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Fiction – “Heart of Venus” by Michael Glenn Farquhar

Ellen Reese was a latecomer to the crime scene. It had been a busy day, busier than it should have been, especially with the final exam in her Criminal Psych class looming, and she found herself drinking antacid straight from the bottle as she turned into the main entrance of the University of Los Angeles.

Located on an undulating, very green three hundred acres amid the tree-shaded streets of Martel Park, the university’s campus managed to be simultaneously both sylvan and surprisingly open. Its buildings at first glance seemed scattered like children’s blocks on a rolling lawn, but a second glance revealed a certain unity of design, to be found especially in the wide, interconnecting pathways. Even the oldest buildings had a touch of the modernist about them.

Since the campus hosted the night classes Reese was taking as she worked toward her psychology degree, she knew it well. She drove straight to the Hall of Humanities and parked directly behind the ambulance, whose personnel lounged on a bench in the shade of a nearby tree. Most of the police and EMT vehicles were long gone.

Reese trotted up the steps to the main entrance, and then to the second floor, where lay the office of the deceased: Telly Rosakis, a professor of ancient history. He had died when he’d added brandy—somehow laced with what, according to preliminary reports, appeared to be strychnine—to his very bitter Sumatran-blend coffee. Even though the crime-scene investigation was pretty much over with, Reese had asked that the body be left in place until she could examine it for herself.

She trusted that what would pass for her own investigation wouldn’t take long—a quick look at the body, a brief interview with the suspect, and she hoped to be on her way. Jack Wright, her partner, had handled the scene till now, and she had been tempted to simply sign off on his investigation. As it was, today had been one for drowning in paperwork, which was why she had sent him ahead on his own. But when she phoned him to see how things were progressing, he had sounded a bit tense, and she had heard angry voices in the background. It wouldn’t hurt to take a look of her own, so, despite his assurances that everything was under control, she had told him she was on her way.

Even now, as she topped the staircase and let herself through the crime-scene tape, she could hear raised voices from down the hall. She followed the voices to Professor Rosakis’s office, where a uniformed officer stood at the door. He nodded, his eyes friendly.

“Where’s Wright?”

He gestured with a tilt of his head.

“Room to the left.”

Reese nodded in return and entered. The door opened onto a short hall, with the professor’s airy office straight ahead, and his secretary’s smaller office to the left through an open archway. Reese understood that the secretary was out sick that day, and that the body had been discovered by someone else. Beyond the secretary’s desk was a closed door. Around the desk stood three people. One was Wright, looking bored as he watched the other two, a young woman and an older man, who were all but shouting at each other.

“What’s the big deal about just talking to her?” the woman was crying as Reese walked in. The woman was facing Wright as if in appeal, and he raised a brow at Reese. The woman spun to face her. “Are you with the police too? Why on earth won’t they let me talk to her?”

The woman, likely in her mid-twenties, had beautifully pale skin enveloped in tattoos, most impressively a spread of wings across the top of her breasts, a flare of subtle reds and violets revealed by her clingy, extremely low-cut, very short lilac-tinted dress. She wore black stiletto heels. Her cropped hair, so glossy and black it must have been dyed, somehow seemed right for that skin and her gray eyes. She made Reese feel drab in her brown slacks and jacket of lightweight wool, her straight brown hair shoulder-length and parted in the middle. Reese shrugged off her sudden sense of being too old for her years.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

A smile quirked at Jack Wright’s lips.

“I’m restraining myself from arresting this, ah, person, for interfering with a criminal investigation.”

Wright was just Reese’s height and, coincidentally, also wearing a brown suit. Since his hair was straight and brown as well, the main features that kept them from being taken as all but twins were his cranberry-red tie and a somewhat rotund figure that he managed to move with surprising grace. Reese thought he was actually quite attractive in a baby-fat sort of way.

“I just want to talk to Jessica,” insisted the young woman. “He won’t let me.”

She pointed at a tall, thin man with angular features and a shock of salt-and-pepper hair. He wore a black shirt and black slacks that, even without insignia, said uniform. Reese knew him—Andrew Bock, head of campus security.

