’d call him that, he’s very discreet.” Stanley laughed. “We really are everywhere, aren’t we?” “He’s very hard-nosed, too. I don’t think you’ll get much out of him. Especially not if there’s any chance they’ll face legal action. Where are you going?” Stanley had gulped down what was left of his coffee and

DeaDly Silence 37 pushed his chair back to stand up. “Home. I just thought of Tom. He was disappointed I wasn’t coming home with him. Tell Solange I’ll have the stroganoff another time.” Chris said, sternly, “Stanley, about that other stuff, please don’t do anything silly.” “Of course I won’t,” Stanley huffed. “You know me.” “Only too well.” “It so happens that I’ve grown up a lot in the last few months.” Chris watched him go. Solange came to clear the coffee cup away. “Is Stanley okay?” she asked. “He looked, I don’t know, distracted I guess is the word.” “Yes. He’s okay. For Stanley. He’s just working himself up to do something silly, is all.”

chaPter FiVe Tom was surprised and delighted to see Stanley home early, and it took hardly any time at all before they had tumbled into the bed together. With mixed results. Tom was convinced there was some kind of magic in the way Stanley gave head, and on this occasion he seemed even more inspired than usual. He went “around the world” as Stanley had explained to him it was called—sucking him with gusto, tonguing his balls, going behind them to rim him, and back to the starting gate, to do it all over again. By the time Tom shot his load, it felt as if his balls were going to explode. He lay for a moment, getting his breath back. “Something got you awfully turned on,” he said with a satisfied smile. “Maybe it’s just the thrill of sucking my boyfriend,” Stanley said, nestling happily into the crook of Tom’s arm. Stanley was usually as rarin’ to go as Tom, but it was when Tom moved to reciprocate that problems came up. Or, rather, nothing came up. Stanley’s dick was uncharacteristically limp. And stayed that way despite Tom’s efforts to awaken it. Undeterred, Tom even went so far as to suggest in a whisper, “Wanna play horsey?” That produced a giggle, but nothing more. After another moment or so, Stanley gently pushed Tom’s hand away from his crotch. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m feeling kind of tired. Tom didn’t pursue it. “No problemo, baby,” was all he said. He knew that Stanley was subject to moods, and in their brief time together, he’d found it generally served him better to let Stanley work things through in his own time and way. He just hoped this particular drought was not going to be a long one.

40 Victor J. Banis §§§§§ Tom was the first to wake up in the morning. He left Stanley still sleeping and walked down to the local doughnut shop. By the time he returned, with an even dozen mixed goodies, Stanley was just pouring coffee. Tom gave him a peck, set out plates for the pastries, and sat down to read the morning paper with his coffee. After a minute, though, he had an uneasy feeling and looked over the top of the paper. Stanley had chosen a strawberry filled croissant from the box sitting between them, but instead of eating it with his usual gusto, he stared down at the red filling that had spilled across his plate when he’d cut into it. “What?” Tom asked. “It reminds me of Patience Pendleton’s screaming cannas,” Stanley said, and pushed the plate away. “Have something else,” Tom said, downing the last of his third cruller. “What about that chocolate number there? Can’t see how that could remind you of her.” Stanley contemplated the chocolate frosted doughnut and the others of its ilk still waiting in the box, and gave his head a shake. “No, I think coffee will do me for this morning. What time are we meeting this Whitaker character?” “Nine.” “At the office?” “No. I sort of wanted to see where he lived, and how.

Sometimes that can tell you a lot about a person.” “Patience said he didn’t have a pot to pee in. Or a window to throw it out of.” “He’s on California Street. Ought to be plenty of windows.” §§§§§ While they waited at his door for Farley Whitaker to answer their knock, a cable car went by, all a-clatter with self importance, grinning tourists hanging from every available railing.

DeaDly Silence 41 When Whitaker opened the door and invited them into his studio apartment, they saw that he did have a window, two in fact, both of them looking out over California Street. Neither Tom nor Stanley asked about the pot part of Patience’s description, but they could get a glimpse, through an open doorway, of a bathroom, so that surely wasn’t necessary. “Modest,” was how Stanley thought of the apartment, but far from the penury Patience had implied. Otherwise, her description of Whitaker seemed accurate enough. He was good looking, almost womanishly so. Or, Stanley thought, he ought to be. All the features were there, but they seemed to lack some spark to animate them. It was like a face drawn by an artist of great technique, but little talent. One wouldn’t remain interested enough to look at it for long. His manners were polished, however, and he oozed the kind of buttery charm that always grated on Stanley’s sensibilities, but that some, women especially, seemed to appreciate. In this setting, however, he jarred. Even dressed as he was now, in casual clothes, he had a kind of contrived elegance at odds with this plain little room. Surely the setting he wanted was that house on Pacific Avenue. How badly, Stanley wondered, had he wanted that? Did he still want it? “Yes, I was engaged to Prudence,” he admitted when Tom asked. “Or, I suppose you could say, we had an agreement. I don’t guess the engagement was ever made official.” “By which you mean, it was never blessed by her sister?” Stanley said. “Patience? It never occurred to me that we needed her blessing.” Which Stanley doubted. You couldn’t spend more than a minute or two with Patience without knowing that she was cock of the walk. “I was thinking of her father. Abe Pendleton is an old fashioned sort of guy. I thought it would be better if I spoke to him. Asked for her hand, to put it in the proper perspective.” “But you didn’t?”

42 Victor J. Banis “No.” He hesitated. He looked vaguely embarrassed. “I was going to, only before it got to that, I had decided against the marriage.” Which certainly surprised Stanley. It was difficult to think of Farley Whitaker as passing up a chance to marry into money. “What changed your mind?” “Prudence did, frankly.” He hesitated, as if weighing whether to reveal some dark secret. “If you really want to know, I came to realize she wasn’t…well, I simply had no idea how unstable she was. She can seem perfectly normal at times, you know. She’s a beautiful young woman. The kind that would catch any man’s eye.” “She is,” Tom agreed with him. Farley gave him an odd, sideways glance. “Yes. But she’s not stable. I’m not sure she’s altogether sane. That sounds harsh, I suppose, but…well…I tried one time, to, you know…it was her idea, not mine. She was aggressive about it, astonishingly so.” “She tried to rape you, is what you’re saying?” Tom made no effort to hide his skepticism. Farley looked appropriately abashed but he stuck to his guns. “I don’t know that I’d put it in quite those words, but yes, as I say, she was very determined. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a prude, but, well, I thought it would be better if we waited, and this was not exactly an appropriate spot. Right out there on that terrace of theirs, if you’ve been to the house, you must know where I mean.” “The one with the cannas,” Stanley said. “Exactly. Not only on the terrace, out in the open, so to speak, but in fact, it was broad daylight. Her sister was in the house at the time, as it turned out, but I don’t think I knew that. I did know her father was at home, though. And as I said, Abe is an old fashioned man in many ways. So I’m afraid I was pretty nervous. It seemed, if nothing else, like an abuse of his hospitality.” Which Tom thought a rather prissy way to put it. Farley

DeaDly Silence 43 Whitaker didn’t strike him as a man with that kind of scruples. “Banging his daughter, you mean? You think that’s an abuse of his hospitality?” Farley had the good grace to blush. “Yes. If you prefer to express it like that. I was reluctant to, as you put it, bang his daughter, especially under his roof, with him no more than a few rooms away.” “But you went ahead with events as planned.” “Yes, and no. As I said, Prudence was very aggressive, she was determined and, well…I’m a man, sometimes you can’t help responding, especially when someone is particularly bold, if you know what I mean.” “She took things in hand, is what you’re trying to say,” Stanley put it dryly. Farley blushed again, and looked as if he might remonstrate, and then changed his mind. “Yes, that’s exactly what happened. And, there I was, out of my pants and with a…well, with an erect penis, to put it as bluntly as possible. But…the circumstances wouldn’t really have made any difference, to tell you the truth. The location and everything, I mean. It was just that she, well, she was so keyed up. It was the first time I’d ever seen her in such a state. She was in some kind of wired space. I wondered at the time if she could be on speed. Or even…” He paused. “Or even acid. Some kind of drug, anyway. Despite her sexual arousal, she seemed disoriented. You do know she has problems with drugs?” “We’ve heard the rumor,” Tom said. “Yes. Well, as I say, I thought maybe she was on something then. And, after the initial idea, I was more scared by her than turned on, if you can understand that. I tried to go through with it, but to be honest, it was like molesting a child. She hardly seemed just then like a grown woman, not a woman with her wits about her, anyway. I got all creepy feeling, and I had to stop. At first, she was furious with me, and then she got downright hysterical. She was practically screaming. Her sister came in, that’s

44 Victor J. Banis when I learned she was there, in the house too. I hadn’t known that until then, and from the way Prudence was babbling, and the way Patience looked at me as she took her to her room, I think she thought I’d tried to force myself on her.” He paused and a shudder passed through him as he remembered. “And the father?” “I didn’t see him, but I heard their voices, the three of them, talking upstairs. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I had no doubt that I was the subject of their conversation. I didn’t wait to hear what the verdict was. I left, just let myself out the front door and came home. That was the last time I saw Prudence. Of course, after that there was no chance of our marrying.” He waited for either of them to make a comment, and when neither did, he added, “There’s always one who loves more than the other, isn’t there? I thought I remembered reading that somewhere. In this case, it was Prudence. I don’t mean to suggest that I didn’t love her, but mine wasn’t the passionate sort of love hers was.” “And when you broke off your engagement…?” “Well, I didn’t exactly break it off. Technically, it was never really on, if you follow me. I just stopped seeing Prudence. She called a few times and left messages for me, but when I didn’t call her back…I suppose eventually she got the idea.” “Okay, when you stopped seeing her. You didn’t know then about her father changing his will?” “Old man Pendleton? No, I didn’t know, but why should I?” “Patience thinks someone tried to murder their father.” His shock struck Stanley as something less than genuine. “Abe? Why on earth would anyone want to do that?” “There’s the matter of the will. If he was meaning to change it…” “What if he did? Why on earth would it matter to me if…?” He seemed to realize suddenly where Tom’s questions were

DEADLY SILENCE 45 leading. “Oh, no, you can’t think…what, you’re saying, he was going to disinherit Prudence?” “That seems to have been the idea.” “And you think that I…that’s ridiculous. Look through my closets if you like, you won’t find any blood on my clothes. Anyway, after that scene there on the terrace, I had already made up my mind we wouldn’t be marrying. So it couldn’t matter in the least to me what he did with his money.” Which he said with such force that one could easily see it was untrue. §§§§§ “What did you think of him?’ Tom asked when they were outside, on California Street with its noisy rush of traffic. “He’s so damned smug, I’d like to kick him in the balls just to hear him groan.” “It’s fine to be angry with a case, Stanley, especially one that might involve murder. If a detective ever gets to the point where he no longer feels that, he’d better get out of the business. But never let yourself get angry with a suspect. It messes up your judgment.” Stanley shrugged, in unconscious imitation of one of Tom’s frequent shrugs. “Speaking objectively, then,” emphasizing the adverb, “he reminds me of a lounge lizard, missing his lounge.” “Yeah, me too. And we know what lounge he’d like to have. Funny to think of him giving up on his bid for Pacific Heights. He strikes me as the kind, once he got the scent of some easy money, he’d hang on for dear life.” “I’m not at all sure he has given up on it.” They watched for a break in traffic and jaywalked at a dogtrot. “Do you think he’s still in love with Prudence?” “Still? I doubt that he ever was. The great love of Farley Whitaker’s life is Farley Whitaker. He might have feelings for

46 Victor J. Banis someone else, possibly even deep feelings. But he’d never let mere feelings get in the way of his ambitions.” “Would he go so far as to murder Abe Pendleton, do you suppose?” Tom asked, unlocking the door of his pickup truck. “In a minute. And that’s said without anger.” §§§§§ When they had gone, Farley stood at his window and watched them walk together, chatting, down California, run across the street to a big red pickup truck and drive away. He remained at the window long after the truck had disappeared, thinking. If the attempt on Abe Pendleton’s life had only succeeded…he’d intended to try calling Prudence this very day, but now the timing was awkward. He’d always found Prudence so easy to manipulate. Patience now, Patience was another matter altogether. Managing Patience would never be a simple matter. Still, this thought swirled about in his mind and settled atop everything else: if anybody could do it, he was the one. And he had plenty of reasons for wanting to. Money trumped all.

chaPter Six Couched atop one of the hills overlooking the Castro, Bella Vista Manor House had been an apartment building in an earlier incarnation. Some fifty years earlier, the pseudo-Spanish palace had been one of the more sought after addresses in the city. Valets had waited as limousines disgorged wealthy dowagers and gentlemen in cravats at its front entrance, to wend their way down curving stairs of marble, past the fountain of Bacchus and the planters filled with birds-of-paradise, to the uniformed doorman waiting to hold the beveled glass doors open for them. The dowagers and the cravated gentlemen were still there, some of them, but it was more likely to be an ambulance and not a limousine that brought them now, and they no longer promenaded down the marble stairs, but were wheeled down an ungainly but necessary ramp that had been installed to the side of the planters. The valets were gone too, replaced by a smallish self serve parking lot with a time metered entrance, and a prominent sign that warned guests they were limited to one hour free parking. Still, Bella Vista was not without its lingering aura of elegance. It was, Stanley had learned, the most expensive nursing home in the city, catering not so much to the sickest patients as to those with the most to spend. “The care they get for their money is first rate, though,” Chris had assured Stanley earlier. “Bella Vista pays the staff well. It’s a cushy job for a nurse, really. Which is to say, they generally get the best.” “Which does make such a horrendous accident seem odd, doesn’t it?” Stanley had commented to Tom on their way here. There was no uniformed doorman but Tom and Stanley had no sooner let themselves in through the beveled glass doors than an attendant in a starched white uniform came to intercept their

48 Victor J. Banis progress across the lobby. The man was tall, thick built and with a Marine style buzzcut. He was dressed in hospital garb, but his formidable size and challenging manner suggested a bouncer more than it did a nurse. “Help you?” he asked, small piggish eyes looking them up and down as if searching for weapons. Stanley rarely carried a gun, but Tom had his Sig Sauer in his shoulder holster. The dark menacing eyes zeroed in on the telltale bulge. “We’re here to see Doctor Skelton,” Stanley said. “Is he expecting you?” The attendant had moved subtly closer to Stanley, as if to

intimidate him. Tom was having none of that. He too stepped forward, between the other two. “We have an appointment.” The two regarded one another warily for a moment, like fighting cocks. In the end, it was the man in white who yielded. He turned on his heel, again with a hint of military precision, and going to a reception desk against the wall, consulted a ledger open on its surface. Without a word, he pushed a small button. A moment later, a smallish man in a charcoal gray suit—Ralph Lauren, Stanley noted, Sister Skelton did well by himself—came through a door behind the desk. His features were delicate, his hair graying oddly, with alternate streaks of white and blond. He peered at them through wire-rimmed spectacles, and gave them nothing more than the merest hint of a smile. The real smiles, Stanley supposed, were saved for the wealthy patients. Here, you got what you paid for, and he rather doubted that he and Tom could afford one of Doctor Skelton’s real smiles. “Mister Korski and Mister Danzel, I presume.” Stanley stepped forward, offering a hand. “I’m Stanley Korski. This is my partner, Tom Danzel. And you’re Doctor Skelton, yes?” He returned Stanley’s handshake limply and ignored the hand Tom offered. “Yes. Come in please.”

DeaDly Silence 49 They followed him through the door to the office beyond. It was simply but nicely furnished, an enormous mahogany desk taking pride of place, with two leather-covered chairs facing it. He waved them to the chairs and took his own behind the desk. Stanley noticed that the desktop was bare except for a writing pad and a pair of gold plated pens in an onyx stand. In and Out boxes were empty. A desk more ceremonial than functional, it appeared. “You’re here about that unfortunate incident with Mister Pendleton,” Doctor Skelton started off the conversation without any preamble. “As I understand it, you’re investigators.” “Private investigators, yes,” Stanley said. “Mister Pendleton’s daughter hired us to look into…” he hesitated. “The incident, as you put it.” “That would be Miss Patience Pendleton, I presume.” His tone of voice suggested he thought it unlikely her sister had made any attempt to investigate. Stanley wondered fleetingly if Prudence might have been hospitalized here at one time or another, during one of her “spells.” Rehab could certainly include drug rehab. And it was the sort of place the Pendletons favored. “Yes, Miss Patience Pendleton,” Tom said. “She has the idea that someone tried to murder her father. That would make it more than an unfortunate incident, wouldn’t you say?” Doctor Skelton fixed watery gray eyes on him for a moment, his lips pursed with disapproval. “I can assure you, we investigated fully on our own,” he said, “and our conclusion was that what happened was only an accident. An unfortunate one, as I say, but still nonetheless an accident plain and simple.” “Not so plain, I wouldn’t think,” Stanley said. “And far more unfortunate if the nurse hadn’t acted as quickly as he did,” Tom added dryly. “What was his name, by the way?” “Nurse Shandler. Norman Shandler. And he acted so quickly, precisely because he had no sooner seen the results of his actions than he recognized on the instant what he had done, and quickly went to work undoing them.”

50 Victor J. Banis “How does one undo that kind of thing?” Stanley asked. “Just as a matter of curiosity.” “By administering glucose. In this case, D5W.” “Translated?” Tom said. “Dextrose in a five percent water solution. It brought him back very quickly. The whole incident didn’t take more than twenty minutes from start to finish. As I’ve said, an accident, discovered almost immediately by the nurse, and corrected before any real harm was done.” “You say, discovered almost immediately by the nurse… wouldn’t the incident have set off some sort of alarm at the nursing station?” Tom asked. “Perhaps I should explain. Bella Vista Manor House is not a hospital. We’re a nursing home.” “No surgery, no intensive care,” Tom said, recalling the explanation Patience had given them. Doctor Skelton nodded his approval. “Exactly. Patients are here for the most part to recuperate. In the case of Mister Pendleton, he needed daily treatment with antibiotics to combat an infection he’d gotten from knee surgery, and he was immobilized. It seemed more practical to have him where he could get regular nursing care. But he was not connected to a life support system, as he might have been in a conventional hospital. We are not ordinarily dealing with patients in critical condition. I don’t think we’ve ever actually had a death here.” “It’s fortunate then,” Stanley said, “that the nurse was so quick to discover the mistake.” “Yes, fortunate indeed.” “And yet Nurse Shandler is gone. If it were only an accident…” “An accident that, as you pointed out, could have had unfortunate consequences indeed. In any event, you are implying that his departure is our responsibility, but in fact that decision

DeaDly Silence 51 was entirely his own. He was quite upset, as one can well imagine. He had a bout of doubting his capability so far as looking after his patients and seeing to their well being. That is an unhappy frame of mind for a nurse to find himself in. To do the job effectively, a nurse has to believe that she or he is doing the very best that he can for his patients. I did not altogether agree with Nurse Shandler’s decision, but I could understand it. Frankly, I made no objections to his leaving.” “But according to Miss Pendleton, you have no information as to where he has gone, and no way to get in touch with him. Don’t most people leave some kind of forwarding address, or contact information, when they leave?” “That is the general rule, yes. But Mister Shandler is a free agent, he was under no obligation to do so. I suspect he feared repercussions from his actions, and wanted to avoid them.” “Repercussions?” Stanley asked. “It’s hardly the sort of incident a nurse wants on his resume.” “But it wouldn’t appear on his resume, would it, unless you reported it?” “Or threatened to report it,” Tom added. Doctor Skelton looked from one of them to the other. His manner was icy but Stanley noted that his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down nervously. Sister Skelton was less confident of his position than he pretended to be. “I’ve already said all that I can say,” he stated firmly, getting up from his chair. “And I may as well tell you, our attorneys strongly advised against talking with you altogether.” “And the patient? Are you saying we can’t speak to him?” Tom said. “I could hardly prevent your doing that. This is a nursing home, not a prison. Visitors are allowed. Assuming that the patient wants them. But I must tell you that if you have any

52 Victor J. Banis intention of investigating further, I’m afraid you will need some sort of legal authority.” “We’re looking into this at the request of the patient’s daughter.” “We are a private business. We are happy to try to set your client’s mind at ease, in so far as we can do so, but we have no obligation to open our business affairs or our medical records to your investigation. And now, gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nursing home to run.” Tom and Stanley got up as well. “Maybe you could point us in the direction of the patient in question,” Tom said. Doctor Skelton pressed a button at the front of his desk and a moment later the buzzcut attendant was at the door. He eyed Tom and Stanley with a faint smile, as if he were hoping to be told to see them off the premises. “Mason, please show these two gentlemen to Mister Pendleton’s room,” the Doctor said. He did not add, but the message was implicit in his manner: and see that they stay there.

chaPter SeVen The lobby of Bella Vista Manor House, and Doctor Skelton’s office, might have been part of any upscale hotel: neat, well maintained, with that elegant hush that meant nothing ill transpired here. The patients’ rooms were another matter. Not that they weren’t nicely furnished. They were, stunningly so, but Stanley’s nostrils were assaulted with the unmistakable stink of the nursing home. His father had lived the last few years of his life in one. Home Acres, in Petaluma, had been a shabby make-do, all that Stanley could afford, but his investigations had told him care was taken with their inmates, and that was the best he could hope for. For all its grandeur, however, Bella Vista smelled the same: disinfectant and bodily smells and even urine. It brought painfully to Stanley’s mind those memories of his father in his later years, lost somewhere in the void of his own consciousness, closed off to the son who wanted nothing more than his benediction. Abe Pendleton, however, was obviously still in full possession of his mental faculties, though physically he gave an odd impression of a large individual who had shrunk in the wash. He was big boned and had the appearance of a man who’d been massive and robust in an earlier life. Patience had spoken of her father’s vitality, and some ghost of that still hovered about him; it showed in the large, frank eyes he turned on them as they entered the room. Eyes, Stanley thought, remarkably like his daughter’s. Something, however—maybe the weeks of convalescence— had sapped much of that vitality from him. He looked defeated, like a man who was still in the race, his feet still obeying the orders to move, but who knew that he’d already lost. This time it was Tom who introduced them. “Tom Danzel, Stanley Korski. Your daughter, Patience, asked us to come see you.”

