They came for me in the nighttime, which is usually the way of it. They knocked so loudly the walls shook. Two men in ties and raincoats. I could see them through the peephole in my door. They weren't wearing fedoras, but they might as well have been.
"It's late," I yelled without opening the wooden door. "And I don't need any magazines."
"We're looking for Victor Carl."
The shorter one leaned toward the door until a walleye filled the peephole. Then he pulled back and reached into his jacket. The badge glinted like a set of freshly sharpened teeth.
"I'm naked," I said.
"Then put something on," said the guy with the badge. "Our stomachs are strong, but not that strong."
In the bedroom I slipped on a pair of jeans and a shirt. I knew who they were before the badge was flashed. I had seen the two of them prowling the corridors of the Criminal Justice Building, where I plied most of my trade these days, defending the riff and the raff. You can always tell the cops in the courthouse, they're the ones laughing and rubbing their hands, talking about where they are going to eat lunch. While they waited in the hallway, I took the time to put on socks and a pair of heavy black shoes with steel tips. When dealing with the police, if you don't protect your toes, they are sure to be stepped on.
I closed the bedroom door behind me before I opened the front door. They strolled in like they were strolling into an art gallery, hands behind their backs, leaning forward as they examined the walls.
"Nice place," said the one who had shown me his badge.
"No it's not," I said.
He stopped and looked hard at me. He was slim and sharp-faced, with clever eyes. "You're right. I was just being polite. But the furniture's not bad. My wife's looking for some new pieces. Is that couch leather?"
"Pleather," I said.
"Well, you certainly can't tell unless you look. You mind if I sit?"
"I'm Detective Sims," he said as he carefully lowered himself onto the couch and lifted one leg over the other. Sims's suit was freshly pressed, his shoes were shiny and thin-soled. "This is my partner, Hanratty."
"A pleasure," I said.
"He's big, isn't he?" I said to Sims.
"But a surprisingly nimble dancer for his size," said Sims. "You alone?"
"Why is your water running?"
"I was about to shower when you guys knocked."
"We'll wait while you turn it off."
"It's all right. You won't be staying long."
"I don't know," said Sims. "Hanratty might want some tea."
"Do you want some tea, Hanratty?" I said.
Hanratty stood like a block of cement and glowered. He was the size of a linebacker, with thick knuckles and a closely mowed patch of blond hair. The bridge of his nose was crushed like a beer can. I tried to imagine him dancing nimbly and failed. But he sure could glower. I got the feeling if he smiled, his face would shatter.
"Where were you tonight, smart guy?" said Hanratty. Each syllable was like a punch to the kidneys.
"Home," I said. "I don't get out much."
"Spend your nights on your pleather couch, do you?" said Sims. "Eating cheesesteaks, watching that big television set you got there. That's a lonely kind of existence for a man your age."
"Not as lonely as you would think. Every once in a while a couple of cops stop by and chat amiably about my taste in furniture. What division within the department did you boys say you were in?"
"We didn't," said Sims. "You wear any rings, Victor?"
I lifted my hands and showed him. They were free of jewelry.
"How'd you get the cut between your forefinger and thumb on your right hand?"
"I was slicing onions."
"Care if I look at it?" he said.
"That's not necessary. I'm sure it will heal on its own."
"Give him the hand," said Hanratty.
I stared at him for a moment, saw the violence behind his eyes, and then brought my right hand closer to Sims. Sims grabbed it, examined both sides, brought it up to his face as if to kiss it, and then took a sniff.
"That was weird," I said after I jerked it away.
"Yet strangely thrilling," said Sims. "I smelled soap. Always lather up your hands before you shower, do you?"
"Cleanliness is a virtue," I said.
Sims looked around at the disordered mess that was my apartment. "Ever been married, Victor?"
"Good for you. Trust me when I tell you, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Ever been engaged?"
"It didn't work out."
"Care to spill the details?"
"Still hurts, is that it?"
"Oh, six or seven years is not that long a time. McDeiss says you were pretty broken up about it."
A chill shivered up my spine at the name. I tried to work my jaw but it was frozen. McDeiss was a homicide detective. I put a hand to my jaw and rubbed it back to life. "McDeiss?" I managed to say. "You guys work with McDeiss?"
"You're pretty close with him, from what we hear."
"You've broken bread together, haven't you? Worked a couple of cases together." "On different sides."
"He's the one who suggested we stop by, ask a few questions, see what you—Wait. Did you hear that, Hanratty? The water just turned off. All by itself."
"The water pressure in the building is erratic," I said.
"Maybe our friend here is not as lonely as he lets on. Why don't you invite your guest out so we can have a little party?"
"Maybe you should mind your own damn business."
"Getting testy, are we, Victor? Got something to hide? Embarrassed by your partner? Or maybe your visitor is somebody's wife."
Excerpted from A KILLER'S KISS © Copyright 2011 by William Lashner. Reprinted with permission by William Morrow. All rights reserved.