Ahmad and Ribowski got out of their non-descript battered Honda in front of an expensive condominium building in Chelsea.
"These gays have money," Ribowski remarked casually.
Ahmad nodded without replying as they entered the building. The doorman stepped in front of them, barring the way and asked suspiciously, "Can I help you, gentlemen?"
They showed him their shields and Ribowski said, "We're here to see Bruce Houton and Kenneth Wister. What apartment are they in?"
"Our residences are called units," he answered snidely, stressing the u in units. "I'll let them know you're here."
"No, thanks," Ahmad said. "Just give us the unit number and go about your business."
"We're not allowed to let visitors in unannounced."
"We're not visitors," Ribowski growled. "We're the police and unless you want to discuss this further in a less comfortable surrounding, give us the unit number," and he mimicked the way the doorman pronounced unit.
"Yes, sir," the scared doorman replied and rushed to the register. "Mr. Houton and Mr. Wester are in unit 14G."
Without another word they went to the elevator. On the way up, Ahmad asked, "Can I be the bad cop?"
"Sure. Have fun."
They got off at the 14th floor, went to unit G, and Ahmad knocked loudly.
A few moments later someone asked, "Who is it?"
"Police," Ribowski said pleasantly.
They saw the peephole open and a voice said accusingly, "You don't look like the police."
"Do you want to see my badge?" Ribowski asked, and he held his badge to the peephole.
"What do you want?"
"We want to talk to you about the murder the other night."
"We already told the police everything we know."
"We have a few more questions we'd like to ask you."
"We'd rather not talk through the door."
"I'm in the middle of cooking dinner. I'm making tortellini al dente."
"This won't take long."
"Are you going to dick around all night with this creep?" Ahmad demanded.
"Take it easy, partner."
"Detective Williams," he yelled. "If you don't open the door I'll kick it in and shove your tortellinis up your ass."
"There is no need to be vulgar," he said as he opened the door. "Come in." He looked at them as if they were from another planet.
Somewhere in the apartment out of sight, Bruce called, "Who is it?"
"We could have a contest and guess."
"What are you babbling about?" Bruce yelled back.
"Wait'll you see ... and I don't babble."
Ribowski and Williams, obviously not amused at this snappy by-play, followed who they concluded was Kenneth into the living room. Bruce was sitting at a computer work station, involved with graphics on the screen.
"I'll be with you in a moment. Please have a seat."
Ribowski and Williams sat down and looked around the large room, with a view of the Hudson River. It was expensively decorated with black leather furnishings, a red oriental rug, and colorful abstract paintings on the walls. Bruce finished and turned to them, but before he could speak, Kenneth said simply:
"Behold New York's finest."
Ribowski and Williams glared at him, but before they could react, Bruce ordered, "Go to the kitchen!"
"Don't talk to me like that," Kenneth whined.
"You need a lesson in manners." He raised his hand threateningly and Kenneth scurried out. "I'm sorry. He doesn't realize how offensive he can be."
"Don't worry about it," Ribowski replied.
"However, you guys don't look much like cops."
"Complain to the commissioner," Ahmad said with a scowl.
"Sure. Now what can I do for you?"
"We're investigating the Righteous Avengers murder," Ribowski explained. "What can you tell us about it?"
"Nothing more than I told the cops at the scene."
"Try to visualize the street when you came out of the bar." Ribowski suggested. "Did you see anybody at all?"
"Did you notice any cars nearby?"
"You're not very helpful," Ahmad said.
"Do you want me to make up some clues for you?" Bruce retorted.
"No." Ribowski responded. "We just want you to try to remember anything that might be helpful."
"Believe me, I want to help. I just didn't see anything. When we came out of the bar I saw this guy lying on a garbage can. At first I thought he got mugged and I rushed over to help, but he was dead. I told Kenneth to call 911 and I stayed with the body. That's it."
"Well, if you can think of anything, give us a call. Here's my card." Ribowski took out a card and handed it to Bruce.
"Those Righteous Avenger animals should be castrated," Bruce declared.
"That's pretty drastic," Ahmad said, a little surprised at his vehemence.
"Is it? That's what monsters deserve. I've got to get back to work. If I can do anything to help, let me know. I'll have Kenneth show you out. Kenneth," he called. "The officers are ready to go."
Bruce went back to his work station and Kenneth came in and said, "This way, gentlemen." He led them to the door, then turned to Ribowski. "Can I ask you a question?"
"What is it?"
"Why does a gay man dress like you do?"
"I'm not gay, you asshole. I'm a transsexual."
"Let's get out of here," he said to Ahmad, "before I rearrange this jerk's face."
"Take it easy, partner. He made an honest mistake."
"What are you saying?" Ribowski asked testily.
"Just joking, partner."
As they went out the door, Kenneth mockingly waved good-bye. Ribowski started back to him, but Williams pulled him away as Kenneth closed the door. While they waited for the elevator, Ribowski muttered:
"Ass wipe! The other guy's all right. What's he doing with that little creep?"
"It takes all kinds ... But that gives me an idea."
"What if we tell the media that the two men who found the body saw the murderers and could identify them?"
"We'd have to leak their names, so the Righteous Avengers could find them."
"That could be risky for them."