54 Victor J. Banis Abe Pendleton gave them a suspicious look. “About what?” Tom looked over his shoulder. Having escorted them to the patient’s room, Mason still lingered in the doorway. “I’ve got it from here,” Tom said. Mason took a moment to consider the possibilities. With a final frosty look in Tom’s direction, he did another of those military pivots and disappeared. Tom turned back to the man on the bed. “We’re private investigators. Your daughter seems to think someone tried to murder you recently.” To their surprise, Pendleton snorted derisively. “Oh, that nonsense,” he said. “Is it nonsense?” Tom asked. “Can you be certain?” “It was an accident, is all it was,” Abe Pendleton said, his voice firm, decisive. “The nurse on duty misread the doctor’s instructions. Patience is making a mountain out of a molehill. She does that sometimes.” “This particular molehill might have killed you, if you pardon my saying so,” Stanley said. “Might have. But it didn’t. Thanks to the same nurse who made the mistake. He realized in time what he’d done, and undid it. Anyway, he got canned, which should be the end of it.” “Did he?” Tom said. “Get canned? Doctor Skelton led us to believe he left voluntarily.” “Ah, well, that I wouldn’t know about. He’s gone, is all I know. I just assumed they’d canned him.” “I asked your daughter,” Tom said, “and I’ll ask you, too. Do you have any enemies?” The surprise reaction to this was a hearty laugh, it started out as a bellow of laughter, really, but then it quickly sputtered out and became a coughing fit. He flailed about with a hand until Stanley saw the glass of water on the table by the bed and brought its straw to where the patient could take a long sip of it.

DeaDly Silence 55 “Thanks,” he said finally and sank back on his pillow, his chest rising and falling violently. Stanley wondered if they should ring for the nurse, but after a moment Pendleton’s breathing returned to normal. “Enemies,” he said in little more than a murmur, and gave his head a shake. “I’m in the construction industry, I deal in properties, buying them, building on them, and selling them. And I make money doing it, a lot of money. One thing you can count on in a business like mine, is that you’re going to step on some toes. There’s always going to be somebody pissed off at you. But, pissed off enough to tiptoe into my room—and how they’d get here you’d have to tell me, because this place is not without some security, you’ve seen Mason and he doesn’t miss much—and mess around with my IV? It’s a competitive business, sure, but it’s not Dodge City, we don’t run around bumping one another off. You’re barking up a wrong tree.” With his coughing fit, the blanket had been kicked aside on the bed, revealing a heavily bandaged leg. Stanley looked down at it, remembering that it was knee surgery that had brought him here. “What are they saying about the knee?” Abe shifted his weight uncomfortably. “I can go home next week. Maybe. They’ll have to do another culture, make sure the infection is all cleared up. This has been a real pain, I can tell you that. And I don’t mean just in my knee, either.” “When you say home—do you live at the house on Pacific?” Stanley asked. The look Pendleton gave Stanley might almost have been described as sly, though on its surface Stanley thought the question innocent enough. “Yes and no. I have a small apartment over the garages. So, yes I live there but the practical result is that my daughters and I often don’t see one another for days at a time. I try not to interfere in their lives.” “My honest opinion, I think Prudence probably needs some interference,” Tom said.

56 Victor J. Banis Pendleton’s expression turned to angry and resentful. “She has problems, yes. Rest assured they have always been dealt with. She gets the very best treatment. Always has. Neither I nor Patience have ever spared any expense or trouble.” “Was Farley Whitaker one of her problems?” Tom asked. Abe’s eyes turned black, like thunderclouds before a storm. “Who told you about him?” “Patience did. But we spoke to Mister Whitaker just a short while ago.” Pendleton struggled with his emotions for a moment and managed to get them under control. He asked, in a carefully modulated voice, “What did you think of him, just as a matter of curiosity?” Oddly, though up to now he had mostly been speaking to Tom, he addressed this question to Stanley. Stanley hesitated. “He’s…well, physically he’s a beautiful specimen, isn’t he?” “Beautiful? That’s an odd description to apply to a man, isn’t it?” “Probably. But handsome isn’t quite right either, and he’s too old to be called pretty. Which I suspect is what people did call him when he was younger.” Pendleton grunted. “And I suppose he told you that ridiculous story about Prudence trying to rape him?” “People don’t generally mind confessing to being found attractive,” Stanley said. “Whitaker? If you made an appointment for mutual masturbation he’d need an instruction manual.” Abe snorted disdainfully and signaled for another sip of water. “A gold digger, that’s what he is. My gold, if you don’t mind my saying. I wouldn’t put too much stock in anything he says. Anyway, he might like to think otherwise, but he’s no match for Patience.” “Speaking of Patience,” Stanley said. “Do you get along with her?”

DeaDly Silence 57 The question obviously surprised him. “Of course I do. She’s my daughter. Why shouldn’t I get along with her?” “Parents and children don’t always. She gives the impression of a rather forceful character. And you don’t strike me as the shrinking violet type. Two such strong personalities, I should think that some clashes would be inevitable.” “We’ve had our differences from time to time. I think that happens in all families. But we’ve always managed to work things through. Patience is, as you say, a strong willed individual. I know she sometimes gets people’s backs up.” “Including her sister’s?” “The girls are very close, be assured of that,” he said, which was not quite an answer. “Very close.” “Well, of course we are, that’s what twins are all about, isn’t it?” Stanley turned to see that Patience had entered the room. To his surprise, since she didn’t seem the silent type, she had come in so quietly that he hadn’t even been aware of her presence until she spoke. Her appearance was a shock, too. Her red-gold hair, pinned back so primly when they’d first met, was loose now, falling in abundant waves about her face, and utterly striking. She’d had the good sense too to wear a suit of gray, expensively cut, Anne Klein, he guessed, in lieu of the obvious green that women of her color often selected. She looked both voluptuous and elegant, not a pairing easy to pull off. He thought of Kim Novak in Vertigo, in a gray suit which Hitchcock had to badger her to wear. Hitch had been right, as it turned out. Not until the woman in the doorway looked directly at him, her gray-green eyes sparkling with mischief, did the obvious truth hit him. “Oh. It’s Prudence, isn’t it?” he said. “I thought for a moment you were your sister.”

58 Victor J. Banis She laughed, light and easy laughter, but Stanley could not help thinking he heard just a hint in it of the hysteria with which she had greeted them at their first meeting. He wondered if she was on something now. “People do sometimes make that mistake,” she said. “I can’t think why. We could hardly be more different.” She crossed to the bed, leaning down to give her father’s forehead an affectionate kiss. “Hello, Pops. The detectives grilling you, are they?” “Asking a lot of fool questions, is all it amounts to. Patience has got everybody worked up with the nonsense about murder plots. I never imagined your sister so fanciful.” “Unlike me,” she said, with another laugh. She turned back to Tom and Stanley. “And now I suppose you’d like to grill me?” “We would like to talk to you, yes,” Tom said. There was a light in his eyes that told Stanley there was probably more that he’d like from her than simple conversation. Tom was far from shed of his heterosexual proclivities, despite his commitment to the relationship with Stanley. “Well, I’m tired,” Abe said in a petulant voice. He turned his head meaningfully away from them. “If you’re going to yak, why don’t you do it somewhere else, and let me rest?” It was offhand, but it nevertheless had the effect of a command. “They have a surprisingly good dining room here,” Prudence said. She looked at the Rolex on her wrist. “Unfortunately it’s too late for breakfast and too early for lunch, but I’d bet we could get coffee in the nurses’ lounge. Good coffee, even.” Stanley couldn’t prevent himself asking one final question, though, on the way to the door. They’d asked much the same question of Patience, if in different words, without getting much of an answer. He wondered if he’d do better with the father. “Mister Pendleton, how would you describe your life, on the whole?” The man on the bed kept his head turned away, and Stanley thought that he meant not to answer. But after a moment of

DeaDly Silence 59 silence, he said, gruffly, “It’s had its moments.” “Bye, Pops,” Prudence said with an airy wave of her hand, and got only a grunt in reply.

chaPter eight Next door to the darkened dining room, the nurses’ lounge was a long narrow space with windows that looked out at a modest rock and flower garden surrounded by a high wall of fake adobe. The windows, arched and trimmed in Mexican tile, lent the space a church-like feel. The room was nearly empty except for three nurses sharing a table in the corner. Stanley got coffees while Tom commandeered their own table near one of the windows. If Prudence was reluctant or in any way nervous about talking to them, she showed no sign of it. She chatted gaily in the elevator on their way down—about the weather (“hard to believe it’s almost Christmas, isn’t it, it’s like Spring…”) about Christmas itself (“‘That little drummer boy, I can’t tell you what I’d like to do with his bongos…”) and about the decorating at Bella Vista nursing home (“God awful, don’t you agree, I don’t know how anyone can be expected to recover in a room painted puce and lavender. And when you add poinsettias…”). “Your sister hired us because she thinks someone tried to murder your father,” Tom said when they were settled with their coffees. “And your dad thinks that’s a lot of baloney. What do you think?” She gave a little tinkle of laughter, and clapped a hand over her mouth. “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound giddy. It’s just, do you know how rare it is for anyone to ask what I think? About anything?” Which Stanley thought was a telling remark. He’d wondered how she felt about her sister’s domination. He suspected she wasn’t altogether happy with it. He also realized that she hadn’t answered Tom’s question. “And Farley? He never asks what you think?” Tom asked. “Farley?” For a moment she looked as if she hadn’t a clue

62 Victor J. Banis who Farley was. “Oh, Farley Whitaker. No, he doesn’t…we haven’t seen one another for a while. Why on earth would he care what I think?” Stanley would like to have asked her about the attempted seduction Farley had described to them, but it was difficult to think of a tactful way to bring that subject up. “You were close, weren’t you?” he asked instead. Her gaze met his coldly. Clearly she did not like talking about Mister Whitaker. “Not so very,” she said. “Not so close as he’d have liked.” In the next moment, though, her mood changed again, dramatically. “This is so unlike anything I’ve ever imagined,” she said, flashing a bright smile around the table. “Me, with two private detectives. It’s like one of those old movies, isn’t it? I feel all, oh, I don’t know, Lauren Bacall.” “What does Lauren Bacall think about her sister’s idea? About someone trying to murder her father?” Tom persisted. The smile faded and the enormous eyes went wider still. “Murder? I can’t imagine it. Who would want to, for Heaven’s sake, or why?” “There’s the question of money,” Stanley said. “There was some talk of your father’s changing his will.” “Oh, that.” She gave Stanley one brief glance and settled her attention on Tom. “But that’s all it was, really, just talk. Pops likes to do that, throw his money around to scare people, but he doesn’t really mean it. I can’t imagine what difference it would make anyway. Patience said he was thinking of leaving it all to her, but Patience already handles all my money.” “You’re happy with that?” Tom asked. Something hard and angry flashed in those rolling eyes and was gone in less than an instant. It reminded Stanley that Prudence was her sister’s twin. “Why wouldn’t I be? She’s my sister. If I can’t trust my own sister, my twin, who can I trust?” “And Zack?” Stanley said.

DeaDly Silence 63 “What of him?” “Would he be as content to have Patience handle his money for him?” Stanley asked. “I don’t see why not.” She took a sip of the coffee and made a face. “This is dreadful, isn’t it?” She looked around the room, scowling at the table of nurses. “I don’t suppose we could find anything stronger? They do sell wine in the dining room. Good wine, surprisingly. Maybe…” She looked at the nurses again, and at Stanley. “Would you see?” Stanley gave Tom a quick glance and got an almost imperceptible nod in return. “I’ll see what I can do,” Stanley said, and sliding his chair back, got quickly up from the table. Prudence watched him cross the room, then swung her gaze back to Tom and gave him a full wattage smile. He got a mental image of global warming, icebergs melting in the Antarctic. That kind of smile. She slipped off the jacket to her suit, fast, before Tom could help her with it, and draped it over the back of her chair. Beneath it she wore a mock turtle in white cashmere, and obviously, nothing under it. Her nipples, tumescent, were clearly meant to be noticed through it. Tom noticed. “So,” she said, “You two are business partners, right?” One hand dropped over the rim of the table and, light as an autumn leaf drifting from its tree, found itself on Tom’s knee. “We’re partners,” Tom said. But, he did not move his leg, or brush the fallen leaf away. “Mister Danzel, would you…” She hesitated, considering. “I need help.” “Medical help. The meth, you mean?” If she was surprised that he knew of that, she gave no indication. “No, I…I’m afraid…I need…there’s no one to protect me. I’m so alone.” “You’ve got your sister,” he said.

64 Victor J. Banis She might not even have heard that. A nurse had come in. Prudence seemed for a moment to forget the man sitting next to her. She stared at the nurse as if mesmerized. The fingers on Tom’s legs went still. “That nurse,” she said. “What about her?” Tom looked too, and saw nothing remarkable. A short, somewhat roundish woman, close cropped hair, with that air of precision nurses often had. “That smock she’s wearing…” “They call them scrubs.” He had learned that from Chris. The nurse’s tunic was a riot of black and green swirls on a background of white. Nothing especially remarkable, he thought. “It’s kind of loud, isn’t it? Pretty, though. It looks like marble.” “Yes. Exactly. Like marble.” She remained in a trance. Tom looked at the nurse again, trying to grasp the significance of her costume. Stanley came back just then. “It looks,” he said, “like we’ll have to wait for the dining room to reopen if you want a glass of wine.” “Oh, never mind,” Prudence said, waking from her odd reverie, and standing so quickly that she jostled the table. The coffee in her cup sloshed over its rim onto her saucer. “Saks is calling me. I’ve got some shopping I have to do. I just stopped by to see how Daddy was doing. It’s been nice chatting.” She grabbed her jacket from the chair, smiled insincerely at Stanley, gave Tom an exaggerated wink, and was gone as quickly as that autumn leaf, now blown before the wind. “High strung,” Tom said, watching her go. “Not high enough, I’m thinking. I saw her feeling you up.” “You’ve got eyes in the back of your head.” “I’ve got eyes where you never dreamed eyes could be.”

DeaDly Silence 65 Tom gave him a grin. “Not to worry, baby, I’m not turned on by fruitcakes. And this one might just be the queen of fruitcakes. How’d you do?” “Not so badly. While you were busy playing kneesies with our incipient psycho, I was chatting with the nurses. Chris always says, if you want the real skinny about how any sort of hospital facility functions or the lowdown on its doctors, talk to the nurses. Ideally, when they’re on break, and can talk freely. Probably it’s less successful in an operating room, but they don’t have one of those here. Any cutting will be done in the nurses’ lounge.” “And what exactly did you talk about? Not, I’m guessing, a glass of wine for Miss Prudence.” “That subject never came up, I was fibbing to her. I didn’t think she needed any stimulants. Beyond the kind a man can provide.” “She didn’t get that either. A disappointing day for our little heiress, I guess you’d call it.” “As a matter of fact, my new friends and I chatted about a certain nurse Norman Shandler, formerly employed right here in River City. And not a single one of those three ladies believes he could have made the mistake he’s accused of. Meticulous, is the word most often used to describe him. Careful to a fault. And other nurses know, about that sort of thing.” Tom frowned. “So maybe Patience is right. Maybe it was a murder attempt. But that raises not only the question of who, but why is her father so adamant in insisting it was an accident?” “Because, maybe, he knows who did it? Maybe because he’s trying to protect someone?” “Brother Zack? He’s the logical suspect, isn’t he? I think we’ll have to talk with him soon. But, really, if the father knows something, he’s made up his mind not to share it with us. And apart from the would-be murderer, there’s nobody else who can tell us anything.” “Well, there is one person,” Stanley said with a sly grin.

66 Victor J. Banis “Norman Shandler, of course,” Tom said. “Only, he’s gone missing, and…” He glanced sideways at Stanley. “Don’t tell me…?” Stanley took a scrap of white paper from the pocket of his jacket and waved it like a handkerchief. “Ta da.” “Where?”

“San Diego. He’s got a sister there. He told a couple of his

coworkers that’s where he’d be, but not to let their bosses know. He’s afraid, they tell me.” “Afraid?” “He thinks most certainly someone did try to murder his patient. And he thinks they might go after him too.” Tom nodded. “In his shoes, I’d probably think the same way too.” “So now…?” “We go to San Diego, naturally.” Tom finished his coffee and got up. “After we look in on Abe Pendleton. Just a safety check.” It wasn’t until they were in the elevator, riding up to the third floor, that Stanley said, “Maybe you should go to San Diego on your own.” Tom gave him a puzzled look. “Why?” “If someone really is trying to murder Abe Pendleton, I think one of us should stick around town.” “And you’re thinking it should be you? Stanley, you’re a magnet for trouble.” “Not this time. I’m not accepting any rides from strangers. Besides, you know I don’t like flying.” “Since when?” “Since I decided I no longer like flying. Besides, Nurse Shandler is gay. He’ll be more likely to open up to you.”

DeaDly Silence 67 “What makes you think that?”

“The same thing that made me think Sister Prudence would

talk to you more freely if I wasn’t there.” “But she didn’t. Talk more freely, I mean.” “Well, there you have it,” Stanley said. “You never can be sure how people will react. My guess is that this Nurse Shandler will like talking to you better. Especially if you wear boxers.” The elevator door wooshed open. To their surprise, Patience Pendleton—unmistakably her this time, with her hair pulled back tightly and her severely cut business suit—with a young man Stanley recognized at once. “Zack,” he said. “We were just talking about you.” Zack Pendleton looked like his sisters—enough like, in any case, that one could recognize the family ties. He had the redgold hair and the wide, poached egg eyes set in the same pale complexion. He was tall, though, and while both women were compact, Zack was gangly, with that oddly disjointed look that tall, long-limbed men sometimes got. His hands with their long fingers were bony, skeletal almost, and his thin legs looked inadequate to support his body. Zack gave them no more than a glance, however, before he turned his attention back to his sister. “You can’t stop me from seeing him,” he said. “He’s my father too. For the moment, at least.” “You know how the two of you get along. Or don’t get along, rather. I don’t want him disturbed,” Patience said. “He’s been disturbed all his life. As long as I’ve known him anyway.” Ignoring Tom and Stanley, he brushed past her and started along the corridor toward his father’s room. Patience glowered at his retreating back, looking for a moment as if she meant to run after him and physically stop him. Then, with a defeated gesture, she turned in Stanley’s direction.

68 Victor J. Banis Stanley looked at her directly, intending to give her a commiserating smile. But the look in her eyes when she returned his glance startled him. Surely he had been mistaken; surely he had not seen that glimpse of amused contempt in her eyes before she dropped them and assumed once again that patient, aggrieved demeanor of the constant caregiver? But what had it meant, that oddly challenging glance? Why did he have, once again, the sense that Patience Pendleton was staging some kind of drama for their benefit? And if she was, was Zack a co-director, or just an innocent and unprepared actor on the stage? “Well, we wanted to talk to him,” Tom said. “Some other time, I guess.” “It’s always some other time with Zack,” Patience said, and seemed to dismiss her brother from her mind. “Did you meet with my father?” “Yes. He’s convinced that the business with the insulin was an accident,” Tom said. “He doesn’t want to face the reality. It’s not a pleasant possibility, is it, thinking that someone might want to kill you?” “Doctor Skelton thinks it was an accident too.”

She waved that idea away with one gloved hand. “They’re

afraid I’m going to sue. And I might yet. If I find that nurse…” Stanley started to say something but Tom gave him a quick nudge with an elbow, and Stanley instead clamped his lips shut. “We met your sister, too,” Tom said. “Prudence?” With this, at least, they had managed to surprise her. “She was here? I thought she was at home, sleeping.” “Far from sleeping,” Stanley said. “She seemed downright, oh, I don’t know, lively.” Patience snorted. “I’ve no doubt. I pay a nurse good money to stay with her. Wasted money, apparently. This does not make

DeaDly Silence 69 me happy. If you’ll excuse me.” She left them and started down the hall in Zack’s wake. “Well, it looks as if the patient will have plenty of company,” Tom said. “I don’t guess we need to keep an eye on him at the moment.” They took the elevator back to the main floor and crossed the lobby under the watchful gaze of a glowering Mason, standing behind his reception desk. He looked as if he might at any moment pounce on them. Stanley was glad when the beveled glass doors had closed behind them. “If his daughter is to be believed, Abe Pendleton screwed his way into a fortune.” Tom said. “But that old man up there, he doesn’t fit that image, does he?” “‘Oh, the youth of the heart, and the dew in the morning,’“ Stanley quoted, “‘You wake and they’ve left you without any warning.’ He was younger then, sweetie. Things change.” “I wonder what else changed for him.” §§§§§ They had just gotten back to the apartment when Stanley’s cell phone rang, a tiny and tinny snippet of Can-Can. It was Patience Pendleton. “It’s happened again,” she said without preamble. “Someone’s tried to kill our father.”

chaPter nine This time, as it turned out, Patience had come into her father’s room to find that the IV had been removed from his arm. Deliberately, she was convinced. “Without his insulin, he would eventually go into another coma,” she said. “He might not come out of this one. Especially if no one noticed.” When Tom and Stanley got back to the nursing home, however, they found Abe Pendleton no less adamant about this incident than he had been about the other. “It’s a lot of nonsense,” he said gruffly. “I pulled the IV out of my arm myself, if you really want to know. It was driving me crazy, itching. I asked the nurse twice to change it, and when she didn’t, I waited till she left the room and then I just yanked it out. That way she’d have to replace it.” “You weren’t concerned about going without your insulin?” Tom asked. “For, what, twenty minutes? Half an hour? They pay close attention here. As well they should. This place is costing me a pretty penny, I don’t mind telling you. It wouldn’t have been more than minutes before a nurse came by to check on me. I was going to make sure she saw what I had done.” “And that other time? The insulin overdose?” Patience said. He rolled his head sideways on the pillow. “We’ve been all through that before. I can’t believe you called detectives in over that. The doctors have explained it. I’ve explained it. The nurse on duty made a mistake. Yes, it was a serious one, but he’s gone now. But that’s all it was, a stupid mistake. Not some conspiracy to murder me.” “How did the meeting go with your son?” Tom asked in an abrupt change of subject.