Bock nodded in greeting and twitched a shoulder. “Jessica Perez killed Professor Rosakis.” He twitched his head toward the closed door beyond the desk. “She stays there until you people take her off my hands. Ms. Shaw has no business talking to her.”

The young woman stamped a foot, and Reese wondered how she managed to do it without breaking off a heel. “I just want to talk to her!” She actually seemed to have tears in her eyes.

Reese looked at Wright. He shoved his hands into his trouser pockets. “No compelling reason to make it my call. It’s Bock’s territory,” he said.

“Makes sense to me,” Reese said.

“Easy for you to say,” cried Shaw. “He’s been in there talking to her.”

“Well, she’s been in his custody,” Reese said reasonably.

“About the Heart of Venus!” Shaw shouted, stamping her foot again.

“What about the Heart of Venus?” murmured a new voice. Suddenly Reese understood that Heart was part of a proper name, and she wondered how the voice had been able to convey that. She turned.

A woman stood in the archway, and behind her the uniformed officer, his eyes so wide and soft that Reese couldn’t help but think of a dog that had just found its beloved owner after a long absence. And she couldn’t blame him. Gobsmacked wouldn’t begin to describe her own sudden loss of breath, the explosion of butterflies below her heart.

Reese took the woman in with a quick glance down and then up. Was it possible to have a perfect figure, a perfect face? The woman wore flat-heeled sandals and a simple combination of tan knee-length sheath skirt and white blouse, yet managed to make the gorgeous Ms. Shaw look drab. Somehow, from curve of ankle and calf to curve of hip and breast to curve of neck and slightly canted head, there was nothing about this woman that Reese would change—not ever

And though she took some pride in her prowess as an observer, Reese found herself uncertain regarding the woman’s height. She looked tall standing in the archway, but her devastatingly light blue-green eyes—or were they hazel, or a kind of dark gray?—seemed to gaze into Reese’s at her own level.

The woman had flawless skin—even young Shaw appeared rough-hewn by comparison. At first Reese took the woman to be a northern European who had somehow achieved a perfect tan, then realized she wasn’t tanned at all, that rather her skin had an almost tawny or golden tint. Her hair, cascading down her back, might have been brown with gold highlights or blond with darker streaks, Reese wasn’t sure; it all seemed to depend on the light. The hair framed the woman’s strong-featured yet delicately balanced face as if arranged by a portraitist.

And those features! Wide eyes, straight nose, lush mouth, every feature well-defined and prominent yet in no way overpowering. Reese couldn’t imagine a computer artist designing a more perfect face.

“Oh, Grace,” cried Shaw, “thank the gods you’re here! Maybe you can talk some sense into these people.”

Grace’s responding frown failed to mar her perfect face. “Danielle, you seem upset. What’s going on?”

Shaw gestured toward Bock. “He won’t let me talk to Jessica Perez.”

Reese immediately noticed how flushed Shaw had become, how her eyes never left the woman called Grace. A glance at Andrew Bock revealed that he was completely riveted on the woman as well. Reese recognized unbridled passion when she saw it. The woman’s beauty aside, she seemed to have inspired in these two an intense degree of genuine adoration.

Rather than reply to Shaw, the woman extended her hand to Reese. “Perhaps I should introduce myself.” Her voice was low, throaty, yet thoroughly feminine. “My name is Grace Cypris. I teach Greek. Professor Rosakis is…was…”

Her eyes suddenly welled tears, catching Reese off guard. “Oh dear, I swore I wouldn’t do this—he was my husband.”

Immediately Shaw and Bock were to either side of her, helping her to a chair. The distress Reese felt at seeing such beauty in tears caught her even more off guard.

“Why wouldn’t you cry?” she wondered. “If he was your husband—”

Grace Cypris waved a hand. “We were estranged, but I guess I haven’t lost my feelings for him. I was hoping to remain calm…”

“Everything will be all right,” murmured the young woman named Danielle. “You’ll see. Just as soon as we find the Heart…”

“I will keep the Heart in its proper place,” interjected Andrew Bock.

