The phone rang. Hannibal was closest so he snagged the receiver, ready to fend off a telemarketer. “Good afternoon, sir,” said the perky female voice on the other end. “Is Mr. Rivera there?”
“Rivera?” Hannibal said, ready to say she’d gotten the wrong number before remembering that was the name Frankie had used out on the Eastern Shore. He was lucky he was dead, handing out this phone number like that. Hannibal glared at Face as he said, “No, he’s not. Can I help you?”
“Is this Mr. Howard?”
“Yes,” Hannibal said deliberately, watching Face half reach to take the phone and then realize how futile that was. He settled down to find out what his maverick team members had been up to, though what he’d do about it depended on what it was.
“This is Cindy at Classic Custom Framing? In Salisbury? Mr. Rivera ordered this print from us – he said he wanted it for Christmas? And it was a special order and took a while to come in, and then he’d wanted it framed? So we finished it a month ago, but he hasn’t come in and picked it up yet? And he already paid for it, so we don’t want to just sell it someone, but it’s a special order so we can’t give him a refund?”
“Yes?” The relentless uptalk was getting on his nerves. He wanted to say, “I don’t know: Are you? Did he? Hasn’t he? Can’t you?” It stopped him from saying anything about Frankie never picking anything up again.
“Well,” she said, “does he still want it?”
Hannibal paused. “Yes, but he’s out of town. I’ll pick it up, okay?”
“Sure thing, Mr. Howard,” she said, without making it a question, but then spoiled it by adding, “tomorrow maybe? Only we’re closing Friday? For the holiday, you know?”
“Okay. Tomorrow, probably around noon, maybe a little later.”
“Thanks, Mr. Howard.”
“Okay,” Hannibal repeated and hung up into an expectant silence.
“What’s happening tomorrow?” Murdock asked when Face didn’t.
Hannibal leaned back and looked hard at Face before answering Murdock. “We’re going to Salisbury.”
“You best not mean England,” BA said.
Hannibal laughed; BA joined in, and then Murdock did. Face was watching Hannibal and he didn’t. “No, sergeant, I don’t. Just Delmarva.”
“That ain’t too bad. Only about 90 miles,” BA said. “Take that bridge, like we was goin’ to your place. Better roads, though.”
“You going to ask Stockwell?” Murdock asked.
“No, I’m not. We have a phone in the car if he needs us. Frankly, I’m getting tired of sitting around here twiddling my thumbs.”
That made everyone look at him. “Hannibal,” Murdock said. “Are you serious?”
“About half-way, maybe a little more. Yes, I’ve been thinking about what you said in Toronto,” he admitted to Face. “I’m not ready to run out on him, but –”
“The leash chafes?” Face said.
“It does.” He stood up. “Doesn’t mean I approve of you and Frankie giving out this phone number, though.”
Face shrugged. “I didn’t know he had.”
Hannibal looked at him sharply again, and then backed down. “Fair enough. We’ll head over in the morning, make a day trip out of it.”
Hannibal narrowed his gaze, but then he remembered they had only heard his half of the conversation. “Frankie special-ordered something from a framing place in Salisbury.” He made a visible effort and came up with the name. “Classic Custom Framing – somebody write that down. He paid for it already, but never picked it up.”
Face shook his head. “He never mentioned it.”
“She did say he said it was for Christmas.”
Face went still, and then said, “Probably for his grandmother. He wouldn’t have given me something anyone would notice.”
Murdock looked sharply at him at that; after all, that house on the Eastern Shore had been just exactly that: a place for things someone would notice.
Hannibal clocked the glance, and had to have had the same idea, but elected not to pursue the topic. “You’ll have to pick it up; she’s expecting ‘Mr. Howard’.”
“You used to nag me about using Peck. Now you’re nagging me about Howard. I can’t win.”
“Try not giving people names and phone numbers at all, lieutenant,” Hannibal said, but without bite. It still wasn’t entirely safe to snap at Face.
The blond shrugged. “I probably won’t,” he said. “Not much need anymore, is there?”
So they all took the van in the morning, a drive marked by Face’s running commentary on the scenery and the traffic which marked his complete refusal to talk about why they were going – just as he’d refused to talk about it last night, just shrugged and stonewalled. When they finally pulled up in front of the place, everyone was relieved. Face went into the shop and came out with a 16” by 20” package wrapped in brown paper. He was holding it as though it were hot, and handed it to Hannibal as soon as he got to the van. Murdock had been wondering why Hannibal wanted them all to come, and suddenly he realized why: so Face wouldn’t be alone when he looked at this unexpected relic. Lord knew what it was, and Face hadn’t yet asked for any of the things they’d saved for him.
“We might as well unwrap it,” Hannibal said. “Figure out what to do with it.”
Face felt Murdock's glance but said nothing. Frankie wasn’t – hadn’t been – much for pictures, so this probably was for his grandmother. He sincerely doubted it was anything particularly personal. The woman had said it was a special order so it couldn’t be a photo of him or them, even if there’d been one Hannibal couldn’t see. In fact, she’d called it a print, so it wasn’t going to be anything of theirs at all. Not like Frankie would have bought an art print, after all.
And he hadn’t.
The print was a simple black-and-white drawing, a magazine illustration at first glance. The front ends of two big old cars – 30s or 40s, one maybe a Cadillac, both with elaborate grills – were paused beside a street light. You could only see the occupants of one, a man in a fedora and a young girl or woman with a hat perched on top of her head, both staring quizzically at a duck and eight ducklings crossing the street, the duck looking at the cars with apparent disdain.
“Why would Frankie spend that much money on that?” Hannibal held the print out at an angle and tilted it back, as if searching for some secret, hidden image.
“It’s for me,” Face said.