72 Victor J. Banis Abe’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Zack? He’s got his dander up. It doesn’t mean anything. And before you get any ideas in your head, I pulled the IV out after he had gone.” “Don’t ask me. Zack was already gone when I got here,” Patience said when Tom glanced at her. Not, Tom thought, by the obvious route through the lobby, where they had been. Of course, the building would have other exits, but it was curious that Zack should have used them to avoid once again meeting his sister—or the detectives she’d hired. §§§§§ “If Abe Pendleton is the target of a murderer,” Stanley said when they were again on their way home, “He’s certainly determined not to protect himself.” “I really need to talk to that nurse,” Tom said. “Those flights are pretty frequent. Why don’t you just drop me at the airport and with any luck I can be back late tonight, or first thing in the morning.” There was no more suggestion of Stanley’s going too. Stanley was glad and having thought about it, Tom had concluded an evening alone might be a good thing for Stanley. He’d been all dithery lately. Whatever was bothering him, maybe he’d have a chance to sort it out on his own. “Just, please, Stanley, try to stay out of harm’s way while I’m gone, will you?” “Cross my heart,” Stanley said with the appropriate gesture. §§§§§ Later, at home alone, Stanley found it amusing that Tom thought he couldn’t be on his own even for a single night without getting into some kind of a trouble. At the same time, though, on another level, it annoyed him too. It was like he was some kind of retard. Okay, it was true, he had more than once managed to get himself into jams from which as it happened Tom had to rescue

DeaDly Silence 73 him. Well, you couldn’t walk around on eggshells all the time, could you? He didn’t know why these things happened to him, they just did. It wasn’t like he invited disasters to befall him. This time, though, he took a vow that nothing would. Tom wouldn’t be back until late tonight or sometime tomorrow morning, and Stanley had made an unshakeable commitment to keeping his nose clean the whole time. He’d been thinking things lately that he ought not to be thinking, and he had resolutely pushed those negative thoughts out of his mind. He would be chaste not only in body but in spirit as well. He had stocked up the kitchen with all the things he liked to eat—frozen pizzas and packaged macaroni and cheese and gallons of Dr. Pepper, so he wouldn’t have to go out to any restaurants. No bars, either. It was too easy to get into trouble in a gay bar. This was San Francisco, and they lived on the edge of the Castro. When wasn’t there at least one delicious looking hunk on the prowl in one of those bars? Lately, he’d had to struggle with the itch. He felt guilty, he knew it was stupid, but there it was. He’d lived all his adult life racking up scores of hot men, and now he was limited to just one. Yes, a very fine one, but he couldn’t help the fact that other guys still turned him on. Not enough to do anything about it, happily. But it was a difficult temptation to deal with, and resisting temptation had never been his strong suit. So, then, no gay bars while Tom was gone. That was safest. He’d stocked up too on a bunch of DVDs, favorite movies, and another stack of things he’d been meaning to watch and hadn’t gotten around to. Plus a selection of old Falcon tapes, which he liked better than the newer stuff, in case he got to missing Tom too much. He intended to be the perfect little homebody until Tom got home. To which end, he’d watched Casablanca once again, quoting from memory much of the dialogue along with the actors on the screen: Bogart and Bergman and Claude Rains and Sydney

74 Victor J. Banis Greenstreet and Peter Lorre—they just didn’t make actors like that anymore. He had eaten all of a pepperoni pizza, despite his initial intention to limit himself to one slice. Which he’d decided was silly. Who ate just one slice of a pizza? He was finishing the pizza when the phone rang. “I couldn’t arrange to see our nurse tonight,” Tom said, “but I talked to him on the phone. He was a little reluctant, but I convinced him to meet with me in the morning. And I persuaded him to see me super early, so I should be back in good time tomorrow morning, probably by mid-morning. I’ll call you when I’ve got a reservation.” Which left Stanley feeling more up in the air than he had before. A part of him was disappointed that Tom would not be back the same night. He ignored the part of him that wasn’t. He considered an old Doris Day musical, from before she’d become a virgin, as he thought of it, and looked at the covers of a couple of Falcon tapes—and was overcome with restlessness. The men on the covers of the Falcon tapes made him hot, but not do-it-alone-and-get-it-over-with hot. He’d gotten spoiled, having someone in the same bed with him every night, ready and willing to take care of business. He tried watching some regular television, but whoever had described that as mental masturbation had been entirely right. He decided to go out. Not out out, of course, not to the bars, he wasn’t that foolish and he was very much mindful of his vow to avoid any kind of mischief. There were plenty of other directions to walk than toward the Castro, however, and that was the whole idea—to walk, to walk off that restless energy. By the time he got home, he fully expected he’d be ready for one of the tapes, and a good long wank, followed by a night’s sound sleep, safely away from any threat of trouble. Tom would be so proud of him.

DeaDly Silence 75 It was cool outside and he was glad he’d put on a jacket. Most of the houses he passed sported Christmas lights and some of the windows were filled with Christmas trees. Pausing now and again to admire them, Stanley made a mental note that when Tom got back, they’d have to shop for a tree. He had an artificial one, which had always seemed just fine to him, but Tom had stated flatly that he wanted a real tree. And guess who’ll get to clean up all the pine needles, he thought, but without much rancor. Real trees did smell nice, and the guys at the lot in the Castro were generally hot, so you got double the pleasure for your trouble. And, just at the moment, he felt particularly motivated to make Tom happy. But this brought the whole Christmas business to the fore of his mind. They’d had very nearly a quarrel over the holiday. In the past, Stanley would have spent Christmas Eve with Chris, of course, and Christmas day the two of them would share with an entire army of friends, in and out of one another’s homes and apartments, popping into the bars in the Castro, drinking the day away, exchanging presents and kisses and hugs, singing holiday songs, though rarely the religious ones—always White Christmas, for which few of them genuinely pined. Someone would provide a more or less traditional dinner, but in fact they ate as they drank, all day long. To this Tom had said an emphatic “No.” He liked Chris, but otherwise didn’t care much for Stanley’s gay friends, or for gay crowds in general, and not the gay bars, either. “We’ll have Christmas Eve together,” he said, “And Christmas day Chris can come over for dinner.” “Christmas dinner? Cooked by who? You grill steaks and make spaghetti. I do bacon and eggs. That doesn’t sound very festive.” “The supermarkets do everything for you. I saw this Safeway ad, for instance. You can order the whole dinner, turkey or ham, the trimmings, even pumpkin pie.”

76 Victor J. Banis “We’re going to have a Safeway Christmas? And every time I open a can, an angel in Heaven gets his wings?” “It doesn’t have to be Safeway. Check out the Sunday paper. There must be a dozen different places who’ll fix it for us. Or, we can go out. Plenty of restaurants do special dinners for holidays. We’ll go some place really pissy. Chris can come with us. I’ll treat.” None of which, to Stanley’s way of thinking, sounded like Christmas to him. Christmas was meant to be a social event, wasn’t it? But on that score, Tom had refused to bend. “Out or in,” was his verdict. “You pick. Restaurant or pickup dinner. Or I’ll make spaghetti.” Stanley’s rambling had brought him to Dolores, a wide Avenue with an island in the middle. He started to cross the street and paused for the headlights of an oncoming car to pass by. To his surprise, the car swung to the curb in front of him and the horn honked. The window on his side of the car slid downward. “Stanley,” A voice from within called. “Where you headed?” He leaned down to look inside. “Oh, hi. Nowhere, really. Just taking a walk. Tom’s out of town till tomorrow.” “I heard.” He had? Stanley wondered how. This wasn’t the kind of thing that got mentioned in the Bay Area Reporter or on the evening news. Had Tom called? Or sent out Indian runners? “Well, hop in, why don’t you?” “Uh…” Stanley hesitated, not quite sure what he would be hopping into. Or, more importantly why. A soft chuckle. “What, you’re afraid I might bite you?” “No, but…” In a gentler voice, almost coaxing. You could imagine it seductive, without too much effort. “I’ve thought about it, to tell the truth. Thought about it a lot. I just never wanted to…you know. Tom, and everything.”

DeaDly Silence 77 Stanley didn’t know what to say to that. This whole scene was so unlikely, so completely without precedent. It almost seemed unreal, like one of those masturbatory fantasies, except of all the people he’d imagined flirting with him…he was flirting, wasn’t he? “Are you coming on to me?” “Look, climb in, why don’t you? We’ll just talk, okay?” Which wasn’t exactly an answer. Stanley hesitated, puzzled and intrigued all at the same time. Who’d ever have imagined? It was without saying that he had absolutely no intention of doing anything about this, but he couldn’t deny the temptation was there. Far more so than with the bar beauties he’d shunned the Castro for. This was something quite different, and flattering as well, to be sure. Still, an image of Tom appeared in his mind, smiling, concerned, but not too. And, really, there was no reason for him to be concerned. Of that, Stanley was quite certain. As if on its own, the car door swung open. Well, he couldn’t get into any trouble just talking, could he?

chaPter ten Acid. She was sure of it, even though she did not remember taking it. Only acid produced this kind of disoriented high. It had been a long time since Prudence had taken acid. It was dangerous for her. Well, of course, none of the drugs could be said to further her health, but LSD was too disinhibiting to be safe. She lived, she knew full well, at the forbearance of her sister but, even more critically, of her father. Whose money paid for it all, a fact not to be forgotten, even in her often addled state. The father she despised. How she hated him. She wanted to see him dead. Had always wanted that more than anything else. Most of the time, of course, she kept that thought to herself, securely battened down in one of the darker deeper cellars of her consciousness. The acid, though, tended to shine a light on it, which was why she had vowed she would not take it again. But even without that, the thought had been slyly creeping up the stairs of her mind for some time now. Since Farley. Without the acid, she was quite able to keep her thoughts clear of that subject—but like the other, when she was tripping, he too began to creep up the stairs of her consciousness. She was fully aware that Farley was worthless. It was the prospect of money that incited his passion, not her. She hadn’t needed her father or sister to tell her that. But what was she worth herself, except in monetary terms? She was never going to marry one of those proper San Francisco gentleman types. She was quite willing to settle for a pretty trifle. Which, really, was all Farley was, all he could ever be. That, and a means of escape. Married, she would have a chance at least to be free of them, of their smothering control. Without Farley, her only escape was into drugs.

80 Victor J. Banis She wasn’t so big a fool as they seemed to think she was. Farley had no backbone. On his own, he’d never stand up to either of them. But, she could be the backbone. With his name and the simple gift of a ring, he’d provide the escape route. She had meant to take it. And his lack of spine worked to her advantage. She could control Farley in a way she’d never be able to control Patience. Patience was too strong for her to manage, and too smart. Farley had gone from her, though, for reasons she could not quite summon up. She had a vague idea that somehow Patience had been the one to interfere in her plans for Farley. That would have been so like Patience. She would never willingly let Prudence escape her domination; Prudence knew that. But Patience would not have interfered had their father not made his displeasure evident. Patience did nothing that put her own financial comfort at risk. She was too canny for that. And Father had played his part, had played right into her hands, with the mere suggestion of rewriting the will. Zack had only been an excuse. It was her they wanted to disempower. They wanted once again to thwart her efforts at freeing herself, and they had managed, as usual, to do exactly that. Of course Farley had turned tail and run. Exactly as they had expected. Exactly as she would have expected, if she’d seen far enough ahead, imagined that the two of them, Patience and Father, had cooked up this idea. Or, had it been Patience and Farley? Farley wouldn’t have come up with it on his own, he was neither clever enough nor bold enough, but she would put nothing past her sister. She could kill Patience with no qualm of conscience, but without Farley, the truth was that she needed her sister. She wouldn’t survive on her own. She knew that. Without Patience, and without Farley, she’d simply need to find some other keeper, and who knew what that would mean? Better the devil one knows than the one unknown. And she wasn’t crazy, either. She knew perfectly well that hating Patience was only another facet of the loathing she often

DeaDly Silence 81 felt for herself. Killing Patience would be a kind of suicide. They were too closely related for that. Just as she could look at Patience, and know what she was thinking, she understood full well that Patience could do the same. Does she know I sometimes wish her dead, she wondered? Probably. But she is also aware, too fully aware, perhaps, of how much I need her to ever be frightened by the prospect. Which only made her despise her sister all the more. She didn’t need her father, though. If he were to die before the will was changed, why, so much the better. Patience might, for the present, control the purse strings, but the money would be hers at least. She would always have access to it. And who knew what kind of freedom she might buy for herself. Farley wasn’t the only fish in the sea. It wouldn’t be that difficult to land another. Her thoughts shifted to that handsome detective. Now there was a man who could stand up to anybody, she was sure. And he’d looked at her with that man-woman gleam in his eye. Maybe… just maybe… It was only on acid, though, that she allowed these thoughts to drift through her mind, like a San Francisco fog, casting some of her musings into stark relief and simultaneously obliterating other, saner perceptions. She had a mental image of the tip of the Sutro tower on those gray mornings, the way it sailed above the cottony banks. At times like these, the streets below were scarcely visible. You needn’t know what dwelt down them if you didn’t want to look particularly hard. If only she could be free. She thought, each time she came home from rehab, that this time was it, that somehow she would escape the cycle. But, it took only a few days back in the world of Patience for her sister to convince her of her own helplessness, and it all started again. A curtain of despair descended over her. She had been lying back with her eyes closed, but it seemed to her as if she were in motion. As if she were gliding about on a flying carpet, swaying gently, going she knew not where. I am

82 Victor J. Banis moving, she thought. Physically moving. For a fleeting second she felt alarm. But, what did it matter, though? They called this tripping, didn’t they? Anywhere she went would be better than where she was. Suddenly, with that intuitive knowledge that often accompanied acid, she knew that she was no longer alone. Her eyes flew open, and she found herself staring into the last face she would have expected to see. “Farley,” she said in surprise. “Are you all right?” “Yes, of course. Why wouldn’t I be?” She saw that he held a pillow in his hands. She wondered, without a trace of fright, if he meant to smother her with it. But what was he doing here anyway? Or, for that matter, where was “here”? She moved her eyes to the left and the right. She was in a bed, that much she knew, but the light was dim, she couldn’t even say if it was her own bed. “Where am I?” she asked. “You’re at the nursing home. Didn’t you know? Don’t you

remember?” She didn’t. She remembered nothing. She had been at home, on Pacific Avenue, lying in bed, enjoying the acid; or she thought that’s where she had been, but her impressions ran together, like colors bleeding in the wash. She had found of late that it had become increasingly difficult to separate dreams from reality, and the acid was only intensifying that problem. Why on earth had she taken it? And when? She knew better, really. She was afraid to tell him any of that, though. What if he repeated it? Say, to Patience or even her father? They’d put her away again, wouldn’t they? In one of those places where she lived like a prisoner until she could convince them that she was clean now and could live like a good little girl if they’d only send her home.

DeaDly Silence 83 “Of course I remember,” she said. “Do you take me for a fool?” “No, darling. I’ve never done that.” He leaned closer, the pillow filling her vision. Here it comes, she thought, but rather than placing the pillow over her face, he put a hand behind her head and, lifting it gently, tucked the pillow under it. “You looked uncomfortable,” he said. He smiled down at her. She managed to smile back at him, a trifle lopsidedly, but something he’d said teased at her mind. She tried to concentrate, to remember. Her thoughts were like eels, slipping through the fingers of her consciousness. “What nursing home?” she asked. “Bella Vista. We came to see your father. It’s the only way we’ll be able to marry, darling. We’ve discussed this at length. We need his blessing.” “I see.” But she didn’t. Had they discussed marriage? She thought that had been given up on. “But why…” she stumbled over the words, confusion breaking through her consciousness again. “If we’ve come to see father, why am I in…?” She made a gesture meant to indicate the bed she was lying upon. “In bed? You were dizzy. Don’t you remember? You said you felt faint. I asked the nurse if you couldn’t lie down for a bit. I didn’t think you’d want to see your father in less than full control of yourself.” “No,” she agreed, “No, I wouldn’t.” She wanted to ask how they had come to be here. She had been at home. She was certain of that. Then, Farley must have come for her. Or, had she gotten up without remembering and gone to him? She was afraid to ask, though, afraid of what that would say about her mental state. She said, instead, “I think I’d like to just lie here for a little longer, if you don’t mind.”

84 Victor J. Banis “Not in the least, sweetheart. You just rest as long as you want. I’ll be outside if you need me.” He disappeared from view. She turned her head toward the window, but the draperies were closed. No light filtered through them. Was it night, then? She tried to look at her watch, but it wasn’t there, on her wrist. How very odd. She never went out without putting on her watch. It was all such a muddle. Maybe, she thought, I shouldn’t do acid in the future. But she had been at home. She was sure of it. And where on earth had she gotten the acid?

chaPter eleVen Stanley called Chris and met him for early coffee at the Cove. Chris’s eyes widened when he saw Stanley come in. “Wow. What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “You look like crap.” “Thanks a heap.” Stanley sat down wearily across the table. “I love you, too. Just coffee,” he added to Solange when she hurried over to see what he wanted. Chris grunted. “Is there some reason for this pervasive air of gloom, or is it just that time of the month?” “I didn’t sleep well.” “Because…?” “I’ve got a date.” “Sweetie, you have the sexiest boyfriend this side of the Greek Gods, I don’t know why that would make you feel despondent.” Stanley looked at the cup Solange set in front of him and raised his eyes reluctantly to Chris’s. Something clicked in Chris’s consciousness. “Whoa, girlfriend. When you say you’ve got a date, what are you saying? You mean a non-Tom date?” “No. Yes. No, not with Tom.” “And you mean a date date? Like, panties could descend kind

of date?” “Uh…panties could descend. Hypothetically speaking.” Chris’s eyes went wide and his mouth fell open. When he spoke, he fairly sputtered. “Jesus Fucking Christ, Stanley, are you out of your frigging mind? You’re dropping your hypothetical panties for someone other than Tom Danzel?” “Well, they’re not down yet. It’s just a, you know, let’s see how well the elastic holds up kind of thing. Nothing’s for certain.

86 Victor J. Banis It’s just a date.” His voice went up on the last word, as if that explained everything. “And may I ask, does this person whom Tom Danzel is going to kill with his bare hands have a name, or have you just picked someone at random?” Stanley sniffed. Took a tentative sip of coffee, returned the cup to its saucer. “No. You may not ask. For the moment, it’s secret.” “From me? It’s secret from me, your best girlfriend?” “And Tom. If I told you, you’d tell Tom.” Stanley had been studying the contents of his cup but he lifted his eyes and again looked directly at Chris. “Wouldn’t you?” His voice plaintive. Meaning, please tell me you wouldn’t. Chris was having none of that, though. “Maybe. Or maybe I’d just save time and kill this jerk myself. Which would probably save your butt, too.” Stanley sniffed at being rebuffed. He and Chris were long time friends. He thought Chris’s loyalty should be to him, period. “My butt is just fine, thank you. And it is mine, may I remind you, to do with as I please.” “If you’ll forgive my pointing it out, Tom Danzel might feel he has some claim to it.” “Huh.” A lengthy, unhappy silence descended. “Listen, sweetheart…” “No, don’t.” Stanley flung up his hands. “It’s just, oh, I don’t know, I am mixed up. Sometimes I think, well, maybe I’m too young to be so completely tied down. To one man, I mean.” “You are not even a year older than you were when you were chasing frantically after this particular man.” “I wasn’t chasing him.”

DeaDly Silence 87 “You did everything but drop Spanish fly in his beer, honey. Stanley, Tom’s in love with you.” “I know that.” “Do you? I’m not sure you know what that means. Tom isn’t one of those silly queen types, falling in and out of love at the sniff of a new crotch. Tom’s a one man kind of guy. You can’t cheat on a man like that. It would destroy him.” “I haven’t cheated on him.” “Yet.” “Yet.” “Listen to me, Mister Korski, you cannot…” “I know.” And Stanley looked so miserable that his old friend nearly relented, but Chris wasn’t having any of that, either. “…You cannot step out on Tom Danzel. You just cannot do that.” “I know,” Stanley said again. “It’s just, well, I don’t want us to become one of those couples who stay together only because we think we’ll be less miserable with one another than we will be on our own.” Another silence descended. Solange came by carrying a pot of coffee, filled Chris’s cup and took note that Stanley’s was still full, and decided that this was not the time to linger for her usual chat with these two. Clearly, something was up, something serious. She went on to the next table, signaled away the approaching waitress to give her two friends time to resolve whatever the issue was. “So, what are you going to do?” Chris asked finally. “I don’t know.” Almost crying. “Tom’s in San Diego?” “He gets back this morning. In an hour or so.” “And you’ll be waiting for him with open arms?” “Of course I will. What do you think I am?”