“What the…?” began Reese.

Grace’s hand continued to wave, delicately, as if stirring the air. “It’s okay, detective,” she whispered. “I’m concerned with the Heart myself—my husband may have died for it.”

“Heart?” Reese took a step toward Grace. “What is this Heart?”

Shaw and Bock stared at her as if she were an intruder, an aggressor even. Grace smiled weakly.

“An artifact,” she said softly. “You know the Venus of Willendorf?”

Reese had a vague mental image of a stone female figure with swollen breasts and pregnant belly.

“I think so,” she said. She wasn’t sure she liked the idea of appearing uncertain in front of these people.

“The so-called Heart of Venus is akin to that,” murmured Grace. “Telly—Professor Rosakis—had custody of it. He was using it in his research.”

“And someone killed him for it?”

Grace shook her head. “I don’t really know. There were claims that it was missing, and then he died…”

“Did he tell you it was missing?”

“He did not.”

“Then how do you know it was missing?”

Grace managed a brief chuckle through her tears. “I don’t know that it was.” She sniffed deeply. “I’ve been told that it was.”

Reese turned to Bock. “Chief?”

“It’s missing,” he asserted. He was looking at Grace Cypris, mouth half open, eyes half shut, as if he wanted to sweep her into his arms. “I haven’t seen it in days. I think Perez took it. She’s head of campus housekeeping. She had opportunity, just like she did doctoring Rosakis’s whiskey.”

He hadn’t seen the Heart of Venus in days? Had he customarily seen it? Reese wondered. If so, why? Had he particularly kept an eye on it as head of security?

“Were you especially concerned about this object?” she asked.

The tension that had suffused the room since Grace Cypris’s entry tightened a notch. Shaw extended a hand toward the woman’s shoulder, saw Reese watching, and hastily withdrew it.

“It’s a very valuable object,” Bock said cautiously.

“Yes!” Shaw nodded jerkily. “We were using it in our research…”

This focus on a lump of stone while the body of a murdered man lay sprawled on the floor in the next room seemed strikingly odd to Reese. She glanced at Wright to gauge his reaction, and found him gazing longingly at Grace. Reese almost looked herself, but resisted.

“We?” she said to Shaw. “Who’s we?”

Shaw turned her head to one side, as if searching for something in the room’s far corner. “The professor,” she muttered. “And me. I’m—I was one of his grad students—”

“And you?” Reese didn’t want to return her attention to Grace Cypris, but felt she must. It seemed almost as if she could smell the woman, a scent somehow redolent all at the same time of warm milk, freshly turned earth, and just-sliced citrus, yet of none of them—an entrancing scent. When her gaze met that of Grace, Reese had a sudden and astonishingly intense sense-memory of cuddling when very young against her mother’s flesh, how her mother had smelled, how she had felt. She wondered how it would feel to fold herself into Grace Cypris, and she realized that the butterflies below her heart had intensified into something very like arousal. She hastened to finish her question.

“Where do you fit into this?” she asked.

Grace had pulled a tissue from the box on the secretary’s desk and was dabbing at her eyes. “I’m a lecturer in Greek here at the university,” she said. “I’ve been tutoring Danielle.”

“So you’ve been working with this…Heart?”

“Not really,” murmured the woman. “I teach the language. I’m entirely peripheral to any real research.”

“Yet there seems to have been an expectation that you might talk sense into us law-enforcement types regarding this object.”

“That was more in regard to allowing Danielle to talk with Perez, I believe.” Grace smiled weakly at Shaw. “I am sorry, my dear. I’m afraid that is a topic on which I have little say.” Danielle Shaw appeared close to bursting into tears.

Jessica Perez. Reese had come to see Rosakis’ body and interview the suspect Perez while both were still at the scene. Clearly Perez was central to everyone’s concern in a way that had nothing to do, at least not directly, with the professor’s death.

“Well,” Reese said, willing herself to take a step away from Grace, “I’ll have a word with Perez myself.”