Ribowski smiled at his partner, then said, "Let's discuss it with Inspector McBride. If he gives us the go ahead, we can ask Bruce and Kenneth," and he mimicked Kenneth lispingly.
"I love the way you say Kenneth," Ahmad replied, saying the name the same way.
After leaving Jim in front of the club, Marlene had Jacob drive her back to the Foundation. She asked his impression of Jim and was pleased that he had a favorable opinion and felt that he could do what was required.
"You like him," Jacob murmured.
Marlene smiled. "He's all right. For a human. You know he'll have to infiltrate the Righteous Avengers. It could be dangerous."
"He seems like he can take care of himself."
"We'll see ... How do you feel about leading the assault team, once we find them?"
He grinned wickedly. "It sounds like fun."
She couldn't help but grin back. "It's supposed to be business, not fun."
He laughed. "I can mix business with pleasure."
When they pulled up in front of the Foundation, Marlene said, "I'm going to spend the night here. Why don't you go visit your mother and give her my regards. Pick up some flowers and books or things and charge them to me."
"Thanks, Marlene. She'll appreciate that. She loves you. She keeps bugging me to ask you to dinner when she gets better."
"You know that's not a good idea. She's a smart woman and might sense something about me, then connect it to you."
"I guess you're right. I wouldn't want that. She's a terror when she gets some notion in her head."
"Don't worry, Jacob. I won't let anyone in on your secret. You're feared by all the vampires from here to Transylvania. They'd look at you differently if they knew you were afraid of a little old lady."
"They don't know Momma," he said with mock terror, which made them both laugh.
"Then I'll see you later. Let me know when you get back and we'll plan our next step."
She strode into the lobby with the confidence and assurance that had everyone in awe of her, and replied to the guard's respectful: "Good evening, Ms. Dumont," with a pleasant nod, then took the elevator to Eli's floor. She entered his suite quietly, trying, as she had many times before, to sneak up on him and catch him unaware. He was working at his computer and she went to him and stood silently behind him.
"You were obviously at one of those tawdry clubs," he said softly.
"How did you know it was me?"
"As you get older, you'll learn to always be aware and alert, if you want to enjoy a long ... existence.
"I appreciate the advice, but how did you know?"
"I smelled your perfume. It's very musky. I smelled alcohol, smoke, sweat and I know you're not a Rangers fan. I heard you and I saw your reflection in the computer screen."
"Yes. I sensed you."
"While you were in the car a ways from here."
"That's what I still can't do," she complained.
"There's a reason," he said solemnly.
"Don't be smug and inscrutable. Tell me."
"You indulge in too many impurities."
"That's not true," she replied defensively.
"You spend too much time breathing all the impurities that man poisons the earth with."
"I don't go to clubs every night."
"You're out almost every night, prowling the streets looking at humans."
"I'm hunting," she asserted.
"You only eat once a week."
"I'm planning a new diet," she said glibly.
"You don't have to lie to me. I became your mentor because I recognized your talents and potential value to the Foundation. You've proven me right. This is my personal concern. I worry about your fascination with humans. You should have outgrown that long ago.
"I can't seem to forget certain things."
"That's a dangerous weakness. You're not a social worker. Their brief lives may be interesting, but you have to focus on the long view."
"Do you ever get tired?" she asked, abruptly changing the subject.
"Of course not! I'm not a yuppie who needs vitamins."
"I meant of the way you exist."
"Never. There is always something new to discover, a new challenge, or technology," gesturing at his computer.
"But it's mankind who creates these marvels, not us."
"Nature has made us destroyers. Now some of us are evolving to also become preservers. There are enough humans who dabble in the arts. They don't need us. But the future is our concern, and the continuation of life and undeath. What would you do? Write a novel? Play bridge? Paint a watercolor? Invent an anti-gravity device? Mankind is an industrious creature. We have a different destiny."
"Marlene stared at him admiringly. "Eli, you are truly a vampire for all seasons."
"Thank you. Now make your report." He pointed to a chair and she sat.
"We have dozens of agents trying to locate a member of the Righteous Avengers. I'm confident that we'll learn something by tomorrow. Once we identify a contact, we'll bribe or coerce him into revealing the location and get him to introduce Jim into the organization. We have an assault team that will be led by Jacob on standby and I've instructed him to ensure that Jim doesn't get hurt."
"Can you rely on Jim?"
"Oh. Yes. He's intelligent and brave and thoughtful."
"Are you developing personal feelings for him?"
"No, Eli. I just respect him."
"Be aware that he may have to be eliminated, if he learns too much."
"I trust you will remember your obligations at all times."
"No matter what the cost. Our identities and the Foundation must be protected."
"There is no need to remind me."
"Good. Is there anything else?"
"You know about the police investigation. So far they've come up with nothing."
"Monitor them carefully." Marlene nodded yes and they stared at each other affectionately for a minute. "I'm going to a late night concert. Hungarian piano music. Would you like to join me?"
"Another time. I've got some reading to catch up on," and she got up to go.
"There's nothing wrong with being interested in humans," Eli said gently. "You can even be sympathetic. But never forget your nature."
"I won't. Don't worry. Good night," and she started for the door.
"Do other women wear your brand of perfume?"
She grinned mischievously. "Why don't you come out with me some night and find out for yourself?"
As she went out, Eli sniffed appreciatively.
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