88 Victor J. Banis “Sweetie, this is not the time to ask me that question.” Stanley’s cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID. Patience Pendleton. If there was anybody he did not want to talk to at this moment, she was it. Still, she was a client, one who was paying them an exorbitant amount of money. He dutifully pressed the button and said, “Yes, Patience?” §§§§§ Norman Shandler was staying with his sister in El Cajon, a bedroom community to the east of San Diego. Tom spent the night at a Marriott near the airport. The sun was just creeping over the horizon the following morning when he set out in a rented Toyota for El Cajon. With the help of a friendly GPS device Hertz had provided, he found the address he was looking for, a pleasant little bungalow on a quiet cul-de-sac. The collection of toys, bicycles, wading pools and skateboards littering the front lawn and the driveway suggested the house itself, however, was unlikely to be so quiet, and that impression was confirmed the moment a sullen looking teen-aged girl opened the door for him. In the background, a television blared and a couple of childish voices were engaged in a heated argument. “Am not.” “Are so.” “Mom…” A harried looking woman came out of what looked to be the kitchen, balancing an infant on one hip. “You must be the detective,” she said, and without waiting for affirmation, turned her head toward the stairs and yelled, “Norman. Your company is here.” Norman Shandler was a lumpy looking young man—Tom guessed his age in his mid-thirties, but his hair was already mostly gone—with thick glasses and a spotty complexion. But the eyes that regarded Tom through the glasses were shrewd enough. He paused for a moment on the stairs, as if reconsidering, and then came the rest of the way down. At the bottom of the stairs, he looked toward the living room where Mom had now entered the fray. A childish voice rose in pitch, “She said I was…”

DeaDly Silence 89 “Uh, maybe the patio,” Norman said. Tom followed him through the kitchen, where the remnants of breakfast cluttered a table and filled the sink. A sliding door, off its track at the bottom, gave onto a concrete patio bravely painted to simulate flagstones. There was a large charcoal grill, eaten with rust, a glass topped table with mismatched chairs, and a glider. Norman chose the glider. Tom sat beside him, careful to space himself. Not close enough to spook him, but not so far as to distance himself either. Plus, he’d followed Stanley’s suggestion and worn boxers. Norman had a good angle at which to notice, and Tom saw his glance drop once, briefly, before it went back to surveying the lawn. “I appreciate your agreeing to meet with me this morning,” Tom said, adjusting himself as if unconsciously. “And so early. I guess you know why I’m here.” Norman cleared his throat and tugged at the pleat of his khaki trousers. “That man,” he said. “At Bella Vista.” “Abe Pendleton, yes.” For the first time since he’d descended the stairs, Norman turned to look directly at Tom. “I’m not supposed to talk to you about that. I don’t mean you personally, I mean anyone. That was part of the agreement.” “Look, I’m not the police, I’m a private investigator. I’m not going to drag you into a station or anything. I’m not even going to record our conversation. Let’s just agree it’s off the record, okay? No one needs to know we’ve even met.” Norman studied him shrewdly for a moment, weighing his promise. He seemed to accept it at face value, however. He nodded, and said, “That’s fair enough. What do you want to know?” “Essentially just what happened. The patient’s daughter seems to think someone tried to murder her father. Bella Vista insists it was an accident.” Norman scoffed. “Meaning, I goofed.”

90 Victor J. Banis “Yes. That’s what it comes down to. Did you?” “No, I didn’t. I’m as certain of that as I am that you’re sitting here. I gave the patient the right dose.” “There was a suggestion that the doctor’s handwriting might not have been legible. That he prescribed two point zero units, and you misread it as twenty.” The young man laughed dryly. “Not likely. Even if the doctor had actually written it as twenty, I’d know in a minute that the dosage wasn’t right. Certainly I’d have questioned someone before administering it. I didn’t just start nursing the day before yesterday, you know. I’ve been doing it for more than ten years.” “Still,” Tom said, “mistakes do happen.” “Not that one. Not in this case. Anyway,” he turned once again to look directly at Tom, “if that were true, why give me a payoff to get out of town? That certainly tells me they wanted to avoid any embarrassing questions about what happened. They didn’t want someone like you tracking me down and pumping me for information.” “Did they? Pay you?” Tom made no effort to hide his surprise. “Fifty thousand. Practically a year’s salary.” “And the hospital paid this to you directly?” “No, not directly. The check came from the patient’s daughter. Patience Pendleton.” Tom was surprised into silence. “And the hospital, Doctor Skelton, guaranteed there’d be no report on the incident in my personnel files. A clean record. That’s what he promised me. But I had to get out of the city, for six months at least, and keep my mouth shut. Which is why it’s important they don’t know I talked to you. They might want their money back.” “I don’t think so,” Tom said. “I think they’ve got more important things to worry about.”

DeaDly Silence 91 Norman saw him to the door. The squabbling children had been banished to some other part of the house; the sister with baby in tow was nowhere to be seen. The television was off. Silence reigned. While they sat on the patio the morning sky overhead had remained a cheery azure, but in the minute or two it had taken them to traverse the house an enormous cloud had appeared as if from nowhere, as sooty as the smoke from a factory chimney. They exchanged goodbyes and Tom took a step outside the door, meaning to run for the car, but Norman Shandler apparently had more that he wanted to say. “Mister Danzel…” Tom stopped and looked back, ignoring the first big, fat raindrop. “That man, in the nursing home. Someone did try to kill him. It was an oddly clumsy attempt, whoever it was must have been stupid to think it would succeed, but it was a real attempt. That man is in danger.” The raindrops began to fall in earnest. “So are you,” Tom said, and with that he ran for the car. When he drove away, Norman Shandler was still standing in the open door, watching him. §§§§§ Back at the Marriott, Tom checked out of his room, returned the rental car to Hertz, and checked in for his flight. Once in his seat and before the plane began to taxi, he called Stanley. “Baby, listen, I’m worried about old man Pendleton. I think maybe you should share his room for a while, maybe move a cot in there. If Skelton puts up a fuss, get Patience to lean on him, I think we’ve got a situation…” “Too late for that,” Stanley interrupted him. “Patience just called me. She found her father dead this morning.”

chaPter twelVe Tom went straight from SFO to Bella Vista. Stanley was waiting for him just inside the nursing home’s lobby. Tom gave him a hug and a quick peck, ignoring the nasty look from Mason at the reception desk. Probably, Tom thought, Mason had to settle for letting Doctor Skelton suck his dick. That would leave you in a shitty mood. “It’s such an odd thing,” Stanley said, in the elevator going upstairs, “today is the nineteenth. The same day my father died.” “Your father died in May.” “I know that. But it was the nineteenth.” “There’s only so many days in a month,” Tom said. “I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in that coincidence.” “You’re probably right. It just struck me, is all. What did you learn from Nurse Shandler?” “That earlier business with Abe was no accident. Someone really did try to kill him. What’s the situation here?” “It appeared at first as if Abe had died in his sleep. That’s what Patience thought initially, anyway, when she called me. But the police seem to think otherwise. They’ve already removed Abe’s body and last I saw the crime scene techs were just finishing up in his room, but your old friend Bryce is still there, making some notes.” The elevator door slid open. “Meaning, this was probably not a natural death. Or Bryce wouldn’t be wasting his time. Good news for us, though, Bryce will share what he finds out.” “So long as he isn’t expecting you to share anything in return,” Stanley said. Bryce appeared glad to see Tom, although he rather pointedly ignored Stanley. Stanley returned the favor.

94 Victor J. Banis “It looks as if he just died in his sleep,” Bryce said. “In any case, that’s apparently what we were meant to believe. But the medical examiner doesn’t think so. He found some bits of down in his throat.” “Which suggests he was smothered with his pillow,” Tom said. “Right. We won’t really know until we get the autopsy, but I’d bet money on it.” “I guess his daughter was right, when she said someone was trying to kill the old guy. Is she around? Patience, that would be.” “They all are. There’s another daughter and a son, and some doofus named,” he consulted his notes, “Farley Whitaker. And an Aunt Dora. The whole clan, gathering around. You’d almost think they knew this was going to happen.” “Someone did,” Tom said. “If it was planned. A pillow over the face? It sounds more

spontaneous. The kind of thing you’d do on the spur of the moment. If you were really pissed.” Or, fucked up, Stanley thought, thinking of Prudence; but he kept that thought to himself. “I’ve got them all together in one of the doctors’ offices.” Bryce said. “I left Carlson with them in case there’s any bloodletting.” “You’re going to question them now?” Tom asked. He wanted to be there for the questioning, despite knowing full well it was against regulations. Bryce met his eyes and, after a moment, sighed. There were advantages, Tom thought, in knowing that Bryce was in lust with him. “Sure. Come along,” Bryce answered the unasked question. §§§§§ Carlson was actually in the hallway outside the doctor’s office. He looked none too happy to see Tom and Stanley.

DeaDly Silence 95 Carlson and Bryce were an odd couple so far as homicide partners. Bryce was gay, if deeply closeted; Carlson rabidly homophobic. Still, they managed to make it work, in part because Bryce was so closeted. Carlson, however, made no pretense of his disapproval of the special privileges Bryce sometimes extended Tom’s way, a subject over which they had quarreled more than once. Bryce’s chief argument, which Carlson was unable to counter, was that when he’d been with the Bureau, Tom had been generally recognized as their best investigator. Bending the rules by allowing him to sit in on their own cases had more than once made it simpler for Bryce and Carlson to wrap things up. Carlson had to acknowledge that this was true, but he did so begrudgingly. “And don’t try to tell me his fruitcake boyfriend is any ace detective,” he had concluded with a grumble. “It’s like horse and buggy,” Bryce said, “You can’t have one without the other.” Carlson had harrumphed, but after a moment, he’d asked, “Which one of them do you think is the horsey?” “I’d bet they’ve never even heard of that sort of thing. Well, I don’t know about the fruitcake, but I’d bet Tom hasn’t, anyway.” Carlson harrumphed again. §§§§§ The group waiting inside the office turned in unison as the door opened and the detectives came in. An elderly woman Stanley didn’t recognize—Aunt Dora, he presumed—stood apart from the others and from time to time sniffled faintly. “Mister Danzel,” Patience said, stepping forward. “I was hoping you’d be here to sort things out.” “Mister Danzel is here as an observer,” Bryce was quick to tell her, before Tom could say anything. “Because he has been investigating a possible previous attempt on your father’s life, we felt he might provide us with some special insights.”

96 Victor J. Banis She looked a question at Tom, who only shrugged wordlessly. Bryce was breaking the rules by having him here at all. He’d be careful not to step on any toes. Later, he and Stanley could still do their own sniffing around. Patience seemed to get the message. She shrugged too, and turned her attention back to Bryce. “You’re the one who hired the detectives here,” Bryce said to her. She nodded, her expression wary. “Why?” “Why? I don’t see that there’s any mystery there.” “Suppose you explain it to me, then.” She looked like she might argue, and then relented. The explanation she gave was essentially the same one Tom had already given Bryce. For the moment, Tom had neglected to mention his trip to San Diego, to interview Norman Shandler. It was withholding evidence, in a sense, but evidence of what he wasn’t sure. All he had learned was that, yes, someone really was trying to murder Abe Pendleton, and that fact had already been incontrovertibly established. “Why didn’t you call the police with your suspicions?” Bryce asked when Patience had finished her recitation. “Oh, please. How seriously would you have taken me?” “Mister Danzel seems to have taken you seriously.” “Mister Danzel was paid rather generously to take me seriously.” Bryce tried a different tack. “And what brought you here this morning?” “That’s an odd question, isn’t it? My father is convalescing here. Why wouldn’t I come to see him?” Bryce let that slide and consulted his notes. “What time would you say you arrived?” “I think it must have been close to six o’clock. Six-thirty. Or perhaps even seven. I didn’t look at my watch.”

DeaDly Silence 97 “Did you park in the visitors’ parking lot? Your ticket will show the time you got here. The same for the rest of you.” Bryce looked around the room. “I’ll want to see everyone’s parking ticket.” “Yes, a parking ticket would show the time, but I’m afraid I don’t have one,” Patience said. “I parked in the doctors’ lot. I’m a donor here. They tend to make exceptions for me.” Bryce slanted a look at her. “Okay, let’s say you arrived at seven. That’s kind of early for a visit, isn’t it?” “Yes, I suppose it was.” She paused, as if considering how much she really wanted to tell. “Not that I think that you really need to know, but I woke up at home in the wee hours, from a dream, worrying about my sister. Some intuitive thing, I suppose. We’re identical twins.” Bryce looked at both of them as if to confirm the statement. Oddly, Stanley was thinking that just now one might not recognize that fact off the bat. Prudence had her hair down, while Patience again wore hers wound tightly at the back of her neck. Prudence was in her gray suit again, with a Kelly green scarf knotted at the neck, while Patience wore a two piece outfit of black silk, her only concession to color a crimson scarf at her neck—red, he was thinking, seemed to be her favorite color. Even their makeup was different, or in Patience’s case, the lack of it, the streak of red at her throat making her complexion seem even paler than usual. Prudence wore a garish tangerine colored lipstick and she had applied rouge to her cheeks with such abandon that only her inherent beauty kept the effect from being clownish. Her eyes were without makeup, but they glistened as if she’d applied belladonna to them. “Sometimes,” Patience went on, “we seem to radiate thoughts, from one of us to the other. I can’t explain it any better than that. Anyway, it was almost as if I heard her calling me from my sleep. I went to her room. Sometimes she sleeps badly, it’s related to an incident in our childhood. She has terrible nightmares. When that

98 Victor J. Banis happens, I make her some hot cocoa and stay with her until she falls asleep again. Sometimes I even spend the night.” “But you didn’t spend the night with her this time. Why?” “She wasn’t there.” “Isn’t there a nurse who’s supposed to be looking after her?” Tom asked. Patience snorted disdainfully. “I fired her. It’s not hard to understand why, is it? I fired the maid, too. Neither of them seemed much good at keeping an eye on Prudence. If I’ve got to do that myself, what do I need with them?” “I don’t need people watching me, like jailors,” Prudence said, but no one paid her any attention, which Stanley suspected was probably typical of her life. He felt an unexpected pang of sympathy for her. Care she got, he was sure, but he wondered when anybody had last expressed any real love for her. Not Patience, surely, and Farley was incapable of that fine a sentiment. He couldn’t even do the deed with her, something Stanley had a notion might have done her some good. Tom had certainly a time or two provided just the right medicine to clear his thoughts. Jarred them back into their rightful place, he supposed. People just assumed everything centered in the brain, but he’d always suspected that for many gay men the thought processes often went on a bit lower. “I searched the house,” Patience went on, “and when I didn’t find her, I was, oh, I don’t want to say alarmed, that’s probably a bit strong, but, Prudence is…well, she doesn’t often go out on her own, so I was a bit concerned. But I remembered, the last time she’d disappeared, she came here, to see our father. I thought probably she had again, so I drove here. That’s when I found him.” “At seven this morning?” “A bit later. I saw Doctor Skelton was in already, and I stopped for a few minutes to chat with him. Then I went upstairs, I suppose that was about seven-thirty, and I…I found my father.”

DeaDly Silence 99 “Aren’t there supposed to be machines,” Bryce said, “to warn the nurses when a patient takes a turn for the worse?” “In a medical hospital, yes, there would be. But this is a nursing home. People come here to recover. They don’t ordinarily have patients in critical condition.” “He was critical enough to die,” Bryce said bluntly. “Not from his knee surgery, I shouldn’t think. Which is what brought him here, recovering from it. And your questions seem to indicate you think it was not from natural causes, either.” Bryce ignored that and looked again at his notes. “You called the police at seven-fifty-eight.” Patience only shrugged. “I don’t clock myself very precisely. I had no idea any of this was going to prove important. I wasn’t expecting to find my father dead. I came, as I’ve already explained, looking for my sister.” “And when did you find her?” Bryce asked. Patience cast an uneasy glance in Prudence’s direction. “As a matter of fact, she found me. She came into Father’s room just after I arrived.” She paused and added, “He was already dead by that time.” Bryce looked at Prudence. “Please don’t tell me you parked in the doctors’ lot as well.” Prudence looked baffled by the question, but Farley answered for her. “No, we parked in the visitor’s lot.” “We?”

“Prudence and me. We came together.” He fumbled in a

pocket and produced a parking stub, glancing at it briefly. “A little before seven, it says here.” He handed it to Bryce. “You’re Whitaker, right?” Bryce said. “Yes. Farley Whitaker.” In a cool voice. “You were here before seven, but you didn’t go up to your father’s room for nearly an hour,” Bryce said to Prudence,

100 Victor J. Banis ignoring Whitaker for the moment. “What took so long? Where were you?” She looked confused by the question. “Why, I was with Farley.” She took a step closer to him. “The whole time. Wasn’t I, darling?” “It’s true,” Farley said quickly. “I drove Miss Pendleton here.” “At seven in the morning? Or a little before then, actually?” “She called me, to say she had this odd feeling about her father, and could I bring her here. Of course I agreed.” “You didn’t think it was odd, in the wee hours of the morning?” “I know Prudence. She is often up at strange hours.” “And when you were searching for your sister,” Bryce asked Patience, “you were not aware Mister Whitaker had come by to pick her up?” “Of course I wasn’t.” “I picked her up out front,” Farley said quickly. “She asked me to, she said she didn’t want to disturb Patience. She was waiting outside when I got there, I hadn’t any more than pulled up before she jumped in the car. But when we arrived here, it was evident to me that Prudence wasn’t feeling well. She was having a dizzy spell. I asked a nurse if there wasn’t a room she could lie down in for a bit. I’m sure we can find the nurse if you need to confirm that.” “Farley,” Patience said, frowning at him, “I wonder if it was really wise…you of all people know how fragile Prudence is.” “I’m not helpless,” Prudence said. Her eyes flashed, but with something more, Stanley thought, than mere indignation. He wondered what she was on. Something, certainly. He glanced at Patience, and saw that she was aware of the state Prudence was in as well. Unaware that she was being observed, Patience glanced briefly at Farley. Seeing the way she

DeaDly Silence 101 looked at her sister’s one time fiancée, Stanley realized, too, for the first time, that Patience was in love with Farley herself. It was impossible to hide love when you thought no one was looking. Inevitably, it revealed itself to the observer, in a quick touch, a tone of voice, even, as now, a single glance. Or, and this he thought probably closer to the truth, she wanted to be in love with him. It was quite likely she was jealous of her sister. He could see that it might rankle, with someone of Patience’s makeup: Prudence having a fiancée when she didn’t, and a good looking one to boot. She could very well resent all the attention Prudence got, also, was probably sick of caring for her. It was she, Patience, who had all the burdens to bear, and Prudence just lived her life in blithe irresponsibility, knowing that whatever she broke, someone else—her sister, perforce—would pick up the pieces. What a trio they made, Patience and Prudence and Farley. A veritable bacchanal of twisted emotions. And how exactly had the father fitted into this ménage? There was some dynamic at work within the Pendleton family that he couldn’t quite get a handle on. Somehow he thought if he could, everything that had happened would become clear.

chaPter thirteen Bryce at the moment, however, seemed oblivious to these undercurrents that eddied around the people gathered in the room. He was speaking still directly to Prudence and Farley. “And you were together the entire time?” Bryce asked. It would have been impossible to miss the look the two of them exchanged. It was Farley who answered first, “Yes,” and Prudence gave an emphatic nod of her head. “Absolutely.” “I was downstairs, in the restaurant,” Zack said without being asked. “I got here early too, earlier than the others. I’m sure my parking ticket will show I arrived by six, or not much after. But… well, you’re going to want to know this, even though you’ll almost certainly draw the wrong conclusions from it. I was pissed at the old man. The last time I was here, he’d said he meant to change his will. Disinherit me.” “Zack,” Patience tried to interrupt him, but he waved off her objections. “It’s all right. They might as well know. I came to have it out with him, but then when I got here, I thought maybe I should calm myself down first. I have a temper. We both do. I didn’t want to get into a shouting match, which would only make things worse. So I sat downstairs, in the lounge, and drank coffee. Several cups of it.” “For how long?” Zack shrugged. “An hour. More like two, probably.” “Did you see anyone there?” “No. Oh, I suppose there might have been a nurse or two going in or out, I wasn’t really paying much attention. I was lost in my own thoughts. Then, when I started to go upstairs, one of the nurses stopped me. She said Doctor Skelton wanted to see me. I went to his office, and Patience was there. They’d just called

104 Victor J. Banis the police. That must have been close to, what did you say, eight o’clock?” He looked at Patience for confirmation. Bryce looked around the room. What he saw was a quintet of faces closed to him. Only the aunt, who was almost certainly an accidental bystander to this drama, gave him a tenuous smile. He’d have to question each of them further, ideally alone. He was unlikely to get anything more out of them here, in this group setting. “Your home is on Pacific,” he asked Patience. “Yes,” she said, her expression defiant. “He was murdered here, though. If you’re looking for clues, I should think this is where you’d want to look.” “Sometimes if we see where a person lived…” “I don’t see how that can be anything but a fishing expedition. I’m not keen on strangers snooping through my private things.” “We’re talking a probable murder investigation.” “And I’m telling you, if you show up at my door, you’ll need a search warrant in your hand.” They glowered at one another. The argument might have gotten heated, but a nurse came in just then. She saw Prudence, and said, “Oh, there you are. What on earth did you do with the pillow?” “What pillow?” Prudence asked, blinking repeatedly. “In that room where I let you lie down. The pillow’s gone

missing.” “It was there when we left,” Farley said. “Probably the cleaning people misplaced it.” “But when I saw you, you were carrying it,” the nurse said, speaking directly to Prudence. She glanced around the room. “How strange, there aren’t any pillows here either.” “There were two,” Bryce said. “The crime scene techs took them away.”

DeaDly Silence 105 “Pillows? What on earth for?” “Some tests,” he said shortly. “I’ll see that you get them back.” “Well, I don’t pay for them, in any event,” she said. “I just thought,” she turned back to Prudence, “maybe you’d carried it up here with you.” “Why on earth would I do that?” Prudence asked. No one answered her. §§§§§ Bryce said to his partner, “We need to talk. Come with me,” and the two of them stepped out of the room to consult. Probably, Tom thought, to discuss the likelihood of getting a search warrant for the Pendleton house on Pacific. Tom thought there was little likelihood of their getting one without some reason to suppose there was anything at the house germane to the investigation. The same problem, however, didn’t necessarily apply to him and Stanley, a question he thought it best to resolve while the homicide inspectors were out of the room. “Do we need a search warrant as well?’ he asked Patience directly. “No, of course not. Not for Father’s apartment over the garage, in any case. Here’s the key to that.” She took a key ring out of her pocket and removed one key, handing it to Tom. “Mind you, the main house is another matter. I don’t care for anyone mucking about with my unmentionables, thank you very much. If there’s something specific that you want to see there… but I can’t imagine what that would be.” “Hard to say,” Tom agreed. “We’ll look over his little domain and see what we find. But, I have to tell you, if we do find anything of significance, I’m legally bound to share it with the police.” “That doesn’t worry me. You won’t find anything,” she said with finality. “Not anything to do with this, at least.”