“I’ll go with you!” snapped Bock, visibly forcing his attention away from Grace.

“He’ll just intimidate her,” wheedled Shaw. “I should go with you.”

“Jessica Perez is the suspect.” Bock seemed on the verge of rage. “She still has not been officially removed from my custody. I should be there.”

“If she knows where the Heart is, she’s far more likely to tell me than you!” exclaimed Shaw.

She’s more likely to tell Grace Cypris, Reese thought, but the Greek tutor seemed distinctly uninterested. “You all will stay here,” she said. “I’ll talk to her alone.”

Then Jack Wright jolted her by joining the fray. “Why don’t you take both of them?” he murmured. “Perhaps the three of you working together can find something out.” He appeared hot and flushed, and he had loosened his tie. He might as well have told Reese directly that he wanted to be alone with Grace Cypris.

“You will all stay here,” she reiterated.

“Detective—”

“It’s my case, Chief. Don’t make me angry.”

Bock’s face twisted with his own suppressed anger, but he fell silent, his jaw clamped. With a sigh, Shaw returned her attention to the room’s corner.

*

The room beyond the secretary’s was long yet cramped, with a narrow window at one end looking out over the campus. Judging from the stacked boxes and crowded shelves, the room was used for storing supplies of one kind or another.

A petite woman in her forties with olive skin and dark hair shot with gray, Jessica Perez sat on a plain wooden chair. She looked up as Reese entered, and the detective could see that she remained attractive in a worn sort of way, but that she was clearly exhausted by all that she had been through.

“Hello, Ms. Perez,” Reese said. She took a second chair, turned it with its back to the housekeeping administrator, and straddled it. “I’m Detective Reese—”

“I did not kill him!” hissed Perez, her eyes blazing. “I did not!”

For not the first time that afternoon, Reese found herself taken aback. That a suspect would deny involvement in the crime of which she was accused didn’t surprise her at all, but Perez seemed to be actually enraged at the accusation.

Reese nodded in what she hoped was a friendly way.

“So you say,” she murmured. “But Chief Bock says you had the opportunity—”

“Chief Bock, Chief Bock, Chief Bock!” Perez waved a hand wildly. “He had as much opportunity as I did, as did anyone on his staff or mine. I had no reason to kill Professor Rosakis. Why would I!” She looked suddenly smug, as if she had scored the debating point of the century.

“The Heart of Venus?” suggested Reese.

Perez threw both hands in the air. “It’s missing! Why would I kill the professor for something nobody can find?”

“Well, if he did have it, and you wanted it—”

Perez straightened in her chair as if someone invisible had grabbed her from behind by the collar. “Is Grace Cypris here? I thought I heard her voice…”

Reese cocked her head. “It doesn’t matter whether she’s here or not, now, does it?”

“My God!” Perez leaned forward, her entire body a signature of urgency. “Please, detective, it is absolutely vital that I talk to her.”

Grace Cypris abruptly slid into Reese’s imagination like a message from the gods, her scent, her curves, her pale flesh with its hint of gold. Reese found herself very interested in what Grace and Jessica Perez might have to say to each other.

She nodded curtly, as if conceding a point. “One moment,” she said, standing up. She stepped to the door and opened it. “Ms. Cypris,” she called. “Will you join us, please?”

Before Grace Cypris could rise, eyes wide with astonishment, her tongue a pink tip between parted lips, Bock, Shaw, and Wright, all three at once, headed for the door. Reese thrust her hand out. “You wait here.” I mean it, she glared at Wright.

Grace had risen now. She slid between Shaw and Wright and then past Reese.

“Now wait just a minute!” cried Bock. “I will remind you again—”

“I will remind you, Andrew, that we now have custody. I want to talk to Mss. Perez and Cypris alone.”

“But we might be able to—” Shaw, apparently out of urgency, made no effort to hide her memory-search for the right word. “Help,” she all but yelped.

“They have a point, you know,” Wright added forcefully.

