"But you were there. Oh, my God, were you there." Her voice broke, not with tears, but with emotion. I didn't understand this depth of emotion from her.
"You're acting like I stole Nathaniel from you. You never dated him. Hell, when you met him, he was already living with me."
She looked at me then, and it was unnerving to see the anger, because I didn't understand it. "But I didn't know that. You let me believe that he was just your friend. He let me believe it."
"Nathaniel likes to be nice to people."
"Is that what you call it?"
"Look, Arnet, sometimes Nathaniel flirts without really meaning to. I think it's like an occupational hazard."
"You mean because he's a stripper."
I nodded. "Yeah."
"I didn't know what he did for a living until the wedding reception. I should have known he was some kind of hustler."
That pissed me off. "He isn't a hustler."
"The hell he's not. I've got a friend in juvie. He was picked up for prostitution twice before he hit fifteen. Male prostitution," she said the last like it made it all somehow worse.
I hadn't actually known he'd been picked up for it, but I didn't give her that. "I know what Nathaniel was doing before he got off the streets." Which was sort of true and sort of not true, but not completely a lie.
"Did you save him? Did you see him and take him home? Are you his sugar mama?"
"Sugar mama. You made that up. That's not really a word."
She had the grace to look embarrassed. I almost got a smile out of her, but she fought it off. "Whatever you want to call it. Are you? Is he your..."
I didn't help her. If she was going to say it, I wanted her to say it. "My what?" I asked, and my voice was a few octaves lower, cold, clear. It was a voice that, if you knew me, you might worry when you heard it.
If Arnet was worried, it didn't show. "Gigolo," she said. She threw the word in my face like it was something solid and hurtful, as if she'd thrown a fist at me.
I laughed, and she didn't like it.
"What's so damned funny? I saw you on stage with him, Blake. I saw what you did to him. You and that vampire of yours."
I gave her wide eyes then, because I finally thought I had a glimmer of why she was so pissed at me. "Are you under the impression that I whisked Nathaniel off the streets as a child and made him my boy-whore?"
She looked away then. "When you say it like that, it sounds stupid."
"Yeah," I said.
She turned back to me, still angry. "I saw what you did to him last night. You chained him up. You hurt him. You humiliated him in front of all those people."
It was my turn to look off into the distance, because I was trying to think how to explain without explaining too much. I was also wondering if I even owed Jessica Arnet an explanation. If we didn't need to work together, and I hadn't been afraid she'd share what she'd seen with the rest of RPIT, I might not have explained anything, but we did work together, and I didn't want her version getting around the squad room. Not that my version was going to be that much better if it got spread around. At their core, most policemen are closet, or not so closet, conservatives.
How do you explain color to the blind? How to explain that pain can be pleasure to someone who isn't wired that way? You can't, not really, but I tried anyway.
"It took me a long time to understand what Nathaniel wanted from me."
She looked at me, horrified. "You're going to blame him? You're going to blame the victim?"
This was not going to go well. "Have you ever met someone who's been blind from birth?"
She frowned at me. "What?"
"Someone who's never seen color, ever."
"No," she said, "but what does that have to do with Nathaniel?"
"You're blind, Jessica, how do I explain to you what blue looks like?"
"What are you babbling about?" she asked.
"How do I explain to you that Nathaniel enjoyed being on stage, that he sort of forced the situation on me?"
"You're the victim, please, you weren't chained up."
I shrugged. "I'm saying there was no victim on stage last night, just a bunch of consenting adults."
She was shaking her head. "No, I know what I saw."
"You know what you would have felt if it had been you chained on stage and treated like that, and you're assuming that because that's how you would feel, that that's how everyone would feel. Not everyone feels the same way about things."
"I know that. I'm not a child."
"Then stop acting like one."
She stood up then and stared down at me, her hands in fists at her sides. "I am not acting like a child."
"You're right, you're being way too judgmental to be a child."
Zerbrowski called, "Anita, we need to roll."
I stood up, brushed off the back of my jeans, and yelled, "I'm coming." I looked at Arnet and tried to think of anything that would make this better. Nothing came to mind. "Nathaniel is my sweetie, Jessica, I would never hurt him."
"I saw you hurt him," she said, and she sort of threw the words at me like she had the word gigolo.
"He doesn't see it that way."
"He doesn't know any better," she said.
I smiled and fought the urge to give one of those laughs that is half nerves and half exasperation. "You want to save him. You want to ride in and save him from a life of degradation."
She didn't say anything, just glared at me.
"Anita, we need to go, now," Zerbrowski yelled. He was standing in the open door of his car.
I glanced back at Arnet. "I thought Nathaniel needed saving once, too, needed me to fix him. What I didn't understand is that he isn't broken, well, not more broken than the rest of us." And that was probably more truth than I owed Detective Jessica Arnet. I left it at that, and jogged for Zerbrowski's car. He asked me how it had gone with Arnet. I told him it could have gone better.
"How better?" He asked as we eased past the news van and a crowd of gawkers.
"Oh, like the Valentine's Day Massacre could have been a better party."
He gave me a look. "Jesus, Anita, it isn't enough that you and Dolph are pissed at each other, you've got pick a fight with Arnet?"
"I didn't pick a fight with either of them. You know I didn't pick one with Dolph." We were easing past the tape and barriers that the uniforms had moved for us. The television crew had the camera pointed straight at us. Great. I resisted the urge to give them the finger, or something else equally childish.
"I shouldn't have said that about Dolph. I know you didn't start that."
"What's eating Arnet?"
"If she wants you to know, she'll tell you."
"You're not going to tell your version first?"
"No one ever believes my version, Zerbrowski. I'm f**king coffin bait. If you'll f**k vampires, you'll do anything, right?" And just like that, I started to cry. Not loud, but tears, real tears. I turned away and stared out the window. I had no idea why I was crying. Stupid, so stupid.
Did I really care what Arnet thought of me? No. Did I care if she trashed my reputation to the rest of the squad? Yeah, I guess I did. Shit.
Zerbrowski was either so astounded that I was crying that he didn't know what to say, or he was treating me like he'd treat any other cop. If they don't want you to see them cry, you don't see it. Zerbrowski drove to the Church of Eternal Life, concentrating on the road like a son of a bitch. I stared out the window the entire time, and cried.
The parking lot was full, and I mean full. So full that Zerbrowski parked in front of the church in the fire only zone. We had Marconi and Smith in a car behind us, along with two marked cars. Apparently, Zerbrowski had been planning our strategy while I was trying to fix things with Arnet. Apparently, Abrahams or Arnet had been left in charge of the murder scene. I was betting on Abrahams. I wouldn't have left Arnet in charge of a little league team tonight. Of course, I might have been a little prejudiced right that moment.
He had two uniforms station themselves at the doors, and he told them to get their holy items out. "Nobody leaves, unless you clear it with me, is that clear?" It was clear. I suggested that there was another door at the parish hall entrance, and since we had enough manpower to cover it, Zerbrowski just nodded and said, "Do it." It was like he was channeling Dolph, but it worked. Everyone just did what he said.