106 Victor J. Banis §§§§§ “So,” Tom said when he and Stanley were outside, “Pendleton’s apartment?” “Yes…only, are we in a big hurry? There’s an errand I’d like to run first, if there’s time.” “I can’t see that there’s any big hurry. Pendleton’s dead. Anything that’s there in his apartment will still be there later. If Patience had intended to get rid of any clues, she wouldn’t have been so quick to hand me a key. You want me to come with you?” “No. Thanks. I can handle it.” Tom gave him a questioning look, but Stanley offered nothing

further in the way of explanation. §§§§§ In part, Stanley did not want to discuss his plans because he felt vaguely embarrassed by them. After all, he was not overtly religious; so, how to explain that he felt this urge to visit a Catholic church. Both of Stanley’s parents had been ostensibly Catholic, though neither could have been said to practice that religion beyond the most token gestures: meatless Fridays, some acknowledgment of the Lenten season. He could even remember one or the other of them crossing themselves from time to time. He could not recall, however, either of them attending mass. Certainly they had made no effort to train their children in their religion by default. When his wife had died, Stanley’s father had given her a generic, non-Catholic funeral, without apparently considering the alternative, and Stanley had done the same for his father. Which, even he could see lent an air of incongruity to his visit now to Saint Charles Borromeo, to light a candle for them. He had no clear cut idea of the reasons that motivated him to do so. If he’d chosen a date to do this, he might arbitrarily have

DeaDly Silence 107 chosen the date of his father’s death only because it was by several years the most recently engraved upon his consciousness. The date, however, had been chosen for him, and he couldn’t help wondering if there wasn’t some symbolic significance to that fact. Or maybe it was just a cosmic coincidence, but he was less likely to believe that. If he’d been pressed, he would probably have explained this surprising urge as somehow wanting to comfort their spirits. Or, if he’d really wanted to look within himself, which right now he was reluctant to do, he might have been more inclined to think of it as comforting his own spirit. A woman in black, with a scarf over her head, had come into the church and gone directly to one of the confessionals. He wished that he had that kind of belief, that would allow him simply to confess all to an anonymous listener and be freed of all doubts, of all guilt. Roger Scruton had said, “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.” For himself, Stanley would have welcomed even imaginary consolation, but the truth was, he had always suspected that to be human was to feel guilt. I am guilty, therefore I am. He had been inside churches from time to time through the years, this church included, without ever feeling that sense of release that some obviously found in such visits, and for which he could envy them. He could savor the moments, take some comfort in the scents of incense and wax, enjoy the music and pomp of the occasional mass, without being deeply affected by any of it. His relationship with his mother had been vague. She had always been distant, distracted even. She almost seemed at times not to be aware of the fact that she had children. There had been something more than that with his father, at least until that point in time when he had confessed his homosexuality. His father had seen that as some sort of breach of their masculine solidarity. He’d never forgiven his son, had died with that bitterness unrelieved between them.

108 Victor J. Banis Far from blaming his father for that, though, Stanley blamed himself. He was the one who was out of step, certainly out of step with his father’s world. It was he, then, who ought to have somehow bridged the gap. He had tried, but not, it seemed, hard enough. It was a failure that he could never now reconcile. How did you make things up to the dead? Certainly he could not erase his failings by dropping a coin through a slot and holding the wick of a candle to the stump of another. The wick caught at once, which gave him a vague sense of satisfaction, as if it augured well for the communication with his father’s spirit, communication that had eluded him with the real man. For a moment he gazed into the flame, waiting for, he wasn’t sure what. A voice from beyond the grave? Some sign of forgiveness? To his great frustration, however, it was not thoughts of his father that seeped into his consciousness now to fill it up and crowd all other thoughts aside. It was his own personal quandary, the one he’d been trying hard not to think about. He had all but made up his mind to do something that one part of him, despite his lack of religious schooling, insisted was a sin, and he wasn’t even sure why he wanted to do it. He could not put it down to some irresistible sexual need. That would be too easy an excuse. And it certainly wasn’t that he didn’t love Tom. Or, maybe it was that he did love Tom. Maybe there was a precedent in his relationship with his father, and maybe that was what had brought him here today, seeking a forgiveness that was forever beyond his reach. Perhaps—and this had crossed his mind on more than one occasion before—there was some need within him to test the limits of love. Perhaps love was, if not beyond his reach, surely he knew that Tom loved him, but perhaps it was too far beyond his comprehension. What was love, after all? How many philosophers and writers over the centuries had pondered that same question without ever really getting an answer? How did one define it, what were

DeaDly Silence 109 its parameters? He loved Tom, yes. Tom loved him. But, really, what did that mean, what did it come down to in the end? Not Cinderella and the Prince, certainly. Love, real love, between real people, was far more complex than that, not simply one emotion but dozens, maybe hundreds of them, inexorably intertwined, impossible to tug apart into a single strand. He had loved his father, too. He needn’t have told his father of his homosexuality, after all, which was what had cost him his father’s love, surely. His father’s reaction could hardly have come as any kind of surprise either. Common sense would have warned him in advance what that reaction would be. If the ultimate goal had been to keep his father’s affections, mightn’t it have been wiser to have lived a lie in the years that had remained to them? His father’s love, however tenuous it might have been, would have remained his. At not so great a cost, really. Only a lie. Not even one spoken, but rather a lie of omission, surely the least liable sort. Yet, that was the one thing he hadn’t been able to do. Any more than he could live a lie with Tom. If he was going to do what he was considering doing, he couldn’t lie about it, not even by omission. Tom would have to know, if not before, certainly afterward. So, what was that? A kind of masochism? A destructive compulsion? Or, realism. Because if the other one didn’t truly know you, know what you were, it wasn’t you he loved, was it? What he loved was just some figment of his own imagination, some idea of what you ought to be, of what he wanted you to be, which might have very little bearing on what you really were. Because Stanley knew all too painfully that he was not the ideal that Tom saw when he looked at him—or, at least the ideal that Tom wanted to see, that he pretended to himself to see—far from it. Or, was it all no more than the flickering flame of a candle? Like the one he held now, a tiny burst of heat, hot enough for its smallness to burn the fingers if you put it to them, but that, in the end, signified nothing.

110 Victor J. Banis A morose thought, that. He put the candle down and turned away. And saw a face he recognized.

chaPter Fourteen It took him a moment, though, to identify the face. A woman had paused just inside the door to dip her fingers into the fount and lift them to her brow. When she turned his way, looking directly at him, he saw that it was Abe Pendleton’s sister, Patience’s Aunt Dora. The smile she gave him as he walked toward her was tentative. “I thought I saw you come in,” she said, speaking in that almost whisper people adopted within the sanctuary of a church. “But I wasn’t quite sure. I haven’t seen you here before. Do you come often?” “No,” he said, without offering any further explanation. He thought it would somehow be a betrayal of his father to try to explain his mission. Besides which, he wasn’t sure he even understood it himself. “I wonder if I might have a word with you,” she said. He did not feel at the moment any desire for company, and even had he done so it would surely not have been this spinster, shriveled like a fruit beyond its season. But there was something so hopeful in the way she looked up at him that he could not bring himself to refuse. “Yes, of course. There’s a coffee shop just a block away,” he said. “We could walk there. Unless you have some other place in mind?” “No, that will do fine. I could use the walk, in fact. I have to drive back to San Mateo. It would feel good to stretch my legs.” Outside, they found that a faint drizzle had begun to fall. Stanley hesitated on the steps of the church. “We might get a little damp,” he said. “Oh, I don’t mind. I’ve got an umbrella in my car, just here,” she said, and paused to unlock an old gray Honda and take an

112 Victor J. Banis umbrella from the front passenger seat. Stanley took it from her, opened it and held it over them, careful to see that she was protected, though the rain was hardly enough to do more than leave beads of moisture on the shoulder of his jacket. They walked without conversation, for which he was grateful. He had just supposed that she was one of those chattering types, but the silence was not uncomfortable. The gray sky above them seemed to press down heavily, like an old blanket. After that pervasive gloom, the interior of the little coffee shop was almost painfully bright. They took a table near the window, and exchanged no more than a few polite words until a waitress had brought them coffee and gone away. “I’m sorry about your brother,” Stanley said. “Were you close?” “Not awfully, I’m sorry to say,” though she took a moment to find a handkerchief in her purse and dab at the corners of her eyes with it. “Abe wasn’t a man who encouraged closeness. Or even love, I should say. Oh, I’m not expressing myself very well. We liked one another, certainly. People did like him, and respect him. But I don’t know if anybody really loved him.” “Not even his children?” “I’ve never known his children very well,” she said, which he took to be a tactful way of avoiding giving him a frank answer. “Please, tell me honestly, do you believe my brother was murdered?” “Yes, I do.” “How extraordinary. I’ve never been so close to a murder before. It’s one of those crimes that contaminates things, doesn’t it? Even the innocent can’t escape its influence.” it.”

“I think sometimes it’s the innocent who suffer the worst of

“Yes. Only, one does wonder sometimes, who the innocent are. It can be so difficult to sort out, don’t you think?”

DeaDly Silence 113 He thought that really did not want an answer. A brief silence descended, but like the earlier silence when they had walked here, it was not uncomfortable. He found himself rather liking Aunt Dora. Even the faint scent of violets that came from her, though somewhat old fashioned, was not unpleasant. At length, though, he prompted her, “What did you want to talk to me about?” “Yes, of course. I’m taking up your time.” Stanley dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “And, I suppose I ought to have gone to the police with this,” she said, “only, I’m not sure it’s of any great significance, and I don’t want to cause anyone trouble. Certainly not my nephew.” “That would be Zack.” “Yes.” She smiled. “I’m quite fond of him, really. He’s a bit eccentric, I suppose, but he’s really a sweet boy.” Stanley thought of the Zack known throughout the Castro, who, it was said, stropped his tongue regularly to keep it ready for use as a lethal weapon. But people had more than one mask they wore, depending upon present company, and he could well imagine that was a side of himself Zack had never displayed to his maiden aunt. “And I can’t imagine how his father pretended he didn’t know Zack was, well, you know. It hardly took any prescience to see how he was. Even as a little boy…sometimes he’d come visit with me, and he liked to dress up in my things. I suppose I oughtn’t to have allowed it, but I never saw that it did any harm. Does he still like to dress up, do you know?” “Oh, there’s always Halloween. The most unlikely people get themselves gussied up for that. But I can’t say I’ve ever seen Zack in a dress.” “It’s probably just as well. He doesn’t have the figure for it. It’s one thing for a young boy, they’re often so androgynous, aren’t they? But Zack, today…no, I don’t think it would be a pretty sight.” She laughed quietly to herself, but it was good natured laughter, not mean.

114 Victor J. Banis Stanley found himself puzzling over this conversation. Surely Aunt Dora hadn’t asked to speak with him to discuss Zack’s early penchant for cross dressing. He waited, watching some thought or other flit across her face while she struggled with whatever it was she really wanted to say. “When Zack said,” she began, frowned, and started over. “He told that policeman that he’d been in the coffee shop, since he’d arrived until the time he went upstairs and found Patience, and learned that Abe was dead. But…” she paused again and the look she gave Stanley was beseeching. “It wasn’t true. He wasn’t in the lounge. And I suppose you want to know how I know that.” Stanley had a ridiculous urge to insist that he didn’t want to indulge in gossip. Which, he had an unkind thought, was probably meat and potatoes to the woman sitting across from him. “Let me guess,” he said instead, “because you were there.” She gave her head a triumphant bob. “Exactly. I was there. In the coffee shop, the lounge, whatever you want to call it. I’d come too early. I can never properly judge how long it’s going to take me to drive from Santa Cruz, I thought it would take ages. Sometimes it does. The traffic, you know. So I set out early, but it was so very early that there was almost no traffic on the freeway, just that stretch near the airport, and I got to the nursing home in no time flat. Way too early, as it turned out, to think of going up to Abe’s room.” “Tell me, exactly how was it that you came to visit your brother at that particular time? I don’t mean the hour, I mean on that particular day?” “Why, Patience called me, she said he wanted to see me. Oh, not just me, all of the family.” She thought about that for a moment. “Or, at least, that was the impression I got, although now that I think about it, I’m not sure she ever actually put it quite like that. Anyway, the truth was, I felt a little silly, getting there so early. I actually thought about going someplace else for an hour or so, but, really, I couldn’t think of anywhere to go. I mean, there wasn’t much likely to be open, you see, other than

DeaDly Silence 115 coffee shops, and the nursing home has one of those. So I parked the car in the lot and went downstairs and had a couple of cups of coffee. And there was no one else there. Oh, there was a pair of nurses who came in for a brief while. But the point is, Zack wasn’t there. I didn’t see him the whole time.” “How long were you there?” “It was after eight when a nurse, one who’d seen me there before, came up to my table to ask if I wasn’t a relative of Mister Pendleton’s, and when I said I was, she said she thought I ought to go up to Doctor Skelton’s office. That was the first inkling I had that anything was wrong.” Stanley was thinking that, yes, she ought to tell the police about this. He wondered briefly why Zack had bothered to lie, and remembered then the tickets they issued in the parking lot, that were stamped with the date and time. Bryce had asked to see the tickets. Zack’s would have shown when he arrived, meaning that he had to account for his time somehow. But, what had he been doing with his time, if not drinking coffee downstairs? “I thought,” Aunt Dora said, “if I shared this with you, you could pass it on to the policeman. If you thought it was important enough to matter. I mean, it is silly, really. It’s not as if Zack had murdered his father. The dear boy wouldn’t be capable of that. Don’t you agree?” To which Stanley thought it better to offer no answer. Something came into his mind, that Tom, the experienced homicide investigator, had told him early on in their partnership: “You can never predict what people are capable of. Sometimes murderers surprise even themselves.” “And, while you were killing time, you saw no one?” he asked instead. “Just the nurses. Oh, I did see Patience and her young man talking together in the hallway, but they were so engrossed with one another they didn’t even notice me, so I didn’t bother them. Young lovers. Nothing else exists for them.” She smiled wistfully and gave her head a shake.

116 Victor J. Banis “Young man?” “Yes. Mister Whitaker, wasn’t that his name? Such a nice young man, it seemed to me. I met him once before, at the house.” “Well, if it was Mister Whitaker you saw, he was with Prudence.” “Oh, no dear,” she said, and frowned, certainty giving way to confusion. “But—are you sure?” “Yes. Prudence was with Farley Whitaker. They came to the nursing home together. Don’t you remember, they told the policeman that?” “Yes. Of course. Now that you remind me…” She stared off into space for a moment. “It used to be, they could never fool me. When they were little girls, they would often try. Even when they’d dress in the same clothes, everything, I could always tell them apart. But, I suppose my eyes aren’t what they used to be. Time catches up with us, you know.” Stanley thought about Prudence, with her flaming hair in tumbling disarray, and Patience, with hers in that tight, inhibited bun on the back of her neck. How would one confuse the two? Something more than Aunt Dora’s eyesight was showing its age. “You’re a strange kind of policeman, aren’t you?” she said, smiling faintly. “I’m not a policeman, I’m a private investigator.” “Still…I think one would be foolish to forget that fact.” He tried for reassurance. “I don’t think you have anything to

worry about.” “Oh, dear boy, there’s always something to worry about. We can wash our clothes and bathe our bodies, but not all of the stains come out. It’s just our humanness. What does Paul say, about withholding judgment until God shines his light on the hidden things of darkness?” “And makes manifest the counsels of the heart.”

DeaDly Silence 117 “Exactly.” She gathered purse and gloves. “And now, please, if you’ll walk me back to my car…”

chaPter FiFteen Stanley watched Aunt Dora drive off then strolled down the block to where his own car sat. He paused with one hand on the Toyota’s door handle, thinking that he’d share her information with Tom and let Tom take it to Bryce. Best if he himself didn’t try to deal directly with the homicide inspector. In the distance, something made a loud cracking sound, like a tree limb breaking in a violent wind, and in almost the same instant, a chip flew off the utility pole on the car’s opposite side. It was a second or two before he realized what had happened. Someone had shot at him. Heart pounding, he dropped to his knees and, thinking the gunshot had come from this direction, duck-walked around the car, hoping that he was putting the car between himself and the shooter. He crouched, holding his breath, waiting for the next shot to come. He heard a squeal of rubber on pavement as a car took off hastily. The detective part of his brain said he should rise up and look to see what kind of car it was, but he put a hand over the inner detective’s big mouth to shut him and his silly suggestions up, and stayed down where he was. All he saw, bending down lower to look under his Toyota, was a flash of something green darting past, and that might have been anybody’s car and not necessarily the shooter’s. If you were driving along the street and someone started shooting, your instinct would almost certainly be to get out of Dodge City fast. Or it might have been a kid on oversized green roller skates whipping past, for all he had seen from his vantage point under his car. Then, silence. After a while, he did raise his head cautiously, to look through the car’s windows and, when nobody shot at him through the glass, he half stood to look across the hood. And finally he stood up altogether. No shots. No one waiting with a gun. No one across the street, period.

120 Victor J. Banis Maybe he’d imagined it altogether. Maybe nobody actually had shot at him. He turned to look at the utility pole. Here, they were made of something hard and gray-mottled and concrete like, he wasn’t sure exactly what it was called. And, no, it hadn’t been his imagination, there was the little ding in its surface where he thought a bullet had struck and ricocheted. What would Tom do? Look for the bullet, probably; but that he felt disinclined to do. Logic told him that the shooter, supposing there really had been one, was gone, but a much more persuasive part of him told him he’d feel much better getting out of the neighborhood. He got quickly into his car and started it up, all the time expecting to hear that explosive bang again. He drove away in a hurry. Why would anyone want to shoot him? §§§§§ His first impulse was to rush to Tom, but he had questions now about Zack Pendleton, and he really wanted answers to them. There was nothing Tom could do immediately about the shooting, if that’s what it had been, and it would be lovely if he could wrap things up and hand the solved case to Tom. That, certainly, would put a pin in Bryce’s ego. Anyway, the shooter was gone. He couldn’t see him circling the block for another try. At least there was no mystery about where to find Zack. Stanley knew Zack was almost invariably to be found keeping a barstool warm at The Edge in the Castro. Which was exactly where Stanley found him. Nor did Zack seem particularly chagrined to be caught in a lie about his whereabouts on the morning his father had died. “Aunt Dora’s right, of course,” Zack said, tossing back the dregs of what looked like a Harvey Wallbanger and signaling the bartender for another. “But you can see how it looked. I mean, everyone knew Daddy and I were on the outs. All that crap about the will. Who else would they suspect, if not me?”

DeaDly Silence 121 “Just for the record, if you weren’t in the nurses’ lounge, as you told Inspector Bryce, where were you?” “Nowhere. I mean, nowhere that I can verify. I came down to the lounge, that part of it was true enough, but I didn’t feel like coffee and I was too restless just to sit, so I went outside and walked around in the gardens. They’re really fabulous, you know. I must find out who does their landscaping.” “You saw no one?” “No. Oh, there was this positively luscious male nurse, I mean, totally hot, he stepped outside for a minute. I thought he might be cruising. I was already thinking about which shrubbery would be large enough to conceal ourselves behind. Seize the moment, is my motto. But, he just looked around, looked right at me, too—I gave him my most inviting smile—but no go, he turned around and went back inside. The bitch.” “Can you describe him for me?” Stanley asked. “I just did. He was totally hot.” Still, from what Stanley knew of Zack, Zack wasn’t all that imaginative, “horsey” notwithstanding. In any case, there weren’t so very many male nurses at Bella Vista, and even allowing for some exaggeration on Zack’s part, there couldn’t be very many of them who could qualify as “hot.” §§§§§ “Which ought to be easy enough to check on,” Stanley concluded his report to Tom. “I’m more worried about this sharpshooter. Maybe you shouldn’t be out on your own for a while…” Which was contrary to Stanley’s present disposition. “Oh, I’m not even one hundred percent sure there was a shooter, you know.” “You said there was a chip in the utility pole.” “Which might have been weeks old, and caused by something else besides a bullet.”

122 Victor J. Banis “You said you heard a shot.” “I heard a loud bang. It could have been, well, something entirely different—a car backfiring, say. Forget about that. I’m more interested in Zack’s hot nurse, to tell you the truth.” From Market, Castro Street climbs sharply uphill, changes its up-and-down mind once or twice and ends almost unnoticed, its place taken by Divisadero, so slyly as to be hardly noticed; Castro’s bustling friendliness replaced by a somewhat shoddy neighborhood of pizza parlors and rib joints, seedy bars and liquor stores, all projecting an air of dishevelment. By the time it crosses Geary, however, the street has grown respectable again, and soon after that, it traverses the much grander Pacific Heights, before it plunges steeply downhill again to Union Street, skirting the quite grand Presidio Terrace along the way. Pacific, where the Pendletons lived, crosses Divisadero before it makes the final plunge. The afternoon was winding down to evening when Tom and Stanley turned onto Pacific. “I’ll leave you to check that out,” Tom said. “But even if you find this ‘hot’ nurse, it would only prove that Zack was there in the garden for a minute or two. And if he lied about his whereabouts before, there’s no reason to suppose he wouldn’t again. If he was a suspect then, he’s got to see that he still is. Garden or lounge, neither really provides him with an alibi.” “Still, I can’t say I blame him for lying about the lounge. He might have just been wandering around. People do.” “True enough. But the suggestion that a murder had been committed, and that he was a very likely suspect…well, you’d want to put yourself somewhere a little less vague than just strolling around in the flower gardens. The lounge—that hour of the day, it probably doesn’t usually get much traffic, and the people coming in and out, nurses, maybe a doctor or two, wouldn’t be likely to pay much attention to a man sitting off by himself drinking coffee. Or, on the other hand, a man who wasn’t there.”

DeaDly Silence 123 “If it hadn’t been for Aunt Dora, we’d probably have been inclined to accept his story.” “And speaking of Aunt Dora, is it strange, do you think, her mixing the twins up like that?” “Well, I mistook Prudence for Patience that one time at Bella Vista, and I was right up close. Seeing one or the other of them at a distance…but it’s hard to understand how she persisted in her mistake, seeing them both later. They could hardly have been dressed differently when Bryce interviewed everyone.” “Aunt Dora’s along in years. I think we can figure the marbles aren’t as polished as they used to be.” Tom’s cell phone rang. He answered it, listening for a couple of minutes without saying more than a few words himself before he disconnected. “Bryce,” he said. “The autopsy confirms it. Abe was suffocated with his pillow.” “We’ll have to tell them.” “Somebody,” Tom said, “already knows.” §§§§§ There was a sidewalk space available in front of the house on Pacific. Tom parked his truck in it but, following the directions Patience had given them, they skirted the house itself, taking instead the brick lined path between the garage and a spear-tipped wall, red cannas peeking coyly between the spears. The walkway was narrow, made more claustrophobic still by the acacia trees hugging the garage and forcing them to go single file, Tom in the lead. At the rear, stairs led up to the apartment over the two-car garage, but they stopped first to look inside the garage. A sleek hunter green E-type Jaguar, waxed to a mirror sheen, sat next to a dowdy gray Volvo wagon, several years old. “Make a guess who drives the Jag,” Tom said. “Miss High Test Prudence, for sure,” Stanley said. “Do you think she drives fast?”