“Nonetheless, you will wait there.” Reese smiled in what she hoped was a forbearing way and closed the door. Without conscious intent she turned the latch that threw the door’s deadbolt, and then stared in surprise at what she had done. Shaking herself, she turned to the two women now in her sole charge.

Jessica Perez and Grace Cypris had molded themselves together into a hug as deeply familiar as it was blatantly erotic, and Reese felt herself flash hot with jealousy. Stop that! she admonished herself.

“Ms. Perez,” she said aloud. “You had something to say to Ms. Cypris?”

The pair broke apart, and Grace glanced at Reese, her eyes once more aswim with tears. “Forgive me,” she said, speaking barely above a whisper. “I was worried about Jessica. She’s always been so good to us.”

Good in what way specifically, Reese could only speculate. “I can’t spend the afternoon dealing with people’s relationships,” she said. She gestured at Perez with a nod. “What is it you had to say that was so vital, to use your word?”

Perez squared her shoulders and with steady eyes looked straight at Grace Cypris. “Grace, I did not kill Telly. I do not have the Heart. I do not know where it is.”

Grace caressed the other woman’s upper arms, delicately, as if handling fine china. “My dear, I know that. No one knows where the Heart is. I know you wouldn’t harm Telly.”

Reese truly had as little interest as she had already expressed in dealing with the relationships of these people, but she intended to know what those relationships were.

“And just what is there between you two?” she asked.

Grace dropped her hands. “Jessica is an old friend. As head of housekeeping she has been extremely helpful to Telly and myself.”

“And that’s all? Just old friends?”

Grace smiled as if Reese had asked the most natural question in the world, and Reese suddenly felt as if she herself had been drawn into that very circle of “old friends.”

“I love my friends, detective,” Grace said. “And my husband was to me the very best of friends.”

As if from a chrysalis, an aching emptiness emerged from the butterflies beneath Reese’s heart. She wondered if she had ever spoken with such transparent sincerity of having a “best of friends.” She realized with surprise that in some way this so-called Heart of Venus was not the center of everyone’s attention at all, but rather it was Grace Cypris herself.

Reese found that she couldn’t bear to see Grace and Perez together. “I need to see your husband,” she said, fighting to keep her teeth from clenching. “I would like you to come with me.” She gazed down the narrow room, to a second door beyond the one through which she had entered. “Does that door lead to your husband’s office?”

Grace nodded and started across the room at Reese’s peremptory gesture. Perez started after her, paused as Reese touched her arm.

“You wait here,” Reese said.

“But—”

Reese shook her head, and Perez sank back onto her chair with a sigh. “Please,” she implored of Grace.

“It’s okay,” murmured Grace. “There’s no need for you to subject yourself to this again.” She turned to Reese. “As long as you feel no need for the prime suspect.”

“I feel the need to talk to you alone for a moment.”

“And your colleague?” Grace asked with the arch of a slim, tawny brow.

“He’s fine where he is,” muttered Reese. She couldn’t shake the feeling that in the past minutes she’d become more schoolgirl than professional. She opened the door for Grace, followed her through and closed the door after them. As before, she threw the deadbolt.

Grace’s breath caught, at the sight of the man lying as if in state on the office floor; on his back, eyes closed, gray hair swept back, body sealed in a three-piece pin-stripe suit. Then she knelt quickly; her hand darted out as she gave a soft cry. Pivoting on toe and heel, she extended that hand to Reese. “The Heart of Venus,” she announced in a whisper.

Reese slowly took the object from her. Of polished stone, it very much resembled the Willendorf image, but carved in such a way that, at a glance, it looked most like a traditional heart.

“Had you already seen your husband’s body?” she asked as she examined the little sculpture. “You don’t seem overly upset.” It hadn’t escaped Reese’s notice that Grace seemed more concerned about Shaw, Bock, and Perez than about Professor Rosakis. She hadn’t even asked to see her husband’s body.