“For you? Some private joke?”
Face reached out and took the print from Hannibal. “Not a joke,” he said carefully. “Anything but a joke…”
It was the first weekend in June… hot already, though down by the Bay it was cooler. Face was sitting on the dock overlooking the water’s edge. It had startled him to discover how much he liked to watch the birds, the herons, ducks, geese, swallows, whatever… He doubted he’d like to live here for the long term, but for the short term it was very nice indeed.
“Hey. Ducks.” Frankie sat down, handing over a beer.
“Yeah. Seven ducklings.”
“Very cute,” Frankie said, grinning. “Cuter than baby geese. Plus I don’t think I’d run away from that one.”
Face laughed. It was funny now, that gander, though it had been a bit scary at the time. The thing had been big – and angry.
“Still, I guess you can’t blame him for watching out for his babies…” They were quiet for a few moments, watching the ducks moving along the shore. “I don’t see any dad duck. Papa duck? Father duck?”
“Mr. Mallard,” Face said, prompted by an old memory.
“Mr. Mallard? Seriously, Temple? Anyway, I don’t see him. I hope he didn’t get eaten by something.”
“He’s just gone. They never stick around. She has to do it all.”
“No way,” Frankie said. “With that many? Geese only have, what? Four? Nature sucks sometimes.”
Face laughed. “Yeah. Trying to get moral lessons from nature isn’t terribly productive.”
Frankie was looking out over the water’s edge, smiling and relaxed. Face leaned against his shoulder, feeling him lean back, and looked that way himself. Six of the ducklings were paddling in the water now, while the last one scrabbled along the shore, its mother watching anxiously.
“At least there aren’t any roads around here.”
“Roads?” Frankie sounded puzzled.
Face kept his eyes on the ducklings.
“Did you ever read Make Way For Ducklings?”
“Sure,” Frankie said. “Didn’t everybody? Oh, right: Mr. Mallard.”
“Probably,” Face acknowledged. “We had it at the orphanage.” He glanced at Frankie before looking back over the water. “I pretty much have it memorized.”
Frankie looked surprised. “Really? Doesn’t seem like your kind of book… Or weren’t there many to choose from?”
“We had a pretty good selection,” Face said a bit defensively. “The Church was good about that, and people donated a lot.”
“You just like ducks?”
Face paused. Frankie’s shoulder against his was warm and solid, welcome and comforting; his voice was interested but not prying. Monday was still sharp in Face’s mind, his inexcusable behavior, Frankie’s excusing it – or perhaps just accepting it. He remembered saying, “You don’t know what you’re wishing for.” And he remembered Frankie’s response: “You. I’m wishing to know you better. There’s a part of you I can’t get near.”
He hadn’t let Frankie say anything else; he cringed inside remembering how he’d physically stopped him, a hand over his mouth. “You’re already closer than I’ve ever let anyone else get,” he’d said, but how close was that, really? And how long would Frankie be satisfied with half-arm’s length?
He inched over a bit on the dock, pressing his body against Frankie’s from knee to shoulder. The other man leaned into him as well, moving his arm to rest on it and let Face’s arm lie along his ribs. Face rested his half-empty beer can on Frankie’s sun-warmed, faded-denim-clad thigh and nestled into the hollow of his shoulder. Close, yes, but there were more ways of being close than merging bodies, good as that was. Maybe it was time to try one. “You now know as much as I do about ducks,” he said, “but Make Way For Ducklings… I knew that book before I heard it at the orphanage.”
Frankie turned to look down at him, those luminous dark eyes solemn. “Really? You knew it from your mother, you mean?”
Face nodded, not trusting his voice.
“Wow.” After a moment Frankie said, “That was inadequate, wasn’t it? Temple, I didn’t know you remembered her at all.”
“I don’t. Not really.” He closed his eyes, looking into the crimson darkness instead of across the bay, acutely aware of Frankie’s body next to his, the sharp smell of him, the angular warmth. “Not her.”
Frankie leaned his head down to lay his cheek on Face’s hair but didn’t say anything.
“It’s things. Well, not things – well, once this little grocery store in Monterrey Hills seemed kind of familiar, though I don’t think I’d ever been in it, and they didn’t… Weird.” He shook his head. “But mostly it’s songs or poems or stories. Sometimes, if I try, I think …” Frankie was still quiet, but he reached over and laid his hand on Face’s arm. Face put down his beer and took Frankie’s hand instead, almost hot after the cold beer can. Eyes still closed he said, “Sometimes I think I can hear her voice. Reading or singing or…” His voice trailed off. Without opening his eyes he sang, very softly: “No foxes, my sweetheart, no turtles, my love; sleep now, my darling, my angel, my dove…”
“I don’t know that,” Frankie said after a few moments.
Face sighed. “No one does. I’ve never heard it, or read it. But do you remember in Ducklings?” He rubbed his thumb over Frankie’s hand as he recited: “There were sure to be foxes in the woods or turtles in the water, and she was not going to raise a family where there might be foxes or turtles. So they flew on and on.”
“I do, sort of… ‘No foxes, no turtles…’” He turned his hand over and gripped Face’s. “Temple…” He didn’t say anything else, but then again what else was there to say? Face turned his head and gently kissed the cinnamon skin…
Memory didn’t take much time. That was a blessing. He hadn’t been gone long. He drifted his fingers lightly along the row of ducklings, and then looked at the others. “He got it for me because I loved him.”
He could read Murdock’s gaze as clearly as he could read the print. He didn’t understand, and he might ask later, and though family was a touchy subject between them still Face might tell him. But right now those brown eyes were saying: Of course you did. Face nodded to him, suddenly peaceful.
And he said it again: “Because I loved him.”
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