124 Victor J. Banis “Not much point in driving an E-type if you’re planning on sitting still.” “I wonder…” Stanley tried to remember that glimpse of green he’d seen looking under his Toyota. Was this the same? But it had been too quick and too brief, and he’d been too scared to get a clear impression. But, Prudence as Pistol Packin’ Mama? She was crazy enough, that was for sure, but somehow the image refused to come. “Oh, never mind, I’m just thinking aloud.” They closed the garage doors after themselves and climbed the stairs to the apartment above.

chaPter Sixteen Stanley wasn’t entirely sure what he had expected to see here, but this was decidedly not it. If pressed, he would have anticipated an apartment full of fine possessions, and most especially, of mementoes, the sort of family possessions that tied past and present together and gave many individuals a sense of permanence, however illusory. His first impression here, though, was that, considering what a vigorous man Abe Pendleton must have been before his hospitalization, his apartment was conspicuously lacking in personality. It might almost have been unlived in. If a landlord furnished an apartment intending to rent it to a middle or even low income renter, this was probably what it would look like. Patience had commented to them at one time that no one escaped their past, but her father appeared to have made a great effort to do so. The colors were muted, bland even, except for the flowers everywhere, almost shocking in their brazenness. Huge Fuji mums, white and yellow and bronze, were massed in oversized bowls, flaunting their showy heads. Roses, crimson and the color of fresh cow’s cream, crowded tall vases, and clusters of autumn foliage mixed with pine cones filled baskets. It struck the nostrils when they let themselves in the front door, that perfume of flower and plant scents, reminiscent of a funeral parlor. There had been a large bowl of chrysanthemums in the main house as well, the first time they had visited, and vases of flowers in the sitting room on tables and mantle. Stanley found himself wondering what stink the Pendletons had hoped to mask with this heady cologne? “Patience told us her father has been in the hospital or the nursing home for nearly a month,” he said, “These flowers couldn’t have been here that long. No more than a few days, certainly.”

126 Victor J. Banis “Someone’s been keeping them up. Hoping he’d get home early?” Tom said. “Someone knew he wouldn’t be.” But apart from the flowers, the color was muted to the point of blandness: off white walls with not a single picture hanging on them, dark woodwork and moldings, nondescript beige draperies. The windows were small and even when Stanley had opened them, to reveal a view of the garden with its scarlet cannas below, they let in minimal light, particular on a late winter afternoon. The result was a pervasive gloom that weighed upon the spirit. It was not a large living space. A modest foyer, one room that served as sitting room and den. Big, ugly recliners sat in front of an old fashioned television set, floor lamps, an oak dining table and four chairs pushed against a far wall. The bedroom was equally undistinguished. Unlike in the main house, no allowance had been made here for decorating or even for comfort. “He told us he lived here,” Stanley said, “But I don’t get any sense of him in these rooms. This is more like a stage set. Some high school group cutting their teeth on Albee.” “It isn’t just that he said he lived here. Abe said they sometimes went days without seeing one another at all, but we know that he was in the house that time Prudence tried to seduce her young man. And not, from the way Whitaker told it, as if he were just passing through. He was there, if you know what I mean.” “Maybe it wasn’t true, that they seldom saw one another. The whole family, they seem to have been putting on a show for us, don’t they? At least up until the final act. But even then, Abe Pendleton seemed to know he was going to be murdered. It’s almost as if he welcomed it.” “He sure didn’t act like he wanted to be protected from it.” Tom strolled into the bedroom. There were a few suits hanging in the closet there, a row of shoes on cedar trees. The drawers of an ungainly and chipped chest revealed neat stacks of shirts, boxer shorts, socks, expensive linen handkerchiefs, each with

DeaDly Silence 127 its precise monogram. A laundry hamper in the bathroom was empty, looking as if it had never been used. Stanley checked the nightstand. “No condoms,” he said. “No lubricant.” “Maybe the man was celibate.” Stanley thought of Abe Pendleton. “He didn’t give the impression of a monk, did he?” They went back to the living room. The surface of the roll top desk was bare except for a pad, a leather cup with a trio of wooden pencils sticking out of it like a porcupine’s quills, and a rather undistinguished wooden tray. A single fountain pen lay on the tray. Stanley picked the pen up casually. “Ferrari da Varese,” he said, eyes widening. He put it back on the tray a bit more carefully. “Is that good?” “Put it this way, it set somebody back a good thirty thou,”

Stanley said. “Thirty thousand?” Tom looked disbelieving, but he trusted Stanley’s knowledge of such things. “For a single pen?” “Thirty and up. This looks like up.” “So much for counting our pennies.” “But, why here? The pen, I mean. This apartment is determinedly anonymous, yet that pen is nothing less than a treasure, the sort of thing a collector would buy, and maybe never use. So why is it here and not in the main house?” “Easy enough. Someone brought it. It wasn’t old Abe, and I’d guess it wasn’t meant to remain here. Someone meant to come back another time for it.” “Steal it?” “An easy thirty thou. Maybe there’s a market in hot pens. Which means, who? Mister Farley?”

128 Victor J. Banis “Maybe. Or maybe Miss Prudence wanted some cash of her own, something not controlled by her sister. I’m not convinced she was as happy with her sister’s control as Patience lets on.” “Good point.” Tom sat in the desk chair and opened the wide center drawers “Hello,” he said in a surprised voice. Stanley leaned close to look over his shoulder, at the gun lying there. Tom used one of the pencils to pick it up by the barrel. “Thirty-two, semiautomatic,” he said. He lifted it to his nose and sniffed. “Been fired recently.” He looked up at Stanley. “Man, I wished you’d looked for that bullet.” “Right, sure, crawling around on my hands and knees on a busy street, I’d most likely have gotten a Volkswagen driven up my butt.” Tom sighed and returned the gun to the drawer. “Aren’t we going to take that?” Stanley asked. “No grounds. There’s nothing illegal about having a gun in your desk, and we’ve got no evidence that someone used it to shoot at you.” Instead, Tom opened another drawer, revealing rows of hanging files, none of them labeled. He began removing folders, flipping them open on the desktop to quickly scan the contents. “He did all right with his money,” he said, looking through an investment portfolio. “I’m no financial whiz, but it looks like he invested carefully, made money over the long run. And the contracting business appears to have paid pretty nicely.” “Hmm. Notwithstanding Patience’s protestations of poverty, they live well, don’t they? Besides, it’s easy to make money if you start out with enough of it,” Stanley said. “Patience told us the mother had money. Presumably when she died, the bulk of it went to her husband. That would give him a head start.” “Looks to me as if he held on to a lot of it.”

DeaDly Silence 129 “But there are no personal papers. Not anywhere in the apartment.” Stanley stood with hands on hips, staring down at the nearly bare desktop as if it held some secret it could reveal to him, if only it could be persuaded. He hated going through a dead person’s effects. He had decided, in fact, that he hated dead people—which was hardly a good discovery for a detective to make. Murder strips away all privacy. The body itself was dissected, labels attached to it. Strange hands went through one’s clothes, even your most intimate possessions, all the detritus, however messy, of a life. Only, there was no detritus here. Tom suffered no such squeamishness regarding what was left behind after death. He said often, “The dead are just dead. There’s nothing about them to scare you.” He went through the papers in the desk quickly but meticulously, untroubled by Stanley’s standing apart. “I wonder,” Stanley said, “why both father and daughter were at such pains to convince us of the separation between their lives. It’s like there’s some connection they don’t want noticed.” Tom returned a stack of papers to the drawer from which he’d taken them, opened another drawer. “Incest?” Stanley thought about that briefly, and shook his head. “I don’t see it. No evidence of course, either way. But, I don’t get that kind of vibe between father and daughter. Either daughter.” “As a matter of curiosity, what kind of vibe to you get?” “I don’t know. To tell you the truth, not much of anything. It’s

like there’s this curtain of silence.” “Deadly silence, as it turned out for Abe.” “Yes. It’s more about what they’re not telling us than what they are. Or, what they’re telling one another, even. They go through the motions, they talk the talk, but they could just as well be strangers to one another. I said this place looks like a second rate stage set. And the Pendletons, I’ve thought all along

130 Victor J. Banis they could be characters in a play. Portrayed by determined but mediocre actors.” “Kind of hard to imagine them sitting around swapping nostalgic stories from the past.” “The word nostalgia, you know, comes from ancient Greek. It means the pain from an old wound in your heart.” “They share some old wounds, that’s for sure. Have you noticed, the one thing that’s been lacking?” Tom raised an eyebrow in Stanley’s direction. “His children have all exhibited shock at his death, but so far I haven’t seen a single tear shed for him. Except for that aunt.” “Aunt Dora. Yes, I think she genuinely mourned for her brother, but as for the others, his children seem more disappointed than grieved, don’t they?” “And one of them is a murderer.” “But which one,” Stanley said. “Or, we can’t rule out that Whitaker creep, either.” He riffled through some more papers without much interest, put them back in the desk. “It takes a certain sort of person to plan out and execute a murder,” he said, as if thinking aloud. “Not the sort of murder done in a fit of passion, anger or fear or jealousy, almost anyone could do that. But the deliberate sort, the planned out murder—and Abe’s murder certainly must have been planned— that requires a coldness of the soul.” “And an overweening arrogance, to think one can do it not only with justification but with impunity.” Tom looked up at him. “Yes. Without that belief in one’s cleverness, that certainty that one will be able to outsmart the police, committing murder is just a roundabout way of committing suicide. It’s hard, though, isn’t it, to imagine someone planning to kill their own father?” “Oh, I don’t know. The human heart is small defense against the human emotion, seems to me.”

DeaDly Silence 131 “And doing it with a pillow. That suggests a loved one, doesn’t it? Unless someone is a sadistic maniac, there wouldn’t be any pleasure in watching someone that you know die. Mostly murderers prefer to believe that they didn’t cause their victims any suffering, that it was all over quickly, and maybe even welcomed by their victim. And that fits with Abe Pendleton’s odd refusal to consider the threats to his life.” “I read once, someone said that all the motives for murder can be summed up with the four Ls: Love, Lust, Lucre and Loathing. And the most important one is Love.” Tom thought that over briefly. “I can’t see where Love would come into it with Patience Pendleton. She doesn’t strike me as a woman to love deeply.” “If at all. But maybe we’re not being fair to her. Maybe her love is buried very deeply indeed. What if, say, she were in love with Farley? I’ve caught them exchanging glances. You know, that kind of look.” “It wouldn’t surprise me. He’s the sort who might go after a woman like her. And she’s the sort of woman who might buy his line. She’d know it was a line, but that wouldn’t bother her, she’d get what she wanted out of him just the same, and let him trick himself into believing he was fooling her. And toss him aside afterward without a single qualm. But, even so, that wouldn’t give her any reason to murder her father.” “Hmm. No, I guess not,” Stanley agreed. “Even assuming she thought he really meant to change his will, that would only work to her benefit. She was at pains to point that out to us, too. Which eliminates Lucre as well. And I don’t see her Lusting after her father. Or anyone else, to be honest. She might have a crush on Farley. She might even genuinely love him. But Patience isn’t the sort to give herself over to mere physical lust. That would mean letting herself go. I don’t think she’s much inclined to surrender herself like that.” “Which leaves, what? Loathing? Same problem. They seem to have gotten along well enough, on the face of it.”

132 Victor J. Banis Stanley thought a moment. “She might have hated him. Her sister, too. There’s a lot going on behind that mask she wears.” “Amen.” Tom shoved the desk drawer shut. “Nothing. Even the gun tells us nothing. I can see why she had no worries about letting us look around here.” “Tom, as a matter of curiosity, why are we even here, anyway? Isn’t our case over? I mean, we were hired to protect her father, and he’s dead now.” “There’s still a matter of justice.” But Portia was right, Stanley found himself thinking: in the pursuit of justice, none of us would achieve salvation.

chaPter SeVenteen “What about Prudence for our murderer?” Tom said after a moment’s thought. “She’s a nutcase. She does drugs, of all kinds. Maybe she offed the old man.” “It’s possible. But I don’t see any motive. There’s always that question of incest, of sexual abuse, but I don’t get even a whiff of that in this family. Except for that incident with Prudence and Farley, they’re a remarkably non-sexual family. Is she physically capable, do you think?” Tom thought about that. “Most likely. She’s crazy as a bedbug, but she doesn’t seem particularly frail physically. And the father was in a bed, he was weak from a long convalescence. It wouldn’t take a lot of strength to smother him with a pillow, especially if he was asleep to begin with. Or, if he didn’t fight back. But I wonder, if Abe was so willing to die, for whatever reason, why didn’t he just kill himself ?” “Suicide is a heavy burden to lay on those left behind.” “So, maybe it was a backhanded way of showing affection for his family?” Tom suggested. “Maybe. If there was any great affection in the family, I think it was more likely from him to his kids than the other way around.” Stanley ran a hand through his blond hair. “So, okay, let’s say we were making up a list of possible suspects, Prudence would have to go on it, if only because she was there. And she has plenty of motive. They both say she was all right with Patience handling her money, running her life for her, but what if she wasn’t? Daddy was threatening to change his will. Prudence would have been even more firmly under her sister’s thumb.” “You know,” Tom said thoughtfully, “she kind of hinted at something like that, that day at the nursing home. She started to ask me for help, and then she got sidetracked somehow, like someone had just thrown a switch.”

134 Victor J. Banis “And there was that odd bit with the pillow. Why would Prudence have carried it with her, except if she was intending to smother her father?” “Doesn’t compute either, does it? Abe already had a pillow on his bed.” “Yes—why would she bring another one to do the job?” “What about Farley? He was with Prudence in that room where she was supposedly sleeping.” “Or sleeping it off.” “She was out of it on something, but he was sober as a judge.” “And there’s still Zack not satisfactorily accounted for,” Stanley said. “He stood to lose if Abe did go ahead and change his will. Patience says she’d see that he was taken care of, but what that might mean to her and what it might mean to him could be two entirely different things. Still, Zack, murdering someone? Anyone, let alone his father. It’s difficult to imagine.” “Money changes things, though. Physically, he’d certainly be as capable of it as his sister.” “So that gives us Prudence and Zack as possibles, though I still think Zack is unlikely. I think we can eliminate Aunt Dora and the cousin.” “Abe Pendleton may have intended to leave those bequests out of a new will. Patience says that the family had been living beyond its means for some time. Maybe he decided he couldn’t afford to be so generous.” “But no one’s even suggested that he had that in mind. Besides,” Stanley said, “I haven’t met the cousin, she lives in Toledo, Patience says, but I have my doubts if Aunt Dora could even have done the deed, physically. I think Farley is a more likely suspect. He had motive, one of the big Ls. He’d been within aces of getting his hands on some serious money, moving out of that tacky place on California Street, and then it was all whisked away from under his nose.”

DeaDly Silence 135 “Wouldn’t he have been more likely to want to murder Patience?” Tom asked. “Yes and no. She might have been the one that squelched the romance, but it was still the Father’s money to dispose of as he saw fit. If Farley disposed of the father before the father dealt with the money…” “And if Prudence was still amenable…” “That’s a good question, isn’t it? It’s hard to know what goes on in that young lady’s head. But I think Mister Whitaker has a pretty good opinion of his powers of persuasion, at least where women are concerned.” “Interesting point,” Tom agreed. “If he could have persuaded Patience…” “Who’s to say he didn’t? She comes across like an iceberg, but I’ll bet I’m not the first to detect that the fires inside aren’t completely out, just well banked.” Tom gave him a grin. “Yes. Properly stoked, I think they’d produce an inferno. The right man could rouse Sleeping Beauty, no question of it.” “Don’t be getting any ideas.” “Me? Not a chance. Besides, there’s always the danger you could end up with ice cubes for balls. I don’t think the rewards would be worth the risk.” “On the other hand, you’re not thinking about marrying into millions, either.” “True.” The phone rang suddenly, shattering the stillness, sounding stridently ominous. Tom went to pick up the receiver. “Hello,” he said, making a question of it. There was a silence on the line and then a click as someone disconnected. He stared at the buzzing instrument in his hand. “I wonder,” he said, “if there’s a house phone?”

136 Victor J. Banis Stanley pulled aside a curtain and looked. Darkness had fallen. It had been a long day, but the daylight had finally fled and the night crept in stealthily. “There are lights on in the house,” he said. “Hard to say, though, if anyone’s there. Any of the family. There’s a maid. Dinia, wasn’t it? Or, no, didn’t Patience say she’d fired her?” “One way to find out if anyone’s there,” Tom said, starting toward the door, but Stanley was closer and got there first. He leaned back against the door and faced Tom with a provocative grin. “There’s no big hurry, is there?” he asked. “I guess not. But…” Stanley reached for Tom’s fly and pulled the zipper determinedly downward. “I want you to fuck me,” he said. His thought processes needed some prodding, he thought but did not say. Too complicated to try to explain it, to Tom anyway. Tom blinked. Stanley was not usually the aggressor in these things, and he wasn’t often that blunt. Still, things had been oddly cool of late. Who was he to look the wrong way at a gift horse? “What if someone comes to check on us?” he asked, but he made no objection when Stanley tugged him out of his trousers. By this time Tom was already hard. It wasn’t difficult for Stanley to persuade him. It rarely was. “The door’s locked. They can’t come in,” Stanley said. He began undoing his own belt. “And what if they do? We can give them a show.” Tom looked over his shoulder. “The bed’s made up,” he said. “What’s wrong with right here?” “On the floor?” “There’s a rug. Besides, it wouldn’t be our first time, would


DeaDly Silence 137 “Sure wouldn’t.” Tom tugged his pants down, and then grimaced. “Uh oh. Don’t have a condom on me.” “Ta da.” Stanley waved a small plastic wrapped package between his two fingers. §§§§§ Getting fucked was not, generally speaking, one of Stanley’s preferences. It was something both of them did to accommodate the other. In his case, things were compounded by the size of what Tom had to work with. He was always gentle enough at first, working his way in, but once he was there, he forgot all about being gentle. They’d once done it in a funky motel with mirrors not only on the walls but on the ceiling as well. Stanley had been fascinated to watch the play of muscles in Tom’s shapely butt when he fucked—muscles that translated, in action, into fucking like a pile driver. A bottom who really could not handle being ramrodded was never going to last with Tom Danzel. And yet, this time, Stanley found it unusually and perversely exciting to feel Tom plowing mightily into him, their bodies slamming together. Instead of hoping it would be quick, as he usually did, he found himself wanting it to last and last, was in fact actually disappointed when he realized, from the quickening of his movements and his increasingly ragged breathing, that Tom was getting close. When he reached a deep, groaning climax, Stanley shot off too, hardly having touched himself at all. Tom sank down upon him, panting in his ear. Stanley clung to his broad shoulders, as if to a rock in a stormy ocean. It had been, of late, a stormy ocean for him—and the waves hadn’t stopped coming.

chaPter eighteen The night had turned feral since they’d arrived. Ragged clouds, shredded by the wind, chased flurries of stars across the dark sky. Like demons from a haunted Disney forest, the acacia trees along the walkway flung their branches about in a frenzy. Patience herself answered the door when Stanley rang. She led them wordlessly into the parlor. Farley Whitaker was there, a drink in his hand. He looked embarrassed to be discovered with it, and set it quickly aside on one of the little tables, but Patience had no such qualms. She took her glass from atop an Italian credenza and took a sip, peering at them over the rim. A Mozart mazurka played faintly in the background. Farley, Stanley supposed. Patience did not strike him as a Mozart woman. “Speaking as an ex-policeman,” Tom said, “I should point out to you that the security in that apartment is pretty minimal. There’s not even a dead bolt. Anyone could break in without too much trouble.” “It isn’t all that important,” she said. “There’s nothing there of any particular value.” Which Stanley took as his cue. “There’s a fountain pen…” he said and paused meaningfully. She looked surprised by that. “The Ferrari?” She gave Farley an accusing look. “I borrowed it,” he said, looking embarrassed. “The night I stayed over. It was storming,” he explained to Tom, “and my car wouldn’t start. Patience graciously invited me to spend the night there.” Back to Patience. “I wanted to make some notes. I took the pen from the study. I forgot to bring it back.” “Ah. I see,” she said, in a voice that suggested she saw more than what he had intended. “And the gun?” Tom asked.

140 Victor J. Banis “Gun?” Patience’s eyebrows shot upward. “My father doesn’t own a gun.” “There’s one in the desk up there.” Patience shot Farley an accusing look. “It…it’s not mine,” he stammered, looking altogether flustered. “I don’t…guns scare me.” “Yes, people can get hurt,” Stanley said. “If not your father’s, and not Farley’s, then whose?” Tom persisted. “It is a mystery, isn’t it?” Patience said, but she seemed to have lost interest in resolving it. Tom, who’d already assumed Farley was trying to steal the expensive pen and rather suspected it was Farley who’d left the gun in Abe’s desk, changed the subject abruptly. “Apart from the apartment over the garage, did your father keep a room here, in this house, I mean?” “No,” Patience said, but the wait was so long as to underscore the lie. There was a moment of silence while she and Tom weighed one another, like boxers before the bell rings. He knew she was lying, but he had entertained little hope that she’d let them search her father’s bedroom here. Whatever was to be found, that was where it would be, not in the sterile quarters over the garage which—Stanley had been entirely right—was little more than a stage set. And, whatever might be in Abe’s bedroom upstairs, she had no intention of their finding it. Still, he doubted that it made any significant difference to their case, which at this point he thought he’d pretty well sorted out. Patience waited for him to say more, but it was Farley to whom Tom now directed his attention. “About that story you gave the police,” Tom said. “What about it?” Farley looked considerably less comfortable than Patience had.