“I had not seen it,” said Grace, rising. “But, as you may recall, I’ve cried my tears. Once you’ve suffered enough losses, detective, you find tears an increasingly scarce commodity.” She stepped toward Reese and nodded at the Heart. “So you see,” she murmured, “Telly had it all the time. It was never lost.”

“I doubt the crime-scene investigators would have overlooked it,” said Reese weakly. Grace was standing so close, her scent so wonderfully sweet, her presence so irresistible…

“Perhaps they simply didn’t know its significance,” suggested Grace.

Reese considered the possibility dizzily. Who knew? Perhaps everyone had simply taken it for a lump of stone, lying there on the floor. The more urgent question was how she, who had been alone for too long, who had never been genuinely happy with anyone, had ever found anyone besides this woman attractive. She had been borne and nursed by a woman—how had she ever transferred that sensual wish to a man? And now this woman, who had brought back such incisive memories, stood before her, lips parted, skin aglow, the very breath of life. Reese was staring into Grace’s eyes, gray-blue pools with green highlights, clearer than mountain pools…

“Grace,” she whispered. Her hands were on the woman’s forearms, urging her closer, when the door from the foyer burst open. She took a long, quick step back, catching her breath so she wouldn’t gasp out loud.

Jack Wright stood in the office door, Bock and Shaw behind him emerging from the archway leading to the secretary’s area. “I thought I told you to stay there!” Anger and embarrassment brought an edge to Reese’s voice that she didn’t like but couldn’t resist. Yet they didn’t seem to have noticed her proximity to Grace, her move to draw Grace closer, her intent.

“I heard voices,” said Wright. “I wondered what was going on.” If he had been distracted before, he no longer was—his attention now seemed drawn straight to Grace.

As if to draw him away, Reese held out the stone. “Here it is,” she said. “The Heart.”

Wright’s nostrils twitched as if he were sniffing the stone’s scent. Bock and Shaw had crowded into the doorway after him.

“Where did you find that?” he demanded, a move Reese didn’t like at all.

“It was lying on the floor next to Professor Rosakis,” she said curtly, and Wright blinked as he realized how insulting he had been toward his more senior partner.

“That’s not possible,” he said, his voice milder. “I would have seen it. Somebody would have seen it.”

“Nonetheless, it was with him, and we’ve been told it was the motive for his slaying, no?” She looked at Bock as she spoke.

He shook his head. “I never said that. We’ve all been looking for the Heart, but I never said that was why the professor was murdered.”

“Then why, Andrew?”

Bock gazed at Grace with all the intensity and longing of a desert wanderer in sight of water that might yet prove to be a mirage. “Jessica Perez was a rival for Grace’s affection—that’s why she killed the professor.”

As if in response came a pounding on the door Reese had locked. “Grace!” called Perez from the storage room. “Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine!” Grace called back. “I’ll be with you in a moment!” She appeared oddly chagrined, as if she somehow couldn’t bring herself to argue with what Bock had said.

“Is that true?” Reese asked. “Was Perez a rival for your affections?”

“Not a rival.” Grace spoke softly, barely above a whisper.

“What was she, then?”

Grace sighed. “A lovely woman,.”

Reese felt a flash of apprehension akin to impatience. “And your husband? What about him?”

Grace raised her head, her gaze steady.

“A lovely man.”

Everyone in the room seemed to hang on Grace’s words, as if yearning for her to speak to them rather than Reese. Their silence intruded like a violation. Reese wished them away, and lashed out.

“Then why the focus on the Heart of Venus?” she snapped, as if in response to Grace but glaring at everyone around her.

“It’s a valuable artifact,” insisted Danielle Shaw. “It was missing.”

“We all wondered where it was—” began Bock.

“It was here all the time! In plain sight!” Reese wondered whether Bock and Shaw had any idea of how genuinely unconvincing they were beginning to sound. “Anyway,” she said, tossing the stone a short distance into the air and catching it, “if it’s so valuable and so difficult to keep track of, it would be best if I took it with me.”

“No!” cried Shaw. “It’s vital for research!”

“It’s university property!” Bock spoke the words, but like Shaw seemed to have eyes only for Grace.

“You can’t just walk off with it!” cried Jessica Perez, who had appeared in the office’s main entry. Reese realized that, with the door to the secretary’s office locked from the storeroom side, the housekeeper had simply let herself out. The uniformed officer had finally given up keeping watch in the hall and joined them as well, and Reese saw no point in ordering him back. Rather, she wanted to clear the room of everybody, so that she could have Grace and the artifact to herself.

Yet it was Grace who took control. “Let her take it,” she said, intervening. “It’s of little value.”

Reese felt an inexplicable gratitude, as if she were being allowed to keep the Heart. She wanted more than anything else to share it with Grace, to sit down with her and examine it, explore it. Yet the woman’s “permission” seemed only to have raised the ante.

“I cannot permit that artifact to leave the campus!” Bock all but shouted.

“Who knows what will happen if you take it away!” cried Shaw, as if the prospect of the object’s leaving her sight meant the end of her world.

“You can’t,” moaned Jessica Perez, “you can’t…”

Bock extended a hand. “I must have that stone.

Reese was struck by Bock’s intensity. Her voice caught, and she cleared her throat. “Grace. Did your…husband…customarily keep the Heart?”

“Customarily? I’m not sure I—”

“Would most people have expected him to have it?”

“I suppose so.” Grace laid a hand tenderly on Bock’s forearm, and the security chief reached out with his other hand and lightly touched her elbow with what Reese could only think of as a caress. “So many people, in my opinion, completely overestimate the importance of the Heart.” She looked directly into Bock’s eyes.

“Chief Bock,” said Reese slowly. Bock’s gaze shifted to her. “The head of campus security would have access to any professor’s office at any time, I do believe.”

Bock’s jaw clamped tight, his mouth a thin line. “Your point being?”

Reese tilted her head. “That if your case against Ms. Perez is one of opportunity, yours more than equals hers. If your case is motive—you seem as intent as anyone else here on having the Heart.” She turned to Shaw. “As one of the professor’s students, you would have had the opportunity as well.”

“Now wait just a minute—” began Bock.

Reese held up a hand and looked at Wright. “Jack.” She then squinted at the uniformed officer’s name tag. “And Smithson.” She gestured. “We’ll be taking all three of these people in for further questioning.”

“Are they under arrest, ma’am?” Smithson asked, drinking Grace in.

Grace Cypris looked from Shaw to Perez to Bock, her gaze gentle. “I don’t think that will be necessary,” she said softly. “Will it, Andrew? Danielle? Jessica?”

If there was ever a moment when three people had shared a broken heart in their simultaneous sighs, it was then. They looked at the Heart of Venus in the palm of Reese’s hand, then at Grace, then away. Wright and Smithson looked at each other, then at Reese. Wright cleared his throat.

“Which of us do you want to take them?”

“Both of you,” she said.

“Detective—” began Wright in protest.

“Ma’am—” began Smithson.

“I need a few more words with Ms. Cypris, and then I’ll join you,” Reese said. “Take them downstairs, call another car if you have to. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

Wright scowled, and Smithson reacted with the distress of a boy about to lose his favorite toy. Oddly, the trio of suspects exuded a kind of grim schadenfreude. Or perhaps not so oddly, since they would be sharing the same deprivation. Reese folded her arms, her hand gripping the stone. “I will be down in a few minutes.”

Wright nodded curtly. “Come on, then,” he muttered.

*

The two women stood for a moment looking at each other and then, as if impelled simultaneously, glanced down at the deceased professor. Reese would have to authorize the removal of his body as soon as she got downstairs.

“It was Chief Bock, wasn’t it?” she said finally.

“Andrew combines impulsiveness with ego.” Grace shook her head. “He takes himself and his desires entirely too seriously, which can carry you to glory or sour you into ignominious backstabbing.”

“That’s not true of the women?”