DeaDly Silence 141 “About the time you spent with Prudence. I don’t believe it. Inspector Bryce didn’t either. Why don’t you tell me the truth this time, and I’ll think about how much of it Bryce needs to hear.” §§§§§ Prudence stirred in her bed. Voices, from below. They had awakened her, faint though they were. Sometimes the drugs did that, made all her senses so much more acute. Even noises at a normal level sounded so loud, so harsh, they were painful to the ears. Acid. But she hadn’t taken acid, had she? Or was she only having a flashback? She’d heard of that happening to people who dropped it, but it had never happened to her. At least, never before. She got out of bed, slipped into a peignoir, and stole from her room. The stairs were deep in shadow. It was evening. She crept downward, wondering who was in the parlor, what they were saying. She heard Patience say something, she thought she heard Farley’s voice, too, but there were others. She was almost to the bottom when something moved above her on the stairs. Looking up, she saw her father descending toward her. He was dead. She knew he was dead. She shrank back against the banister and clapped the back of her hand over her mouth to hold back the scream that threatened. It was only the lights of a car passing on the street outside, though, shining through the sitting room windows, making the shadows jitter and dance. She let out a breath, her shoulders trembling, and took a tight hold of the banister to prevent herself from toppling down the stairs. How could she endure this? Terrified, she fled back up the stairs, to the safety of her bedroom. Safety. Where could she ever feel safe? She hadn’t since that fateful night in her childhood. Since the fire. The shadows slid across the draperies. The draperies, she knew, were patterned in burgundy and lilac, but she saw them

142 Victor J. Banis now in waves of green and black. She threw herself on the bed and pulled the brocade coverlet over her head. If only there were someone to protect her. Someone she could turn to, someone she could trust. But there was no one. §§§§§ Farley tried to meet Tom’s eyes, but his own faltered and he dropped them. “You’re right. I wasn’t with her,” he said. “Not the whole time.” “Let me guess,” Stanley said. “You went down to the lounge and had some coffee.” He was thinking, at this rate, the lounge at Bella Vista—practically empty, according to Aunt Dora—was beginning to sound like Grand Central Station. Farley may have picked up something in Stanley’s tone. He hesitated, seeming to consider the suggestion, and said, instead, “No. I went out into the garden. I smoked a cigarette.” “You’re a smoker?” Stanley was genuinely surprised. He invariably could pick up the smell of cigarette smoke from even an infrequent smoker. It clung to their clothes, lingered on their fingers, on their breath. He’d not gotten a hint of this with Farley. His memory flashed back to Farley’s apartment. No ashtrays in evidence there, either, not even empty ones. “Only occasionally. When I’m stressed or, well, worried.” “And you carry cigarettes with you?” Stanley’s eyes went automatically to the breast pocket of Farley’s jacket. There was no telltale bulge to indicate a cigarette pack. As if in response, Farley half lifted a hand to the pocket as well, and let it drop to his side. “Not as a rule, no. I…Prudence sometimes smokes. She had a pack in her purse. I took a cigarette from it.” “You smoke, you say, when you’re stressed,” Tom said. “Or worried, yes.”

DeaDly Silence 143 “What were you stressed about on this occasion? Or, worried about?” Farley and Patience exchanged quick glances. He appeared to be asking her permission for something. “You may as well tell them,” she said in a resigned voice. She turned her back on them and went to stand by the doors that opened onto the terrace. Despite her disinterested stance, however, Stanley saw the tension in her shoulders. She was listening very carefully to everything that was said. Farley might be about to dance for them, but she had a tight grip on the puppet’s strings. Farley stared at her back for a moment. He grimaced and looked shamefaced from Tom to Stanley, and back to Tom. “Prudence was tripping on something. Acid, I think. She was out of it.” “And yet you picked her up here, at her house and drove her to the nursing home, supposedly to see her father, though it wasn’t even dawn yet? A woman you thought was tripping on acid?” “She wasn’t…I didn’t know she was so messed up, not right away. She called me and asked me to drive her there. It sounded irrational, yes, going at such an odd hour, but Prudence was often impulsive, and not always rational. And I thought…well, you already know, we’d had a little difficulty. I told you about…” As if involuntarily, his eyes shifted toward the terrace and back. “I wanted to patch things up between us. I thought, calling me like that, she was reaching out to me.” Farley paused as if waiting for some comment from Tom or Stanley. When none was forthcoming, he cleared his throat, lifted a hand to tug at his necktie. “Well, then, I picked her up. And she seemed all right when she first got into the car. A little quiet, but sometimes she was. Especially when she was stoned. By the time we’d gotten to Bella Vista, though, I knew that something was wrong, that she wasn’t herself. With Prudence, that usually meant drugs. That’s why I suggested she lie down for a while. She closed

144 Victor J. Banis her eyes. She got still. I thought she had gone to sleep. I thought that was the best thing for her, under the circumstances.” “So you left her there, alone—knowing she was ‘tripping’ as you put it, and went outside to smoke a cigarette,” Tom said. Farley said, in a defensive voice, “I thought she was asleep.” “How long were you outside?” A shrug. “I don’t know. How long does it take to smoke a cigarette? Five minutes? No more than ten, surely.” “And when you came back?” “She was gone.” Another glance toward the terrace. And why, Stanley wondered, do I think somebody behind the curtain is speaking for the Great Oz? “With her pillow?” At that, Patience looked over her shoulder. Again, that fleeting exchange of glances between herself and Farley. “I…I didn’t notice,” he stammered. “Why would I? It’s not something that you ordinarily think of, is it?” “And then, what did you do?” Farley’s expression was blank. He seemed not to understand the question. “Did you go looking for her?” Tom insisted. “No, I…” Farley stammered, and his voice trailed off. “He came up to my father’s room, looking for her,” Patience said in a weary voice, turning back to the room. She leaned against the doorframe, with her left foot up—the classic pose of the streetwalker, though Stanley wasn’t at all sure she was conscious of that. Who was she trying to tempt? Tom? Farley? Surely not him? And, Patience, as temptress? It hardly seemed plausible. And yet, there she was. “And did he find her?” “Yes. She was there. I had coaxed her into a chair, and she’d floated away again, gone back to sleep. But before she did, when

DeaDly Silence 145 I found her, she’d been in a total fog. She didn’t seem to have any clue where she was, or why.” “Why was she there, do you suppose?’ Stanley asked. “I don’t have to suppose. I know.” Patience took a deep breath. “She’d come to kill our father.”

chaPter nineteen She seemed to be waiting for one of them to make a comment. When neither of them did, she went on. “She was standing at his bed when I found her there. She had that pillow over his face. I don’t know how long she’d stood there like that. Of course, I rushed to her, and snatched the pillow away, but it was too late. He was dead. There was no question in my mind that she’d killed him. But, as I say, she was in such a fog. I didn’t think she even knew what she had done. I still don’t think she knows. I got her in the chair. I was trying to think what to do when Farley came in. We roused her and he took her back downstairs, to that room where she’d been lying down. We thought that was best. It was early. I doubted if anyone but the two of us had seen her.” “But, I forgot about the pillow,” Farley said. “And then, I went down to Doctor Skelton’s office,” Patience went on, speaking in an emotionless voice, as if she were reciting a piece she’d learned for show and tell. “I told him that Father was dead. We went back to his room. Doctor Skelton checked his vital signs and declared that he was dead. I already knew that. I asked, ‘did he die in his sleep,’ and he said, ‘yes, that’s the obvious indication. But I think it’s best we call the police and let them make a determination.’ Then we went back to his office and called the police.” “And you called me,” Stanley said. “Yes. I thought you should know. You’d been hired to investigate. The investigation was over, I should think.” “Was it Prudence, you think, that previous time, the business with the insulin?’ Tom asked. “Almost certainly.” “I’ll have to report all this to the police,” Tom said. “You

148 Victor J. Banis understand, don’t you, that you could be charged with obstructing a police investigation.” Patience took a step away from the window and assumed a business-like stance. “I don’t see why it has to be reported,” she said. “It’s done, it can’t be undone. As for Prudence, I’m going to do what I should have done long ago, I’m going to have her committed, to an asylum. I’ve already looked into it, made the preliminary arrangements. She’ll be there for the rest of her life. So, it’s the same as if she went to prison.” “Only, not quite the same, is it?” Stanley said. She had the good grace to look a trifle embarrassed. “No, of course not, not quite the same. The place I’ve chosen, Long Acres, is more like a luxurious country house. It’s just that the inmates lose their freedom. They are cared for very well, but they can’t come and go. She’ll be restricted, the same as if she were in prison, is what I meant to say. And I won’t have to worry about…well, there’s been a time or two when, frankly, Prudence has gotten suicidal. I’ve been afraid…if she ever realizes what she’s done…but it is done, and there’s no way now to undo it, is there? Sending her to prison won’t change anything.” “And you’ll inherit everything?” Stanley said. “No. That will was never changed. Zack will still get his money. As for Prudence’s, as I told you before, I’ve long handled her money. That won’t change either. I’ll continue to do so. In effect, she will be paying for her own commitment to Long Acres. That seems just to me.” Stanley could not help noticing a certain smugness in Farley’s expression as Patience explained all this. Something struck in his mind. “And you,” he asked Farley on an impulse, “You’re really the key to it all, aren’t you? If you hadn’t changed your story… but I can’t help being curious—why did you? What do you get out of all this?” “Patience and I are going to be married,” he said simply, and could not help a self satisfied smile. Patience, Stanley noted,

DeaDly Silence 149 looked a little less enthusiastic. Her face was very carefully blank. “Of course,” she said, almost a non-sequitur, “you’ll be paid in full for your services.” For a brief moment, Stanley actually thought she was speaking to Farley, and not to him and Tom. “I’ll call Bryce,” Tom said. Patience turned cool at the rebuff. “Fine, then, if you feel you must. I’d appreciate it if you’d do it outside, though,” she snapped. “You can speak more privately. Anyway, this isn’t a Pac Bell office. Meanwhile, I’m going to check on my sister.” She looked from him to Stanley to Farley, as if defying anyone to argue with her. No one did. She left the room and started up the curving stairs. Tom looked after her briefly and, with a shrug, let himself out the front door. “Be right back,” he told Stanley as he went. §§§§§ Prudence’s room was above the sitting room. She was seated in a chair by the bay windows overlooking the garden in the rear. She turned her head as Patience came into the room, but did not get up. “I heard voices,” she said. “Those detectives. Fat lot of good that did me, hiring them.

Have you taken your medicine?” “No, I…it makes me feel funny.” Patience cocked an eyebrow. “Funny? What way funny?” “I…I don’t know. Muddled. It’s like I’d taken acid. But I haven’t. I swear I haven’t. I’ve been good. You have to believe me.” “I do believe you.” Patience looked past her at the window. “You need some air, is all.” She went to the window and tugged it open, pausing to take a deep breath of the cool night air. “Here, let me help you.” She came back to her sister.

150 Victor J. Banis “It’s chilly,” Prudence complained, but she let herself be tugged out of the chair and guided to the window. “Of course it is. It’ll do you good. Here, lean out, take a deep breath. That’s a good girl.” Prudence leaned out of the window, swaying slightly. Directly beneath her, the metal tips of the fence posts gleamed darkly in the light from the sitting room. She found herself imagining if she fell…landing on those upturned spikes… She closed her eyes tightly, and took a fierce grip on her sister’s arms. §§§§§ Stanley and Farley had remained standing in the door from the foyer to the sitting room, neither of them speaking. Something nagged at Stanley’s mind. He looked up the stairs. He had a sudden vision of the look Patience had cast about the room before she started up the stairs. Something shuddered up his spine. He’d seen looks like that before. And those comments she had made, about Prudence considering suicide. “Which room is Prudence’s?” he asked on an impulse. “Directly above here. Why?” Without replying, Stanley took the stairs two at a time. The door to the room above was standing open. He dashed through it, to find the two women leaning out the window at the far wall. For a moment, it looked as if Patience meant to give her sister a shove. “What on earth?” Patience cried, jumping back and dragging Prudence with her. “You startled the hell out of me. We might have fallen. What are you doing here anyway?” As casually as he could manage, Stanley strolled across the room and took a quick glance out the window. Anybody falling from here would land on those wicked looking spikes below. “I wanted to let you know,” he said, “the police are on their way. They’ll want to talk to both of you.” “Police?” Prudence frowned her puzzlement.

DeaDly Silence 151 “I’ll explain everything, darling,” Patience said. “If you’ll excuse us…Prudence will have to dress.” At the moment Prudence was wearing a lacy peignoir of sea-green, pale as mist. Stanley looked around. A louvered door clearly led to a dressing room. “I’ll wait.” He gave Patience a big smile. All of a sudden, he didn’t trust her alone with her sister. Those remarks about suicide…the two of them at the window, the fatal likelihood of a fall from there. It would be a convenient wrap-up to everything, wouldn’t it? Too convenient, maybe. Patience glowered at him, but when she saw he had no intention of leaving, she led Prudence instead into the dressing room and banged the louvered door shut after them. He could hear the two sisters whispering together beyond the louvers. Left alone in the bedroom, Stanley went to the chair in the bay. There was a glass sitting on a small table by it. He lifted it and sniffed, wondering what was in it. He was disinclined to taste it however. He put the glass back and took stock of his surroundings. Oddly, he found Prudence’s bedroom the most pleasant room he’d seen so far in the house. It was furnished with far less ostentation and someone—Patience, he supposed, though it seemed out of character for her—had taken pains to see that it was comfortable. The large canopied bed was covered with a down filled duvet, the oversized chair in which Prudence had sat by the window invited one to curl up in it and another chair in the far corner, with a tall floor lamp beside it, was clearly meant for reading. A fake log burned low on a hearth fronted with pink and gray marble, and Turkish rugs in muted pastel shades lay upon the wall to wall carpeting. What most struck him about the room, however, were the photographic prints on the wall, a row of no fewer than a dozen, all in black and white, and all showing children in various miseries, some enormous-eyed with fear, some skeletal from starvation, some bruised and scarred from physical mistreatment. Like the chorus in some Greek tragedy, they stared out into the room,

152 Victor J. Banis the eyes seeming to follow his movements. He could all but hear their mournful voices. He was still studying them in some surprise when Patience said, behind him, “My sister and I support various charities for the benefit of children.” Stanley turned to look Prudence over. There was none of the harlot now who had flaunted herself at Bella Vista. Patience had dressed her in what he supposed must be her idea of “heiress goes to the asylum” chic: a prim white silk blouse and neatly tailored slacks of a beige barely past ecru, with a pashmina stole in a slightly darker shade flung with casual elegance about her shoulders. She looked astonishingly young and quite lovely. Even Stanley, committed homosexual that he was, felt the tug of her vulnerability. She looked so young, and so helpless. In stark contrast, with her wool suit of a green so dark it was almost black, and her hair pinned back, Patience might have been ten years, even fifteen years older instead of a twin. And anything but helpless. §§§§§ He followed the two sisters down the stairs. Bryce and Carlson had arrived in the interim and four pairs of eyes stared as they entered the sitting room. Prudence seemed confused suddenly to find herself in a roomful of people, and for a moment he half expected her to bolt. No doubt fearing the same thing, Carlson moved quickly but unobtrusively to block the doorway through which they had come. On the contrary, however, one could see that Prudence was making a concerted effort at sociability, smiling brightly at everyone. It was all too evident nonetheless that she had no comprehension of what was happening. Stanley had the impression that this time she wouldn’t be coming back from the trip he suspected she was on. “Miss Pendleton, do you have any idea why I’m here?” Bryce asked her in a gentle voice.

DeaDly Silence 153 “Of course she doesn’t,” Patience said, but Bryce ignored her. Prudence frowned, obviously making an effort to summon her wits. She looked at him and blinked. “It’s about Father, isn’t it?” “Darling, don’t say anything,” Patience said. “I’ve called Doctor Skelton, he’s on his way, and the attorneys…” “I don’t mind,” Prudence said. She laughed, and then as quickly grew serious. “I’m glad he’s dead. There, I’ve said it, at last. I’m glad, do you hear me? Glad.” “She doesn’t know what she’s saying,” Patience declared emphatically, putting an arm about her sister. “All that childhood trauma. But she doesn’t remember…” “Oh, but I do,” Prudence said sharply, jerking herself free of the embrace. She rolled her eyes heavenward. “I remember everything, suddenly. It just popped into my head as I was getting dressed. It’s like I’m watching a movie.” Stanley too thought Prudence ought to be cautioned to say no more and he gave Tom a plaintive look, but Tom was watching Bryce. Clearly, Bryce had no reluctance to let her talk. “Shouldn’t she be cautioned,” Stanley said in rather a loud whisper. “She hasn’t been charged with anything,” Bryce said, and added, ominously, “yet.” Prudence did not seem to have heard their exchange. Her eyes roved the room, but one could see she was looking at some interior vista rather than at any of them. “He was a murderer,” she said, her voice flat, toneless. “He killed our mother. I saw him. They were quarreling. That night. The night of the fire. I heard her. She was sobbing. It woke me up. I thought he was hurting her. He did, sometimes. Sometimes she had these marks all over. “I went to their bedroom, to the doorway, meaning to run to her, to make him stop, and I saw him pick up the lamp from her

154 Victor J. Banis bedside, it was a big lamp, with a marble base, green and black stone. I’d always loved that lamp. I used to love to run my fingers over the marble while Mama read to me. It was so smooth and sleek. The black and the green, in veins, it fascinated me so. And then he hit her with it, in the head, with the marble end of it, and she gave a sigh, and sank back on the bed. And the marble wasn’t black and green anymore, it was all red. “I was afraid. I slipped back into the hallway and waited inside the door to our bedroom. I heard him moving around. I got a glass of water, I thought when he left I’d bring it to her and she would be grateful for it, and then I’d wash the marble clean, and I would stay with her to protect her, in case he came back. It’s important, to have someone to protect you. “I waited for him to leave, it seemed forever, and when he finally left, when I heard his footsteps going down the stairs, I ran across the hall. But the bedroom was on fire. The bed was engulfed in flames. I saw her in it, she was in a halo of blood, and her eyes were open, but when I called to her, I knew she didn’t see me.” Patience made an ugly, strangling sound, and clenched her arms tightly across her bosom. “Stop her, someone,” she said, “in the name of Heaven…” But no one paid her any mind. They might all of them been entranced by the story Prudence was telling. Prudence went on as if she hadn’t heard the interruption. “I started back to our bedroom, Patience’s and mine, but the fire was burning so quickly, and there was so much smoke, I got all lightheaded. I couldn’t see and I lost track of where I was. That’s where Patience found me, in the hall, and then he came up the stairs, running. He had a blanket. He threw it around us and carried us out of the house.” She paused to look around the room, her eyes flashing demonically. “I hated him. You can’t imagine how much I’ve always hated him. I’ve dreamed of…of…I wanted to kill him. The way he’d

DeaDly Silence 155 killed her.” Her words sputtered to a stop. She had lost her train of thought. She brought her hands up to her face, made a cleaning motion with them, as if wiping a mask downward. She looked at her sister in confusion. “Did I…?” She looked around the room again and back to her sister. Patience was rocking back and forth on her heels, moaning faintly to herself. “Did I…do what you said? Upstairs?” “It’s all right, darling,” Patience said. She managed to get herself under control. “Don’t be afraid. I won’t let any harm come to you.” “We take a dim view of murder,” Bryce said. “Whatever the motivation.” “She’s mentally ill,” Patience said. “You can see that for yourself, surely, and I have an army of doctors who will testify to that fact. She’ll be put away. I know a place. It’s very lovely, really. If you didn’t know, you’d think it was just a very grand country estate and not a mental hospital. She’ll be well cared for there. Safe. No one can touch her. What more can you want?” “The truth,” Tom said. “And the truth here, is, what, Patience? You’d let your sister take the fall for your father’s death? Even knowing she was innocent.” “She’s not innocent,” Patience cried. “You heard her. I told you what I saw. She was holding a pillow over his face. She killed him. Farley told you. What more do you want?” “Justice, maybe,” Tom said. “He deserved to die,” Prudence said hotly. “He was a

murderer.” “Prudence, don’t say another word. I’m ordering you.” Patience took a step toward her sister as if she meant to take hold of her again, but Bryce stepped forward, blocking her path. “You heard her story,” Patience said. “He killed our mother. Do you think he should have gotten away with that?” “An eye for an eye? Is that what you’re saying?” Bryce said.