Grace smiled sadly, and somehow she seemed to be physically closer to Reese than she had been but a moment before. “It’s true,” she said. “Besides motive and opportunity, however, there’s means. Andrew was a career military policeman before he came here…”

Reese could no longer resist; heart in throat, not knowing what to expect, she took Grace in her arms. The woman’s kisses were beyond sweet, as were her hands, sliding down Reese front and back, molding, caressing, drawing her into the most ecstatic embrace she had ever known. Sliding back down from the peak, praying her piercing cry had not been heard below, Reese clung to Grace, struggling to keep her balance. She attempted with one hand to start a massaging exploration of her own, but tenderly Grace pushed her away, turning her and leaving her half-seated on the edge of the desk. Through it all Reese had kept the artifact clasped in her hand.

“But—” she began, voice filled with protest.

“You know we can’t,” murmured Grace.

“I’ve done nothing for you.”

Grace looked briefly at the body of her husband. “Love takes away,” she said. She looked at Reese. “Love gives. You have done for me all I need already.”

Love? Could Grace have truly felt love for her? And what did she truly feel for Grace? She thought of the dead man, and the rampant love on the loose all around him. He had clearly been a part of it as well.

Opportunity, means, motive—you didn’t have to be a former military policeman to know how to poison a man, especially if, as his wife, you knew his drinking habits. But motive: freedom, perhaps? Yet this was a woman already as free as she could be, with her grad student, with the head of housekeeping, the chief of campus security, and now one very tired police detective.

Reese looked at the stone in her hand. “I guess wherever this is, you are.”

Grace chuckled, a merry sound reminiscent of brooks tumbling down a wooded hillside. “Just the opposite,” she said. “It’s more that where I am, it is.” She reached out and touched the Heart. “Not that it’s all that funny,” she added soberly. “No matter where I go, the Heart of Venus always comes back. Not even the Pacific Ocean was enough…”

You took it?”

Grace shook her head. “Detective, I can’t take what won’t leave me be.”

“But you had it all along?”

“I’ve been trying to lose it ever since I was a little girl in Greece, but I can’t, detective.” She paused, caressed Reese’s cheek with an outstretched hand. “May I know the name of so lovely a woman?”

He was a lovely man. She was a lovely woman.

“Ellen,” whispered Reese. Could Grace really have meant her? “My name is Ellen.”

Grace pulled her into another embrace, this one with nothing erotic about it, more the hug of an accomplished older woman encouraging her timid younger sister.

“You have to let me go, Ellen,” she whispered back. “You know that.”

Reese nodded into Grace’s shoulder.

“I don’t understand, but I will try.”

“You do understand. Telly couldn’t let go, and he needed so badly to be free of what he could not possess.”

Motive, opportunity, means. In the realm of a woman like this it seemed that no one lacked any of the three, not even the woman herself, not even the victim. Reese knew as surely as she knew that she was holding onto Grace Cypris that the crime-scene investigators would find nothing conclusive. She knew this was a case that would either be left open or, in the end, ruled a suicide. It seemed to her in that moment that the mysteries of common currency—why death, why life, why anything at all?—ran utterly shallow by comparison.

If before Reese had wondered how she had ever found anyone other than Grace attractive, she now wondered how she had come to be alone for so long, never happy with anyone. She straightened up from the desk, pushed herself slowly away from Grace, accepted her smile.

Love was a feast, if you knew how to look. She thought of Telly Rosakis, still handsome in death, of Danielle Shaw, so disenchanted with her own flawlessness as to wreathe herself in ink, of Andrew Bock, so stalwart and handsome with years, of Jack Wright, so strangely soft in his masculine kind of way, of Jessica Perez, so tired yet cautiously lovely, of Grace Cypris, too perfect to be held…

Under death’s wing, love had no boundaries.


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About the Author

When not playing the role of grammar meanie for the communications office of a major research institution, Michael Glenn Farquhar spends his time reading and writing about science, religion, and politics and the myriad ways in which they overlap and intersect, and indulging his taste for pulp thrillers. He is currently working on a darkly utopian novel set in a far-future neopagan interstellar realm where magick works, the dead can be resurrected, and deities walk among mortals.

He can be reached at michaelfarquhar@att.net.

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