156 Victor J. Banis “You think that’s all it is? Didn’t you listen to what she said?” She looked at Tom and Stanley. “Didn’t any of what I told you in the beginning sink in? That night, the night he murdered our mother, that wasn’t all that he had done. Not the worst of it, even. He’d gone. Bashed her head in with that lamp and set a fire to conceal his crime. Then he’d left. And left us there, two little girls, in a burning house with our dead mother. He meant for us to die too.” “But he came back,” Tom said. “He changed his mind.” “For whatever reason.” Her anger was rising, her eyes flashing. “I’ve wanted to ask him often what changed it for him, but I never did, and now I’ll never know.” “It might have been love,” Stanley said. “A very off and on again kind of love, it seems to me.” She sneered at that possibility. “Whatever. It doesn’t change the fact that he wanted us dead. That was his first impulse. His own children, the fruit of his loins. How can you think I would ever forgive that?” “It couldn’t have been for more than a single moment,” Tom said. “A single moment, but it defined his life ever afterward.” In her fury, she fairly spat the words at him. “And ours, too.” “And he tried to go back in, to rescue your mother.” “Don’t be ridiculous.” It was clear that Patience’s anger was rising; she looked like an avenging harpy. “He already knew she was dead, that was just for show. And that business of rescuing us. Look what he did to her.” She waved a hand in Prudence’s direction. “He killed her as surely as he killed our mother. He had to die. That’s why I killed him. I’d do it again…”

chaPter twenty “Patience,” Farley exclaimed, “shut up in the name of God,” but it was too late. “It doesn’t matter,” Tom said. “We’d already figured it out. It was just a matter of accumulating enough evidence.” “I didn’t mean…” Patience stammered, flustered. “The two of you came to the nursing home together that morning, didn’t you?” Tom said. “You and Farley. It was you pretending to be Prudence, with your hair down, wearing that gray suit—you do have matching suits, don’t you? Acting like you were dizzy, that whole business about lying down. It was all for the nurse’s benefit. And then you made sure she saw you leaving with the pillow.” “No, I…Farley, my God, what have you done?” “Me?” Farley stared bug-eyed from Patience to Tom and back again. He shuddered with visible fear when Tom turned on him. “You came to Bella Vista with Patience, made up to look like her sister, and you left her there to murder her father, and drove back to the house, to get Prudence. Saw to it that she dressed as Patience had, in the same gray suit. Even the green scarf at her neck.” “I should have realized,” Stanley said. “Her makeup was so sloppy. I should have seen she hadn’t done it herself.” “What did you drug her with?” Tom asked. “Acid,” Farley said in little more than a whisper. “Shut up, you fool,” Patience snapped. Farley might not have heard her. He was staring at Prudence with a mixture of horror and pity. “Look at her. She’s on acid now. We’ve kept her that way ever since. When she does acid, she gets all addled. She didn’t know that night where she was or what

158 Victor J. Banis she was doing. It was easy to feed her suggestions. The clothes… yes, I did her makeup, I’m no good at that. I did everything. But, I didn’t…I thought it was all some kind of game.” “A game. A mentally unstable woman, on hallucinogenic drugs, and you thought it was a game to frame her for her father’s murder?” “Patience, what are they saying?” Prudence asked, wringing her hands helplessly. “What have you done?” Patience snorted in impatience and disgust. “What I should have done years ago,” she said, her voice like the crack of a whip. Her shoulders drooped. Like most people who are rigidly self-controlled, once the control slipped, she no longer felt any restraint. “You’ve no idea what my life has been like. Living with him, knowing what he’d done. And you,” the eyes she turned on Prudence were the eyes of an asp. “Like taking care of a child all these years. A retarded child. You were free to do whatever you wanted, and I was the one who had to hold everything together. I killed him because for once I saw a way to be rid of the both of you. And, yes, I’d do it again, in a heartbeat.” For several seconds the room was silent except for her heavy breathing and the whimpering sounds that Prudence made into her hands. “Patience Pendleton and Farley Whitaker,” Bryce said in his most sonorous voice, “I’m placing you both under arrest for the murder of Albert Pendleton. You have the right to remain silent…” Stanley saw Prudence sway. He was at her side in a moment, helping her to a chair, while Bryce droned on. §§§§§ Bryce and Carlson had taken Patience and Farley away. Doctor Skelton had arrived to take charge of Prudence. Tom turned off the lights, checked that the doors were locked, and he and Stanley let themselves out of the house.

DeaDly Silence 159 “What do you suppose all that business with the gun was about?” Stanley asked. “Was it Patience who shot at me, do you think?” “More than likely. I don’t think Farley has that kind of balls. I think she was putting a back-up plan in place. She intended all along to set Prudence up for the murder, but just in case, she had no qualms about framing Farley instead. If it had begun to look like her scheme wasn’t working, I think Farley might have ended up committing suicide—after confessing to Patience, of course.” “I guess we won’t be getting our fee,” Stanley said. “Blood money. Wouldn’t be good for our souls.” “Was any of it legitimate?” Stanley asked. “The whole case, I mean. From the time Patience called us?” “Probably not. Or very little. She hired us to make herself look innocent, concerned. And she made such an issue of protecting Prudence, so we’d be sure to believe her when she told us Prudence had done it. I’m not sure about slimy little Farley. Do you think he was in on it all along?” “I’d bet on it,” Stanley said. “He has an eye for the main chance, that one. He wouldn’t have dreamed up a murder scheme himself, like you say, he isn’t that ballsy. But when Patience suggested it, and he saw it meant marrying her, getting his hands on all that money. If he’d married Prudence, Patience would still have controlled the purse strings. But if he married Patience… He saw which side of the creek offered him the best footing, and jumped.” “And missed. I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Prudence, though.” “Yes, me too,” Stanley said. “At least Doctor Skelton will look after her. In the end, she’ll probably end up right where Patience meant to send her. What was the name of that place? Long Acres.”

160 Victor J. Banis “Sounds as if she’ll be well taken care of. Amazing what money can do. I can’t help wondering about Abe. Did he know Patience meant to kill him?” “I think he must have. He was protecting her. Maybe he had a death wish. He’d murdered their mother. He almost murdered the girls. Some vestige of conscience sent him back into that burning house to save them, but he’d lived all those years since with the knowledge of what he’d almost done to his daughters. And every time he saw the emotional damage to Prudence, it fed his misery, reminded him that it was he who was to blame.” “Guilt, for his old sins?” Tom said. “We never really escape them, do we, those old sins? They skulk off into the shadows, the basements of our souls, if you want to look at it like that, but they’re always waiting for the chance to steal back up the stairs.” “Huh. Too deep for me, Stanley.” “Poor Prudence. She lost her father and now she’s lost her sister. I can’t help wondering if what we did was a good thing.” “It’s not our job to do good things, we have to do the right thing.” Stanley thought about that for a minute. “But how do you know?” “You just know.” Which, Stanley thought, was another great gulf between him and Tom. Tom was always so sure, so clear on things, and he himself... “I never do,” he said aloud, but more to himself than to Tom. “Let’s go home,” Tom said. Stanley stopped, so abruptly that Tom had actually got a step

or two past him and had to turn back. “What?” “Tom, I…I’m not coming home.”

DeaDly Silence 161 “You’ve got someplace to go? Want me to drop you off ?” “No. I mean, I’m not coming home. I’ve taken a room at Beck’s.” “Beck’s.” Tom’s face was blank. “The motor hotel. On Market Street.” “I know where it is. But, why would you take a room there?” “I want, oh, I’m sorry, but just now I need some space. I need to be alone for a bit, is all. Call it a vacation.” Tom’s face seemed to sag. His eyes got an odd, dusky quality about them. “A vacation from me, you mean?” “From us, if you want to put it like that.” “How else could I put it, Stanley?” They regarded one another for a long moment in silence. Tom thought he was seeing nothing less than the breakup of their relationship. “What did I do?” he asked in a plaintive voice. “If I’ve fucked up somehow, tell me. I’ll straighten it out.” “It isn’t you. It’s me. Oh, please, let’s not talk about it. I’ve reserved the room already. I took some things over earlier, before I saw Aunt Dora. It’s just something I’ve got to do.” “So,” Tom said after another silence, “what do I do here? Shake hands? Kiss you goodbye? Give me a hint. I’ve never broken up with a boyfriend, I don’t know the usual drill.” “I don’t think there is one. Look, I’ll catch a cab on Divis.” “I can drive you.” “No. I’d rather take a cab.” “Stanley, I love you.” “No,” Stanley said sharply, angrily, though he wasn’t altogether sure just which one of them he was angry with. “You love parts of me, Tom, but that leaves an awful lot of me that you don’t even like.” “What? All that fag stuff ? You knew how I felt—”

162 Victor J. Banis “Damn it, Tom. I am a fag.” Stanley marched away in the direction of Divisadero Street. He did not look back or pause in his steps. Tom stood, defeated, watching him go.

chaPter twenty-one “What does it mean, Chris?” Chris had been the first—and only—person Tom had called about Stanley’s odd declaration of independence. Chris knew Stanley better than anybody. If anyone could explain what had happened, it would be Chris. Who, as it had turned out, had no valid explanation either. “Nothing, as far as I can tell. It’s just Stanley, being Stanley. He gets himself all tangled up. Especially in his relations with men. It’s all that old business with his father.” “I’m not his father.” “I’m not so sure. In some ways, that’s what Stanley has always been looking for. Anyway, you know how he is, he can’t see past the end of his nose.” They’d had dinner together in a little Italian restaurant off 24th Street, a dinner noted for a lack of conversation. Now they were walking back toward Tom’s parked truck. It was colder than usual for San Francisco, a chilling rain falling. This far off 24th, even this close to Christmas, there were no other pedestrians. “It’s not his nose I’m thinking about here. Do you think I should go by Beck’s, and try to talk to him?” “No. I wouldn’t. Let him have some time to think things over.” Chris did not add that he had already gone by Beck’s. Stanley wasn’t there. He didn’t want to think where he might be instead. Tom stopped abruptly and turned to look at the window of a thrift store. The store was closed, the window, filled with an assortment of toys, dark, its glass turned into a mirror. After a moment, he started to laugh. “What’s so funny?” Chris asked. “That dumb ass in the window.” Tom leaned his head against the glass and his shoulders began to heave. Chris realized he had begun to cry silently. Pain knifed through Chris’s chest.

164 Victor J. Banis “Tom, look,” he said, taking hold of Tom’s arm, “Come home with me, okay? I don’t think you should be alone tonight.” Tom turned to look down at him. For a moment, his moist eyes were blank of expression, as if he hadn’t understood what Chris had said. He smiled, then, a bittersweet smile. “You think I’ll go home and off myself ?” “No. It’s just…I don’t think you should be alone.” “Sleep with you?” Chris gave a weary sigh. “We could sit up all night. Drink coffee. Talk.” “Or go to bed. If I came home with you tonight, I’d end up fucking you. We both know that. My dick’s feeling unloved. He gets testy.” For a long moment they regarded one another. Chris said nothing. Two guys, alone on a rainy street at night. What was there to say? He felt pretty sure his eyes had already said everything necessary. Tom leaned down to give him a kiss. Not a romantic, nor a sexy kiss, but the kind friends gave one another. A peck. “You’re a good buddy,” he said, and then he was gone. Chris waited a long moment before he looked after him, but by then the street was empty and Chris was alone. It was just as well. If they could have had one brief present, which possibly could then evolve into a future, it might have made for an exciting moment or two. But there was no future, there never really was, there was just the ongoing present—and in that present, he knew full well, Stanley would come back to Tom. He couldn’t part with Tom because, in the simplest possible terms, Stanley was Tom. Or, rather, Tom was Stanley. Stanley lived in dreams. And that was all Tom had ever been for him, would ever be for him, a dream of a perfect man. A reflection of his own needs, his romantic imaginings. Somewhere there might be a real Tom Danzel, almost certainly there was,

DeaDly Silence 165 but Stanley would never know him. Stanley would never walk through the mirror. What about me, then, Chris wondered? Was the Tom Danzel of whom tonight, however briefly, he had entertained his foolish erotic fantasies, any more real than Stanley’s phantom lover? His turn to stare into the darkened window of the toy store. He could see his own reflection and beyond it, like ghosts hovering in the shadows, dolls and toy trucks and in one corner a marionette. Chris laughed bleakly at himself. Tom was right. The guy staring back at him really looked like an ass. After a moment, he turned away from the window, tugged his coat collar up, and began to walk. He could get a bus at the corner. The rain came down harder. The big question came back to haunt him: Where was Stanley? He had always thought he knew Stanley better than he knew himself. But did anyone really ever know anyone? In one of the apartments he passed, someone was singing Jingle Bells. §§§§§ Stanley was with San Francisco Homicide Inspector Bryce, in his somewhat shabby one room apartment in the Mission. Tony Bryce—but even now, even under these circumstances, Stanley couldn’t bring himself to call him Tony. He was who he had always been: Bryce. They were in bed. Bryce had opened a bottle of Beaujolais earlier and poured them each a glass, but neither had taken more than a sip before they’d undressed and fallen onto the bed. To little avail. Bryce it seemed was willing and able, but Stanley had proven unable to rise to the situation. There had been one of those awkward sessions of fumbling and false starts and finally, Stanley had sat up and reached for his wine glass, taking a long sip.

166 Victor J. Banis “I don’t think this is going anywhere,” he said. Bryce sat up too. “You just need to relax. There’s no hurry. It’s not late.” Stanley took a deep breath. “You know,” he said, “I don’t think that’s true. I think it is very late. I hope not too late.” He swung his feet to the floor, stood up, and began to put his clothes back on. “You’re leaving?” Bryce asked. “I shouldn’t have come.” “Why did you?” “I wanted…” But he paused, unable to think of quite the right answer to a question he surely ought to have asked himself before now. “I guess I wanted everything. To have my cake and eat it too.” “Well,” Bryce threw back the lightweight blanket to reveal an undiminished erection, “you haven’t eaten anything yet.” Stanley gave it no more than a fleeting glance. He’d already taken its measure, so to speak, while they had wrestled together. It wasn’t an unimpressive showing, if not in a league with Tom’s. At one time in his past, he’d have been more than happy to have a go at it—but just now, it held no appeal for him. Zero. Zip. Nada. “I think there’s our problem, Bryce,” he said, tucking in his shirt and fastening his belt. “You thought I’d be as fascinated by you as you are with yourself. Why did you come on to me, by the way? Surely not because you were overcome with desire for my body?” Bryce’s smile was cold and cruel. “If you really want to know, it was because I wanted to demonstrate to Tom what kind of a cheap faggot you are.” Stanley thought about that for a moment. Then he picked up his glass from the nightstand and flung what was left of his wine in Bryce’s face.

DeaDly Silence 167 “I could break your neck for that,” Bryce said, wiping Beaujolais off his face with a corner of the sheet. “You could, but you won’t.” “What makes you so sure of that?” “Because Tom Danzel would kill you.” To the surprise of both of them, Bryce laughed. “You’re probably right.” And, after a pause, “he’s too good for you, Stan.” “It’s Stanley. And I think you’re right, too. You think I don’t know…” But Stanley’s voice broke and he choked on the words. “But I’m going…I’m going to…” He shook his head helplessly and with a last, tearful glance at the man on the bed, went out, slamming the door hard. Bryce stared after him. He’d had in mind driving a wedge between Tom and Stanley, thinking that if he did that, Tom might yet become available to him. Looking at the door through which Stanley had vanished, he had the sense that he’d just wasted his time. In the long run, he might in fact have accomplished the opposite of what he’d intended. He lay back on the bed, ignoring the wine-wet sheet. The truth was, and he might as well face up to the fact, Tom was nothing more for him than a masturbatory fantasy. That’s all he’d ever been. That was all he ever would be. By whatever bizarre twist of fate, Tom had fallen in love with Stanley. Period. As for Stanley…in an odd way, he was sorry their little session hadn’t worked out better. He’d never have told anyone so, but the unfortunate truth was, he found Stanley sort of cute, definitely appealing. He had actually looked forward to fucking that round little butt of his. Well, that wasn’t going to happen either. Bryce sighed and, after a reflective moment, reached for his

own erection. No sense wasting a good woody. §§§§§

168 Victor J. Banis Stanley let his feet lead him, his mind too awhirl to think of anything as basic as directions. Only one thing stood out in his mind. He’d been a fool, thinking that because Tom’s love for him was so great, so dependable, that he could simply walk in and out of Tom’s life as he chose. Love didn’t work that way, though. Nobody’s did. Probably Tom’s least of all. And, Bryce, for Christ’s sake, why Bryce? He was a good looking guy, not exactly a heartthrob, but easy enough on the eyes. Which Stanley had hardly even noticed until that evening Bryce had picked him up off the street. Probably, if he’d really wanted to get something on with Bryce, that would have been the time to do it, while the idea was new and tantalizing. Only, he hadn’t really wanted to get anything going; it was like, well, more like it was a challenge. Bryce had always been so frosty to him. Which was understandable—Bryce had the hots for Tom. Like, Stanley found himself thinking, practically everybody else. Was that it? Had he seen himself in some competition with Tom? Because, yes, if he were to be honest, he was aware that Tom had eclipsed him in gay circles. In the past, there were plenty of guys, hot guys, who had come on to him. But, since he’d been with Tom, wherever he went with Tom, it was Tom they noticed. Stanley had become invisible. So, what did it all come down to? He was jealous because gay men found Tom more desirable than they found him? Could he really be that petty? Of course, even as he was asking himself that question, he already knew the answer. If you were alive, you had an ego. Nobody with an ego wanted to be out-foxed. Without knowing it, he’d walked right into the heart of the Castro, 18th and Castro. The center of the known world, as some called it. The old Hibernia Beach to others, named for the bank that used to stand there before Bank of America. There was the Christmas tree in the plaza, all aglow, and there before

DeaDly Silence 169 it members of the Gay Men’s Chorus, a small but appreciative crowd gathered around to listen. Hark, The Herald Angels Sing. One of his favorites. He had been walking in a state of despondency, but now his spirit drank in the moment. The tree, the lights, the singers, the people gathered round sharing if only for a moment some mystical connection. “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled…” Yes, at some point in time, ideally sooner rather than later, he’d have to work things out with God. For the moment, though, he was more concerned with Tom and Stanley reconciled. He could only hope for mercy mild. Someone in the crowd of listeners waved to him. Stanley waved back without even recognizing who it was, and turning, hurried across Eighteenth Street and up Castro, heading for home. §§§§§ Even though he still had his key, Stanley did not let himself into the apartment, but knocked, hoping that Tom was home. The wait seemed an eternity, though it probably was no more than a minute or two. He was about to knock again when the door opened, and there was Tom. He looked surprised, but otherwise his face was expressionless. Impossible, as it so often was, to tell what he was thinking or feeling. Like a reluctant vampire, Stanley waited to be invited to cross the threshold. They stood frozen in place for what might have been an eternity, just looking at one another. “I want to come back,” Stanley said finally. Staring at him, Tom struggled for words, for something to say. But words weren’t his province, they had always failed him when he most needed them. All he knew was his heart. What words could capture that, could define what it was between him and Stanley, what bound them—he knew this—bound them totally together? He could see into the future, see this scene or one very

170 Victor J. Banis much like it enacted again, probably over and over. Stanley was Stanley. He always would be. Might as well try to put a leash on a gust of wind. Tom wasn’t much of a one for fantasy. He didn’t pretend much, least of all about himself. He knew he was a dickhead at times. And even less did he pretend about Stanley. Stanley was always going to be going off from time to time, chasing after something, most likely his own tail. Which was exactly why he was always going to need a Tom Danzel, dickhead or not, in his life. Somebody had to look after Stanley. He wasn’t very good at doing that for himself. Oh, he knew that, in time, Stanley would settle down a bit, he’d get over some of the wanderlust. Guys did. That was for when you were young and the sap ran so hot it was bound to boil over occasionally. Eventually, it got cooler. And when Stanley did settle down, why then, it would be Tom who would get the benefit of it. But he knew, too, that he’d lose a little something at the same time, some special magic that was Stanley’s in the here and now. Tom wasn’t so big a fool that he didn’t know, in the passing of a mere second or two, all of this. There were two truths at play here. Make that three: his love for Stanley, and the way both of them were. None of it was going to go away. Happy ever after never really was. You went from headache to heartache and back again. Getting some happiness and your rocks off where you could along the way. And, for that, he wanted—needed— Stanley. In the end, he did all that he could do—he opened his arms, and Stanley came into them.

aBout the author Lecturer, writing instructor and early rabble rouser for the rights and freedoms of individuals, including gay rights, civil rights, women’s rights and freedom of the press, Victor J. Banis is the critically acclaimed author (“the master’s touch in storytelling...” Publishers Weekly) or more than 160 published books, plus numerous shorter pieces and verse, in a career spanning nearly half a century. His most recent works include Lola Dances (MLR Press); Angel Land (Regal Crest Enterprises) and the Deadly Mystery Series from MLR Press: Deadly Nightshade; Deadly Wrong; Deadly Dreams, and Deadly Slumber. A native of Ohio and longtime California, he lives and writes now in West Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge. Visit Victor at his website

the trevor project

The Trevor Project operates the only nationwide, aroundthe-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Every day, The Trevor Project saves lives though its free and confidential helpline, its website and its educational services. If you or a friend are feeling lost or alone call The Trevor Helpline. If you or a friend are feeling lost, alone, confused or in crisis, please call The Trevor Helpline. You’ll be able to speak confidentially with a trained counselor 24/7. The Trevor Helpline: 866-488-7386 On the Web: the gay men’s domestic violence project

Founded in 1994, The Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project is a grassroots, non-profit organization founded by a gay male survivor of domestic violence and developed through the strength, contributions and participation of the community. The Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project supports victims and survivors through education, advocacy and direct services. Understanding that the serious public health issue of domestic violence is not gender specific, we serve men in relationships with men, regardless of how they identify, and stand ready to assist them in navigating through abusive relationships. GMDVP Helpline: 800.832.1901 On the Web: the gay & lesbian alliance againstdefamation/ glaad en español

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (glaaD) is dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. On the Web: glaaD en español:

servicemembers legal defense network

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DaDt). The SlDn provides free, confidential legal services to all those impacted by DaDt and related discrimination. Since 1993, its inhouse legal team has responded to more than 9,000 requests for assistance. In Congress, it leads the fight to repeal DaDt and replace it with a law that ensures equal treatment for every servicemember, regardless of sexual orientation. In the courts, it works to challenge the constitutionality of DaDt. SlDn Call: (202) 328-3244 PO Box 65301 or (202) 328-FAIR Washington DC 20035-5301 e-mail: [email protected] On the Web: the glbt national help center

The glBt National Help Center is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that is dedicated to meeting the needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and those questioning their sexual orientation and gender identity. It is an outgrowth of the Gay & Lesbian National Hotline, which began in 1996 and now is a primary program of The glBt National Help Center. It offers several different programs including two national hotlines that help members of the glBt community talk about the important issues that they are facing in their lives. It helps end the isolation that many people feel, by providing a safe environment on the phone or via the internet to discuss issues that people can’t talk about anywhere else. The glBt National Help Center also helps other organizations build the infrastructure they need to provide strong support to our community at the local level. National Hotline: 1-888-THE-GLNH (1-888-843-4564) National Youth Talkline 1-800-246-PRIDE (1-800-246-7743) On the Web: e-mail: [email protected]

If you’re a GLBT and questioning student heading off to university, should know that there are resources on campus for you. Here’s just a sample: US Local GLBT college campus organizations GLBT Scholarship Resources Syracuse University Texas A&M Tulane University University of Alaska University of California, Davis University of California, San Francisco University of Colorado University of Florida University of Hawaiÿi, Mānoa University of Utah University of Virginia Vanderbilt University